Congratulations. You have put your name on the line and paid your fee and you are now a political candidate.
For some of you and the others who will add their names to ballots in the next few days, this is your first venture into a world that will test your integrity in ways you cannot now imagine (although some of you might already have flunked, based on whose money you already have taken or will get). This might be your first step but you are bringing your family with you and while you envision the ads that show you and your family smiling confidently about your future and the future of your state, it is important that your family recognize they will share the lows as well as the highs in the months ahead. And in fact, they might feel these things even more than you do.
How you run your campaign and how you respond to the campaigns others will run against you will test their character as well as yours. And maybe it will be a sterner test for them than for you, believe it or not.
If you descend to the lower levels of campaigning, as is all too easy, you might find your family as well as some long-time friends questioning whether you are the person they have known and loved. If you become the target of opponents or of the sewer rats who supposedly are completely independent of them, your friends and family might feel the attacks even more than you do.
We speak from experience of watching the process and of knowing winners and losers by the hundreds. We know the state capitol or the national capitol can be places where ideals are sent to die. We recall one office-holder from years ago who reflected on his re-election loss. This person had been seen as a person with potential for greater things. But the loss stopped that potential cold. The candidate spoke of the double impact felt by a spouse. Spouses, you see, not only share a candidate’s dreams of success and perhaps of higher office, but they have their own dreams that accompany that possibility. When the candidate lost, the spouse saw the devastating effects on the candidate and also felt the death of their own vision.
If you win, do not think yourself more important than the family you take with you. If you lose, be aware that you are not the only one dealing with the loss.
You might find the first of a series of new people who want to be your friends. Do not kid yourself. They are your friends only because they think you will do something for them, even if it is damaging to the general welfare. They will want you be narrow, selfish, petty, and forgetful because it benefits them even to the disadvantage of many who will vote for you. They will expect you to turn your back on your constituents, sometimes offering help in future elections so you can keep serving their interests.
You will be tempted to become something you are not today. Of course, some of you have signed that candidacy statement because some of those interests already have invested in you and you already are theirs. They prefer that you not develop a conscience during your candidacy or even your term of office. And if you do, well, there’s no shortage of people who can be bought to replace you.
And finally, by signing the declaration of candidacy you have become something you might claim during your campaign that you are not. You have become a politician. If you win a few months from now, you will move from being a trusted friend at home to becoming a member of one of the most untrustworthy organizations there is—the government.
Congratulations on becoming a candidate for public office. Surveys indicate the public has a low opinion of what you are becoming and the current crop seems to show little concern about their status or the damage they do to public confidence in the American system of government. It takes courage to want to step into that arena. If you have done so to satisfy a personal agenda or to carry the agenda of someone who has, in effect, bought you with a big donation, you will in the end deserve the scorn that the public feels for what you are becoming.
A question you should be prepared to answer—if only to yourself—is “What am I doing that will increase public regard for government and the people in it?” We hope you hear that question often, even after you win.
ESPECIALLY if you win. We have seen, however, that you will be able to easily ignore it. The concept of integrity, you will find, is fragile and is easily altered inside the walls of a capitol.
We’ll probably reflect on that after the election.