What Makes Jane or Dick Run — For Office?

Contributed by Amara Willey & Deb Kline.

Why would anyone put themselves out there to run for office in today’s political climate? Fortunately, many do as in this most recent election we saw a significant increase in the number of candidates. Still, there are many areas – local politics especially – where there are unopposed seats. Is this your year? Hear from some who have taken the leap.

Tom Malinowksi, Representative from NJ CD7, U.S. House of Representatives

What inspired you to run?

After the election in 2016, I was fired from my job at the State Department by President Trump, which was not the normal way the government transitions to a new administration. I knew first and foremost that in my next job I wanted to be in a position where I could fight back against the injustices I saw happening in our government.  Helping take back the House of Representatives was the greatest impact I could have made at the time, and my district happened to be one of the most flippable in the country. After thinking about everything we could achieve with a House under democratic control- the Gateway Tunnel, universal background checks, getting the SALT deduction back, affordable healthcare- it was an easy decision after that.

What are three key things you learned?

I learned a lot over the last two years, but the most important thing was the power of grassroots organizing, and that includes groups like Indivisible. On the campaign we built up an amazing network of volunteers across the district, and I could not have won without them. We had a lot of big rallies with hundreds of people attending, and it was fantastic to see that enthusiasm, but it was really those first few events that taught me the power of democracy. I was speaking with small groups in supporter’s living rooms trying to win over one vote at a time. I had never run for office before, and those experiences taught me how to be a candidate, and really listen to the issues that my constituents care about.

What advice do you have for anyone who is thinking about running?

I say do it! This past election season we saw an unprecedented number of women and minorities running for office which is amazing. We need voices from every background representing us not just in Congress, but every level of government. It is not a decision to make lightly, but it’s always worthwhile to try and better the community you live in.

Would you do it again?

Absolutely. Running for Congress was an amazing experience and representing New Jersey’s 7 district is one of the greatest honors of my life. Growing up an immigrant kid from Poland I was so proud to call New Jersey home, and living here gave my mother and I opportunities we never would have gotten in Poland. Every day I get to give back to my state and fight to make this country better, and there isn’t much more I could ask for out of a job.

Helen Tai – Former Representative, Pennsylvania State General Assembly

When she ran for Solebury Supervisor, Helen Tai felt that she owed it to the community. As the board of Supervisors changed during the six years she was involved with it, from being entirely Republican to entirely Democratic, Helen found satisfaction from being able to get things done in the town she loves. She was surprised at how much money it took to run for the Pennsylvania state legislature ($500K for the special election; $600K for the regular election), and once she won the special election, at how difficult it was to learn how to govern while engaging in all the things she needed to do to be reelected, like fundraising and knocking on doors. Her races garnered a lot of support, not just locally but nationally as well. She recalls what it felt like to have members of Indivisible Baltimore drive up to canvass for her, and how getting donations from far-flung locations like California and Hawaii helped energize her campaign. What she didn’t realize was how factors that weren’t straightforward can affect an election, citing how the Congressional race brought out more Republican voters than was expected. She says she wouldn’t run for the state assembly again, preferring to work in the background for now on renewable energy and gun safety issues. She’s also active with the Bucks County Democrats in revamping some of the way the party functions and with training other would-be candidates.

Rielly Karsh – Councilwoman, Town of Clinton, NJ

Although she has always been involved in activism, Rielly decided to run when she began listening to herself encourage people to seek office with Action Together New Jersey. She believes that women, and moms especially, have the ability to make positive impact for all walks of life. She learned a lot from the process of her candidacy. She found out that she is good at running – the average candidate runs three times before s/he wins; Rielly won her first election. She also realized that she can help others run and began a business called Moms Running. She counsels, “Don’t let fear get in your way. Don’t think you don’t have enough experience – you learn by doing it.” She also encourages people to know why they are running. “You need a deeper reason than wanting to do good,” she says.

Stacey Abrams, former Representative, Georgia General Assembly (2007-2017), Democratic candidate, Governor (2018)

“My reason for running was simple. I love our country and its promise of opportunity for all. And I stand here tonight because I hold fast to my father’s credo. Together, we are coming for America, for a better America.”

Feb 5, 2019 – Rebuttal to the State of the Union address

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