One of the issues facing women running for office is being labeled ‘the outsider’ or the ‘risky choice’ among candidates on a ballot. In a Denver city council election, Susan Shepherd had a mail piece dropped against her that claims most of her support is ‘from outside of the district.’
Her opponent is quoted as saying, “But why does she list support from people outside the district? Why should life long residents and voters like me be concerned or interested in who these outside politicians supports. I want to focus on what’s important for northwest Denver.” (Denver Post Spot Blog, May 25, 2011) This candidate says that endorsements from outside the district and that should not matter to neighbors.
I beg to differ. Endorsements matter. Why? When you are in office, you work with other elected leaders in a variety of ways. You serve on regional boards, such as DRCOG (Denver Regional Council of Governments) or metropolitan transportation or shared service districts. You need relationships with other elected officials, and you need to work across levels of government.
As an elected official, you approach and advocate state legislators about those issues that affect your district. Your reputation as a newly elected official is based a great deal on who already thinks you would do a good job. If you already know the mayor in an adjacent city or a legislator who supports your views on development, you are positioned well ahead of someone who does not have those relationships in place when there is a piece of legislation or a thorny issue to address.
A candidate with a broad range of endorsements can demonstrate to their neighbors that they already know how to work with people in their community and state in order to get things done. I have met plenty of elected officials who tout their ‘residency’ credentials who don’t necessarily make great public officials.
Who you know, and who you have already impressed with your vision, knowledge and experience, does matter. If you are seeking an elected official who can serve your needs, and they understand how to work with multiple levels of government, that should influence your decision about a candidate. What you want to accomplish and who you know to help you meet your goals does matter. Neighbors should pay attention to all of these things as they decide who to vote for in an election.
I think this aspect of campaigning is especially important for women seeking office. Someone will try to paint you as ‘less qualified’ if you are new on the scene, younger, or offer a different experience than an incumbent or someone who wants to categorize you as ‘other.’ Women tend not to build their entire lives around the goal of running for office, so they will have broader and more varied experience that may not read like a traditional political candidate. Women tend not to think of themselves as future candidates no matter what their background.
I encourage candidates to avoid the rhetoric, get the endorsements, own the endorsements and go for it. I suggest that voters should look at the whole package — what is this candidate offering to you and what kind of experience, interest and validation to they bring to the table?
If my endorsements as an out of state supporter would help a candidate, I would offer it. In this instance, I want to make it clear that neighbors should go beyond how long someone has been in one place before casting your ballot.