17. What do you do if you get elected?
There are many ways to live out the role of a progressive policy maker. For many,
this is the first successful campaign/candidate with which they have been involved.
There are two major areas to think about -- content and process.
There are a variety of issues upon which to focus. You will need to learn to train
your focus because it is not possible to know everything about everything. Here are
some issues that may be "naturals" for a progressive holding public office:
- Taxes and fees -- are they structured progressively or regressively?
- Public assistance to businesses, better known as corporate welfare -- is the
community getting enough back from this kind of investment?
- Environmental protection -- are sensitive areas protected from development? New
buildings required to be energy efficient?
- Transportation -- is the car the focus? How can your area be more multi-modal?
- Historic preservation -- are all kinds of historic buildings being preserved?
Those that represent the variety of constituencies from the past-not just upper
class houses or downtown buildings?
- Employee relations -- are the benefits, employment practices, training of city
employees fair and cutting edge?
- Living wage -- are employers who are vendors with the city paying their staff a
- Procurement policies -- are the things the jurisdiction buys from local vendors?
Are paper purchases made of that have post-consumer recycled content?
- Proportional representation -- how might you implement a more democratic electoral
system in your area?
- Appointed positions -- do they truly reflect the diversity in the community?
- Human rights-does your city have a local ordinance that includes education and
enforcement? If so, how inclusive is it?
How you do your job is as important as what gets accomplished. Accountability and
fairness are incredibly important to most people. Below are some suggestions for how
to implement "good government".
- Hold office hours once per week so that the community has direct access to your ear.
- Put out an email or fax news brief on a regular basis to let people know what is
happening, how they can get involved and what issues are on the horizon.
- Surprising your political peers will make them angry and lead them to not trust you.
Have good and respectful communication with them, even though you may fundamentally
disagree with them.
- See if the public has any time on the agenda at every meeting to express themselves.
- Make sure people are treated fairly. For example, a developer's attorney should not
get to bend the 10 minutes per speaker rule while the person with not so new clothes is
gaveled into silence at exactly 10 minutes.
- Recruit a wide variety of "unusual suspects" to apply to be appointed to policy-making
or recommending bodies. Help them understand the process so they have the best chance of
getting appointed by the majority.
- Sometimes, your peers may have a hard time accepting and being enthusiastic about an
idea because it came from you. One alternate strategy is to find another person on the
body, or a member of the staff who can make the suggestion.
- If your meetings are televised, make sure to promote community functions, presentations,
meetings, rallies and fundraisers sometime during the meeting.
- Ask a local radio station to have a government call-in program where you can outline a
few issues and then take calls from the public.
- On controversial issues, on issues where your vote is part of the minority or on issues
where you have changed your position, briefly explain why you are voting the way you did.
People will feel that you are a responsible and credible public servant for being accountable
in this way.
- It might be useful to have a volunteer staff to help you keep in contact with people,
research issues and do your job well. You may also want to bounce ideas off these folks to
see how something might play out in the community.
- Host town hall meetings once a year, to break some bread and listen to the community.
Invite other elected officials so that they can share in this activity.
- Ask your constituency groups for help in developing policy. Go to neighborhood meetings,
union meetings, environmental group meeting and others to ask the community to be part of
- Sponsor and lead teach-ins about various policy issues, areas of the budget or lobbying
strategies to prepare the community to get involved in the process.
- Encourage others who have gotten involved in this process to think about running for an
- Most communities have council or mayoral proclamations -- citizens can submit a proclamation
declaring "Women's Right to Choose Day" or "Earth Day" or "Helen Keller Day".
It is also crucial to think about how you will be accountable to your community, your
constituents and to the issues you ran on. Continue to build your community through building
relationships with your political allies, your political foes, organizations, individuals and
Being an elected official is a position of privilege. You will learn about
so many things and about yourself. It will change your life and you will change the lives of
others. It is how we use this privilege for the greater good that can lead our communities
towards a greater democracy and a more equitable society.