Want to run for office? Ponder this


It won’t be long now before candidates for elective office can qualify to run in the next election cycle. Many incumbents eager to preserve their job devoutly hope nobody pays any attention, so they may run unopposed and be spared the huge expense, distraction and exposure to criticism, fair or unfair, a contest for their job might involve. Who likes risking losing his job, if it’s one he likes?

Once the deadline is past, and they realize they were the only ones who qualified, elected incumbents heave a sigh of relief, knowing their name will be the only one on the ballot for their position, and that they will need only one vote, just one, to continue in office for four more years.

Incumbents know the dates they need to know quite well. They might be on pins and needles the whole qualification period, wondering if anyone will come after their job. Incumbency has many advantages, but there’s nothing better than an election where you don’t have to explain or defend anything you have done, or failed to do, while in office.

Running for office requires greater qualifications than simply being mad. Most people prefer letting somebody else fight their battles. Running for office can cost serious upfront money —in Georgia 3 percent of the annual salary for the job for just about every job— and you’ve got to come up with a check that clears the bank. A judge who makes $150,000 a year has to come up with a cool $4,500, not tax deductible. (They resent it.)

I skip many details, but upon qualifying all you’ve got is your name on a ballot. When running for a nonpartisan job, like judges, the election for you is on the day of the general primary; when you run as a Democrat or Republican, the primary is your first hurdle, and the general election, where Democrats and Republicans finally can face off, is the next one. It is quite difficult to run as anything other than a Democrat or Republican for non-judicial offices in Georgia, which is why some people just pick the label which they think will help them get elected, without worrying too much about the philosophical differences between the parties.

So I have not yet told you about the magic dates this year. Unless a person has officially qualified as a candidate by noon on Friday, March 11, the door to public office is closed. The start is Monday, March 7, but it’s the March 11 deadline that matters. The general primary and nonpartisan general election is on Tuesday, May 24. Election Day is Tuesday, Nov. 8.

When we’re younger, we are all exposed to idealistic thoughts about the virtues of democracy, and how great and helpful it is to have a competition of ideas among candidates. The reality is somewhat different.

First of all, when you win, it’s not like you won the lottery. Winning the lottery is a one-time event where you pocket a lot of money and go live quietly and happily while spending it. Winning an election means you just got yourself a job, which you’ve got to do, day in and day out, while exposed to criticism from people who aren’t necessarily constructive in their comments. I am being diplomatic, but you can be sure many critics are not.

There is one thing you discover as soon as you become a candidate. There are lots of organizations out there that send you questionnaires about your views on subjects of interest to them.

All of a sudden, you may hear from groups you never knew existed, like Citizens for Smokers’ Rights. Who knew? It is pretty certain you’ll hear from the pro-choice and anti-abortion crowds, the NRA, and unions, especially teachers’ unions. Probably Fair Tax supporters, too, and some religious groups. Just think about all the fringe groups out there, running from the sublime to the nuttiest, and you may get a questionnaire from them. A few may even want you to come to an interview.

Needless to say, they don’t teach you about all that in high school Social Sciences classes. Every group makes it sound or look as if they could make or break you, the candidate.

You’ll also hear from people who provide advertising and signs. The idea is to create this overwhelming feeling that unless you spend money with them, big time, your chances of being elected are close to zero. Imagine a frugal candidate who believes in spending his personal as well as public money carefully facing that kind of circus.

There is a newer wave of influence-peddling nowadays, through social media. Cell phones and other devices can be used for instant messages to “friends” and “followers” to spread both information and misinformation. Our older folks hardly realize that, but that’s an ever growing force to reckon with.

An intelligent candidate would most likely want to present and discuss ideas with the public, but when you’re selling signs, advertising or services, the idea is to make money out of the system. That’s how you make your living, and that’s kind of important. Nonetheless, democracy and idealism suffer quite a bit in the process, as raising money suddenly becomes paramount in the effort to stay relevant, or politically alive.

To a scientist, this whole process is quite interesting. One would think that the winners in an election should be the voters themselves, for making a wise selection after having attracted worthy candidates, just like a business does when it hires personnel. That does not seem to be the way most people see it, even though many agree that government should be run like a well-run business.

Running for office is a lot less glamorous and exciting than the media try to make it look like, and the fact remains that we need to attract capable and worthy candidates. At the very least, you will have been reminded of the important deadline this year: March 11. The job starts next Jan. 1, but one needs apply early.

[A Fayette resident and retired lawyer and actuary, Claude Y. Paquin was elected Justice of the Peace for the Fullers Militia District of Cobb County in 1980 and unsuccessfully ran for Fayette state representative in 1992 when advocating for the creation of the Fayette state court.]