In the world of business, there are lots of resources for young entrepreneurs: the Chamber of Commerce, seed funds, investor groups, legal assistance, mentoring programs, tax incentives, and people to help you navigate the tax incentives. There is plenty of support from the business community because they know that stronger businesses ensure a stronger economy for everyone.
Unfortunately, this mentality does not translate into the political industry. If you view campaign managers as entrepreneurs, then you see a striking problem. Consider that these people make a business plan and carry it out. Some plans are very inventive and lead to great results, some are lackluster or cheap knockoffs of other designs and fail. Some plans are crushed by forces beyond their control, and some are buoyed by favorable winds. For six to eight months, campaign managers oversee budgets, marketing strategies, ground games, consumer relations, and a whole host of other issues.
And at the end of that six to eight months, we cast these managers aside. Win or lose, they are out of a job. Now, some gain employment as legislative aides, if their candidate was running for a legislative position and wins. However this takes campaign managers out of the industry (they can’t do political organizing while being employed by the state like that.) No matter what, campaign managers are no longer in the industry they have just been working in.
Imagine if every startup business manager was fired after six months with no considerartion of how well the business did. It would be a disaster for the community. The learning curve is so steep and these people have such a base of knowledge in their heads that to throw them away every year is foolish.
Some campaign managers find a way around it. They become consultants. They hang up their hat on the long hours slogging through volunteer phone calls and fundraisers, and just design mailers and give advice. However, to make this strategy work, you have to take on several clients at once to pay your way. Your attention and focus gets scattered. You end up taking clients outside your district, areas where you don’t have a feel for what works and what doesn’t. Al Jensen and Kelli Linville both suffered from this, employing consultants based out of Seattle and Olympia who had several other clients. I am not saying this is why they lost, or that the consultants gave bad advice, but boots on the ground make a big difference in terms of perspective.
Right now, there is a cycle. We find some poor sap graduating college from the Political Science Department of Western. We hand them this campaign managing job and say go for it. Even if they are the brightest kid in their class, they still have to learn who all the players are in town, what not to mention to whom, and how to best motivate people in various communities. And they better learn it fast, because we hire them in June, right after they graduate and right after the candidate declares. The campaign is already in full swing.
Then, after the campaign is done, they are cast adrift. They might struggle in vain to find work here on their own, but after a few months, they will give up and move to Seattle or Olympia, never to be seen again. We will lament their loss or barely remember their name and then repeat the cycle for the next year.
It doesn’t have to be like this. We as a community, on both sides of the aisle, can support our campaign managers after the election is over. We can help them land jobs, even if it is just temporary work, a part-time job, or heck, even a phone number and a lead helps. Whatever it takes to keep them here.
The Whatcom Democrats really stepped up and helped me find work after the Catherine Chambers campaign last year. I asked for and received letters of recommendation, people made a few phone calls on my behalf, and I got some part-time work. As a result, I was able to run a stronger campaign this year for Jean.
Any good businessperson will tell you, having good staff is essential to a well-run business. It is time for our parties to invest in human capital, and buy local. Pass on the well-connected consultants from Olympia, and snap up these local boys and girls who are ready to run another campaign, before they vanish off into the sunset.
Note: "sunset" is located in Seattle, where the sun is always set.