Political Slates with Tina Keats CW 21- Transcript

Political slates John Tsarpalas: Today on Commonwealthy, Tina and I will be talking about an important strategy for nonpartisan, multiple seat races. Commonwealthy #21, Political Slates.

Well, I am here with Kristina Keats. We are going to talk about something that we have touched on in the past and that is slates. I know in Commonwealthy #19, I interviewed Kyle Olson about school board issues. He talked about how important it was if you are running for school board to think about having a slate.  

So it is time for us to talk about slates because they are complicated.

Kristina Keats: First off, I think people have to know what a slate is.

John Tsarpalas: Okay, let’s start with that. What is a slate?

Kristina Keats: Well, a slate is when more than candidates join together. The one that we are most familiar with is the Republican slate and the Democrat slate. But it is not exactly the same as a party, although you can form a party to form a slate.

You just agree to run together as a team. That means that you make your yard signs together, you make your literature together, etc. It has its pluses and minuses.

Let’s talk first about why you might need a slate. Let’s use the example of school board. Let’s say you are running for school board. The reason you are running is you are not happy with the way your schools are being run; that’s the most common reason that anyone decides to run for office.

Well, there’s a big chance that your school board has been run by a limited group of people for a long time. It could be the people who founded the town or the people who are entrenched in town. Or in some cases, they have a formal process called caucuses or something like that where a group of town leaders will pick out who they think should run for the various offices for local election.

If any of these scenarios exist, you are basically running against entrenched power and entrenched interests. If there are, for example, nine people on your school board, they are having an election and four or five positions are up for re-election.

That’s usually the way it works where they will have an odd number of people on the board and then an odd or different number run for election each time so that they never have the entire board starting over. Usually in the example of nine, it is five and four. If there are seven, it’s four and three.

Let’s say you are running at a time when the majority of people are up for election. If you run by yourself and you want to make change about what’s been going on in schools, you are going to be one person on the board with eight people voting against you.

If they’ve been running it forever or they are a caucus, then they have a particular philosophy of governance and they have been doing it that way forever. Your coming on the board with one vote isn’t going to change anything. It’s going to be a pretty miserable job for you.

John Tsarpalas: Right. It’s so much better once you’re elected to have some other people on that board that are supporting the same principles and ideas as you. Otherwise you are just going to get beaten up and feel badly.

Kristina Keats: For example, you could make a proposal and Robert’s Rules of Order requires someone to second it. You won’t even have anybody to second it so it will never even get voted on if there isn’t someone else on the board who is interested in your point of view.

You just need to be aware of this. If you want to change what’s happening on your board, you really should think about planning ahead. You can’t do this the month before the election. You need to plan ahead and start finding likeminded people that you might be able to persuade to run for the school board with you.

If you have five spots open and you have five people you can persuade to run with you, there’s a chance that at the end of one election cycle, you could have changed the balance on the board.

John Tsarpalas: Right. So let’s talk about choosing people. You and I have seen some of the following happen: You’ll get a member of a slate that might be in agreement with your on principals, on the issues, but not be in agreement with you on how to run a campaign. Then there’s this fight about “I don’t want my name on that. I’m not going to this.” It just sabotages the whole team.

So it is about the weakest link. You’ve got to be careful about that.

Kristina Keats: Right. And it’s really hard to know how to do that. In the case that John’s talking about, the person who sabotaged the entire group and made them all lose was an incumbent. He thought because he was the incumbent that everybody should do it his way. Unfortunately, his way was the losing way.

Actually the other people on the slate didn’t particularly want to run with him, but it was a problem because he was the incumbent. It’s really difficult to throw them off.

At any rate, sometimes you just can’t control it. You can only do what you can do in politics. You do the best you can. But if you are starting and you’ve got an entrenched political group that you want to overthrow, then you really must think about a slate.

At minimum try to get another person who agrees with you in principal and your point of view on the board so that you can at least make proposals and get them seconded. They may all get voted down, but it is what you could use to run against them in the next election.

Lots of times if you want to make changes in politics, it is not a short-term proposition. If you are not happy with your school board, don’t think that it is going to change tomorrow just because you get involved.

You might have to try to find two people to run this time and three people next time, and then you get a majority. That you can do, too. But you have to be patient and you have to stick with it. You have to put up with a lot of unpleasant meetings if you in the minority.

Trust me, you see how power corrupts at the national level. It’s not different at the local level. People can be just as nasty and mean spirited. Maybe not in your town; it depends on the character of the town. Certainly I have seen enough local politics that just can be every bit as nasty, if not worse.

I would say it is even worse than the national politics. Here’s the problem. You get elected to the school board and you are going to run into everybody you know at the grocery store. If they are upset with something you’ve done, I’ve seen people just be incredibly nasty and rude at the grocery store.

These are all things to think about. I am not telling you not to do it, but just that if you are going to rack the vote politically, there is going to pushback. So just be prepared. Don’t be naïve about what can happen.

John Tsarpalas: We’ve talked about why a slate is important in terms of once you are elected. But there are certain advantages to putting a slate together for the campaign. That’s what I want to emphasize at this point.

Economy is a scale. If you are doing a mailing for one person and you’ve got to mail all the voters, then you might as well be mailing it for more than one candidate because it is the same cost.

Kristina Keats: Plus you have all of the candidates, theoretically, working together to get all of you elected so that you can break up the list. Candidates are the ones who will work the hardest to get elected. You can get volunteers, but you need hardworking candidates who will knock on doors and ask for people to vote for them.

So that’s really helpful because once one of you has knocked on the door and identified a voter who will support the slate, no one else has to go to that door anymore.

John Tsarpalas: Right, so let’s talk about voter ID. If you are lucky enough that your candidates come from different parts of the district or different neighborhoods or blocks, break it up. Make sure every candidate that you are adding to your slate, before you put the slate totally together, is committed to x amount of door knocks so that you are all doing an equal about of work. X amount of money that you are each going to put or each going to raise.

What else should they commit to before they lock that slate together? And the discussing issues, obviously.

Kristina Keats: Right, you should agree upon the issues. Talk about basic philosophies of campaigning. Make sure that you are all in agreement that if you find out something bad (maybe they had an arrest record or a DUI or something like that) about one of your opponents, are you going to be willing to use that?

John Tsarpalas: And about one of the members of the slate. If somebody on your slate needs to come clean right up front (“Look, I’ve got this problem. This might come out”), then you all need to know in advance.

Basically you’ve got to have your campaign plan together before the slate is finalized and get everybody to agree that they are going to abide by this plan and do their share.

Kristina Keats: Right, because if you don’t, then that’s when you have the problem later on. “Well, I am not going to do that. I am not going to be involved in that. You don’t want your hands tied when you are doing the campaigning. You want to be able to pursue all avenues, so you need to get that agreement up front.

It’s pretty hard, but as long as you all agree what it is going to be, then that’s fine. A lot of people don’t really understand what it takes to run for office. You need to know that you’ve got to work hard and you’ve got to go out and see people.

So when you are looking to recruit people for your slate, you want to recruit people who are active in the community, have lots of friends, and are personable. Bottom line, politics, as we keep saying, doesn’t change much from junior high. It is a lot easier to get a likeable person elected than someone who isn’t likeable.

John Tsarpalas: It’s nice to have some balance of male and female and different ethnic groups if your community is made of ethnic groups. You want people in different clubs, organizations, churches, and synagogues.

Kristina Keats: You can do that, but my experience has been it is really hard to get people to run for local office, period.

John Tsarpalas: It is.

Kristina Keats: It is an unpaid position that takes a lot of time. It takes a lot of work to get elected in the first place. You need to find people who are willing to make that sacrifice. It is difficult. If it is better for you if you run as a group because of all the things we’ve discussed.

John Tsarpalas: Right. So you divide up the door knocking and the phone calling. You are still trying to recruit volunteers and have them make calls and do door knocking for you as well. But if each candidate has a certain commitment level and a certain section… And literally you have to nudge each other to make sure you are doing it, make sure people are staying on track, and make sure one people isn’t letting it go to the last minute and of course doesn’t finish.

And then there’s the mailings. You probably should figure out how many mailings you are going to do in advance and some of the themes that are going to be on there so everyone is in agreement. Obviously you are saving money on those mailing or if you are buying cable TV ads or local newspaper ads.

Again the pooling of all of your resources into one spot. When you pooling of your money, you obviously get more for your dollars because you are in a group.

Kristina Keats: But the big downside, as John mentioned, is your team is only as strong as your weakest link. So if you are trying to fill five positions but you can only find four people, you are better off sticking with four good people than to just throw a fifth in there. You are going to be associated with each other. You want people who have positives images, etc.

Now let’s talk about the problem. If you make the decision to run and there are five open seats and you could only come up with four people for your slate, you can do it but the opponents will have their five if you are running up against an entrenched interest.

You must then get your supporters to only vote for your four candidates. You have to run a campaign to only vote for four. This is difficult. It can be done; I have done it successfully many times.

But you have to start out knowing that you have to tell everybody when they say, “Oh, I agree with your principles. I will vote for you,” then you say, “Here’s our slate. Only vote for four” or three or however many people are on your slate.

In those races where there are five positions and nine people running, the top five win. So you don’t want your supporters voting for your four people and then going, “Eeny, meeny, miny, moe” and giving a vote to one of the other people who are running against you.

John Tsarpalas: Right, because they are going to get all of your support plus their support. They will definitely win.

Kristina Keats: Right. So you want to not do that. You can’t control who the fifth person will be. Even if you say, “Well, on the other team, Joe Schmoe isn’t so bad,” you don’t want to be promoting Joe Schmoe because he may then knock one of your people off.

So if you have a slate that is not complete, you have to be prepared to run for an only vote for two, three, or four.

John Tsarpalas: How many members are on your slate.

Kristina Keats: And explain that to people. They will get it. Keep in mind, people who go to these local elections and vote in school board, village board, city council elections, they are what I call the civics. They care about their community. They care about who runs their community.

They are very sophisticated, so when you explain it to them, they will get it. They will say, “Oh, I get it.” That’s what you have to. That’s why you can do it, but you have to know that that’s what you are going to do from the very beginning. So even in your literature, write, “Only vote for four.”

And then what you want to do is however your political body decides to put people on the ballot, try to get your four together either at the top or the bottom of the ballot. Don’t have them mixed in. The way you can do that is when you sign up and do your petitions, find out how they decide what the ballot order is.

If they pull it out of a hat, well, there is not much you can do about that. In a lot of places, you end up on the ballot based on when you sign up.

John Tsarpalas: When you file, right.

Kristina Keats: So if you can control it, you want to try to get your team either at the top of the ballot or the bottom of the ballot.

John Tsarpalas: Right. You should file together and be ready to file that first day or file that last day so you are at the end. But somewhere in middle you run the risk of getting mixed up with everybody else.

Kristina Keats: Because then you can run a “Vote for the bottom four” or “Vote for the top four.” You can have that part of your campaign. Believe me, that’s essential. I’ve seen people say, “Oh, it doesn’t matter.” They come up with what they think are clever acronyms for the first letters of the names of the people that are running, forgetting the fact that someone else has the same first letter that’s not on your team.

Don’t make it hard for the voters. You have to make it really simple. When you are at the door, if they say, “Yeah, I am with you,” then you say, “Now remember, vote for the bottom four” or the bottom three or the top two.

You have to make it easy for the voters. Yes, they are ones who pay attention and are sophisticated. But don’t make it hard.

John Tsarpalas: Right, then trying to remember a bunch of names, going in with a list, and trying to figure out which is which.

Kristina Keats: Right, don’t do that.

John Tsarpalas: It’s hard.

Kristina Keats: One thing that you want to do when you have your yard signs is have a bright color background and have the names as large as you can. Then at the bottom put for village board, school board, city council, or whatever.

Obviously these races we are talking about are where it is not run by district. I don’t know many school boards that have districts, but maybe the do in some areas.

John Tsarpalas: You mean like wards or something within a board area?

Kristina Keats: Right.

John Tsarpalas: I do believe that happens in some places.

Kristina Keats: Then the concept of a slate is irrelevant.

John Tsarpalas: Right.

Kristina Keats: This only matters when you have open, five spots.

John Tsarpalas: Open seats or multiple seats, right.

Kristina Keats: And ten people can run or a hundred people can run. That’s when it matters.

John Tsarpalas: Right. Something else we can touch on here, and you mentioned it in the very beginning, is there are times when independent parties or small local parties are formed. I know, for instance, here in Morton Grove, Illinois, for the village races they form small, little parties. They are slates. But they are not allowed to keep the party name from election to the next.

So for instance, in Morton Grove, there’s the Action Party, which one cycle they are Action, the next time they are Act-On, and the next time they are Action again. So that’s how they keep it together and avoid the law; by changing their name.

Kristina Keats: You just have to know what the law is in your area, whether you can form a party. If you do, then you can all file together. Some places say if you form a party, which you could, you can make up any name you want. Your name should hopefully tell people what your position is. You are the Reform Party or if you are the incumbents, you might want to say the Establishment.

You can form a party. It just depends on where you are running. Different states are different. Different counties are different. So you need to do your homework. But we are just throwing out the concept of running a slate if you have multiple spots open and you are trying to take over a political body.

John Tsarpalas: Right. Not easy.

Kristina Keats: No.

John Tsarpalas: Think about it. There’s strategy here you need to think about. And you really need to know who you are forming a partnership. This is a short-term marriage or a business partnership. It can be difficult if you are not in harmony and in sync. As Tina said, you are better off leaving that person off who is going to be trouble versus trying to fill it up. It’s going to be a problem for you.

Kristina Keats: And if you can’t find people to fill all the spots, think long term. We’ll do three this time and then we’ll be looking for next time. You have to start somewhere. If you want to make change, which I assume you do because you are thinking about running for office, you have to have a long-term strategy.

John Tsarpalas: Right. And we have to start winning some of these school board races if we are going to have any effect on the future in America.

Kristina Keats: Right.

John Tsarpalas: If you have questions, feel free to write to me at john@commonwealhty.com. I am happy to answer questions any time. We are here to help. We are here to give you training. We are also interested in wanting to what you need to know.

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I hope you enjoyed today’s podcast. We always have show notes and transcripts on the website at Commonwealthy.com.

Kristina Keats: And if you can’t find people to fill all the spots, think long term. We’ll do three this time and then we’ll be looking for next time. You have to start somewhere. If you want to make change, which I assume you do because you are thinking about running for office, you have to have a long-term strategy.

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