Running for Local Office with Kristina Keats CW 02- Transcript

John Tsarpalas: So let’s start with the soul searching. You need to sit down and have a good talk with your spouse, family, and yourself.

Kristina Keats: About are you really going to be willing to do this. And the one thing that I ask candidates when they are deciding to run for office- because this happens- I say, “Okay, what is going to happen when one of the people you know in your town that you and your spouse have gone out to dinner with them, that the families are close, you do a lot of things together, and that person puts up a yard sign for your opponent?”

John Tsarpalas: Well, I know that happened many times.

Kristina Keats: It happens. It happens many times.

John Tsarpalas: I’ve had candidates come to me and they are just shattered that their dear friend, people that they’ve gone to church with for years is supporting the other side.

Kristina Keats: And so you have to ask yourself if you can handle that.

John Tsarpalas: Right.

Kristina Keats: Okay. One of the things I tell people when you run for office, you will find out who your true friends are. Because quite honestly, I was active in politics my whole life, but if somebody that was even my next door neighbor- somebody that I may not have been friends with but he was my next door neighbor- I would never put up a yard sign for the opponent when I lived right next to the candidate.

John Tsarpalas: Right.

Kristina Keats: Because it’s devastating.

John Tsarpalas: Yeah.

Kristina Keats: But it happens. And it most likely in a local election will happen, that somebody that you thought was your friend is going to put up a yard sign or, in my case the one time I ran for office, stood up at a dinner party and announced to everybody at the dinner party that he was not voting for me.

John Tsarpalas: Wow.

Kristina Keats: Which I actually think I got more votes because he did that. But it was a wake-up call.

John Tsarpalas: Yeah.

Kristina Keats: Okay. And it may not happen to you. But I’ve never seen a local election where the candidates haven’t had to encounter that.

John Tsarpalas: Right.

Kristina Keats: Because politics are a motivator and unless you’ve been talking politics with all of the people that you know, you don’t really know what they think. You can be good friends with them to go out to dinner and talk about the neighborhood and your kids, but then politics shows up and it can change people. And everybody is not as kind as I would be to my neighbor.

John Tsarpalas: Right.

Kristina Keats: I would just not be that unkind. I would not vote for them.

John Tsarpalas: And just be quiet about it, right.

Kristina Keats: But I wouldn’t have to announce it. I wouldn’t have to be in his face.

John Tsarpalas: Right. Then there is the time issue. I think that is something that family needs to understand and every candidate. Whatever you think this is going to take, it is going to be twice as much.

Kristina Keats: Right. Well, first off, the other thing that is really important to understand is the minute you become an announced candidate, you are no longer Susie Smith. You are Susie Smith, school board candidate or village board candidate. And everything you say will be seen through a lens of candidate. So you can’t go out at a party and just have fun and say things, okay? And especially today because everybody has a camera and a recorder.

John Tsarpalas: Right.

Kristina Keats: And if you say something stupid, you better believe it will be on a YouTube and email to everyone in your town. So right away you have to have your guard up a little bit that you are now a candidate and what you say is coming out of the mouth of a candidate.

John Tsarpalas: Right, and when you schlep off to the grocery store, you can’t do it in your slippers; you’ve got to look the part.

Kristina Keats: Right. You are now a public figure, even in a small town.

John Tsarpalas: Right.

Kristina Keats: You are a public figure. And actually in small towns, the state rep or even the school, they are considered pillars of the community. You will get recognized because of that, so your personal life is now gone.

John Tsarpalas: Correct. But let’s go back to the actual time. There’s going to be a lot less time for family, less time for work. I mean you are going to have to show up to things that happen during work hours. There is going to be something going on in the evenings that you should be attending. And if not those things, you should be on the phone asking people to vote for you, volunteer for you, donate money to you.

Kristina Keats: Right.

John Tsarpalas: So let’s talk about people having enough gumption to ask somebody for money. Because I just recently had a candidate I was working with who couldn’t ask for money.

Kristina Keats: Okay.

John Tsarpalas: And the campaign was doomed.

Kristina Keats: Well, here’s what I would always say to candidates, and it is important and you need to really believe this. If you, Mr. Candidate, had a good friend who was deciding to run for office and that good friend did not ever call you to ask you to help, how would you feel?

John Tsarpalas: Good point.

Kristina Keats: I mean I would be hurt. You are running for office and you’re not even going to ask me to help you? You don’t think I’m a friend.

John Tsarpalas: Right.

Kristina Keats: So you have to understand if you as a candidate don’t believe in yourself enough to start at least asking your friends to help, how can you possibly win? Because you can’t do it alone. Nobody can do it alone. Everybody always has the image of the presidential people running for office and they show up in a stadium and thousands of people are there cheering them. That is not how it works at the local level. You have to go to them. They do not come to you. And you have to ask for their help, their support, their money. If you can’t do that, then don’t even consider running for office.

John Tsarpalas: Right. But it’s also lonely. Most candidates don’t get many people that will volunteer, that will step up. I mean, you’ve got to ask. You’ve got to kind of push them along to help you. But you’ll find that you show up for a parade and you hope that you are going to have fifteen people walk with you and you have two.

Kristina Keats: Right.

John Tsarpalas: Local offices just are…

Kristina Keats: People don’t care about it. Everybody cares about who president of the United States is, as if the president could solve the zoning problem in your town.

John Tsarpalas: Right.

Kristina Keats: Or improve your schools.

John Tsarpalas: Right.

Kristina Keats: Get real. The only way that we are going to improve what is going on locally is by people like you stepping up to the plate and doing it. Yes, not very many people will help you, but that’s why you have to ask everybody to help. And nobody’s going to work as hard as you do. But if you don’t work, no one else will work. You have to be willing to work. And there are people out there who will help you, who will step up to the plate, but you won’t find out who they are until you ask. And probably some of them are people you don’t even know yet.

John Tsarpalas: Right.

Kristina Keats: But that’s where it gets back to the two parties working behind the scenes. In each party, there are people who are passionate about policy and what happens in government. And they are willing to step up and help a good candidate. But you have to ask them for that help.

And probably, since you live in the town, you should know some people who are active in the community. And it doesn’t have to politics, but it could be someone who is in the Chamber of Commerce or someone who is in the Rotary group or the lady who runs the soccer club schedule. Those people exist; you need to meet them and help them to help you.

Because, for example, one person who does run the Little League baseball league, does all the scheduling, she knows all the parents in that organization. And if she decided you were a good candidate, she could send an email or a text or a tweet to every single parent saying, “Vote for Susie for school board.” And that is so powerful because people like her. So you start looking for those people.

John Tsarpalas: Right.

Kristina Keats: And you have to ask them to help.

John Tsarpalas: This reminds me of we helped a candidate who was running for Wilmette Park District and he was a hockey father; his kids were all involved in hockey. And he literally lined up the hockey people, talking to the coaches, talking to the parents, and built a coalition of hockey people. And he just swept into office.

Kristina Keats: Right.

John Tsarpalas: He had the best turnout ever.

Kristina Keats: Yeah, so when we go back to… That’s a really good point because at the local level, it can be any large community organization that you are involved in and that you know people. But if you aren’t in any of those things, then it makes it harder.

John Tsarpalas: Right.

Kristina Keats: But usually most people who run for office have not been sitting in their house for the last ten years; they’ve been doing other things in the community. Because people who are interested in running for office are interested in their communities to begin with. So you’ve probably been doing something. You’re active in your church, or active in your kid’s sport league, or something. And that’s where you start. Those people know you. And if when you ask… Let’s say you’ve been active in your church, really active and you start asking people in your church to help you and nobody helps you, then you are going to have really hard time.

John Tsarpalas: Let me throw a quick thought in here.

Kristina Keats: Mhmm.

John Tsarpalas: Don’t assume an email is asking.

Kristina Keats: No.

John Tsarpalas: You have to talk to people. One of the things that I see is we’ve got a generation thing here, but people will hear about it through Facebook, they’ll see it, but it isn’t going to sink in and it isn’t going to motivate them. You’ve got to talk to them.

Kristina Keats: Right.

John Tsarpalas: You’ve got to pick up the phone and call people.

Kristina Keats: Email, text, Twitter are fabulous because they are free to do and they replace spending money on mail.

John Tsarpalas: Right.

Kristina Keats: Okay. But spending money on mail in the old days didn’t motivate anybody to come to your campaign. The number one that reason that people don’t volunteer for anything, whether it’s the hockey parents association or your local church, the number one reason that they don’t volunteer is they were not asked.

John Tsarpalas: Right.

Kristina Keats: And an email is not an ask. Because ask yourself if somebody sent me an email like, “Oh, we’re doing a car wash on Saturday and we really need volunteers. Can you please help?”

John Tsarpalas: Yeah. I got that email yesterday to walk precincts for a guy running for Congress.

Kristina Keats: Right. And guess what?

John Tsarpalas: I’m not going.

Kristina Keats: I mean, you open it, you delete it, and you are done. Okay? Even if it is somebody you really like, you go, “Oh I don’t want to do that.” Right?

John Tsarpalas: Right.

Kristina Keats: But when you go up to your good friend and say, “John, I’m running for school board. Will you help me please? I need help. I can’t do it alone.” John will say yes. And he may not work a hundred hours, but he might put in ten hours. Or what he might do is send an email to all of his friends; that’s valuable. That’s the advertising. And when they get the email from John, not from Susie@runningforschoolboard, they are going to open it. And John’s going to say, “Please support my friend, Susie. She’s running for school board.” And that’s powerful because they know John. They know John is a good person.

So you have to ask everybody you know. If you are going to be uncomfortable doing that… And that means asking for money. Every office needs some money. You need yard signs. That’s a thousand bucks to do two hundred yard signs. You need computers.

John Tsarpalas: You need a little database. You need… Right.

Kristina Keats: You need a little bit of advertising that you can leave with people when you meet them on the street or… You cannot run for office without spending at least a little bit of money. The minimum for local office, I would say, would be two thousand dollars. And people will say, “Oh, well, I can do that myself.” That’s fine that you can help, but understand that when you ask someone for money, you are asking for their support.

Somebody gives you a twenty-dollar check, number one you don’t have to pay that twenty dollars, but more importantly that person has just told you, “I support you.” So later you can go back and say, “Hey, will you send emails to your friends and remind them that I’m running for office?” Or, “Hey, would you come on Saturday. We’re going to just go knock on doors and let people know I’m running for office.” Chances are you’re going to get that support. So it’s basically just another way of asking for support.

So let’s say you go to somebody and you say, “Hey, I’m running for office. Do you think you can donate $20 toward my effort?” And they say, “You know, things are really tight for me right now. I can’t do that.” Don’t just go, “Oh, okay.” Then say, “Well, would you be willing to put up a yard sign when the time comes?” “Oh, sure, I can do a yard sign.” It doesn’t cost anything to do a yard sign, but it is support.

And believe me, campaigns are like sports events. And if you are sports person, which I’m not but the analogy works beautifully, how many football games have you been to where team A is killing team B and at the halftime they come back out of the locker-room and the momentum has changed?

John Tsarpalas: Right.

Kristina Keats: And suddenly team B is going gangbusters. And team B wins. Okay, political campaigns are all about momentum. And you as the candidate create the momentum.

John Tsarpalas: Right. Or perception of momentum. I think that’s important.

Kristina Keats: Well, no, you can feel it.

John Tsarpalas: Well you can feel it, but if you get suddenly a bunch of the yard signs popping up for you, people suddenly pay attention to that.

Kristina Keats: Yeah.

John Tsarpalas: That suddenly they take notice.

Kristina Keats: But that’s what I’m saying, you create the momentum.

John Tsarpalas: Right.

Kristina Keats: Okay. And one of the ways you create it is you start with your friends. Will you support me? Will you give me money? Will you put up a yard sign? Will you help me? Will you send emails to your friends? Will you send a text message? And, okay, we’re going to talk later about you make the ask and then you keep careful track of it. And we’ll talk about that when get to database.

John Tsarpalas: Right.

Kristina Keats: But right now you have to do your personal assessment. Think of all your friends. Can you go up to them and ask them for help? If you cannot do that, your chances of success are slim. I’m not going to say impossible because you could still win. But especially if you are going up against the entrenched power. If you are going up against the entrenched power and you won’t ask for help and support and money and votes and yard signs and volunteers, then don’t waste your time listening to the rest of the podcast because that is what it is all about. How you do this effectively? How do you do it in a way that will be a well-oiled machine as opposed to a random running around like a chicken with your head cut off, you know, trying to get support?

John Tsarpalas: Right. Alright, let’s talk about a little area that most people don’t understand and is important, and that is paperwork, filing, and a treasurer.

Kristina Keats: Right.

John Tsarpalas: So one of the people you are looking for early on is someone you trust that is thorough. And this might be someone that’s an accountant, an attorney. Just someone that is methodical that you can get to be your treasurer.

Kristina Keats: Right.

John Tsarpalas: And the paperwork you need to file. Now local paperwork varies. Often the paperwork happens at… For instance you are running for county, it’s happening at the county level; you are filling there. You are running for school board; you’re actually filing at the school board often. You have to figure out what paperwork’s involved, what needs to be reported, what are the campaign finance laws. You can look on your state board of elections.

Kristina Keats: Right.

John Tsarpalas: Somewhere there it will tell you what the laws are.

Kristina Keats: Right.

John Tsarpalas: Usually there’s a good list of, an FAQ that spells everything out. You can do that all there.

Kristina Keats: Right.

John Tsarpalas: But someone’s got to take care of it. And it is heavily regulated.

Kristina Keats: Right.

John Tsarpalas: And you need to be aware of that.

Kristina Keats: Well, you’ve sort of outlined it. Those resources are all there. And before… This is why if you are going to run for office and it’s school board and the filing is in January, you need to start the January before. I mean, unfortunately a lot of people who decide to run for office get motivate a week before the filing is due. Think about all the things we’ve talked about that you have to do. You have to understand the issues, go to the meetings, start to talking to your friends, find out what’s really going on, and this part that John just mentioned, this paperwork. You as a candidate need to understand what the rules are because the rules have been written by the people who are in power to keep people out of power.

John Tsarpalas: Right.

Kristina Keats: The rules are not there to make sure that elections are clean, although it can have that side affect. But the rules are so picky and so difficult to completely understand that if somebody wanted to, they could knock you off the ballot because you didn’t do stuff right.

John Tsarpalas: Well, we’re also talking about the petition, petitioning and getting on the ballot and filing. It depends where you are.

Kristina Keats: In the areas that are more open to democracy, you basically go down, fill out a form, and say, “I want to run,” and you are done.

John Tsarpalas: Right.

Kristina Keats: And that exists. Those places do exist where you don’t pass petitions, etc. But in the areas where the clique has been in charge for a really long time, they want to keep people like you off the ballot.

John Tsarpalas: Right.

Kristina Keats: And so they have developed all kinds of rules as to what the petition signature needs to look like, what the petitions need to look like, how the petitions have to be bound, etc. And I know Illinois as a state is probably one of the worst for that. And even people who are very sophisticated, know how to run races, get knocked off the ballot because the rules are designed for the people in power.

John Tsarpalas: Right. But let me tell you a little story. Now Congressman Aaron Schock from Illinois ran for school board.

Kristina Keats: Right.

John Tsarpalas: He was this high school student. He felt some of the rules were unfair when he was legally of age, which I think was nineteen.

Kristina Keats: Eighteen. Eighteen he ran for school board.

John Tsarpalas: He ran for school board. Filed. They knocked him off the ballots, saying his petitions were not proper, etc. And that didn’t stop him.

Kristina Keats: Right.

John Tsarpalas: He went on to run a write-in campaign, which is difficult to do.

Kristina Keats: Impossible.

John Tsarpalas: And defeated the school board president, knocked him off the ballot, which was huge. I think it’s David and Goliath and it’s a great story. We need to extend some encouraging thoughts here, too.

Kristina Keats: Right, right.

John Tsarpalas: Because we’ve been telling them how many hours it’s going to take, you’ve got to ask your friends and do this. It’s just very hard and difficult. But it’s doable and it needs to be done.

Kristina Keats: Right. And don’t be naïve about what needs to be done. Aaron Schock is a great example because talk about grassroots and now he’s a Congressman. And because he did it… And we are going to get into this later about how he did it. He did everything right.

John Tsarpalas: Right.

Kristina Keats: Even though he got knocked off the ballot, it didn’t stop him. And he won because he did what we are going to talk later about what the things are that you have to do to win. But we are trying to say here is you do need to be incredibly motivated.

John Tsarpalas: Right.

Kristina Keats: And you need to be prepared and you need to be smart. And one smart thing to do is to learn all the petition requirements that your state, your local area requires. And just understand, the more requirements there are, the more entrenched the insiders are. If you are in a state where all you have to do is sign a piece of paper saying you want to run and you are in, chances are you have less of a centralized power-centric political structure, and good for you.

John Tsarpalas: Right. The other thing is time. The earlier you start, the more time you have to work at this.

Kristina Keats: Right.

John Tsarpalas: Keep in the back of your mind you might not win the first round. I always tell new candidates, “This might take two runs at this.”

Kristina Keats: Right.

John Tsarpalas: It’s just very, very difficult to build an organization, find volunteers, find people, you know, that are going to donate. The incumbents got the advantage because somebody’s already given them money before. They can go back there, start there.

Kristina Keats: Right.

John Tsarpalas: And then add some new people.

Kristina Keats: Name ID.

John Tsarpalas: Name ID.

Kristina Keats: Which is incredibly valuable, we talked about that. The other thing is you might be fortunate to know someone in your community who has run races before and will help you.

I had a candidate, and I forget when, but by the time she had decided to run, I had already worked on four or five local school board elections. And she was one of the best candidates ever because she did what I told her to do. And she didn’t argue with me and she didn’t say, “Oh I can’t do that” or “I’m not comfortable.” Anything I told her to do, she did. She was a first time candidate running up against… There were all together four candidates, three slots. There were three incumbents and her. She got the most votes of anybody in that race.

John Tsarpalas: Wow. That’s good.

Kristina Keats: So it’s all possible. If you listen to all our podcasts and you do what we tell you to do, you can win. But as you can see already by what we’re telling you to do upfront, you need to start a year ahead. So if you’re four weeks from the filing, you’re going to have to make up for what should have been done for at least a year or two.

John Tsarpalas: Right.

Kristina Keats: And you can do it. You can do it. Aaron Schock is a good example. He just got angry at his school board and what some of their policies were. And he decided to run and he took it all the way. So it is absolutely possible. But it could end up taking more time. But here’s another thing about this time: yeah, it is a lot of time, but it also can be a lot of fun.

John Tsarpalas: Yes.

Kristina Keats: It is a lot of fun. And it’s very exciting. Going back to the sports analogy, you’re on your team. Your team is playing. And when your team starts doing really well and when they win, the high is just exactly the same that you get from winning being on the football team. So that’s why I often times, I like to see candidates who’ve had sports background.

John Tsarpalas: Right. Right.

Kristina Keats: They played on a sport. Because they understand how much work it takes to be effective at winning. And it’s a competitive sport.

John Tsarpalas: And a team sport. You’ve got to build a team.

Kristina Keats: And a team sport, right.

John Tsarpalas: And one of the other benefits is friendship.

Kristina Keats: Right.

John Tsarpalas: I mean, I met you in politics and we’re best of friends.

Kristina Keats: Right.

John Tsarpalas: My dearest, closest, deepest people, friends in my life came through campaigns.

Kristina Keats: Absolutely. And I was going to say the same thing. When I said you find who your friends are…

John Tsarpalas: Yeah.

Kristina Keats: But then your friends that you meet in politics you make bonds that you can’t make in any other place other than perhaps church, you know, because when you work in politics… When you are on a campaign, you don’t have superficial conversations like, “Oh, where did you get your nails done? Oh, that’s such a cute dress.” I’m not saying that you can’t talk about that stuff, because at least for me, I am a woman; I care about stuff like that.

John Tsarpalas: Right.

Kristina Keats: But that’s not where the level of the relationship ends.

John Tsarpalas: Right.

Kristina Keats: You get deep into what is important to you as a human being, what you care about, what your philosophy of life is.

John Tsarpalas: Right.

Kristina Keats: What the meaning of life is, you know. About what the future’s going to look like, how much it means to you to see certain things for your children. I mean your relationships are deep and lasting and just the best.

John Tsarpalas: They really are. So go for it.

Kristina Keats: So keep that in mind. We’re trying to be balanced about it. The biggest thing is first time candidates are very naïve about a lot of things and the amount of effort is one of the main ones.

John Tsarpalas: Right. And I hesitate to get into this, but I am going to jump there any way, and that is you learn a lot from losing.

Kristina Keats: Absolutely.

John Tsarpalas: I lost a lot of races. We did together even.

Kristina Keats: Right. We didn’t lose together.

John Tsarpalas: We didn’t lose. I lost a lot before I met you. Let’s start there.

Kristina Keats: Right, okay.

John Tsarpalas: And it goes from there.

Kristina Keats: Well the reason why you learn more, I think you learn more from losing- and I say everything I know it’s because I did it wrong first.

John Tsarpalas: Right.

Kristina Keats: Okay? Because when you win… Let’s say you go out and you win. Some people go out the first time and they win. They think they did everything right. They might have just been lucky.

John Tsarpalas: Yeah.

Kristina Keats: They might have been up against complete non-candidate.

John Tsarpalas: Complacent, right, candidate. Right.

Kristina Keats: Okay? But by losing… I was not always a political animal. I did not get turned on to politics until I was in my mid- to late forties and I had run a business prior to that. And it was my interaction with government as a small businessperson that made me think that things weren’t running the way they should be. The first race that I got actively involved in was my own. So I was that naïve candidate who started to run and had no idea. But because I had been a small businessperson and an entrepreneur, I had a lot of the skill sets that were helpful in being a candidate. I could start things up. I could organize. I could recruit people.

What I was most naïve about was how waves can affect you. Like if you are in the bottom of the ticket and you are running a partisan race, which I was, the top of the ticket can really devastate you because especially if it is a partisan race in a presidential year, what is going on at the top has way more to do with whether you’ll be successful than what you are doing. However, what you are doing, you still can impact it. And in my case the year I ran, I got more votes than the president in my party.

John Tsarpalas: Wow. But the party was…

Kristina Keats: But I still lost terribly.

John Tsarpalas: Right.

Kristina Keats: But I also raised more money than any other first time candidate in the state of Illinois. So I understood certain things. I had certain qualities that made me a good candidate, but I was so naïve about the impact of the top of the ticket. And we’ll talk about that later.

John Tsarpalas: That and… Yeah. Let’s go into this. The first race that I really got involved in was 1996. And we just got killed by field operations. I mean, we were in a Democratic area; we were running a Republican candidate. I didn’t realize what the Chicago machine really meant.

Kristina Keats: Right.

John Tsarpalas: And what that meant in terms of get out the vote. Get out the vote was not a concept I understood at all. We were all very naïve and it was about raising money and sending mail and getting press.

Kristina Keats: Right.

John Tsarpalas: That’s all we knew. We didn’t know anything about the field side at all.

Kristina Keats: Right.

John Tsarpalas: And we were just absolutely killed.

Kristina Keats: Whereas I understood the field side.

John Tsarpalas: Yeah.

Kristina Keats: And I had a database and I was going door to door because I believed that… We ran as Republicans. We’re going to say that right out because you know… And in a very, very blue state. But the Republicans in Springfield, which is our state capital, which is where the headquarters of the parties are, said to me, “If every precinct you walk, you will get [I forget how many votes] fifty votes.” And I believed them.

John Tsarpalas: Mhmm.

Kristina Keats: And so I actually… There were a hundred and twenty precincts and I walked every single precinct except maybe ten.

John Tsarpalas: Mhmm.

Kristina Keats: And I took their advice, you know, but that turned out not to be accurate. But because I lost that race, what I did is I started thinking about what did I do wrong, what could I have done better, where did I lose, why did I lose. And that is when I then developed the strategy for doing grassroots. Because it is not enough just to do grassroots, but you have to do it right.

And you have to make sure that if you are going to spend the time to go out and try to talk to someone, that you are talking to someone that has the potential for voting for you. What good does it do to go knock on the door of someone who will never vote for you? This is an aside, because the naïve first time candidate will think things like, “Well, I’m personable. I’m nice. People will vote for me because they like me.”

John Tsarpalas: Right.

Kristina Keats: Okay. That’s true. You better be nice. You better be likeable because you won’t get any votes if you’re not those two things. But there are people in the world who will never vote for you.

John Tsarpalas: Right.

Kristina Keats: Okay. Just accept it. Accept it.

John Tsarpalas: I think you’re the one who told me, “Think about it. Are they going to make you, talking to you, vote for the other side?” I’m not; I’m not voting Democrat ever.

Kristina Keats: Right.

John Tsarpalas: I just I can’t. I really couldn’t.

Kristina Keats: Right. And that’s the thing you have to remember. And I have had candidates that I worked with who lost because they didn’t listen to what I said. And especially on this thing where when they saw a yard sign go up for their opponent, they would go knock on the door to persuade that person to not vote for the opponent. And you want to say, “If you had the yard sign in your yard for someone and his opponent knocked on your door, what could he possibly say that would get you to change your mind?”

Especially because, you know, if you understand the concept of cognitive dissonance… When people are trying to make a decision and they are weighing A and B and A and B and A and B, and then they go, “A. I’m going for A.” They start mentally piling on all the reasons why A is better than B and B disappears. And it’s called cognitive dissonance. And that exists in spades in the political world. By the time they’ve put that yard sign up, they are so in the tank for that person, just skip it.

John Tsarpalas: Or you just don’t have the time to waste on it. There are too many independents out there that you can persuade.

Kristina Keats: Right. And we’ll get into that, like how to know who to go talk to. And that is the most important thing is to figure out where you need to go. And then go there and stick to your plan. And don’t get sidetracked by the fact that, “Well, if they just met me and I’m so cute, I’m sure I could change their mind.” Trust me; you’re not that cute. I don’t care who you are. You know, they put up the sign; it’s over.

But that is typical. I will tell you I see it all the time. When I was running school board elections and the issues that our candidates were working for were that real estate taxes were going up too fast, the school board was wasting money, you know, all kinds of waste. And we’re talking about in the neighborhood were we lived in where it was not uncommon for a house to have a twenty thousand dollar real estate tax bill. Okay?

John Tsarpalas: Wow.

Kristina Keats: And we would find candidates who thought that that was a little bit high. Okay? And these people would say they want to go talk to the parents.

John Tsarpalas: Mhmm.

Kristina Keats: Okay. I’m here to tell you that if someone else is willing to spend twenty thousand dollars on your kid, most people will say okay.

John Tsarpalas: Yeah.

Kristina Keats: Alright. So the parents were not the people to talk to. But I’ve had people argue with me, “Oh, well, but the parent…” And here’s another thing: parents don’t vote in school board elections. But we’ll talk about that later when we get to talking about how, if you are running for school board or village board, you find out who votes. But just a general rule of thumb is the older someone is, the more likely they are to vote. Period. And that will happen as your cohort ages, you know. Twenty percent might have voted when they were eighteen and twenty-five percent when they are twenty-eight and thirty-five percent when they are thirty-five. When you hit sixty, you are getting eighty, ninety percent voting.

John Tsarpalas: Right.

Kristina Keats: Okay, so just keep that in mind. And I don’t know why that is. I mean I was a person who always voted. And if you are a candidate, you probably were a person who always voted because you probably were interested or you considered it your civic duty to vote.

John Tsarpalas: Right.

Kristina Keats: Oh, that brings us to another thing. Don’t ever extrapolate from yourself and assume that other people are like you.

John Tsarpalas: Correct. Well said.

Kristina Keats: The fact that you are running for office right away puts you in a unique group, some would call crazy.

John Tsarpalas: Right.

Kristina Keats: But you are unique. And then therefore the hardest thing that candidates have that they have a difficulty doing is to understand that the rest of the world doesn’t care at all compared to your level of caring. The fact that you are even thinking of running office means that you care ten times more, maybe a hundred times more than the average person about whatever issue it is that motivated you.

John Tsarpalas: Right. Let’s throw one more thought in, too. You touched on it right there. There are issues where you are going to matchup with people and there are places where you’re not. No one is going to believe a hundred percent exactly the same thing you think.

Kristina Keats: Right.

John Tsarpalas: So what you want to do is you are going to find where you match up with somebody.

Kristina Keats: Common ground.

John Tsarpalas: Common ground.

Kristina Keats: Right.

John Tsarpalas: And so often it is on a single issue here and a single issue there that can help you build a coalition.

Kristina Keats: Or just I like you.

John Tsarpalas: That’s true too.

Kristina Keats: That is the most important.

John Tsarpalas: Or that you showed up at the door and you talked to them.

Kristina Keats: Exactly. And that you listened.

John Tsarpalas: Right.

Kristina Keats: Okay. And that you sounded reasonable. So that is why when we get to the section on messaging, this is the most thing to figure out how to get your message across.

John Tsarpalas: Right.

Kristina Keats: Okay. How to connect to people. And I guarantee you that you are more passionate and care about it more than everybody. So I want you to think about something you don’t care about. In my case, it was sports. Right? I’m not really a sports fan, even though politics is a lot like sports: the winning, the losing, the team, the camaraderie, the excitement, all of that. But I really don’t care about sports. Okay?

So I am going to use the analogy of sports if you are a person who doesn’t care about sports for you to try to understand what the average voter is like. I don’t care about sports, but if every year or two years I had to go to a place and vote on who was the best sports team to run our country, okay, I would do my civic duty, but I don’t care enough to follow sports all the time.

So I would not watch games and know all the players and know the statistics. But I would get a general feeling about the Bears versus the Cubs versus, you know, the Rangers. And then about two weeks before the election, I would pay a lot of attention to try to figure out which way I am going to go. I would go to people who knew more about sports to get their opinion. And then I would do my civic duty and go in and vote. Okay? Apply that thinking to people and politics.

John Tsarpalas: Right.

Kristina Keats: They are not paying attention. They don’t care. You might get them excited about an issue. But reality is, keep in mind, even in a presidential election, only seventy percent of people vote who are registered to vote.

John Tsarpalas: Right.

Kristina Keats: And also remember that only seventy percent are registered to begin with.

John Tsarpalas: Right.

Kristina Keats: So that means in a presidential election, and a good one where people are motivate, half the people go vote.

John Tsarpalas: Right.

Kristina Keats: Okay. You’re running for local office. The percentage of people who might vote is going to be around ten percent. And you go, “Gasp, that’s terrible. How can they not care?” Okay, there’s another way to look at it. It’s a huge opportunity because you don’t have to persuade that many people to support you to win big time.

John Tsarpalas: Right. Right.

Kristina Keats: But you need to be talking to the right people. And we’ll get into that later. But we wanted you in terms of naivety, be smart about how you use your time to find the people how are going to go vote.

John Tsarpalas: Well, we’ve outlined a whole slew of future podcasts.

Kristina Keats: Right.

John Tsarpalas: So stay tuned at Commonwealthy. And thank you Tina for being here.

Kristina Keats: You’re welcome. It was fun.

John Tsarpalas: If people need to get a hold of you, just take a look at the website, commonwealthy.com. Your bio will be there. Contact info for both Tina and myself.

Kristina Keats: Right.

John Tsarpalas: And just thank you and we’ll talk to you again soon.

Kristina Keats: I have to say.

John Tsarpalas: Okay.

Kristina Keats: I’m retired. I don’t do this anymore. But if I thought you were really a neat person, I might give you a little bit of advice. And as we do more podcasts, I’m might tell you… Because what I’ve said so far, you don’t need advice. You know, listen carefully to what we’ve said and you do it. When you get into messaging, which I think is my silver bullet that I’m really good at, and every message has to be different, than maybe. We’ll see. But I am retired.

John Tsarpalas: If you’d like to reach Tina or me, you can do so by emailing me at john@commonwealthy.com. And any comments or questions for Tina I will forward to her. You can see Tina’s bio, show notes, and a full transcript of the podcast at commonwealthy.com/running-for-local-office. And feel free to leave comments on the site at that address as well. We would love your feedback. This is a new podcast and we’d like to know what you need to know and what we can stress with further podcasts.

Please spread the word. If you know other people out there who are thinking about running for office or would find this interesting or are activists and are just looking for new ideas, please let them know about the podcast. Because we want to grow a healthy community of well-educated activists who are ready and determined to make change in the world. I’m John Tsarpalas. Until next week, thank you.

Kristina Keats: Right.

John Tsarpalas: I mean, I met you in politics and we’re best of friends.

Kristina Keats: Right.

John Tsarpalas: My dearest, closest, deepest people, friends in my life came through campaigns.

Kristina Keats: Absolutely. And I was going to say the same thing.

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