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[Opinion] The Ups and Downs of Running for Public Office…From People Who’ve Done It

ORLANDO, Fla, (FNN NEWS) – Making the decision to run for public office can bring a multitude of emotions and challenges. While I’ve worked on winning campaigns, as a person who has lost my own bids for office, I can assure you of one thing: the campaign trail can be a very lonely process. Every political race is different. Some positions require hundreds of thousands of dollars for positions that pay $30k a year; while for others it’s less about the money and more about the issues and the work and sacrifice the candidate is willing to put in to obtain the desired result of winning. Here are a few of the winners and losers of this last election cycle, and how they felt about the process of running for office.

This isn’t designed to deter you. It’s about keeping it real and hearing from people who have gone through the process of trying to make a difference. Rest assured, it’s not always the best campaign branding or candidate that wins. Sometimes, it’s more about fate. The right race…at the right time…at the right space in your life.

 

JOEL GREENBERG

Photo courtesy of Seminole County Tax Collector Joel Greenburg (pictured).

Photo courtesy of Seminole County Tax Collector Joel Greenburg (pictured).

First up, the newly elected Seminole County Tax Collector, Joel Greenberg. This was one of the most contentious races of the 2016 political season. Greenberg was running against longtime incumbent Ray Valdes. While Greenberg ran a strong race it certainly didn’t hurt that the incumbent and his role in the office had come under heavy scrutiny. Greenberg’s win here is unique in that traditionally it is very difficult to unseat an incumbent–especially an incumbent with deep roots in the community. Greenberg shows the power of one person making a decision based on a bad experience and risking it all to make a difference.

RR: What made you decide to run for public office, specifically for Seminole County Tax Collector?

Greenberg: “I had just gotten married and we were trying to plan out the future. I had sold my company to a larger company. And I had some down time to think about what was next. During that time I purchased a boat. So I went into the Seminole County tag office to title it and realized how backwards the process was. So I began to engage in the fact finding and discovery process. I realized my love for technology and competitive edge would benefit the office I was seeking. I felt I had what it took to beat the incumbent and the gamble paid off.”

RR: What would you suggest was the biggest challenge in running for public office?

Greenberg: “At first I would say convincing my family I wanted to do this. This was a hurdle as they weren’t onboard in the beginning.”

Having your family support should be a critical part of your decision making regarding running for office. Running for office is not worth damaging the family unit, nor is it worth losing friendships over.

Greenberg: “Knowing the political landscape of your community and the specific race you’re entering is critical. Financially it was a huge risk personally. I personally funded my race to the tune of $310,000.00 approximately. I had no choice but to win. The risk of losing the money was substantial.”

Don’t let his investment scare you. Most candidates, even if they have those resources, are not prepared to loan their campaigns at this level. However, it certainly is a bonus if you have money you’re ready to put in to win.

RR: Can you offer any advice to someone who might be considering a run for public office?

Greenberg: “I would say, if it were local, hit the streets and hustle. It’s a lot of hard work. Go to as many events as possible.”

RR: Had you not won, would you have considered running again for this or any other office?

Greenberg: “Yes. If I did not win Tax Collector I would have looked at a Seminole County Commissioner seat in 2018 and I might have considered the Congressional 7 race had I not won.”

Congressional Seat 7 is currently occupied by Congresswoman Stephanie Murphy (D), who unseated popular longtime Congressman John Mica (R), who likely lost as a result of redistricting.

RR: What was your take-a-way from your first entry into running for office?

Greenberg: “I can do this.”

 

CHADWICK HARDEE

Photo courtesy of Chadwick Hardee (pictured).

Photo courtesy of Chadwick Hardee (pictured).

Hardee ran for Orange County School Board in 2014 in a tough four-way race ultimately won by Linda Kobert. Hardee is President of Hospitality Services, APDC Services Inc., Vice Chairman of the Orange Country Republican Executive Committee (OCREC), Treasurer for the Orange County Parent Teachers Association (PTA), Vice Chairman of the Orange County Membership and Mission Review Board (MMRB), and immediate past Chairman of Orange County Watch. Hardee acknowledges he may now have more political influence having run and lost verses winning as one of his roles, MMRB, doesn’t allow for elected officials to serve. A learning here is taking a look at all you’re involved in. It may not be worth it, as you weigh the pros and cons of running, if it means it would interfere with your job or community engagement.

RR: What made you decide to run for public office?

Hardee: “I love my community. I wanted to participate in the process. And with two children and one on the way (at the time), I wanted to ensure a common sense voice would be heard for my children’s futures.”

RR: What would you suggest was the biggest challenge in running for public office?

Hardee: “Understanding the process and all the rules in running. And truly the investment of time it takes to run a competitive campaign.”

RR: Can you offer any advice to someone who might be considering a run for public office?

Hardee: “Get your head examined. [He chuckles] Go into it with an open heart and open mind, because you’re going to learn a lot of things very quickly.”

RR: Will you consider running for public office again?

Hardee: “I probably will. Should the opportunity arise, it will be what my heart and head tells me to do. For me leaving town and going to Tallahassee is not an option. To me running for office is a family decision.”

RR: What was your take-a-way from your first entry into running for office?

Hardee: “Be prepared. Know what it takes to win. Understand that the time and money it will take to win are truly at the root of whether you can be successful. By not winning I actually have become far more engaged and involved in Orange County politics than I would have expected.”

 

PAUL PAULSON

Photo courtesy of Orange County Republican State Committeeman Paul Paulson (pictured).

Photo courtesy of Orange County Republican State Committeeman Paul Paulson (pictured).

Paulson is a retired attorney and is heavily involved in real estate, construction and mortgage financing. He is an interesting case study because he ran for Orlando Mayor and wasn’t successful against long time Mayor Buddy Dyer. Soon after, Paulson decided he would run for Orange County Republican State Committeeman and singlehandedly won against four opponents. Currently, Paulson is taking his politics to the state level in a bid for Florida Agriculture Commissioner. These days you’ll find Paulson himself and an assistant traveling the state putting out large campaign signs for his 2018 election bid. Now that’s commitment and a sign he’s not afraid of hard work.

RR: What made you decide to run for public office?

Paulson: “I had always been involved in Student Government in my early days including when I was in law school. Ironically, I went to law school with Mayor Buddy Dyer, Orange County School Board Chairman Bill Sublet, even Orange County Controller Phil Diamond. There are different opportunities for service and running for office gives you a chance to use your gifts and promote your passions.”

RR: What would you suggest was the biggest challenge in running for public office?

Paulson: “Well you certainly have to have certain amount of money and supporters. And you have to be a right fit for the office you’re running for. For example, when I ran for Mayor…the demographics weren’t in my favor. But the State Committeeman position I was more suited to because it was a Republican position. It helps, as well, to care about other people.”

RR: Can offer any advice to someone who might be considering a run for public office?

Paulson: “What former Mayor Richard Crotty suggested recently is pretty good advice. Find something that is well suited for your skills and run for it with all you have. It must be something that fits your passions. Regardless of whether you win or lose, there will be a time something matches your skills. In my case, it was Florida Governor Rick Scott that suggested I run for State Agriculture Commissioner, otherwise I might not have explored it.”

RR: What was your takeaway from your first entry into running for office?

Paulson: “Well I’ve run for a few offices and you learn from each one. It’s difficult for a Republican to be elected, for example, in a highly Democratic town.”

 

MELISSA MCGEE

Photo courtesy of Melissa McGee (pictured).

Photo courtesy of Melissa McGee (pictured).

McGee, with a law degree, entered the political arena while in the role of Outreach Chair for the Orange County for Trump campaign, running for Orange County Republican State Committeewoman. McGee came within eight points of the winner State Committeewoman Kathy Gibson. Not too shabby for a political unknown. “I wouldn’t do anything differently. It just wasn’t my time I guess,” says McGee. McGee is easily one of the hardest working people I’ve observed working in Orange County politics today. She consistently illustrates a feverish balance between home life as a wife and mother and the time commitments of running for office and working in politics.

RR: What made you decide to run for public office?

McGee: “I ran for public office because politics at the local level, I felt, was failing Republicans. I felt we were losing elections because of how heavy the Democratic stronghold was on the number of registered voters. I was in a unique position, having been so involved in the Trump campaign and getting to know so many outstanding volunteers, I felt I could help to infuse them into the party.”

RR: What would you suggest was the biggest challenge in running for State Committeewoman?

McGee: “For me I think it was finding the balance between life and politics. When I go in I go all in. I think I could balance my family and the time restraints a bit better. I didn’t have to be on 24/7.”

A common theme I’ve consistently heard over the years is this managing of life and the goal of winning a political race. Certainly something to think about when heading to the wishing well to potentially toss a coin–or your hat, if you will–into politics.

McGee: “There were times where instead of cooking dinner I’d run down the street to sign wave. This probably didn’t impact my race much. I’d rather have that time back with my daughter. Then again, my family probably was happy to see me entrenched in the political process.”

RR: Can offer any advice to someone who might be considering a run for public office?

McGee: “You need to be prepared to drop everything and do everything necessary to get elected. It may sound harsh… but, it’s true. My advice would be to examine your life. Is there anything in your life that would be a priority and that dominates your time…whether a family, work or a health issue…don’t run. If you want to win you have to give 110 percent.”

RR: Will you consider running for public office again?

McGee: [She laughs] “A few people have asked me about it. And I’ve said no right now. But I would never say no to running. It would need to be the right race at the right time. I wouldn’t rule out County politics, but most likely I’d look to a State or Congressional level seat.”

RR: What was your takeaway from your first entry into running for office?

McGee: “Well, someone once told me running for office is lonely. [see opening paragraph] I did find that to be the case. Even if everyone says they’re going to help you…they too have commitments and lives. You are in it pretty much on your own. Don’t assume you’ll have a giant support system. Some may… but, I don’t think it’s the norm.”

 

TEZLYN FIGARO

Photo courtesy of Tezlyn Figaro (pictured).

Photo courtesy of Tezlyn Figaro (pictured).

Tezlyn Figaro, founder of Tezlyn Figaro Communications Group, former staff member of the Bernie Sanders Presidential campaign and frequent commentator on FOX News nationally, offered up some good advice for candidates: “Candidates often feel voters will never find out about past events. Past negative issues are almost certain to be found out,” she noted. “The more competitive the race, the more the rumors will surface. So it is best to decide early on what information you want to disclose first and what information you want to prepare to answer later.” Often it’s the candidate themselves that Figaro suggests is their worst enemy. “Be prepared to answer the tough questions with a well thought out response.”

Figaro suggests one of the biggest challenges is when candidates think they can do it all on their own. “Most importantly, hire a communications professional that can help you navigate through talking points to prevent you from stumbling. Just because your favorite cousin is a great talker, doesn’t qualify him/her as a professional communication expert.”

I’ve observed Figaro in action. I liken her to a political pit bull if she happens to get wind of an opponent’s weakness. A word of advice…heed her warning.

 

DEBORAH BOOTH

Photo courtesy of Debra Booth (pictured).

Photo courtesy of Debra Booth (pictured).

Deborah Booth, a well respected local Democratic fundraiser and political strategist once gave me some advice worthy of sharing, “If you can’t sit down and write the names of fifty people that can write you a check for $500 … you have no business running for political office.” The reality is funding a campaign is easily one of the more difficult challenges any candidate faces. The discipline it takes daily to make phone calls, send emails, post on social media, lick and stuff envelopes are paramount to being a successful fundraising candidate. Not all people are good at fundraising. If you think fundraising is a weakness for you it probably is and most likely you’ll need to be in a position to self-fund your race to be competitive.

We’ve often heard it’s not about winning or losing, it’s about how you play the game. Whoever came up with this suggestion has never run for or been involved in a political campaign. It’s all about winning. If we’ve learned nothing this last election cycle, and from the candidates and elected officials above, running for political office is a significant commitment of time, energy, and money. Some of the best looking, well articulated campaigns fail. So let’s add “luck” into the equation of running for political office. If it’s your time to win…you will.

________________________________

Randy Ross is a contributing political writer for Florida National News.

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