How Parents Can Run For Local Office

Parents across the nation are concerned about policies that impact their child's safety. Some are looking to run for local office. Here's your guide to jumping into politics.

running for local office
Photo: Getty Images/ Ariel Skelley

What began as a typical Tuesday at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, approximately 80 miles west of San Antonio, ended in tragedy. After yet another mass shooting at a school, 19 students and two teachers are dead. Many parents across the nation are expressing that they can't stand on the sidelines anymore when it comes to the policies that impact the safety of their children, especially regarding gun control.

In the last few years, there has been a surge of women running for office, among them moms with young children at home. Many parents are ready to get involved with local politics, not just for their children, but for kids throughout the United States. Janelle Perez, a mom who is running as a Democrat for Florida State Senator in Miami Dade, recently tweeted: "Watching our children die at the hands of gun violence is a policy choice. Let me be clear, I'm running for office because I refuse to be represented by the cowards in power who choose guns over children. End this nightmare!"

However, for those with little to no experience with elections, suddenly running for office can feel intimidating. Here's what experts suggest for parents who want to get involved in local politics.

How To Run For Local Office

The good news is, there's no need to be a political expert or be rich before starting a campaign. There are simple steps to follow that can help parents new to the process get started. It's a good idea to first head to your city, county, or state's election website to learn about things like roles and requirements (think residency and age).

Know which local positions you can run for

This is the time to begin thinking of the changes you hope to make for your child's future, and which position will have the highest likelihood of implementing them. Local positions include, but aren't limited to:

  • School Board (school policy, lockdown procedures, campus security, school programming, resource distribution, curriculum, budgeting, faculty tenure, student food access)
  • City Council (city budget, public health and safety, city ordinances, tax rates, infrastructure, bringing gun control laws to the state legislature)
  • County Board of Supervisors (county budget, set taxes, registering voters)
  • Public Works Commission (manage sewage treatment, water supply, recycling, garbage, and other environmental services)
  • Mayor (overseeing education, police, fire, health, housing access, managing advisory boards, supervising daily operations, and enforcing legislation)

Lean into resources

There are a number of organizations across the country that offer resources to help people kickstart their political careers. Those include Higher Heights, Vote Run Lead, Emerge America, Rag Tag, and Run for Something, and some even run boot camps to cover everything you need to know.

Amanda Litman, the co-founder and executive director of Run for Something, says, "Once you sign up, you will start getting a bunch of materials from us that will include invites to a conference call. We'll answer all your basic questions about running for office." Then, the organization will continue to send emails and text messages about upcoming trainings and opportunities, and offer information about everything needed, including picking what office to run for.

When someone is ready to add their name to the ballot, they'll receive information on how to do that and how to build out a campaign. "All this is in service of making it clear that if you decide to run, you're not alone," Litman emphasizes. And it's OK to be a first timer. Run for Something specifically works with first-time candidates running for local positions in state health, state Senate, city council, school board, library board, community college board of trustees, and county office. "The half a million elected positions that are not Congress and not the presidency," she notes.

Make sure to also look for an organization that aligns with your beliefs. For example, Run for Something is based on progressive values that partners with Democratic groups, including Vote Mama, She Should Run, and Latino Victory Project. It takes a firm stance in support of gun control and backs candidates that are passionate about policies that provide protection. "For us in particular, reducing gun violence is a progressive value," Litman says. "Being pro-working families is a progressive value. Being pro-equality and pro-tolerance is a progressive value. And especially when we do endorsements, we want to know how those values show up in your campaign."

Get ready to campaign

After deciding which position to run for, it's time to join the race. But remember, campaigns require funding, so it's key to raise money to manage expenses that range anywhere from printing posters to throwing campaign parties. Budgets are based on the needs of each position, but typically the bigger the position is, the more money needed for a campaign. It's a good idea to review budgets from successful campaigns, which is something that Litman suggests for first-time candidates especially, while bearing in mind that there are spending limits for political fundraisers. Having a compelling speech ready before asking people to donate will help raise the most funds possible.

It's also vital to have volunteers assist with the campaign. Never put all of the work on one or only a few people, as that's often how campaigns fall apart due to fatigue and resource scarcity. Make sure volunteers have aligned goals and commit enough time to make a detailed schedule of tasks. This could also mean parents getting their children involved, too. Heather McTeer Toney, vice president of community engagement for the Environmental Defense Fund, says it's important to engage children of all ages. "Ask their opinions and give them roles in your work. Bring them to meetings," adds McTeer Toney, who was the first Black, first female, and youngest mayor of Greenville, Mississippi. "Get your teens to manage your social media. Let the little ones mess up papers and drink juice boxes at the podium. Normalize children as whole citizens. It's a great way to develop kids into public servants themselves."

Next, it's wise to get to know the community. People are looking for someone that will listen to their concerns and connect with them before any votes are casted. Door knocking, hosting or joining community events, online campaigning, and more can help. Many campaigns have certain focuses, like a dedication to gun control or challenging food insecurity, that resonate with people with similar beliefs.

Finally, remember to take personal time away from the campaign. McTeer Toney believes it's key to "protect your peace and family time. It's OK to say no to speaking engagements and campaign stops—yes, I said it. Create boundaries and teach your children to do the same."

Check out online resources for help, too, including the detailed guide on how to run for office from the Office of the Municipal Clerk.

What Parents Should Know Before Running for Local Office

During such an emotional time, it may be tempting to jump right into launching a campaign—don't rush. Juggling parenting, running for local office (which doesn't typically pay much), and other responsibilities is a lot at once. Emily Tisch Sussman, political strategist and host of the podcast She Pivots, wants parents to think on repeat: "Child care, child care, child care," before running for office. As a mother herself, Sussman can't emphasize enough the importance of ensuring that child care is planned before parents commit to any political responsibilities. "Moms are capable of attacking any and all complex issues if they have the child care to do it," she says. "The system was not built for us, so we have to build a village to support parents to run for office."

The greatest resource for parents running will likely be other parents. That community support can really be a game changer. This could mean parents alternating child care shifts after school, working together on campaign fundraisers, alternating homes and public areas to hold events, and more. It's also important for parents to understand that building a campaign takes a great deal of time and energy both mentally and physically. However, they won't be alone during this new journey.

There are communities for parents trying to make change, both catered to their parents specifically and for general support. Here are some resources that may come in handy.

  • Vote Mama (support for moms with children under 18 running for political office)
  • Parents Defending Education (a starter guide for parents running for school board)
  • Moms Demand Action (grassroots movement for Americans fighting gun violence)
  • She Should Run (community of women interested in political leadership)
  • Emily's List (helps Democratic pro-choice women get into national, state, and local offices)
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