What I’ve Learned in My Time as a Candidate for Public Office
I originally had my eyes set on president – but I guess we can start here.
Several months ago, I was asked by the Ingham County Republican Chair to run for county commission in District 9. Truthfully, it did not take much persuasion. I was originally asked to do this simply to be a name on the ballot. However, the campaign has since grown in exposure and gained a following that I didn’t expect. I knew that I’d have friends, family, and co-workers who would be interested – but I never anticipated receiving the amount of supportive texts and calls I got on my announcement day.
There are several things right away that I think make me an electable candidate for county office. The first is, I’d like to work towards increasing the amount of people who vote in local elections. Traditionally, voters tend to vote in presidential elections far more often than they vote in midterms, special elections, or on local and county millage rates. College students historically have voted even less than that. There is an average of only 32% voter turnout in this district. I believe we must—and can—do better than that. So, I plan to focus most of my campaign efforts on getting young adults out to vote this cycle.
Secondly, I am campaigning for a change in the number of terms commissioners can serve. The average length of service for a commissioner on Ingham County’s board alone is over 10 years. There are only 3 commissioners of the 14 who are in their first term. Term limits are already constitutionally enacted in Michigan for state representatives and senators—so I beg the question: why not at the county level too?
You see a lot of politicians these days posting Facebook live videos. Likewise, I am using social/digital media as my main avenue for voter contact. I made a video announcing the campaign and it received over 5,000 organic views—pretty good for my first crack at campaigning if I say so myself! I believe digital campaigns are the most engaging and cost-effective way to connect with a large number of people—especially with younger generations. I see how impactful this approach can be for clients as well.
There are certain aspects of a campaign that sometimes go overlooked, such as: knocking doors and meeting your neighbors, going to various local events and having a chance to present your plans for the community you hope to represent, and being recognized as somebody who is fighting for the values and beliefs of a community. And, not to mention the learning experience—and learning curve—that comes with running for office.
Continuing education is so important for me, and after graduating from Michigan State University I wanted to dig deep and get firsthand knowledge of how our state and local governments function. I wanted to really understand what the county commission does, and the issues that are important to the residents of my community. I believe that there is no better way to learn than by experiencing it firsthand. People can tell you, but until you go out and learn from an experience yourself, you may never understand the full depth of it.
By the end of this journey, I believe I will have a deeper understanding of what it means to be a candidate, which in turn will make me more qualified to advise candidates going forward in my role at Sterling. It is my hope that this experience will be a significant step in my professional development, positioning me for a more fulfilling career in political and public affairs.
I should let everyone reading this know that the strong Democratic composition of this district makes my campaign a long shot. Nevertheless, I intend to have as much fun with the campaign as I can. I hope my experience can help create a better image around running for office, as well as what it means to represent what you believe in. Ultimately, I hope my journey inspires more young people to stand up and do the same!
Jackson Keith is an associate at Sterling Corporation, an Lambert Company.