Never Thought About Running for Local Office? This Is Why You Should.
By Erica Roth
Never in a million years would the thought of running for any sort of office have crossed my mind … until the day I was asked. Then the light bulb turned on. It started as a slow, faint flicker as I began to roll the idea around, trying it on and then dismissing it. But soon, and more rapidly than I could have imagined, the idea of running, representing, and being part of the process lit up my mind. I decided to do it; I ran for county board. And looking back, I am so glad I did.
That was six years ago. I am at the end of my third term and getting ready to seek re-election. Compared to some who have been serving for decades, I am not a long-term board member. Even so, this journey has taught me some truths about local leadership:
Running for and serving on a board, whether it is town, city, village, school, county, or other, is relevant work. The people and issues you work with are here and now, and can leave a lasting impression.
Serving in an elected capacity is rewarding and impactful, not to mention educational.
Your talents, skills, and individual perspectives will be an asset.
You do not need to be an expert, just willing to learn and work together.
I have been spending a lot of time lately talking to people about running for County Board, about the duties and responsibilities, about the whys and why nots, and I still find it difficult to express why I feel so strongly about running and serving. It is an opportunity to really make a difference, to listen and be heard, to work together with others to find solutions and help our very local government run as smoothly as possible, providing daily services to our community. Most of my fellow supervisors are there for the right reason with the best intentions at heart, doing the best they can for our county, and there is something there that tethers you, strengthens you, makes you want to do the best you can for everyone.
There are a lot of similarities to Farmers Union values and success on a board - cooperation, reasoning together, equality, critical thinking, and justice to name a few. We need people with these values on our boards, with a diverse pool of talents and skills, who come from different backgrounds and life experiences.
We need these voices in the conversations that are shaping our local government and schools (in the case of school boards). I never thought my voice would matter. I didn’t know anything about local government or county board when I ran, but I was wrong. I learned, and am continually learning, about county government and that my voice is an important part of the conversations. I take my role as a representative very seriously, making sure my constituents’ voices are heard in those conversations and decisions as well.
Contrary to popular belief, local leadership can blend with your day-to-day life without taking over. Every board is different, so be sure to check with someone who is currently on the board you are considering, but with the committees I serve on, meetings, prep time, and travel, I spend an average of 10 to 15 hours per month on County Board activities.
If you have been asked to run, please consider it. If you want to run, please do it. Our boards and communities need voices, minds, and bodies to simply do the best they can. I promise you, you can do it.
Erica Roth and her family run Ewetopia Hill Farm and are members of the South Central Wisconsin Farmers Union chapter. Roth serves on the Green County Board.
December 7th WFU Workshop Encourages Local Leadership
Want to learn more about the process of running for office? Join Wisconsin Farmers Union for a December 7th training on Running for Office.
The event will feature Ben Stepanek from Wisconsin Progress and a panel of Farmers Union members including:
Ken Schmitt, Colfax, Chippewa County Board
Kriss Marion, Blanchardville, Lafayette County Board
Jen Schmitz, Cashton, Monroe County Board.
Hear stories and receive feedback from these inspiring farmers who have successfully run for office. Even if you’re not entirely certain you want to run, satisfy your curiosity with a crash course in campaign planning for local candidates.
This virtual event will run from 7-8:30pm and is free for WFU members or $30 for nonmembers, (fee includes a one-year membership to the family farm organization). RSVP today at wisconsinfarmersunion.com/events.