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Top 5 Lessons from the Campaign Trail

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1: Be likeable: Studies show what we all intuitively know—politicians stand a better chance of being elected if they are likeable (having good hair helps). While likeability may seem like a superfluous and irrelevant quality, good people skills play a vital role in political leadership. You can't bring people to the table if no one wants to be in a room with you. And courting the media for an endorsement is a lot like a series of dates, of which the first and second rules should be: Be friendly, and be available. 

Soon-to-be former District Attorney Patrick Flaherty apparently didn't get the memo on those rules for his attempt at re-election. After nearly three weeks this past spring trying to arrange an endorsement interview with the incumbent DA, a time was finally set for a 1 pm interview. Even then, Flaherty did not arrive until more than 30 minutes late, and came into our offices red-faced and huffing. "I don't want to waste your time, and I don't want to waste my time." Even before a question was asked, he also announced that we were already biased and then, insisted our photographer stop taking pictures. Not a great first date.

2: Remember you're a politician: This came up in two ways: candidates actively claiming to not be politicians (uh...) and candidates not conducting themselves in politically savvy ways. While some "I'm not a politician" types did get elected (we're looking at you, Dr. Knute Buehler), both approaches create skepticism. It's one thing for a candidate to speak or act in ways that distinguish them from the stereotypes. Failing to recognize that politics is inherently, well, political, feels naïve or disingenuous.

3: Paint outside party lines: For all it lacks in most types of diversity, Central Oregon is home to a broad range of political perspectives—and people who like to play jump rope with party lines. Savvy politicians tapped into (and perhaps legitimately reflected) this sort of flexible partisanship this year. The local November races were packed with moderates of various flavors. And many of them won their races. Here's hoping those aisle-crossing attitudes are more than just talk, and help to bridge challenging political divides in meaningful ways.

4: Pay attention to details: When running for political office, candidates need to prepare to face scrutiny. Be familiar with the dirt from your past (did anyone see you inhale?) and, for goodness sake, try not to create any more dirt during the race. If you sign a form, under threat of perjury, claiming to live at your office, you should probably live at your office. Otherwise, don't be surprised when it becomes an election issue. What might seem like a minor ethical slip, or a little white lie, when you are a regular community member, will come to reflect everything you stand for once you're under the election spotlight. And if you're mixing your political and personal life—say, by including your significant other in your governance—get chummy with the folks in the ethics department sooner than later.

5: Don't discount a single vote: Though the Bend City Council races were not as close this cycle as they were the last time around, the margin between the candidates was still smaller than the number of people who filled out ballots, only to the leave that part blank (aka the under votes). On the state level, Measure 92 was close enough to prompt a recount. Though the initial results remained substantially unchanged, there was a moment where it looked like the measure seeking to label foods containing genetically modified organisms (GMOs) might pass. It all speaks to the power of each individual vote, and serves as a reminder that no voter should be discounted.

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