To run or not to run? That is the question

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By Bill Rauch

’Tis apparently the season for prospective candidates for local public office to make up their minds whether it’s “Go” or “No” for them in the upcoming election season.

I know this because I have heard from several who are making up their minds.

Depending upon how experienced they are and how well I know them, my advice has varied a little, but not much.

Here’s the short course.

If there’s something you believe the community needs, and you have the fire in your belly to clear all the hurdles to get it for them, then run. Tell the voters what you’re going to do for them, how you’re going to do it, why they need it, and how they can help you. If they agree, they may give you the job.

The candidates who step into office with clear direction find the job the most rewarding.

Next in line in terms of personal satisfaction are the ideologues. These are the ones who know precisely what the world needs — e.g. government spends too much, or society will be better if the poor get a firmer hand up, or the environment needs protecting at all costs — and they won’t be deterred by alternative arguments. Since ideologues know they are always right, they derive relatively little angst from the difficulties of leadership and thusly find satisfaction in it.

Then there are those who bring with them a special skill set that they believe — probably correctly — the government needs. They may be experienced in running government or in the proper protocols at the intersections of government and business. Or maybe they know from long experience the workings of state or federal agencies that implement transportation, or environmental or business development policy. 

These candidates are problem-solvers, and government can always use problem-solvers.

These are the ones, listed in the order of the satisfaction they’re likely to gain from their service, who should run. Let’s call these three groups — the directed, the ideologues, and the problem-solvers — collectively the “above the line” groups.

These are the ones who are most likely to get things done for their constituents. And, betraying my own prejudices a little, to me getting the things done that the constituents want done is what it’s all about. 

Then there are the three groups who should not run. Members of these groups will seek to disguise themselves as members of the “above the line” groups, but when you query them closely you may find you are not fooled and they in fact belong more appropriately to one or more of the three “below the line” groups.

What are the “below the line” groups? 

First, it’s important to know that their members are just as eager — perhaps even more so — as the above-the-liners.

A few of those who seek elective office do so because they want to enrich themselves. Sometimes they make a little money, but then they get found out and defending themselves often costs more than they made. Certainly it costs them their reputations. Most importantly, since it is not their priority, they accomplish little for the constituency.

Others run because they seek fame, and while they may gain some celebrity the question will soon become, “For what?”  If there’s no “there” there, then they become known as what? An empty shirt. 

Finally the most frustrated of all the below-the-liners are the ones who wish to be loved. Some of those you serve will be obsequious around you of course because they naturally — and justifiably — fear the government, and now you are the government’s face. But not all.

The stark tragedy for this group is when they meet a hundred people and 99 smile at them and say kind things, the one they remember is the one who sniffed at them.

And there are always more than a few of those.

These slights may cause these officials sleepless nights, but what about their constituents?

Getting things done in government means inevitably someone somewhere will be made unhappy. There are no solutions that benefit absolutely everybody. Accordingly, the ones that want to be loved by everybody don’t accomplish anything for the constituency. 

Ultimately they are then unhappy because someone slighted them, and the constituency is unhappy because time and again when the official was about to get something done, he flinched.

Bill Rauch was the mayor of Beaufort from 1999-2008. Email Bill at