Have you ever thought about running for public office, but felt that it was something you couldn’t do because you’re a military spouse? What if I told you that because you are a military spouse you ought to run?
I had the great pleasure to help organize and attend the Homefront Rising training in Tampa, Fla., and it was the perfect follow-up to their groundbreaking D.C. event this past February. The Tampa event drilled down on what military spouses need to know about running for office at the state and local levels with an veritable who’s-who of Florida-based political leaders including Kathleen Shanahan (former Chief of Staff to Gov. Jeb Bush), former U.S. Representative Jim Davis, Florida Representative, District 34, Jimmie Smith, and video messages from South Carolina Gov. and military spouse Nikki Haley and U.S. Senator for Florida Marco Rubio.
In between speaker sessions, I leaned over to my tablemate, military-spouse-turned-successful-business woman and aspiring politician, Lauren Weiner of Wittenberg Weiner Consulting and said, “Man, I’d love to run for public office. One day.”
“One day, hmm? Let me guess, in 10 years right,” she said.
I responded, “Yeah, that sounds about right.”
Lightly laughing, she said, “That’s what we all say. Why not right now? Is there ever a perfect time to do anything?”
We all know the answer to that— never. There’s never a perfect time to do anything and that includes running for public office.
Here are my top takeaways that every military spouse aspiring to public office needs to know.
“Military spouses have the best of all platforms. You can work around the moves. Just run!”
Despite what we might think about the limitations and demands that military life can put on you, if your goal is to run for office, being a military spouse is a pretty sexy resume bullet for your political career. As a matter of fact, military spouses have a leg up when it comes to networking and fundraising because we build an impressive nationwide network of friends and colleagues with each move.
Don’t believe that out-of-state networks matter? Texas Gubernatorial hopeful Wendy Davis raised $3.6 million from out-of-state contributions, more than 4 times the amount of her opponent.
“If you choose to run, just tell your family you’ve been deployed to the campaign.”
—Elizabeth Belcher, prior military spouse and candidate for Hillsborough County Commissioner, District 2.
When you run for public office, it’s an extremely consuming experience. Anytime someone runs for office, the whole family is involved. Alex Sink, Florida Gubernatorial candidate and prior CFO for Florida told attendees her litmus test for making the decision to take on any job. Ask yourself…
- Do you want the job?
- Does your family support you?
- Do you think you can win?
If the answer to all 3 questions is yes, then get moving!
“We want your voice because you’ve seen the good and bad in the other places you’ve lived.”
—Jackie Toledo on why military spouse voices are important at the local levels.
Enough said, right? Military spouses provide a valuable perspective on local issues because we get to see it all, from big city to small town. We get to experience schools, traffic, employment and health care issues firsthand and we get a pretty good idea of what works and what doesn’t.
Nancy Bostock said it best: “It’s glamorous to be involved in big national campaigns, but you can make the biggest difference in small local ones.”
If you’re going to run for office, clue in your chain of command and get cozy with DOD Instruction 1344.
Because running for office is a family affair, keep things simple and loop in your serving spouse’s chain of command. Nobody likes surprises (read: Commanders) and you don’t want to find yourself or your spouse on the wrong end of ignorant decisions. While you’re at it, make sure you have a clear understanding of the Department of Defense’s Instruction 1344, Political Actions of the Armed Forces. There are no formal rules that dictate a military spouse’s political engagement, but that doesn’t mean that you should throw all caution to the wind. Protect your spouse’s career and your good name by doing your homework.
“Be authentic. Be who you are. Be real in person and online with social media.”
—Glenn Selig, The Publicity Agency
People like real people. Sounds easy enough, but it’s much harder to pull of than you might think. Before you consider running for office, make sure you’re ready to be you 24/7 because you’re on 24/7. Real people do make real mistakes and that makes you human. Glenn Zimmerman of Mad Bear Productions had a few words to say on making mistakes: “It doesn’t make a difference if you mess up. What matters is how you recover. Being human connects.”
“Everybody loves a volunteer. Whether you have a Saturday or a whole year, you can get involved.”
Homefront Rising’s goal is to see military spouses running for and holding political office but we all have to start somewhere. If you’re looking to get involved start by volunteering on a campaign. From learning how to get the votes to learning how to get the dollars, there are tons of skills that stay the same from state to state and city to city that translate to you mastering the campaign skills you need to know to engage in politics.