Campaigns are intense. For the candidates, it can be exhausting. There’s lost time with family, missed work, and long hours. They’re also intensely stressful since so much is entirely out of your control.
It’s also taxing on supporters. At this point, I think I’ve observed hundreds if not thousands of volunteers investing an unbelievable amount of physical and emotional energy in campaigns. They all want what’s best for their communities.
Of course, with all that tempers can sometimes boil over. Mine included. Even the most thoughtful and polite among us have had a bad day and said something we regret. Social media only amplifies and records the moments we’d like to have back.
Local elections seem to make matters worse. By their nature, these are largely thankless jobs to serve our community. But because the candidates come from the same community, their positions will be pretty similar. So similar that the distinctions get blown out of proportion, and things can get personal.
Here’s some free advice from someone who’s been through several election cycles. Think about how you want this to end. You’re either going to win or lose. But we’re all still going to be here, and we all want to move our communities forward. Feelings will naturally be hurt, but it’s worth the effort to mend them.
In my first election, I was a 21-year-old kid with no experience and even less sense. After a bruising election decided by two votes, I defeated an incumbent named Marilyn Owel, who was my senior in age, but far more so in resume. She was understandably frustrated with the result. I would have been too. As a result, she made some comments to the newspaper that were a little rough, and I took offense.
Right after I was seated, we needed to fill two vacancies (the Council had expanded from five to seven members). The rest of the Council immediately agreed to reappoint her.
Then a funny thing happened. We became fast friends, and I really enjoyed my time on the Council with her. We had many debates that sanded off the rough edges on each others’ opinions, to our mutual benefit. She pointed out things I would have missed and vice verse. We teamed up on several issues that benefited the community. Perhaps most importantly, I really enjoyed her sharp wit and our time together.
She also taught me the most valuable lesson I ever learned in local government. When I first started, I had a habit of earning compromises and amendments to proposals and then voting against the final product, usually by myself. I kept my position “pure,” but it wasn’t earning any trust or future votes for my ideas.
One day she told me, “you take refuge in the minority.” Her point being that it was going to be hard for me to influence the debate if I didn’t become a full participant in governing. I think that lesson made me far more effective at my job. It’s a lesson I wish most politicians would learn.
In the words of Abraham Lincoln, “be excellent to each other.” Find something good in the opposition and remember that. Mend fences with friends and neighbors. You’ll feel better about the election and benefit from it later.