Keene State College students considering a run for public office at some point in their lives were given an opportunity to receive some advice from the best of the best.
Political juggernaut Teresa Vilmain visited the KSC campus Tuesday, March 26, to give her “25 Things to Do Before Running for Office” presentation to interested students.
Vilmain, a self-described progressive democrat and political strategist from Iowa, has a resume as long as the eye can see. When working on Hillary Clinton’s run for the White House in 2007, The Washington Post called her, “the gold standard among Democratic organizers.”
As well as working on numerous presidential campaigns, Vilman has helped successfully elect governors, senators, and members of Congress.
Vilmain found herself presenting at KSC because of an invitation from an old college friend, KSC political science professor Michael Welsh. About 30 years ago the two worked at a restaurant together while studying at The University of Iowa.
The presentation was sponsored by the Political Science, Women and Gender Studies, and the Provost Departments, as well as the Dean of Social Sciences.
During her presentation, Vilmain had students pair up, brainstorm what they could do to prepare for a political future, share their suggestions with the group, then discussed every major point the students raised and filled in any blanks they missed.
A clean social media presence was one of the first things students noted the importance of. “I thank the gods and the goddesses that there wasn’t Facebook when [Professor] Mike Welsh and I were in college,” Vilmain joked.
She said that even though content you delete from your Facebook isn’t really ever gone for good, it’s still a good idea to clean it up as best and as soon as possible.
She said that when hiring staffers on campaigns, content on social networking sites is the number one reason she’s turned down applicants.
She also stressed the importance of networking and keeping an up-to-date rolodex or address book. She insisted students not rely on informal cell phone contacts that aren’t backed up in any other location. She said she has 3,127 people in her online rolodex with names, addresses, email addresses, as many phones as she can get for them, as well as most of their birthdays.
Vilmain said, “To run for office you’ve got to have a village.” She said one of the reasons President Clinton was elected was because, “There wasn’t a name in that guy’s life that he didn’t put someplace.” She said networking is key in order to successfully build a group of volunteers, staff and donors.
Vilmain suggested students interested in running for any type of office at any point in their lives start building a quality resume.
In addition, she suggested those interested to contact their chosen political party to get involved in local events, read the newspaper or stay up to date on current events in some way, inform their family and friends of their interest in possibly running for office, pay their taxes, vote.
Also amongst her suggestions were to volunteer for a campaign or organization to gain experience and contacts and decide if they want to be a legislator or executive–in other words, if they want to make the policy or run the policy. She also suggested the students help raise money for some type of organization on campus or at home in order to learn how to and get used to asking for money, because “nine times out of ten these offices are places where you have to raise money,” she said.
One campaign strategy that the students didn’t think of, but Vilmain made note of, was the importance of staying healthy.
“It’s exhausting running for office,” Vilmain said, “The work we do is important but not more important than we are. A big thing to do to prepare yourself to run for office is to take care of yourself.”
She referenced former President Clinton’s complete dietary turnaround that he underwent after suffering a heart attack.
She said it’s now not uncommon for candidates to have time set aside on the campaign trail for their workouts.
Vilmain emphasized the importance of getting to know the press. She said there are three degrees of separation from anyone and a reporter, which she noted no longer just means formal journalists, but bloggers and other publishers of media digital as well.
“They’re not the enemy … they learn from you and you learn from them,” Vilman said.
Political science major Jake Loyd, who is considering a career in public service, said he was already doing a lot of the things Vilmain suggested, but her presentation reinforced some good strategies, like keeping a good rolodex.
Senior Chelsea Bachand, who dreams of eventually working with the United Nations, said the presentation made her realize the importance of getting to know her community and now plans to get more involved in local politics.
Professor Welsh said, “I think a lot of people I know that do run for office do it because they’ve been pushed in by other people or they’ve got some other sort of incentive, but very seldom do people think about it deliberately, they accidentally get into it,” he said.
“This is a process of getting people to think about it ahead of time, and I think it’s very valuable. You guys can do it.”
Eric Walker can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org