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How to Get Involved in Politics as a MilSpouse

Politics

When we military spouses attended Homefront Rising, a political engagement boot camp just for military spouses, we were inspired. We were called to action. An hour there and we were ready to cover ourselves in red, white and blue bunting and start our own political campaigns.

There's never been a better time for military spouses to get involved in politics, and we told you that. And that's when your replies came rolling in.

"Over the last several months, I have indeed been looking to put my education, my knowledge of the issues and my passion for public service into use," said military spouse MJ. "Yes, I have considered running for office at some juncture."

 For her, the big question wasn't the "why." It was the "how."

"For instance, HOW would I go about running for office seeing as my current 'home' is not my forever 'home' "? MJ asked. "I realize that Homefront Rising would have been an amazing event to attend, and I would have LOVED to have been there, but I couldn't be. So where do I go to find out the 'how'? Who would I speak to? Inquiring minds are dying to know!"

MJ raises good questions, and they're exactly the kind that Homefront Rising has been trying to address. On our day with them, they had a star-studded cast of Florida heavy-hitters and political thinkers who passed on their best campaign tips and election experience, including how to get started.

Step One: Get politically engaged.

Sixty-eight percent of military spouses are already volunteering in some capacity. If you are considering a job in public service, that's probably already you. Now it's time to leverage that volunteer time for some on-the-ground experience in a political environment.

Call your party (if you're affiliated) or a local campaign you are interested in and ask them how you can get involved.

Here is the truth: They need help. And they need you. How they'll put to you to use will depend a lot on your strengths, so make sure you articulate your can-do attitude and desire to see a campaign in action.

You might end up walking door-to-door with a clipboard to register voters. You might be the person manning a phone bank, helping plan a fundraiser, or working on social media messaging. Think of this as getting your feet wet: You are not here just to further their campaign efforts, you're here to learn about how you'll start yours. Soak it up.

This first step is in no way limited by wherever you are stationed right now, either. Every small town has its own political sphere, and getting involved will get you experience you can leverage later -- no matter the scale.

From local races to major national elections, everyone is looking for volunteers on the ground to get their message across. Be one of the volunteers. It adds some political history to your resume and some real-life experience to your political dreams.

Step Two: Stop worrying about that PCS.

Location Doesn't Matter -- really. You do not have to be in your "forever home" to run for office. More than anything else, this is the one point that blew my mind. I, like MJ, I assumed that just because we had not yet found our "forever home," there would be no future in politics for me. Who wants to hire someone on a campaign who is going to move in three years? Who isn't connected to the area? Who is basically a professional nomad?

Here's a secret: People who work professionally on campaigns move all the time. If they're moving every two years already, you're in no way an oddity. They will take it in stride, and so will you.

Now, if you're running for office, that initial "but I haven't been here long!" freak-out is pretty well-reasoned. After all, throughout every election cycle we hear all about people with "ties to the community." We hear about winners who had everyone from their church friends to their barber's son stumping for them.

If you haven't been around long, how on Earth could that be you?

Reality check: If you are around long enough to see a problem and know you can do something to fix it, you're around long enough to actually be the one who gets to fix it. Your military base and the reason you moved in the first place? That's a big tie to the community.

That new duty station and new cohort of friends, neighbors and acquaintances you make every few years is an asset in your election. Other candidates will spend an entire campaign season drumming up the support you already have built-in: The army of people who share your passion about issues and dedication to community who've got your six.

"Your personal network will support you wherever you are," said Judithanne McLaughlan, a Florida State Senate candidate.

You don't have to be in your forever home to get into politics or even have been in your current home for years. If you have an issue that matters and a viable solution you are trying to get across, focus on that: That's your persuasive argument for why you are going to win the race, and that's why people will support you.

You don't have to have been born someplace to have a good idea. You just have to be there, with that good idea, ready to put it into action. "This race. Right now. Why are you the best candidate?," McLaughlan affirmed.

That's the conversation you need to have. That is the argument you can make in your current network and leverage your old ones to support. So focus your issue -- it is what you will focus your campaign on, too.

Step Three: Find your issue -- and your answer.

"This is how ordinary citizens matter," explained Air Force wife and Tampa politician Elizabeth Belcher to the assembled crowd of military spouses. Belcher is currently making her case for county commissioner -- and all because she found a zoning issue that mattered to her. That issue lead to involvement with friends of the library, which led to her current campaign for office.

Whatever it is that you are passionate about that is launching your bid into politics will be a mainstay of your campaign. Focus your energies on building your message and crafting its narrative.

A great way to get started on this is by using an old journalism trick: Write about it in a letter to your grandma.

This is not a letter you are actually going to send. It is just a tried-and-true way to get you to slow down and carefully articulate your points.

Doing so will help you work through what you're trying to say and hone the way you are communicating your idea. Talk about it with friends. Ask for feedback. Call your mother and get her to find what's wrong with it.

Then, once you have really got it down pat and you are sure you are ready to commit, find a team that can help you launch your idea into the political scene.

Step Four: Find a team, ask for money.

You have an idea. A great, winning idea. You are fully on board for running for office. You have a fledgling campaign that's mostly you and your computer on your couch. It's time to get real.

Let's start with the most basic, terrifying part: The money.

I will admit that when I heard the cost of some of the local campaigns here in Florida, I was dumbfounded. So when I pass along these numbers, please keep in mind: They are for the 15th largest media market in the nation. Chances you aren't living in the top fourteen, which means your costs should not be as high.

These reflect the air-time you are going to have to buy as you wage your campaign, and that's a huge line-item expense. But they are still good estimates for you to start thinking about as you run for office -- so gird yourself.

Homefront Rising panelists estimated that a state House run in a competitive market like those in Tampa will range between $250,000 to $500,000. A competitive race for the state House can run between $2 million and $3 million.

But there is a huge difference financially between running for the county commission and the state House. And remember: You are not pouring years of deployment pay into your own campaign -- you are going to fundraise it.

And for that, you need an awesome team.

"Your most valuable asset is your time," said Sarah Manzano, finance director for the Florida Democratic Party. "So surround yourself with people who understand that."

As a military spouse, that is especially important for you, since your other half might not be able to readjust his or her work schedule to accommodate your campaign demands.

You are going to start with a campaign manager, who will be the most organized, fluid, faced-paced person you've likely ever known. This person will keep track of all the moving parts of your campaign, from fundraising asks that still need to be dealt with to communications complications that need to be managed, and they might do all of it while sleeping on your couch.

When you are really serious about getting your campaign up and running, reach out to your local party office for help. They can be a great resource for you as you assemble your team, and then turn to social media.

Start your own Facebook page and Twitter account for the campaign. Be active, and your followers will belly-up with ideas, input and volunteer requests. Even if you are on a shoe-string budget, you can pull together a team from your supporters that you know you can count on, and they will help see you through. There may be days where your dining room is covered in envelopes to be stuffed and your house is full of overworked, exhausted friends, but just like the power of your idea will help you through the long, exhausting days, it will help them, too.

Your team will also help you keep the load light in the areas you have specified have to be sacred for family -- and do that. For some politicians the panelists knew, those sacred family times were bedtime or breakfast.

These were guaranteed time their families could count on them being there and playing parent. But remember that campaigns can consume your whole life, and make sure every member of your family is aware of that: "If you do choose to run, tell your family you're being deployed to the campaign," joked Belcher. Take her seriously, though. That is exactly what it's going to feel like.

Step Five: Embrace the MilSo.

You have moved every few years and your home is marked with PCS stickers. You have made home from one end of the nation to the other and can find your way around almost any new town in a heartbeat. You recognize base stickers a mile away, have demonstrated compassion, patience and loyalty as part of your job description, and big-ticket challenges like deployments and injuries and very-scary-possibilities are not deal breakers for you.

As one speaker put it at Homefront Rising: When you ask Americans who they want taking care of them in their dotage, and you come up with a handful of options, it doesn't even matter what the other ones are as long as military spouses are on the list.

Like it or not, your marriage has a public image that comes with it, and your public is going to automatically assume a lot about you just because you are a military spouse. Embrace it. Use these things to your advantage. You have survived hard times. You do know a lot about the issues. You are determined, loyal, compassionate and patient, even if the military had to burn those characteristics into you.

Don't shirk your role as a military spouse. Embrace it, and leverage it. Your whole community has your six -- and no matter where you move next, we are ready to stand behind you in support. So if you are thinking about running for office: Stop. Stop thinking. Start doing. The homefront is rising, after all.

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