Want to Run for Office? Now There's a Politics Boot Camp for Veterans

Vote buttons. Getty Images
Vote buttons. Getty Images

If you’re a veteran eyeing a run for office, you now have access to a training program specially designed to get you in the race.

Syracuse University, with a grant from JP Morgan Chase & Co., plans to start a training program late this fall or early winter for veterans on the nuts-and-bolts of running for office at the state, local and federal levels.

The goal of the "Veterans in Politics," or VIP, program is to take advantage of veterans' commitment to public service and translate that into organizing and running a campaign, but the school is upfront about potential pitfalls.

"We want to be clear about what they're getting into. It's not all cookies and cream," said Steve Lux, director of executive education at the university's Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs, located in central New York state.

He said the program will start with online preparation, leading to a free, week-long intensive seminar at the Maxwell School, tied for No. 1 with Indiana University as the nation's top public affairs graduate school, according to U.S. News & World Report.

The program's launch was announced last week by Syracuse University's Institute for Veterans and Military Families, or IVMF, and the Maxwell School, with the intent of aiding veterans and military family members who aspire to public office or administration.

In a statement, David M. Van Slyke, dean of the Maxwell School, said the collaboration with IVMF would "empower those who have served our nation in uniform with preparation, expertise and confidence, so that they can extend their commitment to public service in the form of a political career at the local, state or federal level."

University and IVMF officials said VIP courses will cover election law, party politics and public policy; creating, managing and leading campaign teams; campaign finance; understanding voters; message development; and other aspects of running for office.

Dr. Mike Haynie, executive director of IVMF, said he began discussions with the Maxwell School about a year ago, adding "once we started the conversation, it was a no-brainer."

He called JP Morgan's grant "generous," though he would not give details.

In a statement, Mark Elliott, head of Military and Veterans Affairs at JP Morgan & Chase, said the program is intended "to help develop the next generation of political leaders" from veterans and their families, who have a commitment to the public sector.

Both Haynie and Lux said VIP is non-partisan and open to veterans with widely divergent political views, but there will be screening to keep out extremists whose values are not in line with those of the university.

Lux said the plan is to start small with a first class of 20 to 25 applicants. The first phase will be online with required readings and videos to set up the week-long, on-campus phase involving immersion seminars, he said.

The third phase entails follow-ups to gauge the veterans' progress in achieving their political goals, he said. "We don't just want to send them out there in the woods and say 'Good luck.'"

"We need to keep the first cohort size relatively small," Haynie said.

But, he added, the eventual goal is to put more veterans in office in Congress and at the state and local level.

According to IVMF, veterans made gains in the 2018 elections, but overall veteran representation in Congress has dropped from more than 75% in the 1960s to 19.1% today.

Currently, the 116th Congress has a total of 96 veterans -- 30 Democrats and 66 Republicans.

More information on the VIP program and instructions on how to apply are available here.

-- Richard Sisk can be reached at Richard.Sisk@Military.com.

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