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Adventures in Government - Candidate Training

The words “candidate training” kind of make me want to throw up. For me, they conjure a vision of learning how to get a hair cut, smile for hours on end, and talk endlessly without ever saying anything. The words make me imagine tossing people into a machine which extracts all sincerity and personality from the person before spitting them out again complete with suit, tie, and a gaggle of underlings.

That said, I received word of a candidate training course being offered by the Pima County Democrats, and I signed up for it. The program offered, among other things, to train us on making sure we file our paperwork correctly, and that’s the one thing I’m definitely uncertain about. There are a lot of things I need to improve upon as a candidate, but I’m already aware of many of them and am working on them. What I’m more worried about are the bureaucratic things I might not know about, so this seemed like a good use of my time.

In order to participate in the course, I signed an agreement that prohibits me from talking about the course content, the other attendees, or the things other attendees might say during the course, all for obvious reasons. Given that, though, unfortunately I can’t really go into much detail about the experience. I’ll say what I can, though, and I’ll talk about what I’ve gotten out of the course so far personally.

The course consists of three weekends, spread out over the summer. The next two weekends will take place next month, and I’ll discuss them when the time comes.

The course is taught by Leading For Change, a candidate training organization based out of Phoenix. They offer longer, more rigorous training courses if you have the time, but they also do a lot of relatively short courses like this one. (The weekend format reminds me a bit of the driver’s ed course I took so long ago, except without so many videos of car accidents.) Leading For Change doesn’t usually offer their courses in Tucson, so we were pretty fortunate to have this opportunity. The course was blessedly affordable and, since the classes take place at the Pima Democrats Headquarters, it happened to be very close to home. Very convenient all-around.

Without going into detail, I can say that the first weekend was focused mainly around telling your story and learning to deliver a message that resonates with people. We did this via exercises and, sometimes, just talking to each other. I don’t think I’m out of line in revealing one of the lessons we learned, which is that people tend to remember and connect more with stories rather than facts and figures, so learning to tell your story effectively is key to being remembered. (Presumably it helps if you actually have a compelling story, though oddly I can’t find much sympathy for folks whose pasts were so fortunate and lacking in conflict that there’s no story to be found.)

Also, without going into detail, apparently everyone’s backstory heavily features their father. I don’t have to reveal stories heard during the class to demonstrate this: just listen to literally any politician long enough and eventually their father is going to come up in a major way. Sometimes it’s the absence of a father (Barack Obama). Sometimes it’s the father’s work ethic and such (Hillary Clinton). Sometimes the father was rich and gave his child a “small loan of one million dollars” to start off with (Donald Trump). Some fathers are inspiring, some are demanding, and some are never impressed. Some are close and full of encouragement, some are distant and cold, and some are abusive. Some are still around, giving their support/disgust/ambivalence today, while others died young. Regardless, the presence or absence of a father almost always has an impact.

Oddly, that’s less often the case with mothers, and I honestly can’t tell if this is because people just naturally avoid mentioning their mothers that much, or if it’s a media bias. I mean, obviously Barack Obama’s mother had more of an impact on him than his father, but oddly I don’t recall her being mentioned so much as a major influence. I feel like I heard more about his grandmother than his mother. Many other mothers get even less attention. Without looking it up, can you tell me anything about Hillary Clinton’s mother? Or Donald Trump’s mother?

It seems so weird that fathers are so often important whether they’re good, bad, or absent, yet mothers so often get ignored no matter what. This isn’t something the class taught me, but rather something I just happened to notice once I started paying attention.

Anyway, suffice to say, I’m enjoying the class, and it’s given me a lot to think about. Rather than trying to create a uniform sort of candidate, the course invites people to find the core of their message and understand why exactly they’re running for office. In other words, we’re being invited to understand ourselves as individuals, which is quite the opposite of being uniform.

Maybe the part where they suck out my personality and replace me with a robot comes later.

The one part of the class that I’m explicitly allowed to share with you is a presentation they gave regarding the educational system in Arizona. Which, as anyone who pays attention to Arizona politics knows, is really messed up. This is partially due to Arizona’s ridiculous collection of tax breaks (and, therefore, small discretionary budget), and partially because the state is determined to be a leader in the charter school movement, which directly impacts the funds available to public schools. And partially because of all sorts of other reasons that we learned about for an hour or so, and which I won’t go into here. I recommend looking into it, though, if you feel like getting angry.

Anyway, we’ll see where the classes go from here. I’ll let you know if I learn anything particularly interesting about myself along the way.