It’s an election year, and from the recent FBI and IRS raids on the former House speaker’s office to accusation-trading and name-calling among Newport City Council members, incumbents are giving voters plenty of reasons to consider voting for someone new.
But that is easier said than done. Running for office is a daunting prospect, particularly for someone who’s never done it before.
That’s where Operation Clean Government’s Candidate School comes in. Offered every two years on the general election cycle, the daylong program provides insight into everything from fundraising to marketing and campaigning, from leaders of state agencies and former politicians, among other “faculty” members.
This year’s Candidate School will take place on Saturday at Rhode Island College in Providence, as it is being hosted for the first time by the college’s Political Science Department.
The nonpartisan educational seminar on how to run for political office will feature addresses by luminaries such as former Attorney General Arlene Violet and former U.S. Rep. Bob Weygand, and presentations by the secretary of state and a lawyer for the state Ethics Commission.
It also will feature panel discussions about the importance of local media in elections, the use — and misuse — of social media and the pros and cons of negative campaigning.
“This is an ideal chance for candidates new to the political scene to get a complete briefing on the campaigning process,” said Margaret Kane, president of Operation Clean Government.
It will be the seventh Candidate School, continuing an election year tradition started in 2002 by Operation Clean Government — an organization the late Bruce R. Lang of Newport helped found in 1993.
“Rhode Island clearly needs more diversity, more expertise and more points of view in all areas of government,” Lang said in 2004, when Operation Clean Government was organizing its second Candidate School. “That can only happen when more people get involved in the electoral process.”
That is true — but, on the other hand, we understand why sometimes people who otherwise would make good candidates for office are reluctant to step into the ring. Being prepared for the process of collecting signatures and campaigning, as well as the scrutiny of voters, opponents and the media, can help ease those concerns — and that’s exactly how the Candidate School aims to help prepare new candidates. More than 500 people have gone through the school since its inception, and some alumni who now hold elected office will be among the speakers on Saturday.
It will be a long day, starting with breakfast at 7:30 a.m. and wrapping up with the final speaker at 4:50 p.m.
But, as Newport City Councilman Justin S. McLaughlin, who went to the Candidate School in 2006, said: “It was the single best investment of time I ever made” in preparation for running for office. “I tell people that all the time,” he said.
As its name suggests, the nonpartisan volunteer group has been at the forefront of many clean-government efforts, from separation of powers, which voters approved in 2004, to ethics oversight over the General Assembly, a campaign that still is being waged.
The Candidate School is another effort to improve government in Rhode Island at the state and local levels. We urge any would-be candidates to attend this program, to get insight on the process and to prepare themselves for the long, but vitally important, road ahead to the November elections.
This editorial appeared Thursday in the Newport Daily News.
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