Some great advice about how to stand out in local politics

I recently drove out to Sacramento to try to see some old friends and public officials I know. The folks on my list were Assemblymembers Phil Ting, Rebecca Bauer-Kahan, and Jesse Gabriel. I tried to track down Jason Elliott, my friend from grad school who is now Governor Newsom’s Chief Deputy Cabinet Secretary, but our timing was off, so I called up another grad school friend, Zach Neumann, instead.

It felt good to toggle my attention back over to local and state politics for a while. It’d been years since my last trip to Sacramento and I’d forgotten how busy it gets. Close to the capitol, it’s all suits and ties and handshakes and ad hoc discussions between people carrying binders and iPads. It reminded me how much political infrastructure the state has. It also made me feel small. How can I make a dent in something this big?

The biggest takeaway I got from my little field trip answered that question:

It’s easy to make a name for yourself. Just do what you say you’re going to do and you will stand out.

Since my conversations weren’t on the record, I won’t attribute it directly. The point this person made was clear: there are tons of people who talk a big game, who want attention and power, but who don’t put in the work. Just by doing what you say you’re going to do, even if it’s as simple as sending an email, will make you stand out.

Most people are not dependable. In politics, I was told, the number is something like 99 to 1. You can be in the top 1% simply by following through with your commitments, no matter how small they are.

So, baby steps make a difference. Another important bit of advice was this:

If you want to be helpful to a public official, learn about what matters to them, and volunteer to support their agenda. Don’t try to pull them over to yours.

This point is brutally honest. Public officials are already pulled in multiple directions by community groups, public interest groups, and the media. If you’re one person trying to establish a relationship, you’ll be best served by beginning the relationship by being supportive.

In other words, I have work to do between now and when I throw my hat in the ring. There’s a big wide gap between here and there.

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