Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Hank Sanders: Senate Sketches #1408: Vantage points from behind-the-scenes in elections

  What really goes on behind the scenes in elections? We see signs on the roads. We see ads on television. We hear ads on the radio. We see candidates at forums, at meetings and sometimes in our neighborhoods. None of these actions tell us what really goes on behind the scenes in elections.

  With this primary election coming to a conclusion as this Sketches is published, I thought it might be worthwhile to peek behind the scenes at a few election issues. This is not about the race I just concluded or my previous races. It is a collection of experiences shared and information gathered over 42 years.

  Let me share with you several vantage points from which I write. In 1972, I chaired my first countywide voter registration drive. I have chaired a number of county and state voter registration drives since that time. In 1974, I chaired J.L. Chestnut’s first campaign for the Alabama Senate. I also chaired two additional campaigns for him – another for the Senate and one for the House of Representatives.

  I ran for the Alabama Senate in 1982, 1983, 1986, and every four years thereafter up to and including 2014. I ran for the U.S. Congress in 1992. I also ran for presidential delegate and the State Democratic Executive Committee several times. After the creation of Alabama New South Coalition (ANSC) in 1986, I was one of the key leaders organizing election activities on the state level every two years from that time through 2010. I have been deeply involved in various other races from governor to county commission to mayor. Yes, I have experienced numerous elections from various vantage points.

  I want to briefly explore a few of the behind-the-scenes challenges. There are many others, but space will not permit their exploration in this Sketches. The first challenge is the selection of candidates. Oftentimes, the person who will serve well is not likely to win an election or even run for office. Oftentimes the person who can win is not likely to serve well. Therefore, we have to choose from whomever gets in the candidate arena because candidates usually select themselves. Unless we recruit and urge good candidates to run, our only alternative is to choose from those who put themselves forward to run.

  Endorsement of candidates by various organizations is another important challenge. Each group wants candidates who will serve their interests as they serve the broader interest. There are usually screenings in which particular candidates are asked probing questions. Background work is usually done before the screening to see what the candidates have done. The best way to know what a person will do in the future is to see what he or she has done in the past.

  The endorsement process involves so many factors: electability (oftentimes the candidate who will serve best cannot win and therefore cannot help); courage (even if  elected officials want to do right, the pressure not to do right is so great); positions on economics, education, race, gender, government and other critical areas (these are very powerful factors that affect almost everything); ability to work with others (many times leaders really want to get things done but none of us can get something done by ourselves); etc.

  Campaigning is central. Good candidates present well. Good candidates work hard. Good candidates inspire others to work for them. Good candidates inspire voters to vote for them. Good candidates create movement among workers, voters and others.

  Organization is often an important key to victory, but it is visible and invisible. Few candidates can do everything on their own. Therefore, there must be organization that plans the work and works the plan. Many a good candidate has fallen short because of poor organization. Many a good candidate has made it to victory because of good organization. Organization is usually invisible, but it is always a powerful force.

  Money is a powerful factor in elections. We try to convert money into votes. If we have the votes, we don’t need as much money. If we don’t have the votes, we need more money. We convert money into votes through organization, advertisements, mobilization, etc. It used to be that most community persons worked without pay. Such persons are now few and far between. I hate raising money for myself and others, but it has to be done, so I do it. Can a candidate raise money is a question that must be asked and answered. I believe that we must find ways to do a lot with a little so that money will not be the ultimate determining factor in electing our leaders.

  There are so many other behind-the-scene issues such as strategies to lift candidates, strategies to hold down other candidates, the role of family, the role of media, etc. Yes, there is so much behind the scenes that determines what we see in front of the scenes.

EPILOGUE – Sometimes it is better not to share at all if we do not have the space to share fully. I took a chance with this Sketches. I hope this limited sharing was worth the chance I took.

  About the author: Hank Sanders represents District 23 in the Alabama Senate.

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