Starting a legislative campaign is no simple task.
It involves filing paperwork, raising funds, obeying finance laws, using social media and more and, for an inexperienced Montanan, can prove to be an intimidating and discouraging process.
But Montana Electric Cooperatives Association and other state cooperatives are teaming up to try and shed some light on the ins and outs of campaigning.
The organization partnered with Montana Credit Union Network, Montana Chamber of Commerce and Montana Association of Realtors to organize and host “Campaign School” in three Montana cities this week.
“The school got started over a decade ago,” said Gary Wiens, an employee with the electric cooperative and longtime organizer of the event. “Our national associations came to us and said, ‘Look, we’ve got this expertise on running political campaigns and we know that all statewide associations would like to see more people run for office.’”
Representatives from the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association and the Credit Union National Association will speak in Helena today on a variety of topics relating to starting, and running, a political campaign. The group hosted a similar event in Missoula Tuesday and will host a third school in Billings on Thursday.
“These guys walk you through some of the basics of what it takes,” Wiens said. “All they need are the essential tools for running a campaign and they can get elected.
“The most important aspect to get you started is you’ve got to have a plan. Failure to plan is a plan to fail,” he said.
“Basically we’re trying to, number one, interest people in running for public office,” he said. “People tend to think, that oh that guy who’s an elected official is probably a pro at it and there’s no way I could ever get elected, but in most cases, it’s your next door neighbor who just decides to run for office.”
The program — which begins at 9 a.m. at the Great Northern Hotel — will feature sessions covering filing deadlines and procedures, campaign spending regulations, fundraising advice, media usage and how to reach out to voters.
“At lunchtime, we hear from local elected officials and it really is a key part of our presentation,” Wiens said. “We call it tales from the campaign trail.”
This year’s lunchtime speakers are Chuck Hunter, a Democrat in House District 79, and Dave Lewis, a Republican in Senate District 42.
Lewis has been involved in state government for more than 40 years and will complete his 14th year in the Montana Legislature in December. He is term limited and therefore won’t be running for re-election this year, but is excited to share his campaign stories with legislative hopefuls.
“I think it’s really important to do a lot of research on your district,” Lewis said. “I always go back and look at the last three or four elections and look at the voting in each precinct.”
He said the most important advice he could give would be to hit the streets as soon as possible.
“You have to go door to door,” Lewis said. “I was scared to death when I started but then when you get into it, it gets almost addicting.
“I found it to be really valuable,” he said.
However, knocking on hundreds of doors isn’t always an easy task, he added.
“I was going to mention that, my first time I ran, I had (represented) a rural area, and I had one guy come to the door with an AK-47 and he pushed me off the porch and told me how much he hated politicians,” Lewis said.
He said he’s had at least four or five people answer their door with guns in hand, but that potential candidates shouldn’t be offended or threatened.
“Nobody can tell you what it’s like until you go out and go to three thousand doors,” Lewis said. “Don’t be pushy; you’re there to listen, not to talk.”
“And don’t be alarmed when someone comes to the door with a six-shooter,” he added.
Registration for the all-day event costs $35 but walk-ins are welcomed and encouraged.