Opinion

Guide for Federal Way political newcomers | Bob Roegner

The most frequent mistake made by candidates interested in holding public office is not being prepared to run for office — or not being prepared to take advantage of an opportunity that might arise.

So, this is your heads up, just in case you’re interested in being on the Federal Way School Board or Federal Way City Council. There are five candidates running for the state House seat being vacated by Democratic Rep. Mark Miloscia, who is running for state auditor. If either school board president Tony Moore or city councilwoman Linda Kochmar is the winner in November, then a vacancy will occur on one of those boards.

While we don’t know how the election will turn out, now is the time to think about whether you are interested in living in the fish bowl that is public office. Are you interested? More importantly, are you ready?

This could be a rare opportunity to do a lot of good if you care about how your schools are run, or if you are interested in the manner in which your city grows and develops. There are people in the community that have been considering their options for several months. Should you be one of them?

Both Moore and Kochmar retain their current positions if they are not elected to the Legislature, and their positions would be up for election in the regular cycle. However, if one of them wins, then the legislative authority — school board or city council — would appoint a replacement, who would then have to stand for election next year.

Many people don’t run for office because it is usually difficult, though not impossible, to beat an incumbent. You have to spend months doorbelling, raising money, seeking endorsements and debating your opponent at the many groups and organizations who have an interest in the outcome.

First-time candidates make more mistakes. Incumbents have done all this before and have built up a base of support. The main advantage incumbents have is visibility and more knowledge of the issues. If you could become an incumbent, without having to run for election first, it would give you a big advantage.

If Kochmar is elected to the Legislature, the city council would likely seek resumes and letters from interested individuals. You have to be a registered voter who has lived in the city limits for a year. A background of community service or having served on a city committee would be helpful, but not required. Knowledge of planning, zoning, governmental regulations, finance or other relevant experience would be an asset. You would need to convince four of the remaining six council members that you are the best person for the job. The mayor doesn’t get a vote, nor does Kochmar. Technically, her position wouldn’t be vacant until she resigns to move on to Olympia.

A little twist for you to think about. Since this is an appointment, some council members might already be thinking of candidates to recruit that share their policy viewpoints and who might be inclined to vote with them. That shouldn’t stop you, but it should increase your homework to include more knowledge of council members and their positions on issues.

What do you know about the new form of government? What should happen to downtown? How would you improve the neighborhoods? What are your policy priorities? Do you know enough about city finances to understand why the city can’t afford one project, but somehow can afford to do another?

There is a reason. If you don’t you know, you need to look into the laws covering city finance. Most of the major issues confronting the city are complex and have a lot of different moving parts. A significant amount of study is required to fully comprehend all the options. Simple, or superficial answers to complex issues aren’t going to get you very far. While most of the issues that come before the city council are not partisan, political relationships do play a role in how business gets done. What do you know about the six council members who would interview you?

If Tony Moore wins, the school board would likely follow the same basic process. However, even though the position is voted on districtwide in an election, school board members must live within geographic districts. The district Moore represents is in the southern portion of the school district, so any candidates to replace him would have to come from the same area.

The school district administration has a map of the five districts and you can easily check to see if you live in Moore’s district.

The school board is comprised of five members. You would need to persuade three of the remaining four board members to vote for you to get the appointment. Moore can’t vote for the same reason Kochmar wouldn’t be able to vote for a council candidate. Knowledge of school policy issues would be helpful, as would service on a district committee. What do you know about standards based education? What do you know about the grading system or the capital improvement plan? Do you think Federal Way High School needs to be replace or remodeled, or do you think it should be left just as it is? Do you understand how schools are funded?

While the city council and the school board are non-partisan positions, both Moore and Kochmar are Republicans. The respective boards may prefer their replacement to be someone that reflects those values and policy perspectives, although a different opinion might be just as welcome. Neither Kochmar nor Moore would be likely to publicly support a particular candidate, but private support is another matter.

As Moore and Kochmar demonstrate the school board and city council are logical training grounds for candidates for the Legislature, the political parties might be interested in who gets appointed.

So, have you always felt that if you were given a chance, you would like to serve on the school board or city council? Do you care about improving your community? Do you have the time and interest?

Well, you may get that chance. Now is the time to start preparing yourself. If you wait until after the election to see if there actually is a vacancy, it may be too late. Even if neither Moore nor Kochmar win and head for Olympia, you will be a lot more informed voter, or future candidate.

Are you interested in serving your community?

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