Run baby, run!

Town Square: The Victory Fund trains and prepares openly gay candidates for fit political campaigns

Running laps around the football field in high school phys. ed. was just not for me. I did it because it was required and I stopped the moment I could. Years later, I took up running as a way to challenge myself, to escape the mundane and, of course, to feel good. The difference was that this time I had a purpose. I ”ramped up” — running just a half mile or so the first couple times. I wasn’t exactly burning through pair after pair of Nikes.

Weeks, months and even years of slowly building up stamina and the requisite muscle groups prepared me for a few 10K runs — distances that would have put me flat on my face when I first started. So, why do some people approach events in life like a 10K they haven’t even warmed up for, let alone trained for?

Running for public office takes just as much training and preparation, likely significantly more. This foundation starts years before a viable run — whether for fire commission, town council, neighborhood advisory board, state legislature or U.S. Congress.

As a member of the Gay & Lesbian Victory Fund staff, I have the privilege of meeting, observing and supporting openly gay candidates making viable runs. They have all prepped, many attending the Leadership Institute’s Candidate & Campaign Training program, an intense three-day boot camp for those with potential for stellar political fitness.

This year, our campaign professionals will conduct trainings in Louisville, Ky. (March), Washington, D.C. (June), and Florida (November). They are not just for LGBT candidates, but also those who may work on the campaign of an LGBT candidate. They are a great way to start building stamina and sowing the seeds that will thrive over months and years of ramping up.

Proven professionals teach the nuts-and-bolts of running to win — fundraising, organizing, message development and targeting voters. Addressing questions about sexual orientation is covered, but this is not a three-day harping session about ”running as gay.” These trainings, combined with intense research, talking with supporters and getting involved in your community in meaningful ways, are the building blocks to assembling a winning candidacy.

Here in Washington, D.C. — the land of former student class presidents — how many friends have you heard talk about running for office? About moving back home to Indiana or California and running for mayor of this or that? Some, who have done their stint in D.C., do move home and run. A few of you may remember former D.C. resident Scott McCoy, who is now a Utah state senator and one of only two openly gay members of that legislature. If that’s your plan, then attending training now is an important first step. You can also point those ambitious friends of yours in that direction too.

Look, running for office isn’t for everyone. However, as a community we should be at the race — passing water, yelling words of support, or holding up the tape at the finish line. If a support role is for you, you will be more effective when you have a clearer understanding of what a runner or a candidate is going through. That’s why training is important for you too.

The LGBT community needs to graduate beyond only lobbying to achieve true equality. Gay and lesbian Americans need to be at the table with an equal voice and a vote that matters. It changes the dynamic in the room when a bigoted lawmaker has to look eye-to-eye with an openly gay peer who is standing on equal political footing.

The path to that kind of access and influence starts with training and preparation. Successful candidacies don’t just happen overnight. Victory Fund-endorsed LGBT candidates are home-grown and well-known community entities, who make their sexual orientation humdrum, an asset, or sometimes even irrelevant to voters.

So get out your kicks and start walking, jogging, running and cheering. Maybe the calling to lead will be yours to answer, or maybe you’ll be behind the scenes with the expertise to assist and coach. Either way, you’ll need to start training.

I hope to see you on the road to victory – or at the pool. These days I usually swim. Running is just too hard on the knees.

Dave DeCicco is vice president for communications at the Gay & Lesbian Victory Fund and can be reached at Dave.DeCicco@victoryfund.org. Information about candidate trainings is available at www.victoryinstitute.org.

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