Why Good People Don’t Run For Office

I cast my first vote for president in 1960. Or at least I think it was 1960.

Before my Donald Trump friends do the math and conclude I was trying to rig an election as a 10-year-old, let me confess that my “vote” came in the middle school’s mock election.

Kids were excited to take part in the election back then. Teachers helped us develop an appreciation for voting and ballot boxes.

I’ve carried that appreciation in the decades since the 1960 race between Richard Nixon and John Kennedy. But as I’ve gotten older and as our election campaigns have gotten more rancorous, I realize there is something sorely missing around each Election Day.

The winning candidates have their victory celebrations. But you and I, the ordinary vote-casting folks who troop to the polls, are remiss in not properly thanking the losing candidates.

Our democracy would not thrive if there weren’t candidates who willingly stand before voters and give us choices on our ballots.

In some parts of the world, elections are a sham. Yes, the people get to vote. But if there is only one party in an election, and if there is only one candidate for an office, then that’s really not much of an election.

It’s no picnic to run for elective office these days. There are hundreds or thousands of doors you need to knock on. You need to organize events that give you the opportunity to meet voters. You need to raise money, lots of money, if you are running for the Legislature or Congress. And if you are seeking one of those seats, you have to drive thousands of miles back and forth across your district campaigning.

Beyond the hard work, it can’t be enjoyable subjecting yourself to the sometimes vicious, overheated rhetoric that has become acceptable in political campaigns these days.

No one enjoys having their opponent and interest groups dissecting your past for every tidbit that might cast you in an unfavorable light. This isn’t a tactic that one party has dibs on. Democrats and Republicans both try to build up their candidates by tearing down their opponents.

That’s fine if your only focus is on victory. But think about the price this carpet-bombing tactic has if people who would make excellent candidates are driven away from running because they don’t want to subject their families to this treatment.

All of us, regardless of whether we lean to the left or lean right, should want to get the best candidates possible for public office on both tickets — for the local courthouse offices, for the Legislature and Iowa Capitol offices, and for the halls of Congress.

Through the years, I have talked with many people who would be strong candidates because of their success in business, agriculture and teaching. Almost without exception, they have no interest in running for office — not because they wouldn’t enjoy the work, not because they don’t want to campaign, but because they don’t want any part of the vicious spotlight that is built in to politics.

One woman I know probably is asking herself that “why did I decide to run?” question.

Jennifer Konfrst is a mother, wife and Drake University professor. She lives in Windsor Heights and is smart, polite and personable. She is challenging Chris Hagenow, a member of the Iowa House of Representatives since 2008.

Their party affiliations are not important in this discussion. There are plenty of issues the two could be discussing in their campaign: funding for K-12 schools, water quality, economic development, Medicaid privatization.

But much of the campaign’s focus has come from a television ad that has aired many times in Des Moines. The ad portrays a shadowy-looking Konfrst as a tax-dodger, with the voice in the ad saying bluntly, “Jennifer Konfrst doesn’t pay her taxes.”

Yes, Konfrst and her husband failed out of ignorance to pay the Social Security and Medicare taxes on the wages received by their babysitter when the Konfrst children were young. The Konfrsts prepared their own income tax returns but weren’t aware of their Social Security and Medicare tax obligations on the babysitter’s wages. The federal government later discovered the oversight and said they owed $12,000.

Not many of us have an extra $12,000 available, so it took the Konfrsts a few years to pay off the debt. It is gone now, but in the eyes of a political opponent, this family is a tax deadbeat.

Who knows how many people who would be fine legislators or county supervisors will reject running for office because they have seen Konfrst’s reputation maligned. That’s one reason we should say “thank you” for those who stick their necks out and run for public office — even if they end up losing and even if we don’t vote for them.

We should always want good choices.


by Randy Evans
Posted 11/7/16

7 Comments on "Why Good People Don’t Run For Office"

  • Excellent article. I want to run for office in 2018 but this is the type of stuff that makes me reconsider.

    • If you have a desire to run for a political office, then all you have to do is look in your life’s closet, and if you have the courage put everything that anyone possibly could use to paint you in a bad way, out on you, then beat them to it, and own it. It’s that simple, not to give ammunition to an opponent. If they try to make hay of some indiscretion, immediately turn it on them for not being HONEST about staying on topics that affect the everyday lives of voters, and deceiving them with innuendos, making your opponent look like they are trying to deceive the voters plain, and simple. Be forthcoming if you chose to run, and let the voters see a fellow human being just like them.

  • Funny you should point to 1960. That was the Kennedy election. The key state was Illinois. Chicago Democrats withheld the votes from some neighborhoods in Chicago until all the downstate votes were reported. Then the Chicago Democrats reported enough votes for Kennedy to win. The problem: there were a number of precincts that had more votes than registered voters. These phantom voters carried the state and the election for Kennedy. After 1960 Americans learned that they could not trust the elections as being honest. (I am a native Chicagoan and was in Chicago for the 1960 election.)

  • I don’t feel one bit bad about Konfrst getting roasted over this. She’s a poli sci professor, for god’s sake how could she not figure this would come up. A real party would have asked her to not run. WE MUST VET OUR CANDIDATES MUCH BETTER.
    I would never run for anything because I’ve lived a colorful life, and I’m honest about it.

    • We’ve all lived colorful lives. Name one person who has no skeletons in their closet. Considering that we have so few willing candidates who would otherwise be strong (as is the point of this post), saying that someone deserved attacks is a great way to continue discouraging participation. Friendly fire is unnecessary.

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