People are starting to announce their candidacies for public office. This is a wonderful thing. I encourage anyone who cares about her or his community to run for office.
Arroyo Grande City Councilmember Caren Ray wrote an opinion piece for The Tribune a couple of years ago that inspired me to run for Morro Bay City Council. I want to do something similar for other potential candidates.
Campaigning for public office is one of the most rewarding experiences you will enjoy in your lifetime. It is hard work, long hours, enlightenments, disappointments and moments of great exaltation.
Campaigning for office means talking to people to find out what they want, what they need and what upsets them. It is an eye-opening experience to hear what people are passionate about.
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Former Councilmember Noah Smukler asked me once if I had any desire to run for public office. At that time I told him no, I thought I could accomplish more from the outside. I was so wrong.
At various advisory meetings that I go to, someone inevitably says, “That will have to go to council for a decision.”
And I think to myself, “Really, do I have to decide everything?” And the answer is, “Yes, you do.”
Elected officials are at the top of the decision tree. We make the final decisions, cast the final votes. And if we care about our job, we don’t do that without a lot of input.
When you run for office you make promises to people. The most important promise is that you are going to make the most difficult decisions. You are going to act in your community’s best interest, using the best information you can get.
You listen to your staff, you question your staff, you ask staff for more information, for more research, for a recommendation.
You talk to your constituents and you listen to them. You find out what they care about, what they’re angry about, what they’re afraid of, what gets them emotionally involved.
One of the most important things I’ve learned is that you can satisfy most people if you do these three things:
I have learned that I would rather hear from people who disagree with me than those who agree. I make better decisions when people give me a viewpoint that I had not thought of before.
For the most part, people who show up at council meetings for public comment are upset and they want us to know why. I have learned to relish that. As I heard someone say recently at an advisory committee meeting, everybody has an opinion. (I wrote that down for future reference.) The thing to remember is that public comment is the beating heart of democracy.
Other than raising my beautiful family, working as a councilmember is the most rewarding experience of my life so far. In addition to sitting on council, we all participate on various county boards — San Luis Obispo Council of Governments, the county Air Pollution Control District, Integrated Waste Management, Homeless Services. We also deal with a variety of civic details that I would not have dreamed of — assessment districts, pension reform, waterfront leases.
Running for public office is a daring endeavor. While we may not agree with a candidate’s position, we need to honor and respect every candidate for his or her courage and desire to perform public service.
When I attend League of California Cities conferences, I’m always humbled by one singular thing: I look around the room and I see hundreds of people just like me, ordinary people, nothing special except that one day they decided to do something special and they ran for office.
Robert “Red” Fuller Davis is a former Caltrans planner. He was elected to the Morro Bay City Council in 2016.