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Elections 101: you don't have to be a Kennedy to run for office.

"Plan the work and work the plan."

With those words, GOP elections consultant Dan Pero offers simple but effective advice to political newcomers seeking public office.


Pero, president of the American Justice Partnership, a nationwide reform coalition with offices in Michigan, has managed scores of successful political campaigns around the country, including that of former Gov. John Engler.

Two candidates may differ broadly in viewpoint and have vastly unequal war chests, Pero says, but time is a campaign's great equalizer. There's never enough time in a political campaign's great equalizer. There's never enough time in a political campaign, and what time is lost cannot be won back.

"Planning enables a campaign to think through the entire effort ... to analyze what makes it strong and weak ... to develop reasonable goals and tactics," he explains. "It saves a campaign money and the chaos of zigzag decisionmaking." With a rational approach at a campaign's launch, then "only the most unusual or unanticipated event will cause it to course," he adds.

In comparison, talking about plans that are never implemented leads to lost opportunities and a potentiallylosing campaign, professional political advisers agree.

Pero and other campaign veterans took time to suggest what first-time candidates entering the rough and tumble of competitive politics need to know:

* Write your campaign plan when you are rested, and before mid-election stresses zap energy levels. Share it with family members, who may have to shoulder duties that the candidate once shared. Ask for feedback from family and those who've successfully waged a competitive campaign.

* Don't be your own campaign manager. Constituents expect your attention. A campaign manager can give you, the candidate, guidance and attention. Always remember: the candidate is a campaign's best asset.

* Meet voters on their own grounds. Coffee shops, neighborhood gathering places and private homes send a warmer, inviting message. The public spaces make the candidate accessible, and tell constituents that the candidate is open to discussion and able to reach for solutions.


Elections 201

Stay focused on the goal at hand. "Yard signs and endorsements are a plus, but they rarely make or break an election," says Tim Greimel, an attorney who serves on two grassroots positions, the Oakland County Commission and the Rochester School Board. "The biggest mistake some candidates make is getting too wrapped up in activities of marginal effectiveness, like plastering the town with yard signs, passing out balloons at festivals and trying to corner the market on endorsements. They ought to spend their time walking door-to-door multiple hours each and every day."

Prepare to meet the press. Like them or despise them, they are part of the process. Return their calls. Learn their deadlines. Know their "beats" or the types of stories they are likely to be writing about.

"Not only is the press a source of fact, but it is also a psychological conduit of truth to the audience," says John Lindstrom, editor of Gongwer News Service - Michigan, a daily source of state capital news.

Dress to meet the media, especially those with the ability to broadcast your appearance to millions of homes. Wear shirts that aren't too light in color and jewelry that doesn't jangle loudly.

Know the rules. That's Robert's Rules of Order, the authority on how a meeting is to be conducted and formal decisions made. Mason's Manual of Legislative Procedure, the rule on parliamentary procedure for most state Legislatures, is equally valuable. These standards for conducting meetings and making group decisions are the secret weapons in any successful politician's portfolio. Another great guide: The

Michigan Constitution. Pursue training opportunities. Groups, schools, universities and organizations around the state offer citizen activists training in parliamentary procedure, in public speaking and listening, in public policy development and analysis, and in personal leadership.

Business leaders value that training, says Gail Torreano, president of AT&T Michigan and member of the Detroit Regional Chamber board of directors. She recently completed tenure as chair of the Chamber's Political Action Committee, playing a key role in the Chamber's endorsements.

"Just as it is for leaders in business, it is critically important for any public official to embody the knowledge and discipline needed to successfully represent key stakeholders," she said. "When equipped with these essential skills, elected officials can serve as an influential voice and be a driving force in moving our state and communities forward."


The Michigan Political Leadership Program is unique in the nation for combining training in policy and leadership with a fully paid fellowship offered through Michigan State University's Institute for Public Policy and Social Research.

Elections 301

Each year, 24 people are competitively selected for the weekend program that spans 10 months of classroom discussion, hands-on experience and opportunities to meet some of the state's sharpest political leaders and advisers.


The multi-partisan program typically makes applications available in the summer and accepts them through early fall each year. Classes start in February, and end with graduation the following year at a celebration that has become known as Michigan's largest multi-partisan gathering.

Michigan House Republican Leader Craig DeRoche is a 1992 MPLP graduate and is passionate in his support of the program. "It was a life-changing experience," he says. "It gave me a solid foundation for a leadership position."

MPLP's annual dinner in southeast Michigan and breakfast in West Michigan are must-attend events, allowing newcomers to rub shoulders with the state's political celebrities. The events also give up-and-comers opportunities a statewide stage from which to see and be seen.

The dinner and breakfast the following morning bring to Michigan two of the nation's leading political pundits for an almost gloves-off event that entertains while it raises the money for political skill-building of the future.

To date, 450 people from across the state are MPLP graduates and a fifth of them have served or are currently serving in elective or appointive office.

This year's events, in Livonia on Thursday, Feb. 26, 2009 and in Grand Rapids on Friday, Feb. 27, 2009 will feature former Tennessee Congressman Harold Ford Jr. and Republican campaign consultant Mike Murphy in point and counterpoint.

Tickets are available now for $125 per seat. MPLP Program Administrator Barb Knuth will be happy to answer questions about the program or the events. Candidate or not, you can reach her at or by calling 517-353-0891.

Anne Mervenne and Dianne Byrum are Co-Directors of the Michigan Political Leadership Program. Mervenne is also president of Mervenne & Company, a governmental consulting firm, and she is a former executive in the administration of Michigan Gov. John Engler. Byrum is the first woman to hold a caucus position in the Michigan Legislature and is now a partner in Byrum & Fisk Advocacy Communications, a political consulting firm.
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Author:Mervenne, Anne; Byrum, Dianne
Date:Oct 1, 2008
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