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Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Loyalty to those who referred you: Act Smart and Say Nice Things

One common mistake by new entrants to politics is badmouthing whomever set them up in a new position, or thinking that who referred them doesn't matter. It's an odd thing, but I suspect it's part of a mentality that thinks that opportunities exist in a win-lose tension, a zero-sum game of political opportunities. You think "I win, and they lose" instead of "we both win when I win." A friend recommends you to a new position, and, comfortable in that position and working for a few weeks, you joke about the person who referred you. You joke about their experience or second-guess their input in the campaign. You try to show that you're more loyal to your new boss and not to the one who got you the position. It's easy to fall into this trap because the person who recommended you only made a phone call, they didn't do any 'work' for you, so you don't have to be loyal, right?

Wrong. This is a major mistake and a big problem, and it makes you look bad all around. 

The person who recommends someone else in politics is saying "based on my past work with you, trust me to hire this person and give them a shot." They're putting their professional relationship on the line. And when it gets back to them, and it will, that you not only bad-mouthed them, but also made some trivial mistake, you will have incinerated any relationship or opportunity with them in the future.

I have four quick examples of how I've noticed this happen. I'll use fake names.

Charlie - I hooked this unemployed friend of several years up with a summer organizing position. I was a paid consultant to this political group, and there was a job prospect at the end of the program if he did well. It was a 10 week commitment, and part of the deal was that I was supposed to manage him remotely in order to make sure he made his goals. After two weeks, he stopped returning my calls or emails. He was doing his own thing, and working to get the job. In the end, he did well and the group was relatively pleased, but I was powerless to help him get a job because he hadn't worked with me. He had done well, and the group liked Charlie, but there wasn't enough to get him hired. If he had worked closer with me, I would have made sure he was able to do things that would have demonstrated him as a shoe-in for the job. The last I heard he was still unemployed.

Jack - I brought Jack in as an organizer on a statewide referendum. It was an important cause, and there were a variety of good opportunities that could have grown out of this situation. I was an unpaid consultant, but had a decent amount of sway on the campaign. After a month and a half, I kept getting reports that Jack was a mess on the campaign, badmouthing me, and loudly swearing on a daily basis in one part of the campaign office. Jack stopped doing what I said though he stayed in touch, and the campaign manager started blaming every bad thing on Jack. It started to become a very bad situation and there wasn't anything I could do to help him, because he was ignoring me and thinking that he could handle it all on his own. He was eventually asked to leave the campaign and I don't know that he'd be welcome back in the area. 

Joey - This fellow had a few small campaign experiences and I had hoped to bring him into a start-up campaign and for him to do well. I expected him to really be a star. Instead, after four weeks, he was telling me how it was going to be, and was acting as though my advice was irritating and optional. Then, he started nixing the practical things I was directing the campaign to do, such as a voter identification and canvassing drive. It wasn't that it was the wrong time to do these things, but because he was in a weird power play to try and minimize my input. I then caught word of him badmouthing me to the campaign, and the campaign fired him shortly thereafter. I haven't heard from him since.

Bella - This gal was working on a political project I was involved with, and decided to resign in a fit of pique. She had been referred by a major donor who said she was very organized and very motivated, and she was neither. In addition to demanding an unreasonable severance, she badmouthed me, her former supervisor, and everyone to anyone who would listen. It was a total mess. I have never seen such unprofessional behavior from an adult in my professional life.

Each of these people:
1) Made themselves look bad by saying things, or doing things, that made their references look like chumps. And in so doing ensured that their references would never vouch for them again, and other friends of theirs will likely not vouch for them again.
2) Ruined their future chances by burning bridges needlessly. Problems come up, but there's a right way and a wrong way to handle them. Don't badmouth others, don't demean those who have helped you, don't hurt the organization, campaign or movement. People remember bad behavior like that.

So much of politics is just dealing with people, and being a trustworthy, loyal, reliable person who can get along with others. If a consultant brings you into a job, stay reasonably loyal. Think of opportunities as a win-win and not win-lose, and don't, ever, badmouth those who help you or your former employers. It's a surefire way to get a reputation as someone not to hire.


Learn these skills and more, by buying the book "Getting a Job in Politics, and Keeping it" by Ben Wetmore, right away.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Critical review, and qualifying advice and suggestions

So, we got a negative review on Amazon for the book.

It sounds like someone I've run across through the years who didn't like me. That's fine. It's a good lesson that 'networking' isn't good advice by itself, you really want to persuade and win people over and not just meet people who will dislike you later.

But one aspect of the comment was important, and perhaps something I didn't clarify in the book, whether my advice was just 'dead end' or inapplicable to other job-hunters.

Here are some of the different job titles I had within a five year time-span:
Administrative Assistant
Director (essentially a department head), 250k budget
Director in a statewide political organizing non-profit
President of a non-profit, 750k budget
Campaign Manager, US Senate race
Deputy Campaign Manager, Statewide referendum
Executive Director of a non-profit
Consultant, several non-profits, campaigns and political groups
I've personally hired at least 20 different full-time staffers, dozens of field staff, and been involved as a department head in hiring over 150 other field staff.

I've also counseled over 40 DC/Beltway job-seekers personally with positions.

Two friends whom I had helped before, asked me to write the book because they knew I had 1) hiring experience, 2) a wide exposure to political groups of different stripes, 3) some good stories to tell.

So, I've seen what works and what doesn't. For every person I hired, we interviewed at least 3-4 other candidates. That means I've seen plenty of resumes, cover letters, and other interviews. I've also spoken with other hiring managers and heard what they're looking for.

This is why I have credibility on the topic, and why my stories are relevant.

I don't offer this as a defense or to boast, but rather as a qualification. As I say in the book, you should be naturally skeptical of self-professed experts in politics. You should ask people who give advice on fundraising to tell you how much money they've raised. You should ask people who are journalists which outlets they've worked for, don't be afraid to figure out who is truly experienced and who just has loud opinions.

There are people with more hiring experience than I have, but they don't have a specific book on the topic.

I'm proud of Getting a Job in Politics, and Keeping It, and think it will help you in any political position, especially entry-level political positions.

You can buy the book "Getting a Job in Politics, and Keeping it" by Ben Wetmore, here.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Never Pay your own way, and other financial lessons

Your authority comes at the expense of another.
Understand and appreciate whom you are in
power-competition with
More bad memories from tough campaigns... I had a friend who was a volunteer coordinator for a statewide effort. The guy had charisma, training experience, and was a trusted friend. When I took over as a campaign manager on a serious campaign that was chronically broke and looking at crafting a grassroots-oriented strategy, I thought it was the perfect opportunity to bring in this friend, let's call him Charles, to be a week-long consultant working with our volunteers.

I was the campaign manager, and approved the expense of his plane ticket. If he did a good job, I had hoped to set up a bonus for him, but all he wanted was the plane ticket reimbursed. A very reasonable expense. I made sure my candidate knew what I was doing, explained it to the staff and other volunteers that this was happening, and didn't think anything was wrong. The day he flew in, though, there was a very odd meeting called, by the candidate's wife.

She alleged that this was a needless expense, that volunteer training was superfluous, and that the campaign wouldn't be reimbursing me for this expense.

I felt like I had at least that much control and authority, but I didn't. It was a frustrating and humiliating meeting, not to mention confusing because my friend had arrived ready to do an intense week's worth of work, and now, with his services no longer needed, I had to find things for him to do.

I didn't have the authority to spend the campaign's money because there were other people, who didn't have the title or daily involvement, but still outranked me. I was operating in good faith to help the campaign, but I was put in a very tough spot because I assumed I had authority that I didn't.

There are several good lessons to learn from this. The first is that you should never put campaign expenses on your personal credit card or expenses. Simply refuse to make these donations, the campaign should always pay for such things up front. The second main lesson here is that you should never promise a deal, even a simple one among friends, without everything in writing and all the financial details explicit and clear. The third lesson is that you should always be aware of those competing interests to you. Power and authority on a campaign is zero-sum. The ship can't have five captains. You need to know where you stand. As I recommend in the book, make sure you have the roles, responsibilities, authority and expectations well defined and clear from the start. And make sure to define how much can be spent, per month and at one time without approval. A campaign manager should probably be able to spend $250-500 without prior approval, and a field director may have a range like that of $100-250. When I was a department head the spending authority was $2500. It's a common practice and a good thing to include in your campaign, and it'll help avoid conflicts later. Otherwise you risk a situation like this, where almost everyone is left unhappy.

The cadillac of truck stops, and good,
cheap, showers.
My friend had a very frustrating week stuffing envelopes and making solicitation calls with me, and because the budget was frozen we had no money for a motel or food. We slept in the office and took $8 showers at the local Flying J truck stop. Things on the campaign didn't improve either.

Don't spend your own money. Never promise deals and always put them in writing. Be aware of the competing power interests on a campaign, and have your role well-defined in writing, including your spending authority.


Learn these skills and more, by buying the book "Getting a Job in Politics, and Keeping it" by Ben Wetmore, right away.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Men: Learn to tie a tie

Most men, myself included, pretty much know how to do the 'four hand' tie, which is asymmetrical and looks mediocre.

Take the few minutes to learn how to tie a really great tie, one that matches your shirt and looks crisp.


Always look sharp, and especially if you're a young political operative take the time to look a cut above. Everyone expects you to be sloppy, lazy, chronically late, disshevelled. If you impress them, it'll make you look that much better.

Something as simple as tying sharp looking ties can help set you apart from the pack.



Saturday, January 7, 2012

Old Crazy White Man: OCWM

It's amazing how many political events have OCWM at them. He usually has a Brooklyn accent, is very aggressive and loud, and a real pain.

He interrupts speeches, asks obnoxious questions, dominates discussions, emasculates your candidate in front of donors, and is just generally an enormous pain.

There has to be a cloning vat somewhere that ran on auto-pilot 70 years ago in Brooklyn where all these guys came from.

But how do you handle him? He can derail an event and cause a real problem.

Having worked for an OCWM before, I can tell you that, like the Soviet Union, he only respects strength. You have to be alpha and tell him to be quiet down.  He might still be loud, but in that case ask him to step outside. If he still won't calm down, ask him to leave. Don't retreat, and don't let him dominate your event.

There's no nice guy way to deal with OCWM.

You won't win this guy over by being nice and cordial or passive. He'll see that as an opportunity to act even crazier. He also won't take direction from women very well, so keep that in mind. If you are female, you really have to be firm and assertive with him. You have to turn off all the niceties and be blunt, assertive and firm.

But get rid of this guy as soon as you can, he'll always be a disruption and is rarely kind enough to be a generous donor. He's not worth the trouble. If you're afraid he's a donor, worry about the dozen donors who are walking out so they don't have to be around him.

As I said, there's no nice guy way to deal with OCWM, be firm and kick him out if necessary.


Learn these skills and more, by buying the book "Getting a Job in Politics, and Keeping it" by Ben Wetmore, right away.

Monday, January 2, 2012

Paranoia in Politics: Resist, Defuse, Deflect, Escape

Because so much in politics is subjective and hard to measure, much of it exists in perception. It leads to heightened sensitivity and a certain basic paranoia. People involved in politics and also especially those involved with campaigns, get paranoid about donors, competing candidates, former staffers with an axe to grind, there’s no shortage of people to worry about.

But that paranoia has to be balanced and taken with a strong dose of reason. For many, it can become debilitating, and it can also consume people who would be otherwise good workers.

It’s one thing to see such paranoia in volunteers or in the occasional donor, sometimes it's a legitimate concern. When you start to see it in candidates, campaign managers and professionals, it should signal danger to you as a political operative. When you see it in candidates and campaign leadership, leave as soon as you can. Leave on your own terms. Otherwise, their paranoia will eventually come to focus on you as a suspect, and make your life miserable.

If you’re around people who have a borderline personality disorder and are needlessly paranoid about things, they will eventually turn on you and at best they will force you out, and possibly even worse. These people can hurt your future career chances by lying about what you’ve done.

These people have serious mental issues. I wish this was a joke, you can’t work with them.

I was once the deputy campaign manager for a major statewide referendum. Things were going well. I brought in a good team, things were shaping up well. We were building a solid call center and had several teams of people to do lit drops and door knock the area. Then the main leader’s paranoia set in.

One night at a Perkins (which is an IHOP-like diner for the rest of you), she explained how the Mafia was going to kill her and had already made credible threats. She said that the FBI had secret agents protecting her house posing as gardeners. This is the main person, the central figure, telling me the Sopranos are about to burst in and kill everyone on the campaign staff. 

I rationalized and just chalked it up to eccentricity and late nights and caffeine. I put it out of my mind. I tried to work through it. I said, “she may be crazy, but I’ll just keep doing good things and move past this.”

There was no moving past mental problems of this magnitude.

Less than five weeks later, I had to sever my ties with the campaign and encourage my team to leave, because I could see the writing on the wall. My mentor, whom I had kept informed of what was going on, told me what was going to happen and that I had to leave immediately. She was going to lose this easy referendum campaign because she was nuts. Her mental issues caused her to make bad decisions, self-defeating decisions. The paranoia was but one small reflection of those larger mental issues. The paranoia was a good signal to leave.


A year later, I was in DC at a meeting and heard a friend say that that referendum had been lost because of “two guys from DC” who screwed everything up.

She was blaming me for the loss even though I left the campaign three months before the election. That’s the main danger: you’ll have a hard time advancing when you have a background reference saying very negative things about you. Other people will often believe ridiculous things about you when someone of stature says them, and it'll hurt your career and advancement. It'll be a silent killer of good opportunities for you. 

When you see real paranoia in a candidate or campaign leader, get out as soon as you realistically can.




Learn these skills and more, by buying the book "Getting a Job in Politics, and Keeping it" by Ben Wetmore, right away.