April 18, 2009

If you're an unemployed teacher or academic, run for office!

Which unemployed or underemployed people could plausibly run for office in 2010?

The budget outlook in Florida is better than it used to be, thanks to the federal recovery funds that have already flowed and are likely to flow; essentially, federal funds are plugging about half of the gap legislators were facing for the next fiscal year. But in our state (and many others), even with the better budget proposal there are still going to be hundreds of teachers laid off (which is better than thousands), and in our state, a number of other teachers who will be forced into retirement through technical means (including one of my daughter's teachers, several others I know, and probably a principal I know). If the state budget is closer to the worse proposal still alive, there will be dozens or a few hundred university faculty and professional employees who will also be out of work.

From a party perspective, there is an obvious reason why unemployed individuals are not usually great candidates for public office: their primary concern is (rightfully) getting a job! But our state legislature is so gerrymandered that a large minority of legislators waltz into office without any opposition whatsoever. Not just meaningless competition: literally no opponent. In this environment, a party that doesn't currently have a certain seat and can't recruit an experienced candidate might gain a little leverage by convincing an unemployed professional to run for office.

From a potential candidate's perspective, it's different. If you're an unemployed teacher, professor, or researcher facing unemployment, and you want to run against an incumbent, I can give you one great reason to run: you'll meet loads of people. The best way to run for a Florida House seat is to walk door to door for weeks on end. The districts are small enough that you really can walk through a district over an election season, certainly if you start today, and if you can't win the seat (which has a small income, but it's there and it carries insurance), you might meet your next employer while you're running. The same is true in many other states. And if you try to qualify by petition rather than paying a fee, you'll definitely have to meet people in your district.

Case in point: I know a former graduate student from USF who ran for office in a House seat against an incumbent who was well-liked and endorsed by several local unions. The former grad student was an adjunct at a community college with almost no fundraising connections and little money, and he got into the race very, very late. Even with those disadvantages, he racked up 48% of the vote. A few weeks earlier, a little more organizing, and he could have won.

So if you get a pink slip or are an adjunct, think about it: you could be a legislator, and even if not, running for office might be how you get your next job.

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Posted in Random comments on April 18, 2009 6:27 PM |