So you're thinking of putting your name forward in the 2019 local body elections for your council, District Health Board, or licensing trust. Firstly - congratulations! Despite often getting a bad rap, local body politics plays an important role in ensuring New Zealand has vibrant and thriving communities.
Secondly - what are you waiting for? If you want to be successful in 2019 you need to get working now! Voting for the 2019 local body elections opens on 20 September 2019 and runs until 12 October 2019, so there's already less than two years to go.
Not everyone be fortunate enough to pull of the coup that Paraparaumu's Murray Bell did in 2013, where by virtue of an alphabetically listed STV voting paper, he relied primarily on his candidate profile that accommodated the voting papers to do the work for him. That means you're going to have to start planning for your campaign now.
Here's a few pointers to get you started:
- Understand why you want to be involved in local politics. It's all well and good to say that you want to make a difference, but the reality is everyone who goes into politics says that. What's your personal motivation that's unique to you? Are you passionate about making your community a better place to raise a family? Do you care about supporting those less fortunate in society get ahead? Take some time to think about what's important to you.
- Based off that, understand who's likely to vote for you and think about how you might reach them. Local body elections are notorious for their low voter turnout, so you either have to be able to capture a good segment of existing voters, or do what Chlöe Swarbrick did in the Auckland mayoralty race and mobilise a previously uninvolved voter pool. Depending on who you want to vote for you will dictate how you want to reach them, and what policies and ideas might appeal to them.
- Do your research to understand what's important to those voters. It goes without saying that most candidates are going to say they want to keep rate rises to a minimum, and that they want to ensure council spending delivers the best bang for buck, so you need a compelling point of different to stand out. Good places to start are local community groups on Facebook, Neighbourly, or your local community newspaper - especially the letters to the editor section. Listen to what people are saying, get involved in a few community initiatives, and make sure you're receptive to new ideas.
- While you're thinking about ideas and policies that might address those issues, start getting yourself out there and build a public profile. Participate in your local community's Facebook group, write letters to the editor, set up a Facebook page and Twitter profile, share news and issues that are important to your area. If you're really keen, you could go and setup a website, but unless there's likely to be a by-election before 2019, you're probably not likely to need that just yet.
- And throughout this entire process, talk to your family and friends about how you're thinking about running in the local body elections, and share your ideas with them. Use them as sounding boards for what you're doing, and listen to what they say. Not only are these people likely to tell you whether you're going off on a tangent about something, but they're also the people who you're going to need to help you run your campaign in 2019. If you've involved them early in the process and made them feel a part of it from day one, then they're more likely to give up some of their free time to help you come campaign time.
- It's also good to seek out some professional advice too. Most potential candidates aren't going to have the time to plan out their campaign themselves, so if you can, it's good to get someone involved who can do that for you. They can help you identify and articulate your vision and values, build a strategy for you, help with policy and campaign collateral development, and allow you to focus on getting out there and meeting voters, while they take care of the mechanics of the campaign for you. Even if it just gives you a framework to work off, it can be money very well spent.
While you're thinking through all of this, keep an eye on a few of the by-elections that are taking place. Voting in Wellington's Southern Ward by-election is taking place right now, and campaigning is already getting underway for Hamilton's East Ward by-election.
A good example from the Hamilton East Ward by-election is that of Matthew Small. Matthew is a 23 year-old disability support worker who generated some great media coverage by being the first candidate to declare for that by-election. Matthew is already making good use of his Facebook page to discuss local issues and, boosted by the early media coverage, will ensure he should get good profile throughout the race.
There's also three by-elections in Auckland taking place early in the new year due to vacancies created by the recent general election. So if you're able to, you could throw your hat in the ring now, or you could pay close attention to what happens, and use those campaigns to inform your own run in 2019.
By-elections are slightly different beats to the main local body elections, as they can be more focused on specific issues that are topical at that time, rather than the broader issues facing a local authority during the normal elections. As a result of that, it's much harder to get people to bother to vote unless they're motivated by a particular issue.
This can be both a blessing, or a curse. If you care deeply about one of those topical issues, it's a great opportunity to use that as a platform to promote yourself and mobilise supporters.
Whether you're planning a run in 2019, or might have a crack at a by-election before then, good luck!