Beth Fukumoto: You Can Run For Office. It Just Takes Hard Work – Honolulu Civil Beat

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Winning an election as a newcomer is tough. It's also a great way to create positive change.
By Beth Fukumoto
June 2, 2024 · 5 min read
Beth Fukumoto
Winning an election as a newcomer is tough. It's also a great way to create positive change.
Running for the Legislature can seem impossible, especially for people who never saw themselves holding public office.
Becoming a politician wasn’t something I expected. Like many others who run, my interest was sparked by a frustration with politics as usual and a desire to elevate voices in my community that I believe were being overlooked. I’m certain many readers would share that frustration.
But what does it really take to run for office? What keeps good people away? Why do we see the same names on the ballot year after year? As someone who jumped into the process headfirst, I have a few thoughts on the matter.
Deciding to run is a difficult decision on its own but it is just the beginning. Once you decide to run, the preparations can feel overwhelming.
First, there’s the paperwork. You must request nomination papers at the Office of Elections, collect signatures and file the paperwork. Then comes campaign finances.
Even at the state level, campaigns can be expensive. You’ll need money for everything from yard signs and mailers to food for volunteers. This means hosting fundraisers, cold-calling potential donors and dipping into your own savings to take enough time off work.
When I first ran for office, I was told that I would have to take a few months off work if I wanted to win. Fortunately, I was still living with my parents so I could afford it, but not everyone has that privilege. That’s one of the reasons that candidates tend to be very young, business owners or retirees. Flexibility and financial freedom help.
Building a campaign team is another challenge. Finding reliable, passionate people who share your vision is no small feat. You’ll need people to manage your schedule, handle communications, strategize on policy and coordinate volunteers.
Often, these roles are filled by friends, family or the candidates themselves, at least at the start. I was fortunate to have a dad who loved sign-waving, a sister who could canvas over 10 miles a day and enough graphic design experience to create my own mailers.
Campaigning is a full-time job you must balance with your existing life commitments. You’ll spend countless hours knocking on doors, attending community events and sign-waving. In a tight-knit community, you also need to remember that every interaction is a chance to win (or lose) a vote. For me, this meant that I couldn’t stroll into Longs in a pair of baggy sweatpants with unbrushed hair or circles under my eyes.
The constant scrutiny can be exhausting. The pressure to be everywhere and please everyone is immense. You’ll face criticism and personal attacks, sometimes from people you consider friends. Your family’s privacy might be invaded, and your personal life will be dissected.
Voters circulated old pictures of my family on vacation in Canada, which was my dad’s dream trip that we saved for, as evidence that I was rich and out of touch. Others posted nasty comments on pictures of me and my niece.
Given all these challenges, it’s no wonder that many potential candidates decide it’s not worth the strain on their mental health and relationships.
But there’s another reason we see the same faces in the Legislature year after year: incumbency advantage. Once elected, incumbents have significant advantages in subsequent elections. They have name recognition, established donor networks and experience navigating the political system.
This creates a barrier for new candidates. Voters tend to stick with what they know, especially in areas where voter turnout is low and people aren’t paying close attention to local politics. This disengagement makes it easier for incumbents to remain in office, as there’s less pressure for change. It also discourages new candidates who feel their efforts might not make a difference in a disengaged electorate.
Running for office as a new candidate is hard. Winning is even harder.
Given all these hurdles, you might wonder why anyone runs for the Legislature at all. For me, and for many others, it comes down to a desire to make a difference. Despite the challenges, there’s something incredibly rewarding about working to improve your community and give a voice to those who feel unheard.
Running for office as a new candidate is hard. Winning is even harder. But it’s not impossible, especially if you work to engage voters.
Remember, there are inspiring stories of upset victories, like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez in New York, who worked tirelessly to organize the grassroots against a well-entrenched incumbent. Her success shows that with dedication and a strong connection to the community, seemingly impossible victories can be achieved.
Running for office is a powerful way to drive change. Our democracy thrives when diverse voices are heard and fresh perspectives are brought to the table. If you’re passionate about an issue or see an unmet need in your community, consider taking the plunge.
The journey will be tough, but the potential to make a real difference is worth it. But you better act fast. The deadline for filing your candidacy paperwork is coming up this Tuesday at 4:30 p.m.
By Ian Robertson · June 3, 2024 · 7 min read
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Beth Fukumoto

Beth Fukumoto served three terms in the Hawaii House of Representatives. She was the youngest woman in the U.S. to lead a major party in a legislature, the first elected Republican to switch parties after Donald Trump’s election, and a Democratic congressional candidate. Currently, she works as a political commentator and teaches leadership and ethics at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government. Opinions are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect Civil Beat's views. You can reach her by email at bfukumoto@civilbeat.org.

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Appeasement.Saying what you think you need to say. Too frequently not in alignment with what you know you ought to say.
hawaiikone · 2 days ago
I don’t believe you can win without union backing in Hawaii, ask a union member who they are told to vote for, that’s who will win.
Kilika · 2 days ago
Sell whatever is left of your values and ethics, smile at people you'd love to punch and put aside humility so you can beg, beg, BEG for money constantly.
WhatMeWorry · 2 days ago
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