Throw Your Hat in the Ring: Take the Next Step in Chamber Political Action; Run for Office

Ken Oplinger, ACE

For several decades now, W.A.C.E. has been emphasizing the need for chambers to get more involved in the political lives of their communities.

From the beginning of chamber branding to the five core competencies to the 3 Cs, dozens and dozens of chambers across the West have added strong political efforts to our programs, which have raised our profile and delivered strong, pro-business candidates to elective office.

Throughout that time, chamber executives and their staffs have become more knowledgeable too. From seeking out potential candidates to helping them build strong campaigns to seeking out financial resources, our efforts to ensure we have friends in elective office have ensured that we have a set of skills that few in our communities possess.

Those skills concerning political acumen add to a laundry list of municipal governance skills that we use every day. Whether it’s dealing with city budgets, city staff or the issues broadly affecting our communities, our skill set when it comes to leading our communities is second to none.

My friends, we are knowledgeable, skilled community leaders who know how to get things done, and know how to get the right people into the chairs that will make it happen.

Abandon the Sidelines

But is there something more for us?

For years, I believed the answer was no. I agreed with many in our industry that it was incumbent upon us to stay on the sidelines, working the gears that moved our communities forward, and with the exception of cutting a ribbon now and then, avoiding the public-facing leadership role. The role that makes the hard choices and has the final say. The elected role.

But I feel that way no longer.

Cities need visionary leaders with the skills to help guide our municipal affairs. People who seek to work together to find solutions. People who can smile through difficult situations, keep their eye on the goal and help steer things toward it.

Sound like anyone you know?

What About You?

As we are out recruiting for local elected officials for November 2020, I encourage you to take just a moment to not just look at that running list you keep in your top right desk drawer. You know—the one with the names of people in the community that you think would be great councilmembers.

Take a moment to think about yourself, and what you can bring to the table.

Yes, there are issues. If your chamber takes money from city hall, there might be issues. If you live in a different community than the one in which you run the chamber, there might be issues. But all of these are things that can be worked through. We never find the perfect candidate, or at least I never seem to, and we are always looking at ways to deal with the negative parts of their resumes.

If we can do that for people who often are far less ready for elective office than we are, why can’t we do it for ourselves?

So I’ve jumped in. I have thrown my hat in the ring. I’m running for the city council where I live—about 30 minutes south of where I work. It’s not without controversy, and it’s not without some concerns from both communities.

This campaign is like having two full-time jobs, and I feel like I’m juggling about 12 things at the same time.

But it is without a doubt the right thing to do.

Step Up

In 1789, our second president of the United States, John Adams, said to his son, Thomas, “Public business, my Son, must always be done by Somebody or other. If wise men decline it, others will not. If honest men refuse it, others will not….”

It is time that wise women and men, those who are perfectly trained for the role, stop sitting on the sidelines and start stepping up.

I urge you to consider it. Our communities can certainly use you.

Ken Oplinger, ACE is the president and CEO of The Chamber of the Santa Barbara Region (CA).