You probably spend at least some part of every day complaining about things you don't like about school: unfair grading practices, militant gym instructors, broken lockers, gum under the desks, or low funding for the music department. Some of us will just complain, but others will try to change troubling issues. If you're prepared to speak to the principal, write to school board members, or to just take a putty knife and scrape the gum off the desk yourself, you've got a bit of a fighting spirit. Although most of us will become involved with political issues at some level during our lives, some will take their civic concerns even further by devoting their lives to government-related careers.
For some of these careers, you must be elected. Local, state, and federal officials, such as governors, state legislators, and U.S. Congress members must campaign and attract voters. The process of obtaining office can be a long, hard struggle. And once elected, the term in office may be as short as two years, as in the House of Representatives. The higher the office, the more time and money the candidate must spend to campaign for the position. Political candidates begin by getting petitions with lists of signatures to show that there are several hundred or, in some cases, several thousand registered voters interested in having them run for office. After announcing their candidacy, candidates proceed to advertise, speak at public and private gatherings, and frequently meet with the public in order to keep their names in the minds of voters.
A candidate must meet many requirements to be placed on an election ballot. This may mean winning a certain number or percentage of votes in a primary election or collecting signatures on a nomination petition. Each candidate running for office has a staff that works for his or her election. These people may be employed by the candidate or a political party, or they may be volunteers donating their time and energy. The higher the office, the more workers are needed for the candidate to be successful. Many people get their start in politics by working on the campaigns of others. Some people work for a candidate because they are interested in seeing that particular person win the election. Others work because they support the party that the candidate represents. Still others make a career out of working for political candidates. They become informed and skilled on how to run a successful campaign and are hired by different candidates. Party volunteers do a lot of the necessary clerical work in a candidate's campaign office. This includes stuffing envelopes, handing out buttons and brochures, going door to door, or calling to talk to voters about their candidate. In larger campaigns, these volunteer activities are usually coordinated by a paid, full-time general office staff.
Other paid members of the staff include public relations and press representatives who are trained in presenting a candidate's views to the public. They arrange as much press and media coverage as possible for every event. The head of the press office should have a substantial background in handling the media and be able to deflect criticism from news stories that may not show the candidate in the best possible light. For candidates running for higher offices, such as senator or president, this position may be held by a consultant. Such consultants also develop Web sites and social media campaigns, and scope the Internet for public opinion. Consultants advise candidates on how to best use the media during a campaign. They also advise officials throughout their terms in office, helping to prepare speeches and press conferences.
All of these people work together to solicit as much support as possible from the public for the election of the candidate. They work from early in the campaign until the final weeks before the election, when the pressure and the time commitment become very demanding. The lower level staff members work on whatever area needs the most help. The higher level staff are usually specialists in a given area, working to cover as much ground and contact as many people as possible in the time they have before the voting begins. A congressional candidate campaigns mainly in his or her district. The presidential candidate must campaign across the entire United States. Presidential campaigns now start at least one full year before the date of the election and have campaign offices in all 50 states and the District of Columbia.
The success of the candidate and staff is determined by the results of the election. For the winning candidate, a career is set for the term of office. With the Senate and the House of Representatives, several terms may be set; the majority of incumbent senators and representatives win reelection.
Usually, several members of a candidate's campaign staff assume staff positions once the candidate is elected. Others move on to other election campaigns or into positions in the party office. Depending on the level and the ambitions of the staff member, there are various opportunities for future political work. In Washington, D.C., the staff that assists Congress is quite large. Each representative has an administrative assistant to run the office in Washington. This person normally comes from the representative's own state, but that is not always necessary. Legislative and other assistants work in offices in the congressperson's home state and in Washington, D.C. The backgrounds and skills of these people vary according to the representative's wishes and needs.
Lobbyists are also hired by special interest groups to sway congressional representatives to vote in favor of their interests on certain pieces of legislation. The National Rifle Association, the National Wildlife Federation, the tobacco industry, the American Medical Association, and the American Bar Association are all strong lobby groups, supporting the legislation they feel best helps their industry or concerns. Lobbyists are frequently former government employees and are familiar with the offices and the staff they are lobbying. There are restrictions, however. Some people are required to be out of office for a certain period of time before working as a lobbyist. Think tanks are institutes or corporations established to perform research on certain social, technological, business, or other problems. They provide important information to lobbyists, members of the government, and government-related groups on a range of issues. Although they are privately employed and are not officially part of the political process, employees of think tanks produce reports that routinely affect the decisions and actions of government bodies.
Not all important political decisions are made in Washington, D.C. Every state, county, and city has its own unique concerns and issues. And many of those involved in government are not elected officials. Hired city managers and urban planners gauge the needs of their cities and local communities and propose changes to government officials. Among the responsibilities of managers and planners are the preservation of historic buildings and neighborhoods, the development of affordable housing and efficient public transportation, the building of civic centers and auditoriums, and the design of new parks and recreational areas.
Many people working in government hold degrees in law, economics, journalism, and political science. The faculties of political science departments of colleges and universities across the country are also involved in politics without directly affecting laws. Political science educators study government, research legislation and history, publish articles, and teach undergraduate and graduate courses.