Steve Shannon learned it the hard way: you really have to do your homework when running for office. An article in today’s Virginian-Pilot should serve as a wakeup call to Terry McAuliffe as well as other candidates out there. Knowing what the job you’re trying to obtain entails is a requirement. And if you don’t, you’ll be punished for it.
I attended a candidates’ forum last night in which the Democratic candidates for statewide office appeared. To be brutally honest, not a single one of them gave answers that would make you think they knew the office that they were seeking. We are less than three months away from the June 11 primary and I was quite disappointed in all of them. Two of them – LG candidate Aneesh Chopra and AG candidate Justin Fairfax – have never before held elected office. I expected them to be a little light on the intricacies of how Virginia government works and the roles of the LG and AG – and they were. But for LG candidate Ralph Northam and AG candidate Mark Herring, both currently serving in the state senate, I had much higher hopes.
The questions were horrible, mostly directed at national issues over which the two offices have little control. But I expect the candidates to be able to make them relevant to those offices. Instead, what I heard was a lot of platitudes about the issues raised.
When you do that, decisions are made based on style versus substance. And style won the day, if my conversations with some attendees afterwards are any indication. Chopra and Fairfax are better speakers than their counterparts, Northam and Herring. But I’m not one of those for whom talking loud and saying nothing is a winning strategy.
I’ll never forget sitting on an interview panel for a position to be appointed by the Norfolk Circuit Court. There were eight applicants and nearly all came with stellar credentials. One, though, was a politician with no background in the office in which he sought. At least he was honest: he told us he knew nothing of the job but would learn once appointed. Needless to say, he was not appointed and, in fact, was ranked by the panel as the least qualified of the eight.
To earn my vote, a candidate has to demonstrate a grasp of position they seek. I had to do it when I ran. I spent countless hours studying and visiting offices to learn exactly what the job entailed. No, I didn’t win. But at least when those so-called “gotcha” questions came up, I had an answer.
All candidates need to channel their inner student. Quiet competence defeats loud inadequacy any day.
Just ask Steve Shannon.