New Campaigner Wins Local Race

February 19, 2013 | By Lauren Day

As a “newcomer” to politics, Leadership Institute graduate Bill Wright won a board member seat in his life-long hometown of Vermilion County, Illinois by 55 votes!

“The race was a 'vote for three' type arrangement and there were four of us running for the three open positions. I was running against three incumbents, all from the opposite party, who ran as a team,” Bill shared with me. “It should have been an easy win for the three incumbents. Needless to say, it was an uphill battle.”

“When all the votes were tallied, I had won one of the three seats and was the second highest vote-getter, just 58 votes shy of the nine-year veteran. I had more votes than the other two opponents by 195 and 210. Those numbers may sound small, but this is a county district where a mere 3000 votes were cast,” Bill continued.

“Some say I am the first of my party to win a seat in this district in 50-plus years,” Bill said.

Now, he’s one of 27 board members from the nine districts in Vermilion County. He sits on two committees and is vice chairman of one.

“I am working on one of my campaign promises to build up the economy of my district by getting a Chamber of Commerce office started here,” Bill shared. “It is very important to deliver on what you promised while campaigning and start the process as soon as you can.”

“My time is spent learning all I can about how a county operates.  There is a lot of self-study,” Bill said. “While this year's budget was already passed before the election, I am looking at ways to cut spending, not raise taxes, and help give the taxpayer the most effective use of their tax dollars.”

Bill first learned about the Leadership Institute through a conference—Right Nation—in Chicago in 2010, where LI was an exhibitor. He picked up some LI marketing materials there and then went to LI’s website to learn more.

In May 2012, Bill came to Arlington, VA to attend LI’s week-long Future Candidate School.

“LI’s Future Candidate School confirmed for me that running for office was something I should do and could do. Since college, I felt that I was meant to run for office and LI’s candidate school reinforced this belief,” Bill said.

“Learning how and from who I should ask for donations was a crucial part of my education. There were lively discussion at the Leadership Institute on yard signs, campaign literature, fundraisers, how to dress for television, and how to speak to any gathering, be it constituents, fellow elected officials, or the press,” Bill continued.

“The cost of the Future Candidate School is very affordable,” Bill said. “Supporters who underwrite most of the LI cost make this possible. It was at LI’s candidate school where I first believed I could really run for office and possibly win. This school gave me the confidence I needed for many different parts of a campaign and put them all into perspective.”

Sign up for LI’s next Future Candidate School here.

“The volunteer faculty who speak at the Future Candidate School are an impressive group of people,” Bill said. “I asked a lot of questions while there, and I remember after one presentation, I followed the presenter out into the hallway to chat. After I explained the type of race I was in, he gave me some great advice that I used when my campaign started. I firmly believe his advice played a key role in helping me win.”

Are you thinking about running for office?

Bill has a little bit of his own learned advice he would like to impart:

“First, make sure this—running for office—is something you really want. You should have, as they say, the 'fire in the belly'.

“Consult with your family next and make sure they are on-board with your decision because you need everyone to understand this is going to be a lot of work.

“Next, go out and get donations. You cannot be afraid to ask people for either financial or in-kind contributions. If you do not have the stomach for this, you probably should not run. The monetary donations determine what you can spend on yard signs, T-shirts, campaign literature, and the like.

“Try to learn all you can from the experts in the area about the district, town, or county in which you are running. Know where you need to focus your campaign. Voter lists are crucial.

“Keep your campaign platform simple and short. Three to four items are plenty in a local campaign. This might even be said for state representative or state senate office.

“The best advice I received was just to have fun with it. You are at your best when you are relaxed while talking to people going door-to-door.  Carrying the weight of the election during every move you make will take its toll.  

“Finally, I suggest that you map out a strategy for each precinct and then personally visit as many homes as you can. When you think you are done, go visit five more houses. When you want to take a break, work 30 minutes more. I campaigned up to, and including, Election Day. It is best not to be over confident or to have a defeatist attitude. You just never give up. Do not listen to people who tell you that you cannot win.” 

Check out LI’s 2013 training schedule here.

“The Leadership Institute is an organization that brings together some of the most knowledgeable people to help candidates and those associated with campaigns to learn all about the science of running a campaign, being a candidate, fund raising and the like,” Bill said. “LI does all this at a reasonable cost to the student. The Leadership Institute makes a life-long impression on those who attend because the quality of instruction is second-to-none.”

Please welcome Bill Wright as the LI’s Graduate of the Week.

To nominate a Leadership Institute graduate or faculty member to be featured as LI's spotlight of the week, please contact LI's External Affairs Officer Lauren Day, formerly Lauren Hart, at Lauren@LeadershipInstitute.org.