Group aims to unmask political process

What does it take for newcomers to run for public office in Louisiana’s evolving political climate?

The705, a young professionals group in Lafayette, is working to answer that question and to demystify the political process for “fired up” residents taking a stance on hot-button local issues such as the Horse Farm central park and the state of Lafayette Parish public schools, said the705 board member Stafford Barnett.

“The School Board election (this fall) is at the forefront of everyone’s minds, which is surprising because voters have a short memory,” Barnett said. “People want to get out and do something about it. There’s no reason to have one of the best economies without one of the best school systems. If you go to Horse Farm planning meetings, you see young people there making decisions, and they’re making it for their children. Lafayette is not what it is because of decisions made today, it’s because of decisions made 30 years ago.”

Last week, more than 50 people turned out for “Political Campaigning 101,” a session sponsored by the group as an introduction to the political life.

“People are instantly terrified of things they don’t understand, and the campaign process has been done by so few people that they’re scared to run for office because they’re convinced of things that just aren’t true,” Barnett said. “We wanted to take the fear out of the process, and show that if you care about the community you can just get out there and do it.”

Advice to potential candidates touched on fundraising and commitment and included tips — and a warning — from political consultant Louis Rainey III on the value of social media.

“We have a 140-character news cycle,” Rainey said. “Go in and clean up your Facebook, Twitter and Instagram if you want to run for office. There’s no such thing as privacy. That doesn’t go away. But the ability to instantly respond and connect with people you specifically want to connect to is the real powerful thing about social media.”

Other panelists included political consultant Michael Beychok; state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education member Holly Boffy; Telley Madina, a grassroots political organizer and former executive director of the Louisiana Oystermen Association; political strategist and Munson Group CEO Bob Munson; Lafayette Parish Clerk of Court Louis Perret; Tyron Picard, CEO of lobbying and consulting firm The Picard Group; and Lafayette City-Parish Councilman Kenneth Boudreaux.

The councilman offered some insight about time commitments.

“There’s a lot of things you have to take into consideration, like family and finances,” Boudreaux said. “ I know people who have lost businesses while in office because of the time it takes to play an aggressive role in a leadership position. A lot of it has to do with who you are and what you’re willing to sacrifice. How much time does it require? Your entire life if you want to serve that way.”

Beychok, a political consultant, said the first question he usually asks a candidate is, “Are you crazy?”

“Then I ask, ‘Why are you running?’ You’d be really surprised the responses you get when you ask a simple question, and you can usually tell whether the campaign will be successful or not by the answers to that question,” he said.

Picard and Madina stressed the importance of fundraising, with Madina noting that a good rule of thumb is making sure candidates can get at least 100 people to give $100, and at least 10 people to give $1,000.

“The candidate with the discipline to sit down and make (campaign contribution) calls … is the candidate raising exponential resources,” Picard said. “Financial resources can overcome certainly any deficiencies he may have in the areas of name recognition, accomplishment, notoriety. It gives the ability to tell the story and define the person, as well as define the opponent.”

Qualifying for the spring elections, which include a number of small municipal elections, is Wednesday through Friday. The primary is April 5 and the runoff election, if needed, is May 3.

Qualifying for the fall elections, which include School Board, judicial and congressional races, is Aug. 20-22. The primary is Nov. 4 and the runoff election, if needed, is Dec. 6.