Today, I have an interesting puzzle to solve: How can I convince everyday working Americans to sympathize with politicians? I know I’ve never been particularly sympathetic to the plight of any politician. I am a member of IBEW Local 112 here in Kennewick, where for five years I have volunteered on our Political Action Committee interviewing candidates seeking our endorsement. In all that time, I never once worried about how hard running for office is — until now. I am an electrician, a working dad supporting my family on one income, and I am also running for Kennewick City Council position 3.
Construction starts early. My day usually begins at 4:30 a.m. I get dressed, grab my lunch and thermos, lace up my boots, and am on my way to work by 4:45. My average commute is one hour; work starts at 6 a.m. and ends at 4:30 p.m. I am proud of my profession, and I am grateful for the (exceedingly rare) opportunity to provide a middle-class life for my family on just my income. But I also worry that my son will inherit a world where that will not be possible. And so, I am running for office — which means that I send and respond to emails on my three breaks, take phone meetings on my hour drive home, shower, and see my family for about half an hour before my son needs to go to bed. Often, I have to miss even that limited family time so I can attend meetings in the evening. I am giving every single minute of my time to this. It isn’t enough.
I do not share this so anyone will feel sorry for me, but to point out the very real obstacles faced by working people who are passionate about our community and local politics. I chose to run, and I intend to win, and I have the support of not just my amazing wife but so many new and old friends who care just as much as I do about the future of Kennewick. But my experiences over the last few months have made me wonder: do working Americans have a real chance in elections?
Most of the relationships I’ve needed to build and the work I’ve needed to do for my campaign must be done between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m., Monday through Friday, when the average person is working. Politics is about relationships, and most people prefer to talk on the phone or meet in person. Organizations that endorse and donate to campaigns usually do so through staff who work office hours, so if a working person runs against a wealthy or entrenched opponent, they are at a significant disadvantage. A candidate’s most precious resource is time. A candidate who can take a lunch, attend an event, or walk a neighborhood during business hours without sacrificing their income will be able to reach more voters. Candidates who reach more voters win elections, and people who win elections tend to govern in ways that will help them win the next election. Rinse and repeat.
There is a solution, of course. If more working people run for office, more people will become aware of the problem. Getting this issue into the public discourse is the first step towards change. The next is power. We need to turn out, knock on doors, phone bank, and vote for these candidates. The vast majority of people in our community have more in common with a working mom or a struggling grad student than they do traditional politicians. Representation matters, and that is especially true of government. When our elected representatives truly represent our community, we will see a community that works for its people.
I do not want to discourage anyone who may consider running for office. Please do; we need you. If you care and are passionate about our future, concerned with the direction of our politics, or just believe that government should understand the experiences of the governed, you need to know that there are real and structural obstacles. If we want to see working people in government, people who can truly represent the experiences of citizens of the Tri-Cities, then all of us need to show up for those candidates. We may be overworked, over-extended, underpaid, and exhausted, but we do have something bigger than all of that — there are an awful lot more of us. When we vote, we win.
Jason Lohr is a husband, father, and candidate for Kennewick City Council Position 3 jasonlohrforkennewick.com
Main photo by Shivendu Shukla on Unsplash