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Opinion Columns

Opinion: What I’ve learned on the campaign trail for City Council

Character matters. So does fundraising, even for a part-time job.

As a first-time candidate running for Arvada City Council, I can report that it’s an overwhelming journey because, as you are running, you are learning how to run for local office.

Every day, you learn something new about the process. You hear more from your neighbors about what they care about and want from the council. You research programs and policies that have worked in the past or elsewhere to further your ability to tackle the city’s complex challenges. As I often say, “I may know policy, but politics is another beast!”

I am proud to see how engaged many Arvada residents are in local issues. Truthfully, though, most citizens don’t have the time or bandwidth to follow along as much as they’d like to. In that vein, I thought it might be helpful to share some of what I’ve picked up along the way, in the hopes of strengthening the connection we feel with our local government and inviting others to engage and learn along with me in this journey.

So let’s dive a little into what running for local office really means.

It’s nonpartisan. That means candidates cannot and will not run as a party. You can be registered with a party, but that doesn’t mean you run as a D or R. Frankly, I’ve found it to be quite refreshing not to have to “pick a side” to serve in local office. While people might want to put a candidate in a bucket, the job is to represent the city and make smart choices for us all.

To ensure my campaign is true to the nonpartisan theme, I have worked hard to diversify my local volunteer campaign team, which is composed of Arvada business owners, veterans, Arvada police officers, social workers, LBGTQ+ residents, as well as conservatives and liberals. I am proud that we can bring different ideologies together to support common goals for our community.

READ: Colorado Sun opinion columnists.

You have to fundraise (a lot)! I was shocked to learn I’d have to fundraise more than my annual nonprofit salary for a local election. At-large candidates in Arvada may receive a maximum donation of $750 from any business or individual; the limit for district candidates is set at $500. There is no restriction on the type of business that may donate, though candidates should be thoughtful to avoid any real or perceived conflicts of interest. For this reason, I have accepted individual donations only. 

We make tough decisions. Council oversees funding for programs like our police department, our lovely parks, and it reviews business and housing developments. It is imperative that council members represent different perspectives and experiences, as well as know how to listen and advocate for our neighbors’ needs. My background in housing policy, social work, and military police will help bring a unique perspective when making tough calls.

Character also matters, a lot. Your council member is your community’s advocate, so when looking at candidates, it’s important to look beyond experience to what kind of leader they are, and if that is the leadership style you want for your neighborhood. Council members often set the tone and example of our community, so it is important to look at the candidate’s character and values, not only their experience. 

We “play nice”. When candidates file to run in Arvada, we agree to keep it clean. (There’s even a pledge!) That means we don’t talk trash about each other and we direct our supporters away from slander and lies. We are all tired of mudslinging and negative messaging in politics, and our neighbors don’t want it in our amazing city. 

It’s not a full-time job. In addition to running, I still work my job in disaster/emergency response with Team Rubicon, and will still serve on various Arvada and Jeffco boards and commissions. That means candidates answer emails in the morning before work and over lunch, and return calls to voters on breaks and in the evenings. City Council members do not receive offices, cell phones or expense accounts. Council members earn a salary of $13,800 a year, before taxes. This amount has not been raised in many years.

TODAY’S UNDERWRITER

While it takes a lot of energy to run for office, and to serve if elected, it is because of a duty to serve my community that I push forward. I am running because I believe each of us has a role to play in helping one another and our community.

So as we dive into campaign season, be sure to ask questions directly of candidates. Engage with them, and learn more about who they are and their values. Be careful of things said on social media or rumors; that is not the community dynamic we strive for. Here in Arvada, we do things a little better. I’m proud of that fact, and I am excited for this fall. I hope you are, too. 


Lisa Smith is an Air Force veteran and the Clay Hunt Fellows Program Manager for Team Rubicon, a nonprofit that deploys veterans to disaster-relief efforts.


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