**Note from Melinda: This guest post is from Shana Althouse, a tremendous former student of mine who is also a neighbor, and for whom I campaigned in advance of the Fall 2010 elections. Although she wasn’t elected to the Kansas House in that cycle, I know that Shana will continue to influence policy and our community, and I am honored to have her share her thoughts here about running for elected office as a social worker.
“Don’t Stop Believing” – Journey
You might think that a person who ran for the Kansas state legislature would have quoted Kathleen Sebelius (former Kansas Governor, now Secretary of DHHS) or Dennis Moore (retired Congressman from Kansas’ third district) for political inspiration. While I do admire them both, it was Journey’s song, “Don’t Stop Believing” that ran through my head last summer when it was 100 degrees and I was walking door to door to meet the voters in my district. Yes, I had a theme song, and it carried me to Election Day. Why did I have a theme song? The reality is, running for public office requires you to find a way to keep going, and a reminder of why you are running. For me, my motivation was that I sincerely believed I could make a difference. If not now, when?
When I first contemplated running, I had just heard my state representative talk about how the demographics in our district were changing. I live in a Republican county, but Democrats had been picking up seats all around my district and voting trends were leaning Democratic. I thought, “really, hmmm.”
In the summer of 2007 I hosted a healthcare round table at my house. One of the attendees had run for State Representative in our district previously as a Democrat. I mentioned to her that I had an interest in running for public office someday. The next week I received a call from the President of the Johnson County Democrats and we met for coffee. It wasn’t long before the state party was calling and asking if I was going to run. I decided it was time to take this seriously and I needed my husband to be okay with this. I had managed a political campaign in 2008 and I knew my husband had to be totally on board or it was a no go. It was not an easy decision for us. When you run for office, you do not get paid and it is a major time commitment. We have two school-age children with busy social lives. We had a lot to factor into our decision. We finally decided to go for it and, since I would be finishing my Master’s in May, I would forego the job hunt to focus on the campaign.
My decision to run was strongly influenced by my profession. As a social worker, we advocate for those who often are not able to advocate for themselves—children, working families, the homeless, people with severe and persistent mental illness. Now, more than ever, we need strong leaders who can work on behalf of those who are disenfranchised. We need more public officials, not more politicians.
The support I received from my colleagues was tremendous. Many social workers donated to my campaign and offered to go door to door with me. The biggest disappointment, though, came from our local KNASW chapter which chose to donate to and endorse my opponent. This was purely a political decision, influenced by other representatives. KNASW could have easily chosen to donate to both candidates, especially considering the fact that one of us was actually a social worker. If our profession is to encourage more social workers to make the commitment to run for office, we have to be willing to support each other actively and enthusiastically.
I will never regret or doubt my decision to run for public office. I have met many amazing individuals who have tirelessly devoted their lives working for the betterment of our society. I remain engaged through community organizations and may consider running again someday. I know that my presence in the campaign raised critical issues for our district and shaped the tone of the debate. For now, though, I am truly enjoying spending more time with my family and friends!