John Laird: Attention, candidates! Here are your marching orders

By John Laird, Columbian Editorial Page Editor

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Next month, Clark County voters will receive ballots by mail, featuring varying combinations of 119 candidates, including 41 Republicans, 29 Democrats, several hybrid and offshoot affiliations and numerous candidates running in nonpartisan races. It's not too soon for voters to start doing their research.

But what about the candidates? Are they fully prepared, or did the dog eat their homework? Here's a handy, dandy primer for political candidates, incumbents as well as newcomers:

Don't be a pest. If you've lost three elections, take the hint, give up and please just go away.

Ignore columnists. Abraham Lincoln lost eight elections.

Don't sign pledges. A pledge is like a tattoo; imagine what it might look like 20 years from now. The only pledge you should ever sign is a pledge to never sign any pledges.

Practice the exquisite art of saying "Yes." Take this tip from a man who's been married 42 years. Granted, campaigning on promises to say "No" will activate voters who believe government is the enemy, but ultimately you will be judged by your accomplishments, the meaningful ways in which you improved your constituents' lives.

Sarcasm seldom works in politics. Leave the mocking condescension to the columnists. Need an example of how crude sarcasm backfired in politics? When Herman Cain referred to "Ubeki-beki-beki-stan-stan," he only dug himself deeper into the hole of a national laughingstock.

• Don't ever say you "won't answer like a politician." Who are you fooling with that kind of talk?

Honor the philosophical middle. One third of people will always despise you because of your political affiliation. Another third will adore you for the same reason. The secret to success is the middle third. There -- among the independents and not among your ideological brethren or through any vain hopes of converting the critics -- is where a candidate's real success resides.

• Support campaign finance reform. You really can't go wrong here. Liberals hate the influence of corporations. Conservatives hate the influence of unions. Voters hate lobbyists. This shouldn't be hard for you to figure out.

• Know the job you're seeking. You'll probably be a policy-setter if you win, not a manager. Cities, counties and states are administered for the most part by unelected, skilled administrators. If you're not going to fire them, give them their space.

• Embrace the inevitable onslaught of multiculturalism. Most voters appreciate such openness, because they know three things: Getting to know people who are different from you enriches your life. Visiting places that are different from your home strengthens your foundation. Listening to ideas that are different from yours fortifies your intellect. The world is getting smaller. Not everyone is exactly like you. Deal with it.

• Keep your spouse out of your politics. I don't mean to make a gender issue out of this, but I can't think of one press conference where a female politician resigned in tearful disgrace while her husband stood beside her to show unwavering support. It's always the guys blubbering into the mic. Why is that?

Eschew party platforms. When you subscribe to a party platform, you demote yourself from public servant to marionette.

• Always listen to your constituents. But remember: The loudest people in the room aren't always the smartest.

• Interpreting a "consensus" of speakers at any particular public hearing as the supposed voice of the people is about as foolish as interpreting a "consensus" of letters to the editor on any particular day as the supposed voice of the readers.

• Never discount the value of your instinct. Every decision you make will be followed by accusations that you made it only for political reasons. But if you know in your heart that your decision was the right thing to do, that's good enough.

Build more golf courses. I love golf.

• Disregard singular requests. If you win, your job will be to serve all of the people.