Good governance starts locally. As a longtime student of Michigan politics, I’ve grown familiar with the seasonal arrival of candidates eager to serve their local communities. And, as co-founder and partner at Grassroots Midwest, I’ve personally helped many of them to achieve their campaign goals. Still, one piece of frustration I often hear from both veterans and casual observers is that it seems whenever one public servant retires, a replacement is already there, waiting in the wings. They don’t want to step up because they don’t want to be two steps behind.
This expectation prevents people from seeking out a post where they can do a great deal of good for their community. The reality, I can personally attest, is that Michigan needs more leaders. To do it, in many cases, you just have to seize the opportunity. I have grown tired of watching qualified candidates sit on the sidelines rather than challenge the status quo or bring fresh ideas to the table.
This past spring, my work with our firm brought me to the Shiawassee County Clerk’s office on the day of the campaign filing deadline. By that time, then-commissioner John Horvath had publicly announced his run for State Representative of Michigan’s 85th House District. Since my family and I live in the 2nd District, I was interested in who had filed to replace him on the county board. I expected a handful of familiar local names. But there weren’t any names I recognized. In fact, there weren’t any names on the list. No one was running, at all. This seat has always been contested by candidates from both sides for many decades.
This was shocking. A district representing most of the city of Owosso, nearly 10,000 people, was mere hours away from lacking county representation. So I did the only thing I could do: I filed for the office.
I have always known the gravity and importance of being an elected official, but now I felt responsible as a constituent. We are our local government, by default. Nearly a year later, I find myself working double time, leading Grassroots Midwest and representing the people of Shiawassee County.
I meet people every day, in every corner of the state, who talk about running but don’t. Many of you have probably thought about it yourself. I’m in a position to tell you: don’t ignore that thought. Don’t let the calling to serve pass you by. I’m still humbled by the opportunity, which would have never happened if I didn’t ask a simple question and act.
It’s a path that, with enough help and support, is open to any of us. The message to take away from my own election isn’t that I was in the right place at the right time, it was that I decided to be present and willing. If you are ready, have the ability, and are interested in public office, you have a responsibility to pursue it. Our forefathers would expect no less of us.
About the author: Dan McMaster is co-founder and Chairman of Grassroots Midwest, Michigan’s only bipartisan political advocacy firm.