This is our first interview of the fall as we begin to look at various career paths in politics and ask professionals to share their career advice. Stay tuned for more in the coming weeks.
Alan Lindquist has been working on political campaigns for over a decade. He currently lives in Maine and is a fundraiser for Congresswoman Chellie Pingree. We asked him a little bit about how he got started working in politics and his advice for those looking to work on campaigns.
1) Please give us a quick biography. Touch on how you got your first job in politics and why you decided to stick with politics as a profession.
I have worked on the campaign end of politics since 1997, when I went from volunteering to getting paid to work for my first campaign (Kehoe for Congress in San Diego). I literally begged my way into the job, working for $800 a month and doing whatever they wanted me to whenever it was needed. I ended the campaign as the GOTV Coordinator and organized 500 people on election day in the closest Congressional election that cycle. I worked my way up from there, as Finance Director on my first winning campaign (Susan Davis for Congress in 2000), managed an underdog race that won (Donna Frye for City Council in San Diego) and eventually made my way to DC, where I worked for the DCCC. I now live in a small town in Northern Maine with my partner and do the fundraising for Congresswoman Chellie Pingree.
2) Did you begin your career thinking campaigning was where you wanted to end up?
I loved campaigning from early. I volunteered on my first race when I was in Junior High School and never stopped. I never really thought I could make it as a professional, but I'm glad that when I saw my chance I jumped at it.
3) What do you like most and hate most about it?
I love working for people that I know want to make a difference and are willing to put themselves out there to do it. I've seen people running for office go through a lot (rumors, being followed by private detectives, death threats) and I believe it takes a special person to run for office today, either motivated by power - or motivated by an ability to see a big picture and want to make it happen. I try to find the latter to work for. What I dislike at this point of my life is being "on the job" 24 hours a day. In politics you are always on call, because things happen on their own timeline. If you're looking for 9 to 5 Monday through Friday, this isn't the job for you.
4) What is the thing you are most proud of in your career? OR What is your funniest campaign story?
I am most proud of seeing people that have worked for me move up the career ladder. I remember when I started out worrying about my next job, or if I would get one. I have worked hard in my career to mentor people that have worked with me, or have shown an interest in breaking into politics. Now I can count dozens of people that I have been able to help get into or move up in politics.
5) What advice do you have for someone who would like to begin their career in campaigns?
Start out in field. If you really want to know how campaigns are won and lost and have a pulse on the race, you have to start out in the field. Communications and fundraising sound much more glamorous, but you can move into those areas. Knowing how to find and count votes, recruit volunteers, and get out the vote are crucial to any part of campaigning you work in.
6) What type of person generally does well with this career choice? What types of people generally don’t excel in campaigns?
People that are willing to go anywhere on a moments notice and do anything - I guess adventurous, energetic people - do best in this area. People that are looking at a "career path" early on are going to be in trouble. Campaigning doesn't work that way, and in some ways it tends to shut down people that are too aggressive in one direction.
7) What is the one thing you know now that you wish you had known when you were first starting out in your political career?
I wish I had been in a better place emotionally. I made it through campaigns with no personal life, but if I had been more centered from the beginning I would have been able to find a bit of a work/life balance.
8) Do you have any parting thoughts that haven’t been covered?
Don't go into campaigns expecting glamour and access to power. Its a lot of time in small towns in states you've never been to, in offices that are put together MacGyver style, and very little money. That said, I wouldn't change the path I took for the world.