Lynn Barten stood up in a conference room Sunday morning in St. Paul and gave a stump speech for a campaign she isn’t running – not yet, anyway – before a roomful of people who couldn’t vote for her anyway.
Barten, an AFSCME member from Alexandria, was one of more than 70 people who enrolled in the Minnesota AFL-CIO’s Path to Power training, a two-day boot camp in the most basic skills necessary to run an effective campaign for public office – skills like messaging, fundraising, networking and, yes, writing a stump speech.
“There are all these things like messaging, how you present yourself, how you sell your campaign,” Barten said. “It’s campaign basics, but had I thought of it before? Probably not.
“If it weren’t for an event like this, I’d just be doing everything on Google, searching for how to write a stump speech.”
The best advocates
When union members like Barten win election to public office, they make the best advocates for working families. That’s the idea behind the new Path to Power initiative, introduced by the Minnesota AFL-CIO last year.
In many ways, program coordinator Bill Emory said, Path to Power is a response to the proliferation of attacks on the middle class. Corporate-backed lobbying groups like ALEC have turned state capitols into battlegrounds for workers’ rights, and billionaires like Michael Bloomberg are using personal fortunes to push their agendas on an increasingly local level.
“We need more people at all levels of government who actually know what it’s like to balance a checkbook on a middle-class paycheck, know what kind of impact unions have on building a stronger, more fair economy and know how important it is that our public dollars are spent well,” Emory said.
The Minnesota AFL-CIO, the state’s largest labor federation, hopes Path to Power will create a “pipeline” of leaders capable of standing up for the labor movement and its values. The state federation teamed with the national AFL-CIO to develop curriculum for the training.
“We want to make sure that union members have the best preparation possible before they run for office,” Emory said.
Participation in the training was not restricted to union members. Ira Jourdain, a losing candidate for school board in Minneapolis last year, enrolled in the training to increase his familiarity with unions, how they operate and how their issues relate to campaigns like his.
“It was an eye-opening experience,” he said. “I had so many people, even after the election, who were part of a union tell me to run again. Being here today, I’m learning more about making connections with unions and other groups sooner in the campaign.”
Emory said there appears to be a strong appetite for Path to Power candidate trainings among union members and the progressive community. Registration for the first training more than doubled expectations, and already 15 people have signed up for a second training April 25-26.
“I hope that participants will come away feeling confident that they can build a team of committed volunteers, communicate a strong message that includes a focus on economic justice, raise money, talk to voters and do all those things they’ll need to do to run for office successfully,” Emory said.
Barten, who is eyeing a run for Minnesota House of Representatives, said the training moved her one step closer to taking the plunge.
“I was so excited to be here today,” Barten said. “Putting these tools in my toolbox gives me a little more confidence that I really can do this. Maybe it’s not that tough.”