Saturday, December 09, 2006

The humble nominating petition for candidates is the base of all Illinois elected officials' power

We're in the midst of petition season for municipal candidates and I'm reminded by the power of the humble petition.

The most powerful political organizations in the state are based off of one simple premise: asking a citizen to act. We, as candidates, campaigns, consultants or organizations, are based off of a request: please sign a petition, or please publicly signify your endorsement and ultimately, please take 5 minutes and in secret, cast a vote for us.

Every candidate relies on thousands of citizens choosing to affix their signature to a nominating petition -- and the more effective organizations demonstrate their political strength by showing how many citizens they have successfully asked to sign a nominating petition.

And the barrier to entry is tiny. Anyone can circulate a petition. Anyone can take the time to ask strangers (or neighbors or friends) to sign a petition. But only some are willing to work.

I'm reminded of my favorite part of the Tribune article on "The House that Rahm built" when Rahm Emanuel is ranting about some conservative Democratic House members that apparently did not take to his aggressive style and he said: "They hate me too, because I'm arrogant and pushy with them. ... Because they've never, ever WORKED! NOBODY! NONE OF 'EM!" -- that made me laugh out loud. Successful political organizations -- especially in Chicago -- work hard at gathering petitions -- thousands of names from one ward -- and that's something to appreciate from a civic perspective, not to denigrate. A precinct captain from the 13th Ward was telling me about his election day ritual: he plants tiny American flags in the yards of every resident in his precinct to remind the people to vote. Isn't that great? We need more of that.

Anyway, these stacks of petitions that operatives around the state are currently poring over and binding together are a nice reminder that in our nation, the people ultimately rule, and even the most powerful among us ultimately rely on a humble petition.

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