Running for fun. Running to win.

July 18, 2013

In 2011, Cathy Lehman found herself among peers at the Washington Conservation Voters local county chapter candidate recruitment committee meeting  (whew!) working to identifying folks who should run for office. Cathy thought she was there to help identify others, but little did she know that her peers would turn the tables, “What about you Cathy, why don’t you run?” Cathy says there were other reasons that spurred her decision to run, but being asked by her peers was the most notable.

With little idea of what it meant to run for office, but the courage and conviction to follow through, one of Cathy’s first steps was to attend Camp Wellstone. “There was no question—this is what serious candidates do to be winners.”

So in 2011, Cathy found herself among other candidates at the Seattle Camp Wellstone. Two key components of the training that were especially helpful were fundraising and “doorbelling”. Cathy recalled the fundraising exercise in which she drew concentric circles of the people she knew, starting from the closest inner circle and moving outward. Suddenly, being able to ask family and friends who loved her, cared about what she was doing, and she knew would donate to show their support didn’t make fundraising seem so bad. “It helped me build a game plan,” said Cathy. “That was really helpful and it wasn’t a big esoteric goal of fundraising.”

The other component, doorbelling – which is our favorite of all regional terms for what the rest of the country calls “doorknocking” - was also a bit intimidating. Cathy admitted to only having done it once before for another candidate, but the ability to practice and role play at the training was really useful and made her feel like she could go out and do it on her own.

Cathy made sure to enjoy the process of running for office and remember the reasons why she was doing it. As an avid runner, she had trained just the year before to run her first half marathon. A friend she trained with had a mantra: “Have fun, don’t get injured, and run one like you’ll want to run again.” Cathy used the analogy of running a marathon in the same way as running for office. “I remember that was still in my mind and how apt it was when I geared up to run for office,” she said. “I was making sure I enjoyed the process and didn’t injure myself or my friendships and that my life was still strong after it was all over. It was important that it should be something I would want to try to do again.

Cathy’s plan and commitment to her race paid off, and in November 2011, she was elected to the Bellingham City Council for a four-year term. Now, just 18 months into the job, Cathy shares how rewarding an experience it has been:

“It definitely has its challenges and like anything ebbs and flows, but to be a normal person who decides to spend a significant part of their resources or time and skills to try to make their community better, it is extremely rewarding in my experience. I really wish more people would consider it and not need to be perfectly prepared, just an average citizen. It’s really an honor.”

And Cathy takes her own words to heart. As she is currently the only woman on the city council, she has already recruited two women to run in the next term. She thinks there are still real barriers to women running for office, but to them she would say, “You are more qualified than you think.”

So far in Cathy’s tenure in office, she is most proud of the tough votes that have been made on drinking water for their reservoir. She explained, “it’s a 50-year problem that took 100 years to create, but we’re starting to round the bend and make progress. Being part of those votes to make the right decision for our community is really awesome.”

Cathy’s continues to be thankful for her experience at Camp Wellstone:

“I am really grateful. After I took the training I felt like I was equipped to win. Before the training it was a big, scary, unknown sea. It was a difference of black and white before and after the training. There is nothing else quite like Wellstone Action’s Camp Wellstone that can prepare you to run.”