Politicians are people who are elected by the public to various leadership
positions. They may be elected to a local school board, city council, state
legislature or even the U.S. Congress.
Although only people who can vote actually elect people to government,
politicians work for everyone in their constituency. No matter what the level,
the job of the politician is the same. They shape future policies and work
for constituents. In other words, it's a politician's job to help run government.
Politicians hold positions at many levels. They work at the municipal level
leading the government in a city or town. They are also members of state legislative
assemblies. Or they may be members of Congress at the federal level, representing
their constituency in Washington.
There are two kinds of politicians in the United States.
Legislative politicians include U.S. senators and representatives, city
council officials and state representatives. They amend and pass laws. These
politicians work closely with constituents, advisors and their staff to create
policies serving their communities' needs.
Chief executives include the president and vice-president, state governors
and mayors. They are the "bosses" of their political organizations. They decide
where and when money should be spent. They determine where money will come
from -- such as taxes and levies. They meet with legislators and constituents.
And they set the goals for policies and programs.
Getting elected is no easy matter. To be elected at the state or federal
level, you usually have to first win the approval of a political party. Then
you can run under its banner. Once a candidate has won the "nomination" from
the party, they go on to run in the election against candidates from other
Almost all politicians become elected as members of political parties.
Some run as independents, but they are few at the state and federal levels.
More independent candidates run for school boards and city councils.
Politicians are elected to represent the people who vote for them. So they
must be aware of the needs of the people they represent.
Politicians admit that job security can't be a priority for someone interested
in this work. Just because you've won an election once doesn't mean you'll
keep the job forever. While politics is a lifelong career for some people,
for others it's just a temporary job.
"I've known both," says Nan Whaley. She's a city commissioner in Dayton,
Ohio. "I've had friends involved (in politics) for 20 or 30 years and worked
at all different levels, [while] some people have gotten involved and then
gone to work in the private sector."
The election process can be difficult and expensive. The higher the office
you are running for, the more traveling you'll have to do -- and the more
time and money will be involved.
Political campaigns are always looking for looking for volunteers to stuff
envelopes and knock on doors. Election campaigns tend to be exhausting, but
"It's certainly stressful," says politician Duane Nicol. "It takes a special
kind of person to want to go door to door and hand out pictures of yourself
and your bio to all your neighbors. "
It's stressful because you can give them all the information, but then
they make the decision behind the curtain and it's out of your hands," he
adds. "It's basically a big report card that you're getting and the outcome
determines whether you get that job or not."
If you enjoy meetings, policy and political problems, politics might be
for you! Politicians frequently meet with legislators, constituents and special
interest groups. Hours of work vary depending on your political office. Federal
and state politicians can have grueling schedules.
"If you decide to get involved in local politics it's not as '18-hour-dayish'
(as state and federal politics)," says Whaley. "Local and state government
is pretty fantastic because it's where people see most of their government
at work. You can really make an impact."
Politicians must also be on call for any pressing political problems. And
you may need to travel on a moment's notice.
Be prepared to be in the spotlight, even when you just want to be alone.
Politicians say there really isn't much off-duty time. They're always watched
by the public and the press.
"I'll be in a restaurant and someone will stop and ask me a question like
we're best friends," says Nicol. "It serves to remind me that you're always
on call and always in the public eye when you're not at home."
You'll need a high energy level for this demanding occupation. Politicians
frequently work long hours and have long meetings with various groups.
What takes up most of a politician's time? "For me it's probably talking
to constituents and dealing with citizens' concerns," says Whaley. "People
call in with different issues if they're having problems with the government.
"I'm always meeting new people and understanding where they're coming
from," she adds. "I spend most of my time sharing and listening. It does take
an enormous amount of time to do that well."
Lead and serve in government