How to run as a candidate - Vanessa Musolino

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Vanessa Musolino was 22 years old when she joined the Australian Democrats to prevent her ailing party from collapse; she never imagined three months later she would be running as a candidate in the 2007 Federal Election. In true generation y style, Vanessa was asked to run via a text message.

“I received a text message on a Friday from a leader in the Young Australian Democrats Party asking ‘hey, would u like to run for the seat of Calwell? I think you’d be great. Get back to me when you decide.’ It took me all weekend to reply and finally I decided that yes I would run because it would be a good experience,? Vanessa said.

With only three weeks until the election, Vanessa was the underdog competing for a safe Labor seat against people who had been preparing for six months.

“There was no chance of me winning the seat but the theory was that by having someone running in every electorate the Democrats could gain a seat in the House of Representatives,? Vanessa said.

“I was helping my party and it was something different. I was handing out how to vote cards with my face on it and my values instead of someone else’s.?

 At the time of the election Vanessa was finishing her honours thesis in international politics. She was the youngest candidate running for the seat of Calwell. Although she felt she had to prove herself before people took her seriously, she did not feel intimidated going against people who had been in politics for 50 years.

‘When people saw me on Election Day, they respected me as a young person putting in effort. It shows we’re not all like Paris Hilton.’

‘More young people should get involved, lots of young people vote and they need to be represented. Your opinion is as worthy as the next person. Don’t think because you are young, you can’t run.’   

However running as a candidate is serious stuff and will be on your public record for the rest of your life, you are no longer a private citizen but a public figure. ‘You are giving a piece of yourself to the community and you have to be okay with that,’ Vanessa said.

What does being a public figure mean?

Deciding to run as a candidate in an election is an invitation for the press and people to scrutinize your actions, beliefs and values. You won’t be stalked by paparazzi or constantly under surveillance but you do have to be prepared to talk to the media and people in your electorate. This could mean impromptu interviews designed to catch the candidate off guard or scheduled media appearances.

Vanessa remembers riding her bike to deliver how to vote cards when a journalist from a local paper called to ask her off- the- cuff questions about her electorate. With cars whooshing past, Vanessa was asked the current price of petrol, what the interest rate was and the top issues in the electorate.  

‘I was representing my party so I wanted to sound professional and it was going in the public eye but, it totally caught me off guard. I answered as best I could and was one of the closest to the interest rate,’ Vanessa said.

The paper printed the candidates’ answers word for word including the umms and ahhhs and one oh I don’t know! ‘It made us all look stupid but it was a good experience,’ Vanessa said. ‘From then on I prepared answers just in case an unexpected journalist called.’

Being a public figure also means your address is released to the public so people can contact you. Expect an influx of letters from non-profit organisations and businesses asking you to support their cause.

What your party won’t tell you  

Vanessa was asked out of the blue to run for a seat and dived into it head first. It was a great learning experience and she doesn’t regret running but there are a couple of things she would have liked to have known beforehand. She suggests potential candidates should ask a lot of questions. ‘People expect you to find out things for yourself, they won’t tell you the downside of running because they want you to run,’ Vanessa said.

Before committing think....

What it means for your address to be released to the public?

Does it matter that your status as a candidate will always be found on the internet?

Do you want this on public record for the rest of my life?

What does it mean to be interviewed by the local paper? Will you be comfortable talking to people in your electorate and the media?

If you have dual citizenship and win, you have to renounce citizenship from the other country, how would this affect your future?

While it is a lot of fun, it is serious and it is politics. It could be life changing and it could change your career. Running as a candidate for a seat in an election will change how people think about you and will open you to new experiences. Anyone can run as a candidate as long as they are committed, have passion and have the confidence to talk to the media and people in their electorate.