Unique Hamline class dives into campaign management

Hamline launches campaign management class

ST. PAUL, Minn. -- Most of the hard work in elections is done behind the scenes by people who don't get much recognition or media attention if they do their jobs right.

But those unsung heroes are crucial to process, and campaigns wouldn't survive without them. They run the day-to-day operations, raise money, mine the voter rolls for potential supporters, craft political messaging and perform many other tasks that are off the radar even for political junkies.

"Most people when they say they want to work in politics, I ask them what they want to do," Hamline University professor and political analyst David Schultz told KARE.

"And they say, 'Well, I don't really know what there is to do'. Many of my students haven't heard much about what kinds of jobs there are in politics."

That's why it struck a chord with Schultz when Karla Bigham, a Washington County Commissioner and former state legislator, pitched the idea of creating an undergrad course on campaign management.

And this semester at Hamline the concept became a reality. Schultz and Commissioner Bigham are team teaching a class in campaign management that meets for three hours every Tuesday night.

"There’s no undergraduate political science program in the country that has a concentration or a track in campaign management. And it would sort of be a great niche for Hamline, where we say we’re training people to be the next generation of political campaign activists," Schultz explained.

Bigham, a veteran of many campaigns for herself and others, said the skills young people acquire working for a candidate can be applied to many other worthy efforts.

"It's not only politics, but for non-profits too. I think of an organizations such as Susan G Komen, right? There’s a marketing, a fundraising, a field component to it."

She said she hopes the course will inspire the students to pursue politics at the local level, and even consider careers in government.

"It’s getting more and more difficult to find younger generations to work in government, and so I’m hoping this class will be that bug that bites them to get involved in working in government, whether it’s for cities, state, county or non-profit boards."

Students hear from a wide variety of guest speakers who've worked on campaigns and run for office. Two members of Congress, Rep. Tom Emmer and Rep. Betty McCollum, are among the speakers scheduled this fall.

"They're bringing in people that know more on the subject, so it's really great to learn from the experts, or at least people who know what they’re doing," Virginia Block, a senior from Royalton, Minn. explained.

"And what better time to take a campaign management class than do it during an election year?" 

This week's guest speaker was Emma Greenman, a voting rights attorney who works for the Center for Public Democracy and serves the state Campaign Finance and Public Disclosure Board. She explained the complex web of campaign fundraising and spending regulations that apply to campaigns and other organizations, as well as the legal precedents that guide them.

The class also heard from Minneapolis City Council Member Jacob Frey, who described the process he went through asking for contributions and finding a pool of potential political donors.

"We're learning a lot about fundraising, and how not to do it," Reid Madden, a Wayzata senior, explained.

"You also have to figure out how to do it, and know how important it is to find the right people, but make sure you’re not breaking the law."

The idea, according the Schultz and Bigham, is to get the students beyond the "cable channel" level of political knowledge and drill down to the roles of campaign staffers and volunteers. In fact students are required to augment their classroom experience by volunteering for a campaign or working as an election judge.

"I’m actually helping out with a legislative campaign up in northern Minnesota," Michael Everett, a Minneapolis junior, said. "So this seemed like a really great opportunity to learn about the campaign process."

After the class wrapped up for the evening Everett was going to call the candidate, who lives in Little Falls, and help prep him for an upcoming debate.

Everett said he's considering entering politics in the future, because he likes to debate issues and enjoys community service.

(© 2016 KARE)


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