What's a Kitchen Cabinet Have To Do With Running?

Wednesday, January 31, 2018

Over the years, I’ve attended a handful of campaign trainings. I took notes, made plans, created excel documents, and continued to feel unsure that I was ready to run for state office. Running is sort of like having a baby… you never feel entirely ready, but once the baby arrives you just sort of figure it out as you go. One thing was made very clear in all of those trainings—have a strong “Kitchen Cabinet”. Ok, got it. But what, exactly, is a “Kitchen Cabinet,” and how do I get one?

As it turns out, a “Kitchen Cabinet,” is a group of trusted individuals who sort of serve as your Campaign’s Board of Advisors. In all honesty, even after multiple trainings, I still googled to learn more and found an amazing article that describes the types of people that you want on your “Kitchen Cabinet”. Based on another important recommendation from the trainings, I had been compiling an excel document of possible supporters—friends, family, colleagues, former colleagues, parents of my children’s friends, people I’ve served on boards with, former interns, and folks who share the same social justice values as I do. I created this list by looking through Facebook, searching through old emails, and brainstorming past jobs, boards and social justice issues I’ve worked on. Then, I used this comprehensive list to create a smaller list of potential “Kitchen Cabinet” members.

In my case, I am challenging a democratic incumbent, so some of the folks I know from working on public policy at the state legislature don’t feel comfortable supporting me publicly. That still didn’t prevent me from asking them to help, though.They will make the decision that is best for them. 

After compiling my list of possible “Kitchen Cabinet” members, I reached out to each of them individually. I met with some people before the meeting for coffee if they were available or if I was interested in having them serve in a particular campaign role. My friend, and parent to my son’s best friend, agreed to serve as Campaign Manager. She is a highly organized and sociable person and connected in the community. This is her first time working on a political campaign, but we have a lot of technical assistance from folks who can’t be public about their support but are happy to volunteer their time behind the scenes. I have another young woman volunteering on the campaign as field director. She grew up in town, was a star athlete, and is now a Senior in College. We met at an Emily’s List campaign training at the Women’s Convention in Detroit. During introductions we realized we were both from the same town in Connecticut…all those miles away and we literally live a few blocks from each other.

In the initial email to the potential group, I explained what a “Kitchen Cabinet” is and asked for them to attend a planning meeting to help me brainstorm for my campaign, including messaging, fundraising, and strategy. I made it clear that they didn’t have to make a commitment to serve in any formal role with the campaign. I also put out the ask for a campaign treasurer—I find that if you put what you need into the universe, you're often pleasantly surprised with the response. The treasurer role was giving me extreme anxiety. It is made clear in the guide book for Connecticut’s Citizens Elections Program, as well as in the multiple trainings I attended, that the Treasurer is a very important role on the campaign. From my experience with local and state campaigns, the Democratic Town Committee (DTC) usually helps to connect a candidate with someone who has experience serving as a treasurer on a campaign. In my case, I don’t have access to those connections and was a little worried I wouldn't find someone.

On the night of the “Kitchen Cabinet” meeting a woman I knew peripherally through our work at the legislature, who I've grown to know through the WeHa Huddle (a group of local women I organized after the Women’s March) offered to serve as Campaign Treasurer. She’s retired, interested in Connecticut’s Citizens Elections Program, and extremely organized. Amazing!

Prior to the meeting, I prepped an agenda, bought snacks, made coffee, had my kids secured away upstairs, and went for it. Eleven people attended the meeting. We discussed the reasons I am running, the incumbent, and elections data on the house seat district. We talked about messaging, issues I’m passionate about and plan to highlight in the campaign, and the logistics of running against an incumbent. Finally, we discussed fundraising. I left folks with an action item of creating their own lists—folks in town who they can ask to support with either a vote, to volunteer, to host a meet & greet, or with money. I also asked them to let me know individually how involved they wanted to be or could be. Some of the folks who came work for organizations or at agencies that might not want them working on a campaign against an incumbent. As I say to everyone, no hard feelings.

Since that first meeting, we lost a few folks because of their employment and we have gained a few more folks who caught wind of my campaign and want to volunteer their time and serve on the “Kitchen Cabinet.” The team that we've formed helped reach our fundraising goal in just 11 days (more on this in a future blog), assists with editing press releases, shares campaign information via social media, passes along news & policy research, and provides words of encouragement and support.

Those trainings were right…a “Kitchen Cabinet” is key. If you’re interested in running and you’re someone who doesn’t like asking for help…start practicing now. I used to be that way and sometimes have to remind myself to ask, but I find that when you do, the rewards are amazing.