While most any citizen can become a candidate, it's a challenge to recruit supporters and raise the money to run a winning campaign. But help is available to get a leg up on the political ladder.
Emily's List — the progressive Democratic political action committee that supports women candidates — recently brought potential office-seekers to a training program at a downtown L.A. hotel.
Some of the advice at the daylong training was basic: Speak up. Have a firm handshake. Don't be a one-issue candidate. Google yourself to know what's lurking about you on the Internet.
"Why do you want to run for office? Can you answer that in two minutes?" trainer Muthoni Wambu Kraal challenged the 30 political hopefuls in attendance.
They gave a variety of reasons — wanting their daughters to be more politically active, getting more students into community college, fighting for the rights of women and the elderly, increasing the participation of the LGBT community in politics, even fulfilling personal ambitions.
Kraal congratulates their idealism but cautioned they won't get far without the ability to raise money. Lots and lots of it.
Former L.A. City Controller Wendy Greuel, who said she raised $5 million in the primary for her mayoral campaign, was there to reinforce the message.
"I don't care what you leave here with today, the most important thing is raising money," Greuel said.
Like many new candidates — women especially — Greuel had to get over her discomfort at fundraising, and just ask: "Joe, I need $5,000 by Friday. I need you to do it. I hope the family's great, but I need it by Friday. I'll send someone. Where do they come pick it up?"
Workshop leader Kraal, who is western regional director of Emily's List, also stressed the importance of methodically building a legion of supporters.
"Every event, every gathering, every birthday party, cocktail party, work-related meeting, conference group, workshop, every church — every warm body that you come into contact with, you are building your army, and nobody escapes," she said.
Vajezatha Payne crochets a shawl as she listens. She's a social worker, educator and mom. She told the group she's building a foundation for her candidacy.
"I'm excited because I live in Palmdale and, clearly, I'm to be the queen of the Antelope Valley, and I need to do that politically," Payne joked.
Payne said she expects to run for a local office in 2016, possibly a water or school board, and she'll start by seeking a political appointment to a committee.
"I'm actually looking to be supported and mentored in that process, because it will have to be strategic," she said. "It's pretty much a Republican area still, pretty much Caucasian male dominant."
Palmdale is also a city that is having political change forced on it by a judge's finding that its at-large elections were preventing people of color from winning elections there. The remedy under California's Voting Rights Act is to divide the city into council districts that might be more winnable. Payne has her eye on that process, as well.
Payne is a graduate of another candidate grooming program, the Los Angeles African-American Women's Public Policy Institute. It's a 10-year-old non-partisan leadership program at USC that provides pragmatic advice to future leaders. It is hosting a recruiting reception on Saturday, November 9.
Executive Director Joy Atkinson remembers Payne and advised her to first look at the demographics of the election district and be visible.
"I'd like to know what she's doing in Palmdale, how active she is in the City Council area where she wants to run, is she active in a church community," Atkinson said. "I want to know what she's doing to be prepared to run for office."
Payne is on task.
"Through my children's sports and advocating for the foster children there, I am getting in contact with stakeholders so I'll know their needs and what's important to them," she said.
Democrats fund the Emily's List program, and Camp Wellstone, named for the late Rep. Paul Wellstone.
Republicans have similar programs, such as Project Grow, to help women run for all levels of elected office.
Another Republican program, called Young Guns, aids candidates of both genders.