President's Column

By the time you're reading this column, the presidential nomination ballots will have been mailed and, depending on exactly when you receive the Monitor, the candidates for the association's 2009 president may have been announced. This season of the year always brings back my memories of being a candidate in 2004 and 2005. Usually, I keep my reminiscences to myself, but I decided to share some of the knowledge I gained from these experiences in the hope that this description might increase members' participation in the presidential election process, as a voter and/or a candidate.

Usually, though not necessarily, candidates for the APA presidency have had some experience in APA governance, such as serving on the Board of Directors, the Council of Representatives, and/or major boards and committees. For example, I served two terms on both the Council of Representatives and the Finance Committee. However, there is no single recipe for a winning candidacy, which lets me debunk some of the myths about running for the APA presidency.

  • Myth #1: You have to spend your life in APA governance in order to run for the APA presidency. Not true. Being active in APA governance (and/or divisions and state associations) is extremely effective in building the social networks that provide the foundation for a successful campaign. However, since the presidential election is open to the general membership, candidates without governance experience but with high name recognition can also be elected. Of course, having both the networks and the name is especially helpful.

Another myth that often deters individuals from being a candidate for the APA presidency concerns the amount of effort and expense required to run. Fortunately, this myth too can be debunked.

  • Myth #2: In order to be a successful candidate, you must attend a humongous number of conventions and conferences. Not true. The first year I was a candidate, I attended eight such meetings in addition to my two regular annual conventions, and two of these 10 meetings were within driving distance. In the second year, I attended a total of five meetings. Yes, some travel is necessary, but it does not have to be overwhelming. Even if you don't travel extensively, you can build a network of people who will support your candidacy and encourage others to vote for you. You start with your home base of friends and colleagues, who are eager to help out. And while you are campaigning (by e-mail or in person), you will meet many wonderful people who will become your supporters and friends.

Indeed, the single best aspect of being a candidate for the APA presidency is that so many people-some you've known for decades, some you've not seen for awhile, some you've just met-are eager to help. They spread the word and drum up votes.

However, it is important to be sensitive to the ebb and flow of people's lives. By making it clear that the campaign lasts a year (or more) and that there are many ways to support your candidacy, everyone can find his or her niche in the overall effort.

  • Myth #3: If you run for the APA presidency, you will be treated very badly by some people. This is a more complicated myth than the first two. In fact, the APA presidential election is more "political" than most elections in other scholarly and professional organizations. You can tell its political nature by the candidates' paraphernalia. Mine included a Web site, a "vote for Brehm" sticker (much cheaper than buttons), and a one-page, double-sided handout with a four-color photo. I doubt paraphernalia ever won (or lost) an APA election, but just having them may increase the sense of rivalry. Whatever its exact cause, rivalry can create the possibility of unpleasant interactions. I believe that such interactions do happen, but (at least now) they are rare. My own experience was overwhelmingly positive.

Most people think about campaigning for an office as an unpleasant means to a desired end.

That's not my view. I had a great time during those two years: working with wonderful people, receiving the extraordinary kindness of close friends and of strangers who became close friends, having long late-night conversations trying to figure out a winning strategy, living on e-mail, and on and on. I am glad I won one of the elections in which I participated. I am now working hard to be an effective APA president. But I doubt I'll ever again have as much fun as I had in being a candidate.

So-give it a try!