A Network member since 2001, Linda Campbell has been a dedicated advocate of education reform for many years. During the Annual Meeting in Washington D.C., Linda announced her candidacy for the School Board in Denver, Colorado. This news was received with tremendous support from fellow members, and she began her campaign, garnered enthusiasm and built a list of valuable endorsements. In this piece, Linda shares her journey that led her to enter local politics and announce her candidacy, an update on what has happened since the Annual Meeting, and the lessons she has learned along the way. As Linda’s story highlights, politics is a world of emotional peaks and valleys that can be both rewarding and challenging.
A close friendship ignited my early political involvement. Back when I was working to start a charter school in downtown Denver, I met a guy named John Hickenlooper, never guessing that ten years later he would become the city’s mayor. John recognized that I was an effective community organizer and after he was elected, he asked me to co-chair the Mayor’s Leadership Team for Early Childhood Education. He assembled a diverse group of business and community leaders, charging us with the responsibility of insuring that all of Denver’s children had access to high-quality early childhood education. After two years of preparation, our team proposed a sales tax increase in order to fund preschool for 4-year-old kids. This proposal required a ballot initiative, which we coined Preschool Matters.
I had never been particularly politically active before. My previous activism was limited to volunteering for candidates, making phone calls, and posting yard signs. But the Preschool Matters campaign pulled me further in. I was recently divorced, so I had time on my hands and loved the positive energy of the young paid staff. I immersed myself in every aspect of the campaign. I walked precincts, reached out to media outlets, spoke at Rotary clubs, and stuffed mailings. I was the chair of the campaign and a tireless volunteer. As I got deeper into the campaign, I believed that EACH VOTE was needed to help us win. That spurred me to pour even more time into our efforts. Every positive exchange I had with a voter was worth another vote or two. And thank goodness I worked that hard because we only won by 1800 votes!
The ballot initiative experience left me much more engaged politically. My involvement with Rachel’s Network also helped me to realize the power of knowing your elected officials. The best way to have an impact on the issues that you care about is by supporting campaigns. By doing so, I got invited to many political events and got to know both elected officials and key players in campaigns. Election days were exciting in a new way when I began to exercise my influence as a funder.
As a community volunteer, most of my time had been invested in education issues. So after completing another project, it seemed natural to run for school board. The education reform community knew me well. After the election in 2010, I started reaching out to community leaders about my desire to run. It was fascinating to talk with a diverse group of people and hear their take on the Denver Public Schools. I dedicated myself to the task and enjoyed every minute of it. At the Network’s Annual Meeting, Winsome and all the members showered me with support – it was thrilling! In just one night I received such a tremendous amount of encouragement and guidance from my fellow funders and friends. My campaign was off to a great start.
Yet, days after I returned from Washington, D.C., a prominent African-American woman called to tell me she had decided to run for the same seat. She has great name recognition and had previously served on City Council. My political team agreed it would be nearly impossible to beat her. My candidacy would certainly split the vote on the side of education reform – something I would never want to do. Just as I was creating my campaign logo and web page, my candidacy was over.
I was sad at first, because I was so committed to the race. However, a couple of my advisors, with years more political experience than me, assured me that this happens to everyone. So many factors must converge to make someone the right candidate at the right time. I am hopeful there will be another opportunity for me to serve my community as an elected leader. In the meantime, I offer heartfelt thanks to all my Network friends for their support. It was a great learning experience – one that I will certainly benefit from in the future and encourage each of you to explore for yourselves!
Linda Campbell is a committed nonprofit and community leader. She serves on the board of Rachel’s Network and Growhaus, an organization working to build an urban agriculture system in the Denver Area. She is a former trustee at The Denver Foundation and past board president of the Colorado Conservation Trust.