Skip to Content

Election 2020: Nathan Ryan on How an Elections Is Like a Job Interview

Nathan Ryan offers political insight on voting in 2020

Illustrations by GoodPolitics

Winning a political campaign in the United States is hard work, but what happens after a candidate wins? Since campaigns can feel like (and ostensibly are) a popularity contest, it’s easy to forget that candidates are running to do a job. As George Washington says to Alexander Hamilton in Lin-Manuel Miranda’s musical Hamilton, “Winning is easy, young man, governing’s harder.”

With that in mind, how do we determine whether a candidate is qualified to do – or keep doing – the job in question?

GoodPolitic’s co-founder Nathan Ryan.

In his recent book, The Hardest Job In The World, presidential historian and CBS anchor John Dickerson makes this observation: “We must no longer confuse good campaigning skills with good governing skills. The jobs are different.”

On the campaign trail, the candidate’s goal is to convince people that they will represent their constituents well. Once elected, they already represent people – everybody within their jurisdiction, not just those who voted for them. Now, their job is to ensure everybody always feels heard.

In the heat of an election – especially one as vitriolic and divisive as 2020 – it’s easy to forget the very real issues that will affect the lives of Americans and our neighbors here in Austin. We don’t face ideological challenges that we can solve with rhetoric; we need plans and action.

Nathan Ryan on Why Local Elections Matter

If we forget that candidates are running to do a job, we run the risk of forgetting that we are their boss. We get to decide who represents us and whether they’re doing it well.

While experience is important, it can’t be our only criteria for judging candidates. Even with extensive business experience or other public service, a role as an elected representative within the United States government is unlike any other. Unlike other jobs where the role is focused on one thing or centered in one department, an elected official has to balance the needs of every societal sector against the public good. 

In order to gauge whether a candidate will rise to meet this challenge, we must first understand what each role entails. Just as your job had a detailed description when you applied, so does every office on the November ballot – which is a long list. My ballot has 39 elected positions to vote for in Travis County alone.

Photograph by Spencer Davis.

RELATED: Nathan Ryan Is One of Tribeza’s People of the Year

To show how confusing these titles can be, let’s examine the role of Railroad Commissioner. Today, this job has nothing to do with Texas railroads, and everything to do with energy policy, regulating oil and gas, natural gas, coal and uranium mining. So, if you care about climate and clean energy, Railroad Commissioner is an important position.

For a step-by-step introduction to your ballot, GoodPolitics compiled a comprehensive guide that explains every elected position on the 2020 Travis County ballot. Available in both English and Spanish, the guide is worth an hour of your time to discover the responsibilities of each position before casting your vote. 

As you continue exploring each candidate, consider yourself the hiring manager for each candidate’s job interview. When you interview someone, you don’t just ask if they have the appropriate experience, but also if they’ll make a good fit within a company’s culture – and if you’re hiring for a leadership position, does their vision for the future resonate with you? 

Likewise, we need elected officials who are curious, critical, courageous, creative and passionate about the issues facing our city. We need to vote for and hire people of character that can do the job and represent us well.

That’s our job.

Nathan Ryan is the CEO of Blue Sky Partners, co-founder of GoodPolitics, and a City of Austin commissioner.