Project Wonderful

Monday, May 8, 2017

A Firm of One's Own: Madalene Mielke

Editor's Note: Especially in today's political climate, where jobs are difficult to come by it seems like every Regional Field Director dreams of starting their own firm. I've always suspected this is a lot harder than it sounds but I get questions about doing so frequently. Since I've never done it I decided to ask some people I know who have! And so I bring you the first installment of "A Firm of One's Own." Thanks very much to Madalene Mielke, our first participant.

1)Who are you? Tell us a little about your professional background.
I help people get elected to public office.

2)When and why did you decide to start your own firm?
I started my firm in 2002. I didn’t want one boss. What I wanted was the flexibility to work with a variety of people and organizations. After I finished working on the Presidential Inaugural Committee (PIC) in 1997, I made the decision that I wouldn’t go into the Clinton Administration, although I had worked at the DNC and on the coordinated campaign for the general election chair and on VP Gore’s team. I knew that policy wasn’t my speed and that politics would be the way that I would make a career. That decision was the basis for the other decisions that I made for professional advancement. The culmination of those decisions resulted in me going out on my own.

3)Tell us a little bit about your firm and what you do.
My original focus is based on the tenants of political fundraising and training. In its 15 years of existence, my firm’s focus as well as my individual focus has evolved to include more political strategy and leadership development. Technically, people see me as a fundraiser because that’s what I do as a job. What I find more interesting is my ability to help individuals who are inclined to run for elected office, counsel them on the strategy to succeed as well as what leadership skills they need to develop to get them to a place where they’re seen as political leaders.

4)What the biggest challenges to owning your own firm?
It’s easier to do the work vs spend the time to hustle for new business. Time management is an absolute must!

5)What are you most proud of?
Being able to work with people who are making a difference in the world.

6)What do you wish you had done differently?
Nothing because I wouldn’t be where I am now as a person, as an operative, as an entrepreneur without making the choices I made. No regrets and no looking backwards other than to reflect on lessons learned.

7)What should someone know before starting their own firm?
In my line of work, finding business is a cyclical nature and having people who will advocate for you whether it’s for a job or as a potential client is important to have in any kind of business. Being a small business owner also means doing things out of your wheelhouse that may not involve any of the skills you may have acquired along the way. Need a business license? Opening a business account? Filing property taxes? Hiring an accountant, payroll specialist? Office space? Hiring staff? Now scale it all!!! All the details that can come back and be a real PITA need to happen before you can really focus on getting clients and producing quality work.

8)What is there left in your career that you are still looking forward to accomplishing?
I like to learn! I’m a student and at the same time experienced from years of practice. All industries evolve and how quickly we learn how to incorporate or retire methods is vital to staying relevant. I’m excited to engage in more leadership development and to get more women and communities of color elected to office as well as help them progress in their careers.

9)What is one thing you think everyone should know (can be professional or non-professional)?
Your success is built on your brand and your brand is built through your actions. People need to see you as solving a challenge for them. Bring solutions and a “let’s get it done” attitude.

Madalene Xuan-Trang Mielke is the Founder and Principal of Arum Group, LLC. She has nearly 20 years of experience working in political campaigns and specializes in political/non-profit fundraising and political training focused on the advancement of people of color.

Saturday, May 6, 2017

Run For Something!

Run for Something is a new political organization dedicated to recruiting, training and supporting millennials to run for office. If you haven't heard about it yet you're going to starting here. Please enjoy my interview with Run for Something co-Founder, Ross Morales Rocketto. I'm so excited about Run for Something's work and to see where it goes from here! Thank you, Ross, for your time and everyone else see below how you can get involved!

1)Tell us about yourself and your professional background.
I’ve been in politics for about 15 years. I started the Houston area ended up working for a number of campaigns over the years. Three or four cycles in I realized I had got into politics because I thought getting good people elected was a way to make communities better place, but at some point I had started just working for candidates who would pay me. So I stopped doing politics for a little bit and decided when I got back in I would do so on my own terms.

About a year or so later, I got the itch again and jumped back in. I realized that part of the thing that had made me feel disillusioned was that I didn’t think the candidates I was working for were there for the right reasons or the right fit for their communities. I decided I wanted to focus on candidate recruitment even if I couldn’t do it full-time. I started working with my friends who were interested in running, and joined a political consulting firm that was founded by two top Obama campaign strategists. Eventually I started feeling restless wanted to go back in the field in January.

I wound up managing a congressional campaign for Wendy Carrillo. She is an incredible person, and is the embodiment of the American Dream. As a formerly undocumented immigrant whose family fled civil war in the 80’s, she and her family persisted and are now thriving! She just ran for Congress!

Meanwhile, Amanda and I launched Run for Something to recruit more young people to run for office on inauguration day. So when the campaign ended, I went back to Run for Something full-time.

2)Tell us about launching Run for Something.
We knew there was energy and interest from millennials who want to run for office but the response has been really fascinating and incredible. We thought maybe we’d be able to recruit 100 or 200 candidates. We launched on inauguration day and had over 1,000 candidates who signed up before the end of the weekend. Now we have almost 10,000 people interested in running!

3)What makes a good candidate? How do you decide which candidates you want to support?
The first question is “WHY are you running?” The why needs to be rooted in making their community a better place first and foremost. We’re looking for candidates who are deeply rooted in their communities-- that can mean a lot of different things. We ask questions like what does their network look like in the community? Are people asking them to run? What relationships do they have? Do others see them as a leader?

The second criterion is being willing and able to stand up and actually do it. Running for office is really hard. You need a willingness to learn, to adjust, to listen to constituents and to the people you bring on to give you advice. So much of running for office isn’t necessarily intuitive. There’s a lot about it-- like calling and asking people for money—that can be downright uncomfortable. So it’s important to understand and embrace the learning curve.

Then as a bonus, I look for someone with the ability to tell a story. Great candidates have empathy and a drive to connect with people. That isn’t to say different personalities shouldn’t run for office, but we want someone who can make the political personal.

In terms of concrete criteria run for something only supports candidates who are 35 or younger, progressive and intend to caucus (if applicable) as Democrats.

4)Why young people?
Let’s face it: most elected officials are old, white and male. Our goal is to recruit and support the next generation of governors, senators, members of congress and statewide officeholders and that often starts by running for local office. Notoriously that pipeline hasn’t existed for Democrats or we do a bad job of is getting young people into it. We need to start younger. Millennials are quickly becoming the largest voting block, or at least the largest potential voting block but in order for people to come out and vote they need to see themselves in candidates. We need to see ourselves.

5)What exactly does Run for Something do?
Our initial goal is ”to plant 1000 seeds.” We’re trying to inspire and get people engaged in the act of running for office, as many young people as we possibly can. Clearly we want to win, but the truth is for many local offices across the country no one is on the ballot or they are uncontested. There are so many offices every year that nobody runs for!

We want to provide our candidates with support in the broadest terms so creating community to share experiences and best practices, connecting them to campaign operatives and to other organizations that can train and support them-we’re not here to reinvent the wheel. And of course we want to provide many of them with financial resources. Right now we’re working on a matching program where if a candidate is able to raise 15% of what it takes to run for that office we will match that with up to 15%.

6)How can we get involved?
Go to to learn more about running or sign up to be a volunteer or a mentor. Because of the incredible influx of candidates we’ve seen one thing we need help with is candidate screening. It’s just a 30 minute phone call where the volunteer helps get information on potential candidates and fills out a form to relay it back to us. It’s a fun job because it’s the first personal touch with a lot of these candidates

7)What else do you want people to know about Run for Something?
For most, nobody is going to tap them on the shoulder to run. For people interested in engaging especially at the local and state level, you don’t have to wait for a gatekeeper to tell you it’s time to run. At the same time, you should also know what is involved which is part of why we’re here. The more local the race, the easier it is to run and win as a first time candidate. In most places isn’t that difficult to run for school board. It’s one of the most fundamental ways to get involved and those races are where everything starts. Right now progressives haven’t done as good a job at building that pipeline. School board today, council tomorrow, mayor after that. That’s where the bench is and we are here to demystify that for folks.

8)What do you wish someone had told you earlier in your career?
I wish I had had someone reminding me why it was I had gotten into this work in the first place. It’s easy to be fired up in the Trump era but, thankfully, this moment won’t last forever. If you’re not doing it for reasons that really drive you, you are going to be tired and cynical before you know it.

Ross Morales Rocketto is a progressive political operative with more than a decade of experience in campaign management, grassroots organizing, and data/analytics. Former campaign manager at Wendy Carillo for Congress, principal at Smoot Tewes Group, and management consultant at Deloitte Consulting’s innovation center. Worked in Iowa in 2007 for Bill Richardson, and in 2005 for Julian Castro. Got started in Texas during the 2002 cycle. Married, one dog, two cats.