A few elementary rules for campaigning for governor

The Maryland gubernatorial race would be considerably more enjoyable for all who still read the newspaper and listen to the radio if the candidates simply followed the rules. And by the rules, I mean the rules set forth by my local elementary school for student council races.

Running gubernatorial campaigns according to the student council rules would cut the number of accusatory letters to the editor penned by zealous advocates as well as the incessant insult-trading on talk shows. It might even mute some of the television ads that seem to have as their primary objective portraying the candidate's opponent as a monstrous imbecile.

Imagine an October in which the race for governor of Maryland becomes a national model, thanks to enforcement of the student council rules. That could be downright boring! But I'm at the point where I'd take boring. In fact, I'd even be willing to listen daily through October to a recording of the rambling, pause-laden speech for student council treasurer made by the young man who ran against my son at Waverly Elementary School in 1998. At least he didn't call my child a liar or a cheat, or insinuate that he had loose morals.

So, let us review these elementary guidelines in the hope that Gov. Martin O'Malley and Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. have clipping services and will review them with us. Here they are, to the best of my recollection, in bold, followed by my translation.

Listen up, boys: The candidate who follows most of them to the letter gets my vote in November.

Make your own posters, no more than five. Let's keep to the spirit of this rule and avoid a race that is commensurate with income. And let's remember that this rule was designed to stop your parents from making your posters when you were in the fourth grade, which translates to owning your campaign materials. Craft a few distinct messages and make certain they reflect your message — not your public relations firm's goals or your biggest fundraisers' interests.

No giving out of candy. It's actually surprising how relevant this rule is — because candy is a favor, just like favors are favors. So, candidates, I urge you not to "buy" the vote with empty promises or platitudes designed to please the ones you're with. You are a public servant, offering your service to the public. We voters don't really want — or need — anything more than that.

Keep your speech to five minutes. Otherwise the principal will ring a bell and take your microphone. I would love to see this rule followed in any television interview or debate. Because the fact is, it is more difficult — and more powerful — to make your point succinctly than to fill the air with third-person references to oneself and endless litanies of accomplishments. Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do to be a more effective communicator.

Be courteous. It is so difficult to stay calm when you have been insulted, to remain pleasant in the face of a personal attack. But when you do, you appear to have the self-control necessary for the job, which is generally full of encounters with insulting people anxious to deliver angry tirades.

Remember you represent our school. I suppose the translation here is that you represent our state. Try to embody the qualities you want reflected in the team that works with you and the family that surrounds you — the integrity, energy, creativity, intellect and drive.

Perhaps the greatest benefit of following the student council campaign rules is the outcome. And I'm not talking about winning.

Even if you're not elected, you'll be respected.

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