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Alumnus talks about life in politics

Tess Civantos | Monday, September 7, 2009

In politics, you can go very far, very quickly, if you’re willing to work hard, Pennsylvania State Representative and Notre Dame alumnus Brendan Boyle said in a talk with Notre Dame students Friday afternoon.

Boyle (D-Philadelphia/ Montgomery) worked as a consultant for AMS Consulting immediately after graduation, when “companies were even hiring Arts and Letters majors” thanks to a soaring economy. After three and a half years, however, he realized politics was his true passion.

Boyle’s bookshelf in his consulting office was filled with biographies of past presidents and American history books.

“You don’t belong in consulting,” a coworker told him, according to Boyle. “It sounds cliché but it’s true, do what makes you happy. As much as I liked consulting, it wasn’t where my heart was.”

Family connections are not necessary to have political success, Boyle said. In fact, it’s possible to get elected without any connections at all.

“I knew almost no one in elected office,” he said. “Don’t let that discourage you.”

Boyle encouraged aspiring politicians to take on even the least glamorous jobs. A politician who is willing to lick envelopes and knock on doors will go much farther than one who wants to just “consult” a campaign, he said.

“Anyone who believes in democracy should spend an afternoon knocking on doors for a campaign,” he said. “It’s amazing what people will tell you on their front doorstep.”

Boyle recommended active involvement in the community as a way to gain recognition and respect from potential constituents.

Boyle also discussed some of the negative aspects of running for political office. He was technically unemployed while running for office, and although he was able to live off his savings, he had no health insurance, making him nervous about illness or injury. His other biggest worry is fundraising.

“I stared at the phone for two hours before making my first fundraising call,” he said.

One way Boyle recommended to raise money is to start with family and friends. Boyle’s campaign held “beef and beers” parties for $30 as a simple fundraiser.

“Free alcohol is always a good way to draw people, whether at college parties or campaign parties,” Boyle said laughing.

The fundraising aspect is intimidating to anyone, Boyle said, “unless your last name is Romney.”

Boyle offered several pieces of advice for students interested in entering politics. Law school and graduate school in public policy are good ways to prepare for political careers – Boyle himself holds a master’s in public policy from Harvard University’s John F. Kennedy School of Government.

Unpaid internships are an easy way to “get your foot in the door,” Boyle said, noting that his office recently hired one of his previous volunteer interns.