Most people have a bucket list, but I’m one of those peculiar people who has a NON-bucket list. I make that list first so that I don’t waste my time trying things that I KNOW I’m not ever going to want to do, like bicycling up the Alps, running across America for no reason, and climbing rocks with a rope (doesn’t seem quite normal to me). Why try something just because it’s daring and impresses people? That way, I can enjoy my real bucket list. But…life is full of unexpected detours, and becoming a part of the election process kind of jumped on me without warning. I guess you could say this was one of those “Forrest Gump” moments. Let me explain.
I always get excited voting in primaries and national elections for senators and presidential candidates, but generally gloss over local races and hope that I made a good choice. This time, I did a little more homework than usual. I noted the names on the signs and looked them up when I got home. I even sent in a few questions to web pages and facebook voting pages. For the most part, I got answers, but was ignored on at least one of them. So, I continued looking. Heck, I even went to a debate! But then, as I asked questions, I discovered a fellow coffee drinker, Gwen Cantrell, incumbent for Walton County School Board (district 6), who was willing to answer my questions and educate me on the how’s and why’s of running for office. We hit a few coffee establishments for discussion where she asked if I would like to campaign with her. I agreed, not having the slightest idea what I was getting into. Starbucks is now on my Christmas list.
Noting all the unrest in the national arena, I had already prejudiced myself against incumbents. But, as I did some open-minded investigation, I found several incumbents in Walton that had done such a good job that I decided to investigate a little deeper, and was pretty impressed with what I found out. Wow. If you can find good incumbents in a political race, then something is being done right.
The negatives are that it is sometimes boring, the days are long, and frankly, it’s a lot of hard work! Of course, then there’s the “no trespassing or you’ll be shot!” signs, knotty driveways where your tires get stuck in ditches, and no day is complete without meeting a…BIG DOG. On hot days, during the 109 degree weather, there’s the double deodorant swipe in the morning, until I realize that I’ll probably be out all day, so I throw it in my purse. After two weeks of this hot mess, I just bought an extra one (to save time). My make-up bag is positioned under the air conditioning so as not to melt my lip liner pencil. When it hasn’t rained, the signs are impossible to get into the ground. Of course, following the drought was a pattern of 3:00 showers and storms for about a week. Of course, after you’ve been out in the weather and put in a lot of time, you get phone calls that signs are missing or fallen down and you have to drive back out and replace them. Then there’s the paradox of drinking too much coffee and having to make numerous trips to Starbucks to use the facilities and then recharge, which sets you up for another round trip; not to mention the kids in the backseat that have “gotta go”.
But the POSITIVES definitely outweigh the negatives. I met some really nice folks who reinforced for me that going door to door was the best way to campaign. The more I learned, the more dedicated I became. I was surprised at how many people were actually glad to see us! I met several people who said that they were confused on who to vote for (not everybody has a computer to go online and do research), but decided they’d get out and vote since someone took the time to come and see them. I’ve made new friends that I’m definitely going to visit again(I even traded books with someone I shared an interest with). Gwen has had people offer her tea and water and even invited her to lunch because they wanted to know more. We found that if you really believe in what you’re doing, people notice your sincerity and feel comfortable enough to talk to you. So much for the “stuffy politician” visual that most people have of elected officials.
Most people had a ton of questions, and as Gwen answered them, I listened carefully; surprised by the answers she gave. Since I’m helping with a school board re-election, I ran over in my mind the kinds of questions I would ask if I were on the other side of the door. The standard question for people with adult children is:
“How does my vote for a school board representative affect me if I have no kids in the system?”
I found out the first morning that Gwen and I went out. We met an elderly lady whose husband had recently died and she was concerned as to how she was going to pay her property taxes since her husband had died the past year. Then, she got her new bill for next year, which had dramatically dropped, which absolutely floored her. Gwen explained to her that the current school board spent the last four years working to lower the budget, reducing the millage rate which reduced property taxes in the process. She had not intended to vote, but changed her mind, realizing that her vote had a cause and effect associated to it.
When people found out about the budget being reduced, they were concerned over whether it would affect needs within the county.
“But what if schools get over crowded and we need to build a new school?”
I found out that not only were we able to build two new schools but renovated our transportation facility as well. Our teachers will also not have to deal with furlough days which will be felt by teachers in surrounding counties.
Many parents with kids in school had questions about graduation rates and test scores. What I found out was surprising as well. Walton’s graduation rates and test scores have also improved under their leadership, which brings me back to the decision to vote for a school board incumbent. The way I look at it, there’s obviously a good team working together. Working alongside her helped educate me before I go out to educate the public on my own.
In many cases, parents of kids in Walton schools began sharing their comments
and questions and Gwen wrote them down for future reference. That’s one advantage to going door to door and actually talking to people. You find a pattern of questions that you can share once the next term starts. Once on the board, you already have the ear of your fellow workers and that of the superintendent since your questions came directly from your constituents. It helps to get the ball rolling.
Getting to know the people that you’ll represent is only one part. You also have to get to know people in different positions of authority since you'll be working with them at some point or capacity. One day while dining and coordinating addresses at Kelly’s Home Cooking, we had no less than five people approach our table. We saw folks from all over Walton that work in different positions of government. I even got to meet the Mr. Bobby Boss that I've heard so much about!
Later, as we were on our way to Starbucks for another pit stop, we saw The Lion’s Club members outside the city park for their dedication of a granite bench to the City of Loganville. We met the Mayor and some council members, and all the fine folks of the Lion’s Club. We sometimes take our kids along on campaign rides, and the folks we met that day were charmed as a seven year old girl handed them key chains. Gwen says that it’s important to know all of the people that you may someday have to work with on different issues.
On the road, I’ve also gotten to meet House Representative Incumbent Tom Kirby and a commissioner or two. Everywhere I turn, there they are out talking to people. I’ve also seen Christine Lusk, another incumbent for the school board (district 3) out several times. Look for their signs. That’s a good indication that they too have been out working hard to meet the people they’ll represent.
Kirby said, “I’ve worn out a lot of shoes and boots meeting the people of the District; 5 pair so far this year. But I would not trade it for anything. People are very concerned with what is going on today, and are willing to share their concerns. Being their Representative is all about being available to them to meet their needs. During the campaign, I try so show them I will be there for them when they need me."
He’s got the worn out boots to prove it. Of course, there’s always the humorous side too. Mr. Kirby told me a story about a conversation he had with a young boy who answered the door by himself, although not old enough to be home alone.
“Where’s your mother?” Kirby asked.
“In the shower”, he replied.
“Ok. Well, can I talk to your Daddy?”
The kid replied, “He’s in the shower too”.
At that point, it’s best to just leave the info and say, “Have a nice day!”
So, for future reference, I’ve come to several conclusions as to what I will look for in a candidate. The bottom line is this:
“Why do you do what you do?” “What drives you?” Can you SHOW me results from your past workings with people and issues? Show me your dedication by showing me your hard work and willingness to be available to the people you serve.
So, ok, look, we’re not headed to the White House but every acorn does grow into a tree at some point. Why not get involved at the local level and hold them accountable by voting out the ones that have no business there, and investing in the folks that represent us well (hopefully, they’ll grow into an oak instead of a pine tree). it's definately time to keep our eye on the ball. It’s our republic and therefore our responsibility if we are going to remain “we the people”.
OK, so life being “like a box of chocolates, you never know what you’re going to get” is true after all. Sometimes you get the white ones or the nasty surprise gooey-lab-experiment ones with no name under the box, but once in a while, you get one with the walnuts and caramel in them. So, maybe after the election I’ll sit down and review my bucket list, write this in and then cross it off just for fun. I’m
totally into life’s unexpected detour signs now.
Forrest Gump’s mama said it best when she asked the question, “What’s normal anyways?” If that’s the case, then I may need to get a bigger notebook for my bucket list.