I have been voting since I was 18. My first national election was in 1980. That was my first year in college, and I met an attractive girl who worked on the John Anderson campaign. I called my dad — who was a Democrat for as long as I could remember — and asked him if he would disown me if I voted for a Republican. We laughed about that, but Dad agreed that Anderson was an interesting candidate. Shortly afterward, Anderson left the Republican party and ran as an Independent, and so I was spared the possibility of registering as a Republican.
Instead, I registered as an Independent, and I have stayed that way ever since. When pressed, I have referred to myself as a Democratic-voting Independent. I have only ever given money to Democratic Party candidates, and have only ever voted for Democrats in national elections (with one notable exception: Ralph Nader in 2000). It just works for me. My refusal to register as a full-fledged Democrat became easier over the years as I saw that party tilt further to the centrist right. The inability of the national party to make substantive inroads on the environmental crisis, or to fight the right-wing media machine, or to keep President Clinton from being impeached, or to get us out of Iraq, only bolstered my feeling that they did not deserve my support.
In 2007, I did something for which I was, in retrospect, wholly unprepared: I ran for public office as an independent candidate for the Charlottesville City School Board. Fortunately, all School Board candidates are independents, and with the exception of the returning Chairman, this was the first time any of us had campaigned for public office, so the playing field was pretty level.
I did not win that election, but simply by being a candidate, I got to meet many of the movers-and-shakers in our region. I had breakfast with Kevin Lynch, outgoing City Councilor, who gave me good advice on what it means to be in the public eye. State Delegate David Toscano encouraged me several times. Councilor and new mayor Dave Norris was an early supporter and even allowed me to post a yard sign on his property; he also contacted me after the election and nominated me to serve on the Parks and Recreation Citizen Advisory Board.
All of these great men have an important trait in common: they’re all Democrats.
Last week, I attended the local Democratic party reorganization meeting. All my new acquaintances were there, along with several old ones. I felt very much at home. I found my precinct chair and, by the end of the meeting, had signed up to be a local committee member and to help with upcoming Democratic events. By the time the meeting finished, one thing was clear: I’m a Democrat!
So what transpired to get me into the Democratic party after nearly 30 years? The answer is simply and obvious. For the longest time, Democrats were those people in our state and federal capitals who just could not seem to get enough of the right things done. But in this last year, the Democratic party has been represented by people like Kevin Lynch, Dave Norris, David Toscano, Holly Edwards, and David Brown. These are my neighbors, supporters, and new friends. Speaker Tip O’Neill said that “all politics is local”, and that is a lesson that I have now learned on a very personal level. I may still be frustrated with the national Democratic party, but last week the local Democrats welcomed me as kin. An astonishing number of people had seen me campaigning last year; they greeted me by my first name, and they thanked me for trying.
The most important thing I learned by running for office is that you can’t easily accomplish worthwhile things on your own. The candidates who won were the candidates who had the most support from family and friends. Well, I feel like my circle of both has just grown. I look forward to being a part of the progressive, compassionate, accomplished movement that is the Democratic party in Virginia. I think my dad would approve.