The opportunity of a nonpartisan race
The election of Paducah's City Commission is nonpartisan. Come November 8th you will not see D's or R's after the candidates' names on the ballot. There aren't a select number of spots for each party and registering as an Independent won't keep you from participating in this election.
In many ways, the nonpartisan aspect of the race greatly appeals to me. For better or worse, we live in hyper-partisan times with many refusing to entertain the mere idea that the "other" side cares about our country, much less offers real solutions for its success. Americans today are less likely to split a ticket and cast votes for both Democrats and Republicans than any other time in American history. We pick a team and that's the end of the discussion.
So, removing parties from the equation offers the voter an opportunity to examine a candidate removed from the narratives usually pre-assigned to them based on their political affiliation. It offers the candidate a chance to get to know voters before voters decide they already know the candidate.
That's what is supposed to happen... in theory.
In reality, the press releases announcing my candidacy had barely been published before I was attacked as a "Hillary loving socialist." In fairness, I made no attempt to hide my party affiliation. For one thing, it would have involved the impossible task of erasing all evidence of a huge part of my online life - not to mention my resume.
For another, I didn't really have any desire to hide my political affiliation or any other aspect of who I am. Being a Democrat is not the whole of who I am but it is an important part. Plus, to quote Kacey Musgraves, "I'd rather lose for what I am than win for what I ain't."
People continue to criticize both my politics and my transparency regarding them. I've been told I lost votes for posting a picture of myself and my children with Hillary Clinton when she came to Paducah. I've been told I shouldn't post openly about my politics. I know others take a different approach and do try to keep their personal politics - if not a secret - then out of the spotlight.
And, I respect that.
However, the more I think about it the more I think there is something to be gained by knowing the political affiliation of our local leaders and candidates - especially in nonpartisan elections. Every week I host a national political podcast called Pantsuit Politics. My cohost is a Republican and we start every show the same. "This is Sarah from the left and Beth from the right. You're listening to Pantsuit Politics. No shouting. No insults. Plenty of nuance."
We talk. We listen. We try to understand where the other side is coming from. I've come away with a deeper understanding of what my political party gets right and what we get gravely wrong.
It's made me a better person. It's made me a better politician. It's made me a better Democrat.
We need more of that. We need to see the other side as deeply human but ultimately motivated by the same things we all are - both positive and negative. After all, no party holds a monopoly on love of country or a desire to improve the lives of our fellow citizens. No party holds the monopoly on greed or ambition or mistakes. Acknowledging the party affiliation of our local candidates - candidates we know as REAL human beings - is a chance to do that.
Because we NEED both sides. We need both sides desperately. The one thing we can all agree is that we are unhappy with our current political environment.
I think the nonpartisan component of our local elections acknowledges that reality. However, I wish we could take the powerful lessons we learn when we cast a vote for the CANDIDATE and not the party at a local level and apply it more broadly.
My proudest moments of the primary were when people told me, "I'm a Republican and I know we don't always agree on national issues... but I know you love Paducah and I know you'll work hard so I'm voting for you." In those moments, I realized people SAW me - the totality of me - the mother, the wife, the Paducahan, the lawyer, the writer, and yes, the Democrat. They weren't ignoring the fact that I'm a Democrat. They were acknowledging the fact that I'm so much more.
I hope they were also developing a deeper and more complex understanding of what it means to be a member of either party. I hope - for just a moment - they were moving past the stereotypes and the partisan rancor. My sincere hope is that their vote for me is just the beginning.
I hope I'm not the last Democrat for whom my Republican friends cast votes. And I hope my Democratic friends occasionally cast votes for Republicans. I know I have and will continue to do so proudly.
Not because I don't think political parties are important. They are but they are not the only thing that's important. And if a nonpartisan race can help us see that ... all the better.