Before announcing my campaign for mayor of Auburn, I had many long conversations with friends, family, allies and even adversaries. The biggest topic: Should I run as a Democrat, Republican or independent?
Because I believe all local decisions should be based on our collective community values rather than party affiliation, I argued it really didn't matter.
I wanted to stay authentic to my beliefs and voting history, but the way I vote is complicated. I don't pull a straight ticket and pride myself on taking the time to learn about our choices and making decisions based on what matters most to me. There will never be a candidate with whom I agree 100% on every issue, but I want a candidate who represents me and my family the best way possible.
I consider myself a fiscal conservative with some socially liberal views. On the state and national level, I prefer small government interaction on personal issues such as who gets to marry whom, how I (and my children) practice our faith and the types of conversations I get to have with my doctor. I believe my state and national representatives should care most about my safety, infrastructure and good stewardship of tax dollars by focusing on the big things that matter most: education, national security, and supporting a strong and equitable community for all.
For my local representatives, I expect that they show up, pay attention and represent me in making our community the best it can be, no matter my party affiliation. I believe they should think big and work hard to create a thriving community. I believe they should act as law enforcers, implementers and policy regulators. I believe political parties should be reserved for state and national issues and removed completely from local elections.
Unfortunately, that is not our reality.
As we are going door to door visiting our friends and neighbors, it is common for voters' first question to be about political parties. My common response is to encourage voters to engage and ask questions no matter their political preference. The truth is, I often say, there is likely much more that unites us than divides us. It turns out, this is often the case.
Voters care about accessibility, infrastructure and parks. They care about neighborhoods and downtown. They care about innovative solutions to proactive health and well-being, quality-of-life initiatives, and keeping and attracting young people. They care about affordable housing, strong police and fire departments, historic preservation and street maintenance. Those are the things I care about, too! There is a high degree of consistency that appears to encourage local politicians to commit to moderation and discourages toxic extremism.
Consider this example: The mayor hires and oversees personnel such as the police and fire chiefs, parks director and street department team. Aren't their jobs to enforce, protect and serve the entire community? Could they effectively do that if they are indebted to one political party or mired in the politics of extremes? Could too much control by one person or party on a local level mean equity and fair play are a thing of the past? Could people in political parties with the most influence, money or seats at the table mean favoritism and a skewed agenda? I'm not saying they do; I'm just saying they could.
There is one simple way to combat it: On the local level, your vote counts. The local people whom you vote into an office can affect your daily life. Vote for the person, not the political party. Consider the candidate's integrity, honesty and motivation for serving before you vote. We need balance, oversight and varying opinions to create a community that represents us all. Homogeneous leadership inside a bubble of understanding can lead to stagnant results and tunnel vision. What's worse is it can lead to corruption and political agendas.
We want more for our community. “We the people” can make a difference. We can listen to candidates, we can engage in civil conversations and – most importantly – we can vote!
Sarah Payne is executive director of DeKalb Health Foundation and a candidate for mayor of Auburn.