Wednesday, September 5, 2012

The High and the Low of Special Election Day

Yesterday was Special Election Day for the 45th House of Delegates District here in Virginia. It was my honor to have been the Republican nominee in that election.

As different things came together at the last minute yesterday, I was able to be more mobile than anticipated throughout the day and was able to make it around to many of the polling places to thank the election workers, mostly in the southern half or two thirds of the district. To those whom I did not have the opportunity to visit, please know you have my thanks as well.

There were two especially memorable moments, both of which came before the polls closed, and both of which came while talking to women who supported my Democratic opponent.

The Low
Around 3:30 pm, I visited the Lee Center precinct. (Many thanks to Jerry Lipsom and his team for all his help mobilizing voters in his area.) A volunteer for the other side was at that polling place, and as I pulled up, she seemed interested in talking to me. We spoke briefly, I went in to thank the volunteers, and then with voter turnout seeming to be very low there, I was almost on my way. I took a comment from her to be encouragement to stick around for a little bit, and more voters indeed showed up.

In between voter interactions, I tend to strike up conversations with those around, and public policy seems like a natural topic during an election. This conversation, however, was not to be. She made comments about the Bible verses I had on my Web site (which was true of last year), and implied my candidacy did not match up with them. She used the term "mean-spirited."

This caught my attention as a conversation I had with another African American woman, one of my neighbors, also used the same term about my party. I really wanted to find out what was behind this thinking. She talked about Jesus saying, "Assuredly, I say to you, inasmuch as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to Me." I tried to open the conversation into if that was the role of government or the role of people. If something must be done out of duty, can it be done out of love? There was no exploring this question. That was closed for conversation, and she had "nothing to say" to me.

It was clear conversation about public policy was off limits. I find this about the most difficult thing to handle in politics: when people cut off conversation and are simply unwilling to engage in any meaningful conversation.

This has happened before, but yesterday this did not stop here. She took it a step further. I asked if she thought I genuinely wanted to understand from where she was coming, and she mentioned where, Jesus said, "when you go into a household, greet it. If the household is worthy, let your peace come upon it. But if it is not worthy, let your peace return to you. And whoever will not receive you nor hear your words, when you depart from that house or city, shake off the dust from your feet." I asked her if she shaking me off as the dust on her feet, and she confirmed that she was. (I have not yet fully learned the art of not asking questions when I may not want the answer.)

I had better conversations with other voters at the Lee Center, so it was worth staying.

The High
I visited another precinct after that, and then visited the Maury School precinct where I was going to meet a volunteer, and where I met up with Rob earlier in the day. She was graciously coming from another part of town and was delayed, so I had more time to talk to voters there.

At one point, a woman drove up, and I struck up a conversation with her as she was walking up to vote. At first she was not interested, but she was willing to listen. We talked about the health care law first. She owns three businesses and has about 10 people working for her, so it may be a while before the 50-employee requirement applies the rules more to her.

We also talked about the need for family law and child support reform. She knew of several instances similar to some of the stories I've heard about the system. We found a lot of agreement there. This also came up later in the conversation.

Just as she was a good listener throughout the conversation, she was also consistently communicating a need for more conversation and interaction among our elected leaders and in our society.

I explained to her as I see it, we have two founding documents: the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution. One of them is all about compromise, and the other is about no compromise. The question then becomes, is an issue a constitutional one, or one of fundamental principles?

She asked me how I feel about the Tea Party. I told her the same thing I told people last year (there was not much time for this to come up this year): My sense of the Tea Party is (1) I appreciate their understanding of the problem, (2) I appreciate their sense of urgency about the problem, and (3) I think there is more room to negotiate.

She asked me if I had taken the no tax increase pledge. I told her I had not, and my transportation plan reflected that. (My reason is more one of flexibility with a preference for debt reduction than wholesale revenue raising for larger government. One Democrat at my precinct yesterday was observing the top rate was once 97 percent. I'm nowhere near on board with that.)

On a related note, in this campaign we were working on top-level endorsements from officials in Virginia. I am very grateful for the support of Congressman Frank Wolf. He also has not taken that pledge. We were working on one endorsement, though I did not fully do my initial part in time and it never materialized by the end. Another came back with a question of whether or not I had taken the no tax increase pledge. I have not, am not, and it made that an easy decision.

She asked me about the comments made in Missouri. I told her I thought the first mistake he made there was not slowing down the conversation and treating that topic with the sensitivity it deserves. She has stories of many women affected by that. I mentioned an article I read years ago that explained how for some women who allow this, carrying a child to term conceived in that manner and raising the child can actually be a form of healing for her. She told me she had heard of that before. I did acknowledge with her that I am pro-life. She mentioned one of her issues with being pro-life is that for many it stops at birth. We talked about the need for child support reform again.

We also discussed issues that tend to affect minorities, even as neither of us was one. Another issue I learned a lot about last year is felon voting rights. I told her the story of riding my bike the rest of the way to the Washington Monument years ago for Screen on the Green, and coming back to find my bike's cupholder stolen. While it was only a $6 item, I still wasn't happy about that for a few days. After serving on jury duty years ago, I learned that under our three-strikes-and-you're-out laws, committing three such petty larcenies is a felony. Felons lose their ability to vote. I have a difficult time seeing complete justice in someone stealing a $6-cupholder three times and then losing the ability to vote for the rest of his life. I am open to putting crimes and felonies on a spectrum of severity and considering punishments that best fit the crimes. We also talked about immigration reform.

She came to the conclusion that I am a moderate and talked once again about how we need more of that. We talked about Richmond, and I once again made a pitch for her vote. Perhaps a bit to her surprise from where she started, she agreed and said, "Congratulations. You just got a die-hard liberal to vote for you."

I believe its possible both to be true to fundamental principles and be flexible in how they are applied. She came out a few minutes later and said, "OK, I did it." I'm sure I would be hearing more from her later had I been elected, and we both would be better for it. I believe every conversation should be a mind-opening experience for all involved. I had at least one of those yesterday.

Another high was meeting with my dedicated team of volunteers last night as we watched the election results tally. I shared the short version of both of these stories with them. They spent many hours working on this campaign, and they have my thanks.

Many thanks to those who gave funds and support to this campaign. It is greatly appreciated.

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