An Accidental Politician

By Andrea Batchelor

I didn’t know it then, but my first foray into politics began one evening in August about three years ago. It was unplanned and, relative to every other endeavor of such magnitude that I’ve undertaken, it was unexpected. I’m not sure I would actually recommend this approach to others, but it may be better than knowing what you’re getting yourself into.

Photo courtesy of Andrea Batchelor

I had attended board meetings for my community’s fire department in Salem, Oregon (the state capital) over several months before that night. I was appalled by what I witnessed. As time went by, I became increasingly disillusioned by a board that appeared to be acting against the spirit of public meetings. Even worse, they appeared to be lead-by-the-nose by the very person they were supposed to supervise. I stood and asked questions. In fact, that was the first of many times that I looked them in the eyes and wanted (demanded?) answers. I never got those answers. Then other members of the community (both fire personnel of the district and citizens) began to attend the meetings regularly. It seems that, while I was the first from the community to ask questions boldly, I was not the only one who had lost faith in the board’s process and wanted to see change happen.

Running for the board had never occurred to me. I’m an educator. I like to cook. I have a cat. While I’ve been called somewhat eccentric and, perhaps, even courageous. I’m not a politician. Or at least I wasn’t. I even took myself by surprise when I was convinced it was time to throw my hat into the race. Actually, I threw my life into the race. My day job became restful by comparison.

Image courtesy of Andrea Batchelor

Welcomed abruptly into the unenviable tangle of campaign finance and political action committees, I had a lot to learn and I needed to know it about a year earlier.   I felt faint the first time I saw a yard sign with my name on it. Internet banners and campaign ads were placed in the the local papers. Letters to the editors were published and distributed. Social networking insanity ensued. I had a website. I answered questions. I made campaign appearances at local political organizations. Thousands of letters were mailed. Hundreds of hours were spent by a small army canvassing almost every doorstep in the community.

I have never been so completely humbled.

People believed in my message and in my ability to represent them. I kept my campaign about issues and what change should look like. My opponent, on the other hand, seemed — at least to me - to avoid a “clean” campaign. Illogical effort went into having a voice on a board of elected volunteers.

The incumbent won by approximately 200 votes. I can’t say that I lost though. I gained a lot of respect for anyone who runs for local government. At this level, you leverage your desire for change against the brutality of the campaign and you jump in (knowingly or otherwise). I gained the knowledge of my community. I gained friendships. I learned a lot about myself. Most importantly, we made change happen. 200 votes is not a margin that an incumbent is proud of. Not when he has been on the board for sixteen years and a firefighter before that for more years than I’ve been alive.

Photo courtesy of gorgejeff

Our board has realized that their constituents are watching and, as taxing (no pun intended) as the campaign was for me, it was equal or more for him. My campaign was about getting the community involved in the governments that impact them most directly. People who don’t normally vote (yep, I heard them say that) submitted their ballots.

My campaign invited citizens to understand that what happens at those meetings has an effect on the services that they can expect to receive on one of the worst days of their lives - the day the fire department or ambulance is called to their home.

My message hasn’t changed. I still go to board meetings. I still ask questions. I continue to work toward creating small communities within our larger one so that our voices matter when we have something to say and questions to ask.

I’m still not a politician. I’m an educator. I like to cook, and my cat is sleeping on the living room chair.

This blog was written by Guest Contributor, Andrea Batchelor. Andi is a school psychologist and life coach with additional certification in mediation.   She has tremendous respect for those who live their dreams and speak boldly, even if they don't know what they are talking about.