Editor’s Note: The author is running for a seat on the Great Barrington Select Board.
I’ve always been politically active. I marched in my first demonstration when I was in 5th grade and volunteered for a presidential campaign by 7th grade. I’ve written letters to presidents, senators, representatives, governors, mayors, school board representatives, and a few foreign leaders. I’ve met a president and I threw a pie at a governor (by invitation). I’ve been close enough to spit at two other presidents (I didn’t and I don’t recommend it) and I’ve been close enough to shout at and be heard by one more.
Politics from the outside is fun and simple; pick a point of view and support someone who agrees with you or harangue someone who doesn’t. Anyone can do it and more people should.
Now I’m trying politics from the inside by running for the Selectboard in Great Barrington. We have a blessedly short campaign season here. My opponent’s signs appeared a month before election day and mine just a few weeks before, but in this short time I’ve learned an important lesson: Nothing is as simple as it seems.
Everyone wants lower taxes. From the outside we get to say things like, “Why are they wasting so much money? How can the school budget go up by half a million dollars? What’s wrong with our Selectboard that they don’t care? Why do they ram this down our throats every year?”
But from the inside it’s more complicated. First, the Selectboard has very little to do with the school budget. They don’t create it; they just get to vote on it, the same as the rest of us. Second, the School Committee, the people who really do create a school budget, have already cut 27 positions in the past few years. The half-million dollar increase is largely health insurance and union salary increases. They pay taxes, too. There are things that the School Committee can do to reduce the budget, and they’re working on it, but it’s complicated.
The point is, from the inside, one learns quickly that local politics isn’t about politics. It’s not about Democrats or Republicans. It’s not about slogans. It’s about working with others and sharing ideas and getting things done. I’m running against someone who hasn’t learned this yet. His campaign has been all about slogans and we can’t afford that here. We have to work together.
“The folks” have “tax fatigue,” he tells us. Well, we all have tax fatigue but what does he mean by “the folks” (his definition seems to be people who have lived here a long time) and what is he going to do about taxes? He hasn’t stated a single idea for reducing taxes other than to say we have to cut the budget, and he hasn’t suggested a single thing he’d cut.
We have to make GB more “business friendly” and reduce the “burdensome regulations” on business, he says. What regulations? He doesn’t say. I’ve spoken with most business owners on Main Street and in Housatonic. They have complaints about the Main Street reconstruction project and the lack of sufficient parking even in the best of times. But not one complained about regulations hurting business. There are things we can do to foster the growth of new business, not least of which are a decent Internet connection and basic business incubation strategies. Those are not Democratic or Republican ideas.
There’s one more thing I’ve learned about politics from the inside. It doesn’t matter who you are or what you have done, your opponent can create a false perception of who you are. There was no better example of this than the Swiftboating of John Kerry, a war hero, by the supporters of a draft dodger.
I have lived here for nearly 15 years. My children have lived here their whole lives. I’ve volunteered my time and fundraising expertise to help the Community Center, Construct, and half a dozen other community organizations. I’ve volunteered for half a dozen more in a nonprofessional capacity. I’ve served on two town committees and at least four more for the school district. Yet I’m being called an outsider who doesn’t understand “the folks” by the supporters of Mr. Beebe.
I’m sure Mr. Beebe is a nice young man and I applaud him for wanting to give back to his community, I really do. But the fact that “the Beebes and the Taylors have lived here for 200 years” has no bearing on a candidate’s ability to do the job he is running for and smacks of trying to divide neighbors into Us (the folks?) and Them.
If you live in Great Barrington, please vote tomorrow, Tuesday, May 13. Get politics out of politics.