Today is a big day for people that live in municipalities in Mississippi. Hundreds of towns and cities in Mississippi have an opportunity to go to the polls to determine who serves and leads their community for the next four years.
I have respect for anyone who is willing to serve their community, state or country by putting themselves in a position that is difficult on so many levels. I speak from experience.
Since March 2020, so much has changed in our nation. Local leaders have been at the forefront of the response to the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as leading local conversations about racial equity. Local leaders are now leading the way on the economic recovery of our communities. These are issues that require a great deal of work, thought, research, listening, commonsense and compassion – and then the courage to make decisions that greatly affect citizens in our communities.
As I have attempted to balance the responsibilities of family, serving as mayor and campaigning for mayor, I have realized what a toll being an elected official has had on my family. As you enter the voting booth today and look at that list of candidates running for elected office, know that not one name on that ballot is serving alone. Our families are serving right alongside us through the good, bad, public criticism from people we thought were our friends, mean social media posts, critical news reports, watching us get credit, and much more.
I am honored when I run into people who start the conversation with, “Thank you for running,” and after a brief conversation, usually wrap it up by saying, “Why in the world would you do it again?” The answer is simple: Oxford is my home. I believe Oxford is one of the greatest small towns in America, but there is work to be done.
I have thought through my answer many times over the last week. After attending the funeral service of Mississippi Highway Patrolman John Martin Harris, who is the brother of my friend, Lee Harris, last week, I keep hearing his father’s eulogy over and over in my head: “John Martin knew his ‘why,’ do you?”
Each person has their own “why.” And for most who are running in their municipal elections today their “why” involves finding ways to serve others.
There are, after all, two kinds of people – those who grab a shovel and those who grab a rock. Some people identify an issue, grab a shovel and start digging, and then there are those who choose to throw rocks and criticize. Unfortunately, deciding to run for elected office these days is not as simple as just having a desire to serve others. You have to ask yourself the question, “Am I willing to be attacked and publicly criticized?” I am not talking about criticism of policies. I am talking about how people go for the jugular of candidates on social media, where nothing is “off-limits”. And the jugular of their families, as well. That is the sad reality.
Whether these candidates and their families win or lose we should let them know that we appreciate their service. Thank them for putting themselves and their families in a position to serve and be criticized. Thank them for putting the citizens of their community ahead of themselves. Thank them for grabbing a shovel instead of a rock. Thank them for stepping up and running towards the fire when so many are running the other direction.
More importantly, your community needs you to grab a shovel today. Go to the polls today to let your voice be heard, and support one of these candidates who is asking for the privilege to serve you.