What’s in a label?

I was at the Arizona Capitol yesterday meeting with both Democrat and Republican legislators. My focus of course, was to advocate for support of traditional public education. What I came away with at the end of the day though, was a feeling that much of the dysfunction we currently see in our political process is a result of the labels we put on ourselves and others and the perceptions that drives. To illustrate my point, please bear with me as I ask you to read the following words and pay attention to what thoughts pop into your head. Here we go: BLACK, WHITE, GAY, STRAIGHT, REPUBLICAN, DEMOCRAT, LIBERTARIAN, TEA PARTY. I’m guessing that your brain defaulted to a fairly vivid stereotype based upon your frame of reference. That’s probably normal and something open-minded people work to avoid.

The harm in these labels is they inhibit the ability of those so labeled to work outside the stereotype to bridge the gaps in understanding between people. Yes, I am a Democrat. I believe in gay rights, a woman’s right to choose, and traditional public education. I also however, believe in fiscal responsibility (as I suspect most of my fellow Democrats do), I am pro-life (no, my default is not abortion), and I am okay with responsible gun ownership (although I don’t think anyone needs a semi-automatic, I think it is absolutely ridiculous to allow folks to take guns into bars, and I am uncomfortable with open carry by ordinary citizens.) I would guess that those positions are surprising to some people who conjured up the vision of a flaming liberal when I said I was a Democrat.

Our political process has become so hijacked by political parties and labels that our legislators can’t get the work done. I don’t know about you, but when I elect candidates to represent me at the local, state or national level, I don’t just want them to represent me, or far, far worse, to just vote the party line. I want them to study the issues, listen to constituents, reason with colleagues and then make the best decision they can for the health of the entity they represent. After all, if the United States is healthy and Arizona is healthy, I’m probably fairly happy too.

That’s not what is happening now and it needs to stop. Former Senator Russel Pearce (who was recalled by the people of Arizona for being a not so great legislator among other things), is now raising funds to oust AZ GOP legislators who voted for Medicaid expansion last year. I have to believe those legislators were voting their conscience, doing what they thought was best for the state, because they sure had to know that by voting against the far-right they were putting their chances for reelection at risk. I of course, thought this vote was the most positive thing I’d seen come out of the AZ legislature in the 5-1/2 years I’ve lived in this state.

I’m sick and tired of politics as usual and will do everything in my power to support candidates who think for themselves and support traditional public education. I pledge to go beyond the label and learn about my representatives and their viewpoints and yes, voting records. After all, labels make it easy for us to be lazy. When it comes to election day, how many people just vote the straight party ticket or, just for women, etc.? I must admit, I’ve done that sort of thing in the past when I was in the military, moved every couple of years and didn’t know the local candidates. Now though, I understand how important it is to our democracy for each of us to be informed and fully participate. Plain and simple, it is OUR government and if it is dysfunctional, it is OUR fault.  You want our government to work better? Get informed, get involved, hold your legislators accountable. Please go to the Arizona School Board Association (@AzSBA) website to learn how or comment on this blog and I’ll connect you to resources.  We need #ACTIONnotANGER!

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