As we walked up the street toward the next address on our VAN list of Democratic and Independent voters, we saw a Ford pickup with a Make America Great Again bumper sticker. And just ahead, a second car with an oval TRUMP sticker in the back window. I said “I’m guessing this house isn’t on our list!” But Kellen took one look, grabbed a flyer, and walked resolutely to the door.
When a man opened the door, Kellen smiled and, in his rich Southern accent said “Hello, Sir, my name is Kellen Squire; I’m an emergency department nurse, and I’m running for the House of Delegates this fall in our district.” With Kellen’s flyer in his hand, the man said “Well, you must be conservative, or you wouldn’t be at my door.” Kellen explained to him that he was actually a Democrat, and that he wanted to talk to anyone who would listen. The man asked Kellen “So, if you’re running as a Democrat, you’re okay with what they’re doing to Trump?” Kellen forthrightly and diplomatically told the man that he wasn’t a fan of Trump, and didn’t agree with Trump on most issues, but that he understood and respected why people had voted for Trump–that people felt that their government wasn’t working for them, regardless of which party was in control.
Kellen then explained that he’s running here in Virginia, to work on issues that affect Virginians, and that he isn’t running in Washington. The man nodded his head and listened. They talked a bit more, mostly about health care, and then he wished Kellen good luck and we left. I don’t think we won his vote necessarily, but here at least was one Trump core supporter who for a moment saw one Democrat as just another good man frustrated with politics as usual, and willing to step up to make things different.
People before party. It’s Kellen’s slogan. And a good one, especially for this mostly rural district he’s fighting for that encompasses parts of Greene County, Albemarle, Rockingham, and the Shenandoahs. Over and over again throughout my day canvassing, I saw evidence of this. We stood at one man’s door for almost twenty minutes, while he gave Kellen what amounted to a job interview. (It was fantastic, truly. I highly recommend you do this yourself if a candidate ever comes to your door!) He asked for details about health care, about education, about First Amendment rights.
And then he asked the question that I know will haunt Kellen for a long time: he asked Kellen how long he was planning on staying in office if he was elected. Because he was tired of seeing these people who start out campaigning with great ideas and ambitions who got into office and then just sat there, doing none of the things they’ve promised, just taking the taxpayer’s money, year after year, getting re-elected again and again (like Rob Bell, the incumbent in this district, who took office in 2001, and has been running unopposed since 2009).
It’s something I’ve definitely thought about too. I got into this type of activism because I was inspired by some of the local Democratic candidates running this year. Their passion to serve and to help their community, their state, and the Democratic party gave me hope. Many of them have been determined to make the hard choice to run clean, people-powered campaigns, and to not take corporate money that might taint their objectivity once in office. But I’ve worried and wondered along the way whether they would lose their idealism once elected. Kellen worried about it too, apparently. He said, “My fear, more than losing in November, is becoming the kind of politician everyone hates.”
We walked away from that door never having discussed Party. (In fact, with the exception of the Trump voter, not one single person asked what party Kellen belonged to.) We have no idea if the man was a Democrat, a Republican, or an Independent. We only know that he would like Kellen, and every other candidate who comes knocking on his door, to put people before party.