Thursday, March 02, 2006

Throwing My Hat Into the Political Ring

“We have plenty of Confidence in this country, but we are a little short of good men to place our Confidence in.”

Will Rogers

I’m starting my day with a couple of clichés. I live in a city that’s as wholesome as Mom’s apple pie. That’s cliché number one.

Emporia, my home town, is a good place to live. Nancy and I sank our roots down here almost seven years ago now. We’re glad we did. Unless something we can’t see now happens we’ll one day be planted in the cemetery ground a couple of miles west of us. All that is to say that we’re here and we’re rooted.

We’ve sunk our roots down in our home and this community. We’ve put a lot of effort into reclaiming and refurbishing the old Prairie Victorian we bought back in April of ninety-nine. Our house near the corner of Ninth and Neosho represents a lot of sweat and a bit of equity. My guess is that the sweat, if it could be measured, constitutes the greater of the two numbers. But that’s alright. Nancy and I knew that when we started. 919 Neosho Street, Emporia, Kansas is our home.

We’ve also sunk our roots down in the people of Emporia. They’re good, hearty stock. Some cut cows over at Tyson foods for a living. It’s back-breaking work. Some cut hair. Some leave home in the morning to work their magic on the breakfast griddles at our cafés. Some get up before dawn to stock the shelves at the Wal-Mart on the west side of town. Some walk from their homes here on the east side of the city to teach classes at Emporia State University. The air here is often busy with the sound of saws and sanders, signs that some construction worker is cutting a two by four or a cabinet maker is busy putting the finishing touches on his latest masterpiece. The police are patrolling the streets, keeping the rest of us safe. Lawyers are arguing cases and judges are hearing them. Over to the west, on Sixth Avenue, car salesmen are already trying to convince prospective buyers that their car is perfect for them.

Emporia is a city that works. It’s not sculpted on the grand scale of Chicago, but its people work every bit as hard. Nancy and I have come to know many of them in our time here and we’ve grown to like many, disagree politely with a few, and love them all.

Outsiders tend to miss this, particularly those only passing through. A couple of years ago author Thomas Frank spent about fifteen minutes or a half an hour here and decided that Emporia was another symptom of everything that’s wrong with Kansas. He saw us in much the same way as he sees many Kansans:

“Out here the gravity of discontent pulls in only one direction, to the right, to the right, further to the right. Strip today’s Kansans of their job security and they head out and become registered Republicans. Push them off the land and the next thing you know they’re protesting in front of abortion clinics. Squander their life savings and there’s a good change they’ll join the Join Birch Society.”

Most of us didn’t have much to say about Frank’s comments. We went right on working. We were too busy to pay much attention to someone who spent less than an hour here and then drew inaccurate conclusions about what he’d seen.

All of this brings me to clichés two and three. Our work on the house is just about complete. Now it’s time for me to roll up my sleeves and start working for this community. I’m throwing my hat into the political ring. Two days ago I announced that I will be a candidate for the Emporia City Commission which will be held in February, 2007.

One of the hurdles I had to overcome in making the decision was that life is going quite well for Nancy and me right now. Why rock a boat cruising on water that’s as smooth as glass. Like William Allen White once said, I was “torn between a desire to improve the world, and a desire to enjoy the world.” With that said, though, I believe it’s time for me to help improve my little corner of the world.

While men like Frank totally misrepresent life here in Middle America, a guy would have to be a Pollyanna to think that even here in idyllic Emporia we don’t have problems that need to be solved. Currently, there’s a three quarter of a million dollar budget over-run. A while a go it was “only” half a million. That may not seem like much to those of you from big cities, but here in Emporia it’s big. The current City Commission is telling us not to worry about it, that the city can make up the lost dollars by taking the money from the water utilities fund, which seems to be pretty flush right now. No one I’ve talked to about this believes that sliding funds from one city account to others is a good solution. It’s not a good way to run a home; it’s not a good way to run a city. The problem needs to be fixed, not allowed to grow and fester!

Over the past few years I’ve occasionally written about some of the rental properties here and the way in which too many slumlords have been allowed to continue to rake in profits at the expense of those Emporians living on the lower rungs of the economic ladder. It’s been a disgrace and not enough has been done to stop it! The problem needs to be fixed!

In a generation or less Emporia is going to be forty percent Hispanic. They have a great stake in Emporia’s future. Unfortunately, little political attention is being paid to the needs, hopes, and dreams of this wonderful part of our community. That needs to change!

No, Emporia isn’t Camelot. We’ve got our problems, three of which I’ve already outlined. In the past seven years I’ve written letters to the editor about the problems I see here. I’ve done my share of complaining. Now it’s time for me to do my part to help fix the problems that have been created. They won’t go away by themselves. It’s going to take hard work to fix things. The folks here in Emporia work hard to make their livings and raise their families. Now it’s time for city government to work as hard as they do to fix the problems and make Emporia the best city it can be.

I’m embarking on a walking campaign. I’m in pretty good shape, doing about three or four miles a day right now. So, for the next year I intend to talk with, and listen to, the good people of this city. I’m going out there to let the folks of Emporia know that “together we can do better.” I intend to win, I intend to work hard, and I intend to represent them to the best of my ability.

From time to time I’ll use this blog to let you know how things are progressing.

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Gone Away said...

A brave decision, Phil. May the citizens of Emporia appreciate quality when they see it.

James Fletcher Baxter said...

All to often when citizens become politicians they tend to forget
1. Humans are Individuals
2. They are endowed by their Creator with the power of Choice
3. They develop a collectivized point of view toward People-by-the-Group: the masses

Be on your guard and self- disciplined. Make it count. Best regards.

Semper Fidelis

P.S. Since "the whole is the sum of its parts," therefore, if you change a part you change the whole! Selah

web_loafer said...

I'm always happy to hear real good news.
This decision of yours is good news to me.
Of course this also isgood news for Emporia, the residents there may not realize it in full, but it is good news for them.
If you need any type of help I can give, don't hesitate to ask.

It would make this Kansan citizen, happy to know a good man can still be elected.

Printing, Graphic Design, door to door distribution, Blog help...(I doubt anyone in Emporia reads Sanity's Bluff) envelope stuffing, or whatever, I want you to succeed in this endeavor, and Kansas will be better if you win.

Ed Darrell said...

Good luck!

Listen very hard to the stories people tell you. There are important questions in those stories -- and solutions.

Keep a journal, or share a lot, on the blog.