When I was 18 years old, I drove to the Brandon Courthouse with my best friend and registered to vote. I cast my first vote for president of the United States in 1976. I voted for Jimmy Carter, because a friend of mine at Mississippi State told me Jimmy Carter had come through Starkville and spent the night on his couch. He said Jimmy was cool. That was enough qualification for me.
As I grew older, and a bit more politically savvy, cool wasn’t necessarily what I looked for in a candidate. I have always been involved in local chambers of commerce and I enjoyed getting to know the candidates in local elections. I really listened to their messages and thought about how their platform could affect our community.
My husband had a different experience with politics. He came here from Venezuela in 1979 to attend college at the University of Southern Mississippi. During his lifetime he watched Venezuela become a strong democracy. He understood the importance of solid leadership instead of radical ideology. We married in 1980, and sadly, we have watched Venezuela lose its stronghold as the leading democratic nation in South America. We have seen firsthand how a country can change, for the worse, if run by the wrong people.
In 2007 he decided it was time to become a citizen of this country. He was a legal permanent resident with a green card (which, by the way, is not green). He enjoyed all the rights any citizen of the United States did, but he did not have the right to vote. And he wanted to have the opportunity and privilege of voting for our elected officials.
He applied for citizenship in January 2007, drove to New Orleans when instructed to be fingerprinted and have a background check run, and returned to New Orleans a couple of times over the next few months to answer questions concerning his work, home, and children.
In October of that year he took a citizenship test. He studied the booklet he was given for months. He knew more about the United States government and civics than I ever learned in school. He took it very seriously, and despite being well prepared, he was extremely nervous.
Finally he got the word that he passed the test. Now it was time to get sworn in. In December 2007, nearly one year after he applied for citizenship, we headed to Metairie.
My husband, our two children and I rode in one car, with my parents following behind. He was was one of nearly 100 immigrants from countries all over the world who was sworn in that day. He raised his right hand and pledged his allegiance to the United States of America. Each new citizen was presented with a certificate and a flag lapel pin. We watched a video with President George Bush saying congratulations and challenging all to be good citizens. It was a proud day.
The next election was a few months later. Our son had turned 18 and recently registered to vote. So my husband and my son proudly marched into our polling place together, ready to exercise their right to vote for the first time. They walked out, huge smiles on their faces, proudly wearing their “I Voted” stickers. Neither has missed voting in an election, no matter how small the race.
The reality is, no race is insignificant. Our elected officials represent us, and they have the power to control things that affect our quality of life. Since my husband has retired and I work from home, we have not been as in touch with local politics as we once were.
When campaign signs began popping up in our area, we realized we had no idea who any of the candidates were. An opportunity to attend a local candidate forum presented itself, so we made a point to attend. The turnout, in my opinion, was light.
There were twelve candidates running for offices that included constable, supervisor, tax collector and state representative. We listened to all of them. We formed strong opinions on a few and came away scratching our heads after hearing others speak. But we took home their push cards, scanned their QR codes, read their websites and now we feel we will enter the polls with a good idea of who we think is best suited to run our county and state.
There is often sparse turnout for primary elections. Our county and state elections this year are more important than ever. Our world is rapidly changing, and this is one area where we can have a say. But we have no say if we don’t vote. Your vote does make a difference. I hope I see you at the polls.