Monday, February 20, 2012

Thoughts on Kerry Sutton's upcoming run for the NC Senate

I passed tweets with Durham attorney and NC Senate candidate Kerry Sutton (@KerstinWSutton) last Thursday and wanted to share my additional thoughts with her in more than abbreviated 140 character bursts.

Full disclosure:
I am a middle-aged white guy.
I am also a fan of Mike Woodard. Through my volunteer work with Durham's Bicycle and Pedestrian Advisory Commission, I met Mike and have had the opportunity to speak with him on occasion. In many ways, I feel like my views on how Durham should evolve have an ally in Mike Woodard.

The back story:
I greeted the news of Mike Woodard's candidacy for the NC Senate as both good and bad.  Good because I will be thrilled to have his views represented in our state legislature and bad because I was hoping someday he would be a mayoral candidate in Durham.  

I learned of Mike's candidacy from Lisa Sorg's Thursday post on the Independent's "Trianglulator" blog entitled "Mike Woodard, Kerry Sutton running for Durham state senate seat."  In speaking to his credentials, Mike implied that his work in city government is good experience for a roll in state government, saying, "I know the range of issues the Legislature deals with, I can hit the ground running."  When commenting on representing the Person and Caswell county constituents in the new Senate district, Mike commented;
"There is a lot of sharing between Durham and Person counties in terms of economic development and jobs. And there's a strong Person-Caswell link. I can be an effective advocate for them."

On reading the article, though, I had the sense that the sole basis for Kerry Sutton's candidacy is that she is a woman.  The article says;
"Sutton announced her intention to run last December at the urging of several women activists. 'one of the main things that gets to me is the phenomenal and disturbing dearth of women in the Legislature and government in general,' Sutton told the Indy today. 'I can be an asset to the Legislature. I’m not afraid of the old boy's club. [...] I think people need to consider if we need more of the same in Raleigh. If anybody looks at the Legislative pictures, they'll see middle-aged and retired white guys. I don’t think that what's the people of North Carolina need. [...] The way the Legislature is set up discourages women, single mothers like me and people who aren’t financially well off. I see myself a little closer to the ground than the average legislator.'"  
Differentiating yourself from your opponent solely by stating that you're not a "middle-aged white guy" is sexist.  Technically, it's racist and age discriminatory as well, but the pictures on that I assume to be of Ms. Sutton lead me to believe she's as middle-aged and white as I am, so I further assume that she doesn't see these attributes as negative factors in Mike's candidacy any more than they are in her own.

Based on that, I tweeted on Thursday, "@KerstinWSutton, it's sexist 2 differentiate frm @MikeWoodard saying NC doesnt need anothr mid-aged white guy in NCLeg.," to which Ms. Sutton replied, "@binghypo in 2012 we ought not have to beg for diversity of any type in any place, let alone in our governing bodies."

That brings me to today, and my desire to comment on this in more (*way* more, apparently) than 140 characters.

She's right, of course, about begging for diversity. But, in the few quotes in Sorg's blog post, one would think Ms. Sutton is herself begging for diversity.  She was not quoted as citing her experience or understanding of the constituency.  She was not quoted as downplaying the implication that mere physical attributes may make her better than her opponent.  Quite the opposite.  She was quoted as touting those physical differences and implying that her being a woman would make her a better state Senator than any male candidate.

That is sexism.

And, if that's the basis for why you are asking people to vote for you, that is a "beg for diversity."

I share what I believe is at the core of Ms. Sutton's comments.  I truly believe that society benefits when our elected officials represent the diversity of their community.  But more importantly, we need leaders who are passionate about supporting and improving their communities. We need leaders who are honest. We need leaders who are willing to learn about the lives of their constituents, particularly those consituents who are in different life circumstances, so that the leader can understand how to effectively represent all their constituents' needs.  And we need leaders who will not try to divide the community based solely on physical characteristics.

Fortunately, people who could be those leaders walk among us, in *every* community. All of us need to find and support those leaders, regardless of their physical attributes. By doing so, we can have the diversity in goverment for which I think Ms. Sutton and I both yearn, without needing to beg for it and without needing to draw differentiation among candidates based solely on physical attributes.

I don't think I live in the new district Mike and Ms. Sutton are running to represent. But were I a constituent, you would've lost my vote already, Ms. Sutton - not because I am a Mike Woodard fan, but because your approach is 100% wrong.  Asking voters to support a candidate solely because they are a [insert sex/age/race/religion here] is wrong.

[Update:  According to a neighbor, apparently I do live in District 22 and will have the opportunity to not vote for Ms. Sutton.  Goodie.]


Lotharyx said...

A-stinkin'-men, brother. So many people seem to forget that "reverse" ageism, sexism, or racism is still ageism, sexism, and racism.

Toby said...

Good post. I think that Ms. Sutton should take from this exchange the idea that in order to "close the deal" with voters, she needs to do much more than point out the obvious inherent traits of herself and other candidates.

BTW, you can check your voter registration status and districting here: