Declarations of indepdents: Political independents speak out
Story by Chris Graham
Nancy Sorrells doesn’t take being a political independent lightly.
“When I enter the polling booth, I pride myself on the fact that I have always looked at the best person for the job rather than the party label,” said Sorrells, an independent candidate for the Riverheads District seat on the Augusta County Board of Supervisors.
“This has been my practice since I started voting when I turned 18 and filled in an absentee ballot while away at college. Over the years, I have voted for Democrats, Republicans and independents,” Sorrells told The Augusta Free Press on Wednesday.
So when Sorrells was mulling over her decision to run for the board seat, “an independent candidacy seemed a natural fit,” Sorrells said.
“I feel very strongly that there are local issues and needs that have nothing to do with party politics,” she said. “I am running because I care very deeply about the Riverheads community that I have called home for more than 30 years. As an independent, I feel that I can be in touch better with all of the people of the area, not just those who subscribe to one party line or another.”
“In local elections, people care more about the candidate and how they stand on issues,” said Larry Weeks, an independent candidate running for the Wayne District seat on the county board of supervisors.
“Even at the state level, we have a Democrat governor and lieutenant governor and a Republican attorney general,” Weeks told the AFP.
Sorrells agrees that party labels shouldn’t matter as much – at least at the local level.
“On the national level, where a candidate can never hope to meet most of the people he or she will represent, party labels and their associated national platforms might provide some insight into the issues that a particular candidate feels are important,” Sorrells said. “However, on the local level, where the candidates know the community and its people and interact there daily, I believe that party labels might actually box an elected official into a particular position and hinder the shaping of decisions or policies that best fit the needs of the local community.”
Augusta County sheriff candidate Richard Armstrong seconded that notion.
“We who vote on the issues and the person that will do the best job for us are suffering the consequences of lopsided politics,” Armstrong told the AFP.
“Those that vote straight party tickets fail to understand that just maybe their candidate isn’t the best one for the job, but even if they do understand, they think it is for the good of the party to do so, regardless of the failure of their candidate to do a good job.”
Armstrong said his campaign has “opened his eyes” to the true nature of the political landscape in Augusta County.
“At one time, I was strongly in support of the Republican Party, but I no longer feel that way. From this point on, I will throw all of my support behind the candidate who will stand up and fight against big-party politics,” Armstrong said.
Weeks also has ties to the county GOP – running as a candidate for the Republican nomination in the Wayne District against incumbent Tom Sikes this spring. Sikes won the party nomination in a mass meeting – and Weeks announced shortly after the meeting that he was re-entering the race as an independent.
“I knew it was an uphill battle, but it was worth it for it for several reasons,” Weeks said of his brief Republican campaign. “One, there was an outside chance I could win against the incumbent. Second, it gave an indication of where my opponent’s support was and gave me some much-needed publicity.
“I did not give in to the Republican pressure to quit because I feel the future of Augusta County is too important,” Weeks said.
“The term would fit better if it were ‘independent of party politics,’ ” Sorrells said. “Being an independent certainly does not mean that I would wander off in my own direction independent of the needs and wishes of the Riverheads people.
“In fact, far from being independent of the local people, I hope to use their ideas when making my decisions about Riverheads and Augusta County,” Sorrells said. “That is precisely why I held a community meeting on Oct. 2. I wanted to hear from the people of the area so that I can better serve them after I am elected. So, independent of party politics, but not independent of the people of Riverheads.”
Armstrong feels the independent label fits his campaign very well.
“It does now as far as not being controlled by party politics,” he said. “My attitude is still conservative, and I will always fight for what is right and the underdog. I just guess that is the Irish coming out of me. I don’t like people who are arrogant and think they know better how others should live just to extend their own agenda.
“This is still a free country to a certain extent, and we all should have the right to live in safety without fear for our lives, property and freedom,” Armstrong said.
Weeks said he would like to see candidates for the board of supervisors required to run as independents.
“I would like to see the board of supervisors be nonpartisan like the school board,” Weeks said. “By forcing the candidates to get 125 signatures to get on the ballot, they would be forced to meet some of the voters. Now when they get a party nomination, especially if they are unopposed, they don’t have voter interaction.”
Sorrells isn’t sure if she would like to see nonpartisanship be a requirement for candidates running for the board, but …
“During the many months of this campaign, the decision to run as an independent has served me well,” Sorrells said. “I have had many people, often staunch Republicans or staunch Democrats, ask me about party affiliation. They have all seemed very pleased about my decision to run as an independent. They recognize that choices about quality of life in our area have nothing to do with party politics.
“Once I am elected as an independent, the only things that matter in making decisions are the needs of the citizens of Riverheads and Augusta County. I want to work with the people of the community, the school board, community development, the service authority and all the other local boards and groups to make the right choices for Riverheads and Augusta County,” Sorrells said.