Political opponents don’t have to be enemies
The late George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton became great friends following their presidential campaign against each other in 1992, won by Clinton in convincing fashion. Same for former Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama, though they didn’t run against each other, with Obama coming after W’s two terms to serve two terms of his own.
And the late former President Ronald Reagan, a Republican, and the late Democratic Speaker of the House Tip O’Neill spent pretty much every day debating. Almost every evening, however, they could be seen having dinner together.
In that same vein, a friendship developed in the race for Midlothian City Council Place 3. Out of the original four candidates, Anna Hammonds and Ed Gardner went into a runoff, with Hammonds emerging victorious.
But both came out of the competition with a new friend after campaigning for several weeks against each other in close proximity in the parking lot of the Midlothian Conference Center.
Running A Clean Campaign
“Over the course of four weeks in the parking lot, yeah, we got to know each other really well,” Gardner said. “The first time I ever met Anna was when we signed up to run against each other, and I could tell she was a nice person.
“I’ve always thought the biggest problem in our political discourse is polarization. If you have a different opinion, I’m not allowed to speak with you. That’s ridiculous. Even if we disagree, we can come to a mutual understanding.”
Hammonds said when the campaign began with all four candidates competing (Dannion McLendon and incumbent Ted Miller did not make the runoff) she made it clear they would hear no negativity from her. They responded with the same attitude.
“If each of us are looking to serve as leaders in our community, then our leadership begins while campaigning – and maybe even before – and with that comes the responsibility to set the political atmosphere,” Hammonds said. “The only way I knew how to do that was to treat these gentlemen kindly, to honor them and show them respect.
“At the very minimum, it helps to avoid what could be extreme awkwardness when you have to interact with one another and, who knows, we may be serving alongside each other in the future. But it also shows our community that love, respect and kindness can overcome our differences. We can be a community that works together, that can even disagree on certain items, but still honor each other.”
Working Towards a Common Goal Even With Differences
Hammonds said that she hopes she and Gardner can work together on some projects in the future. She said spending so much time together helped them to discover how they are more alike, but also where they are different.
“I think we probably uncovered some truth on both sides. But what it gave us was time to discuss differences and how we can agree to disagree or still work alongside each other regardless if we believe the same things,” she said.
“Going into it I had no opinion of her, but what I found is while she may not be as conservative as I am, she is still a Christian conservative, a right-to-life person,” he said, noting that the two went before the council in support of making Midlothian a sanctuary city for the unborn – outlawing abortions in the city.
“We stood shoulder-to-shoulder and faced the council,” he said. “I think Anna and I will get along just fine going forward.”
The council voted against moving forward with the proposed ordinance.
‘The Home of Friendly Politics’
The two have also worked together on the Midlothian MILE (Midlothian Innovative Learning Experience), a state-of-the-art educational facility that provides flexible learning spaces that reflect current industry and workplace environments.
Hammonds celebrated a birthday while campaigning. Gardner celebrated with her.
“On her birthday, I brought her a donut,” he said with a chuckle. “She’d have someone going to Sonic and they’d bring me a drink.
“Anna and I are hoping that, going forward, Midlothian can be known as the home of friendly politics.”
In fact, Gardner shared the following on Facebook following the results: “Anna Phillips Hammonds thank you for being a good person and becoming a good friend. It definitely cushions the blow of losing the race to you. I look forward to seeing all of the good you do on the council over the next three years and know that that I will be supporting you. You ran a great race and you deserve this. Congratulations”
Hammonds said she wishes the entire country would do the same, focus more on what brings people together instead of what separates folks. This includes treating each other the same way whether from behind a computer/phone/tablet screen or looking them personally in the eye.
“And for political campaigns, this also includes trying to influence our supporters and make sure they don’t get caught up in bashing others. It’s our job as candidates to put a stop, as best we can, to the online drama,” she said. “I told my own supporters, ‘Please don’t speak on my behalf and only treat others with kindness and respect.’”