2014 was a big year for me. While being on the neighborhood association, I was asked to join the Chamber of Commerce. I won the Toastmasters District speech contest, which meant practicing the rest of the summer and flying to Malaysia to compete in the World Championship of Public Speaking semi-finals. I signed up for Big Brothers Big Sisters. We had two sets of foster kids (at different times). A major work project came to fruition. I flipped my truck coming off the interstate. And in September learned we’d be expecting a new baby. In the middle of all that, the church we had been a part of fell apart, so we were religious nomads for a while.
So then, what’s the most logical thing for a person to do in the middle of all that? Why, of course, you’ve already thought of it. That’s right. Run for political office!
That setup is a bit misleading as I decided to run early in that year, and everything else happened throughout. But still. It makes me realize why the only significant thing I did in 2019 was install hardwood floors in the house. Inside. Alone. With earbuds.
So here’s the story of me running for political office.
We moved to the cute, historic neighborhood of Old Hickory Village in 2005. It had a lot of character but was short of perfection. (Crime being one thing) Missing a neighborhood restaurant, store, coffee shop, etc. It was so easy to meet and connect with people there. Over the years, I added well over 100 friends to Facebook from there.
My first attempt at community activism was going to a council meeting to support the approval of a house being renovated into a Bed and Breakfast. It failed. Now in the age of Vrbo and Air-bnb, isn’t it cute that a single house wanted to do this back then?
Out of curiosity, I began to go to the neighborhood association meetings. (Not homeowners association, there’s a difference). I think I attended just enough meetings, and lived there just long enough to meet the bare-minimum requirements to join the association as a director. A warm body and minimum requirements is all you need to get by in this world.
It wasn’t long before I was running committees. I revamped the website (which is still exactly as I left it), created this new “group” feature on Facebook for the area, and ran many of the events. Surely enough, people began to resign and I was the only one left to become President. Then a few years later, the Chamber of Commerce heard about me, and while salivating and tapping their fingers, they asked me to join. A few years later, people resigned, and they told me I needed to be President. I joined a Toastmasters club, yada yada yada,… President.
I suppose United States President is next. But most of the time you need to start from the bottom and work your way up, so that’s why in 2014 I ran for Metro Nashville City Council. But the actual events were a little more haphazard than that.
In times past I was much more vocal on Facebook about politics. My friends were keenly aware that this was a topic I was interested in. Our State Representative was running for reelection again and was running unopposed. A friend of mine, who shared my political values, felt like he needed someone else to vote for. So on the first day of early voting, he posted a picture on my Facebook wall of him writing in my name as candidate for State Representative. This was hilarious and funny and fun, but it actually took off. People started posting Vote for Jared for State Representative on their pages. I played it up and started making regular (ridiculous and exaggerated) posts about how and why you should vote for me.
So election day came and I heard from a few of my friends (even some from other states) that they had voted for me. Then at the end of the night, I got a call from a neighbor who was a poll worker. She said “you must be up to something. At the end of the night we have to tally all the votes, and your name is keeps coming up.” She actually gave me a printout of the entire tally from that Precinct. Of course, the guy who actually ran for office had 3,000 votes. But then under his name was Jared Throneberry. Jared Throneberry. Jared Thornberry. Donald Duck. Jared. Jared. Mickey Mouse. Jared. Jared… I see a pattern here. Then one guy who wrote his own name in for every position on the ballot.
So without even trying, I technically came in second place for State Representative. And as fun and silly as it was, I think it actually planted a seed. Because a few years later, our city councilman became state representative himself and vacated his Council seat and they were going to hold a special election to fill it. The only person I knew at the time running was a guy who ran before. My perception of him was that he was more interested in politics than he was people. And me, being someone involved in the neighborhood as much as I was, I cared about my neighbors and I wanted someone who would work for the them. So I decided to run.
About the same time, I heard of another person who put their name in the hat who I had never heard of before. And again, being someone really involved, I don’t know if I could trust someone I’ve never even heard of before. Funny thing is, I guess I wasn’t a “local” long enough to have known. Apparently, he was a successful lawyer with a practice downtown, his dad had been on the city council years before, and his family has a street and neighborhood bearing their name. Maybe if I knew all that, I wouldn’t have tried.
Still, this was very exciting. I got a website, business cards, flyers, and yard signs. I went to all the events, door knocking every weekend and after work, crafting clever social media posts. But day by day I began to realize how ignorant I was about the mess I had gotten myself into. Politics is just as ugly as you might think. City Council in Nashville does not run on a political party. (Side note: judges do run on a party platform, so go figure that one out.) But most people know who’s on which side anyway, and the party organizations will assist in some ways. I went to some of the party events anyway. And it was the most cliquish, herd-mentality group I have ever seen. I felt like a spy, because these people didn’t really know me, and I felt like I was gathering intel by being there. At one breakfast, there was a lady who dared to have a different opinion on one issue and she got nailed to the wall for saying so. Funny thing was I actually agreed with her, but I kept my mouth shut!
There was always chatter and gossip to be had. Everyone running wanted to make affiliations and quid-pro-quo endorsements. And I can tell you that it’s the same on both sides. At open invitation meet-and-greets, people running for other offices would assume which side I would be on and give me insider information and bad mouth certain other candidates. It was a hoot. And gross.
I remember getting invited to be interviewed by the Fraternal Order of Police. I was very supportive of the Police, had a number of friends serving, and worked with many of them through our neighborhood watch. But on the list of interview questions they provided, I noticed almost all of them had to do with increasing money, salaries, or benefits. And being fiscally conservative, I knew I couldn’t make all of the promises they wanted me to make. So I didn’t get interviewed. And obviously, didn’t get endorsed either.
I didn’t get any major endorsements. Not that I couldn’t have, but probably because I didn’t ask. I’m not a salesman. I’m good with relationships, not good at cold-calling or hard sales. All I ever asked of anyone was for their vote. This also explains why the majority of money I raised, came from two unprompted donations. (Technically, I don’t think I even raised enough to be required to report. But I did!) Enneagram wasn’t a thing back then, but my 9-Peacemaker doesn’t like to stir up drama either. So there was little calling attention to myself, and certainly no attack ads.
I had the hardest time swallowing my pride and asking for volunteers for anything. I did almost all the door-knocking myself, except for when my parents helped. Most of the yard signs were for people I was really close to or asked for one on their own. Toward the end, I finally asked for a couple people to write me an endorsement letter. It’s not that you have to be cut-throat to do this, but there are people who lack a decision-making filter and just go for it (my filter could stop the corona virus). They could still be just as nice and honest as I try to be, but they’re also able to say “hey, would you put a sign in your yard?” without hesitation.
I will give myself credit for one thing: door-knocking. I always hated the moment before I got started. I felt like I was back in my first door-to-door sales job after college. It was the worst. I sucked so bad I got fired from a commission-only position. Door knocking felt like that. Bothering people who don’t want to be bothered. But I really liked the flyers I had made to pass out. They were door-hangers where the bottom tore off into a business card. So I would go against my will and every time I ended up having a great conversation with someone.
I have a dozen stories of great encounters with people. Those that offered me water and snacks. People inviting me into their homes to sit and chat. Connecting with people and never knowing their political vantage point (most of the time). One guy asked “You a Republican or Democrat?” I’d reply “Well, the council doesn’t technically run on a party platform. There’s three of us in the race…” He interjected, “Cut the crap and just tell me which one.” So I said “In most aspects I would lean conservative.” That made him happy and he shut the door.
Another house I went to had every possible political sign in her yard, all from the left-leaning side of the fence. She and her grown daughter were outside, so we struck up a conversation, mostly about Nashville city-wide hot topics of the day. It was a great back and forth talk, but I never indicated my party. By the end she was happy with me and said I was welcome to put my sign in her yard if I wanted.
But of course, anytime you stick your neck out, you risk the chance of getting hurt. There were a handful of negative events. One being an email that went out to a large group associated with a new park. In it they lauded the candidate they liked, quoted out-of-context the candidate they didn’t like, and acted as if I was a nobody that no one had heard of. (Except for all the people on the email list that forwarded it over to me). They even misspelled my name. So I took the lack of using BCC as an opportunity to respond and let everyone know all that I had done for park, whether the sender knew it or not. I suppose my fault in all that hoopla was my inability to shake my tail feathers enough so that people knew who I was.
The worst and most entertaining bad thing that happened was a disgruntled neighbor. I was an admin on the Facebook groups, having founded them and being on the association. Things would get intense from time to time on the Neighborhood Watch group. One guy in particular hated having his inappropriate threads deleted. Other people did too, of course. One called me a Cat Nazi for removing a irrelevant post about a pet. In response, I jokingly changed my profile picture to Hitler with a Cat head. I swear it was only up there for a few hours. But long enough for this disgruntled neighbor to see it and save it. (Who does that?) Then much later there’s a candidate forum. He shows up, wearing a custom made T-shirt with the cat-hitler picture, and text like “Jared’s FB Profile Pic!” (Who does that?). Apparently he stood in the back the entire time, I suppose to intimidate me. Fortunately for me, I never saw him.
One of the hardest parts was the weight that existed the entire election season. You couldn’t drive in the area without seeing a yard sign for one of the candidates. And seeing any of them brought up all the emotions going on that week. All the pressure, the things to do, the choices and decisions to make. By the end, I just wanted it to be over. As my cousin said to my dad, “if he wins he’ll be happy; if he loses he’ll be better off.”
I think it was apparent to most people that with the number of yard signs and organization endorsements who the expected winner was (hint: not me). My wife’s fear at the beginning was that I would actually win. I think that feeling slowly faded and she, too, just wanted it over. Voting day came and I had a fantastic time seeing people out and watching posts and comments online. I even had a couple volunteers hold signs up and wave at voting stations. That night I invited a handful of friends to gather at a Mexican restaurant for a results party. The news was on, but no one paid much attention to it and we all had a good time. Slowly people said their goodbyes and left. I’m not sure what percentage of the vote was being reported when I looked at the numbers, but whatever it was, it was enough to know that it was over and I could finally exhale.
I wasn’t really disappointed. I feel good about all the lessons I learned and being able to give 20% of the people in my town someone they could honestly vote for besides Mickey Mouse. Three delightfully ironic pieces came from it. First is that both of the candidates from either side told me that if they weren’t running they would have voted for me. Second is that the guy who won is doing a fantastic job. We’ve gotten along really well. I help him out from time to time, and he does things for me, too. Best part is that not only does he mostly vote the way I’d want him to, but I don’t have to be the one taking all the angry phone calls from the public. Lastly, we decided to get a bigger house (for foster care), and ended up moving out of the district less than a year later.
What could I have done differently to have performed better? First, obviously, be more forthcoming about asking for help and support. I relied on the “if you build it, they will come” mentality. I should’ve been more aware of who I was running against. I was too ignorant about my name-recognition outside the neighborhood and into the rest of the district. I was young and admittedly out of my league when it came some of the things the council takes on. But hey, that certainly hasn’t stopped plenty of other people!
So the election came and went. Then the Speech Competition came and went, (which I also lost but loved doing). Work normalized for a while. We stopped foster care temporarily. Becoming reinvested in a church was slow-going. All that was left was expecting a baby. My wife was extremely sick the majority of the time. So the next year was a lot of one-on-one time with my 7-year-old daughter. Those days were some of my favorite times with her. She would be changing churches, neighborhoods, and schools that year, in addition to welcoming a new baby into the home. My guess is she really needed a dad to just be there for her. And I couldn’t have been more thankful I was able to.
I’ve stayed moderately busy over the few years after the election. I became more involved in the chamber and at church. I was able to mentor a teen for five years. I put a decent effort into doing more public speaking two years ago. But I’m struggling with a foundational dilemma: who do I speak to and about what?
Seeing goals I set for myself come and go, I decided to live a life with purpose instead of benchmarks. But not landing on a particular thing has left me feeling adrift. So I’m left with asking “What now?” I’ve made great relationships with politically important people, and if I hadn’t moved I could’ve run again in the future, and might have done well. But getting off of being a Facebook admin has been a big sigh of relief and I can’t imagine getting all mixed up in that again.
The moral of the story: I haven’t figured that out yet. Can an honest, good-intentioned, optimistic person who just wants to help people and doesn’t have back-room deals and side-conversations actually make it in politics? Maybe? There are too many people who all want something from you to be able to keep your nose that clean. I’m sure it can be done, it would be really hard. I could’ve had my Mr. Smith Goes to Washington moment, but even he would’ve gotten settled into the position over time.
My wife loves to compare politics to a pendulum. It has consistently swung from one side and back to the other, ever-correcting the mistakes of the past, and making new ones along the way. We the People are the ones to make that happen. Stay engaged in both real life and political life, and try to make the next right move. Maybe one day in the distant future, the political pendulum will swing back my way. Right now I’m just doing the best I can with what I’ve been given.