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Jenny Schlecht

Vote for a person, not a party, this Election Day and always

I've always disliked the color purple — to the point of inexplicably telling my mom when I was a kid that certain shades of the color "give me a headache."

But now, I'm proudly purple if anyone asks.

You see, I've spent my life in states dominated mostly by one political party. I grew up in Montana, went to college and now live in North Dakota, and spent a short college internship in South Dakota. I also am, by genetics and by upbringing, a bit of a contrarian. Being surrounded by people, as I often have found myself, who are willing to cede authority over who controls their government to a party rather than to their own intelligence drives me up the wall.

As a journalist, I don't air my opinions on politics very often. That's a good way to get someone to stop talking to you. But I will say this about what I think:

I am not a Democrat. I am not a Republican. I am not conservative or liberal. I'm never going to vote straight party, and I sincerely believe the world would be a better place with more people who think like that.

When I go to the polls Nov. 6, my votes will not be for political parties. I find both parties distasteful and full of people who engage in groupthink and try to tamp down on anyone who disagrees. That's not a good way to get to the best ideas and the best ways of doing business.

Instead, as I decide who to vote for, I look at the candidates for themselves. What kind of comments have they made on subjects that matter to me? Are they honest? Do they tend toward juvenile remarks over substance? Have their votes matched their rhetoric?

I try to focus mostly on things that are important to me. For me, agricultural issues are important, both as a journalist who covers agriculture, as the wife of a farmer and rancher, as the daughter of a farmer and rancher and as a resident of an agricultural state. In local races, I want to hear about quality-of-life issues like education and infrastructure. I want to hear about ideas on spending and ways to be efficient without hurting people who need help.

When I'm deciding who to vote for, I don't necessarily need someone who agrees with me on everything. But I better hear someone who gives those issues the same weight and importance that I do. I want clear thinking and clear understanding and clear communication. I want someone who listens to understand, not just to come up with another talking point.

And here's what I don't care about. I don't care if someone adheres to a particular political party. Actually, a candidate that indicates he or she will always stand by a particular party is not likely to get my vote. I like independence. I like bold stands. I hate lies. I don't like parroting of political points, and I don't like sucking up, to voters or to other politicians.

I try to use the same strategy all the way down the ballot. In North Dakota, you may have heard that we have a big U.S. Senate race playing out. But what about those races for county commission or the state legislature farther down the ballot? Look into those ones, too. If your local paper hasn't covered it, call the candidates yourself and see what they have to say. Those races are vitally important, too, and they deserve more than a default vote.

For the love of this country, this election day, quit looking at the party behind a candidate's name and start looking at the substance of his or her positions and rhetoric.

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