Michael Mills is a Georgia-based technology executive at Insol, Inc., a civic activist, author and most recently a candidate for Georgia Secretary of State. He is also founder of Georgia Polis (www.georgiapolis.blogspot.com), an online community of non-partisan issue information and civic marketplace. As a friend of The Harwood Institute we asked Michael to share his experience of running for office in divisive times.
I traveled more than 33,000 miles across Georgia in 2010 running for Secretary of State. No matter how different the location it was clear that Georgians (and I suspect Americans) are all the same. We want safe families, good jobs and a future that is better than our past.
I garnered 53,001 votes on Election Day (15.5 percent) but prefer to think of this race in terms of the profound impact it had on my life. I’ve spent a career trying to engage people in the civic process, knowing that people participate when they feel a connection to something – they will take action when government has meaning to their lives and offers tangible solutions to their problems.
I know the difference my speeches made in people’s lives. I saw firsthand how discussing Georgia’s challenges and tangible solutions excited people and got them to support my campaign. Voter turnout was low, which is a troubling indicator of civic health. But I am buoyed that people do care and will participate because of what I saw first-hand on the campaign trail.
But increased civic participation will only come when government and our politics change. It’s time for citizens to challenge candidates. Share your concerns, ask tough questions and force them to provide real solutions to the problems we face as a nation and in local communities – and hold them accountable once elected. That’s how we bring a new way forward in government.