We are excited to kick off our series that aims at introducing our readers to women running for office. Our journalist, Emily Rose Thorne caught up with Chalis Montgomery, who is running for Congress.
Have you always been interested in politics? When did you know that running for office was something you wanted to do?
I have always been interested in public service, which inevitably involves some degree of politics. Whether that service has been in my community or workplace, negotiating the various goals of separate entities in order to reach a shared vision is remarkably similar to what we think of as "politics."
As for running for office, I decided shortly after the 2016 presidential election that I had to do more. Voting, marching, letter writing and calls weren't enough. In January 2017, I attended a constituent services event held by our current congressman, the Rev. Jody Hice. It's been over a year since I asked his staffer a question regarding healthcare. I still don't have an answer.
I decided to run for office because I can no longer remain silent when there are so many suffering in our district. When people need healthcare, jobs, and investment in their communities, form letters and platitudes just won't cut it.
What are some of the most pressing issues in society that you hope to help change?
In our district, we need to make sure that everyone has the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. What I’ve heard as I’ve listened to folks in the district is that they’re concerned about healthcare and access to hospitals—particularly in rural areas. They’re concerned about jobs and fair wages, and they’re concerned about maintaining our democracy. So, I support Medicare for All, with a private option that preserves choice. I support finding innovative ways to provide access to healthcare in our district, particularly in rural areas where hospitals have closed. I have put forth a comprehensive jobs plan that takes into account what people need most—portable benefits, rural infrastructure investment, a living wage, better trade and collective bargaining environments and
equitable access to small business start-up capital. I support the full restoration of the Voting Rights Act, ENDA and fully ratifying the ERA.
According to Politico, many young women shy away from politics because they find that their educational and social experiences default to sending men into politics and women into other fields. Has this been the case in your experience? Personally, have you felt supported in your goal of running for office?
One of the best aspects of this campaign has been working with the people who have felt compelled to join our team. They are committed to seeing better representation in Washington and are willing to pitch in to do whatever it takes - including some occasional child care - to see that that happens. I feel very supported by this amazing team. Additionally, while there will always be detractors, we have found quite a lot of enthusiasm in the community. That energy exists because we are engaging in the kind of retail politics that existed before the internet - door to door and person to person. What I want to emphasize here is that we are not pursuing politics - we are listening to real people.
I definitely understand why young women shy away from politics. In many cases, our social construct is that we should want to take care of the home and family, and we often select careers which allow us that flexibility. If we think critically about what it is we want for our governance versus who we typically consider as qualified to run, we find those two ideals do not always match. If we want people who can balance multiple priorities and think outside the box, it's time to consider candidates from more diverse professional backgrounds.
I graduated high school as a National Merit Scholar, and went on to be admitted to the Honors College at the University of Mississippi, but my chosen field was applied music. Later in life, I switched fields and became a children's minister so that I could continue serving my community with the flexibility I needed as a parent. Being trained as a musician, my strengths are analytical thinking and problem solving under duress (anything can go wrong during a performance). As a children's minister, my strengths are compassion and conflict resolution. The takeaway here is that we need to retrain ourselves to ask, "What skills does this person bring to the table," not, "Who does she think she is?"
Any politician, especially a candidate from an area’s minority party, is bound to experience some backlash or negativity from opponents. How do you handle criticisms and stay confident in your words, ideals and capabilities?
First of all, I have a great team who helps me stay grounded and confident that our ideas are resonating with the people of the 10th District. Since July, I have been traveling and speaking to voters about the issues that matter the most to them. I’ve learned so much in that time and any criticism has to do, generally, with ideology—not me as a person. So you can’t take criticism too personally. I also have to remember why I’m doing this—to protect and work for children and families.
What are your most important strategies for respectful, deliberative dialogue or debate with those who disagree with you?
We may have different political ideologies, but that doesn’t mean that we don’t have anything in common. I try to find that common ground---those things that Congress can act on that we can agree about and move on from there. I focus on our shared humanity and always endeavor to listen before sharing my thoughts.
What would you say to encourage young people who are considering a run for office?
I would strongly encourage anyone who is considering a run for office or any type of political involvement to just do it. Build a great team around you—a strong support system, and just get out there and hit the pavement. We need so many more diverse, young voices in politics. It’s important to hear all of the different perspectives. Ask for help and advice as often as possible, and build a coalition with other candidates. I'm happy to help anyone to the extent I am able, and there are many more of us out here who feel the same way. You can - and you must - get involved. Democracy is not a spectator sport.