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Columnist John Paradis: Want to make a real difference? Try supporting a candidate in a swing or red state

  • MJ Hegar. AP Photo/Eric Gay

  • John Paradis Air Force O-5 Public Affairs Officer 03/31/1989-04/01/2009 Bosnia/Kosovo OEF/OIF Veterans Portrait Project Photo by Stacy L. Pearsall Stacy L. Pearsall—Stacy L. Pearsall



For the Gazette
Friday, October 12, 2018

I can count on my fingers the number of times I have given money to a political candidate.

My wife and I are not big donors by any means — $20 to $50 here or there. We have bills to pay, a kid in college, a mortgage, car loans. You get the idea. 

But the few times I have given something, it went to a local candidate or to someone who would be on my ballot and in a close race here at home where I thought I could make the most difference.  

That was until this week. That was until the Brett Kavanaugh confirmation process. That was until I saw Republicans give more respect to Kavanaugh than to Christine Blasey Ford. That was until the sorry excuse of an investigation. That was until the president openly mocked Ford at a rally and called her story a “hoax.”

With midterm elections less than a month away, I figured if there’s at least one thing I could do to make a difference, there’s no better time than now to open my wallet and support someone in a swing state or red state.

​​​​​​I went online and hit send with a donation to Mary Jennings “MJ” Hegar in Texas, a Democrat running in the Texas 31st Congressional District against eight-term incumbent and ultra-conservative Republican John Carter. 

If you haven’t heard of MJ, Google her name right now and watch her campaign videos. One is appropriately called “Doors.” It’s gone viral. No wonder. It’s the most inspirational 3 ½ minutes of political campaign advertising artistry I have ever viewed. 

MJ was a combat search-and-rescue pilot who has busted down doors her entire life and who “put her foot on the gas” to reach her dream in becoming an Air Force pilot. She received a Purple Heart for her service in Afghanistan and was the second woman to receive a Distinguished Flying Cross with Valor. The first? Amelia Earhart.

She also sued the Pentagon over the ban on women serving in all ground combat jobs.

In interviews, MJ has opened up about her lifetime struggles, describing some deeply personal experiences: a childhood with a father who abused her mother, blatant misogyny while in the service, and being sexual assaulted while on active duty. 

At 42, she is part of a young wave of Democratic candidates across the country that includes several military veterans. She’s certainly anything but traditional. On the campaign trail, she describes herself as an “ass-kicking, motorcycle-riding, Texas Democrat.” She proudly shows off the tattoos on her arm, including one that features a cherry blossom tree with petals covering the array of small scars from the injuries she suffered in combat around her right shoulder.

She’s now working to kick open another door by challenging Carter, a Tea Party Republican, who supports a border wall and who voted to repeal the Affordable Care Act.

Carter once denied Hegar a meeting years ago when she was looking for support to pressure the Pentagon to allow women to serve in combat. He’s been elusive to other constituents, too, and he hasn’t held an in-person town meeting in his district in five years. Despite all that, at the moment, she’s behind by 15 or more points, depending on the poll or survey, although she says she’s within the margin of error.

Maybe she’s doesn’t stand a chance against a conservative in a deep red district. But, for me, after the Kavanaugh sham, my donation to Hegar is my way of sticking it to the man. 

According to The New York Times, 58 percent of voters polled in the 31st District didn’t know MJ. But when people find out about her and her background, her fights against the system, and her spirit, they like her and more are apt to support her. 

But getting her message out takes money, and she’s running against an opponent whose campaign coffers are from huge corporate sources, including the private prison industry. About 94 percent of Hegar’s donations, like the one I gave, have been $200 or less.

I am fortunate here in western Massachusetts, where we have representatives at every level who, by and large, share my views on the issues that are important to me and my family — affordable health care, lowering the cost of prescription drugs, support for veterans, income and wealth inequality, ending the mindless wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, gaining independence from foreign oil, and support for environmental legislation.

Moderates and certainly progressives in many other states don’t enjoy what we enjoy here. It’s up to us to show some love to those who need a fighting chance if they are going to prevail. In addition to Hegar, I also donated to other first-time Democratic women candidates, including Mikie Sherrill, former Navy aviator, and former Marine pilot Amy McGrath. Both Sherrill and McGrath have exceptional campaign videos, too.

You’ve got less than a month to make a difference and to change the makeup of Congress. Find your MJ Hegar — your hero or heroine outside Massachusetts — that candidate who moves and inspires you, and then spare some dollars or volunteer or otherwise lend a hand.

If you’re disillusioned and angry after Kavanaugh and other monstrous moments of the past two years, then put your angst where your wallet is and give for much-needed change in Washington and for a new generation of leadership.

John Paradis, a retired U.S. Air Force lieutenant colonel, lives in Florence. His column appears the second Friday of each month. He can be reached at opinion@gazettenet.com.