Married to the goo-goos

Julia Reischel

I’ve gone and married a politician. I don’t know how it happened.

I really didn’t mean to. I thought I was getting a reporter. In retrospect, we probably should have put something about public office in the vows, along with all that business about “in sickness and in health.” It would’ve made me think twice.

I don’t know if I’m cut out to be a political wife, but I suppose I’ll find out between now and the November election. My wife assures me that I’m an asset to her campaign — more for my six-generation roots in Delaware County than for my effortless feminine poise, let me tell you.

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Fortunately, Julia’s running for Middletown town board, not Congress. Our town board elections tend to be pretty sleepy affairs, unless there’s a hot local issue on the horizon. But in this strange and terrible year, nothing in politics is like it was before. And it’s like the Buddhists say: Everything is burning. I worry about her.

The true spirit of bipartisanship is a rare thing at the best of times; in the current political climate, it might as well be extinct. Julia’s on a one-woman mission to bring it back, like some irrepressible Justin Timberlake of good government. Nothing can stop her: not Trump, not the Mercers, certainly not her fretful wife. She’s doing her homework. She’s going to festivals and wearing seersucker and shaking hands and handing out free seedlings. She’s good at it.

In a recent interview with Upstate Dispatch, Julia talks about wanting to build bridges across political chasms. She laughs and admits she’s a Pollyanna; but if you heard her say it, you’d know she meant it.

People in town do tend to think we’re sort of the same person — that comes with the territory of running a mom-and-mom business together for seven years — but Julia has a much more optimistic outlook on life, and especially politics, than I do.

Mainly I blame our age difference — just six years, but that’s at least twenty lesbian years, especially when you’re talking about the bad old days before Ellen colonized the television. Julia grew up beloved and safe in a leafy DC suburban neighborhood; I had the kind of childhood you don’t discuss on a first date. She sang all the songs from “Rent” in middle school; I lost an uncle to AIDS back when the press was still calling it “gay cancer.” She’s a Hufflepuff; I’m a Slytherin.

All this is to say that of the two of us, it’s a good thing she’s the one running for office. She has a lot of faith in people. It’s a fine trait in a person who’s currently gearing up to go door-to-door asking for votes.

Julia’s superpower has always been listening. Right now, as an independent running with Democratic party endorsement in a Republican-dominated town, she’s doing a lot of listening across the aisle. Enough to make me squirm, if I’m being honest.

“I’m tougher on my own people,” she admitted the other night, after an argument at dinner over how much Rush Limbaugh is acceptable to listen to with the kid in the car (answer: none, woman, do you even remember the ’90s?). Raised by staunchly left-leaning DC lawyers, educated at Harvard, Julia had never spent any real time in a small town before moving to my native Catskills seven years ago. Ironically enough, she’s now more at home with rural life and culture than I am.

Not too long ago, the Middletown Republicans held their annual dinner at the local veterans’ hall, and invited our beleaguered Congressman John Faso to speak at it. Faso can’t go anywhere lately without attracting a crowd of protestors, and this event was no exception.

Like everything else in a tiny town, local protest is fraught with social niceties. For weeks before Faso’s visit, the newly-invigorated local left hashed out plans for the protest, hoping to hit the delicate balance of making a show of force to Faso without appearing to be protesting their own neighbors.

After some soul-searching, and a few frank conversations, Julia decided to go to the dinner, as a gesture of goodwill to the sitting board members she’ll be working with if she gets elected. Many of the people endorsing her run for the board were down the block carrying protest signs.

It was a difficult line to tread, and she did it gracefully. No doubt there will be other potential partisan pitfalls ahead.

Julia was glad to have the Democratic endorsement, and I have no doubt she’ll do them proud, but I’d say her deeper political loyalty lies with a crew sometimes derisively referred to as “goo-goos”: good government types. People who care hard about things like solid budgets and ethical processes and making sure we have enough road salt for the winter ahead. It’s honest, underappreciated work, and it’s under siege at the national level.

It’s tempting to get distracted from the boring business of local government by the increasingly terrifying gyrations of the national discourse. It’s even more tempting to dismiss things like bipartisanship, and cooperation, and talking across the political divide, as a chump’s game. But the truth is, with the highest levels of American government throwing off more toxic smoke than a tire fire, we need these things in our towns and cities now more than ever.

I think I’ll vote for her.

Lissa Harris is the former editor of the Watershed Post. She lives in Margaretville with her wife and daughter. Send her Catskills news tips at lissa.e.harris@gmail.com.  

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