Today my best friend asked me the question he asks every two years: “Who do you want me to vote for?”
You see, it’s usually around this time that most JCCC employees (and some students) get asked that question or one similar to it.
While most people in Johnson County are familiar with the community college, many aren’t aware of the issues affecting it. Nor are they aware that in this particular race there are four openings on the JCCC Board of Trustees.
Since there are six candidates (two challengers and four incumbents), each registered voter has the opportunity to cast up to four votes.
But that’s not what I’m asking my friends and family to do.
I’m asking them to cast only one vote because I don’t believe any of the other candidates are worthy. The incumbents have had four years to prove to me they care about the campus community. They’ve had four years to show through their actions that the staff, students, and faculty are the backbone of our college. Instead, they’ve gutted us and they’ve used the troubled economy as an excuse to do it.
I am asking my friends and family who live in Johnson County to vote for Lee Cross. I’m also asking those who don’t live in Johnson County to urge their friends who do live here to vote for Lee.
“Who’s he?” my friend asked. “And why do you only want me to vote for one person? Four people are gonna be elected.”
“Trust me,” I said. “I can’t do anything about the three other losers who are gonna get those seats but I can do my best to make sure I get at least one person on the board that we can work with.”
“How do you know this guy?” He asked.
So, I told him.
I went to a meeting where Lee Cross spoke and he gave a nice speech. He wasn’t terribly charismatic but that actually worked for him because in this election, there are candidates who want you to think they’re your best girlfriend — and that’s even some of the male candidates.
Lee’s speech was not rehearsed which came across to me as being authentic. He was focused on education and wasn’t trying to “help me understand the complicated issues” because, you know, I’m a grown man, not a toddler.
After the meeting, I asked him flat-out why he wanted to be a trustee. Again he said that he believed in education. He was against the state’s cut in funding. He wanted to ensure everyone had access to quality education. All good points but I wanted a passionate response.
So, I asked him again why he wanted to be a JCCC trustee.
“And that’s when he punched you, right? I’m voting for him just for doing that.”
“I’m still talking,” I said.
So, I could see that Lee wasn’t sure of what to make of me and there was a moment when it could have gone wrong and, frankly, I was waiting for that moment.
As we loaded his yard signs into a car, and as he shook hands with people, Lee began to tell me his story. And it convinced me.
Lee grew up living in a trailer park. He made the drive every day to JCCC from Lawrence along K-10 in clunky old car, a car he used to deliver pizzas to help support his family.
Lee’s father and mother attended JCCC early in their marriage as they looked for a way to raise a new family and they found that guidance at our college. Lee and his brothers also attended JCCC. They used it as a means of escaping poverty and reaching for a better life. That life included community involvement and advocacy. JCCC altered the course of his family’s life.
My friend knows I grew up working as a migrant farmworker and as I was talking, he saw how Lee’s story resonated with me. I told my friend that when I look around JCCC, I see others with a similar stories. It’s time they had someone on the board who knows the anxiety that comes when tuition is raised even $3 a credit hour. They deserve to have someone on the board who isn’t trying to protect the institution but rather advocate for the individual.
They need someone to make ensure that compassion and accountability come from the top down. It must be present from JCCC’s boardroom to its classrooms.
“And that’s why I’m voting for Lee — and only for Lee,” I said to my friend.
“Okay,” he said nodding his head, “Alright. I Got it.”