Teri Carter writes about rural politics, and now she’s living them. Carter talks with Everywhere Radio about why she’s a progressive running as a Republican for magistrate in her Kentucky county, how she stays in relationship with neighbors, and how she became a political writer.
Carter lives in Anderson County, Kentucky, where she writes about rural politics. You can find her work at the Lexington Herald-Leader, The Washington Post, The New York Times, and The Daily Yonder. She has a BA in English from the University of Minnesota and an MFA in Nonfiction Writing from San Jose State University. She teaches at The Carnegie Center for Literacy and Learning in Lexington, Kentucky, and is working on a book about stepfamilies.
On why she decided to run for office
I had not considered running for office, but after going to all the meetings and seeing what happens, it’s like that thing where something seems undoable or scary or outside your scope until you actually go and participate, and then you go, ‘Oh, that’s what this is about. These are just normal people like me. They’re no different, they’re no worse, they’re no better. They’re just normal people serving their community.’
And on December 18th, I went to a town hall, a Republican town hall here in town. And I just listened to so much conspiracy theory nonsense that I literally left that meeting and I thought, “I don’t know what I’m running for, but I’m running for something because I’m mad.” And that’s really how it started. And I filed for magistrate on the last day that you could file.
Why she’s running as a Republican
In my county, in particular, until about 10 years ago my county was heavily Democratic in their voting. And a lot of the Republicans registered as Democrats to vote in the Democratic primary for the weaker candidate, which I thought was crazy the first time I heard it. Well, now I’ve lived here for seven years and I’ve seen, literally seen the tide turn the other direction. In our current election for 2022, we have three Democrats running and that’s it out of about 30 some people because Democrats know they can’t get elected here right now.
So there are people like me who have decided to register as a Republican to either run for office or to really participate in the system. And there are current elected officials that were elected as Democrats that are still in office that have quietly changed their registration to Republican, as someone told me not that long ago because they saw how the wind was blowing. So the question becomes, do you want to be a Democrat because you want to wave a flag or do you want to do what you need to do to try to get yourself in office and to elect other people into office whose values and policies you trust?
The backstory on her Daily Yonder article about Andrew Hager, an ex-addict who works with the Police Department in Lawrenceburg, Kentucky, to help those struggling with addiction get treatment.
I have lunch with our local police department about once every six weeks or so. And this is just something we started, the chief suggested it about a year and a half ago, and then of course Covid happened, but then after Covid lifted, we started going.
One of the things that happened early on is that so most of the police in the police, our police department, are conservatives. I am obviously not and it’s well known. But through my writing, I had made it well known also that I’m terrified of guns because of things that happened in my childhood and I write about guns. And so one day the chief stopped me in the county park. I was walking my dog and he pulled up and he said, “Hey, you want to go learn how to shoot some guns?”
And I was like, “No, absolutely not.” And he’s like, “Look, come to the range with us. It’ll be safe. I’ll teach you myself.” And I went to the police department shooting range and I stood out there in front of all those guys. I have not held a gun, and even that was a BB gun, since I was 10 years old. And he had all of these weapons laid out on a table and he said, “I’m going to teach you about how these work and what we use and why and what bullets we use and what they’re all used for.”
And I shot everything from an AR-15 down to the smallest little gun you would put in your purse for target practice. And I was terrified to go. Once I told him I would go, I thought of every reason in the world that I could call and cancel. I got to call and cancel and say, “I’m leaving town. I have to go see my family.” There’s an excuse. But then I just went and it was a great learning experience. And from that point on, I started seeing them regularly.
The guys that were there were like, “Oh, she’s willing to come out and be in our space.” So we started then getting together for lunch, which leads me to Andrew Hager because one day the chief just in passing said, “Oh, that Andrew Hager, he just did X, Y, Z. He’s so great. I love that guy.” And I just kept thinking about that. And later, a couple days later, I texted the chief and I said, “Hey, about that Andrew Hager, do you think he’d do an interview with me?” And he’s like, “Well, let me check.”
So then that’s how that came together. I did not know Andrew, but I knew about his work helping our police department get drug addicts into rehab instead of jail. And, oh my gosh, the minute I met him, I just, I hugged him in the police department parking lot. And then we went inside and we just had this really honest interview and I just couldn’t wait to write his story. He’s just such a positive person out doing good things in the community. And it was probably the most fun story I’ve written in a really long time, just because it was a joy to write it.