Condoleezza Rice, secretary of state under former President George W. Bush, said “There’s no greater challenge and there is no greater honor than to be in public service.”
As someone who has run for office twice, I agree: To put oneself on the ballot, to invest one’s time and energy, emotions and finances, to ask for the judgment of one’s peers is an incredibly hard, but rewarding endeavor.
And, yet, in Franklin, the simple act of placing your name on a ballot can subject candidates to inordinate gossip and scrutiny about something as simple as how long they’ve lived in the area.
For instance, in the last two municipal elections, which featured contested races in most seats, supporters of two incumbents have asserted on social media the challengers had no business running for office since they apparently haven’t lived here long enough, while touting the residential bona fides of the incumbents. Similar cheap shots were fired at a legislative candidate in 2018.
These weren’t the only elections in which candidates’ residency have been subjected to backhanded rumors. It happens with every race, be it legislative or hyper-local.
In fact, the residency requirements for local office are simple.
Franklin’s website says a candidate seeking to be Board of Mayor and Alderman: Aldermen must be residents of the State of Tennessee for more than one year and residents of the City of Franklin for at least six months immediately preceding their election to office.
The Tennessee Secretary of State specifies a candidate for state House of Representatives must be a citizen of the United States, have been a citizen of Tennessee for three years and a resident in the county one year immediately preceding the election, and a qualified voter of the legislative district. The residency requirements to run for Tennessee Senate are the same.
Thus, it shouldn’t matter how long a candidate lives here before getting involved at the electoral level, as long as they meet those requirements — but clearly, it matters to some.
One October alderman candidate was criticized because apparently, living and working in the community three years wasn’t enough to make him acceptable for office.
Natives and long-time residents of the area tout their ties to Franklin and Williamson County as a reason for which to vote for them. I admit I did it when I ran in 2016.
But, how long someone has lived in the area shouldn’t be a guide for whether or not they make a good candidate or a good elected official. Newcomers to Franklin have given us our current success and we should all be glad people have moved here and contributed their new ideas. Had Franklin not evolved and welcomed transplants, we might be like other dying small towns around the state.
How long is long enough to live here to run for office? Does it count if a candidate lives in a nearby community for years or must they have been a resident of their district for more than the required time. Who is the arbiter of this?
Elected office is for everyone who wants to run, be they native or recent transplant. We should applaud anyone who cares enough about our community to run for office instead of denigrating them and calling them carpetbaggers.
I can think of no better way for those anxious to serve their city to become involved than to pursue the calling of elected office, regardless of their tenure as residents.
Holly McCall is a former journalist turned communications consultant. A native of Franklin, she ran for the Tennessee House of Representatives in 2016.