I have a memory: I am sitting at a banquet table covered in red, white, and blue bunting. There are scores of people everywhere. Many are wearing buttons with a candidate’s name on them and there is an energy in the air, an almost tangible excitement. Over the speakers, Lee Greenwood’s “God Bless the U.S.A.” is blaring at high decibels. It was a huge political rally in Oklahoma. Oliver North was the guest speaker. I was too young to realize exactly who he was, but I knew he was kind of a big deal.

I have memories of being introduced to Representatives, Senators, and meeting everyday people who were politically active and would become treasured friends to not only my parents, but to me as well.

When I was pregnant with Reagan, my dad ran for county Sheriff.

A year and a half ago, I ran for county Circuit Clerk.

In my job prior to where I am now, I had to deal with elected officials of all different kinds on a daily basis.

I say all of that to tell you that politics has been part of my life for as long as I can remember. I mean, I even named my daughter “Reagan” okay? And that’s not just because it’s a good Irish name (which are my favorites).

A lot has changed on the political scene since I first attended rallies with my parents as a child. The climate itself has become increasingly hostile, and after my own stint in the political arena, I began to – as best I could – tune out the rhetoric and propaganda and just tried to find some quiet time to read, to research, and to THINK about what my politics really looked like.

As I’ve grown and matured and my circle of friends has expanded, I’ve come to hear and be made aware of points of view that I have never considered before. That’s the thing about keeping an open mind – sometimes other ideas get in. And a lot of people will tell you that having an open mind is dangerous. And I tend to agree. Because when you keep your mind open, you begin to understand that there are other ways of thinking about problems than the way you’ve always thought about problems. And the danger is in the fact that you might actually start thinking instead of only reaffirming your belief system with opinions that match your own. And the powers that be don’t like for individuals to actually think for themselves. They want us to be led around and easily influenced.

As the months passed leading up to this presidential election, I became increasingly disappointed. In the past, though I might not have agreed with someone’s politics as a whole, I could find reasons to support them that maybe overshadowed what I didn’t agree with or didn’t particularly like about them.

Not this time.

And the more I realized just exactly what my choices were, the more I began to feel like doing something different altogether.

It’s not the first time I’ve researched 3rd parties, but today, for the first time, I will cast my vote for a 3rd party candidate.

Let me just go ahead and brace myself for the onslaught of statements that many of you will feel the need to toss my way:

“You’re wasting your vote!”

“A vote for a 3rd party is a vote for (insert name of candidate you don’t like here)!”

“But Hillary…………..”

“But Trump………….”

I’ve heard it all.

And while I have taken everyone’s reasons about why I SHOULDN’T vote this way into consideration, the first and most important thing that is ever on my mind is my daughter. And here is what I’ve been asking myself throughout this campaign season:

“What do I want the political climate to look like for my daughter when she is my age?”

And y’all, my hope, my prayer, is that it looks nothing like it does now.

But the only way it changes is with political reform. MAJOR political reform. One of the first things that I want to see happen is, if not the abolishment of the two party system, at least an expanded party system where other political parties are given the time and media attention that have been the sole property of Republicans and Democrats for the entirety of several generations.

I want to see term limits happen.

I want to see people have the opportunity to vote for candidates they truly support and believe in, not because they hate the opposition.

Because, and this isn’t UNIVERSALLY true but, most people seem to be voting these days out of fear.

I’m not saying there’s not a lot at stake this election cycle. The economy, the Supreme Court, individual rights – these are all factors to be considered when casting a ballot today.

But they are always factors. In every election. And if we don’t begin now, trying to bring some reform to the process of politics in general, then our country may well move into a place of division so polarizing that there will never be a “United” States of America ever again – no matter what happens.

This is partly what saddens me: there have been some horrendous tragedies that have occurred in our country and in other countries since the presidential race began. And while those types of events should unify us as a nation, they seem to only bring more division because the climate is so charged with hate and defensiveness.

I’ve written at least a dozen posts over the last few months regarding politics. And I’ve deleted them all before I even posted them. Because people are just too worked up over this election – enraged and supercharged. And to be honest, though I’m highly skilled at it, I don’t like to argue. It’s exhausting to me. And it changes nothing. This blog is for my thoughts, my opinions, and you are welcome to respond, even if you don’t agree with me, if you keep it respectful and polite. My 12 year old reads this and I won’t have her feeling the need to seek vengeance because somebody attacked her mama (and she will). This post isn’t to attack you for voting for Trump or Hillary. This post isnt to win anybody over or to justify my beliefs. I have simply learned that what I want politically, more than anything, is an improvement in the entire system of the circus that has become American politics. And God knows I’ve heard everyone else’s opinion this year, so I decided to just go ahead and share mine too.

I love my country. I am so very thankful, every day, that I was born here and that I have never not known freedom. I’m thankful for my conservative parents as well as my liberal friends who have both taught me how to be more scrutinizing of my own opinions and how important it is to not only know what you believe, but why you believe it.

So today, while you may not agree with my opinions, I hope we can agree on this: We should vote our passion; not our fear, not our hate. Vote for what you passionately believe in – from some place within you that is good. My vote is for my daughter, and her daughter, and her daughter’s daughter.

Never Trump.

Never Hillary.

Never again.