How My Mother Went From Being the Chair of the Local Republican Party to a Screaming Progressive


Kentucky is the Bluegrass State. It’s where I was born and lived until leaving for college. My mother was Chair of the local Republican Party at a time when Republicans were scarce there. Now the state is glaringly, blindingly red.

Mother made national news years ago when she took issue with the county judge, a Democrat, meeting with him in his office to demand that campaign signs for Democrats be removed from the courthouse lawn. The law was clear that these signs were not allowed within a certain distance of the building. The judge argued but, soon, acquiesced and my mother was declared the victor. She’s always spoken her mind.

Our house was political. Hosting receptions for gubernatorial candidates, Mother would introduce them to local business owners. She organized teams to call registered Republicans, urging them to vote. Back then, this effort hardly made a dent.

Even we children were summoned to duty-handing out brochures. I remember when some anonymous caller phoned and wanted to know if the “little Nazis” would be out on the streets again with their propaganda.

Election night was always exciting. The telephone spent little time on its cradle as person after person called to discuss returns.

My mother was born into a staunchly Republican household. Accepting her family’s views, she lived and breathed conservatism: “I remember as a child, talking politics with Democrats, taking issue with their positions,” she told me. “I loved this debate.”

Still, she admitted that even while local Chair, she examined the candidates and didn’t always vote a straight Republican ticket.

And, then, at some point, Mother began to study the policies of the parties. Gradually, she came to the realization that progressive politics reflected her beliefs-that social programs for the poor benefited everyone. She decided that her religious convictions also turned her away from the “right” and into the light:

We have to take care of our poor. The Republican Party cuts taxes for the wealthy and either under-funds or eliminates government organizations that help the poor and middle class. Also, the Civil Rights Movement was a huge wakeup for me.

During the 2000 presidential campaign, Mother didn’t think either candidate was solid (she thought Al Gore relinquished himself to his handlers) but she recognized Gore’s foreign policy expertise. “It’s not just Bush’s lack of experience,” she said. “He can’t pronounce countries or their leaders’ names.” Actually, my mother and father thought Bush lacked the intelligence necessary for the task.

After 9/11 when Americans were thirsty for revenge, both of my parents were dismayed that the president continued to build a case against Iraq. My mother had just read Howard Zinn’s A People’s History of the Unites States, a book she recommends to all who want to be knowledgeable about the roots of terrorism. It’s her hope that Americans will engage in the reality of our tyrannical foreign policy. “Our image was damaged before the presidency of George Bush,” she says. “But he’s accomplished its destruction.”

When people say they like Bush because he’s tough, Mother lets them know that toughness and a disregard for truth are a dangerous combination. She tells them this war has created more and more young men and women who are eager to volunteer for suicide missions against Westerners.

Both of my parents are appalled by the corruption of this administration and that so many Americans continue to support a president who has no regard for our Constitution.
When my nephew was killed in Iraq on August 6, 2005, my parents agreed to be interviewed by local television anchors and newspapers. They declared: “George Bush killed our grandson.” They never wanted their grief to be so public, but they needed to make a statement. They hoped to prevent others from hearing the unthinkable-the words that changed their lives forever. Tragically, more than 300 troops have died since Marine Lance Cpl. Chase Comley was killed. I worry about my mother. Anguished over the senseless loss of her grandson and the continued deaths not only of our troops but of Iraqi citizens, my mother’s face is etched with grief.

My mother believes that if Bush hadn’t been handed the election by the Supreme Court and, instead, Al Gore had taken the oath of office as president, a country having no connection to that Tuesday in September would not be on the brink of civil war and our own society would not be so bitterly divided.

And Chase would be with us, living the life he loved, and joining us at family gatherings. His absence hits my mother in wave after wave of disbelief.

Neither of my parents feels any loyalty right now to the Democratic Party though. In fact, they see very little leadership in Congress. My father complains that there are few statesmen. Both find it reprehensible that only five members of Congress went to the Congressional Reading Room to examine the documents stating evidence for the invasion of Iraq. Mother says if more of our elected officials had children in the military, we’d have seen the scrutiny that something as crucial as war deserves and less support for giving George Bush the authority to go to war.

My mother is articulate and courageous, unwavering in her beliefs that we are led by the worst president in our history. Even though her spirit is fractured, she’ll continue to speak with a steady voice against this administration and its war. Her heart is shattered, and I know in mine that my parents, both in their eighties, will not be with us long enough, even if they live another 20 years, for time to heal their pain.

MISSY COMLEY BEATTIE can be reached at:



Missy Beattie has written for National Public Radio and Nashville Life Magazine. She was an instructor of memoirs writing at Johns Hopkins’ Osher Lifelong Learning Institute in BaltimoreEmail: