Shame on you, Smoky Mountain News, for making fun of my attempts at public service and, in so doing, potentially deterring other qualified individuals from running for public office.
We need more interested young people to run for elected office, not less. Your “joke” was hurtful and mean-spirited to me, personally. More importantly, however, it very well may serve to discourage others from putting themselves out there and running for office for fear that they will be ridiculed if they should lose.
When you run for office, you make yourself vulnerable because there is always a chance you could lose. (Even if you are uncontested, there are always the write-in candidates.) I knew this when I put my name out there for Maggie Valley Alderman a mere four months after losing an election for District Court Judge. I knew people would say, “Oh, she can get appointed, but not elected,” should I lose the Maggie Valley Town Board election.
Nonetheless, I sought the appointment and subsequently placed my name on the ballot out of a sense of duty and loyalty. I strongly felt that my talents were needed on the board at that time. Obviously, the board agreed, because I was appointed; however, I lost by a mere 28 votes because, as a novice to the Maggie Valley political scene, I failed to get out the vote.
Getting out the vote is extremely difficult any time, but particularly in non-presidential election years and in municipal races. To say that 2010 was a rough year for Democrats and incumbents would be an understatement. When I began campaigning for District Court judge shortly after President Barack Obama and Gov. Bev. Perdue were each inaugurated in January 2009, no one could have predicted how far our economy would fall and how fast. (By the way, I had my first child that January, as well.)
When I was appointed a District Court judge by the governor in June 2009, there seemed like there was hope to be elected to the same position when I came up for election in November 2010.
By then, however, there was little or no hope for a young, incumbent judge with little or no political experience who was so closely associated with the Democrats. (Oh, and I gave birth to my second child a mere two weeks before the election.) In a seven-county district, I proudly received over 22,000 votes.
Turn the page to 2011. I had two small children, a husband, and a law practice on which I was focusing. That was a quick and easy recipe for not enough time to campaign properly to get those necessary 28 votes. If you think that is laughable, go right ahead. But do not publicly ridicule a hard-working wife, mother and young professional for desiring to give more of herself to her community. It may seem like a harmless joke, but it could have the undesirable effect of deterring other interested, qualified individuals from seeking public office for fear of failure and ridicule.
Running for public office is a noble and honorable action, and I encourage others to run. Even if you don’t win, you learn a tremendous amount and meet wonderful people in the process.
My heart was, and still is, in the right place. I am not ashamed of losing two elections in two years; in fact, I am immensely proud of my accomplishments and have been enriched by my political experiences. I am in a good place with my family, my business, and my career. You can’t laugh at that.
(And I’m still proud to be a Democrat!)
— By Danya VanHook
In the newspaper that is published on the last week of the year, The Smoky Mountain News gives out what we call our “Annual Newsmaker Awards.” It is our attempt to look back at the stories from the past year with a different slant than the typical newspaper tradition of doing a “Year in Review.” The awards are marked by sarcasm, humor and, hopefully, a small dose of wit.
Danya VanHook was given the “Public Service Award” in this year’s edition. Here’s what we printed, in its entirety, about VanHook:
Danya VanHook of Maggie Valley gets an “A” for effort when it comes to her desire to serve in office. Twice in two years, VanHook put her name in the ring to serve in a public capacity when elected seats were vacated mid-term: once as a District Court judge and later as a Maggie Valley alderman. Both times she secured an appointment to the seat, but when it came time to officially run with her name on the ballot, she lost the election.