By Rob Montana
With at least 20 people announcing their plans to run for Tompkins County Legislature in the fall, Tompkins Weekly will be offering readers an opportunity to learn more about the people who will be appearing on ballots in September and November.
District 12, which covers the Town of Ithaca, has been represented by Will Burbank since he won a special election in 2008. The legislator, who won an unopposed election in 2013, decided not to run for re-election. Amanda Champion, is a creative nonfiction and senior editor at Literary Mama, and among her recent community endeavors was organizing the Women’s March in Ithaca.
To find out more about Champion, we asked her about issues facing the county and how she views the role of legislators.
Tompkins Weekly: What are the top three issues facing Tompkins County?
Amanda Champion: The overarching lack of affordability of living in the county is a major issue. Every resident is struggling with some aspect of this: The cost of housing, too high taxes, earning a living wage, finding good, affordable childcare, etc. When people can’t afford to live here, we lose out on economic growth and community diversity. Making the county an affordable place to live depends on many factors, which the Legislature must be able to address in a thoughtful, responsible manner.
The opioid crisis that the nation is facing is also a serious problem here and likely to get worse. I’m deeply troubled by the rise in the number of overdoses and deaths, and how drug addiction hurts families and destroys lives. Tompkins County is a leader in providing many services. Still, we need more options to support healing, education to help prevent addiction, and resources for law enforcement to stop drugs from entering our community in the first place.
Another issue of great concern is the environment and climate change. We have a lot happening right now in Tompkins County in this regard: There are debates about solar and wind installations, changes at the Cayuga Power plant, and concerns about natural gas. With climate deniers currently steering the ship at the national level, I believe we need to work even harder here at home to solve issues of energy and sustainability because the decisions we make now will determine what kind of world our children will live in.
There are, of course, many other issues that need attention: The jail, transportation, diversity and inclusion. However, I don’t believe that any of these very real problems can be solved successfully unless we all address the biggest issue: The growing, and often hate-filled, divide between people of opposing beliefs. Everyone on all sides of an issue must come forward with the willingness to listen to and understand those with whom they disagree. We’ll never all agree on which path to take, but everyone deserves the respect to have their voice heard.
TW: What skills do you possess that would be an asset as a Tompkins County legislator?
AC: I see myself as a generalist. I’ve held many jobs and done a variety of work throughout my adult life, everything from being a park ranger teaching nature education, to managing store operations in retail, to cleaning barns at Farm Sanctuary, to being a senior editor at a literary journal, to organizing the Women’s March here in Ithaca in January. All of this has taught me many things, but most of all flexibility, humility, and that clear communication is priceless. Maybe the most important skills I have acquired come from my work as a mother and stepmother: Patience and understanding. A legislator can’t be just one thing, we must know and learn and understand many topics and situations to work effectively. I think the variety of experiences I have had will allow me to do just that.
TW: What is something that would surprise people to know about you?
AC: When I was in my early-20s, I thru-hiked the Appalachian Trail and the experience altered the course of my life. I spent six months walking from Georgia to Maine, carrying everything I needed on my back, and learning to trust myself. Above all, it taught me that if I have the strength and endurance to walk 2,180 miles, I can do anything. Hiking, backpacking, and camping, both alone and with my family, are still some of my favorite activities.
TW: How would you balance the desires of your constituents and your own personal beliefs when making decisions as a member of the Legislature?
AC: I’ve been thinking about this a lot. I look at Tom Reed, who consistently fails to listen to or take into account what his constituents, those who disagree with him, say and ask for. I know the frustration that comes from trying to get an official to look at an issue in a different way only to receive a perfunctory response. This is the complete opposite of how I intend to work. I will always listen to all sides of an argument or issue, learn as much as I can about the topic, and then, taking everything into account, move forward with what I believe to be the best course of action. My goal as a legislator is to be mindful of the wishes and needs of county residents while also being true to myself and my values.
TW: Why should people vote for you?
AC: I come to this work from a background of arts, science, and social equity. When you vote for me, you’re not voting for a career politician; you’re voting for a regular citizen who wants to serve in local government. I care about the place where I live and the people I share this community with and I want to be involved in the direction our community takes. I throw myself wholeheartedly into everything I do, and being a legislator will be no different.