"When Women Run, Women Win"
– Theme of Tracy Hall's re-election kickoff event
Tracy Hall had always loved politics but never anticipated a career as an elected official.
"I was one of those weird — and I mean this in a really nice way — children. I loved things about politics and law, and I got that from my grandparents," said the openly gay Democrat running for a second term on the board of the Kalamazoo County Commission.
Through her school years, Hall worked on campaigns but always saw herself as only being involved behind the scenes. Back then, she experienced self-doubt — due in part to the anxiety she has since overcome — but was inspired by three Michigan women to take the next step.
"It was women like Gretchen Whitmer, [who] was fighting for Elliott-Larsen. She was speaking out for the community before in some ways it was kind of cool to, before a lot of politicians evolved on the issues. Around the same time … you have Lisa Brown and Barb Byrum, who were silenced for using the words "vasectomy" and "vagina" in the state legislature. And I remember thinking, 'If there are these three women that are fighting for things I care about, that are near and dear to my heart, I can do something locally.'" It was with those women in mind, and her mother as well, that Hall ran for the Kalamazoo City Commission in 2013. Of 15 candidates, seven would be elected. Hall came in eighth, losing by a very slim margin.
She planned to run again in 2015 but chose not to after her mother died unexpectedly.
"My mom is still so much part of my story," she said. "Being raised by a single mom, in poverty, her working; I wouldn't be here today without who she was … I couldn't share that story and not get emotional about it."
Also around that time, Hall was recruited by her county commissioner when he chose to run for county clerk, because, as he told her, "he would love to see a progressive woman in that seat."
That's when Hall decided to go ahead, winning all seven precincts with 70 percent of the vote.
"And I love it," she said. "I absolutely live being a county commissioner."
In her first term, Hall helped get a senior millage on the ballot which will be voted on this August. She has also coordinated efforts with animal services to reduce the kill rate in the county. But the accomplishment she is most proud of is Kalamazoo County's ID program, brand-new as of this May.
As Hall tells it, it was only her first or second meeting when they asked for people to serve on the task force.
"And I don't remember why it happened, it just happened, and I raised my hand and I thought, 'This could help a lot of people,' but I didn't really know much about it … and I remember thinking, 'What the heck did I just sign up for," she said with a laugh. "Knowing that so many people would rely on this, and what if I failed?"
But with the help of a task force of 40 from various organizations and walks of life, Hall most certainly did not fail. In fact, as co-chair of the task force, she helped score a huge win for the residents of Kalamazoo County (Read more about the ID program here).
If elected, Hall plans to address various challenges that the county faces, including homelessness.
"We have a huge homelessness problem, that I think that as a county government, we can act as the convener," she said. "We have wonderful resources in Kalamazoo — in the city and in the county — that I think in some ways are siloed."
She said she envisions bringing people to the table to work together on the cause. Another critical issue, the senior millage mentioned earlier, is personal for Hall.
"My grandma, before she passed away — we didn't know this — would often have to choose between her prescription drugs and eating," Hall said. "No grandma or grandpa should have to live like that."
When asked if she has experienced any homophobia in her career, she was frank.
"A little bit," Hall said. "That's definitely a real experience, but it's definitely more subtle than overt."
Though overall, she said that even the more conservative members of the commission have treated her with nothing but respect, and that she was able to pass a Pride Month resolution for the county last year. Still, it wasn't all smooth sailing.
"I heard rumblings about me having a 'gay agenda' — which I think is kind of funny, 'cause I didn't think that was still a thing! And, certainly, one of the things I was advised early on in 2013, (was to) maybe not to be so 'out.' And I'm like, 'No, that's not who I am,' she said. "I'm a walking, talking stereotype in many ways: I teach the stuff, I have worked for, pay for and volunteer for on behalf of my community … I am who I am."
In addition to her political involvement, Hall is also an instructor in the Department of Gender and Women's Studies at Western Michigan University and teaches political science and sociology at Kalamazoo Valley Community College. She also serves on the boards off OutFront and CARES (Community AIDS Resource and Education Services). When asked why she is so active in the community, she said she would like to be a role model for LGBTQ youth — especially women.
"I'm proud to represent our community in some facet. We are so underrepresented in electoral politics and in many other areas of life. And if I can help some younger woman or girl that … might have an interest in politics but because of societal messages may not [pursue that interest], but she sees me — there's a lot of value in that," Hall said. "I try to be that role model, without sort of that arrogance that's … with that. I just want to do good for the community."