Joan Vannorsdall is a candidate for the Alleghany County, Va., Board of Supervisors.
It took six weeks of walking the streets of Clifton Forge, Va., (population 3,884) this spring to gather enough registered-voter signatures for my run for a seat on the Alleghany County Board of Supervisors. As many days as not, it rained. As many doors that opened stayed shut. That was probably just as well, because a fair number of those doors restrained ferocious-sounding dogs.
“Are you a Republican or Democrat?” I was asked repeatedly.
“This position is nonpartisan,” I said. “Democrat or Republican, it doesn’t matter.”
What matters is that I want fair representation for this small Appalachian town close to the West Virginia border. What matters is that I am a retired teacher looking for a way to work with people with whom I often don’t agree, while respecting everyone’s best interests. What matters is that I am willing to serve.
But what mattered most the moment I handed in my petitions was the 25-page “Statement of Economic Interests” form the registrar handed me in return, which required me to lay bare my slender and transparent financial soul. I bit my tongue and went home to begin the second leg of my election odyssey.
The Virginia Conflict of Interest and Ethics Advisory Council’s form is designed to give the public access to the financial lives of candidates for public office. According to an Advisory Council attorney in Richmond, the disclosure form is benign. “It serves as a reminder to you, the candidate, of any financial conflicts of interest you may have.”
Under the Freedom of Information Act, anyone who wants to can see it. “But we revised the disclosure rules, so we will redact your address and phone number,” he said.
“But my name — who I am — that’s still apparent,” I pressed. “Along with my annual income and debts.”
And then (metaphorically speaking) I went for broke.
“So let me get this straight. I live in a country whose president refuses to release his tax returns so that his 326 million constituents can get a clear understanding of his net worth, debts and worldwide financial involvements. But a retired schoolteacher in Appalachia running for her county board of supervisors has to complete a 25-page form revealing every asset and every liability over $5,000 to her 1,500-constituent district? What’s fair about that?”
Dead silence. And then: “Let’s just say that we hold to higher standards in Virginia. Good luck.”
It appeared the conversation was over. I would have to forge on through the nine schedules of required information alone.
Offices, directorships, employment. Personal debts. Securities. Business interests and rental properties. Real estate. Payments for talks, meetings and conferences. Gifts. Payments for representations and other services generally. Real estate contracts with governmental agencies.
By the time I finished, I felt very poor — and very public. For me, what you see is what you get.
Unlike President Trump, whose 92-page Office of Government Ethics Form 278e suggests in opaque and tangled numbers a man of vast net worth, income, liabilities and financial interests.
When asked why he refused to clarify his finances by releasing his tax returns, as every president for the past 40 years has done, Trump famously said, “The only one that cares is the press. . . . It’s not a big deal.”
Let me make one thing clear: To this law-abiding, middle-class candidate for a small Appalachian government board, it is a big deal.
I turned in my financials, such as they are, in late May. And if anyone asks me, I’ll be glad to share my tax returns.
Trump should do at least as much.