Trio of Auburn students running for public office as fall semester begins

Published: August 20, 2020
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It’s relatively easy to complain, especially on social media. For the most part, people air their grievances, commiserate a bit and then get back to the business of life.

Occasionally, there are those who have complaints and find themselves compelled to actively work to make changes. These folks are often referred to as leaders and change-makers, and in the College of Liberal Arts, there are three students—Messiah Williams-Cole, Brandon Fincher and Jamie Lowe—who are working to become the changes they want to see in their community.

Williams-Cole, of Camp Hill, Alabama, is running for mayor of his hometown, a small city of less than 1,000 roughly 30 minutes northwest of Auburn. As an interdisciplinary student, Williams-Cole is studying political science, business and civic engagement, while also working on a minor in biology.

When asked how he is keeping up with being a full-time student and running an election campaign, Williams-Cole answered with math.

“I try to think logically and realistically when making decisions, so I literally calculated the hours in a week,” Williams-Cole said. “There are 168 hours in a week, and I get about six hours of sleep a night, which leaves me with 126 hours left during the week. School is a full-time job, and being mayor will be as well, so that'll leave me with 46 hours left during the week to eat, exercise and socialize. It's sticking to a strict schedule that will allow me to be successful in both of these areas.”

According to the 21-year-old Williams-Cole, there really wasn't one particular moment or issue that launched his decision to run for office, but rather a series of observations, mixed in with disappointment in the current mayor, Ezell Smith.

“I think that my decision to run came from a culmination of my experiences and impressions from my hometown,” he said. “I’ve lived here all my life—I’ve seen instances where the town would have high morale and everyone seemed happy—but the feeling coming home has been that of dissatisfaction and struggle for at least the past decade. In a community of about 900 people, there hasn't been much unification or opportunity for citizens to voice concern, or to add input to the decisions made by the mayor.

“There also have been multiple instances of the town’s leadership neglecting the ‘due dates’ of things, such as town audits and bill payments of water and electricity.”

For Fincher, a doctoral student in public administration and public policy, the decision to run as councilman for Opelika’s Ward 5 came about because he thought there was an opportunity to make his ward more aware of what is going on in city government and to generate more interest in getting people involved with the city’s growth.

“So many people get caught up in national political issues and don’t realize their vote and advocacy have the most power at the local level,” said Fincher, 36. “The decisions made at the local level usually have a greater effect on your day-to-day life than the ones made in Washington, D.C. My candidacy is based on being a voice for everyday people in my ward and making sure their interests are being represented when decisions are made.”

Fincher is finished with his classwork and is in the process of researching and writing his dissertation.

“By the Aug. 25 election, my campaign will have knocked on over 2,500 doors in my ward to get to know the people I hope to represent,” said Fincher, one of four Ward 5 candidates. “My research has lagged over the course of the campaign, but I have been blessed my committee chair, Dr. Kathleen Hale, has been incredibly patient with me on this dissertation journey."

Opelika native Lowe is a double-major in political science and Asian studies. According to previously published reports, in addition to being a full-time student and running for councilman for Opelika’s Ward 1, Lowe is also a mediator for the family courts of Lee County and is the youngest mediator in the state.

At only 20 years old, Lowe has had his sights set on public office since high school, where he interned under Judge Mike Fellows.

“Often I’m asked why I decided to run for a seat on the city council,” Lowe said on his campaign page. “Undoubtedly, the answer to that question is my love of public service. Every day that I get the opportunity to meet someone new, I am reminded of how much I love serving the people of my community and how important it is to fight for the issues that affect our day-to-day lives.

“I am grateful to all those who have allowed me to speak with them, all those who have taken time to share ideas with me and all those who have brightened my day with a smile at the door. I look forward to meeting many more people and getting to know my community even better.”

Lowe also states that his ability to listen and understand the needs of the people is a skill he’s acquired throughout his endeavors serving the public.

“I pledge to take that skill, and every other skill I have acquired in life, and serve Ward 1 to the best of my ability!” said Lowe, one of six candidates in Ward 1.

The students’ ambition has impressed administrators at the College of Liberal Arts.

“I very much admire their ambition and dedication to public service even while being a student,” College of Liberal Arts Dean Joseph Aistrup said. “Win or lose, I’m proud of these student leaders for their dedication to their respective communities and commitment to democracy.”

Fall classes at Auburn started up this week, and now the sprint to the Aug. 25 elections is under way for a trio of ambitious Tigers.

Auburn University is a nationally ranked land grant institution recognized for its commitment to world-class scholarship, interdisciplinary research with an elite, top-tier Carnegie R1 classification, life-changing outreach with Carnegie’s Community Engagement designation and an undergraduate education experience second to none. Auburn is home to more than 30,000 students, and its faculty and research partners collaborate to develop and deliver meaningful scholarship, science and technology-based advancements that meet pressing regional, national and global needs. Auburn’s commitment to active student engagement, professional success and public/private partnership drives a growing reputation for outreach and extension that delivers broad economic, health and societal impact.