Identical twins run for US office -- for rival parties

Identical twins run for US office -- for rival parties

Twins Monica Sparks and Jessica Ann Tyson are identical in almost every way.

Monica Sparks and Jessica Ann Tyson
Monica Sparks (L) and Jessica Ann Tyson (R) are twins running for local office in Michigan; Sparks uses a blue flower pin to show she is the Democrat in the pair, while Tyson is a Republican. Image courtesy: AFP
The African American sisters running for local office in the US state of Michigan forged an unbreakable bond during a childhood tarred by abuse. They wear the same white dress and even finish each other's sentences.

But their choice of jewelry -- a blue flower pin for Sparks, a red one for Tyson -- gives away the one key thing separating the 46-year-old women: their political stripes.

Sparks is a Democrat. Tyson is a Republican.

They say they are proof positive that political differences can be overcome, even in an increasingly polarized America.

"It just baffles our mind why people hate each other," Tyson tells AFP in a joint interview with her sister. "Mothers aren't talking to sons. Fathers are disowning daughters."

"We are not going to let this come between our family," says Sparks.

'Start finding common ground'

Sparks and Tyson live in neighboring electoral districts in the Midwestern state -- part of the country's traditionally Democratic Rust Belt that, against all odds, helped Donald Trump win the presidency.

Each is campaigning for a seat on the governing board that oversees Kent County, which is home to 640,000 people and is the state's second most populous area, after Detroit.

The primary election is on August 7. Sparks faces several Democratic rivals, while Tyson is running unopposed for the Republican nomination.

The twins say they agree on broad ideas: they both want to live a life of service and to reduce political discord.

The rest, they say, can be negotiated.

"We need to start finding common ground, period, if we're going to get ahead as a society," says Sparks.

Endorse my Democratic sister? Nope

Sparks and Tyson say they have been close all of their lives, relying on each other as children when they couldn't rely on adults.

Born in 1972 to a heroin-addicted mother in the state capital Lansing, they were sent to a terrible foster home at the age of five.  

Sparks says they were abused "emotionally, physically, sexually," and Tyson remembers her sister rummaging through trash cans looking for food.  

"We went through a lot of abuse together," Tyson says. "And together we got through."

The girls eventually were adopted by loving parents, who instilled in them a sense of civic duty.

As adults, they have volunteered for various causes, served on their school board and other local agencies, while running small businesses.  

Now, they hope to serve in a formal political capacity.

Their bond was tested when Tyson endorsed the Republican running in Sparks's district, instead of her own sister, but both say family and sisterhood come first.

"I celebrate her as a woman, and all of the accomplishments that she has made," Tyson says of her sister. "And no amount of winning or losing, or politics, will stop the love that I have for her."

Trump rift

Even their disagreements over President Donald Trump have not endangered their bond -- though his leadership is the subject of spirited debate.

Sparks cites the controversial reality television star-turned-leader as the cause of the country's political tumult -- and a key reason why she is seeking office.

"I just don't like what's happening in our country right now. And I can't stand by. I've got to do something," she says.

Tyson is a Trump supporter.

"I totally believe in our president," she says, though she adds that she understands the concerns of those, including Sparks, who oppose him.

The sisters say their respect for different viewpoints, and ability to listen to others, is something other Americans need to embrace in the current political climate.  

"People are hurt. People are bitter, because they are feeling disenfranchised," says Sparks.

"You start by getting in the same room... and come prepared with open ears, an open mind and open heart," she says. "Then we will be able to find solutions."

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