Over the past few years, many Fox News Channel viewers have asked me why I don’t leave the Democratic Party – a party that some see as synonymous with socialism, “the resistance” and angry mobs. They say I’m too rational, too civil and too commonsense to still be a Democrat.

So let me take this opportunity to explain why I am a Democrat and why I am sticking with my party.

To provide some context, I am a former Democratic Ohio state senator who represented the heart of the Rust Belt. I come from the real world, one marked by a lagging economy, opioid addiction, food insecurity and a growing aging population.

My views are not informed by polls, political theory or articles trying to capture the essence of Middle America. Like many of you, I arrive at my views based on life experiences.

I had to make difficult decisions as a state senator. I believe in collaboration, not obstruction, and worked with my Republican colleagues to craft laws in Ohio.

While both the Democratic and Republican parties are undoubtedly going through an ideological realignment, I still believe that my values are more in line with the Democrats. And here’s why:

I am not a party hack, a political strategist or a journalist. I am a former public servant who still focuses more on issues than blind ideology. But in a nation where we have only two major political parties to choose from, one must pick a side, especially if running for elected office.

To me, Democrats are not the vocal minority depicted in the news media, or even the national party leaders trying to find a way to engage the new, more progressive wing of the party.

My home community had been reliably Democratic for generations until Donald Trump came along. His message of fair trade and plain talk resonated with my neighbors. They are not Deplorables, but rather frustrated Americans looking for a way to turn things around.

While many Democrats in Ohio voted Republican in 2016, in my neck of the woods they still hold on to many of beliefs of what I would call the traditional Democratic Party.

The first time I voted was in 1996 – the year Bill Clinton won re-election. When you think back to what the Democratic Party was 20-plus years ago, that is the party I relate to most.

In the late 1990’s Democrats and Republicans worked together to balance the federal budget and pass welfare reform. They took a commonsense approach to growth while still embracing core party principles of inclusiveness, diversity, equal rights and economic mobility.

While both the Democratic and Republican parties are undoubtedly going through an ideological realignment, I still believe that my values are more in line with the Democrats. And here’s why:

First, I fundamentally believe that our government and the laws it makes should give rights to our citizens, not take them away. That is why I support same-sex marriage and protections for LGBT rights, for example. That is why I think states should make it easier, not harder, for residents to vote.

Second, I feel strongly that government has no place is regulating complex moral personal decisions. That is why I am pro-choice. I also believe government should not overregulate personal consumption decisions of adults. If you are over 18 and want to smoke and eat transfats, you know the risks. Government should not force you to make decisions its sees as “right.”

Third, I want to see a comprehensive, commonsense approach to immigration reform. I understand that undocumented individuals violated the law to be in the United States, but most are hardworking people trying to do right. Separating families is cruel. I feel Congress must find a bipartisan solution that allows undocumented individuals without a violent criminal record to pay a fine and back taxes and earn a path to citizenship.

Fourth, I believe labor unions and the right to collectively bargain have created the American middle class, as well as strengthened wages and workplace safety. I also feel that unions can coexist with pro- growth regulatory and tax policy. That has been our experience in Ohio.

Fifth, I believe our social safety net is fundamental to lifting people out of poverty and helping provide access to health care. I have spent my adult life fighting to protect Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid. We can preserve these programs in a fiscally responsible manner, just as we have done with Medicaid in Ohio. As a social worker, I have seen the value of both Medicaid expansion and the Affordable Care Act. I don’t think the ACA (ObamaCare) should be repealed, but rather reformed.

And sixth, I value diversity and see it as a trait that strengthens our nation. Learning from other cultures and embracing differences is what makes America great. But to me it’s more than just throwing around politically correct terms; it’s about practicing what you preach. Listening to our neighbors, regardless of their ethnic background or political affiliation, enables us all to be better Americans by seeing new perspectives.

The Democratic Party represented by the Washington elite may seem a world away from what I believe, but I feel I am part of my party’s silent majority. We must come out of the shadows if we intend to keep our party alive and inclusive of America’s Heartland. And we must demand a return to civility by both Democrats and Republicans alike.