Identical Twins in Opposing Political Parties Run for Office: 'We Are Very Competitive'

Jessica Ann Tyson and Monica Sparks are both running for county commissioner seats in Kent County, Michigan.

Identical twins Jessica Ann Tyson and Monica Sparks’ have a bond like no other.

They spent their first eight years leaning on each other as they dealt with a mother who battled addiction and abusive foster care homes.

They finish each other’s sentences and have an easy banter that only comes from a lifetime together. 

They did most everything in lockstep, including launching campaigns at the same time for county commissioner seats in Kent County, Michigan, but their paths have diverged in one very big way: Sparks is a Democrat and Tyson is a Republican.

“I am a Democrat — a proud Democrat,” Sparks told "Standing with the party of MLK, JFK and LBJ … who wants equity, fairness, liberty and justice for all, along with our civil rights."

“I am a Republican,” Tyson said. “I’m pro-business, pro-family, pro-constitution.” 

Sparks and Tyson were 8 when they were adopted by Alonzo Edward Sparks, a Korean War veteran and preacher, and Joyce Ann Sparks, a public school teacher. The pair never discussed their political affiliation, but instilled in their daughters the importance of being civically engaged and working hard for what they believed in.

“We never knew if we were Republicans or Democrats, but we always knew we were voters,” Tyson said. 

They were also taught to always think critically and for themselves, they said. 

 “[Our parents] always impressed upon us, even though we were twins, that they wanted us to act as individuals,” Sparks said. “When we were kids, people would say, ‘Monica, Jessica, whichever one you are,’ and our mother … would set them straight. ‘They are individuals,' our mother would say."

And as they grew older, Sparks and Tyson grew into their own and eventually found they were on opposite sides of the political coin, which surprised their parents, who had voted blue their entire lives. 

"Our parents are very strong Democrats, so when dad found out Jessica was a Republican, he said, 'You’ve gotta be ... kiddin’ me,'" Sparks said with a laugh. 

“The values that I align very closely with the Republican Party, we were living!” Tyson added. 

Now 46, both women are running in neighboring districts for seats on the Kent County commission. Tyson has previously run for office, while this campaign is Sparks’ first foray into politics. And though they’re not running against each other, sibling rivalry is unavoidable.

“We are very competitive,” Sparks said. “But we don’t talk a lot about our campaigns, because we’re loyal to our parties.”

Still, the women face unique challenges as they work the campaign trail.

“Jessica is such a staunch Republican — she’s been to the White House for dinner with President Trump, she’s always doing GOP stuff; she’s proud of this," Sparks said. “When I first came out about running … I immediately got attacked, people running against me said ‘look, she’s a Republican … she’s in a picture [with her sister].’ I get so many people who say to me, ‘Which one are you?’ Negative right off the bat. It’s unfortunate.” 

And though she’s a proud Democrat, Sparks is quick to defend her sister’s right to choose another political path.

"I don’t like when people call my sister ... racial epithets," Sparks said. “That hurts me. It pains me that my sister has to bear that burden.”

Being an identical twin has also led to unique challenges on social media. 

“If I post a picture, Facebook thinks it’s her," Sparks said.

“She’ll let me know, ‘Hey, Jay, I’m at a Democratic convention,' and I’ll have to hurry up and untag myself," Tyson said, laughing. 

But both women said they are driven to serve, and believe their political differences are not as polarizing as people believe. 

“The left wing and the right wing belong to the same bird,” they said at the same time. 

The primary election is on Aug. 7. Sparks is running against several candidates for the Democratic nomination, while Tyson is running unopposed for the Republican nomination. Both plan to endorse the other’s rival, but aren’t taking it personally.  

"I do hope that she’s the candidate that my candidate beats in November," Tyson said. 

They also hope their story shows loved ones can put politics aside and focus instead on what brings people together.

“We need to listen to each other,” Sparks said. “We are so busy trying to get our point across … we’re not being empathetic enough.”

“Monica is so right,” Tyson added.

"Again," Sparks quipped.

Tyson laughed, adding: “It’s not always easy. But you have to be willing to [listen]. You have to find common ground … we’re not going to get any work done on what we don’t agree with, but there’s plenty we do agree on."