Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Hump Day, When I First Got the "Disease"

When I was about twelve years old, my Dad invited me to go to the election night party for his friend who was hoping to become our next state Representative. Dad had been his official campaign chairman, but I had little knowledge of his involvement or what those sorts of things even meant. It sounded like a night that might bore most kids to death, but I had grown up going to various parties and functions with a lot of adults, so I was fine with going. Little did I know I would forever be fascinated by this thing we call "politics".

That night someone pointed out I was good with numbers, so they let me add all the voting tallies as they were called in from the courthouse. I felt like the most important person there, constantly having to explain what the numbers meant, and often being asked "So, does it look like he's going to win?" I was used to talking to adults, as I said, so I loved the chance to answer these questions. It probably sealed the deal when my Dad's friend won that night.

A short time later, my own father ran for an open seat to the United States Congress. He had left his job for unrelated reasons, and he felt he could do some good serving our district in the House. He was not the only one, though, as at least five Republicans ran. I was about to head to high school, but I decided I would rather help my father campaign than go to the summer camp for the football team. I spent long hours putting together signs with nails and staples, stuffing mailers, stamping mailers, and handing out literature as my father walked the strip malls of our district. A few days before the election, I helped make phone calls to invite people to come out and vote for my Dad. I was amazed (and often horrified) to hear what people would tell me, a fourteen year old, about my own father. I was cussed out, hung up on, and talked down to. Somehow, I still was not cured of my fascination with politics.

The Primary Day came, and we all gathered to watch the results come in. It was quickly apparent that Dad had not made the runoff. One of his opponents who had vilified him as "a wide-eye liberal" published (without asking) in our local paper an ad explaining how similar his views were to Dad's (Dad had won our county, but he lost badly everywhere else). The man won, and he is still the Congressman from that district today. I've never particularly cared for him, though.

Two years later, my Dad had started a business, but the chairman of the state party came calling. He recruited Dad to run for Labor Commissioner - a statewide office, and one rarely (if ever) held by someone in our party. He agreed only after the chairman promised to give him a certain amount of campaign funding. That promise was never fulfilled, but Dad never dropped out of the race. I had just gotten my license the year before, so I was able to drive him all over the state to interview with newspapers, almost always leaving one interview late for the next one. That summer I learned to speed. It was my job to read the map and decide how best to get from where we were to where we needed to be, so I learned a lot about maps, and about how big our state is. I also learned more about politics, as I watched people from within our own party threaten my Dad, telling him they could not support him if he didn't use "their people". He didn't, and it may well have cost him the election. My father, though, has always been a man of integrity, and he has not let is morals be swayed by expediency. I learned a lot about just how strong his moral compass is during that campaign. He lost by about eight percent, 54%-46%, and he said he was cured of his desire to ever run for public office again. I remember riding home in the car around 2:00 AM and listening to liberals call in to a local radio station, saying the world was coming to an end - the Republicans had just taken the House and Senate. My day might have been "lost" but the party had succeeded in its main goal.

In the years to come, I would work on more campaigns, and I Election Night was to my family what New Years Eve was to many - a big night to stay up and watch what happened. I learned a lot of valuable lessons, but most of all, I knew I had the disease called politics. Any time someone has asked me if I plan to run for office, I always say, "Only if I have to." I prefer to work to elect people I feel will do a good job, and I have come to see that one person really can make a difference in an election. It all goes back to that first night at an election party, counting votes.

Disclaimer: I have avoided politics on this blog because it is not part of the overall topic of our blog. I just thought this post went well with the theme of today's Hump Day (childhood memories) and with the times.

I liked the Hump Day Topic, look here to see what Hump day is and to read other people's Hump Day Posts:

-- Robert


Julie Pippert said...

Wow, what a journey. The really interesting part is how, even though it was your dad's journey too, you found your own thing and place. It must have been incredible to have such a politically active parent---just such an active parent period---with your own interest in politics. I almost wish you would talk politics because I'd be interested in what all you had to say.

You wrote, "My father, though, has always been a man of integrity, and he has not let is morals be swayed by expediency. I learned a lot about just how strong his moral compass is during that campaign."

I bet that had a huge effect on you. They always say teach through what you do.

Great glad you participated.

Robert said...

I honestly debated creating a political blog, but I don't want to watch venom pour out of my screen. I am sure my father's interest in politics played a huge role in building my interest in it, but I may have gotten interested in anyway. There is a lot of energy that surrounds the political scene that infects anyone that comes in contact with it. I know it impressed my wife (and the wife of my friend) that people like my state senator came up to me state convention and ask me where someone else important is.

One funny story about our present governor: when he was first running, my father held a dinner to let him speak to the people of Grady County, and at the time I was living upstairs in their house just before going back to graduate school. Months later, I was walking through the crowd of fans leaving the football game (at least 100,000 people just from the stadium) there was a car slowly driving against the traffic, and I put my hand out to gauge that I was not in front of it. The window of the passenger side came down and out came the hand of the soon-to-be governor, he said "I stayed at your house." I smiled and said, "You're a smart man, Sonny." It's one thing for a politician to be able to recall who you are when you are in a certain setting, but quite another to actively take the trouble to let you know they recognize you. Two years later, after I had moved out of state with my wife (I got married right after grad school) and moved back, the governor was helping a candidate of ours get elected to the State House, and he came to a dinner. He greeted me at the door and said, "Glad to have you back in the state."

Those stories certainly boost my ego a bit, knowing that my governor knows me on sight.

melissa said...

I'd love it if you wrote a political blog. even though I'm fairly certain we don't agree, I like hearing all sides. It helps me keep perspective on how everyone thinks. I mean, I read the WSJ and Mother Jones. Pretty diverse reading. :)

Glad you joined in!

Robert said...

Maybe I will post some political intrigue stuff on here in the future. It's certainly one of my major interests, and this political season is the most fascinating election I have ever watched or even heard of (and I love history). Todd and I started this blog to talk about our working lives, but I suppose this blog could involve politics as well. I'll give it some thought.

le35 said...

I love the politics, too, Rob. Maybe that's because I am your wife and all, but wow. I love the stories you post here! And you're right, politics is like a disease. You catch it, and you never get cured.

Robert said...

Hmm, the most different posters to any one entry, and it's the only one that's mostly about politics... maybe I will write about it.

One lawyer at a convention a few years back told me not to get a doctorate because "it will only make you unelectable, but you'll still have the disease." Another popular one is from a candidate who said "The desire to run for public office is a disease curable by death."

we_be_toys said...

The influence our families have upon us is so profound, isn't it? What a great post to write today, and very timely too!

Robert said...

Indeed. My parents have both influenced me a great deal. Thanks for the comments, WBT.

melissa said...

AHA! I was wondering if you two were connected. Now I know for sure! :)

Robert said...

You might say we're joined at the hip... we certainly are conjoined contractually, maritally, and lovingly. She's quite a lady.

Lawyer Mama said...

What a great story! How fascinating to see politics from the other side as a child. I could certainly understand catching the disease that way. Sounds like it's heriditary!

Robert said...

One nice thing about growing up around politics is that I am not easily impressed by meeting politicians, even elected politicians. It makes it a lot easier for me to look at what someone is saying and doing and truly decide whether or not I should vote for them, or even support them.

For instance, I remember being a young teen and watching Bill Clinton in a debate basically take the questions he was asked and repeat them back in long-form, elogquent sentences, something like this:

"Mr. Clinton, what do you plan to do about [pick a subject]?"

"[Almost always gave them back their name], thank you for that wonderful question. What you have asked, a very important question in this election, is what I plan to do about [that subject]. Thank you for such a wonderful question."

His answers never actually committed to anything, meant anything, or even attempted to answer anything. Problem was, he did it in such a nice, eloquent way, that at best, the person who asked was the only person who realized he wasn't saying anything.