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.
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