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Opinion

Opinion

Elections are meaner than they used to be

October 3, 2010

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October is a great month … in off-election years. Unfortunately, this year isn’t one of them as evidenced by the ubiquitous, and often vicious, political commercials that cause us to gnash our teeth and mute our TVs.

I am a campaign veteran who managed my party’s county election headquarters for four (one too many) general elections. While I enjoyed working with voters, volunteers and most of the candidates, over those years the game of politics took on an increasingly mean tone.

I remember being in campaign headquarters with a few volunteers when an angry man burst in screaming, “There’s a car with your presidential candidate’s bumper sticker on it parked in a handicapped spot and it doesn’t have a handicapped tag hanging from the mirror! I’m glad you’re losing him votes!”

His voice trailed off as he realized that one of the women he was yelling at was sitting in a wheelchair and had only one leg. Her daughter replied, “If you go back out and check the license plate, you’ll see it is a handicapped tag.”

He left without apologizing, and I only hope he felt like the idiot I thought he was.

During one campaign, an older man dropped in, presented me with a card listing all his previous jobs and religions — both of which were many and varied — and said the rural trailer court where he lived had a water problem. “Would it be OK if I use your bathroom to shave?”

I said yes. He was clearly eccentric, but my late father was a lawyer and an elected official during my growing-up years, and I was accustomed to eccentricity in some of his clients — as well as citizens on extreme sides of issues — who came to our door. My sisters and I decided a bit of weirdness was cool.

Every day that man came in to shave and hang around to visit with volunteers, drink coffee and eat doughnuts. Sometimes he even stuffed a few envelopes. He was there the day we hosted a reception for a popular female U.S. senator who was running for re-election. Accompanied by a young male aide, she went around the room shaking hands and, as she approached the man, he pointed a stick at her that he’d hidden behind his back and shouted, “BANG! BANG! BOOM!”

Her aide paled and I thought he would faint, but the senator gave the man a beaming smile, shook his hand and said, “Hi! I’m Nancy. What’s your name?”

Both major parties need more candidates like her and my friend Joann, who served in the Kansas House before retiring “to spend time with my grandchildren while they still think it’s fun to be with me.”

Dwayne, my buddy who headed a labor union, supported Joann’s candidacy each time she ran and told me, “She doesn’t always vote the way we want, but she’ll come to us and say, ‘I’m not with you on this one and here’s why.’”

Smart people like Dwayne respect that kind of integrity. My dad had integrity, too. When a parking meter salesman offered Dad, then a city commissioner, $5,000 to ensure the city purchased the meters he was selling, my father escorted him out the door. I remember Dad saying indignantly, “You don’t have the kind of money it would take to buy me!”

As an adult, I laughed with Dad about that statement, telling him it was a mixed message causing me to wonder, “How much WOULD it take?”

Dad’s first campaign for state office was against a multi-term incumbent. When Dad said, “May the best man win,” his opponent replied, “That will be me.”

Rural returns came in first and Dad, always gracious, conceded the election; he should have waited because city returns gave him the victory.

Today’s negative political ads must have Dad spinning. I prize one of his campaign cards stating Dad’s heartfelt promise: “I will attempt to represent you the way I would want you to represent me.”

Voter turnout was better back then. I wonder why.

Marsha Henry Goff is a freelance writer in Lawrence whose latest book is “Human Nature Calls.”

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