Favorite

Where's the human touch? 

Bruised and battered by his first political race, a congressional candidate laments the loss of personal connection.

If I had to describe what it's like running for office for the first time, I'd explain it this way: Wait for a sunny day and seek out the tallest, thickest, nastiest tree you can find. Once there, strip naked and climb to the very top, wrap a blindfold around your eyes and jump into the thicket below.

As you're slapped in the face with every limb; knocked around like a pinball from branch to branch, you have to find ways to maintain a belief in a political system wired for resistance; belief in a people conditioned for cynicism; and belief in yourself, as you are challenged almost ceaselessly to compromise your principles in some way.

Something changes when you take that first plunge. The lines of reality sharpen and then fade around the edges, and once you do reach bottom, you're left wondering how your wounds will heal. Will they scar with bitterness and frustration, or will they regenerate into a tougher, wiser layer of skin? Will you hesitate before the next climb to the top? And once there, how will your memories shape your path forward?

It's these questions that illustrate where leadership bleeds into politics. And several months after my first ever political campaign, in which I ran for U.S. Congress in Arkansas's Second Congressional District as a Democrat, I am grappling with these questions in very real and difficult ways.

The phrase "campaign trail" has a special place in the psyche of American political discourse. You don't have to travel far to be reminded about the glory days of politics, as candidates rode from town to town, speaking from a megaphone, leading parades — and, of course, shaking hands and kissing babies. The "trail" was a train of communities, interlinked and interwoven into the democratic process.

But that campaign trail no longer exists. Old courthouse rallies have been replaced with cocktail parties. Backwoods stump speeches with VIP fundraisers. Fireside chats with fund-raising calls. It seems everywhere I traveled throughout the district, voters and candidates alike longed for that personal touch that defines Arkansas politics.

In early May, two weeks before the May 18 primary, I accepted an invitation to speak at the 20th Annual Free State of Yell Fest in Dardanelle, Ark. What was once "the centerpiece" of the weekend's festivities was now hauntingly barren.

While waiting to speak, I saw that one old-timer was visibly upset. As I inched toward him, he continued staring at an old, faded campaign poster of former U.S. Sen. David Pryor, which hung loosely on a plywood wall next to the stage.

"It ain't what it used to be," He suddenly muttered. "It just ain't."

As I walked onto stage, staring at the empty bleachers, I decided it would be my last time to speak before the primary.

I was extremely excited about the opportunity to speak before the public. I guess I wanted my very own "Obama moment." But it never came.

I quickly discovered speeches make little difference. And if an event did generate a crowd, it was mostly candidates and their staffs. And perhaps a few potential voters would show.

As I listened to each candidate deliver their "stump" speeches, I worked extremely hard on my poker face. After enduring the same tired rhetoric week after week, my internal conversations became increasingly hostile.

While candidates did change message occasionally, the one constant was primary opponent Robbie Wills' "do nothing" campaign speech ...

"You might know me as the speaker of the house from Conway. But, you see, that's not exactly true. I come from a small town right outside called Pickles Gap, where my grandfather made these little things called a do-nothing. But he said, Robbie, you don't want to be a do-nothing, but a do-something. And that's exactly what I'm going to be when I go to Washington."

Favorite

Comments (9)

Showing 1-9 of 9

Add a comment

 
Subscribe to this thread:
Showing 1-9 of 9

Add a comment

People who saved…

Readers also liked…

  • Casting out demons: why Justin Harris got rid of kids he applied pressure to adopt

    Rep. Justin Harris blames DHS for the fallout related to his adoption of three young girls, but sources familiar with the situation contradict his story and paint a troubling picture of the adoption process and the girls' time in the Harris household.
    • Mar 12, 2015
  • A child left unprotected

    State Rep. Justin Harris and his wife adopted a young girl through the state Department of Human Services. How did she, six months later, end up in the care of a man who sexually abused her?
    • Mar 5, 2015
  • Ruth Coker Burks, the cemetery angel

    In the darkest hour of the AIDS epidemic, Ruth Coker Burks cared for hundreds of people whose families had abandoned them. Courage, love and the 30-year secret of one little graveyard in Hot Springs. 
    • Jan 8, 2015

Most Shared

  • New book documents the work of visionary instrument-maker Ed Stilley

    Ed Stilley is one of those special, extraordinary visionaries who are driven to create. In Stilley's case, God was the driver and He told Stilley in 1979 to build acoustic  instruments for children.
  • Best of Arkansas 2016

    Readers elect their favorites.
  • Hillary hit jobs

    It's always been my conviction that if Hillary Clinton could be appointed president, she'd do a bang-up job. Getting elected, however, might prove more difficult.
  • These Hogs won't be thin

    This may be the strongest returning receiving corps that the Razorbacks have fielded in the post-Petrino days.
  • Trump-Putin 2016

    Among the thousand bizarre aspects of the presidential campaign has been the Donald Trump-Vladimir Putin axis.

Latest in Cover Stories

Event Calendar

« »

July

S M T W T F S
  1 2
3 4 5 6 7 8 9
10 11 12 13 14 15 16
17 18 19 20 21 22 23
24 25 26 27 28 29 30
31  

Most Viewed

 

© 2016 Arkansas Times | 201 East Markham, Suite 200, Little Rock, AR 72201
Powered by Foundation