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…

Most Shared

  • World leaders set to meet in Little Rock on resource access and sustainable development

    Next week a series of meetings on the use of technology to tackle global problems will be held in Little Rock by Club de Madrid — a coalition of more than 100 former democratic former presidents and prime ministers from around the world — and the P80 Group, a coalition of large public pension and sovereign wealth funds founded by Prince Charles to combat climate change. The conference will discuss deploying existing technologies to increase access to food, water, energy, clean environment, and medical care.
  • Tomb to table: a Christmas feast offered by the residents of Mount Holly and other folk

    Plus, recipes from the Times staff.
  • Fake news

    So fed up was young Edgar Welch of Salisbury, N.C., that Hillary Clinton was getting away with running a child-sex ring that he grabbed a couple of guns last Sunday, drove 360 miles to the Comet Ping Pong pizzeria in Washington, D.C., where Clinton was supposed to be holding the kids as sex slaves, and fired his AR-15 into the floor to clear the joint of pizza cravers and conduct his own investigation of the pedophilia syndicate of the former first lady, U.S. senator and secretary of state.
  • Reality TV prez

    There is almost nothing real about "reality TV." All but the dullest viewers understand that the dramatic twists and turns on shows like "The Bachelor" or "Celebrity Apprentice" are scripted in advance. More or less like professional wrestling, Donald Trump's previous claim to fame.
  • Arkansas archeologist does his job, is asked to leave

    Amid Department of Arkansas Heritage project.

Latest in Cover Stories

Visit Arkansas

View Trumpeter Swans in Heber Springs

View Trumpeter Swans in Heber Springs

Magness Lake, in Heber Springs, is a magnet for swans

Event Calendar

« »

December

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

Most Recent Comments

 

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