After several years of closely following the elections and working as a journalist covering the state house and senate, I let several associates sway me into tossing my hat into the ring and run for New Hampshire State Legislature.
To “toss one’s hat into the ring” comes from the practice that was common in the 1800’s at boxing matches where anyone who wanted could take on the winner by simply tossing their hat into the boxing ring. That association is more accurate even today than one would imagine at first thought. If you chose to run, you are not only challenging the status quo but you represent an imminent danger personally to the incumbent and to not expect some serious competition would be fool hearted.
Almost a full year before formal filing to be on the primary election ballot, I made it a point to attend every NH House of Representatives and NH Senate session and committee meeting for which I could muster time. I was such a fixture at the state house that the cashier at the state house cafeteria just automatically rang-up coffee without me even asking. I started low-level campaigning by knocking on doors and “sign waves” at least a year before even filing. I even took a weekend to attend statehouse training and formal introductions to how the process works.
And, the process includes baring your entire life. Nothing is sacred. There are mandatory finance filings and competition will without doubt try to find any dirt regarding anything there is. Your entire life and everything you ever did and even those things that you might not be so proud of are suddenly public domain. You are a public figure and media will crucify you if anything turns up. That fact might keep many from taking part even though they might not have anything to fear; being public domain is a daunting realization. To make it past a few months of serious campaigning means you really do not have any serious skeletons in your closet.
And then, a week before the primary, I was deployed to New Orleans in response to Hurricane Isaac. I am a also disaster inspector working as an independent contractor for the FEMA Individual Assistance Program and deploying to a major disaster to help survivors seems to me to be a priority. And, while packing to meet my “less than 24 hour on site deployment” mandate, I arranged for my wife and my best friend to hold my campaign sign at the upcoming primary election.
While flying to New Orleans, I was confident that I had done all I could and my wife and best friend and other friends would do a remarkable job and pull-out what was promising to be an embarrassing close loss to three long-time incumbents. The primary for my district would chose three winners to carry on to the general election and the remainder of the six of the candidates would simply go home only to watch the remainder of the election from the sidelines.
From political science courses and studies, I already knew that name placement on the ballot was a prime factor. The first name on the list always has a strong advantage and the last name has a strong disadvantage. By random drawing for list placement, my name had gained last place on the ballot listing. Surely, I had almost convinced myself, voters would overlook all the other factors and jump to the bottom of the list and vote for me.
And so my best friend of over 30 years, Joe, arrived before 7AM to hold a large campaign sign and greet voters as they came from the parking lot to the school gymnasium that serves as our local polling place. He was relieved by my wife Carol at 1PM and she stayed until the poll closed at 7PM. They did yeoman work standing in the weather and acting as perfect advocates as the voters came and went.
While they were hard at work trying to influence voters, I was zipping about New Orleans, from Lake St. Catherine down Chef Mentor Highway to the Lower 9th Ward to the French Quarter processing all the survivors I could. For quite a time, I actually forgot what was going on at the polls at home. But, about 9PM while finishing the days paperwork which, by the way, is actually 100% computerized these days but I am old school and still call it paperwork, I called my wife who informed me that she had just learned that I lost by about 100 votes.
I was devastated. The night of primary day September 11, 2012, I tried but never quite got to sleep.
I immediately blamed it on ballot placement. But by something around 3AM, it became the complete incompetence of the voters who obviously had no idea of what they were doing. But then, by about 6AM when I to had leave for the trenches again, the loss had to have something to do with people just plain not liking me. Fortunately, being a professional’s professional, I was able to completely put the entire election out of my mind and focus on the day’s hurricane survivors; I was really tired though.
Emotions and rationalizations of why I lost bounced around in my head for a couple of days but almost every hour there was a bit more calm and realization that I really had done all I could and I quite simply lost to better prepared and better known people. It was a sobering realization. I am in the over 60 crowd of over achieving baby boomers and I had never really lost at anything in my life. It was a new experience and a life altering event to say to myself “you lost”.
On the airplane coming home from New Orleans, I morphed into a state resembling morning rather than denial or anger. On arriving home, I was not quite sure how I felt but I told my wife I felt like my best friend just died and she simply said “next election you’ll do better”. That night I slept better than I can remember sleeping in a long time; it felt good, I had good dreams, I was home, the world was at peace, and my day in the public eye was done although I did get elected in the same election as delegate to the state convention to formalize the party platform.
And so, a few weeks after the primary election, I have finally pulled all the “elect me” signs I could find and carefully placed them in storage. They will be a nice addition to the next election in which I will be a much smarter and more polished and better prepared.
When I stand beside that boxing ring and toss my hat into it, there will be no holding me back.