Thursday, July 14, 2005

Get’em While They’re Young

I grew up in a family of Republicans. They might have
split their ticket from time to time but they were
mostly Republicans, some vehemently so. Yet, I became
a Democrat. My feet were firmly set at a young age.
You see, while my family were Republicans, they never
talked about politics so I didn’t know their political
beliefs or how they were formed. Fortunately, or
unfortunately depending on your viewpoint, a neighbor
of my mother's was not so restrained. She had never
married and in those days that meant she had no
children. She asked me to look after her cat when she
went away and took me under her wing. She gave me
books, took me to a movie, and took me to my first
political event. We handed out flyers for a state
representative or state senate candidate. His name
was Phil, last name lost to memory, and he lost the
election to boot. But he did thank me personally.

The neighbor, whose name I have taken as a pseudonym
for this blog, was involved in the local Democratic
committee. When I was in high school one of our US
senators came to town. It must have been an election
year or else he was especially diligent as the town
was very small and not a usual stopping point. I
worked on the school paper and the neighbor finagled
an interview with the senator for me. After his
breakfast meeting, he was going to the high school for
an assembly. I rode with him and an aide in the car
and asked my questions there. He was unfailingly
polite and his staff followed up with information on
questions to flesh out what he said. They also sent
me an autographed picture. That year for Christmas
the neighbor gave me a letter opener with his
signature engraved on it. I still have both of them,
more than a quarter of a century later.

As a young girl I had met a state level elected
official who had stopped by the church I attended.
Being a bold little rascal I went up and asked if I
could shake his hand. He smiled nicely and said sure.
It was a brief encounter but stuck in my mind. I
don’t really remember what party he was in or exactly
what office he held but I remember he was kind to me.
On election night my mother and I drove up to the
local newspaper office to check the elections returns
to see if he won whatever office he was running. This
was before the Internet and late night news; the paper
posted returns in the front office window.

As an adult, I found out that my grandfather had been
invited to run for town office on the Republican
ticket but no one could be found to run for mayor so
the slate was dropped. He never spoke about that. I
wonder if the letter on my voter registration card
would be different today if he had.

And so my introduction to politics was provided by a
partisan Democrat who took advantage of car rides to
events or conversations regarding the feeding of her
cat to indoctrinate me. “Republicans look after
business; Democrats look after people. Don’t forget,”
she would say. There are other reasons why I have
retained my sense of party affiliation but the seeds
were sown there.

I am involved in community events, as is Mr. Jane, and
so our children are sometimes taken out to street
fairs and tree plantings and such. One elected
official whose family was grown borrowed them for an
afternoon as a rationale for attending a Halloween
event (I went along too). Another borrowed them to be
in a group photo on a campaign brochure. The youngest
little Jane appeared on someone else’s campaign web
site. So they are used to interacting with elected
officials and candidates. The oldest little Jane,
whose age is still in single digits told me he didn’t
know who to support in one local race because he sort
of knew both candidates. “It’s a toughy” I told him,
wanting him to come to his own conclusions. Like many
parents my husband and I took our kids to the polls
with us and let them push one or two buttons. We’ve
told them we are Democrats but that they are
encouraged to develop their own beliefs.

If my civic involvement serves no other purpose, my
time will have been well spent if my children grow up
thinking elected officials are people they can and
should interact with on a regular basis. Next to a
big fat inheritance (which looks unlikely), it’s the
best legacy I can leave them.

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