Everything is changing. People are taking their comedians seriously and the politicians as a joke.”—Will Rogers (1879–1935) actor, syndicated newspaper columnist, and social commentator.
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“Didn’t you run for public office one time back there somewhere,” longtime friend and fellow newspaper publisher Hudson Old asked me last week? Hudson and I grew up in Mount Pleasant where Hudson had a paper route at the Tribune in the northeast Texas city during the time my mom was circulation manager at the newspaper.
We print Hudson’s East Texas Journal in Center. He was in town to pick up the latest edition when, for some reason, my foray into politics crossed his mind.
“Guilty,” I pled. “Took a shot at the state representative seat for Shelby, Nacogdoches, and Panola counties the late 80s. And, looking back, the best part of running for public office might have been the education in life. Best one you’ll get outside of a schoolhouse.”
Writing and reporting on the actions of those who craft laws out of chaos, at one time, created a desire in me to help bring about positive change.
As a former schoolteacher, I had a zeal for improving the direction of education. As a journalist, I was experienced in delving into the political processes and reporting the findings. As a business owner and investor, I had a working knowledge of the economy. As a part of all the above, my ideals were in a responsible government that truly represented the people.
The part I was not too fond of was being tagged a politician. “What we need is more statesmen who think about the future and fewer politicians who think about the next election,” I have always advocated.
A good friend got into politics once and asked if I would support him. “Sure, on one condition,” I joked. “That you don’t get corrupted working around the politicians.” He was earning a passing grade when one day, I called him with a question about an upcoming bill.
“What the people back in the district need to understand is …,” he started to answer.
“Hold it right there,” I countered. “The only thing the people back here in the district need to understand is that they elected you to represent them, not to dictate collaborative political needs in the capitol.” Unfortunately, my friend had become afflicted with the dreaded “politicalitis.”
Despite that, I was still toying with the notion of running when one morning during a meeting of our downtown coffee club, the one responsible for solving world issues, the topic of an open seat in the state house came up. Community-minded people like Jack Motley, Roy Masterson, J.W. Braden, and others were in the conversation that morning when Mr. Jack looked at me and said, “Why don’t you run?”
With little hesitation, I responded, “Why not?”
For five months, I knocked on doors. I spoke to civic organizations in three counties. At all hours and numerous locations. I was invited to speak at church gatherings and fellowship functions. I learned about cake walks and pie auctions. I could tell you where every sale barn was located, and I knew every sale day. I spoke to civics, history, and a sundry of other kinds of classes from elementary to high school. I attended a rally somewhere between northern Panola County and the southernmost regions of Nacogdoches county more often than I care to remember. Oh, and one college political forum at Stephen F. Austin State University.
Then came the day when all campaign trails ended at the polls. I had given it everything I had, and it was time for the people’s verdict.
That night, our election watch party at a local business on the square was winding down with only a few boxes still out around 11:00 p.m. I was where I had been since the first box came in — in second place among five contenders, none of us with political experience.
“I think we’re in the runoff,” someone said. I wasn’t as sure. The few boxes still out were in Nacogdoches, where most of the votes were cast. So, I stayed until everything was in. Sure enough, the last boxes from Nac bumped me out of the runoff.
I thanked those who had persevered with me, turned off the lights, and headed home. The party was over.
I sat on the back porch for a time that night, gazing at the stars and pondering the education I had just completed. I smiled as I remembered that “God is good. He knows what I need, and he takes care of me.”
“Have you ever written about that,” Hudson asked last week?
“Naw,” I responded. “It wasn’t that good of a story. Just a great education.
Plus, that night on the porch, I recalled what a mentor once told me: ‘always stick with what you do best.’ That’s when I decided I might be better suited for becoming a comedian.”
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Aldridge columns are published in these Texas newspapers: The Center Light and Champion, the Mount Pleasant Tribune, the Rosenberg Fort Bend Herald, the Taylor Press, the Alpine Avalanche, The Fort Stockton Pioneer, and The Monitor in Naples.
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