Since I’ve started writing “Sundays with Steve” I’ve been thinking about vignettes of my life growing up in North Idaho. I realize the town where I grew up and the life I lived with my family is really a classic, all-American story. Perhaps you will recognize some of your childhood in these writings. And perhaps you will recognize the town you grew up in, too, and some of the characters you knew. Mrs. Steve has encouraged me to write these as attempts of “creative writing” as opposed to the more factual journalistic style I was trained in and practiced in my early career, all those years ago. So my apologies if I stumble a bit here and there trying to blend the two styles together
SMALL TOWN MUSINGS - VOTE FOR ME!
It occurs to me, as we were talking last week about the Rocky Mountain oyster feed at Eagle, Idaho that several other events occurred in Eagle over the years that you might find of interest. Here’s one:
I mouthed-off for many years that I thought most people should volunteer for community service at least once in their lives, to really contribute to their communities in meaningful ways: schools and school boards, zoning commissions, libraries, water districts, volunteer fire departments, whatever is needed.
I don’t think that I anticipated that high-minded principle would apply to me. But it did.
It was 1985 when it came time for me to put up or shut up. I was 36 years old, and some neighbors, undoubtedly under the influence of alcohol, decided I should run for an upcoming city council seat in our small town, population about 2,400.
The kids were small, business was doing ok at the time, the neighbors were friendly, it was a pleasant town to live in. “Maybe I should”, I thought, ”maybe I should.”
Why me? The answer was simple, need. That winter was unusually harsh, the snows deeper than usual, and the country road department that was charged with keeping our streets open was hopelessly overwhelmed. It was days away from sending the plows to our corner of the county when that first storm hit. The county said, “sorry, there is nothing we can do.” That irritated me a great deal. But instead of complaining, I took charge. I hired a private plow to clear the roads and driveways of our neighborhood, a subdivision with about 2 miles of streets and 70 houses. I put a note in each mailbox asking the residents to contribute to a fund to keep the roads clear for the winter. Most did. My recruited plowman dug us out two or three times that winter.
In the spring some of the neighbors thought my reward for the snow plow effort was to join the city council. Geez, that wasn’t much of a reward. When I took my little plow on my little garden tractor to clear out the adjacent houses’ long driveways that winter, the rewards were chocolate chip cookies and milk. Those rewards were really much more satisfying than public office.
Mrs. Steve and I found the election file the other day, and reviewed it with amusement: I had 49 signatures on the election petition, virtually all residing in the subdivision where I lived. I must have walked door-to-door through the neighborhood gathering those, although I don’t recall that.
I spent $341 on the election, and raised about $300. It cost me then $41 to try to get a job that paid $125 per month. Was it a forerunning of expensive elections to come? Was this the start of my political career?
I held a fund-raiser, an open house, with 30 or so people showing up in response to a newspaper ad and telephone calls extending the invitation for wine, cheese and Triscuit crackers, in return for a suggested political contribution. (That’s what the grocery store receipt that Mrs. Steve found -- Triscuits! If I were to it again, I think the menu would be a bit different.) Most contributions were in the $10 and $20 range. It must have been the Triscuits that held the dollar amounts down. Maybe it was the bad wine, but no, I firmly believe it was the cheap Triscuits.
It was non-partisan election, so no party affiliation had to be declared. An old school chum of mine from Lewiston, David Leroy, was running for governor that year, and he joined our little open-house fund –raiser, as a hanger-on. It didn’t work, he lost to the Democrats.
An organization out of the big city – Boise, just eight miles up the road – did a pre-election poll for small towns in our state. They put me comfortably in the lead of this six person race for two open seats. Why was I in the lead? I didn’t have clue.
It is rather an ego trip running for public office like that, even in a little tiny town. I saw my photo often in the daily and weekly newspapers that circulated through our area, being quoted on this or that. There were some endorsements and that generated more publicity. There was a television news interview or two (that probably lasted at least 20 seconds of air time).
We put up some small signs around our town (it didn’t take many to cover all the two or three main streets), and I sent a letter to each registered voter, all 1,000 of them. As I recall, the postage was the largest campaign expense.
Election Day came, and I won in not-quite-a- landslide, but with the exact 43% margin that poll predicted.
Then it was time to go to work on the mundane job of governing a small town. We did have some fun: Over the next four years we annexed everything in sight, growing our town acreage by 4000 percent or so. We cut taxes. We exacted Federal monies to build a new library and city hall. We irritated a few people in those years, and we gave a lot of people exactly what they were looking for.
One of those who were elected with me was indicted late into my term for embezzling city funds. The dumb ass, I’m still mad at his stupidity. But that’s another story for another time.
The mayor of our little town resigned in my last year on the council, and filling that spot with a temporary mayor, the largest vote getter of course, is another story for another time.
The town had a population of 2400 or so then, 25 years ago, it has about 30,000 I’m told. I think much of what we did in those years laid the foundation for that growth.
So I put up, and I didn’t shut up (still an occasional problem), and I did my community service. I found it hugely rewarding. When my term was drawing to a close I told both the local Republican and the local Democratic parties, both of who had approached me to run for the state legislature, that no, thank you for the compliment of asking, but no, I wasn’t interested. I didn’t run for another term in Eagle or any other public office since then.
Once was enough. Maybe.
See you next week.