Good Citizens Who Run For Office

Jerry Coffee
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Wednesday - June 18, 2008
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To say “well it’s election campaign time again in Hawaii” is an understatement. Over the past year now, we and the entire country have been blanketed by media coverage of the presidential primaries, especially the seemingly interminable race on the Democrat side, which truly deserved much of the coverage given its historical significance.

On the Republican side, there was an equally competitive primary among five highly qualified candidates, but with an outcome determined much earlier in the process as Sen. John McCain - the candidate with the most years of experience in military and public service in recent history - emerged as the GOP’s choice.

The national race for the president of our country truly deserves our attention, especially at a time when the two candidates represent almost diametrically opposed styles and platforms, and the outcome could determine the survival of our country and its values.

But concurrently here in Hawaii it’s also campaign time for our state and city/county offices, and these contests obviously deserve our attention and appreciation as well.

To the politically uninvolved, local political campaigns may seem like nothing more than a jumble of colorful signs on the fences and walls of every prominent corner and intersection in the state, or coming home from work to find a candidate’s pamphlet hanging on your doorknob or maybe on your gate with a dog biscuit for the one who kept the person outside the fence. Of course, sign-wavers with smiles and shakas (if they aren’t union conscripts) are truly the trademark of Hawaii campaigning.

All of this tends to obscure the sleepless nights of soul-searching by each candidate while deciding whether or not to step up to the call of service. Unseen is the hard work of planning, organizing, fund-raising, graphic design, hoofing door to door, motivating volunteers, studying issues, making speeches and a myriad of daily details in conducting a political campaign.

As a candidate for our state House of Representatives in 2004, and in 2006 for the U.S. Senate, I learned firsthand about the “no turning back” commitment of time, energy, resources and the impact upon family, relationships and - potentially - health. In the race for the state House, my wife, Susan, was my campaign manager (sort of by default, coming home from a Japan trip to find she had a job!) and our campaign headquarters was our garage. And although I lost the election by 53 votes out of 8,000-plus (those #&**!&!#@!! absentee ballots!) the scores of new friends we made through shared values and commitment to them were a positive result.

Until I had to abandon the Senate race because of a heart attack, it was shaping up to be all of the above magnified a hundredfold. It kicked off with three grueling summer days in Washington, D.C., mostly walking (D.C. parking is a nightmare) from appointment to appointment with White House and senatorial campaign finance directors (Elizabeth Dole), Republican Party chairman, potential campaign managers and professional campaign finance experts. As we stood in the receiving line of a fundraising event on Capitol Hill (organized by daughter and friends) the third night, our blistered feet were crying out to be back home in slippahs. Ironically, they would have their way.

So this campaign season, how about a little empathy and appreciation - and maybe some prayers - for those among us who you can be sure on some previous sleepless night were thinking, “There are just too many things wrong. Someone needs to step up and change the wrong things to right. And if not me, who?”

God bless them all!

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