I think everyone should have to run for office just once in their life to understand how it is on the other side of the street in the dog-eat-dog world of politics. It’s easy to criticize and villainize when you have no idea of what you’re talking about.
Hey, in biblical terms, I was Saul before my eyes were opened on the way to Damascus. I, being a know-it-all, was quick to criticize everyone who was running for office, picking them apart like some kind of political expert since I was the political correspondent during elections in my former job. To me, elections and politics were a sport and something to pump up my byline count. That is, until I decided to try my hand at it.
Yes, after years of reporting on elections, I became one of those seeking office back in 2018, next door in Warren County. Since I’d lived at the circuit court clerk’s office for nearly 30 years in my job as crime and courts reporter, I thought I’d be a perfect fit when the long-time clerk announced her retirement. I figured, ‘I’m Duane Flippin’ Sherrill,’ so I should be a shoo-in for the office. I had the name recognition and the credentials. What else did I need? Um, votes.
“You definitely got name recognition,” said the lady who ultimately beat me like a rented mule in the election. “That’s what I’m counting on.”
I couldn’t understand why she was grinning when she said it, that is, until election night when I finished a distant third. Making matters worse was that there were only three people running. Note to self – if you’ve worked at a newspaper for three decades, don’t ever run for office because you’ve made too many people mad.
Anyway, along with relieving me of a few thousand dollars which would have been better spent using them lighting cigars, my run gave me a good insight on how you have to put yourself out there and humble yourself in seeking office. It made me understand the sacrifice candidates have to make to play the very cruel political game and how fickle the public really is.
With this in mind, there is one lasting memory I will always take with me from the campaign. It was the day I almost killed a voter. Yeah, I know, folks can’t vote when they’re dead – well, except for some various precincts down in southern Florida and back in the day over in Grundy County – but that’s another story.
So anyway, knowing that elections are based on a lot of visibility, I would often drive around town in a pickup truck with my big gold and black “Sherrill for Circuit Court Clerk” political sign strapped into the bed. It got to be so second nature that I almost forgot it was there, that is, until one afternoon as I was driving up Manchester Highway to put up a sign in Morrison.
My friend and I were just going along the highway chatting, traveling about 55, when something moved in the corner of my eye.
“THE SIGN!!!” I exclaimed as I saw the large wooden sign helicopter out of the bed and straight up into the air like Dorothy from Wizard of Oz.
I watched helplessly in my rear view as the 50-pound behemoth took wings, reached its zenith and then began to plummet to Earth.
“Whew,” I looked at my friend. “At least it didn’t hit any …”
BOOM!!! In an instant my sign seemed to disintegrate as a pickup slammed it dead middle just as it was about to hit the pavement.
“I’VE KILLED SOMEONE!” I exclaimed as I wrestled my truck to the emergency lane. “The campaign is over. I’m going to jail. I won’t do well in jail. Do you get cable in prison?”
I stepped out of the truck just as the last of the sign rained down onto the highway, motorists still zipping through at high speeds. I looked across to the center turn lane where a man had stepped out of his truck and was walking toward me.
“He’s going slug me in the mouth and then sue me,” I muttered to myself.
However, instead of coming at me with ill-intent, he began picking up pieces of my sign. Then his girlfriend got out of the truck and began helping him. Not knowing what to do, I did the same and began gathering up what was left of the sign while trying not to get run over.
A few moments later the man and his girlfriend came over, dragging the remnants of my sign. Before I could say anything, the guy spoke up.
“I’m sorry I wrecked your sign, sir,” he sheepishly apologized.
“Sorry? Don’t be sorry,” I replied as he threw my handful of broken sign into the bed of my truck. “I’m sorry I almost killed ya’ll.”
The man laughed. “Shoot. You couldn’t hurt my old truck with a boat load of dynamite,” he grinned.
Anyway, I stood there and chatted for a few minutes before we decided that being on the side of Manchester Highway while cars flew by was not the safest place in the world.
Happy I wasn’t going to jail or getting sued, I extended my hand. Just then I had a thought. “I know this is an awkward circumstance to ask,” I began. “But I sure would appreciate your vote for circuit clerk.”
The man shook my hand and grinned as I continued. “By the way, my name is …”
He cut me off mid-sentence. “Sir, you don’t have to tell me your name,” he said. “I’ll never be able to forget it. I just saw it coming at my windshield at 55 miles per hour.”