Nothing in the history books will ever mark the coming and going of the night of June 28, 1994.
But I will always remember it. Because it was the night I stood in a parking lot in Dothan and held my 72-year-old mother as she sobbed, “It’s just not fair” over and over.
Just like 2014, 1994 was an election year. I ran for an open seat in the state senate in southeast Alabama.
There were three of us in the primary. I was the top vote getter on June 7, but faced a runoff election three weeks later.
Those weeks were not fun. There was nothing about them that was statesmanlike or uplifting. There was rarely mention of the challenges facing Alabama, very little in the way of vision offered to the voters.
The other guy came out swinging. One accusation after another. One distortion after another. The campaign was not about who had the best grasp of issues and the best record of working to address opportunities. Instead, it was about hurling charges questioning character, integrity, and work ethic.
Day after day, mother and daddy listened to their son being attacked on the radio, read the mail sent to them, and endured the phone calls they received.
When the voters were counted on June 28, I lost by 1015 votes. And mother cried.
I thought about that night time after time during the recent campaign season. Every time I saw another attack ad on TV, I remembered holding mother as she sobbed that June night.
I thought about the candidates under attack and the fact that they have sons and daughters and mothers and fathers. I thought about the sad state of affairs we’ve come to when winning is the only thing that matters, regardless of what is required to do so.
The real losers are the very people the candidates claim to represent – the good citizens of Alabama.
In a state that continues to languish near the bottom in most measures of well-being and cries out desperately for the leadership of good men and women, the real message of negative campaigns is that if you choose to seek public office, this is what will happen to you.
The “spin doctors” can shout their heads off. The can clothe themselves in righteousness and scream “Alabama values” from the highest hilltop. But those who believe that encouraging fear and hate and distortion is the path to a brighter tomorrow for Alabama are not worthy of being considered leaders.
And because of them, we find ourselves casting a ballot – not for the brightest and best among us – but for what we think is the lesser of evils.
And sometimes we also find ourselves holding our mother as she sobs.
(Note: Don’t let it happen here – any more. There are too many candidates’ children present.) Larry Lee led the study, Lessons Learned from Rural Schools, and is a long-time advocate for public education and frequently writes about education issues. firstname.lastname@example.org