Letter from the editor

Tuesday, November 7, 2006

Election Day

"Politics is too serious a matter to be left to the politicians."

- Charles De Gaulle

All of the posing and the speechmaking and the campaign ads and the letters to the editor and the planting of yard signs is ending. There's nothing left to do but to cast a ballot, or not.

It's been a long and competitive campaign for local, state and Congressional seats, and for the casino issue in Buena Vista County. When we wake up tomorrow, and it is all over, what will we talk about then I wonder?

Perhaps it will seem like a child has gone away to college - a child who can be sweet but also has a really ornery streak.

Unlike some newspapers, I'm not here to presume to tell you who to vote for. As journalists, our personal opinions matter no more than any other one person's do. We work hard and long to report on all of the candidates and issues so that you have the ammunition to make your own informed choices.

This, however, is not my first rodeo. I've covered local elections here since about 10 minutes after my last college class. I've cruised the campaign trail with Gopher Grandy and traded stories with Terry Branstad and laughed over lunch with Mary Lou.

I once got Jimmy Carter's son drunk back in my college days. Years later, I got to meet his dad at BVU. Ronald Reagan's family has shared jelly beans with me, and Gerald Ford once patted me on the head and called me "son." I was fortunate enough to be presented with an award in the Rose Garden by the Senior President Bush and his wife, and on another ocasion, to have his Secret Service dog sexually assault my camera bag for a chocolate bar. I nearly had George W. Bush fall on me from a park bench on which he was preaching at the Clay County Fair. The Clintons were kind enough to send me Christmas cards. I've interviewed everyone from Bill Bradley to Jesse Jackson, and along the way met a strange woman candidate for president who always carried a live baby pig under her arm, and another one who always wore a white powdered wig.

I've seen the state, county and city candidates come and go - some amazing people, a few oxygen thieves, a couple of juicy scandals here and there.

Along the way, I've developed some ideas about what a candidate should be:

* If they have never bothered to attend a meeting of the body for which they are running, they probably won't bother to do the work necessary to be good at it if they were elected.

* Making pretty speeches alone doesn't make for a good leader. Look for the one who listens at least as well and as much as he or she talks.

* Ask yourself why they are running. Some just like to draw attention to themselves, or have one self-serving reason or another to grind. There should be more substance than that.

* Avoid mudslingers. They spend most of their time and energy with partisan infighting and positioning for higher offices, and if you can't work with the other party, you won't be very effective.

* Apply the Ed Breen rule.

"Ed Who?" you say. Haven't I introduced you to the man by whom I judge anybody seeking public office? Well, it's high time.

Ed Breen was a craggy old local television pioneer in Fort Dodge when I was growing up - he passed away years ago, though you may recognize a very fine young man named Matt on the Sioux City news who happens to be his grandson.

Anyway, Ed Breen had been a county attorney, Iowa Senator and floor leader. He had run for governor and Congress decades before I was born.

One year, my mother, a tiny little woman with a huge soul and a bad heart went to the school board. Kids in our poor neighborhood had to walk a couple of miles to school, dodging traffic. My mother wanted a traffic signal to avoid turning the children into a human game of Frogger.

The school board hemmed and hawwed, it wasn't protocol, it was too complicated, it couldn't be done. Except for one.

The next morning, the doorbell rang at dawn.

My mother looked up at a tall, Mt. Rushmore looking gentleman in a long trench coat and businessman hat. He had to be 70. And it had to be close to zero out.

"Ma'am, I'm here to walk your children to school."

And so he did. That day, and the next, and the next. Our knot of kids would grow as we moved closer to Pleasant Valley school, and he trudged through the snowbanks with us. When we crossed the traffic, he stood in the middle like Moses parting the Buick Sea, until all little ones were across, daring drivers to encroach.

The next month, as it was told to me by my mother, school board member Ed Breen stood up in front of the board, slammed a big old fist onto the table like a clap of thunder, and proceded to tell them that no child was going to walk that route without a stop signal to keep them safe. No one in that room was about to argue.

Ed Breen kept showing up at the door, I believe, until the light was installed - and with him seeing to it, it didn't take long.

There are many issues to debate, here in town, across the state, around the world. Most politicians will sit around in fancy suits in fancy chambers and make fancy speeches.

A very few go find out the truth for themselves. A very few care enough for the people they represent to walk with them in their times of trouble. A very few have the guts to cut through the politics, go against the flow, and do the work to get the right thing done. A very few will look out for a kid.

You will judge candidates today based on your own preferences. Maybe you vote for a party, or the best speech, or the most campaign promises. That's your business.

As long as I live, I will judge every candidate for every office by the Ed Breen rule. What kind of person is this? When the going gets tough, is this the kind of person who will walk with you?

* Reach Pilot-Tribune Editor Dana Larsen at dlarsen@ stormlakepilottribune.com