Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Four Weeks in Purgatory

Campaigning Under a Polar Vortex

We landed in hell at around 2:30 on that January afternoon. It was an overcast yet sunny day. Outside the terminal, the wind was blowing hard and there was a 45 degree below zero wind chill. Welcome back to Minnesota under the polar vortex.

The weather wasn’t as advertised…it was worse. After being born and raised in Minnesota, I was used to blowing wind, biting cold and snow so deep you had to do chest-presses just to get over those miniature dirty white mountains.

I’d been there many times before. In grade school, delivering newspapers at 4:30 in the morning and trudging through the snow at twenty below zero. In college, unloading trucks at a wind chill of 80 below zero. Years later, I’d occasionally find myself running in white-out conditions because I hadn’t gotten in enough mileage for that week. The unrelenting cold has always been a pain in the derriere and on the extremities. But we were there for a purpose and a little blanket of sub-zero weather wasn’t about to deter us from our objective.

My wife and I had just left the warmth and comfort of Palm Springs to support our daughter who was running for State Representative in her district…64B in Highland Park, a neighborhood in Saint Paul, Minnesota. We were going to be back home for two weeks in January. Then another two more weeks in March just before the district convention which would decide who was running for that position of State Representative. It would be a total of four weeks in purgatory.

The return trip home for a total of four weeks meant I wouldn’t be writing…anything. I wouldn’t be exercising at the gym. I wouldn’t be running trails or bike riding. There were a lot of things, board meetings, neighborhood gatherings, etc. happening back in Palm Springs but they were all on hold for now. We were needed on the home front.

The campaign was shaping up to be a very tough contest for everyone involved. It was Melanie’s first plunge into running for state office; a veritable baptism of fire. A lot of folks who might have been able to help her had already committed to one of the other candidates or didn’t want to get involved at that level. There were six other very qualified candidates, most of whom had done this kind of campaigning before. The ‘good old boys network’ was supporting one candidate and long-time party activists had attached themselves to another one.

Our daughter, who was stepping into the election ring for the first time, was earning her SHK (School of Hard Knocks) bruises, blisters and kudos as she went along. There were good days and bad. It was a roller coaster of emotions with loving support, financial commitments, surprise turndowns and disappointing phone calls. It was a newspaper article that called her simply a ‘stay at home mom’ as if that was a bad thing while it ignored her deep involvement in the community. But through it all, Melanie persevered and kept to her grueling campaign schedule.

To be honest, Melanie had worked for a large law firm and spent considerable time at the capitol working for the same representative who was now leaving office. She knew the rules of the game and the enormous time-commitment it took. We were simply back in town as back-up babysitters and sounding board and encouragement coaches. It’s what parents do for their kids…no matter the age of their kids.

Two weeks of campaign work along with babysitting for most of that time wasn’t as much a chore as it sounds. It meant precious time with my daughter as I chauffeured her for door-knocking in the neighborhood. It was stuffing envelopes and fund-raising. It was squeezing in time to see grandma in Wabasha and stealing time for coffee with an old friend. It was making up new nighttime stories every time as I put Brennan and Charlotte to bed. It was making snow angels with them and playing King of the Hill in three above zero weather.

 We did another two weeks in March which pretty much followed the same pattern. The weather wasn’t as bitterly cold but it wasn’t Palm Springs blissful either. The travel put some real roadblocks in my seasonal participation in my writers group, the Palm Springs Writers Guild, city activities and neighborhood involvement. We never really had a chance to get involved as we had during other seasons. Perhaps next year.

When we were done and the campaigning was over, we slipped away on a Sun Country escape …until spring and another return flight again. We did what you’re supposed to do when one of your kids needs help. We’d do it again…in a heartbeat.

Oh yeah, Melanie didn’t get the endorsement…but it certainly wasn’t for her not trying. She lost that race and yet won in so many other meaningful ways.

Through this process, strangers and simple names on a card became ardent supporters and life-long friends.  Melanie went from a stay-at-home mom to someone with real campaign chops and war stories to tell. She went from Speech and Debate in high school to real-world campaigning in front of standing-room-only audiences. She went from mothering her kids to formulating political positions and strategies in neighborhood, city and state political circles. She went from a virtual unknown four months ago to a known and respected entity in the world of politics in Saint Paul and Minnesota.

She gained notable name recognition that no ad campaign could have done better for her. She earned the respect of the other candidates. She created a heightened awareness among the ‘in crowd’ that there was a new player in town. In other words, she won…big time…in the game of politics and life. What more could you ask for?

I can’t tell you how proud I am of that young woman who took a chance, put her life on hold and ‘went for it.’

Was four weeks in purgatory worth it?

Hell, yes!

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