My first political argument came at the age of ten with my school friend, Dawn Walters.
As I argued fervently for LBJ, she did the same for Barry Goldwater. Neither of us knew a thing about the underlying issues that grounded their candidacies. We just knew who our parents favored and argued accordingly.
Indiana has always been a conventional and conservative state, at least in my recall. But my Mom loved JFK and Jackie, and his assassination was one of those “seminal” moments that marked my childhood and Johnson had been his VP. So my political trajectory at ten was consistent.
Bobby Kennedy I loved all by myself. I was just getting up and dressing while listening to the transistor radio when I learned of his death. My anguish was deep and real…or as deep and real as one feels at 15 when their heroes are gunned down.
Whatever political self I had died with him that day. As I moved on toward 18 and the 26th Amendment rushed into place right before my birthday, I know I engaged in the privilege of voting the next election year. I honestly don’t remember voting for Nixon, but I probably did. It was more the act of being able to vote that was meaningful to me than for whom I was casting the vote, as well as the historical importance of being among the first group under 21 to vote in a Presidential election.
I was also by then in the Navy to earn the G.I. Bill to pay my way through college. So I probably voted for Nixon as “Commander in Chief.” So let me take this moment to apologize for helping to enable that whole Watergate thing.
A much better reader of politics and history now than then, I didn’t realize how deeply disturbed and drowning in alcohol Nixon was. As someone who would later become a California reporter, my admiration for Woodward and Bernstein is off the charts.
My 1976 vote went to Jimmy Carter. The old Democrat in me rose up. But it wasn’t a political renaissance for me; just distrust left over from Watergate and Nixon’s pardon. I was disillusioned my first vote had ended badly. So Carter was likely a protest vote, and he seemed a decent person. (At least history has proven me right about Jimmy Carter’s character.)
From 1976-80, I was busy being a wife, mother to a toddler, Cal Poly SLO college student and newspaper intern for the then “Five Cities Times-Press-Recorder.” The internship turned into a job offer and I became involved with the politics of nuclear power, education, California agriculture and small town government.
I also covered state and national politicians: California Governor Pete Wilson (R); then Congressman Leon Panetta (D); the first, young iteration of Governor Jerry Brown (D). I knew and was known by City Council members in Arroyo Grande, Pismo Beach and Grover City, as well as Avila Beach Harbor Commissioners and members of the Arroyo Grande Board of Education.
Surprisingly I seemed to be respected and trusted by both the anti-nuclear protestors known as Mothers for Peace, and the representatives of their foe, Pacific Gas and Electric Company in its bid to bring Diablo Canyon Nuclear Power Plant on line.
As a then single parent, after 6 years with the paper, I went to work at PG&E to give my son a better quality of life than my newspaper salary afforded me. I worked for them first as a media rep in the Salinas-Monterey area, away from Diablo Canyon. I did not want to rep the company in the San Luis Obispo area when I had been a neutral arbiter in that media market vis a vis Diablo Canyon.
I joined the local Monterey League of Women voters as a company rep, and I once saw then Carmel Mayor Clint Eastwood coming with Sandra Locke out of a movie as my date and I waited to get in.
But it was as a Public Affairs rep for the company in the San Jose regional office that I started to get a better look at how the PG&E folks on the political side did their work. While my own duties became more focused on internal employee communications and special projects, we were a small office and my boss came from the political side of the corporate headquarters. I got to see how the rest of the sausage got made within a corporate structure that relied on political support for its plans to come to fruition.
While they happily worked both sides of the aisle, the preference was decidedly in favor of Republicans at that time. It was while working for PG&E that I first started thinking of my own self as a “Republican.” (Though shout out to John Kerry – I was part of a group of PG&Ers that had a drink with you in the mid-80s in a San Francisco hotel bar!)
As I moved to Atlanta and continued to work in environments that skewed Republican, my own voting record continued along the same spectrum. I was never a “rebel” of the 60s and 70s, even all those years I lived in California. I was an Indiana girl born and bred and still am to this day.
But then came Trump. And all the values I thought the Republican Party believed in got turned on their head. The decency whooshed out of the party like air from an over-blown balloon. And I knew a Hillary Clinton vote was the only one I could cast in good conscience for democracy’s sake.
As a Catholic in the South, most of those with whom I attend Church do not understand my choice to disengage as a Republican supporter and go back to being a Democratic one. They care passionately about right-to-life issues and vote that way.
Even though I believe with them that life begins at conception, there are a whole host of social justice issues addressed by Jesus in the Bible, and I cannot ignore them to the favor of one. Just like a whole-hearted belief in Christ, his commands to feed the poor, take care of the elderly, the orphan, the stranger…they all bear equal weight. I cannot suborn all these for the sake of one of them, however important it might be. There is no “ranked choice” voting in his command.
And as I have said, I have become a much better reader of history and politics than I was when I was younger and more busy with working and mothering than other things. Had John Heilemann and Mark Halperin, along with HBO, had the prescience to put out “Game Change” BEFORE the 2008 election, my horror at Sarah Palin’s general ignorance and intemperance would have had me cast my vote for Barack Obama over John McCain.
In fact, as the years have passed, my lack of votes for Obama are my greatest political shame. I have much to atone for there. Not that he turned out to be a radically liberal leader. But he was all those things the Republicans had started to just pretend to be: decent, honorable, kind, a man of true family values. That he was brilliant and managed – with Nancy Pelosi’s help – to pass the ACA despite Republican blockades to it – was icing on the cake.
For the first time in years, my sister had health care and could have preventive female check-ups she had long skipped.
The ACA was a first step toward a proclamation that health care is a human right. It didn’t pave the superhighway wanted by current supporters of Bernie Sanders, but it was an achievement I believe they do not understand how hard it was to claim.
So there you have my political story from Democrat to Republican to Democrat again. In 2020, my first candidate of choice was Beto O’Rourke, for he did inspire me the way Bobby Kennedy once inspired my 15-year-old self.
When Beto left the race, I didn’t have a preferred candidate. Like others I was watching, listening, reading and waiting. Then Trump recklessly assassinated Soleimani and nearly brought us to the edge of all out Mid-East war.
At that point, I realized Joe Biden was the only candidate with the requisite domestic AND foreign policy experience who could quickly form a government for the many challenges we face here and abroad.
I have been #TeamBiden ever since.
I can’t promise how the consequences of my vote will turn out.
Just that it is one of the more thoughtful ones I will have made.