Campaign season has arrived

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, August 14, 2002

The signs are up and the candidates are on the campaign trail.

I'm not talking about the vote coming up in November. No this election takes place much sooner and will decide who leads the Straughn Elementary School student body for the next year.

On Tuesday night my phone rang and a candidate for Straughn's student council was on the other end. (In fairness to all those running in the important election, I won't mention names.)

"Miss Nancy, I have to make my campaign speech tomorrow and I wondered if you could give me some pointers," the candidate said.

I spent two seconds feeling honored to be asked, and then I tried to come up with words of wisdom for this up-and-coming politician.

"Our teacher said it would be good to use humor in the speech," said the candidate. "But I don't know if I can do that."

"Well, if you find a good joke that kind of fits with your speech, you could use it to start off," I said.

That sounded pretty lame, but it was all I could come up with in a hurry. Finally, as I spooned the French fries I was cooking out of the hot grease, my brain kicked into gear.

"You need to talk about your qualifications for the job," I said. "Tell them why you are the best candidate running."

As soon I said the words, I remembered being the age of the person on the other end of the phone. In sixth grade, I was probably more concerned about recess and gabbing with friends than with what qualified a person to hold office.

"Think about what would make you vote for someone," I said. "What could someone say to get your vote?"

I asked my sixth-grade self that question, and for the life of me I couldn't come up with a good answer. Promise them stuff was not, I knew, a good campaign strategy, but it was probably the one that worked when I was in school.

The candidate giving away the most candy got the most votes. I doubted they were allowed to do that anymore, and I hoped Straughn students took elections a little more seriously.

"Do you have plans for what you will do if you are elected?" I asked.

A flurry of ideas came from the other end of the phone, all of them good. I was impressed by the thought this child had given to being a student council officer.

"Tell them your ideas," I said. "And tell them why they should take this election seriously. That it is not just a popularity contest; it is a chance to participate in the democratic process."

Even as the words left my mouth I knew I'd said way too much.

"I don't think they will like it if I say much about that," the wise candidate said, referring to my reference to popularity.

Finally, I offered one last piece of advice.

"Be yourself when you give that speech," I said. "Be who you are; talk about what you know and what's important to you. I think that is the best thing you can do."

As I hung up the phone, I thought about the grown-up elections in November and the candidates who, like the ones at Straughn Elementary, are looking for ways to reach voters.

Surely they take their campaigns as seriously as this child and hopefully their reasons for wanting to be elected are as good as the ones I heard over the phone.

If they want advice from a voter, I have a few words.

"Be yourselves. Talk about what you know and what's important to you. I think that is the best thing you can do."

But in case you want one other vote-getting idea, Tootsie Rolls are excellent campaign candy.