winnie

By Mark E. Smith

I want to share with you one of the most influential, but least known, political races of all time.

The year was 1982, and it was a mid-term election amidst the first term of President Reagan. Two years earlier, in 1980, Reagan beat Carter in a landslide, 489 electoral votes to 49. There was, however, a bigger loser in that race – John B. Anderson, an Independent who garnered zero electoral votes. And, as history now shows, an even larger defeat was to come in two years, one that might even surpass Anderson’s.

By the 1982 mid-term election, a lot was at stake. The Dems needed to gain 27 seats or so to secure a majority in the House. However, down-ballot, there was a far more consequential election occurring, one that would alter my life forever: the Valley View Intermediate school elections.

See, I was on the ballot in the sixth grade, running for Vice President of School Spirit. After all, who was more fitting than me, the ever-chipper kid with cerebral palsy to represent school spirit?

Actually, Winnie, to be exact. Her name wasn’t really Winnie, but it should have been, as she was every bit as adorable and popular as Winnie from the television show, The Wonder Years. And, she was my competition.

Still, I wasn’t deterred. Like among the biggest losers of all time, John B. Anderson, I campaigned hard. I plastered the school with posters and even put a billboard on the back of my power wheelchair. I had a fighting chance, and I was going for it!

On the day of elections, I was more scared than I’d ever been. All office candidates had to give a stump speech in front of the whole school in the auditorium. As I sat on stage awaiting my turn, everything was a blur of sights and sounds drowned out by my pounding heartbeat – except for the unbelievable cheers and applause Winnie received after her speech. Then it was my turn.
I rolled up to the microphone and gave my speech – with courage and conviction – and as I finished, I realized I had no idea what I’d just said. Apparently, neither did anyone else, as they just stared, silent.

After votes were counted, I listened anxiously as the principal read the winners over the intercom system. Then, it happened – Winnie’s name was announced. No, they didn’t share the vote count – that is, how badly I lost – but some things are better left unknown.

I never ran for office again, but I say that having the courage to do so and learning humility through loss at such a young age was among my greatest victories. We can only hope that the conceding candidates in this election cycle possess the innate dignity and grace of a sixth grader.

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