by Rick Outzen
Politics are so serious in Pensacola. There is always someone trying to dig up dirt on the opposition. There was a time when campaigning wasn’t so cutthroat. My father was an election commissioner for Washington County, Miss.
The first time my dad ran, all four of the older boys worked the polls. We were ages 6 to 12. Each of us was assigned a polling place, given a stack of flyers, and told to hand them out. Dressed in our “Sunday best,” we were to ask the adults to “Vote for Richard Outzen for Election Commissioner” and thank the voters when they got back into their cars.
Just as it is now, there were strict rules about the distance campaign workers, even pint-sized ones, had to stand from the polling place. Dad drew a chalk line on the pavement to make sure we didn’t cross the legal boundary. We weren’t sure what would happen if we did, but none of us wanted to be the one who lost the election for our father.
We all figured that Martin, age 6, who had an aversion to bathing and a cowlick that defied whole jars of Dippity-Do hair gel, was the weakest link in the Outzen political machine. Rob, age 7, made sure Martin bathed the night before, because we learned long ago that just because you heard the bath water running, it didn’t mean that Martin was in the tub.
Hugh, age 9, dressed him in his jacket and clip-on tie and made sure his socks matched. I, age 12, rehearsed Martin on his campaign speech until he could say “commissioner” without making it sound like “Communist.”
On Election Day, Dad dispersed us to our assigned precincts. I had the Italian-American Club, where all the old women called me “Ricky.” Hugh and Rob received church assignments, and Martin had the Community Center. Throughout the day, Dad would check on us and report back to Mom, who had her hands full with our youngest brother and sister.
When Dad finally picked us up as the polls closed for our promised meal at McDonald’s, Martin jumped into the Plymouth station wagon and dumped a pile of “Outzen for Commissioner” flyers on the floorboard. We noticed most of them were wrinkled and worn.
“Martin, did you pass out the flyers?” Dad asked him when he got back into the car after learning the turnout was heavy.
“How come you still have them?”
In a very matter-of-fact voice, Martin replied, “Because I asked for them back when they finished.”
Dad would later find out that Martin not only asked for the flyers back, but he chased the adults to their cars asking for them. The poll workers told Dad that a few voters came back into the polling place and rummaged through the trash cans to find them.
Dad didn’t win that election, but he would win four years later and hold the office until his death in 1980. The only precinct that he won in his first campaign was the one that Martin worked.
Campaigns are more than just glossy postcards and mean-spirited ads; it’s little boys standing on a corner saying, “Please vote for my dad.”