When I was in fourth grade, I participated in a program called Invent America, which was exactly what it sounds like: students were encouraged to create a new invention that would solve a problem, and then they were judged in an invention fair on a school-wide level, and two lucky winners would be selected to go to the city finals and from there progress to state and eventually the national finals. I don't remember the prize now -- probably seeing your invention in production and a small amount of prize-money -- but I do remember being compelled to enter.
For weeks I slaved over my "PurrInter," a box lined with egg-crate foam that you could place over the old-school printers of the 90's to make them quieter. I came in 2nd at my school and was promoted to the city finals. I remember going with my mom to the convention center in saddle shoes that pinched my toes and a dress that scratched around my neck. I was a jittery mess, looking at all of the other inventions with little regard, and quickly moving into the front of the main convention hall for the announcement of the city-wide winners, utterly convinced I would win and progress to state.
I watched names get called, girls with the same scratchy dresses and Mary Janes skip on stage and collect their shiny medallions, two winners for each age group. I coveted those medals, wanting to have that red, white and blue ribbon hang around my neck, to feel the weight of a win. I left with a green "Participant" ribbon and a lump in my throat. In my hand I held a program that listed all of the winner's names, printed neatly on thick manila card stock with dark black serif letters. Somewhere in that blank space, there I could have been.
The following year, encouraged by my teachers to enter again, I did so reluctantly. I decided to solve one of my biggest problems at the time: getting the unruly rental horses I took lessons on to open their mouths so I could put the bit between their giant sets of teeth. It occurred to me that the fat little pony I loved to ride might prefer the bit if it tasted like apples. So I invented "TasteeBit," a simple jar of petroleum jelly with red food coloring and apple flavoring. You slathered the jelly onto the bit and presto! The pony opened his mouth eagerly -- my slogan became "It'll have your horse chompin' at the bit!"
I made it to the city finals and suddenly an intense fear of failure sunk in. Did I really want to go through that again? The agony of watching the others on stage collecting their prizes, searching the program for my name, leaving with a wrinkled, fading ribbon? The thought alone made me think twice. And so when my best friend invited me to go camping with her family in Concan, I decided that I would enjoy myself more and picked camping.
It bothers me to this day that at some point over that weekend, someone called my name. Second place. While I dragged my toes through the cool Frio River, someone held up a silver medal, which is really the prettiest medal there is anyway, and looked for a tow-headed girl to bestow it upon. While I drew a horse head in the red dirt along the campsite, my name was stamped out across a program.
And all of this, this childhood regret of missed opportunity, brings me to That Other Guy. When I was at the State Convention a few weeks ago, I sat listening to the SD-17 caucus and for the first time since I'd arrived at the convention center, I had a time to open up the program.
Perhaps it was the kid in me, maybe even the ten year old inventor, but I immediately turned to the Congressional races. It's no secret who I was looking for -- when you volunteered as much as I did, it gets personal. And there it was. District 10: Larry Joe Doherty. I reviewed the names, the nominees listed with the same billing as the Democratic incumbents. As my gaze fell across the names, I realized that the list stopped at District 30. No mention was made in the program of Texas' other two Democratic Congressional candidates Brian Ruiz (CD-31) and Eric Roberson (CD-32). Just blank space. And in that moment, that sinking feeling of a name going unmentioned, I felt defeated.
There's something to be said for showing up in life. For accepting a challenge that perhaps you'll lose, and maybe one you've even lost before, but going into that fight anyway. A wise political consultant once told me that partisan politics is about moving the ball forward. And that maybe this time around, while it may not be a mark in the win column, for every Democratic candidate we put forward, we move a little further down field. These Democrats are doing just that. In fact, a new poll from IVR Polls came out today showing Eric Roberson within nine points of his Republican opponent Pete Sessions. More people voted for Brian Ruiz in the primary than they did the Republican opponent John Carter, who voted against S-CHIP and called it "a slow stroll down the road to socialism." But it's hard to stroll, I would imagine, when you are a unable to afford medical care for your disabled child.
As a ten year old, I stood on the banks of the Frio River and missed my opportunity to realize my win because of a blank program. How many potential Democratic candidates have stood on a river swirling with loss, afraid to cross and subsequently never had the chance to win? We owe our candidates, and more importantly, their constituents, more than that. Because they are crossing, moving forward despite the uncertainty and the murky waters. If we want people to continue to show up, we cannot greet them with a blank program.
They need our help. Every spare penny or mention in a program notes. Not because they will win, but because they have not yet lost.