Election Day was in exactly one week, and as is usually the case at this time of year, radio and television and newspapers and bulletin boards in every building here at UJ were full of advertisements and flyers and opinion pieces telling everyone who to vote for. This was not a Presidential election year, but many legislative seats were up for election, and in this state, it was also an election year for the governor. And this was my first time being old enough to vote.
A candidate named Kathleen Rose was challenging the incumbent governor, and polls were indicating that the election was a tossup and could go either way. The Rose family had been part of the political establishment in this state for a long time. Kathleen’s father had been a governor, and her older brother had held many offices at the local and state level for decades, including governor as well. In keeping with her family tradition, Kathleen Rose campaigned on a platform of higher taxes, bigger government, and whatever was trendy in politics at the time. Additionally, she was a woman in a state which had never elected a female governor, so she labeled anyone who disagreed with her as a bigoted sexist. This made her a very popular candidate in a university town like Jeromeville, and a very unpopular candidate in my world.
I was sitting in Rise and Fall of Empires, trying to fight the urge to doze off. This was an IHP class, so it was only open to students in the program. All of the students in the class were students I knew who also lived in Building C. A guy named Dan, from room 303 or 304 or somewhere down at that end of the third floor, sat in front of me, and he had a button on his backpack that said KATHLEEN ROSE GOVERNOR ‘94 with an outline of the state in the background. All the political parties and organizations had been setting up tables on campus for the last few weeks to hand out buttons and stickers and other propaganda, and I had seen these buttons and stickers all over campus.
I stared at Dan’s Kathleen Rose button for a couple minutes, trying to listen to what the professor was saying, but finding my mind wandering. I kept staring at the button, looking at the letters that spelled out Kathleen Rose’s name and the numbers ‘94. ‘94 was my high school graduation year, of course, and to this day I say that 94 is one of my favorite integers.
Then, suddenly, I noticed something. I had an idea, and I couldn’t wait for class to be over so I could act on my idea. I was a little more awake for the rest of class.
Class got out at noon. Before I got back on my bike to Building C and the dining hall, I walked across the Quad, where all the political campaigns had tables set up. I nervously walked toward the Kathleen Rose table, looking over my shoulder to make sure that no one who knew me was watching. I saw some people from my class still outside the building where the class was, so instead of going to the Kathleen Rose table, I changed course and went to the campus bookstore. I hid for about five minutes pretending to browse school supplies, then I went back out to the Quad. I didn’t see anyone I knew, so I walked up to the Kathleen Rose table.
“Would you like to register to vote?” the volunteer at the table said.
I’m not good at lying, so I nervously said something that technically did not require telling any lies. “I’m already registered with the other party,” I said, “but can I still have a Kathleen Rose sticker?”
“You sure can!”
“Thanks!” I grabbed two stickers, hoping to make it look like an accident and that they were stuck together. I hurriedly walked away from the table before anyone could see me, before the guy noticed that I took two stickers. I looked at the stickers, to make sure that my idea would work.
Perfect. This would work. I opened my backpack, put the stickers inside, closed my backpack, and walked back to where I had parked my bike. I rode home to Building C.
After eating a chicken patty sandwich and French fries at the dining hall, I went back to my room and closed the door. I took the two Kathleen Rose stickers out of my backpack. I cut out the E in ROSE on one of the stickers and threw the rest of that one away. I selectively applied white-out to the top and middle prongs of the E, so that it looked like a different letter. I then took the other sticker and cut out the R in ROSE. I used Scotch tape to attach the modified E with the two prongs missing to the space where the R had been, and then I taped the R to the right side of the sticker, after the intact E in ROSE. I stood back and admired my handiwork.
I did not have anything to stick it on, so I used push pins to attach the Kathleen Loser sticker to my bulletin board.
After I got back from dinner that night, I left my door open. I was sitting at my desk, doing math problems and dialing into the school network to check my email way more often than I needed to, when I heard a knock. I turned around.
Spencer from room 123 downstairs was standing in the doorway. “Hey, Greg,” he said, stepping into the room. “What pages did we have to read for next time for Rise and Fall?”
I opened my notebook for that class and read to him what I had written down. “Thanks,” Spencer said. He turned around and started to leave, but suddenly stopped, staring at something on the wall behind me. He pointed at the bulletin board. “Kathleen Loser!” he said. “That’s hilarious!”
“Thanks,” I said, chuckling. “I saw them giving out bumper stickers today on the Quad, and I just had that idea.”
“That’s great! I might just have to get one so I can do that! Wait… how did you get the L in Loser?”
“I cut out an E from a second sticker, and used white-out to make it an L.”
Spencer looked more closely at the sticker, his mouth open in excited surprise. “That’s brilliant!” he said. “I love it! Kathleen Loser! I hope she does lose.”
“Me too,” I said.
“Thanks for looking up the assignment for me. I’ll see you later.”
“Have a good one.”
I heard the door to the stairs open and close as Spencer headed back down to his room. I had learned quickly in the five and a half weeks I had been in Jeromeville that the culture of the city and university lean to the left politically. This had not been particularly surprising, given what universities tend to be like, but sometimes I still felt like some of my views were very unpopular in my surroundings. It was nice to know that at least someone else in the IHP was not a fan of Kathleen Loser.
As an adult, by this time of year I am sick of hearing all the political mudslinging. But 1994 was different. It was my first time being old enough to vote. And even though my views were in the minority around here, it still felt like I was making a difference for the first time ever. My vote for the opposition might not have decided the election, but a bunch of people doing the same thing really can make a difference, and that is one of the reasons I love this country.
P.S. Kathleen Loser lost.