In the early evening of July 4, I was visiting with my in-laws, getting ready to devour a few Independence Day ribs straight off the Big Green Egg, when a lifelong friend from the southern part of Jones County gave me a call. At first, what he said didn’t faze me. To say he was a little upset would be an understatement, but I didn’t see it as a big deal.
Earlier that day, when he went to spend the holiday with his family, he took a mental note of the campaign signs he had placed in his community for me. In running for an elected office in a county the size of Jones, it is important to have good supporters willing to put in time and sweat to help get the message out. My friend had done more than his fair share. He had placed yard signs in strategic locations and found high traffic areas for larger signs to be displayed. As he was leaving his community to enjoy the day, he retraced his steps along the campaign trail.
Upon returning later that afternoon, to his shock, many of the signs he had seen earlier were no longer there. Yard signs were missing, large signs had been cut off their frames. They were taken in broad daylight. No signs for other candidates for any office had been messed with. Just mine.
After our phone conversation, I sent messages to a few other supporters in that general area. I asked them to be on the lookout for any other signs missing. In all, over a dozen signs were gone, scattered over a route from Ellisville to Monroe Road to the Hebron community. It seemed that there was a specific route that connected the dots where the missing signs once stood.
The next day, as my good friend was returning from church, something caught his eye along the Sanford Road exit off Interstate 59 near his home. He was surprised to find several of the missing signs tossed in a ditch at the wood line. Not that we ever thought someone wanted these signs for their own yard to show support for my candidacy, but finding these signs discarded in this manner would have made that thought foolish.
We put our heads together to attempt to think rationally through the situation. We concluded that if the culprit was careless enough to not completely get rid of the evidence, he would be arrogant enough to try it again. So, one sign in a special location in front of a tree at a well-traveled intersection along the earlier defined route was put back in its place. Directly behind it was placed an infra-red game camera used for catching unsuspecting wildlife in front of a prime hunting spot. Keyword: unsuspecting.
And so, we waited.
Early the next morning I get a text message that read, “Sign got stolen last night. I got a picture of the guy.” Later, the sign was found in the same place off the interstate as the ones found the day before.
My friend was on his way to work and stopped to check the camera. While he could view it on the device, he was not able to send me a copy until he got home later in the day and downloaded it to his computer. Once he sent it, we both studied it, staring at it for details about the style of clothes, bald head, type of truck identified by a shadowy outline and basic wheel design.
After throwing out a few names, we both agreed that one particular person fit the description. At that time, it was purely speculation. We reset the trap and waited for the next catch.
And waited…and waited.
For a week, no signs were found missing. I felt confident in my suspicion of the perpetrator but I wanted to get confirmation. And, there is no better place to have every armchair private investigator take a look at the picture than Facebook.
I uploaded the picture with a brief description of what took place. I don’t know the exact definition of something going viral on the internet, but within 12 hours, the picture was seen by nearly 10,000 people, mostly in the Jones County area. Literally within minutes of the posting, my phone began ringing with calls and messages of people identifying the person. It confirmed my suspicions from a week earlier.
It was an employee of the vary school district for which I am seeking the office to lead, a person I have known as a fellow educator for some 16 years. It was someone who has never shown me any malice or ill-intent, one I considered a friend, if not an acquaintance, in the business.
I am not sure the reason behind the antics, but I have my speculations.
This is but a small example of what is wrong with politics today. It makes people do strange things. It gets people’s dander up. Politics has become more about personalities than ideas. These sorts of things happen all the time, but that doesn’t make it right.
Will we ever get back to selecting leaders based on their ideas of making the world we live and work in better? Will we ever be able to win a campaign fairly, honestly, and without making promises that we cannot keep? Will we ever be able to have candidates avail themselves to the public for which they seek to serve without being slandered, lied about, misconstrued, or just plain wronged?
I have tried to run that type campaign. Up to this point, I believed my opponent had, as well. There have been Facebook posts that seek to discredit my qualifications to hold this office by simply saying, “come on people wake up,” or seemingly to think that I am constantly looking at my computer screen and not responding to a legitimate question by stating, “don’t hem ha around and answer the question.”
Maybe good sense took over because those comments were deleted within an hour or so.
I’ve had many ask me tough questions during this campaign. From some, I could tell by the nature of their words that they probably were not intent on voting for me. We simply shared a different vision.
And, I am fine with that. I don’t mind being challenged on the merits of my ideas. I welcome hard questions that make me refine my ability to effectively communicate and not be misunderstood. I’m alright with someone who dares to change my way of thinking.
After all, that is what I am trying to do. That is part of challenging the status quo. That is what is required to make the changes necessary to make our community better.
I care about the educational system in Jones County. I am a product of this system. My wife teaches in this system. My son is a student in this system. I want to see it move beyond its mediocre, slightly-better-than-average existence and give back to the community an excellent product of well-rounded citizens who can think and read and learn and be independent. I want to enhance the quality of life for now and for the future by providing educational opportunities for our youngest citizens. I want my own children to know what it is like to live and work in a freedom-loving, liberty-minded society where people are responsible for their own actions, good or bad, and know how to take care of themselves and their families.
I don’t want to wallow in the mud with pigs; we both get dirty and the pigs like it.
Politics has always been a dirty game. And, I’m sure it always will be. I want to win. But, I don’t want to win at all costs.
So, my point is this: we must look past the foolishness and folly of politics. We must challenge the status quo with ideas. We must run hard, with our head held high, and be prepared to get mud thrown on us.
After this is all said and done, win or lose, it will be easy for me to clean up.
Jerel Wade is a candidate for Superintendent of Education in Jones County. He can be contacted by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.