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From the Publisher: School of Hard Knocks


Published June 22, 2022 at 10:00 a.m.
Updated June 28, 2022 at 2:51 p.m.

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A record number of Vermont public officials decided not to seek reelection this year, for myriad reasons, only some of which are knowable. Frankly, I'm amazed that so many people find the courage to run in the first place.

My own experience with electoral politics was early, brief and disastrous. As a sixth grader at Carderock Springs Elementary School in Bethesda, Md., I proposed that we should have a student council. Having advanced the idea, I also thought I should be in charge of it.

But there was the small matter of running for and winning the presidency.

I announced my candidacy for the top job by going from classroom to classroom, distributing free candy and low-rent, construction-paper "Vote for Paula" buttons affixed with safety pins.

I can't recall my "platform" — likely something along the lines of longer recesses and better toilet paper. What I do remember is that a few weeks into the campaign, I suddenly had an opponent: a quiet boy named Remi who had never exhibited the slightest interest in leading his classmates to anything.

Remi's dad, however, worked for then-president Richard Nixon. One morning, in 1972, I walked into school and found the halls plastered with life-size "Peanuts"-themed campaign cartoon strips, promoting Remi.

For the "convention" assembly, at which we'd both give speeches, he produced real, professional buttons and campaign signs. I had choreographed a dance routine in which I joined a few friends onstage to spell out the letters of my first name.

After the performance, I was supposed to speak. But the crowd was already in a lather for Remi. Faced with a sea of bobbing signs for my opponent, I stepped up to the mic at the podium, burst into tears and ran offstage. Not surprisingly, I lost the election.

I'm sure some people thought I deserved the comeuppance. Before this incident, I was a confident and assertive girl with "leadership skills," as my teachers always phrased it. Defeat was a lesson I needed to learn.

But I was 11, and it was a serious blow — though good preparation for publishing a newspaper in the digital age. I attribute a lifelong fear of public speaking to the mix of shame and humiliation I felt that day.

I've seen other failed politicians stumble, too, though none was dumb enough to incorporate a dance routine into their stump speech. To put oneself out there and be rejected feels so personal, even though it rarely is.

This week's cover story is about some of the contenders for Vermont's highest public offices. Next week's primary election guide will provide an even more comprehensive view of those who seek to represent us. For the sake of Vermont, and local democracy, we should be grateful there are people still willing and eager to do so.