Sunday, October 21, 2012

My First Vote: George McGovern

Bob Daugherty/Associated Press
When I heard that George McGovern died today, I felt a tug of nostalgia. In 1972, I was a first grader in Mrs. Hove's class at Mark Twain Elementary in Long Beach, California. Mrs. Hove was a delightful teacher who truly relished her job. She had the brilliant idea to host a mock election - amidst the national one - so her students could learn about the inner-workings of democracy.

As I recall, we learned as much about each presidential candidate - Richard Nixon and George McGovern - as our seven-year-old brains could handle. Then, she asked us to write down who we would like to see as President of the United States. I recall really weighing the decision, probably longer than necessary.

Unfortunately, I have no memory of which candidate actually won Mrs. Hove's election but as I understand, the rest of the students quickly moved on to a craft project. Meanwhile, two of her students were busy in the corner, having a heated debate about the merits and demerits of the two candidates. Evidently, I was a staunch McGovern supporter while little Timmy Hawkins was a Nixon guy, all the way.

Mrs. Hove's plan to enlighten her students work almost too well on me and Timmy. I think we even continued the debate on the playground and a bit after school. I was sure I was right and so was he; no one was budging.

Then, I went home and told my mother about the day's events, including my heated argument with a young Mr. Hawkins. Then, I asked her who she and daddy voted for. "Nixon," she said. (I found out years later, dad had even worked on his campaign.) I immediately burst into tears, thinking I had betrayed my family. I voted for the wrong man! My mother assured me that I did not have to vote like them, that we were all individuals and that was one of the great things about democracy.


Flash forward to 1987 and I am working toward my journalism degree at Cal State Long Beach. It's the first day of classes and my World Religions teacher is taking roll. He calls my name and I respond in the affirmative. He then says, "Tim Hawkins?" and a deep voice right behind me says, "Here."

Though I hadn't spoken to this person in 15 years, I swing around immediately and hiss, "I WAS RIGHT ABOUT NIXON!" 

He covers his face and mumbles, "Oh, I was hoping you wouldn't remember!" We laughed hard then and every time we saw each other after that. Tim was a great guy, despite his bad taste in politicians.

RIP George McGovern. You inspired this former first grader to care just a little bit more and I am forever grateful.