On a cold, wintery day in January 2004, my family and I drove to the north side of Marshall, Oklahoma where I solicited the support of my first voter for the office of State Representative. It would be the first of thousands of such visits over the course of the next eight months.
This hard work paid off on primary election day, July 27, 2004. I finished first out of the six-candidate House District 31 Republican primary, Oklahoma’s most crowded Republican House primary on that day, with 44% of the vote compared to the second place candidate’s 24%.
Despite this 20-point margin of victory, I did not win the election.
Oklahoma election law requires the winner of a primary to receive at least 50% of the vote. This meant I was required to face the second place candidate during a runoff election to be held a month later.
Of course, that fact didn’t seem particularly troubling because it would be highly unusual for a second place finisher to make up a 20 point margin in just one month’s time.
But that’s exactly what happened, and I lost the runoff election.
It is not easy to experience defeat and I had a difficult time seeing a silver lining to this unexpected turn of events, but as I look back, I have become forever grateful for how those events unfolded.
After that defeat, my term as City Councilman expired and I was no longer in the public eye as an elected official. For those few months I was on the outside and had the opportunity for thoughtful reflection.
That reflection was enhanced in 2005 and 2006 as the Jack Abramahoff lobbyist scandal occurred in Washington, DC. I saw how and why Republican politicians in Congress failed to deliver on their goal of smaller government and fiscal conservatism.
The lobbyists who funded their campaigns and DC lifestyle had irrevocably compromised the politicians to a point of no return and Republicans paid a heavy price in the 2006 elections.
I resolved that if I were ever to return to elected office, I would draw a line and refuse gifts and campaign contributions from lobbyists. I didn’t want to be like those DC Republicans.
It’s since been my observation that those legislators who don’t draw a line are playing with fire on a daily basis. Many individuals of character who are elected to office are slowly drawn into a compromised state that they don’t realize, simply because they don’t start out by drawing a clear line which they will not cross.
I now look back on that painful defeat in August of 2004 as a tremendous blessing for which I will always be thankful.
Had I won that day, I would have taken office as so many others do without drawing a clear line of distinction.
Though I didn’t realize it at the time, I was much better prepared to serve in office at a later date because of this defeat and the ensuing self reflection.
Today, whenever I provide input to candidates for office, I look for an opportunity to relate this lesson learned, and to encourage them to establish clear, firm guidelines that will guide their conduct once they take office.