Come out of political closet

Wednesday, November 6, 2002

It's Tuesday, a couple hours before the polls close. For newsrooms, it's the calm before the storm, just a little bit before rational people who normally behave in a professional manner begin yelling bizarre things like, "Dammit! Who's got the totals for Brown Owl? Does this count the absentees?"

(For you Cape Girardeau County newcomers, Brown Owl is the actual name of a rural voting precinct.)

I love covering election nights, because it's the one regular, positive event -- the most obvious vestige of our democracy -- that keeps excited journalists up late. It's great being a part of that process, especially now that we have semissourian.com to keep interested voters posted throughout the night.

Here's hoping that tonight doesn't end up with the giant headline "(Insert last name here) WINS!" printed on 20,000 newspapers even though the results are still up in the air. All the pundits have promised not to call the race this time unless they're almost 100 percent positive. (Remember the 2000 presidential election.)

But now that it's all over, I'll make a startling confession that would be far more startling had I not made it in this column a few times before.

I live in Cape Girardeau County, and I am a Democrat. Yes, here in the cradle where Rush Limbaugh was suckled, there are a few of us living normal lives, raising children, going to church, baking apple pies and so on.

I mostly make this confession to encourage people of any party -- or no party -- to come out of the political closet, specifically, a woman who called last week.

"I'd like to write a letter to the editor, but I don't want to sign my name," she said.

I told her that all of our letters to the editor must be signed, but Speak Out comments are anonymous.

"But my letter is pretty long, and I'm afraid it would be edited in Speak Out."

That's likely, because Speak Out comments are kept short to fit everyone in, I explained. I suggested she just sign her letter and send it in.

"But I'm a Democrat, I live in Cape Girardeau and the letter is political in nature," she said.

We here at the Southeast Missourian stick to our policies, so we couldn't accommodate her anonymous letter, I explained. Sometimes one must have the courage of one's convictions.

She chuckled wryly and hung up.

I was baffled. What sort of personal repercussions did she believe she'd face here in kind and generous Cape Girardeau County? Would a gang of unruly youths spray paint "Carnahan sympathizer" on the side of her house? Would her Republican neighbors burn stuffed donkeys on her front lawn?

But I could understand her concern somewhat. I attended the Democratic Fall Festival in 2001, and it was like an alcoholic attending his first AA meeting. Surprisingly, there were tons of people I knew.

"You're a Democrat?" I whispered to one.

"Yes," she replied tentatively. "You too?"

It went as expected. (Famous cowboy Will Rogers said, "I'm not a member of an organized party. I'm a Democrat.") But everyone had a good time. I had my picture made with Gov. Bob Holden and all the gold lame pumpkin centerpieces were auctioned off successfully.

That's the wonderful thing about this country. You can write a letter to the local newspaper or plant a sign in your front yard and not fear persecution for your political beliefs. And if you do experience it, you can contact the law.

You can admit that not all Democrats or all Republicans make the best leaders and vote across party lines whenever you want.

Finally, if you are a Democrat in Cape Girardeau County and feel lonely, there's always the Fall Festival. Or you could commiserate with a Republican in Scott County.

Heidi Hall is managing editor of the Southeast Missourian.

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