Haines writer Heather Lende runs for a seat on her local assembly and wins, and the gates of mercy close behind her. She has barely warmed the seat of her chair before there is a recall petition being circulated against her and the two other new members of the assembly. Said recall fomented by incendiary and completely false rhetoric promulgated on a (you guessed it) closed Facebook page.
I have two takeaways from this narrative: The bone deep conviction that I never, ever want to run for office for anything, and heartfelt admiration for Lende’s courage in doing so. Her sister calls to read off the 258 names on the recall petition, and one of them is their local grocer.
Chip [Lende’s husband] looked up from dish duty. “Really?” We were good customers of his store, and he of ours. He had even spoken up for us in one meeting, denouncing a boycott of our lumberyard that one of the recall sponsors was encouraging on Facebook. Now Chip looked stricken as he repeated his fellow merchant’s name…his face crumpled. I could see him registering the knowledge that all his goodwill and good deeds and hard work–staying open six days a week every week for over thirty years while advising builders, homeowners, and business people, all those sports teams and community events he’d sponsored, all the fundraisers he’d contributed to–hadn’t matter to nearly three hundred people. In a place this size, that’s a lot.
The guy who built their house signed the petition, the guy who plows their driveway, friends of their children, all born and raised in Haines, and on and on. They know every name on the list. It is agony to read on the page. I can’t imagine what it was like to live through. “All politics is local,” said some old pol, and local politics are the bloodiest politics there are.
And then when the three assembly members under threat of recall appear at a public forum? The recall petitioners choose not to speak, not to air their concerns, not to justify their accusations.
For months I had been attacked, lied about, made myself sick because of Don and his charges, and he was refusing to explain himself? And none of those others would, either? Were you kidding me? Where was Ryan and his truck now?
The recall fails (more people voted for her the second time than did the first) and Lende serves out her term, doing her best to do right by her community in doing her homework so she can vote intelligently on tour operator permits and city dock construction and bailing out the local assisted living center. She doesn’t run for a second term, though, and no wonder.
Actually, maybe there is a third takeaway here, that Alaska should revise its law governing recalls. When the time and expense (not to mention personal and community trauma) of a recall election can be supported by such specious charges as this one was? If we want good people to run and to serve, it shouldn’t be so easy to harass them out of office. Two of Lende’s fellow assembly members quit in mid-term and no wonder there, either.
Beautifully written, this is an in-depth, very human look at the joys and sorrows of holding public office, national (international, really) politics examined through a local lens and that includes gender politics, and an intimate look at small town life, not to mention a single-destination travelogue. Every word Lende writes about the local landscape reveals her love of it. No wonder at all about that.
Author and founder of Storyknife.org.