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Column: Voting during simpler times
Harris Blackwood
Harris Blackwood

There is a picture somewhere of me with Gov. Carl Sanders, who was the governor of Georgia from 1963 to 1967. 

I’m not sure how old I was, but the governor was not seeking my vote. Sanders was a distinguished man who wore very nice suits and shirts with French cuffs. His opponent in the 1962 election, Marvin Griffin, called him “Cufflinks Carl.”

I remember seeing Gov. Lester Maddox for the first time when he was riding a bicycle backwards. It was one of his trademark moves, and he was known for riding them in parades all across the state.

A few years later, I went to the inauguration of Gov. Jimmy Carter in 1971. A couple of weeks later, I returned to the capitol where Sen. Richard B. Russell was lying in state. President Richard Nixon showed up and placed a wreath at the foot of Russell’s casket.

Politics has been a part of my life for a long time. I got the bug early.

I have not missed voting in a primary or an election. I did miss a local referendum one year. I’m still rather proud of my voting record.

We will hear lots about voting this week. In many states over half the registered voters have submitted an absentee ballot or voted early. I don’t know if they voted because they are particularly enthusiastic about a candidate or just unenthusiastic about the other person on the ballot.

I remember taking pictures one summer of candidates for local office. They all got the same style of card. It was black and white with their picture, name and office being sought on one side. Usually, it also carried a thank you, such as, “Your vote and support is greatly appreciated.”

The back of the card carried a few bullet points, like “Married for 35 years.” It also listed things like church membership, whether he was a Mason or Shriner, and perhaps a membership in a civic club or military service.

It was a simpler time.

I campaigned one summer with my state senator, W.D. Ballard. He let me drive, and I was just 16. He would stop in a little neighborhood store and usually offered a box of matches with his name on them to those who smoked. I carried my camera and sometimes if the store owner was well-known, we would get a picture of him and the senator.

“You got opposition this year,” someone would ask. 

“Yes, I do,” the senator would reply. 

“Is it serious?” they’d ask. 

“I take any opposition seriously. He’s a nice enough fellow,” would be the reply.

A candidate seldom spoke unfavorably of his opponent. If someone pressed him, he might say something like, “Well, he’s done some things I might have done differently, and I’ll just leave it at that.”

Today, we don’t mince words. We called them “extreme,” “liar,” and even “anti-American.”  We don’t care if they love their mama or haven’t missed Sunday school in years.

It’s an ugly business, and I don’t know that I’ll ever let my name be placed on a ballot. I tried it once and lost. It probably was the best thing that ever happened to me.​

Harris Blackwood is a Gainesville resident whose columns appear on the weekend Life page and on www.gainesvilletimes.com.

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