Old enough to vote, old enough to fight

“Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, . . .  for he is God’s servant for your good” (Romans 13:1-4).
I think I’ve finally figured out this election process in Campbell County—the one with the most and largest signs wins.  
Or maybe not.
But at least we get to see more smiling faces in one place than we normally do. And hear more promises.  You see, we have something they want, our votes. Just don’t bestow those votes too hastily.
“If you’re old enough to fight, you’re old enough to vote.”  Such was the mantra as I was turning eighteen in 1971. And the argument had merit.  
Hundreds of thousands of young American men had made the dreaded journey to Vietnam in the preceding years.  
Tens of thousands never returned.  
If they laid their lives on the line for freedom, it seemed only right that they should have a say in the government that required that sacrifice.  The argument won out early that year.
Ironically, while I and my fellow 1953 peers were the first eighteen-year-olds to enjoy the right to vote, we were also the first ones not to be drafted and sent to Asia, as our nation in 1971 began an all-volunteer army.
So shortly after my birthday in May, a close high school buddy and I spent one Saturday morning in a long line at the Metro Nashville courthouse in order to register to vote.  While we waited, a candidate for city council shook our hands and asked for our support.  Suddenly I was an adult, with a commodity somebody wanted.
Three months later Nashvillians were due to elect a mayor.  There were no less than seven candidates running, but I only remember five of them.  Mr. Incumbent had already served two terms and was eligible for one more.  He had the backing of the dominant political machine in town and was rumored to be crooked.  His chief rival in Metro government was the Property Assessor, Mr. Old Man.  Metro’s Trustee, Mr. Charmer, looked and sounded wise and sincere, but I wasn’t convinced.  A political upstart, Mr. Populist, appealed to young, middle-class families and was the most photogenic of the lot.  Bringing up the rear was Ms. Long Shot, a little-known woman running in a field still dominated at that time by men.
I just flat didn’t trust Mr. Incumbent, although he appeared to run the city on a sound financial basis.  And Mr. Old Man looked like he might give out at any time.  Mr. Charmer made such outlandish promises that I doubted his integrity.  Mr. Populist, who was riding a wave of anti-busing sentiment, seemed too brash and inexperienced to run Metro Nashville government.  And Ms. Long Shot, an intelligent and competent lady, nevertheless held questionable opinions on certain key issues.  I did not like any of the choices.
My Dad was helpful at that point.  Without pressuring me, he convinced me that the best opportunity for good, fresh leadership was probably with Mr. Old Man.  So I proudly stepped into the old-style mechanical voting booth that day in August, threw back the huge lever to draw the curtain and pulled the small lever beside this elderly candidate’s name.  
He lost.
But Metro Nashville has a wonderful institution in place called a runoff election.  The top two vote getters would vie again in November for the coveted position.  Mr. Incumbent would face off this time with Mr. Populist.  Once again, I sought Dad’s counsel.  He was not too happy with the choices, either, but believed the current mayor might be a better risk than the upstart.  We voted; the incumbent won.
Mr. Old Man subsequently ran for Congress and served one term in Washington.  Mr. Charmer was later indicted for embezzling Metro funds.  Ms. Long Shot and Mr. Populist faded into obscurity.  
Who knows?  
In retrospect, Mr. Populist might have been the better choice after all in the runoff election.  At least I had cast an informed vote, my very first one.
 “Honor all people. Love the brotherhood, fear God, honor the king.”

Bill Horner lives in Campbell County. His column appears regularly in the Faith section. He also started a blog with human interest stories at www.aweintheordinary.com.