Voting Behavior



For one thing, I was coming off another of those 5 a.m. nights. My mouth burned with the menthol taste of too many Salems, my head hung over with the after-effects of too much bourbon, and I had just about decided that I didn't love Jesus no more. I lay in bed gingerly, not wanting to move. Something might be broken. It was 1:15, and I had 15 minutes to make lunch.

I noticed I was fully dressed, including my shoes, and I also noticed those two letters on my chest. My roommate is this solid Catholic kid from Walpole, always goes to breakfast, always goes to class, and--since the beginning of my degeneration in February--always brings in the mail. He stands at my door, so as to avoid having to walk on my floor (which is always strewn with orange peels and broken glass and old vanilla wafer boxes) and throws my mail at my chest. He's not always good at it, either, which is why we've lost two phone bills and they're going to cut off our service next week if we don't pay them $76.43 in the next two days.

One of the letters was this big, bulky, official-looking thing, with a big seal on it, and 'Return within five days to PHYLLIS J. RUTLEDGE, CIRCUIT CLERK, Kanawha County Courthouse, Charleston, West Virginia.' It was my absentee ballot, and, like any other first-time voter, I tore it open eagerly.

There were all these envelopes and rules I had to follow which I momentarily discarded, and then I unfolded it--big and pink, just like a big red road map. Just like a big pink road map for the soul.


It was a Democratic presidential primary ballot. It does no good to be a Republican in West Virginia, maybe because if you are a Democrat in West Virginia you are a right-center Democrat, and tantamount to being, say, a Republican in Massachusetts. The only Republican West Virginians elect are governors, and they probably wouldn't have elected Republican Arch Moore governor except that his Democratic opponent was allegedly involved in shady land deals, and a former Democratic governor had just been sentenced to federal penitentiary for bribing a grand jury. They thought he was honest. Arch Moore beat a federal rap for extortion last week, so I guess the voters were vindicated.

I lay there in my bed, and tried to find a cigarette, and looked at my ballot. For president, I could vote for Senator Robert C. Byrd as a favorite son, or Governor George Wallace of Alabama.

WELL. Byrd is a good ole boy, came up the hard way and all that. The last time he ran for the Senate he got 90 per cent of all votes cast. He's the Senate Democratic whip. He's also a former member of the Ku Klux Klan, and he voted against every civil rights measure in the '60s, including the extension of the Voting Rights Act in 1970. Senator Byrd is liberalizing himself lately, probably because he wants to be majority leader.

George Wallace is George Wallace. Selma, and school house doors, and 'Never' tie clips. I looked down to the list of candidates for U.S. senator.

Byrd again. The only choice. House of Representatives--a little more interesting. John Slack, a ten-time incumbent, and Avis L. Hill. Slack is this big, jowly guy I heard speak once. Once he had the Protocols of Zion inserted into the Congressional Record. The Protocols of Zion are something about a Jewish conspiracy to take over the world. Like Dylan, I said, "Well, I guess."

Avis Hill is lots more interesting. He's preacher, not a pastor or reverend, of some fundamentalist church up in Cabin Creek, and one of the leaders of a group that tried to remove English books from the Kanawha County schools a year ago. The textbooks included short stories by James Baldwin, Allen Ginsberg, Gwendolyn Brooks, other radicals. One of the formative experiences of my life was seeing Avis Hill lead a group of women down a street in Charleston to the building that houses the school board, where they built a pyre of the godless books. They were singing "We Shall Overcome."

The governor's race is the big one, though. Eight people are running, and they can be split into three categories. The first is the Nobodies--including Ezra Graley, another itinerant preacher involved in the textbook hassles, and Powell Lane, and two other nobodies. There there is the second group--the Semi-Candidates. The Semi-Candidates include Charleston Mayor John Hutchinson and Rep. Ken Hechler.

Hutchinson is a Jimmy Carter - type of politician, hard to pin down. Some people say he's a Republican in disguise, but you could probably say that about all West Virginia Democrats. Hechler is a lot more acceptable--his ADA rating is 94--but he really wants to be a U.S. senator before he dies, and he's 62. And the word in Kanawha County Democratic circles is that he is running as a favor to Jay Rockefeller, who with James Sprouse is one of the major candidates.

Jay Rockefeller is John D. Rockefeller IV '58, one of those Rockefellers. Rockefeller ran in 1972, lost by 70,000 votes. There are some who feel a Rockefeller just brings too much money and influence and power to political office. I'm one. Jim Sprouse, the other major candidate, lost in 1968. The word is that Sprouse got Hutchinson to run because Hutchinson will eat into Rockefeller's Kanawha County power base. So then Rockefeller got Hechler to run, holding out the promise of a Senate seat. You see, the senior senator from West Virginia is Jennings Randolph, who is 77 years old. In the event of his death or resignation, if Rockefeller was governor, Rockefeller would appoint Hechler to the open seat. If Randolph did not choose to die or resign, well, there's lots of things Hechler could do. Like become a director of the Rockefeller Foundation, for instance.

THIS WAS ALL very depressing, especially on this particular kind of morning. But the final candidacy that ruined my morning was the election for the state senate in my district. Opposing William Brotherton, incumbent and senate president, was Marvin Horan. Marvin Horan is a truck driver-turned-preacher at the First Independent Calvary Baptist Chruch of Witcher's Creek, West Virginia. He is presently appealing his three-year sentence for blowing up Midway Elementary School during the textbook issue. I just didn't want to look at the big pink road map after that.

The other letter was from a friend who plays basketball at a small Baptist college in West Virginia. The writing was real hard to read; he was writing left-handed. It seems they have parietal rules at this college, and he was in a woman's dorm around 2 in the morning. This night watchman threw a light on him, but my friend easily outraced him to the door he'd come in through. The only thing was, the night watchman had just locked it, and when my friend hit the door full-blast, he broke his wrist.

It was now 1:35 and they had quit serving lunch at the Union. It looked like it was going to rain, and the Sox would probably lose again. I took my shoes off, loosened my belt, turned over in bed and set my alarm for 6. Maybe I could make it to supper.

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