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Scott Jenkins: Not a big party guy

In my southern West Virginia, coal-country family, you were born two things: a Cincinnati Reds fan and a Democrat.

My grandfather was the undisputed patriarch of our extended clan, and the only pilgrimage I ever knew him to make was to the old Riverfront Stadium in Cincinnati in the era of the Big Red Machine.

He and my grandmother had an 8-by-10 copy of John F. Kennedy’s presidential portrait hanging in their bedroom — and we’re Protestant.

I vividly remember being 8 years old and sitting at my grandfather’s feet watching the 1975 World Series, which the Reds won in seven games after overcoming Carlton Fisk’s willing of a ball fair for a walk-off, series-tying home run in the 12th inning of game six.

Just as clear is the recollection of my grandfather coming to collect my aunt to take her to the polls for her first major election in 1976, her protesting that she didn’t know enough about the candidates to make wise decisions, and him responding that all she needed to know was to mark “Democrat” at the top of the ballot.

So it fairly scandalized the whole brood when, in 1984, my older brother — just one year removed from high school and knowing almost nothing about the world — announced that he was voting for Ronald Reagan. It was an act of rebellion heretofore unheard of in our tribe. And it paved the way for my own minor uprising four years later, when — in my first presidential election after reaching the age of majority — I voted for George Herbert Walker Bush. Gasp.

I didn’t check a box for the elder Bush because he was a member of the Grand Old Party. I believed he was the best man for the job. Since then, I have voted for Republicans and Democrats and Ross Perot. (Hear that giant sucking sound? It’s that vote disappearing down the indoor outhouse of history.)

I have championed John McCain (the first time, not in the Palinolithic era) and Hillary Clinton, when she ran against some unknown, first-term senator in the primaries. What ever happened to that guy?

As a reporter, I’ve known candidates and office-holders from both the major parties and some minor ones — some were a party of one, I think — and concluded that there are really great people and pretty big jerks beneath all those banners.

Since I’ve been in journalism, Election Day has come to feel almost like Christmas — the days and weeks leading up to it filled with anticipation and then that first Tuesday in November, when we finally find out what we got. Like Christmas gifts, we’d like to return some of them, but we can’t, no matter how long we’re willing to stand in line. We can only hope to trade them in at a later date.

And while I thought in 1988 that I was voting in my first “big” election because I was helping to choose a president, I’ve since realized there are no small elections. Everyone in public office has some influence in our everyday lives, and the ones closest to us — city councils, school boards, county commissioners — have the most immediate impact.

No matter the election, I never feel more American than when I step up and mark my ballot, when I cast a vote for people who I believe care about the entire community, state or country and will work to move us forward, who will try to make the world a better place for my son.

In hindsight, I’ve made some wrong choices, but they had nothing to do with party affiliation or lack thereof. The important thing, I believe, is to make choices. Whether you vote Democrat or Republican or Libertarian or Martian, vote.

I can’t cleave to a party line. I’ve given up that birthright.

But I still hate the Dodgers.

Scott Jenkins is news editor of the Salisbury Post.

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