I play golf.
Yes, I once regularly played – pretty darn well – a game once generally synonymous with elitism, bigotry and wealth.
My father is a great golfer. Coming from a blue collar family,his opportunity to hone his skills came when he picked up a second job caddying clubs for the Akron country club folks. He worked making tires during the week, went to school at night and, between clientâ€™s rounds, took advantage of his new jobâ€™s major perk – free golf on great courses.
Caddying, for the uninitiated, involves hauling a set of heavy clubs around the course on behalf of the player. A good caddy does more than ferry woods and irons – often playing the role of coach, lookout, scout and adjunct conscience.
My Dad was a great golf mentor.
I first picked up a club when I was five years-old, though it was until I was almost seven that I began to play on an actual golf course. Well, â€œcourseâ€ is a bit of a stretch. It was nine-holes strategically allocated on a few acres of unusable Oklahoma farm land not far from home. The fairways were permanently hardened, the one creek regularly mosquito ridden, the hazards ranging from the traditional sand traps to timber rattlers coiled tightly round a greenâ€™s flag.
Incredibly, the adults generally courteously accommodated struggling kid golfers.
For the next 4 years I played hundreds of rounds. From any location could pick the best club. Knew every hole like the back of my hand.
I also learned quite a bit about human nature.
Folks are usually surprised when I tell them I can golf. Fairly often, once the cognitive dissonance settles, Iâ€™m asked why business folks congregate on the courses. There are a lot of obvious reasons: getting out of the office for hours, bonding with your new golfing buddies, drinking (few sports, beyond bowling, allow that!).
But the best reason, at least the one I think the most canny of business folks innately understand, is that golf is a great judge of character.
Do they shave their strokes? Do they adjust their lie (the ballâ€™s position) when no one is looking? Do they pitch their clubs into a pond if they play poorly on a few holes?
Are they humble in victory? Are they gracious in defeat? How desperate are they to win?
As a candidate for office two times running, Iâ€™ve discovered that politics is like golf.
How a candidate acquits themselves on the political playing field says quite a bit about their character.
In 2005, I learned that an incumbent can be so desperate to win theyâ€™d shave their record and adjust voter perception with misleading signs. What kind of desperation leads to that level of behavior?
Iâ€™m not desperate for the Council job.
Iâ€™m running because I have a perspective on fiscal responsibility, public accountability, diversity and open governance that is at odds with those of the incumbents. Iâ€™m prepared for Town Council but not preparing to be Mayor or Board of Commissioner or State Senator or any of the other offices that Council membership is used as a stepping stone for.
I want the job but I donâ€™t need the job to fulfill my life or some other ambition.
Iâ€™ve had an enjoyable opportunity observing the other non-incumbent candidates – Matt Czajkowski and Penny Rich – play the Chapel Hill political course. I donâ€™t believe theyâ€™re motivated by some hole in their life or their schedule.
Desperation is a strange creature.
Most of the incumbents Iâ€™m running against, at least at the beginning of this years race, claimed they didnâ€™t want to exacerbate the campaign money problem, yet their actions belie their statements.
Iâ€™ve had Cam Hill suggest Iâ€™m a Republican though he knows quite well that Iâ€™m not (and have invested many years of sweat equity helping the Dems with GOTV efforts, poll sitting, literature distribution).
Iâ€™ve had Bill Strom characterizing informed dissent as â€œtossing bricks through windowsâ€ – a dismissive statement implying indiscriminate criticism. He well knows that the criticism that Penny and I have leveled at his actions comes from careful research, deliberative thought backed by our broad and successful experience.
Maybe the worst of the desperate criticisms comes from the incumbents shepherd – Kevin Foy. The incumbent Mayor, responding to criticism of the Councilâ€™s handling of the Rogers Road mess – trying to protect his incumbent friends – suggested Mattâ€™s proffered recourse was illegal. Illegal? Desperate.
Incumbency is an awesome advantage. Chapel Hill, for all its growth, is a small town. What is said behind the scenes – whether its characterizing your Council colleagues less than charitably or mis-characterizing the current round of challengers – has a way of leaking out.
If you toss the golf ball out of the woods to avoid a penalty stroke, you might – on your paper scorecard – win the match. But how desperate must one be to be satisfied with such a hollow victory?
Are you honest or do you shave strokes? How do you behave when you think no one is listening? How desperate are you to win?
Politics is like golf.