Have you entered the storehouses of the snow...Job 38:22

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Brave Cowboy

I have a new hero. Well, maybe that is an exaggeration. For me a hero would be someone who took me on a long trip, found a great job for me, made me wealthy enough that my husband and I could just retire and get away from South Dakota. Nevertheless, I met a neat guy yesterday.

I didn’t really talk to him personally. I probably could have but I just didn’t. I feared that if we talked he’d never stop. He was a talker. He had a lot to say. He is also a politician so that adds to the chatter.

He is from the western part of South Dakota and looked like it. If you don’t know what I mean, read Cowgirl.  He wasn’t a physically big man. By the time we were finished that day, he stood feet talker in my estimation.  

He wore a huge cowboy hat, a western cut sport coat, tight jeans complete with a huge belt buckle and around his neck was a beaded bolo tie. Probably in his 60’s, he was a remarkable sight, all my stereotypic attitudes jumped into place.

Then I found out he was a state legislator. I thought man they’ll let anyone run in South Dakota. My husband told me he was a Republican. He is but he isn’t. Here in South Dakota politicians have been known to change party affiliations as well as alternate between the House and Senate in order to beat the term limit rules. Where there is a rule, people will find a loophole.

His district includes one of the reservations. I am still unsure whether he is Native or not. My husband said he wasn’t. He didn’t look like he was but looks are deceiving. He referred to Natives as our people or my people.

I was in Pierre yesterday to attend a roundtable on Native issues. My husband was actually the person who was supposed to be there, but since he knew I am interested in these issues and that I plan to write a dissertation on these issues, I tagged along.  There were about 50 people in attendance, 3 were legislators, the rest professionals of one sort or another interested in the topic. Then there was me.

Lots of issues, lots of talk, I wonder what will be done. Like the water issues meeting last week, I always wonder what all this talk accomplishes. Nothing seems to change. What was it though about this unusual man that impressed me? What did he bring to the table that spoke volumes? He did not have any great words of wisdom really. He knew the issues, he spoke with knowledge and authority. He spoke the truth.

This Senator, a Republican only because he couldn’t run again as a Democrat I suppose, spoke the truth. Not only did he speak the truth about some of the issues of Natives, the harsh reality of inequities, injustices and indifference, he spoke the truth of his life.

People in the public eye often want you to think they are better than you are – they have all the answers but often their life does not resemble anything of yours. Even if they have deep family issues, they are hidden behind a glossy smile, slick words and arrogance. This guy was different.

At first glance, I made certain judgments about him. I was reminded once again that it is dangerous to judge by appearance. When he first got up to speak, I thought oh boy, what does this cowboy know about anything? He knows a lot.

There was the topic of the disproportionate number of Natives in prison. He knew about that. No he hadn’t read a study about it. He knew it because he has family members who have had the experience including his wife and his son-in-law who was arrested and now in prison for DUI.  There are children who now miss their dad. He must have had children who missed their mom, his wife, as well. He knows that prison does not just affect the person incarcerated, it affects a family, a community. He knows that most of the people in the prisons are not bad people, they are people like you and me who make mistakes. He knows first hand the ache in your heart as you loved one is taken away. He knows that the legislation he helps make, affect real people like his own family.

The good Senator told us that real life effects his stand on issues. With great poignancy he told about voting on a DUI bill. Opposing a bill  that required swift punishment for a first offence, he asked his fellow legislators if they had ever had someone killed by a drunk driver. They hadn't. Then he share that his son was killed by one and how he held him in his arms as he died in his front yard. Reality collided with legislation affecting his voting. He knew that while the death of his son was tragic, the solution was prevention, education and intervention before a person makes the deadly mistake of driving while intoxicated. He knew, he knew first hand.

The cowboy clothes made me think he was arrogant. He was far from it. He was humble, honest and truthful. I'd probably vote for him if I lived in his district. I am not even registered to vote in South Dakota, preferring to remain a voter in Tennessee. A man like this might change my mind causing me to invest in South Dakota. I don't care whether he was a Democrat or a Republican. I suspect the people of his district feel the same way.

We need more honest, real people who live real lives, affected by pain, suffering and the harsh realities of life making decisions that affect our lives. His response to his realities is to serve in public office. His response was to be brave, speak the truth about his life and say because of this, I care about issues. 

My response to the harsh realities of my life is to write.  He gave me me courage to speak the truth. He gave me courage to continue to blog on Sounds of Hope. I am doing a series there about my youth, about molestation, domestic violence, welfare, food stamps and all manner of topics that people want to hide. Thank you Senator for being brave and helping me be brave as well.

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