By David Shapiro
I was cured of putting my name on a political ballot after running for student body president of Hilo College in the late 1960s.
I received 17 votes of some 400 cast in a three-candidate race. If that weren't humiliating enough, my lousy 17 votes prevented either of my neck-and-neck opponents from winning a majority, forcing a runoff election in which the two could barely conceal their contempt as they courted the handful of idiots who had voted for me.
And if that weren't humiliating enough, my wife ran for student council secretary on the same ticket and won handily with more than 300 votes, causing me endless grief about how her popular skirt tails weren't enough to garner unpopular me even enough votes to match my young age.
The trauma left me in admiration of Hawai'i's little subculture of also-ran political candidates who put their names on the ballot in one losing election after another, undaunted by scant financing, little media attention and minuscule vote totals.
This has been a milestone year for political also-rans who live to see their names on ballots. In addition to the regular 2002 election, we're holding two special elections to fill the 2nd Congressional District seat of the late U.S. Rep. Patsy Mink.
A number of candidates will earn their way into Hawai'i's political record book as the first to ever lose three elections in four months. The two winner-take-all special elections drew a lottery-like 38 and 44 candidates, respectively.
It struck me in studying the results of the Nov. 30 special election to fill the final month of Mink's current term, won by Ed Case, that 303 ballots were left blank.
Think about that. Some 300 people either trudged to the polls on a busy Saturday or bothered to submit absentee ballots for a one-race election and then didn't vote in that one contest.
This has to be what keeps the also-ran candidates going. If some voters are going to be so clueless, anything can happen.
Alas, those 300 blank ballots were more than the votes received by all but five of the 38 candidates. Ouch.
If it wounded me for life to get 17 votes out of 400 cast, imagine the horror for the six candidates who couldn't match my 17 votes out of 46,216 cast in the special election.
But I salute them for having thicker skin than me.
Five of the six are among the 44 candidates coming back for more in the Jan. 2 election to fill Mink's full new term.
What makes these candidates run? For a few, I'm sure it provides a semblance of importance. "I'm running for Congress, you know," they can tell acquaintances for two months.
But most also-ran candidates I've spoken to over the years keep running because they believe in some idea, or honestly think they can do a better job than those holding office.
You have to respect these people who put their egos on the line election after election while the rest of us only complain. They're the heart of our democracy.
And their cause isn't entirely hopeless. Their patron saint is the late Bernard Akana, the ultimate also-ran who never came close until his "Don't worry, be happy" campaign carried him to a shocking victory over Big Island Mayor Dante Carpenter in 1988.
The once high-flying Carpenter this year halted a bit of a run as an also-ran himself by winning election as an Office of Hawaiian Affairs trustee.
David Shapiro can be reached by e-mail at email@example.com.