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On the Hustings

by John F. Burke Jr., Ph.D.
Chair, Ohio Judicial Family Network Steering Committee (2001-2002)

Life on the campaign trail is hard. We all know that. We have all had the experience – been there, done that.

Ohio is a big state. It has more than 11 million people in 88 counties - only a small percentage has an interest in politics. Thirty-seven percent voter turnout in the 2002 election. An even smaller percentage is interested in a judgeship election.

Ohio is a big state. Is has about 41,000 square miles and more than 130,000 highway miles - many of which are bumpy or boring or both- almost all of the roads have an outgrowth of orange barrels- the alleged “state flower” of Ohio as they appear every spring.

Ohio is a big state – the fifth largest interstate system – bisected by many rivers – the second highest number of bridges. Ohio has 8.2 million drivers, and most of them appear to be going in the same direction you are going.

Ohio is a big state. Traveling on the hustings you get to see a lot of it. Ohio is a beautiful state with rolling hills (see the state symbol) and the streams and greenery. Ohio is a very green state.

The best part of the hustings is the people. After you have driven many hours from Cleveland to get to Mercer County or Lucas County or Tuscarawas County, the reward is the Ohioans you meet: workers, farmers, citizens, men, women, children, Republicans, Democrats, Independents - all nice folks.

But the driving is hard, leaving the family is hard, eating at fast food restaurants is hard, and giving up your Saturday nights is hard. (I can remember when Nancy Fuerst was a fun date on a Saturday night). Arranging for adult supervision for the kids is hard. Finding a driver/companion is hard - you never want to walk into a meeting alone.

If you want to run for statewide office in a big state you must be very dedicated to the judgeship.

Alternatively if you have access to lots of money – three, four, five million, which will be spent on your behalf - then you can run a TV campaign similar to the McKinley campaign that he ran from his back porch (or was that Garfield ?). But, if you do not have access to that much money, then your TV campaign will be limited, and you must be out on the hustings.

You and your family will pay a price for this activity - there are always costs to pay. The first law of economics is: “There is no free lunch.” There will be family dinners missed, children's hockey and baseball games not seen, and the election is still more than a year away.

Of course Ruth (age 13) and Patrick (age 11) are not interested in campaigning. They would rather be with their friends. Some of our eight older children do make an effort to help out when they are able, but for Ruth and Pat it is a struggle.

All seekers of political office pay these family-related costs. It is tougher on those who must travel to do their job. State representatives and senators from Toledo or Portsmouth who travel to Columbus give up a lot of family life. Their spouses and children also pay the price. I hear Patrick's plaintive call, “Where's Mom?” followed by a derisive comment, “at a political meeting.”

However the rewards are also great. You get to see and know a lot about Ohio and her people. There is also the reward of public service, which, like virtue, may be its own reward.

When Nancy Fuerst first (Fuerst squared) mentioned her idea of running statewide, I must confess I had some trepidations, and I still do. We had many talks before a final decision was made. We talked about the children, the spouse, the work effort, the campaign money and so forth. We talked many, many times. Nancy has a strong commitment to public service, and this is a time when public service is needed. Public service without a self-serving political agenda is needed.

We all know the key to a successful marriage is two words, “Yes, dear!,” and that key turns in both directions. So Nancy's decision is my decision. We both enjoy the politics, meeting new people, hearing their stories and the commitment to public service.

So, while life on the hustings is hard, it is also enjoyable.

John Burke's spouse, Nancy A. Fuerst, is a Cuyahoga County Court of Common Pleas judge. Judge Fuerst was a candidate for the Supreme Court of Ohio in 2004.

For information about the Advisory Committee on the Judicial Family Network, please contact Judicial Services Program Manager Dean Hogan, Supreme Court of Ohio, 614.387.9467.

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