Over the Hill

You might not be reading this column if not for 56 votes in 1980

I always pay attention to local elections. But I pay particular attention to elections for the 1st District seat on the San Luis Obispo County Board of Supervisors. It’s the North County seat, and it’s the seat I ran for in 1980.

That 1980 supervisors’ election had four candidates — just like this year’s election. In the primary election that June, I got the most votes. The run-off election in November was between me and Jerry Diefenderfer. He had come in second in the primary.

Diefenderfer was a rancher and legislative assistant to state Sen. Robert Nimmo. I was news director for the KPRL and KPRA radio stations in Paso Robles.

I had no experience as a government official, but for 12 years I’d attended thousands of meetings for various local government boards. I took notes and interviewed participants. I reported what I learned on the radio. I also reported from the scene of floods, fires, shootouts and Pioneer Day Parades.

I felt I knew the North County people and their issues just as well as most local elected officials did, so I decided to run for the open seat on the Board of Supervisors.

But I didn’t make that decision by myself. I discussed it first with my wife, Mamie. She said, “Go ahead.”

That was important for two reasons.

No. 1: She had better judgment than I do.

And No. 2: In order to run, I would have to quit my job. In those days, broadcast stations were bound by an equal-time requirement. That meant if I ran for office and still worked on KPRL, the station would have to give free equal time to competing candidates.

Mamie had a good secretarial job, and our house payments were only $63 per month. So together we decided to take a chance.

I was soon surprised and overwhelmed by the number of people who came forward to endorse me, to contribute to my campaign and to work on it. More than 1,000 signed a newspaper ad endorsing me.

Several of them formed a sign committee. They made hand-stenciled signs on sheets of plywood and erected them all around the district. They also had fun doing it.

But on election night, when the last returns were tallied, Diefenderfer had beaten me by 56 votes.

I felt terrible. I felt I’d let down all those people who had endorsed me and campaigned so hard for me. But they still remained my friends. A few of us still exchange Christmas cards. And I felt no bitterness toward Diefenderfer. It was a fair fight.

Also, things worked out fine for me. Soon after the election I went to work for The Telegram-Tribune. And today I still write this column. As Omar Khayyám said, “The moving finger writes; and, having writ, moves on … ”

Phil Dirkx’s column is special to The Tribune. He has lived in Paso Robles for more than five decades, and his column appears here every week. Reach Dirkx at 805-238-2372 or phild2008@sbcglobal.net.