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Richard Kimball

Richard Kimball

7 min read


Just now

Carole and I moved to Phoenix, where she studied for the Arizona Bar while I tried to do anything I could to help pay some bills. When she passed her Bar exam, I knew I was in trouble. My talents were miniscule, my education little better than that of a performing monkey, fortunately the one profession left to me needed no training and most monkeys could do it and actually do, do it — politics.

It was Christmas 1979, I was sitting in the living room with Carole, now a lawyer, and Steve, her former boyfriend, a talented artist, teacher, and good friend to us both. What should I do with my life was the question and run for office became the answer.

We knew a bit about politics, or at least enough to know that voters would elect just about anyone. None of us knew anything about local Phoenix politics or had any money. In fact, Carole and I had just moved to Phoenix, where her family lived, had no idea who the State Legislative incumbents were, let alone whether they were doing a good job or not. That not knowing, made us no different than you, or close to 100% of you who wouldn’t recognize your state representatives if they dropped in for dinner. Despite these impediments, we made 2 decisions that evening that 11 months later would remove a nice guy and pretty fair legislator from office.

First, was a catchy slogan. Every new, first-time, unknown candidate should have a good slogan I thought, some message that helps people remember the name. A very big deal when running for those little offices that few citizens ever go to the polls for. As with all local candidates we would largely be dependent upon the spillage from those on the top of the ticket, the Presidential, Gubernatorial or Congressional candidates who get the ink, resources, and attention necessary to be known and stimulate the electorate. All of which is completely backwards. The top of the ticket gets all the glamor while it is the bottom, those little candidates, the state legislators, city councils and school boards that have the power to impact you, and your family’s everyday life. Constitutionally the president may decide what to do with the people of Iraq, but he can’t do much about your neighborhood and most of us spend a lot more time there.

Anyway, after much discussion, I decided on, “Richard Kimball is Running.” An absurd slogan for sure, but political success is often built on the absurd. In this case, my name happened to be the same as a popular Hollywood TV series and later movie called the Fugitive, where an innocent man named Dr. Richard Kimble, is forced into running from the law. It was perfect. We even put a little running man logo on our signs so the point wouldn’t be missed.

It was an instant hit. And arguably, the only popular thing I ever did in my 7 years as a politician. The second important decision we made that night was that I would run for the State Senate against a popular Republican incumbent who also happened to be a local television personality. It would clearly be an uphill slog but a person who has a lot of energy and nothing else to do, can do a lot as a political candidate.

I would spend the next 11 months going door to door, thousands of doors, speaking to an amazing assortment of beings living in anything from dumps to palaces, but all with two things in common — They all lived in my district, and none knew who the Hell I was.

I distinctly remember the four doors I knocked on early that first morning. The first two, I was a little nervous and to my relief, no one was home, so I wrote out a note that as it turned out, I would write thousands of times on my campaign brochure. It said, “Sorry, I missed you. If you have any questions, please don’t hesitate to call me at my home.” Signed Richard with my number.

She was home at door number three, and the image is forever etched in my memory. She wasn’t more than 22 or 23, with tangles of long blond hair sweeping over her shoulder and sleep still dozing in her beautiful round blue eyes. She stood barefoot, dressed only in a bathrobe that was gloriously snagged on the doorknob. This vision launched my desire to knock on door number four and the thousands to come over the next eleven months.

Door number 4 was different, a whole lot different, and a revelation that would steel me for all the doors to come that would close in my face, beginning and ending with me in mid-sentence about my running for office.

My mind still smothered in the delights of door number 3, I knocked. “Who is it?” the voice barked. Shocked out of my dreamy fantasies, “Sorry to bother you Mame,” I stammered. ”My name is Richard Kimball, I’m running for the State Senate. I just wanted…” Suddenly the door swung open. Her hand grabbed to secure the lock on the screen. “I just have one question for you,” she huffed. “Great, what is it?” I said. Glaring at me, she jammed her words into my ears, “If elected, will you promise to support a law requiring the castration of all men accused of rape?”

Now I had given a great deal of thought to many issues, but castration of the accused had not been one of them. We talked for quite a while. I was pleasant, sympathetic but never told her that I could support mutilation before conviction as a proper punishment. None the less my concern convinced her that I was a sympathetic friend, and as I imagined what horror this woman must have suffered, she became my first vote.

For a pitiful few, it is a most valuable lesson. It isn’t so much what you stand for as it is what you feel, the language you use and manner with which any normal human would instinctively respond. All of this came very naturally to me, I did not need to pretend, be bombastic or solicitous in any way. I needed to follow Franklin Roosevelt’s advice, “Be short, be sincere and be seated (or in this case quiet).”

Never liking to draw attention or talk, I was a gifted listener and empathizer with almost anyone’s view no matter what it was. It was where it came from that was of interest to me.

Going door-to-door suddenly became fun, often stimulating and endlessly educational. In fact, it would occur to me some years later that I may have been the only candidate ever who truly enjoyed campaigning but hated serving. When serving, I would learn, real people were part of your past.

In the months ahead, door after door, with my passion and interest clear to all I slowly gained support. I walked the streets of central Phoenix seven days a week, every week, from 8 in the morning to 8 in the evening for those 11 months. At some point a few people started to welcome me, they had heard I was coming from friends or relatives in neighborhoods I had been through weeks before. Sometimes they would offer me a soda or a sandwich and actually seemed to enjoy talking to me. One day a photographer showed up and wanted to take a picture of all the shoes I had worn out. I was having a good time. Most of the people were kind, thoughtful and full of all kinds of notions, and it was clear that no one had ever shown any interest in what they thought.


My little running man went up in yards and on street corners. On Election Day, State Senator Tim Hayes, a popular television personality, a good and decent man and fair Senator was gone. I don’t think he ever knew what hit him. For me, winning was one of those precious moments in life never to be repeated. The experience was pure joy.

Thousands of Arizonians took time out of their day to go to the polls, grab a ballot find my name and say, “Ya! You’re our guy!” That is the nonsensical notion that germinates the “BIG HEAD” all politicians grow. It is a complete dumpster load of the smelly stuff, as I said, people are drawn to the polls by the top of the ticket and just blindly vote for one party or the other on down the ballot. My funny little running man nudged me over the top in what had been thought a Republican district.

The experience of winning with family, friends, and supporters all about, was the purest joy but had sobered by morning.

Now what?

(New chapters will be added roughly once a week)

Richard Kimball, Vote Smart Founder

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Published inGovernmentKimball's BookPolitics