I was 6 months too young to vote in the 1976 presidential election. I would have voted for Gerald Ford. I can’t articulate why, exactly, but I suspect it had something to do with being convinced as a 7th-grader that George McGovern was a communist. But what I did know? For months leading up to the ’76 election, I wondered why Jimmy Connors was running for president. (Watched too much tennis on TV, I guess.)
Four years later, when I finally got my chance, I cast my vote for Ronald Reagan. I knew a little more about the world by then. My first job out of high school was working for a Republican Congressman from Florida. I was hired to process surveys. I worked there for a year, then went on to work for a House committee — one you have, no doubt, heard much about: the Ad Hoc Select Committee on the Outer Continental Shelf. I know. I was livin’ the life.
Finally, in November of 1979, I landed a job with Senator Harrison “Jack” Schmitt of New Mexico. Jack was a former astronaut, the second-to-last human being ever to set foot on the moon. My indoctrination into the Republican party was complete. A year later, Republicans rode the Reagan landslide and took control of the Senate. I wasn’t a Reagan Democrat. I was a Reagan Republican. With the exception of the issue of abortion (I am and always have been pro-choice), I was completely on-board with the Republican platform.
Two short years later, the best job I ever had came to an end. Jack became a one-term senator when he was defeated by Jeff Bingaman, who went on to serve 20 years in the Senate. One of the most surreal experiences of my life was having Dan Rather report to me that I had just lost my job.
I landed on my feet, though, and went to work for then-Senator Dan Quayle. During the year that I worked for him, I began to recognize my disdain for being trapped in an office all day, and eventually I left the Hill for good.
My time as a Quayle staffer indirectly led to my meeting the person whom, a year later, I married. (We’re still married.) The first baby came a year after that, and my worldview began to change considerably. I’m not enough of a visionary to say I was concerned about the future my child would grow up in. I was much more focused on how we were going to pay for day care and health insurance. The Republicans didn’t offer much in that regard, but it was hard to get excited by Michael Dukakis, so I cast my vote for George H.W. Bush and my former boss in the 1988 presidential election. By then we had two kids, and I’d had to quit my job because of the high cost of day care.
Bush 41, as you may remember, had the famous “read my lips” line regarding taxes. Taxes remained a big issue in the late ’80s. In January of 1989, I found a job where my fast typing speed (100+ wpm) actually gave me the ability to earn more money: legal transcription. The more I worked, the more money I could make. Mind you, I wasn’t getting rich off this job by any means. It was simply that I had the opportunity to earn more money if I was willing to put in more hours. So, that’s what I did. More and more and more hours.
It was during this time that I saw Bob Dole on the news one night, speaking about the issue of taxes. I’d always had a lot of respect for Dole and his wife, Elizabeth. But on that night, I heard him talking about why it was “unfair” to raise taxes on the wealthy, that it “punished hard work.” I was bewildered. I kind of felt like I was working pretty hard myself, sometimes 80 hours a week, days where I never saw my kids, weekends and family functions missed in an effort to bring in a bigger paycheck, of which about a third went into my pocket. (And by “pocket,” I mean the bucket from which we paid rent, bought food, purchased baby supplies, etcetera.)
Why? Because a third of my paycheck went to taxes right off the top. And with no big deductions like some folks have, we didn’t get much of it back when we filed our tax return. The next third went to day care. So, I was thinking, yeah, there’s some unfairness here, but Dole isn’t talking about me. He’s talking about what’s “unfair” for the wealthy.
That was the beginning of the end for me. During the recession of the early ’90s, my husband lost his job and we were forced to relocate 200 miles away, moving into a tiny apartment in a town where we quite literally knew no one. I listened to the candidates running for president in 1992, and my husband and I both decided it was time for a change. For the first time ever, we voted Democrat.
Since then, the Republican party has continued on its downward spiral. George W. Bush got us into a senseless and avoidable war for which we are still paying, both strategically and financially. He oversaw the wrecking of the economy. John McCain unleashed Sarah Palin on us, who taught us all to blame everything on the media. And now we have Donald Trump, who urges us to hate those who don’t look like us, who fabricates his own version of “the truth” and pawns it off on a gullible electorate, whose go-to vocabulary sounds more like a schoolyard bully than a presidential candidate.
This is not the party of Lincoln. Heck, it’s not even the party of Reagan. Reagan would be summarily drummed out of this Republican party. Reagan supported a seven-day waiting period for the purchase of a firearm. As Governor of California, he raised taxes nearly a dozen times. He tripled the Federal budget deficit. During his administration, the size of the Federal Government grew. He was not an anti-choice zealot. He gave amnesty to 3 million undocumented immigrants.
So, yes, I am now a true blue Democrat. But make no mistake. I did not leave the Republican party. The Republican party left me.