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Last Tuesday evening, I tagged along as Dev Lavender, running for state rep in Kirkwood, H.D. 94, knocked on doors. We started at 5:00 on a hot, muggy evening–but with a breeze, thank goodness. As we drove to the spot where we met two other volunteers, Deb explained her concerns about finding spots on main thoroughfares for her yard signs. And she talked about the challenge of being a first time candidate and not knowing things that would be obvious to old pros. For example, she thought ordering yard signs a week and a half in advance would be plenty. No-o-o. She should have ordered them at least three weeks before she needed them.

We set off with the VAN list, skipping the houses that had been identified as strong Republicans. Most people didn’t greet us like company they’d been expecting, but more like we might turn out to be Jehovah’s Witnesses–and we were guilty until proven innocent of that charge. Most of them eased up a little once they realized we weren’t proselytizing (well, not proselytizing for Jesus anyway), but we still weren’t the company they’d been expecting.

Their coolness is so understandable, and it’s no predictor of what will happen in the conversation. One man stood on the sidewalk, holding his cig till it died but not inhaling–considerate of him, I thought. He was a yellow dog Democrat and liked to talk about his experiences. He talked for ten minutes or so, then he told us to be sure to visit with Julia, two doors up. “Now she might not answer, cause she’s blind, and if Bill ain’t home, she might not feel comfortable. But he usually gets home around this time. He’s still workin’ at 72. Me, I got outta Chrysler when I couldn’t take them bosses no more.”

Two doors up, Bill answered, came outside, listened to Deb’s pitch without much expression one way or another. Then Deb mentioned that his neighbor had told us about his wife’s vision problems and asked if she was home. Bill invited us in. We weren’t expecting that.

I made over their two Maine Coon cats–what beauties!–while Deb and Julia got acquainted. Turns out that Julia was the first woman in Kirkwood to run for the City Council. This was back in the seventies. She lost that race, but Marge Schramm, who ran for mayor in the eighties and won, said that Julia had broken ground for female candidates in Kirkwood. Before Julia retired, she ran non-profits, and in fact at one time headed an organization with 6,000 volunteers to oversee.

Deb invited her to help with her campaign, but Julia said, “I can’t see anything.” Deb’s response was that her experience would be very valuable, and I chimed in that Julia would have told her to order those yard signs earlier than she had.

Julia wasn’t interested in working on the campaign, though. On the other hand, she did offer to put up a yard sign for Deb. Julia and Bill are on Geyer Road, a major thoroughfare in Kirkwood–AND right across from a polling place. A plum location.

That, as it turned out, was the house of the night. We soldiered on.

One young mother opened her apartment door with a sweet smile. Deb gave her the opening patter: “Hi, I’m Deb Lavender, and I’m running for state rep. I’m getting out and meeting the neighbors. Do you vote Democratic, Republican … or it depends?” The young woman’s smile broadened: “I work for the Republican Party.” Anyone who’s ever used a VAN list knows they’re not perfect. Deb returned her smile and said that the lady probably wouldn’t be voting for her, then. She shrugged. “They pay my bills, and I don’t bite the hand that feeds me.”

Another man listened to Deb’s intro, took the literature, told her that he was a Democrat and that he’d vote for her. And stopped short of saying, “Now that’s all I want to hear. You can go away.” But we got the idea and left him to his life.

Deb is running against an incumbent, Rick Stream , who is more conservative than most Kirkwood voters. He is pro-voucher in a school district that places high value on its schools, anti-stem cell research, anti-choice, pro-death penalty, and pro-abstinence only sex education.

Deb mentioned none of that at the doors, however, unless someone asked, preferring to focus on her passion, as a physical therapist and a small business owner, for health care reform. I’ll have more to say tomorrow about her conversations with constituents about health care, as well as about her belief that legislators should quit bickering and start looking for common ground.