The game called politics

Jan Verhoeff was only 14; she wanted to be a reporter, and indeed was already writing for the Music City News.

She had the pleasure of watching Merle Haggard perform Okie from Muskogee – and also the presence of mind to walk up to the great man himself and asked him what the phrase “pitchin’ woo” means… He replied it meant “kissing”. The phrase can also mean, in its integral sense, flirting – pitching being “sales talk” and woo being “courting”.

Sharolyn, an authentic Okie from Muskogee, graduated in 1970, a year after the song came out. She says that in her childhood it meant “just sitting holding hands and kissing and hugging without going all the way.”

Many gaming sites had a field day reporting that “one of theirs”, John Tyler Hammons, was recently elected (unpaid) mayor of Muskogee, a city of 38,000 inhabitants. He will be sworn in next week, and plans to transfer to a college closer to home so he will be able to carry on with his studies and schedule his city hall duties so they do not clash. The conventional press was slightly more cautious, including the somewhat derogatory phrase “a self-confessed gamer” in each report I accessed.

This 19-year old University of Oklahoma political science major, like his country-music crooner predecessor who “pitched woo”, has ‘flirted’ with politics because he believes he can change the world, “one day at a time”. He uses the term “flirting” himself when he describes himself as possibly aiming at far higher than a mayoral position.

“I’ve always had it in the back of my mind to be governor of Oklahoma one day. That’s always been a dream of mine. If I am lucky enough to be governor, I’ll probably flirt with the idea of trying to become president.”

Shrinking violet he ain’t! He is not the only “young” mayor with (American) dreams, of course. Some time ago, Bob O’Connor, the Mayor of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, died of a rare form of brain cancer after serving only eight months in office. He was succeeded by the twenty-six year old Luke Ravenstahl, President of City Council, the automatic selection in this type of eventuality.

He may legally complete his predecessor’s term of office, although there will probably be an election before it is up. Sometimes, his actions do appear to be a little immature, and that is when his age acts against him. An isolated incident is when he presupposes that the City ought to pay for his tickets (and bodyguard) when he goes to Detroit for the Stanley Cup…but then, older and supposedly wiser politicians do that all the time, and no one says they do it because of their age.

Hammons replaces Wren Stratton, who decided not to seek re-election after one term. He trounced former three-term mayor Hershel Ray McBride with 70 percent of the vote.

“The public placing their trust in me is the greatest, humbling and most awesome experience I’ve ever had in my life,” he said. He insists that he wants to wants to create an independent ethics commission to monitor elected and appointed city officials. He wants to set up a campaign finance reporting system for those running for office, in a bid to choke corruption before it takes root.

As mayor, he has promised that he will lead the nine-member city council in a non-partisan manner. The Media has lapped this up, and he has had offers galore already – a book deal, invitations to talk shows… as well as three offers for a starring role in his own reality television programme.

This was his campaign ticket, and he is sure the City Council will work with him on these issues, insisting that people voted in him because they do want to know what is happening in the corridors of power, rather than receive a sanitised version as and when it pleases city officials.

There is a moral here, somewhere; something that Club Lunch Cafe owner Gary Armstrong appears to have stumbled upon inadvertently. “He doesn’t have the baggage. He doesn’t owe anybody anything. It’s sort of a fresh start for Muskogee.” As such a happening would be for everywhere else.

Meanwhile, Hammons still find time for his hobbies; films, rock ‘n’ roll, video games, and fast cars. The prognosis looks good… a concoction of youth, political savvy, endorsements from the “common people”, a sting operation against corruption, time for hobbies, non-partisanship, and treating politics as a video game and as something with which to flirt …. as well as taken seriously.

The local version could even make politics palatable for the likes of me. And acceptable across the board.

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