Saturday, March 11, 2023 0 comments

Strength...the Kryptonite to Cancer, and Everything Else

This a follow-up to the previous post, “Cancer!”
I’m mindful that this blog isn’t a personal column but rather a behind-the-scenes view of election administration, but an update is relevant for a couple of reasons.
First, Dear Reader, never discount the power of love and prayers.
The visible responses on LinkedIn and Facebook are only a small portion of the “Save Ferris” moments me and my family experienced.
I entered this process determined to be as physically strong as possible and of the right attitude for a recovery.  I knew I was on a conveyor belt about to take me through something of which I had no perspective or control.
The outpouring I received was inspiring.
The first jaw-dropping experience came days into my cancer diagnosis, before the blog post.
I signed up to participate in a half-marathon, part of the Bismarck Marathon in September, to get the early-bird best rate just after January 1.  It would be my first half-marathon in 7 years.
When I was met with the cancer diagnosis a few days later, I realized that training for a half-marathon was a longshot at best.  I emailed the event organizer to ask if I could, if necessary, move my registration to a 5k or 10k, and explained why I was making the request.
The answer I quickly received, from Will, one of the managers of the race and the contact for sending me my swag after running the “Santa Run” virtually in December, was, “of course.”

The next day, my wife answered the door and was greeted with flowers and a card from Will, expressing best wishes for the challenge ahead.
Keep in mind this was from someone whom I have never met. 
And that, Dear Reader, is North Dakota!
Coworkers were amazing, both at the Secretary of State’s office and at North Dakota’s IT Department, where my wife works.  My children, their families, and my mother-in-law all provided tremendous support and inspiration.
Then, there are all of you who read the previous post and commented or sent notes.  That all made a huge difference.

So, here’s the rundown and result:

  • Diagnosis, January 5, 
  • Blog post, February 4,
  • Surgery, February 8,
  • Released from the hospital, February 11
  • Surgeon follow-up March 3 and Oncologist follow-up March 5, resulting in an “all clear,” and,
  • March 8, one month from the day of the surgery, I ran a slow 5k on the treadmill.
These two months have just about been the longest year of my life.

The surgery was robotic, but still fairly brutal, resulting in 19 inches, or about 1/3, of my large intestine removed and three nights in the hospital before getting the nod from the on-call surgeon to allow me to go home in time to see the Chiefs win the Super Bowl.
Consistent with the “behind the scenes,” theme, I asked the surgery team as I was wheeled in to the operating room, if they could take photos of the robotic tool that was used for my four-hour surgery.  I have no idea why it is called Marilyn.
I now will have regular CT scans and bloodwork to monitor things, but no chemotherapy!
So, there it is.  Your prayers, gifts, and messages enabled me to push this cancer away!
Still, as I’ve typed here often, cancer, in my view, comes calling for those who work in elections.
As I convalesced, I was presented with a potential career transition, and I made the decision to make myself harder to find for any potential future Cancer visit.
I’m moving out of elections, still in North Dakota state government, next week.
What better time than a moment of upheaval to keep making life decisions…
In addition, I have many plans for either eventual or mythical books to write, and these last few years can be summed up by my working title, “How the Federal Government Destroyed Voter Confidence, and What Can Be Done to Get it Back.”
That’s because everything in election administration eventually is politicized.
I recall going to the Election Center’s Joint Election Official Legislative Conference in 2006, where then Executive Director Doug Lewis held up a USA Today with a front-page article explaining that both major political parties were targeting Secretaries of State races.
Doug lamented what a bad indicator this was for elections.  I was fairly  new to elections and “then me” hadn’t yet seen what “now me” has.  Doug was spot on, and partisanship in election administration has become sequentially worse each year.
Much of the harm, in my view, has come from Washington D.C., Congress and Non-Government Organizations, social media, activists who work under the cover of alternative media, tech companies, and industry consultants and experts who move from organization to organization and require industry angst to appear relevant.
Finally, while on the subject of Secretaries, and me moving on from elections, I’ve had the privilege of working under five of them:

  1. Kansas Secretary of State Ron Thornburgh—there is no greater example of a throwback Secretary in my view then Ron; I never heard him saying anything political. 
  2.  Kansas Secretary of State Chris Biggs—the only Democratic Secretary in this list, and he believed in me, reappointing me just before the August 2010 primary, amidst those in his party suggesting the need to have “their person” in that role.  He saw the partisan aspect and also understood the impact it would have upon the upcoming elections, and, regardless of the fact it involved me, made the right decision, I believe.
  3. Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach—few Secretaries have nationwide name recognition, and probably none have the same name recognition as Kris.  I’ve known him personally, seen him with his five daughters, met his wife and mother, and will attest that he is a tremendous father.  I’m not oblivious to his public persona, but even to that I will point out that his biggest failing seems to be that he says what he will do if elected, and when elected he does it, so while many are unhappy with those outcomes, he has fulfilled what he said he would do when running for office.
  4. North Dakota Secretary of State Al Jaeger—Al was in office for 30 years and, much like Ron, is a living example of what a good Secretary is.  Al was incredibly selfless and humble, and he managed this agency to great stability over a long period of time.  In elections, no news is good news, and his goal always was for the election outcomes, not the administration of elections, to be the story after election day.
  5. North Dakota Secretary of State Michael Howe—my decision to move to a new position outside of elections was difficult because of how impressive Michael has been since taking office on January 1.  In my years in elections, I’ve interacted with more than 100 Secretaries, and those who are successful get their fingernails dirty in the details of elections.  He’s done that, and he’s a quick learner, and a strong leader.  North Dakota is lucky to have him in this role.  He also was super supportive of me after I received my cancer diagnosis just 3 business days into his time here.
So, it’s adios.  I’m not sure what will come of this blog.  I have another mythical book title, “Now I’m Allowed to Have an Opinion,” and I have that domain, in fact. 
In the meantime, this post began by praising the power of love and prayers.
For those of you in election administration—and for all human beings, I suppose—I point to Saint Paul’s First Letter to the Thessalonians (I Thessalonians 5:11):
              “Therefore, encourage one another, and build each other up, as in fact you are doing.”

There isn’t one single restrainer in front of election administrators.
In fact, those restrainers essentially come from a vocal and bullying minority, or partisan-who-pretend-to-not-be-partisan members of the election administration community.
Collectively, though, any restrainer, or group of restrainers, can be overcome.  These last two months are proof of that.
Encourage one another. Build each other up. 
As the lyrics to one of my favorite songs go, “It’s so easy to laugh, so easy to hate.  It takes strength to be gentle and kind.”
Show strength.  Share strength.  Celebrate strength in others.  That’s the way to persevere, and the non-vocal majority of voters deserve and will appreciate that effort.