I was a teenage candidate

The smell of Magic Marker will always remind me of my brief career in politics.

The summer before my senior year in high school I was tapped to attend Girls State, an American Legion program that teaches about government via mock elections.

It was June 1979, and I was a delegate to Hoosier Girls State, which met (and still meets) each year on the campus of Indiana State University in Terre Haute. In one week, the 700-plus delegates met, the primary was held, and then the general election took place.

"It's a crash course in three years' worth of a political campaign," says Karen Lowe, the current director of Hoosier Girls State.

For me, it was more like a crash course in humility.

Only girls with extreme charisma - and the energy to campaign hard in less than 24 hours - stood a mouse whisker's chance of winning a statewide office. Unlike the ambitious teens in our cover story, I settled for the modest office of county sheriff, and my roommate ran for county coroner.

We pooled our money for poster board and Magic Markers, but despite our elegant signage and snappy slogans, I think neither of us received even 30 percent of the vote. Our failure: not enough time spent on the stump.

We adored our party's gubernatorial candidate, a tall girl with long brown hair pulled into a ponytail who campaigned on roller skates. Sadly, she lost too, to Lynn- Margaret Pace from Gary.

I took away from these defeats three important lessons, ones I'm not certain the American Legion intended. They are: Slogans do not a campaign make, girls in ponytails are rarely taken seriously, and Magic Marker can permanently stain clothing.

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