In 1994, at the age of 28, I waged a statewide campaign for the Arizona Corporation Commission.
My former boss, Dale Morgan, was retiring and I decided to run statewide for his seat on the 3-member panel.
It was a great experience, one that I have never regretted.
Spending a year traveling across Arizona, I had a chance to visit every single community giving me a greater appreciation for such a diverse state.
As the primary election approached, I received major newspaper endorsements, and ended up winning 11 of Arizona’s 15 counties.
But it wasn’t enough.
The weekend before the election, one of my opponents, Carl Kunasek, mailed out a postcard to Republicans statewide informing them I had been endorsed by Planned Parenthood.
We fielded hundreds of calls in our campaign office asking if the cards were true (they were) and, as I personally tried to explain to voters that as a Corporation Commissioner I would never deal with the issue of abortion, and would just try to keep their utility rates low, it sealed my fate.
I lost that Republican primary by 11,000 votes out of a quarter million cast, and the reason why – something that had nothing to do with utility rates – was a bitter pill to swallow.
In the days after the election, I pondered whether to call Kunasek to congratulate him. That’s the typical thing losing candidates do to help secure our democracy.
But I never did, instead choosing to let the general election campaign unfold without any input.
There are reasons for it (most importantly I sided with the Democratic candidate on most utility and consumer issues) but I just walked away without endorsing anyone.
The fascinating thing in hindsight is that I had always respected Carl Kunasek.
He was a pharmacist like my dad, and had been a moderate Republican in the state legislature. But my ego at 28, despite years of political involvement, prevented me from making a one minute phone call to congratulate him on his victory.
Now, fast forward five years to May, 1999.
I was the press secretary to Rep. J.D. Hayworth when Arizona Corporation Commissioner Tony West resigned after being illegally elected under a conflict of interest-type law.
The seat was now open, and Governor Jane Dee Hull was about to fill it. Hull and I had been friends for years, I had supported her first run for Arizona Secretary of State, and she had endorsed my run for the Corporation Commission.
After West resigned, Hull’s office called to see if I’d be interested in being his replacement.
‘Of course, let’s do this,’ was my quick response.
Hours later I was in her office, discussing the possible appointment. Hull was a terrific leader and I admired her a great deal. A moderate who just wanted to get things done, we were both made from the same political ilk.
When I shook the governor’s hand as I left, she indicated things looked good for my appointment.
But by the end of the day, her Chief of Staff called to tell me they had run into a big problem.
Hull had called Kunasek to tell him I would be replacing West. And Carl wanted none of it.
He argued that I had never congratulated him, and I was not a good guy.
Kunasek had never forgotten the slight, despite the fact he now had the job, and five years had passed.
In the end, Hull appointed someone else to the seat. I was stunned.
‘How can such a small thing be the reason a governor couldn’t appoint me?’ I asked myself over and over again in the days following the decision.
But you know what?
Kunasek was right.
He won the primary fair and square, and I should have been a bigger man and offered congratulations. How a losing candidate handles defeat can smooth the choppy political waters that debate and disagreement can cause.
Losing candidates acknowledging the winners is essential in our democracy, or the whole system can break down into chaos and violence (see any Banana Republic around the world).
But I failed to do it, and it cost me (and I would argue Arizonans) who didn’t have a strong consumer advocate in an important position.
So, I know a thing or two about the importance of being gracious in defeat.
It’s the right thing to do.
And (message to Donald Trump) there could be consequences years later if you don’t show a little grace now.