Election Day in Lorena BY DAVE DENISON Lorena EVEN SUBURBAN AMERICA, where putting on a happy face is a way of life, woke up on Novembef 8 in a funk about the election. If it was still morning in America, someone had forgotten to put the coffee on, for the nation was in a grouchy mood. Just the night before, on prime time on election eve, Barbara Bush had appeared in a commercial on behalf of her husband and declared, “We’re the greatest. We’re the freest. We’re the most wonderful country.” But the mood didn’t seem to carry over, at least not to Lorena, the middle-class Central Texas suburb where I spent election day. It didn’t take long for an exit poller in Lorena to see what he was in for. Here is my first interview of the day, with a middleaged couple who had just done their duty for democracy: “Excuse me, but would you happen to have a moment for ” “No,” honked the wife, as her polyestered haunches pumped their way to the truck. The husband hesitated. I said I was a reporter from Austin and wanted to ask about the election. He backed up, in the style of Ronald Reagan, waving off the press. “No,” he said, as his wife slammed the door of the truck, “I’ve got such a bad opinion, I’d hate to give it.” Jeez, that must be some kind of dynamite he’s carrying around with him. Well, I hadn’t driven an hour and a half ‘ to let the citizens of Lorena off easy we were going to talk this out, painful as it might be. And, in fact, in the course of the day, I found more than a dozen friendly voters who were willing to talk about their election day blues. There seemed to be just as many who looked at me as if their peptic ulcer had just flared up. “I wouldn’t want to make any comment at all,” is a common way for suburbanites to tell you you can go to hell. Lorena is no hotbed of political ferment. This is a town that seems to have no center. In its early days \(one of the older buildings, the United Methodist Church, was built in ran right up to the railroad tracks. Now the “downtown” is nothing but a few tourist trinket stores \(“Turn-of-the-Century Spe a Municipal Hall. The railroad is no longer the center of business; Lorena’s character changed forever when the interstate highway, running north and south from Austin to Dallas, was built about a mile east of the tracks. 1-35 now bisects the town, with the older houses on the west side and newer, suburban-style tract houses on the east. Lorena is commonly referred to as a bedroom community most people work GAIL WOODS in Waco, ten miles to the north, or in Temple, 30 miles to the south. The sign at the city limits says population is 619, but the town secretary pegs it at 1100. Because the town is a bedroom community it is really not much of a “community” at all. There is no Lorena newspaper, no industry, no downtown barbershop or Chat ‘n Chew cafe where the locals gather before work. What there is is a school system. A couple of years ago, the town built a brand new high school and elementary school. It is tucked away west of the railroad tracks on the far side of town, but it is what most of the residents of Lorena share in common and what many of them moved here for. This summer brought an unusual moment of fame for Lorena. The town was put on the political map when one of its citizens wrote a letter to State Treasurer Ann Richards, who quoted from it in her keynote address to the Democratic National Convention in Atlanta. “I got a letter last week froni a young mother in Lorena, Texas,” Richards said to the thousands of delegates and to the 80 million television viewers, “and I want to read part of it to you.” The letter was about financial worries of the middle class paying for car insurance, groceries, and the kids’ clothes. “Please don’t think me ungrateful,” Richards quoted the letter-writer, “we have jobs, and a nice place to live, and we’re healthy.” “We’re the people you see every day in the grocery store,” she continued. “We obey the laws, pay our taxes and fly our flags on holidays. We plod along, trying to make it better for ourselves and our children and our parents. We aren’t vocal anymore. I think maybe we’re too tired. I believe that people like us are forgotten in America.” Ann Richards added: “Well of course you believe you’re forgotten. Because you have been.” She went on to assault the Republican administration for “treating us as if we were pieces of a puzzle that can’t fit together. . . . No wonder we feel isolated and confused. We want answers and their answer is that something is wrong with you.” “Well, nothing’s wrong with you,” Richards said in a well-remembered line, “that you can’t fix in November.” THAT WAS ON the 18th of July. Now it was November and the Democrats had had more than three months to make their case that it was the administration in Washington that needed fixing. I wanted to know how this election had played in Lorena. Specifically, I wanted to know whether voters in this particular town were sold on the argument that a Democratic administration would be more beneficial to the middle class, since that was what Ann Richards had been saying in quoting one of Lorena’s own. So I stood outside of Lorena High School, the Precinct 75 polling place, all day to find out. The answer was no. “It doesn’t sell,” said Elden Barrett, a professor at Waco’s Baylor University. Like most people I talked to, Barrett voted for Bush. “Suburban areas are very conservative,” he explained. It didn’t take long to realize that this pocket of traditionally Democratic McClellan County was solid for George Bush and that Ann Richards had worked no special magic 6 NOVEMBER 25, 1988
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