By Lori Bredemeyer, Managing Editor
Several people have asked me this week if I’m in mourning. None of my family members or friends or pets has died, but I, and most of West Texas, have failed in battle. My former congressman, Charlie Stenholm, lost his bid for re-election.
Growing up in Winters, a small, rural town about 40 miles from Abilene, I didn’t know any other congressman. Charlie has been in office for 26 years-longer than my parents have even been married.
I felt several connections to Charlie. He’s a cotton and wheat farmer, just like my dad, so I always knew he understood the hardships of being a farmer and supporting a farm family. His hometown is Stamford, a small, West Texas town near Abilene that’s just like mine. He’s also a member of the Lutheran church, as is my family.
I met Charlie when I was 11. My family, sponsored by the Texas Farm Bureau, traveled to Washington, D.C., and was able to go to his office and meet and visit with him. His staff took a picture of my family with him, and he sent a signed copy to our house. Ten years later, that picture still hangs on the wall in our living room.
I’ve seen Charlie several times since then at Chamber of Commerce events and city gatherings and even last summer at my former pastor’s 50th wedding anniversary.
My connections and admiration for Charlie extended through several areas, and so I felt particularly betrayed this year when the Texas Farm Bureau endorsed his opponent, Randy Neugebauer. This is the same Farm Bureau that allowed me to meet Charlie for the first time 10 years ago. It’s also the same Farm Bureau that my family has been a member of for at least 25 years and that I supported through participation in scholarship programs and contests. And it’s the same Farm Bureau that awarded Charlie its highest honor, the meritorious service award, a year and a half ago. They let me down. They endorsed the wrong candidate.
Redistricting stripped me of my opportunity to vote for Charlie. Abilene joined Lubbock in District 19 in redistricting last year, but I’m still registered in Winters, which was shoved into District 11 with San Angelo. I hardly knew the candidates running for Congress there, but I knew whom I would have voted for here.
District 19 made a clear statement last week when 58 percent voted to elect Neugebauer. But something else is clear. West Texas has lost a strong congressman, a faithful friend and an ally in government who really understood the people in his district.
Although I might never see or hear of Charlie again, his relentless dedication, confident leadership and support of my family and community will remain with me.