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Dr. Who and the Leflore County Republican Party by Joe Harwell

As a child of the 60’s, I witnessing the chaos, turmoil, assassinations and war of the decade. It caused me to take a big political turn from my JFK inspired politics and I decided to give the Republican party a try in the early 70’s. Keep in mind, I lived in Leflore County Oklahoma, right in the middle (or at least on the fringes) of Carl Albert, Bob Kerr, Gene Stipe, Little Dixie, which should have kept my liberal Democrat roots in place.

Rebellion takes weird forms and I became of fan of Oklahoma’s Republican Governor Dewey Bartlett and not so much a fan of Oklahoma Democrat Senator Fred Harris. Fred should have been one of my icons as he carried on the liberal tradition of the 60’s, but I had been turned (some would say to the dark side.)

So, armed with new Republican leanings, I dove into being a Republican in a sea of Democrats. I wanted to participate and sought out local leadership of the Republican party in Leflore county. Lucky for me, one was a really good guy named Bob Eskridge, who in the Democrat bastion of Little Dixie was elected Mayor of Poteau back in the day. As a Republican and a human being, there was nothing not to like about Bob Eskridge. I went to school with his kids were very likable too.

OK, I know you’re asking where Dr. Who comes into this story. For those of you old enough to remember Bob Lee Kidd, long time publisher of The Poteau Daily News & Sun, here it comes. The Leflore County Republican convention in 1970 was held in a courtroom in the Leflore County courthouse on a Saturday afternoon. Keep in mind, this was the first organized political event I’d ever attended, if you don’t count when my parents drove us to Fort Smith in 1969 to see Nixon’s plane land when he attended the Arkansas vs Texas football game.

The fact there were only a handful of people in attendance at the 1970 Leflore County Republican convention didn’t bother me at first. Heck, I was in the big league at a political party convention. Bob Lee Kidd sat in the back of the courtroom listening and taking a few notes. After the proceedings were over, he spoke to some of the people and made one statement, which put me in my place and created my strongest memory of the event.

He said, “You had a good turnout today.”

I thought, “Good turnout? What’s he talking about?” Reality set in as I looked around the room noticing more empty space than occupied space. His next statement really woke me up. He pointed out the window, and said, “I remember when the Leflore County Republican Convention could be held in the phone booth in front of the courthouse with room left over.” I’m sure he wasn’t talking about a roomy Dr. Who phone booth either, although Bob Lee would have made a good Doctor.

Ahhhhh the reality, the first hint I was in with the minority party (at least in Leflore County back in the day). All is good and things ended well. A few years later I married into the Craig family and they brought me back into the Democrat party. These days my politics aren’t totally totally liberal or conservative. I have friends in both parties and engage them in vigorous debate on the issues. Being in the majority or minority is less important to me than it was in 1970, but here’s my hope for the future. As we observe the 50th anniversary of the passing of JFK (and the beginning of Dr. Who), I hope we’re inspired to leadership, especially the upcoming generation of my grandchildren.


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