40 Years in America
The Honorable Marjorie B.
Hometown magazine was published in 1993. This testimony of the power of one woman appeared in Issue 3 of that year.
Richard and Marjorie and their children
Marjorie Buessing had a secret ambition. She wanted to run for political office. Not even her closest friends suspected that within the compact, 4’ 10" frame of this energetic mother of four beat the heart of a future stateswoman.
Who could have guessed that she would even have time to fulfill the duties of a busy New Hampshire citizen legislator, what with driving 8-year-old Mapolo to baseball, 6-year-old Li to T-ball, 4-year-old Alex to preschool and her 10-year-old daughter Marric (pronounced Marique) to violin lessons, ballet, dance and track? Not to mention the kids’ swimming lessons, serving on the Parent-Teachers’ Organization (PTO) board, reading poetry two days a week at the school, supporting her husband in his work as ACC Regional Consultant, doing volunteer work for the Concord County Women’s Club, being active in her church, doing the cooking, cleaning, shopping, laundry, trips to the doctor, and the countless other tasks routinely performed by moms everywhere in America.
In many ways, Marjorie Buessing was as unlikely a candidate to run for political office as you could imagine. Except for one thing: her character. Words like dynamo, determined, disarming, daring and indefatigable only begin to describe the winning qualities of this petite powerhouse of a woman.
It was on a spring day back in April 1992 that Marjorie’s call finally came. ACC President Michael Smith remembers it this way: "We were sitting around at a barbecue in the backyard of Richard and Marjorie’s house. Marjorie was wearing old blue jeans and a green T-shirt. The guys and I were brainstorming about values in the political process, and the discussion led to whether any of us was qualified to run for office himself.
"Then a thought struck me. I had just been sharing with Marjorie some of Mother’s words that had really moved me, about this being the Age of Women and how women need to take the lead in restoring moral values in society. I turned to Marjorie and said, ‘Hey Marjorie! Why don’t you run?’
"Her response came in a flash. She didn’t even have to think about it. Right from her chair, she jumped about three feet off the ground -- just like the lady in the Toyota commercial -- and shouted: ‘YES! YES!! YES!!!’"
The next thing she knew, Marjorie had changed from her jeans into a jazzy spring dress and was being whisked out the door by State Representative and fellow UC member Bob Ouellette to meet the big shots at a political fundraiser. Her husband, Richard, stood silently watching her leave, as he took in the mountainous stacks of dirty dishes that awaited him. He, too, remembers that day.
"Mr. Mom!" the ACC brothers pointed and laughed in unrehearsed unison, "Mr. Mom!!!" Hometown [magazine] has been unable to determine with certainty whether any of them stayed to help with the dishes. The next Thursday, after doing some research, Marjorie called the incumbent State Representative for her district, Gerald Smith. She asked him why he had not yet registered to run again, and discovered that he wanted to retire and was hoping that a younger person would take up the task. If no one stepped forward, he said, he’d have to run himself to keep the liberals from taking the seat.
They had tea the following morning. "I had a myriad of questions for him." Marjorie recalls, "and Smitty wanted to make sure I had the kind of values he was looking for, too." By the time they had finished their tea, the 16-year veteran of the New Hampshire legislature asked Marjorie to run for his seat and promised to enthusiastically support her.
A glance through Marjorie’s "1992 Country Calendar and Planning Guide" reveals how dramatically her life changed over the following weeks. In the week of June 14, for example, things still seem pretty normal. She takes Mapolo to a gymnastics awards ceremony, reads poetry at the school, drives Li to his final T-ball game for the season, takes Mapolo to the doctor, has her hair cut and permed, gets photos taken for literature, recruits some friends to help on the campaign.
During the month of July, the campaign begins to assume a larger role in her life. One discovers the following calendar entries among the birthday parties, swim lessons, Fourth of July picnics, and doctors’ appointments: "July 2 - Met with Bob Ouelette and Wayne about campaign. Literature and signs and ideas...July 8 -lunch with State House leaders...July 13 -- Meeting at Merrimack High. State Board of Ed. proposing to eliminate all minimum standards for schools. Big outcry, esp. from NEA.... July 14 -- Rev. Kim wants to take me to see Father and Mother. I said only after Nov. 3...July 20 -- sign locations. I average two new votes per visit to the pool!!!"
In fact, the pool proves to be a most fertile recruiting ground. With four kids and staggered lesson times, she is sometimes there three times a day. Everyone already knows her from previous years, just as they do at the PTO, the school, the women’s club, Lamplighters and the library. Most people promise to vote for her and many volunteer to put up her signs in their yards. As a result, Marjorie, a Republican, actually ends up with her signs posted on more Democratic lawns than Republican ones. In August, Marjorie’s calendar is beginning to get thick with campaign-related entries: Friends in her district invite her over to meet their neighbors. She talks with education leaders about school board issues. Richard goes to D.C. for an ACC conference. The children come down with a fever. She parlays with the AARP and other local groups about their legislative concerns. Her opponent, a veteran politico named J. Wilcox Brown, calls and asks to come over to meet her. She tells him the kids are sick; maybe next week. After checking with her advisors, she goes with Marric to meet Mr. Brown and take his measure. He is 77, moderate and has lots of connections, but she figures she can out-campaign him.
By September, Marjorie has gotten down to serious, pavement-pounding business. She starts the month putting up campaign signs throughout the neighborhood. She campaigns door-to-door nearly every day with Marric, averaging almost four hours per day. She visits the Secretary of State and Republican Party Headquarters. In the primary, where both she and Mr. Brown run unopposed, she gets a glimpse of the possibility of victory as she outpolls him by more than 100 votes. She sets up speaking engagements and meetings to gain endorsements. Everywhere she goes -- shopping, birthday parties, meetings, the pool, the bank, school -- people ask about the race.
In October, with the election just a few days away, the inevitable crisis of faith rears its ugly head. In a key debate with her opponent, Marjorie faces an opposition-packed audience and a "set-up" question about campaign financing. Halloween goblins destroy many strategic campaign signs. Richard gets tied up on Church business again, just when she feels she needs him most. Meanwhile, Bush and the Republicans appear frozen in their tracks. Anyone thinking of riding the G.O.P. gravy train to victory is liable to be left out in the cold, especially in the chilly wilds of New Hampshire. Marjorie nears the end of her rope. Her diary bemoans her desperate situation: "Does Mother feel like this? Where is Richard? Why am I doing this? I have no husband."
It turns out that the kids save the day. In betweenHalloween parties and trick or treats, they help put out a crucial sample ballot mailing. "If we couldn’t get the mailing out by Monday," Marjorie explains, "the whole thing would be useless." Marric folds, Mapolo stuffs, Li sticks and Marjorie labels until way past their normal bedtimes. Even four-year-old Alex learns the fine art of sponging and sealing the envelopes. Richard returns in the nick of time and says, "We pulled an all-nighter and dropped the mailing just in time for the voters to get the sample ballots the day before the election."
Marjorie has now regained her determination. She’s dead tired, but she replaces the lost signs and even puts up new ones in additional locations. She spends 12 hours on Election Day outside the polls in near-freezing weather. Scores of people stop to thank her for the sample ballots. Friends bring hot chocolate and good cheer. Finally the big night has come. Both Marjorie and Mr. Brown, her opponent, attend the vote counting. Votes for the national offices are tabulated first. Things don’t look good for the Republicans, and Marjorie can’t help but be worried. Clinton wins her district by a landslide. The liberal State Senate candidate easily rides his coattails to victory. Dick Swett, another member of her opponent’s party, breezes to a win in the Congressional race.
J. Wilcox Brown breathes easy. A friend turns to Marjorie and asks, "How do you feel?" She answers, "Tired. I’ve been on my feet in the cold all day!" "I mean about the race," her friend replies. "Oh," Marjorie sighs. "I feel fine. I did my best. The rest is up to the voters."
The moment draws near. The votes for the office of State Representative for Merrimack District 23, Concord Ward 10 are about to be announced. And the winner, with a solid 65 percent of the vote, is...Marjorie Buessing.
She returns home late that night to find her kids in their pajamas, still up and waiting for her. "You did it!" she tells them." Your mailing made the difference!" They jump all over her. She collapses to the couch as they smother her with hugs and shower her with kisses. Marjorie was sworn in as a member of the New Hampshire General Court, or lower legislative house, on December 2, 1992.
"It was a real honor," she recalls. "I felt a real sense of responsibility to my voters. It’s a duty I do not take lightly at all. Every session, we begin with a prayer and the Pledge of Allegiance. I like that. It helps us all remember our responsibility to God and to the people we represent."
Marjorie confesses to a sense of pride about her work in America’s largest state legislature. "With 400 members, we’re actually number three in the world," Marjorie explains, "right behind the U.S Congress and the House of Commons."
In talking to her now, one is struck by the transformation that has occurred. Last year, when Michael Smith and this reporter visited New Hampshire early in her campaign, Marjorie was an eager novice at the political game, hungering for information. Today she’s a veteran who knows the ropes. The legislative session in New Hampshire is one of the longest in the country, running from the first week in January through June 30. Committee work, however, begins in September.
Beyond her State House duties, Marjorie’s office also makes her an ex-officio member of the Concord County Delegation, similar to a county Board of Supervisors in other jurisdictions. In that capacity, she deals with county tax and policy issues and oversees the local prison system from her seat on the County Corrections Committee. She spends Mondays and Fridays working for the county and Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays at the State House. For all this, she receives the generous sum of $100 per year!
How have her husband and family fared through it all? "Richard has had to go through quite an adjustment," she admits. "When we saw Father after the speech in Boston, he told Richard, ‘Now you have to follow her!’ Of course, Father was kidding, and Richard smiled, but..."
Asked about the secret of her success, she opines: "It’s because of our practice of the Head-wing philosophy, and all the things Father has taught us over the years. Be respectful. Listen to everybody. Seek harmony and consensus, but never yield on matters of principle." Marjorie had a chance to meet Father after his recent speech in Boston. "I had to rush to the meeting," she recalls. "You know how it is. I didn’t even have time to pray, and I felt unprepared. After I was introduced, Father said, ‘You’ve been busy, haven’t you?’ Then he looked at me and said, ‘Don’t pray, just work hard.’ It was one of those moments."
Marjorie also has some advice for others considering a run for public office: "Begin by serving unconditionally. I didn’t win just through my campaign. For three years, I worked on the PTO board, Lamplighters, community service, volunteering at school. I didn’t know I’d even be running. But I knew that service was the way to victory in Home Church. By serving you become a leader naturally."
If you’re wondering about Richard, he’s still wearing that grin. "I’m really proud of Marjorie," he says, "and the kids are too." He took on the responsibility of coordinating Father and Mother’s speeches in his region this year, plus his night job and the kids. "It’s been a little stressful," he admits, "but the kids have been pretty understanding and Marjorie and I always find a way."
As for Marjorie, she couldn’t be happier about Richard’s contribution to her success. "I don’t think there’s another person anywhere that would put up with this situation," she exclaims. "He really supports me. I think I have the most wonderful husband in the world." What does the future hold? "I don’t know," Marjorie allows. "I’m here working hard for at least another year. People are approaching me to run for the Senate already. That means five days a week at the State House and still just a $100 per year."
"I can’t do it yet. Not unless something else changes," she laments. "The bathroom needs cleaning!" And so we leave her on the horns of a dilemma, caught in a chasm between New Hampshire politics and a messy house...the Honorable Marjorie Buessing.
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