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Excerpt from Oral History Interview with John Ledford, January 3, 2001. Interview K-0251. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

The rise of negative campaigning

The work ethic Ledford learned from his father guided him when he ran for sheriff for the first time, he recalls. He thinks, as does the interviewer, that campaign style has changed, and he regrets the rise of negative campaigning.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with John Ledford, January 3, 2001. Interview K-0251. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) in the Southern Oral History Program Collection, Southern Historical Collection, Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Full Text of the Excerpt

JOHN LEDFORD:
My father used to always say that if you're working, you were making money, should be making money. And if you were off you were probably spending money. So which are you better off? So that was his philosophy. So he, nobody in the Ledfords, even my sister as I say, we all knew that that was part of the bargain. That was part of the package. You had to work. You were always compensated for working in many other ways, not just financial. I could go to my father for anything. He just, he was there for us. My mother as well. That kind of made us, that got me to where I am today because I just believe, when I set in to run for sheriff, my plan was-I took a leave of absence in November from the state, came back and went to work for my father and brother again in the business. That entire year, they made available to me at two o'clock in the afternoon and I would get out and get in the car and go to ten o'clock at night just visiting people, stopping by houses, shaking hands, seeing people I hadn't seen. I went in, if I would go to somebody who they would tell me you need to go see this man in Spring Creek. I would say can you take me to some people because if he told me he was going to support me, then I wanted him to take me around to see some folks. I think that's how I won. I really believe that. I got out and worked. If there was a gathering to be at and an opportunity to speak and be seen or just go. The only thing I didn't do, I tried to shy away from was funeral homes. For years in Madison County a lot of campaigning was done at funeral homes and I just, somehow that didn't sit with me. I don't know exactly why.
ROB AMBERG:
Yeah, that's almost crossing the line. It's real close.
JOHN LEDFORD:
It's an interesting thing because since I've been sheriff, I've had a lot of people say, 'Well such and such a person has died and you need to go to funeral home.' And I'll go in like thirty minutes early and sign the log and they'll say, 'Well you should've stayed. The family would've liked to had you there.' And they might have. But just for, you feel like you ought to be there for the family because they were friends of yours, but at the same time you feel like you're either a distraction or you feel like people are going to take it the wrong way if you are there. So I just, I sign the log and just try to stay away from that type of thing. That's another way this county is changing. I don't remember ever there being an election in the fall of the year. There was, but if you've been here since '70, mid-seventies you know there never was a Republican elected to anything in this county in my lifetime until '86 when Dedrick Brown beat E.Y. [Elymas Yates Ponder, former sheriff]. Yeah, he was the first. You had your primary. You had your shoot out in the primary, and then it was over because fall of the year you knew you were going to be elected.
ROB AMBERG:
That's true. The style of campaigning that you just described to me is very old style.
JOHN LEDFORD:
Very much so.
ROB AMBERG:
Very much kind of avoiding emails and phones and computers and things like that and really getting out and talking to people face to face often times in their homes or in the community stores, and that to me is a real, it's kind of old tradition.
JOHN LEDFORD:
Now, I had to do the other too now. I had mail outs. We put up road signs or yard signs and signs and did mail outs as well. It was just, of course the bad thing about it was that some time around 1994 when my father lost, after five times, negative campaigning hit Madison County. When I ran in '98, it was really negative. I'll tell you that's the part I hate the least [most]. I learned early on from being out here by watching the expression on people's faces if somebody brought up my opponent and would open the door for me to make a negative comment if I let my emotions go and made that negative comment, you could tell by the look on their face that they didn't like that. They were going to see what kind of person I was. If I made a comment, 'Well, I guess he's a pretty nice person but I think I can do a better job,' I think I would get much farther with that. I really believe that. I don't think it's because the person is of negative or not negative but opposite political party of myself. I didn't agree with a lot of the things he did and I thought I could do them better. I thought I would work harder at it because I knew what type person I am. I knew once I got here that I could just about will something to happen just because I work hard. I believe if I work hard, then my deputies work hard because then they know what to expect.