The first election night I covered as a young reporter started early and ended the next day, when I drove across the open desert of Arizona to reach my radio station. Pink colored the early morning sky.

I was terribly inexperienced. I don’t know why my station manager thought I could handle this alone, even though my title was news director of KPIN AM radio. Candidly, the classes in reporting public affairs from my newly minted journalism degree did not prepare me. This endeavor took way more than facts. Handling government officials should be a stand-alone class.

The countywide election results were tabulated at the Pinal County government seat in Florence. Groups of candidates came and went throughout the night and early morning, drinking copiously from bottles in brown bags and engaging in wide-ranging speculation.

While numerous races had been voted on that day, the big-ticket wins would go to county elected officials. The county board of supervisors were at the top of the ballet.

At that time in Pinal County, traditionally the incumbents were returned to their posts by rote. Consequently, nerves were not taut in the room.

At one point in the evening the incumbent county sheriff pulled me aside and gave me a drawn-out story about how he could create a gourmet meal by scavenging food from the desert outside his back door.

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One of the longest-serving members of the board of supervisors was always dressed impeccably (he owned a clothing store). He was reelected that night. A few years later he had to resign in disgrace, as he had authorized the paving of his own church parking lot in his hometown of Superior, a predominantly mining community at the base of the Superstition Mountains.

The sole woman candidate in the county election was for the position of clerk of the superior court, and she ran unopposed.

The night and early morning wore on. As the hours dwindled and results stopped coming in, the crowd thinned. About 4 a.m., I packed my notes and headed back to my workplace.

I started out toward Casa Grande, the city in which my station was based, The terrain between Florence and Casa Grande is apocalyptic. It is called flatland desert for a reason. I didn’t even stop to brush my teeth. Fortunately, when I arrived at the station, the disc jockey was already in his booth.

I ripped some headlines from the wire service and flipped through my notes. I nodded to the DJ that I was ready. The red light popped on and I was on the air. I reported facts all morning until I was hoarse. People just kept calling wanting more.

About noon I drove home, fell into bed and slept until my two young children got off the school bus.

Unprepared, exhausted and unfamiliar as I was with staying up all night, I remember that night with triumph. The red light was my friend that morning. I had conquered my fears and handled an election night alone.

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