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Oh Well

It's like the old joke about the dead snake and the dead politician in the middle of the road, how there were skid marks in front of the snake (because, y'know, the driver tried to brake for that spineless bastard)...

Everyone loves a parade. Everyone hates a politician. No real moral in that story. Just the facts, Jack.

Oh Well by Erik Arneson

Everyone thinks politicians have it easy. Taxpayer-funded salaries, Cadillac benefits, lobbyists wining and dining us.


I’ve been a state senator for twelve years, served my district to the best of my ability. Tried to be a good husband and father, too.

Four weeks until my next election, it’s clear none of that matters.

My opponent is attacking me on television every day, regurgitating tired, old ethics allegations—never proven. A month ago, my wife took our daughter and left me for a gas driller from Texas.

Not even a week later, my mistress left me for, of all things, a state representative.

No matter. I will turn things around. Starting today.

I’m forty-nine, still young for a politician, with fabulous hair and a winning smile, critical tools in this occupation. I also have a plan. A good plan, developed last night over a whiskey or two. Or five.

Phase One: Reelection. I’ll lock that down today.

Phase Two: Chairman of the Appropriations Committee. (The current chairman is retiring; I’m next in line. Easy.)

Phase Three: Governor. Assuming things go well with Phase One and Phase Two, and there’s no reason they shouldn’t, I could be living in the Governor’s Mansion two years from now. My coif is extraordinarily gubernatorial.

A few minutes before noon, I ride the elevator down to the first floor of the Pennsylvania Capitol and stride across the historic Moravian tile floor.

Beneath the towering Capitol dome, a lectern awaits at the base of the grand marble staircase. It faces fifteen folding chairs set up for the press in three orderly rows of five, Chris Brennan from the Towanda Sentinel front and center. The Sentinel covers the core of my district, which spans a huge swath of rural Northcentral Pennsylvania—the area James Carville labeled “Alabama in between.” Brennan’s a hack, but he’s the only reporter who matters today.

I take a deep breath and flash my brilliant smile.

“Good afternoon. Today, I will offer an amendment to Senate Bill 119, providing 22.7 million dollars for the Endless Mountain Regional Public Safety Initiative. These funds will allow our police, firefighters and EMS crews to upgrade equipment and modernize training facilities. My amendment will dramatically improve public safety in communities across the Ninth District.”

I wait for my applause. It never comes.


Hours later, I sit alone in the darkened Senate chamber and stare blankly at the mural of President Lincoln at Gettysburg in 1863. My amendment failed, 24 to 26.

Finally, anger overcomes my shock and depression. I push myself to my feet and rush into the office of Senator Adam Pankake, ignoring his secretary’s squawking protests. I slam the door behind me.

“Damn it, Adam, you said I had all the Philly votes. I needed this!”

Pankake rises from his buttoned, high-back, chestnut brown leather chair and tilts his head condescendingly. “Relax, Harry. It’s nothing personal.” He walks to the front of his oak pedestal desk and puts a hand on my shoulder. I knock it off.

“Listen,” he says. “The governor called me right before the vote. I don’t know how you pissed him off, but he promised to nominate my brother-in-law for judge if your amendment failed. I’ve been wanting that for a long time, Harry. A long time.”

“I’m done. Finished! Might as well tie me up, throw me over.”

“Oh well, Harry. You know the game.”

Pankake winks, laughs and turns away. It’s more than I can stand. I grab the first thing I see, a brass letter opener on his desk, and lunge. It sinks into the side of Pankake’s neck far more easily than I would have imagined. Pankake falls to his knees, then flat on his face as blood pours from the wound and slowly spreads across the carpet. Whatever pain he feels lasts just a few seconds before his soul moves on.

I have indeed changed my future.

My gubernatorial hair and winning smile will do me no good now.

I yank the letter opener out of Pankake and aim it for my own heart.

Erik Arneson is a former newspaper reporter who works for the Senate of Pennsylvania and has carefully hidden all of his letter openers. He blogs at and tweets @erikarneson.