By Steve Brawner
© 2016 by Steve Brawner Communications, Inc.
Frank Gilbert looked kind of sheepish last Friday when I asked for his new phone number and instead he gave me his old one. I told him that when I had tried to call that one earlier, the recording had said it had been disconnected.
“The truth is, I let it lapse for a few days,” he said to the best of my recollection. “Teresa always took care of the bills.”
Frank is the jovial Libertarian candidate for U.S. Senate and the former mayor of Tull. Teresa, until Aug. 15, was his wife of 45 years.
The two were not exactly the classic political power couple. She registered to vote only once – in the 1990s in order to vote for him – and then de-registered after she was called for jury duty. As a Libertarian, Frank believes in as little government as possible. Teresa was socially conservative and not afraid of government enforcing traditional behavior. She called politics Frank’s “expensive hobby.”
Yeah, there were arguments in the early years, and then they put those aside. They were too busy raising three sons and later having four grandchildren, who called her “Moomaw,” to let politics get in the way.
“You know, it’s one of those things that you figure out it’s not going to change, and it’s so unimportant in the scope of what you’re doing as a family that it became a running joke,” he said.
One other thing about Teresa was she was kind of stubborn about going to the doctor, right up until June 5 when the pain in her stomach became so unbearable that she let Frank drive her to the hospital. A CT scan at 10 p.m. that night revealed she had a golf ball-sized mass at the base of her pancreas that had metastasized to 20-30 spots on her liver. The doctor didn’t offer a prognosis, but they understood.
“Of course we all Googled it, and when you Google pancreatic cancer, you know you’re praying for a miracle,” he said.
After further tests, Frank and Teresa were told she had six months to two years to live. She actually had 10 weeks. During that time, Frank dropped off the campaign trail. About a week after she died, he was back at work at the Bauxite School District, where he’s an in-school suspension officer, and he restarted his campaign.
“That week in between made me understand that I needed some normalcy. … I’ve heard people talk about compartmentalizing, and I can’t do it,” he said. “She’s on my mind all the time.”
He and the Democratic candidate for Senate, Conner Eldridge, have debated twice. On Tuesday, Frank will take off work to participate in a third debate that will be televised that night on AETN – the only one that will include the incumbent, Republican Sen. John Boozman.
At one time, Frank was actually a Republican himself – the party’s second vice chairman. But he does not fit into that party, and he’s not a Democrat.
“The difference I saw when Republicans started winning elections was that we ran those Democrat Hogs away from the public trough and ran those Republican Hogs up there to replace them,” he said.
At the AETN debate, he’ll argue positions from a Libertarian perspective that wouldn’t always be an easy sale with voters. Because he believes in limited government, he favors privatizing Social Security and Medicare some time in the long-term future. He’d fight no drug war and very few overseas ones. In a debate with Eldridge, he asked how Americans would feel if their child were killed in a drone strike and said the United States had engaged in imperialism, adding, “When you sow the wind, you reap the whirlwind.”
Running for governor in 2014, Frank won less than 2 percent of the vote. He knows the best he can hope for is 3-5 percent this year. He’s running because he believes in the cause and because he’s hopeful Libertarians may have an impact on state and national politics in his grandchildren’s day.
So he’s either Abraham Lincoln helping start a movement, or he’s Don Quixote tilting at windmills. Still, he doesn’t plan to quit running for office.
“I may grab my heart and go see Teresa, but until that happened it’s physically impossible,” he said. “I enjoy it enough that I’ll keep doing it and hopefully not spend quite as much money in the future.”