Denver Bar Association
November 2003
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Craig Eley: 'All the Ways I've Ever Been a Loser'

by Craig Eley

Lawyers don’t like to lose. Of course, it’s probably true that no one really likes to lose. But lawyers, along with athletes, probably hate to lose more than most. For litigation lawyers, for example, every legal matter they take has the potential of having a winner and a loser, and they never want to be the loser. True, many cases get settled, but whenever someone, whether judge, jury or arbitrator, is called upon to decide a case, the result is that someone ends up paying more than he or she wanted to, or someone ends up getting less than desired.

Some lawyers will claim that they don’t put their feelings of self-worth on the line when they litigate. They say "I’ve never lost a case, but some of my clients have." Don’t believe it.

And it’s not just litigation lawyers who hate to lose. Years ago, when it fell to me to dragoon candidates into running for Denver Bar Association office, I was turned down by a number of lawyers who told me they had run before and lost, and so didn’t want to go through that again. I tried to point out to them that no one ever remembers who runs for these positions, much less who loses (truth be told, we don’t even remember who wins). But my pleadings were to no avail, and the result is that some talented people never got to contribute.

This experience was shared by others, and so the DBA has finally dispensed with contested elections, as the Colorado Bar Association had done years before. A committee selects one candidate for each office, who automatically wins (unless someone else files a petition to also run for a particular position).

My personal history of losing began in junior high school, when I ran for student council. The process began with an appearance before a committee of teachers who screened the political aspirants, allowing only two to compete for each office. I didn’t make the cut, and while I was disappointed, it probably spared me the ignominy of being rejected by a vote of the entire student body.

In college, I ran for the Judicial Board, the members of which sat in judgment upon those who had broken college rules. I was aiming to be a lawyer, and I figured this job was right up my ally. My fellow students, however, were unconvinced of my judicial talents, and this time I was rejected by the entire student body. So I settled for eventually becoming the college newspaper editor, a position from which I could criticize those who were able to get elected.

So I was a loser, but, as it turned out, not a total loser. Life, it seems, is like a slot machine, paying out a few nickels now and then, just to encourage you to keep throwing more money into the slot. I won election as vice-president of my college dorm, and in law school, I was elected to the student bar association. Later, I was elected to the CBA Board of Governors.

Buoyed by these minor victories, 10 years ago I decided to run for the Colorado House of Representatives. This involved raising many thousands of dollars, taking six months off work to walk through neighborhoods knocking on doors, and being nice to everyone I met.

On election day, I lost by a wide margin.

It was in that election that I learned that there is good losing and there is bad losing. Those who have never run for anything figure that if a candidate campaigns hard and loses by only a narrow margin, this is a good loss. But in reality, that is the worst thing that can happen to a candidate. A narrow loss means you spend the months, maybe the years, after the election wondering what you did wrong, and figuring how to correct it next time. I, on the other hand, had a big loss, a good loss. I spent no time at all wishing that I had knocked on just a few more doors, or raised a few thousand more dollars. After the election, a supporter of mine confessed that she had intended to hold a neighborhood coffee for me at her house, and felt bad because she never got around to it. I was able to assuage her guilt by pointing out to her that if she had gotten 50 of her neighbors to attend, and if each of them had told 50 of their friends what a great guy I am, and if they had all voted for me, it would not have made a difference in the outcome.

Thus, I was never tempted to give it another try. The people had spoken decisively, and I got the message. I did, however, begin to feel a certain measure of embarrassment about being perceived as a loser. To add to this, I hadn’t counted on the fact that, because we are the center of the cable TV universe, Denver television station broadcasts are distributed everywhere by satellite. I received calls of condolences from people I knew in other states and in foreign countries, who hadn’t known I was running for anything until they saw on the news that I had lost. This only fed my paranoia, and I pictured nomads in yurts in Mongolia seeing my name on TV and saying to each other "loser."

Yet, just as in bar associations elections, I assured myself that soon after election night people would forget that I had ever run. Again, however, I had miscalculated. The problem was the bus bench advertising that I had purchased for my campaign. These benches were on the corner of every major intersection in my district. Apparently, after me, the bus bench advertising company could not find other suckers to pay to have their messages painted on the benches. So for months after the election the word "Eley" in 18-inch letters stayed visible to thousands of passing motorists. And every one of them, I was sure, silently mouthed to themselves the word "loser" when they saw my name.

Why, I wondered, couldn’t a guy lose an election and, like MacArthur, just fade away? Why did I have to be reminded of it every time I drove to the dry cleaners? Sitting at an intersection, waiting for the light to change, and all I can see across the street is a bench that states in a vivid red, white and blue "Vote for Eley," (the loser, loser, loser!).

Could it get any worse? It turns out it could. During the month of December a service club to which I belong sells Christmas trees as its yearly fund-raiser. All members are expected to help out, so one month after the election I was at the tree lot selling firs, spruces and pines. People I didn’t know would come up to me and ask "Aren’t you Craig Eley? Didn’t you run for something?" (finally, the name recognition I had spent so much on was paying off). From the look in their eyes, I could tell that they felt sorry for me—he couldn’t get a government job, so here he is standing out in the cold selling trees.

But the years passed, the bus benches were finally painted over, and the scabs were no longer picked at. My election was forgotten as others came and went. Everything was going fine until Ashton Kutcher came along.

Ashton Kutcher is an actor on "That ’70s Show." If, like me, you have seen this program and if, like me, you were a student during the ’70s, you will know that none of us had the kind of fun that these kids are having on this television show. And it’s not like they’re growing up in Malibu or some other hot spot—they’re in Wisconsin, of all places. Kutcher has become a media darling, and has made a few awful movies, but that’s not my quarrel with him. When he stepped over the line with me was when he popularized the trucker cap.

When I ran for the legislature, a friend of mine who is in the business of providing personalized pens, calendars, and other essential crap to realtors and insurance agents made a bunch of hats for my volunteers to wear. "Eley for State Representative" was emblazoned upon each one.

Unfortunately, my friend had selected trucker caps for this purpose. Trucker caps are recognized by their mesh backs and their pushed-up fronts—sort of a baseball cap wearing a Wonder Bra. They typically sport logos such as "John Deere" and "Peterbilt." Ten years ago, only farmers, oil rig workers and truck drivers wore them. My volunteers refused to wear them, pointing out to me that they were "geeky," not cool like baseball caps. Consequently, they disappeared into hall closets and car trunks, never to see the light of day.

Never, that is, until Ashton Kutcher started wearing trucker caps a year or so ago. Trucker caps then apparently became so popular that there is a shortage of them, so in desperation, people have been dusting off my old campaign hats and actually wearing them in public. I can now see them being proudly worn in parks, shopping malls and even at my kids’ schools, with no regard to the pain it causes me, the loser.

To get some peace of mind, I considered putting a bounty of $20 on each cap brought to me. The problem is, I’m not sure how many caps are out there. I figured it might be cheaper just to change my name. And that’s when the obvious solution to my problem dawned on me.

In honor of the late, great federal judge, I’m going to change my last name to "Winner."


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