“Are you scared?” I asked him.
“Terrified,” he replied.
Sitting on the stage across from me, at the Kings Playhouse in Georgetown, Dennis King wasn’t afraid to answer my question. Truthfully.
It was Nov. 28, and he had just officially announced his bid for the leadership of P.E.I.’s Progressive Conservative party in front of a crowd of about 200 people.
“Well, I mean, Jesus, how could you not be scared?” I offered back.
Two months ago to the day, Sept. 28, I got a Facebook message from him.
“Can I ask you a question?” the message read.
“I’m an open book,” I responded. “Shoot.”
He told me he had been asked to run for the role as leader of the PC party. The party I knew he had been involved with for at least 20 years, when we first met. We were both working in government at the time.
It didn’t surprise me that he had been asked, so I jumped straight to the tough questions.
“You’ve been such a big PC boy your whole life,” I typed back. “Will people expect the same old ways from you?”
The ‘Us vs. Them’ mentality, I said, referring to the partisanship that’s marked Island politics for decades.
“Are you ready to say no to the people who will expect you to say yes? Can you be the ‘bad’ nice guy?”
I was blunt, frank. I had a lot of questions.
But Dennis was used to my straightforwardness.
I first met Dennis in 1997, when I was working as a receptionist at the department of transportation. He had just been hired as Mike Currie’s communications guy.
I will never forget my first impression of him.
Mike – Minister Currie as I knew him – was parading Dennis around the floor, introducing him to staff. When he got to my desk, the first thing I noticed was his yellow dress shirt.
It looked like he had just taken it out of the plastic wrapping it had been neatly folded inside. Fresh off the store shelf.
The creases were still in it, vertical and horizontal, and the white ‘undershirt’ he had chosen to wear beneath had a logo on it that was showing through the pale yellow material. Likely a free t-shirt he got from some baseball or hockey tournament, I bet.
“Who’s this young fella in a big job he probably can’t handle?” I thought to myself.
That young fella turned out to be one of the kindest, funniest, most unpretentious guys I would ever meet in my time with government.
And that shirt with the wrinkles turned out to be a metaphor for the Dennis I came to know over the next 20 years: a bit flawed, decidedly modest and, essentially, transparent.
Also, worthy of an anecdote and a laugh.
“I would have to be exactly who I am,” he said in response to my question on whether or not he could be the ‘bad nice guy’ as PC leader, or Premier even.
“I am kind. I am nice. I can make informed decisions that wouldn’t always make people happy.”
As long as those decisions were made in the best interests of P.E.I. as a whole, he said.
“Honestly, I think you’re the perfect blend,” I typed back.
The perfect bridge between this generation and the next, I said.
“I respect you for being who you are. And I think many my age would.”
Now, sitting across from him on the Kings Playhouse stage, I tell him I’m proud of him. And I am. Truthfully.
I’m excited for him, too. And for P.E.I.
I’m excited because there is an authenticity to Dennis I haven’t seen before in any politician.
He speaks his mind. (Sometimes to his detriment. Like all of us have done.)
He isn’t afraid of criticism. (Lord knows he’s fielded plenty of it. I’ve even doled out my share to him.)
He can handle himself well when people poke fun. (I’ve obliged plenty here, too.)
And he knows he’s not perfect. He can’t please everyone. (None of us are. None of us can.)
Another month later (Oct. 29). Another message.
“I think I’m going to do it, Mel. I know I will regret it if I don’t.”
He’s made his decision.
“I knew you would,” I reply.
“Maybe you could chronicle this whole thing,” he says. “Write the story of the campaign. Warts and all.”
“Why me?” I ask.
“Because you would do it right,” he replies. “I don’t want someone patting me on the back. I want someone who is honest. Critical.”
“No bullshit,” he says.
And that’s what I grew to admire about Dennis: no bullshit.
Or, if there is any bullshit, he’s willing to admit he stepped in it, or he was the one to put it there, so he’ll offer to clean your shoe.
No bullshit is where we found common ground. Where our friendship took root.
Obviously, since I’m writing this today, I accepted Dennis’s invitation to chronicle the campaign trail.
But I want to be clear, straightforward: I am not a member of the PC party. Or any other party for that matter. I never have been. I don’t know if I ever will be.
I am not getting paid anything to do this. I am spending my own money to travel to events. I am using my personal time and resources to compose these pieces.
I haven’t been offered anything from Dennis – other than his faith in my talents as a writer and as a trained journalist.
And the only promise I’ve received from him is his promise to never edit my work, to never “spin” what I write in an attempt to make him “look good.”
I’m doing this because, like Dennis, I really do believe we can all find common ground, be kind, civil, and make compromises with one another. For the betterment of one another.
Like Dennis, I want to see change. I have hope for my Island. Our Island.
And like Dennis, I love to tell a good story.
Wrinkles, warts and all.