I met Bill Konopnicki many years ago in one of those lobbyist back rooms. He needed someone to run his campaign, and the major lobbyist who invited me in was conflicted out because they had another candidate in the race for the two seats. They wanted me to help Bill be the second place person. I always hated running campaigns. There was no money in it, I would break even at best and Bill lived in Safford. Running campaigns over multiple counties was tough not only in travel, but they have different voters lists, zip codes and media markets. In my life I have run over 150 campaigns and won over 90% of them. So, I was honored to be called in, but hesitant.
Who was this person across from me? I did research and found they owned some restaurants and radio stations. They were well-liked, a local boy made good, a faithful LDS member, a family man, and sincere. My concern is that he had the “fire in his belly” to run for office, not that he was just a pawn, selected by others. We had a great meeting and I was truly impressed with him, which is a rare for me as I am usually quite cynical of people. He had that rare quality, where you knew you could trust him five minutes into a conversation. He was the type of person I would love to have had as a father or grandfather, patient, wise, kind and humble.
His name was a tough one. Konopnicki? As best as I know it was pronounced KO-po-nik-ee. At least when I said it that way he smiled and never corrected me. I ran a campaign based on his honesty, integrity, business sense and local background. There was a compelling picture we used of him stooping to check the progress of cotton in a field. These were real pictures, not staged, and people could tell. We won the primary easily. So easily, that our fellow candidate’s team asked us to back off, that we might defeat their candidate in the general.
I met with Bill and he asked what he should do. I said, “Do you want to win and represent your district, or not?” He thought about it for a few minutes. “I want to win.” he said simply and firmly. So we did. I have helped elect so many people I was disappointed in later, but I have never regretted helping Bill Konopnicki. I know we all have our failings and vices, but I honestly never found any of them in Bill. He went with the other person for future campaigns when the conflict was resolved, but he never forgot our early work together. He was like that. A person who never forgot friends.
Not only will I miss Bill Konopnicki, but the world will miss him. When you lose someone of his caliber, we are all lessened. My prayers are with his family, loved ones and friends that their time of grief may be short and their memories of the man long.