"Democracy in America"
Season 3, Episode 15 (30)
Airdate February 24, 1992
Writer(s) Jeff Melvoin
Director Michael Katleman
Guest star(s)

←   Episode sequence   →
"Burning Down the House" "The Three Amigos"


Mayoral incumbent Holling is stung by news that he has a formidable opponent--old friend Edna Hancock, who's got a "bee in her bonnet" over a promise he never followed up on. The election also finds Shelly tasting the aphrodisiac of power, Chris waxing patriotic, Ed anticipating his first time voting, and Joel and Maggie arguing party politics.


Ed and Chris are in The Brick playing pool, arguing over a question about someone who lost a number of toes to frostbite. They ask Holling his recollection and then he recognizes and greets Edna Hancock, who has not been in the bar for a while, and reminds Chris and Ed of her. Holling is very friendly towards Edna but she tells Holling that it is too late for kindness. He appears genuinely confused and she tells him that she is running against him for mayor (because he didn't give her a stop sign) and walks out of the bar.

The next day, Chris is on KBHR, talking about the upcoming election and espousing democracy. Ed is in Joel's office, concerned about a facial tick and stressed over the election, which will be the first in which he can vote. Joel, who never knew that Holling was mayor, is surprised to find that there has never been an election in Cicely because no one has ever challenged Holling's position. Later at The Brick, Holling tells Shelly that he never asked to be mayor and merely accepted the position because everyone wanted him to, which turns Shelly on over Holling's power. Ed asks Maggie's advice on who to vote for, which leads Joel and Maggie into an argument about political qualifications. The argument ends with Joel, a republican, telling Maggie that there is nothing ennobling about being poor, and Maggie, a democrat, calling Joel a "self-serving materialistic pig".

Holling goes to visit Edna and apologizes for not putting up the stop sign that she requested years ago. He offers to look into it but Edna once again tells him that it is too late and asks him to leave. Later that day, while Holling is at the barber, he finds that many people may actually be considering voting for Edna. Having run unchallenged in the past, the thought of having to run the electoral race disturbs Holling and he begins taking a hand in his own future.

At Ruth-Anne's store, Joel asks Ruth-Anne why everyone is making such a big deal about a minor election. Ruth-Anne explains that the election is a big event in Cicely. After appraising his keen political intellect, she appoints him election commissioner, threatening to remove his line of credit if he refuses. Joel soon discovers that his partner is Maggie, the chairman of the election committee.

Joel and Maggie are in Joel's office discussing the upcoming election. Joel considers the results of the election pointless but finds the demographics of the process interesting. In fact, he admits that he used to memorize election statistics like other kids memorized baseball cards. Maggie, on the other hand, feels that the emotion is the most important and is concerned about how the polling place looks to create the proper mood. After Maggie walks out, Holling shows up to talk about the election. Joel thinks Holling wants to talk to him but, actually, Holling came to see Marilyn and asks her in the examination room how the Indian people are planning to vote. Marilyn is vague, as usual, and tells Holling that an individual's vote is personal.

On Chris in the Morning, Chris again discusses the concept of the election and embarks on an extended monologue about the democratic process. Outside, he meets Ed who is studying political concepts. Chris admits to Ed that, having been a convicted felon, he can no longer vote. Ed, who has only recently begun to exercise his right to vote, is sympathetic.

At Holling's bar, he is giving away free beer to all the patrons, when Edna and Ruth-Anne come in and tell him to stop, as his gifts are a violation of election regulations. Holling is upset again, and tells Maurice that he no longer simply wants to beat Edna but now wants to destroy her. Meanwhile, Maggie is trying to figure out how to decorate the debate area, a process which Joel considers pointless. Maggie compares their arguments to the election which she believes is about woman vs. man.

On election day, Maggie and Joel are making last-minute changes to the polling place. The two compliment each other warmly and then let the voters in. Chris gives a radio voice-over as slow-motion shots of voters are shown. The cheerful music builds until Chris arrives, dressed up in a suit, clean shaven, and with a shorter neat haircut. He is hardly recognizable as the long-haired, unshaven DJ seen before. Although he can not vote, he has come to watch democracy in action.

That night, Chris is drained and delivers the election results over the radio, announcing Edna as the winner by 8 votes. At The Brick, Holling is annoyed by his loss but is slowly coming to terms with it. When Edna enters, though, Holling buys her a drink in friendship.

As Joel and Maggie walk home from the polling place, they congratulate each other on a successful election and Joel offers to buy Maggie dinner. She agrees with a smile and they enter The Brick together as Chris once again declares the success of democracy.


Maggie (to Joel): Elections are more than just statistics. It's emotions, people--ceremony.
Joel: You make it sound like a wedding.
Maggie: Well it is like a wedding...sort of... Well, look, we come together in the sight of God to commemorate an important event and, in that respect, it's like a wedding and, like a wedding, there should be a certain decorum--I mean Mother said "the appearance should always be memorable".
Joel: Let me guess, mother was very big in the League of Women Voters.

Chris (on-air): My friends, today when I look out over Cicely, I see not a town, but a nation's history written in miniature. Inscribed in the cracked pavement, reverberating from every passing flatbed. Today, every runny nose I see says "America" to me. We were outcasts, scum, the wretched debris of a hostile, aging world. But we came here, we paved roads, we built industries, powerful institutions... Of course, along the way, we exterminated untold indigenous cultures and enslaved generations of Africans. We basically stained our star-spangled banner with a host of sins that can never be washed clean. But today, we're here to celebrate the glorious aspects of our past. A tribute to a nation of free people, the country that Whitman exalted. (reading) "The genius of the United States is not best or most in its executives and legislators, nor in its ambassadors or authors or colleges or churches or parlors, nor even in its newspapers or inventors, but always most in the common people." I've never been so proud to be a Cicelian. I must go out now and fill my lungs with the deep clean air of democracy.

Chris: Eduardo, my friend.
Ed: Hello, Chris.
Chris: Something wrong?
Ed: Well, I'm a little troubled. I've been reading up. And you know, like, the Declaration of Independence, okay? It says, "The government shall derive its just powers from the consent of the governed."
Chris: That's a pretty basic concept, uh, majority rules.
Ed: Okay, okay, now. De Tocqueville says, "The greatest danger to the American republic comes from the omnipotence of the majority."[1]
Chris: Yeah, pretty interesting frog, that Alexis, huh?
Ed: Yeah, yea, okay, okay, okay...Thoreau--now Thoreau says, "Any man more right than his neighbors constitutes a majority of one."[2]
Chris: Civil disobedience: man's last refuge against the state.
Ed: So, who's right?
Chris: Well, they all are.
Ed: Really?
Chris: Yeah!
Ed: Oh... So who are you gonna vote for?
Chris: Well, as an on-air personality, I've pledged neutrality. You know, but an election's more of an abstract, noncompetitive thing for me anyway.
Ed: Oh. Why?
Chris: Well, Ed, the idea of an election is much more interesting to me than the election itself. You see, the act of voting is in itself the defining moment. You know what I mean, Ed? But to answer your question, I'm not gonna vote. I can't.
Ed: You can't vote?
Chris: No.
Ed: Why?
Chris: I'm a convicted felon, Ed. I jumped parole in '87, so they kind of closed the book on me.
Ed: Oh, I'm sorry, Chris.
Chris: That's all right.

Holling (approaches Maurice and tops off his drink): There ya go... Tell me something...I'm not a vengeful person, am I Maurice?
Maurice: You have your You have your bellicose moments, Holling, but, uh, on the whole, I'd say you exhibit a mild-mannered demeanor. Why?
Holling: Maurice. Two days ago, if Edna Hancock had been elected mayor, I might have been able to live with it. Today, I'd rather be treed by hounds. I don't just want to beat Edna Hancock, I want to destroy her. I want to fold her in two. I want to make her suffer... Can I get you anything else?
Maurice: No. (smiles nervously)

Maggie: OK, um, move it to the right.
Joel (holding an election decoration with part of it in his mouth while on a ladder with his arms outstretched): What? Al--
Maggie: --left.
Joel: Alright.
Maggie: Uh, too much... OK, up.
Joel: Up? More up?
Maggie: Yea, well, over a little.
Joel: Where?
Maggie: Uh, down!
Joel: It was down!
Maggie: Uh, OK, OK, hold it there; let me look...
Joel: O'Connel, my arms are killing me!
Maggie: Alright, move it over a little!
Joel (frustrated and fed up, hangs it his way): Look, "over" is a preposition; it is not a direction!
Maggie: Hey, what are you doing?
Joel: It's done; I'm finished!
Maggie: It's not level!
Joel: It's not supposed to be level--it's bunting; it's supposed to drape. It's bunting drape.
Maggie: Alright, alright, what do you think of the podium, (holds up paper streamer rolls) uh, royal blue or aquamarine?
Joel: You know, I think you've lost your mind. It's a debate, not a cotillion!

(at debate)
Chris: Well, I just wanna applaud y'all for plunging headfirst into the great river of democracy. I mean, our election is just a small tributary. You know, a singular thread in the greater fabric, linked by tradition, love, and honor to the swift, clear, bracing waters from which our traditions are founded. But I'm just saying, let's take a little time out here to slap ourselves on the back, give a kiss on the cheek, a hale and hearty fare-thee-well to all our fine noble Cicelian citizens. Ruth-Anne, candidates, you're happening.
Ruth-Anne: Thank you, Chris. Did you have a question?
Chris: Well, actually, Edna, what I had in mind were some lines from Bashō: "On a withered branch, a crow has alighted: Nightfall in autumn."[3]
(blank stares from everyone in the audience)
Ruth-Anne: Uh, Holling, you have 60 seconds to respond to that.
Holling: Uh, for the life of me, Chris, I haven't a clue what you're talking about.

Chris: Ed, we just witnessed a peaceful transition in government. Do you realize how miraculous that is? ... Today, tiny Cicely, Alaska, stood up and put another "W" in the "win" category for democracy.

Ruth-Anne: You haven't said anything for quite a while, Ed.
Ed: Ruth-Anne, do you realize that...the mass of people...still live under some autocratic or totalitarian regime?
Ruth-Anne: Well, I suppose that's true.
Ed (nodding): It'll make you think...
Ruth-Anne: Ed, are you all right?
Ed: Oh yea, I'm fine.
Ruth-Anne: You sure?
Ed: Yea...I feel...
Ruth-Anne: What?
Ed: Well...manly! Like a man. Ruth-Anne, do you realize...I did something today...well, that I've never done before. And it was kinda like the first time I was with Lightfeather. Well, only that was just between me and her... But, afterwards, I felt, well, light..and this, well, this was between me and Cicely...but I don't feel light at all...I feel...bigger.
(looks at Ruth-Anne intensly as she smiles and he nods)



  • Holling's known Edna since she arrived in Cicely 25 years ago.
  • Edna once shot at Maurice with a Remington shotgun "over-and-under".
  • Edna was married for twelve years.
  • In 1976 during the worst rain storm ever, Edna loaned Holling her generator when his freezer broke.
  • In 1987, Chris jumped parole; as a convicted felon, he can't vote.
  • In 1972, Chris' Uncle Roy took Chris fishing at Little Spider Lake until he remembered it was election day: Nixon vs. McGovern.
  • Chris' Uncle Roy was a democrat who went to Vietnam and hated Nixon.
  • Edna lives "next door" to Maurice, 5 miles away.
  • Maurice has 15,000 acres; Edna has 12,000.
  • Ed has never voted before.
  • Holling has been mayor since Ed was born.
  • Joel, the only republican living on the Upper West Side of Manhattan.
  • Maggie's parents are pro-labor democrats.
  • Ed doesn't have any [political] views.
  • Cicley has a Viking's Eating Club and a Moose Hall.
  • Joel worked on Al D'Amato's campaign.
  • Ruth-Anne is Cicely's town clerk.
  • The town charter gives the city council all the power in Cicely.
  • As a kid, Joel used to memorize presidential election results.
  • First Church of Cicely (named for the first time).
  • First appearance of George the Barber (who will vote for Edna).
  • Shelly's earrings: parrots? (gets all hot and bothered that Holling is in the mayoral race), red-white-and-blue banner/flags (voting)
  • Literature: Leaves of Grass by Walt Whitman, Basho, Lincoln


  1. Democracy in America
  2. Civil Disobedience
  3. "On a whithered branch" (1680)
  4. Edna tells Holling that she is running for mayor.
  5. Chris announces the mayor race.
  6. Ed tells Joel has a facial tick because he is nervous about the election.
  7. Ruth-Anne wrangles Joel into being election commissioner.
  8. Chria on-air about America.
  9. Edna complains that Holling is giving away free beer.
  10. Chris on-air reading Lincoln and announces the debate.
  11. The people of Cicely vote.
  12. Holling has had just about enough of this moping and carrying on; demands the jukebox play.
  13. Chris on-air at the end.