Friday, August 25, 2006

Flashback: 1960—Judd, the Last Congressman to Reject a Speechwriter, Writes a Keynote Masterpiece. Mondale Emerges to Accept the First Appointment of Many to Follow

[Another reminiscence from fifty years of politics for my kids and grandchildren]

“So you little snot,” rasped mega-multi-millionaire Mrs. Elizabeth Heffelfinger over the telephone, “you’re trying to use Judd’s keynote assignment to help him produce a speech that gets him the vice presidency with Nixon—beating my Cabot Lodge: I know you.” First, I said, no one ghost-writes Dr. Judd. He writes everything himself which in a sense is to his disadvantage. You know what he does? He goes to committee and then to the floor and comes back to the office to toss away half of the case-work letters we write and re-writes them himself until one o’clock in the morning. He is the typical disorganized genius, a country doctor with a desk heaped with papers up to his chest. You ought to see how long it takes him to write a speech.”

“All the while you’re out hustling him for the veep job.”

Not really. You give me too much credit. Hustling for him to run for the Senate against Hubert, yes. If he gets asked to run for vice president, I think that’d be terrific. I’m just a staff aide.

“Just a staff aide! That’s what you should be. not what you are trying to be. I’ve talked to one of your bosses, Quie. He thinks you’re too uppity.”

Which means I don’t like to take his dog to West Virginia on my own free time.

“Skip it. How’s Judd’s cancer?”

That’s a low blow for you to bring that up in this way, Brad. He has skin cancer which he’s had since he was thirty years old when medical schools didn’t understand about too much radiation. As one of the best surgeons in America, he knows what he’s got and that it isn’t fatal. He’s 62 now, having had this condition for 32 years. If it was to kill him it would have happened long ago [he lived to 90]. Every so often he has to go to Mayo to have some of the facial skin peeled away which produces a sore, reddened, parched face—something he’s very sensitive about. In fact, if he doesn’t run for the Senate it’ll be due to the great mortification he has about his facial appearance. I would doubt very much if, in the last analysis, he would run for vice president even if the speech is a barnburner. It’s all yours and your lovely Cabot Lodge. I’m plugging for him to take on Hubert.

“If you can promise me that you’ll keep your little hands off the vice presidency!”

You’re paranoid, Brad.

“If you’re not paranoid in this business you’re crazy.”

Say, that’s an aphorism I’ll try to remember.

All the while, Ed Viehman was building the Minnesota Republican party from the ground up. Hubert was getting worried that there were too many old faces in the party: his and Orville Freeman’s (the governor). Then a second-echelon fast-riser in the DFL party decided to step out of politics. He was Miles Lord, the attorney general, pegged as the next generation’s candidate for either governor or Senator after Humphrey or Freeman were to get tired. Humphrey reluctantly agreed to intercede for Lord and recommend him to the Eisenhower Justice Department to be appointed U. S. Attorney in Minneapolis—an unusual feat whereby Humphrey agreed to cooperate with the Eisenhower administration on non-related issues in order to get Lord appointed.

The agreement was the Humphrey would cooperate on a number of items the Eisenhower people wanted: particularly as a supporter of the Eisenhower-Dulles foreign policy and also to support certain federal judges the Eisenhower people wanted to be confirmed. The Lord vacancy left an opening for state attorney general. Freeman and Humphrey made the appointment of Walter F. Mondale, known to them as Fritz. Fritz Mondale had helped manage the first Humphrey campaign for the Senate in 1948 and was known as a good old plug, a loyal minion for every campaign the DFL waged. I came to know him when he was a special lawyer for a hopeless recount his party wanted to mount to protest the narrow election as State Treasurer of Val Bjornson.

Once when we were sitting out a long, involved and hopelessly boring recount session, Mondale passed me a note that said: “God, I hate this. I’m just a g. d. errand boy.” To which I responded: “Fritz—join the club.” He countered: “Yeah, but I’m a lawyer and you’re not.” I replied: “I can help you get disbarred if you hate it so much.” He scribbled: “Yeh! How much would you charge?” We passed notes like that through the afternoon to keep us from going batty.

When Mondale walked in the door as the new state attorney general, he found in the file a case Lord was ready to publicize: a case of glaring fund-raising fraud against the Sister Kenny Foundation, an organization formed to raise money to apply the Kenny method of treatment of polio. Sister Kenny personally was not involved with fraud; she was an Australian nurse (not a nun: in Australia nurses were called Sister) who invented a process of relaxing polio-constricted muscles with hot packs. By simply taking the pre-prepared case and publicizing it, Mondale became the first state attorney general in the country to be identified with consumer-protection. The skies lit up and he was soon listed in Time magazine as one of the most dynamic young comers in the Democratic party.d We never had another chance to pass boring notes to each other.

While Lillian and I were in Washington, we learned that she was pregnant which led me to think that pretty soon we should get out of the Washington-to-Minnesota-and-back-to-Washington grind and take up permanent residence somewhere: probably Minnesota. There was one more election to be handled for my employer-clients: Quie and Judd to the House in 1960. In those days, as I’ve pointed out before, there were no restrictions in law or custom against staff aides running political campaigns while being paid with federal dollars. But I decided that these would be the last congressional type campaigns for me. You can’t imagine the inconvenience for a young married couple working for Congressmen. We couldn’t have a permanent residence anywhere. From early January to about August we would be in Washington. Then we would pack up our things, put them in a car and drive back to Minnesota where we’d have to get other temporary lodgings.

We were scheduled to become parents in September, 1960 when we would be in Minnesota for the campaign. I had the great idea that it would be cool to have the baby delivered by none other than Congressman Walter Judd, a former nationally known surgeon. Lillian said, “are you out of your mind? Do you think I’ll be lying there with labor pains when he gets a phone call that there’s a crucial vote coming and he’d have to fly out right away?” I said: no, things wouldn’t happen like that. She said: “You bet they won’t, buddy boy. We’re getting a regular doctor.” I said: Regular doctor? This guy is a world famous surgeon. She said: “We’re not discussing it. It’s over. Topic finis. You get it?” Yes but I still think. She said, “you can think all you want. I’m going to bed. Good night.”

We had our first born, Thomas F. Roeser, Jr. at St. Mary’s Hospital, Rochester which is affiliated with the Mayo clinic on September 13, 1960. But I still think—oh skip it.

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