Monday, September 25, 2006

Flashback: Humphrey Secretly Mobilizes the Campaign to Take Back the Minnesota Governorship. Step-by-Step: a Consummate Political Manager, Takes Over a State Campaign. Fasten Seatbelt.

[More from fifty years of politics for my kids and grandchildren].

Since this was the campaign that drastically changed my life…for the better, although I didn’t understand it that way then…I’ve had forty-four years to ponder and research how it happened. Slowly, methodically I’ve talked to people high and low who were involved…most of whom are now dead. The lower level ones supplied lots of the detail. The higher-up ones confirmed or corrected. One survivor obviously: the key stuff.

In January, 1962, John Kennedy was riding pretty high and Elmer Andersen was riding along in the mid-40s in the polls on approval—but compared to Karl Rolvaag he looked fairly good. Andersen hadn’t accomplished much in the 1961 session, had submitted a populist budget that turned the DFL into the guardians of the money establishment…then withdrew it, feinted and accepted the withholding tax system which gave a one-time influx of money that balanced the budget. No great victories there. He was portrayed as a decent, fairly liberal (I would say in the genre of the time an extremely liberal) Republican governor. Now he and Rolvaag were vying for the state’s first four-year term: the four years interested Humphrey greatly.

Andersen’s one big non-negotiable item was the Taconite Amendment to the state constitution which would guarantee that the manufacturing process of extracting ore from slag would be taxed as what it was—a manufacturing process and not at the high rate that the occupation tax on mining was. For those who were sophisticated about issues, his Taconite Amendment was a winner—which would allow more investment in the process and more jobs on the Range. But for those who were not, the taxation of taconite was a big boring blur. But when Andersen explained it with small words and commonsense terms, it was beginning to get through. Rolvaag was very inarticulate and came off as a labor union hack, opposed to any concession for jobs.

But to make matters more complicated for Andersen, the mining companies themselves were leery of the Taconite Amendment. They were frightened that if the Amendment was submitted to the voters and was turned down, the legislature would be more unfriendly to the industry than before. So their lobbyists tried to eat their cake and have it, too. They proposed that instead of an Amendment, the legislature pass a simple statute ruling that taconite be taxed as manufacturing. I was one of those who finally succeeded in convincing Andersen of something: to turn down the offer. Initially he wanted to accept it. The mining companies wanted a statute but we didn’t because we wanted to keep a wedge issue on jobs. So I argued that a statute could be passed in one session and repealed in another. Thus while the mining companies would settle for a statute we would not. That’s pretty much the way it stood with us Republicans in Minnesota in January, 1962.

Humphrey felt it was essential to reclaim the governorship for the Democratic-Farmer-Labor party so as to rehabilitate himself with national Democrats. They had pointed to how the Republicans of the state snookered him in the Minnesota presidential primary by sneaking GOP voters into it and causing Estes Kefauver to win, with Humphrey denied for a time even a delegate’s slot. Adlai Stevenson was all set to name Humphrey as his veep but after Stevenson was derailed in Minnesota, opened the convention to pick his running-mate. The convention thumbed its nose at Humphrey and picked Kefauver…some leaders telling Humphrey: Hell, Hubert, you couldn’t even win for Stevenson in your own state’s presidential primary! No one really understood how that burned Humphrey. The image grew that Humphrey didn’t run the party in this state when, in fact, he did. So he had to prove himself in order to be in line for the next choosing of a presidential candidate in 1968.

Now, Humphrey had an alcoholic DFL candidate for governor…the lieutenant governor, Karl Rolvaag…with an alcoholic wife—both items fairly secret from the electorate. Rolvaag was leading Andersen 49 to 47. Too close to call. Humphrey decided to act. He called Rolvaag and told him he would like to meet both Rolvaag and his wife for breakfast unannounced in his suite at the Leamington hotel, Minneapolis—his visit not to be announced to the press…setting an early time—7 a.m.. He had by his side a physician from a world-famed institute on addiction.

He told them they had a choice: submit to a regimen to be further described or he, Humphrey, would have to pull the plug—using some pretext or other but which would inevitably be recognized for what it was: his belief that Rolvaag was not ready. And Mondale would be ready. The polls would jerk upward suddenly in Mondale’s favor: like 60 to 30. He told the Rolvaags this, plainly. He said he, Humphrey, would not play a role in the campaign if Rolvaag would not change his ways starting now. That, as they all knew, would be a disaster. But, said Humphrey, if both of them submitted to treatment—which meant going a way for a short time, then coming back…everything could work out. They agreed to begin a lifetime treatment starting with total seclusion for a limited time—10 days…which would be explained as the need to take a long delayed vacation. When they came back, the campaign would be initiated. A staffer skilled in alcoholic counseling would be added to the campaign management, who would travel with the candidate—another aide would minister to her, visit with her, take her calls etc. The physician would call the turn at all times. If it failed, Rolvaag would have to bail out because of any number of reasons--“illness,” “the need to spend time with the family.” Et al.

These were his conditions. They enthusiastically accepted them—but he wasn’t overjoyed when they did because (a) he knew as alcoholics they would promise anything initially and (b) he preferred Mondale, wanted Rolvaag to bow out. When they left, Humphrey told the physician he was doubtful that the enthusiasm meant anything but things seemed to be settled on them in any event. The physician whose interests in Humphrey and the DFL were great, told him he did well and promised on his honor to keep them on track and stay in touch with Humphrey. He had the Senator’s private number at work and home.

They left his suite at about 9:30 a.m. Humphrey got on the phone with Roger Blough of U. S. Steel and said that Blough should get mining lawyers to him that very day and work with him to write a Taconite statute which Rolvaag would officially endorse in place of an amendment. A group of lawyers from a Twin Cities law firm came to his suite at 1:45 p.m. in time for late lunch. They had a draft of a statute. Humphrey made a few phone calls including one to Robert Olson, head of the Minnesota AFL-CIO while the industry lawyers were present. He served as intermediary between Olson on the phone and the industry lawyers, scribbled in some language himself, and formally but privately committed the DFL and Rolvaag to the statute—in order to fuzz things up and let allow Andersen to own the jobs issue. When they left, he called Blough again, got him out of a meeting and said the statute endorsement was a done deal—and that he, Humphrey, fully expected industry would take note of that and also contribute to Rolvaag. Blough said he understood.

He called Rolvaag and told him he now had a statute, pleasantly noting to himself that the candidate sounded okay. By 3 p.m. he was in a quickly-called session with the state chairman of the DFL party who was surprised to note that Humphrey was in town. He came over to Humphrey’s suite. They had coffee. He told him that it was important that Rolvaag have a bright, new face for Lieutenant Governor. The state chairman recited a few candidates. Humphrey snapped that there wasn’t a bright new face in that crowd. The chairman said he couldn’t think of a particularly bright new face. Humphrey blew up. That’s exactly the problem, he said. Well, I have. And he nominated then and there a bright, young liberal state senator from the southeastern sector who was planning to run against Rep. Al Quie in the future, A. M. (Sandy) Keith. Humphrey told the state chairman that he must go gentle with the other also-rans but this fellow would be the one. That meeting ended at 4:30 p.m. with Rolvaag to be notified as to who his running mate would be.

Now Humphrey met with a DFL staff operative working on the Fraser campaign for the House vs. Walter Judd. The official gave a depressing view of the campaign to unseat Walter Judd. The Kennedy State Department was actively cooperating with Judd’s reelection because it felt that the Minnesota Republican was an important link to conservatives in the House to get them to back foreign aid and military appropriations. Judd had received active aid and comfort including a letter from Secretary of State Dean Rusk that praised him for his bipartisan cooperation and gave heavy hint that the Kennedy administration preferred that he win the election of 1962. The operative thought the Minneapolis “Star” and “Tribune”—both owned by the Cowles family—would normally endorse Don Fraser because the papers were moving left…but if the JFK administration showed it needed Judd, the endorsement could go with qualification to Judd, which might very well mean Judd’s victory. The rumor was that Judd had a glowing Dean Rusk letter in his file—all ready to go to the press.

The JFK people backing Judd privately: Humphrey saw it as a duplication in duplicity. One instance didn’t really bother him. The Kennedy brothers were betraying Rep. Syd Yates who was running against Sen. Everett Dirksen in Illinois, were almost visibly consorting with Dirksen on plum federal projects for Illinois to get him reelected. They were unimpressed with Yates who they saw as rather seedy and nothing more than a hack. Humphrey knew about the Dirksen ploy and, frankly, as a Senator himself believed that Dirksen was more important in the Senate to the Kennedy-Johnson foreign policy program (although not so important as the Kennedy brothers felt) than a first-term Democrat from the lakefront the same general area Paul Douglas was from: and Humphrey thought Douglas was a man of conscience but one who couldn’t deliver many votes.

So he had winked at it, viewing Dirksen as a wheezing elderly bag of helium who told funny stories and who was undependable sometimes but as one who could deliver the conservative Democratic South, extraordinarily helpful. But that wouldn’t hold for Walter Judd. The deliverer of the 1960 keynote damn near got Nixon elected with that one speech. Humphrey got on the phone in the staffer’s presence, got hold of Secretary of State Dean Rusk and asked if Rusk had written a private, supposedly confidential letter to Judd expressing the hope that Judd would be reelected. He stood up and walked back and forth the length of the phone cord, winking at the staffer as he listened to Rusk’s explanation.

Rusk denied it. Then he fudged. He said yes he had written a kind of bread-and-butter letter. He hadn’t expressed that view about hoping Judd would be reelected. Still, his personal correspondence was, er, ah personal. Then Humphrey feigned a tantum. He bluffed, said he had Rusk’s letter right there in his hand. He got Rusk to admit he did say Judd’s cooperation was valuable—er, maybe he said it was invaluable. Listen, Dean, said Humphrey raising his voice, don’t give me that personal letter crap! It just may be as Majority Whip I have a few personal objections to your program including some aspects of your appropriation and your president’s program. If we’re in the business of letting our personal views dominate, you’ll get mine as soon as I get back to Washington.

Again: If you want this to occur I can tell you it will as soon as I get back to Washington. I would greatly appreciate a statement from some underling somewhere who has looked at Fraser’s foreign policy statements that support the president and sees fit to praise Don Fraser who will be there for the administration on many things more than Judd will. I’d like to see that in the newspaper out here —or by God after this is all over all of us may have enough time to romanticize with Walter Judd when we’re sitting on our [derogatory reference to human posterior] with nothing to do but write our memoirs in the Metropolitan Club [snooty men’s club in Washington]. Rusk mumbled agreement.

Slam went Humphrey’s receiver. The staffer was relieved and left with a message to tell Fraser.

Then he picked it up again, called Vice President Lyndon Johnson and the both of them laughed at his description of his earlier put-on tantrum. He got Johnson on his side immediately. It was too late to fly back to Washington but the next day was Saturday anyhow. His work for the day was finished. He had (a) shaped up the Rolvaags—husband and wife—he hoped, for the campaign, (b) had given Rolvaag a wedge-busting issue of a Taconite statute that had been okayed not just by organized labor but by Roger Blough of U. S. Steel; (c) got Blough to understand Rolvaag should have some big financial support from the steel industry; (d) had given Rolvaag a bright young lieutenant governor candidate; and (e) ended any idea in the Kennedy administration of doing a backhanded endorsement of Walter Judd, thus cutting the ground from under Judd. Pretty good day.

He called Mrs. Humphrey in Washington, telling her he was going to be back early the next day, Saturday and that he would stay at the Leamington rather than his Waverly, Minnesota home because he didn’t want to advertise to the press that he was in the state. Following which he had a lingering pre-dinner snack with a friend…coffee, butter cookies…a fan—a bright young woman, Norwegian immigrant boutique entrepreneur who had done weather…Wanda the Weather Bunny stuff (no meteorologist) …on KSTP-TV, then divorcing and marrying a rich investor (who gave plenty of dough to the DFL). Tall, 30ish, fecund, flowing blonde hair, limpid blue eyes. Did news reading for WCCO radio but the hint of a Norwegian accent bothered the station manager who didn’t want it to sound like an ethnic station. When she quit, news director Arv Johnson felt like crying, he said, because he wouldn’t have the scenery to look at in the studio anymore. She went to the first all-news station in the Twin Cities, then quit for a lifetime as a wealthy DFL, minor philanthropist and civic matron.

She handled media relations as a volunteer for the DFL including Rolvaag; had free-market orientation strange for a DFLer (Humphrey supposed from her husband). One of the real lookers in the DFL. Hell, almost the only looker, Humphrey would say privately. Most of the others looked like what they were: college professors in dumpy sweaters no makeup and sensible shoes, junkies with bitten-off, broken fingernails, no nail-polish, somewhat in need of grooming; fat women labor economists, skinny ex-U of M depression baby radicals. Not this one. After Humphrey’s death in 1978 and yet another divorce (making it three), she moved rightward. Humphrey was the last good Democrat, she said.

They were having a platonic love affair—one of shared intellectual pursuits, quiet jokes, she hugely enjoying his hilarity at recounting achievements of the day—including this very day. Platonic. They were both married, she on her second. She was open to an affair: not he, not Humphrey, uh-uh. But Humphrey the raconteur derived a great sense of ego fulfillment—that was all--from their infrequent, discreet meetings. She understood completely, before he needed to elucidate. Her suggestions were very few; but, listening, asked good questions. Humphrey told her he needed a scandal on Andersen: the Taconite amendment, Taconite statute was arcane. So Rolvaag wanted a statute, Andersen an amendment. Who the hell cared? She agreed. Humphrey pondered: But what kind of scandal? Minnesota didn’t grow scandals either with DFL or Republican. They drank coffee and nibbled butter cookies. He came to no conclusion, deciding to ask Orv Freeman to sound out holdovers in state government. But enough about me. What’d you got?

She had gossip about journalists, the business community, pols. They gabbed until very late. Obligatory kiss on the cheek. Warm parting tender looks at the door. That was it. And she was gone. Never anything more than that with Humphrey. No affairs for him. Kennedy and Johnson could get away with it…but sometimes even they were caught up and less effective trying to ditch clinging women. Not many others were so lucky. George Smathers, presidentially qualified: rumors dogged him, ruined his chance at the presidency. That wouldn’t happen to Hubert. Nothing wrong with a cheek kiss, butter cookies, coffee. Good advice, too. Once in a while they’d talk on the phone. Meet once every six months or so. Harmless friendship.

As he flew back to Washington the next morning, he knew the job wasn’t done. There would have to be a scandal within the Andersen administration on which to capitalize. Which was difficult because Andersen was squeaky clean and his administration was filled with new hires, largely people who had not been in government. But to repeat: there must be some fuse of scandal to be lighted. Or the contrast between slow-witted Rolvaag and Andersen, bright, articulate, idealist—yeah, somewhat feminine (they had already checked that angle: no dice)—would work against Rolvaag. Humphrey would sit down with Orville Freeman, the last governor, now Kennedy’s secretary of agriculture, and see if Freeman could run through his old state government contacts to see if they couldn’t pick up some gossip that could lead some negative researchers to gin up a scandal. Humphrey was confident he could strike flint on stone and blow on the spark to cause it to flicker into what could seem to be a four-alarm fire.

Lots of Democratic holdovers remained—in mental health (Minnesotans were pro-mental health: that’d be a good one if he could find something in that department), conservation, corrections (crooked guards smuggling reefers into Stillwater?) Show him any state government even in pure Minnesota that couldn’t produce a scandal—even a very modest one that could look bad. It would be up to Freeman and his people to dig one up from holdovers in state government. Yep, he knew his old aide Orv and his assistants could find one. One of the best was still deputy commissioner of highways—Frank Marzitelli. With luck, they could dump Andersen. Which would bring in a DFL governor for four years—carrying over to 1966. One term for Rolvaag and out: then Mondale coming in in `66, carrying beyond the presidential year of 1968. 1968: Humphrey’s year. That’s what you’d call being in good political shape. Fasten the seatbelt: coming in to Washington National.

1 comment:

  1. Tom,

    I'm enjoying these "flashbacks", but you really ought to consider writing a book about your experiences and what you've learned over the decades. What about "An Honest Man's Guide to Politics"?