Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Flashback: The 1963 Legislative Session Goes On While the Recount Continues. A 3-Judge Panel Says We Lost—by 91 Votes Out of 1,250,000. No Appeal by the Nice Guy Governor So We’re Out.

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

The official recount began on December 20, 1962 with a governor in doubt…Andersen…and a governor in waiting…Rolvaag. Managers of the recount for both sides were asked to recruit 103 three-person teams of ballot counters who would convene in the Ramsey county courthouse—each team to consist of one Andersen representative, one Rovaag representative and one neutral person agreeable to both sides. Voting machine totals—a third of the output—were stipulated by both sides to be accurate: the counting then consisted of the paper ballots. Even so the progress was agonizingly slow. Any stray mark or scribble on a ballot was considered reason to set it aside. By January 1, with the count two-thirds done, more than 60,000 ballots had been set aside as “challenged.” There was utterly nothing I could do so beyond looking over the shoulders at the counters so I returned to work in the Capitol.

A new legislature was coming in and it had to consider a budget which Andersen had to prepare. What to do with Karl Rolvaag who was now a private citizen was the question. The office of lieutenant governor was then elected separately from the governor—and Rolvaag had, of course, to vacate it to run for governor. The voters had elected the DFL candidate for lieutenant governor—Rochester’s A. M. (Sandy) Keith (who had been silent on the issue of Highway 35 and who was much later to leave the DFL party partly with disgust on that issue and become a Republican). Keith was entitled to the lieutenant governor’s office suite. Where would Rolvaag and his office go? I told Andersen that he should not give him an office but since Rolvaag was a private citizen he should let the DFL set him up in a private one off Capitol and let Humphrey and his pals pay for it. Andersen was too nice a guy to do this. So he ordered a suite of offices on the first floor of the Capitol to be reserved for Rolvaag. They moved in and Rolvaag’s chief of staff condemned it as a “broom closet.” The media picked up the designation and termed it the “broom closet” which it was not. Once again Andersen’s Boy Scout tendency proved that with Humphrey’s people no good deed went unpunished.

As we embarked into an overtime extension of the first term, it’s interesting to consider our relations with the press.

As Republicans in a solid DFL state, we nevertheless had a good number of allies in the media, the best of whom was Art Michelson but there were a number of congenitally liberal ones. My original instinct when I began was to woo them to my side but after having been bitten once or twice, I did what Jim Haggerty had advised me to do—favor those who treated us fairly and subtly disfavor the others until they got the drift. Early on and for the balance of the first two years. Michelson got first dibs. Starting early in the first term, he made out extraordinarily well. In the period after election, he became a super-star. He was first to broadcast that we would proceed ahead with re-appointment of our cabinet even though the election had not been decided…a major story. He got an advance on the governor’s renewed drive to pass a taconite amendment, an advance on our 12-point program to revitalize the Range.

Somehow while all the newsmen got copies of a special revenue commission headed by the dean of the U of M graduate school of business, Michelson turned up with a sophisticated economic review of the report which led him correctly to prognosticate it called for imposition of a sales tax—which he followed up with an exclusive interview with the governor arranged by me, the governor saying he was not going to ask for a sales tax. The entire state followed his exclusive coverage—in return for which he gave us favorable treatment. For a while the others tried to exert punishment for what they correctly viewed as our favoring Michelson. The governor, always a softie, wanted to relent but I would not hear of it…and said this would have to be my decision or I’d quit. Everyone saw that Michelson was our favorite—just as Scotty Reston and Charlie Bartlett were JFK’s boys. Gradually they began to buckle.

Michelson’s television station then advertised him as “WTCN’s First in the Know with Art Michelson” in newspaper ads and placards on Twin Cities buses. It gave him a Sunday afternoon TV interview program and also a choice spot on its ABC radio station each day with a hefty raise in pay advertising his show as, “Art Michelson’s Politics in the Know.” The media came around saying, “hey, you’re going overboard giving exclusives to Michelson!”

I feigned surprise. Then wide-eyed surprise. I was shocked…shocked …to have their criticism. Why in the world did they think that when Michelson was admittedly the best in the business? Arv Johnson of WCCO said, “well, we know what you’re doing and if you think we’re going to cave and give your guy the good press Michelson does, you have another think coming.” I said innocently I would never dream of rating good press as an objective—my job was simply to see that it was accurate. They trouped out of my office.

They started to mock Michelson: “Hey, here’s Michelson with First in the Know!” Michelson would grin and bow. Still they hung on with their disgruntlement. One day Michelson came out with a statewide exclusive that rocked the state. He was first to broadcast that the United Steelworkers Union dropped is objection to a taconite amendment and overnight became its prime supporter. Michelson had the statewide—almost national—exclusive because it carried an important economic message. The press trouped back and asked politely to see me. Michelson, of course, found other things to do and did not join the attempt to make up.

“O.k.,” said Jack Foss of NBC, “suppose we sign a truce. What do you want from us?” My eyes were still wide with surprise. This is how I responded:

All I’ve asked is fairness, I said. Foss, it so happens you didn’t give us a play of any kind on our plan to reform welfare and Art did. It also just happened that he dug out the details of a big appropriation increase we are planning for the care of the institutionally mentally ill. A big story which came to him because of his…diligence.

Adolph Johnson, when the dairy lobby came in to criticize us because we favor the sale of yellow-colored oleomargarine you wrote up their side for the AP and hardly mentioned us at all—despite the fact that I gave you a briefing on the subject.

Bob Doder, if you ever did report on the governor’s education plan for the UPI I failed to see it since the major attention on education was given to Karl Rolvaag who is not governor. Michelson was one of the few to report it—and with his knack for industry also turned up a super-story: that there will be a new state college for southwestern Minnesota.

“We get the picture,” said Doder grimly. “We’ll convene our own journalistic caucus.” They walked out and went back an emissary. “We’re not promising anything in advance,” said Bill Fox of the UPI, “but we see what you mean. Maybe we should start from scratch. I think we can improve. Let us show you.” I gave them a routine story about a mid-level assistant cabinet change. You’d think the entire state’s future revolved around it by the tone of the media the next day. We were back on track. But Michelson somehow continued to hold the advantage—although not so decidedly as heretofore. We all got along like pals after that.

Sadly, Elmer Andersen learned to govern after the traumatic election. He convinced the legislature to pay for the recount and provide Rolvaag with his own small appropriation for his office—which I would not have done. But the inexorable residue from Hubert Humphrey’s inspired Highway 35 “scandal” which had swayed a minority of voters finally collected its victim. The three-judge ruling had diminished the number of disputed ballots to a small quantity. It was still possible for us to win but it would be a tight squeeze. The court trials were not tipping a number of votes to our favor to remedy a short-fall.

Tom Swain, our able recount director, came to us and said with acceptable legal motions he could delay a decision possibly for months—if we had things we wanted to accomplish. I was for the delay. Andersen wasn’t. Then Swain came to us with the bad news. The final decision by the three-judge panel would read: Rolvaag 619,842 and Andersen 619,751, a 91-vote margin for Rolvaaag. The next question was whether or not Andersen would appeal the verdict to the full state Supreme Court which had a Republican majority. Andersen was ready to say no; if the Court backed him people would think it terrible politics. He was such a softy. Can you imagine Hubert thinking that if he were us? . That was at 8:30 p.m. on the night of March 15, 1963. I asked for him to withhold judgment until I made an appeal to him and the leaders of the recount team the next morning. He agreed.

I worked on my remarks most of that night. The next morning, I said the system with its checks and balances had guaranteed the fullest use of legitimate power—and by not appealing to the Supreme Court we were deciding…not the system deciding…to short-circuit the process. The fact that a majority of the justices were Republican was incidental. Let the Court make the decision and take the heat. The world knew—with Minnesota the cleanest state—that there would be no payoff. I would ask Andersen to appeal even if a majority were Democratic. Rather than it being his choice, I argued, the choice was pre-ordained by the system itself. If the Supreme Court did not accept the appeal, all well and good. If it did and a charge would be made that politics had interfered, that charge would have to be endured but in the long-run it would be forgotten.

There was a very real chance that how the three-judge panel ruled on certain species of paper ballots could be interpreted more than one way, I said (having learned this from a Justice who didn’t want to be quoted). Why not let the Court do what it will? Those worried about Republicans voting for us and we taking an onus should stop being so timid. Justices don’t always work that way. Eisenhower named a Republican chief justice who disappointed him greatly by ruling against Eisenhower’s wishes on the school desegregation case. Why not allow the Court to make its decision and stop trying to spare it when the Court’s job is just to make such a decision, honor-bound not to let partisanship rule it? I received a big applause from the tired campaign workers. Andersen retired to his private office to consider it. He came out and said he’d hold off and wait for the official three-judge decision which would be in several days.

The decision came on March 21 which started a 10-day period during which Andersen could consider referring their decision to the entire Supreme Court. Then a convergence of irony. The next day, March 22, the taconite amendment which he had supported from the first day he came to office, passed the legislature and was delivered to him. He didn’t need to sign a resolution that would send the amendment to the voters, but I urged him to make a ceremony of it anyhow. Which he did.

Then he called us together and said he had determined not to refer the issue to the Supreme Court. Which meant he would throw in the towel. I regard it as another mistake—not to let the high court make the final decision. But so be it. On Saturday, March 23, 1963 I called a last press conference for my chief in which he said it was his intention to waive the right of appeal the decision of the recount judges. Rolvaag would become the state’s 31st governor on the following Monday.

As I left the Capitol for the last time as ex-press secretary, I bumped into Rolvaag’s guy Joe Scislowicz preparing to move his stuff to my office. He said, “well what are you going to do now?” Frankly, I didn’t know. I was going to take some time off but I wasn’t going to be paid beyond Monday. Bob Forsythe, the state GOP chairman and a friend, had been begging me to move back to my old quarters and take up expanded duties as the party’s communications chief.

Then Michelson caught up with me and told me two things: (a) he had broken up with Wanda and was back home basking in the forgiveness of his wife, which was a good thing and (b) Gene McCarthy had asked him to be his press secretary in Washington. He and his wife and kids would move there and start over as if Wanda never happened. That kind of change would be great. He said: when you get home you might have a job offer. I didn’t know what he meant but I was delighted that he finally got his personal act together. Also Wanda, beautiful as she was, was starting to get on my nerves, too. But having cut her ties with the DFL she would be a Republican forever—so her future was determined.

When I got home, I had a call from Michelson’s ABC-TV station manager. He wanted me to become the new Art Michelson with a salary much bigger than the government one I had as press secretary—with Michelson’s Sunday TV interview program and his radio program. The ad campaign would be “WTCN’s No. 1 in the Know with Tom Roeser.” New ads in the papers, placards on the buses. I asked whether my partisanship would bother them. No, they said, a trend is underway where the public wants more from journalists than coverage—but some insight. They happened to be right. Jim Haggerty had become a news executive with ABC and later Pierre Salinger would become a foreign correspondent for them. (Now Tim Russert and a host of others have gone into the reportorial and analytical business. Not that I would equal them—but with in a Minnesota setting it could be interesting). I could just think of all the questions I’d ask Governor Karl Rolvaag at his first news conference. And then how I’d use my contacts to harpoon Hubert Humphrey. It’d be fun to walk in to a news conference and face Fritz Mondale. The potential was lip-smacking good.

The offer was highly complimentary but the next day I had a better offer monetarily than either from the GOP or the television station—the job of director of public relations and communications…approaching Ed Viehman’s old job…with the Josten Company of Owatonna, Minnesota which prepared high school and university yearbooks and class rings. The company said that, frankly, they’d appreciate it if I had nothing to do with politics, having endured Viehman’ great interest which led to an absorption so total that he took a leave of absence from which he never returned (well, gee, he died!). Still, Viehman had built the job into a phenomenon. Owatonna was a gorgeous community, much like a suburb. I wasn’t offered Viehman’s job but it was close.

I would report to Otto Quale, a friend. I figured I had the choice of doing what I liked…politics or journalism… which I felt would be very selfish and continue to short-change my family…or settle in with a career move that would be permanent and provide a very good income for my kids. Speaking of whom Lillian and I found out that we would be expecting a third child—in November, 1963! I tentatively accepted the Josten’s job vowing I should not fool around any more with a political job that could change every even-numbered year. After all, I’d been working in that field since 1955—eight years. Brad Heffelfinger would want me to take either the Republican or WTCN-TV jobs so I didn’t want to talk to her yet.

While I passed the word to Josten’s unofficially that I’d take it after a vacation, I decided to really ponder all three offers and in doing so go back to my spiritual roots, my old university, St. John’s near St. Cloud and talk with a wise old Benedictine monk as to what I should do. He was Father Walter Reger, OSB, the former dean of men who was compatible with me for several reasons: one being he was one of only two conservative Republican monks in the monastery. So after a few days rest, I called and made a reservation to stay at St. John’s overnight and an appointment the next day after breakfast with the monks and students to see Father Walter.

I kissed Lillian, hopped in my car with an overnight bag and drove the 80 miles to St. John’s, listening to the Rolvaag inaugural on the radio which made me slightly ill so I snapped it off. I looked forward to talking with Father Walter. I hoped he would lead me to a good decision. Whenever I became confused…from St. Cloud newspaper days on…I’d call time-out and held for St. John’s. There with a guest room, the abbey bells bonging restfully and good homemade bread, fragrant from the abbey kitchen—plus good counsel from Father Walter…an elderly monk who had lived at the monastery since he was a high school student to priest for fifty years, who puffed a pipe and played the violin for recreation. Then I’d make the final decision on a job. Fr. Walter had always impressed me as a good counselor.

Maybe, as I was nearing 35 with a wife, two kids and another on the way, he’d help me decide what to do now.

No comments:

Post a Comment