Monday, December 18, 2006

Flashback: Charlie Barr the Converted Bourbon and the Dick Ogilvie-W. Russell Arrington Machine Builder-Wannabes, Vie on How the Illinois GOP Should Go. And the Grunts Win.

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

Lunching as I did for years with Billy the Kid…two-time Congressman-at-Large, two-time State Treasurer, two-time Governor of Illinois…I must admit I got biased. Bill Stratton was a progressive governor of Illinois who saw his niche in the ``50s as expanding state government, no doubt about it. But he was no political empire-builder, nor big organization man who wanted to build a machine ala Daley. In fact, it is a shame I got to him at the end of his career because I think I sold him as an ex-governor on the concept of the State Committee having an independent political staff, one engrossed in building an organization for the party, not an individual and servicing candidates with p. r., fund-raising and organization expertise. In other words a staff dedicated to building a party organization, not as a tool of a governor. It wasn’t goofy idealistic: Ray Bliss did it in Ohio; we did it in Minnesota. I am sure Billy would have agreed to that. While he served as governor, Minnesota and Ohio had pioneered the state GOP staff concept: and I was the Minnesota GOP’s first political publicist. Not a patronage hack. Paid by party funds and fighting with and occasionally siding with my great patron, Elizabeth Heffelfinger who raised money by the tons but was no man’s grunt.

We operated a staff free from any candidatorial machine-building. The party staff served as an institutional memory in off-years; after primaries and conventions picked candidates, our staff loyally served the nominees: but not until the party electorate’s decision was made. This was the concept that Bob Stuart, as RNC committeeman and I tried to present to the leaders of the Illinois GOP. All of them bought it. Dick Ogilvie said he bought it but privately it was with tongue-in-cheek. He and his machine staff—Drennan and Mack—cut backroom deals with a very weak State Central staff and co-opted them for the Ogilvie governorship campaign—which was not our anticipation. Once Ogilvie became governor, the staff—executive director, research director, organizational troops—were co-opted by the grunters, Drennan and Mack—and the staff became grunts of the hoped-for Ogilvie machine. Which meant that in short order they were taking orders from the Ogilvie grunt brigade, not doing a thing to help Chuck Percy or the reelection of Everett Dirksen who was running in the same year Ogilvie was.

As a result, I became privately very turned-off at Ogilvie and his people. He criss-crossed the state running for governor and took no position at all on the question of the state income tax. But seasoned news reporters told me the fix was in: that once elected, Ogilvie would support an income tax that was so earnestly desired by the Democrats. Mike Howlett, the Democrat who was state auditor and a friend, told me the same thing…as did Billy the Kid. Billy was no fan of weak, decentralized government but he thought the Rockefeller-like buildup of Illinois government as a leviathan ala Rockefeller should have been sold as did Rockefeller bigger government in New York state. The difference was that Ogilvie was not a visionary speaker, not a philosophical big government man but, Billy said, a big government man masquerading as a small government man. No charismatic politician himself, he would have taken the challenge to go across the state and educate about the need for expanded services. Not Ogilvie.

All the while the Ogilvie grunters, having co-opted our Illinois GOP staff concept, followed the dictum of Tom Drennan. “We need money, Roeser. Clem Stone’s drying up. Your job: get the money. Augggh!”

And sure enough, once Ogilvie got in without have made a commitment on the income tax, he endorsed it and worked with Democrats to pass it…thinking that he could survive the heat and get reelected in `72. I was opposed for three reasons: first, knowing that Ogilvie supported the income tax, I was keenly disappointed that he cynically played mum during the campaign when he knew all the time what he was going to do; second, that he cynically co-opted Bob Stuart’s staff concept; and third that he had no sympathy at all for the basics of conservative governing: pared-down spending, tax cuts and no vision whatsoever for a viable Illinois GOP unless it was a tail on his kite.

Ogilvie and his grunters ended what little influence had remained with the patrician Bourbons who were committed to philosophy of governance. Russ Arrington, the Senate president was a Bourbon by way of having worked with Clem Stone (a self-made Bourbon) but Arrington bought in to Ogilvie’s machine concept and became a rootless pragmatist: expanded government filled with technical details. Harold Byron Smith, Jr., one of the brightest, most attractive young professionals—a Bourbon by reason of birth to the prestigious Smith family, and therefore one would surmise a man who would want to accomplish good things for the state and party and perhaps be a candidate himself—became an Ogilvie grunter and consummate pragmatist. He became almost everything in the Illinois GOP after a time: was national committeeman, state chairman, chairman of the state finance committee. At the very end, he became a kind of grunt acknowledgee of George Ryan. Smith once told me when Peter Fitzgerald was running for the Senate that Fitzgerald had made a mistake in with social policy.

“What mistake?” I asked. He said that by opposing gay rights Fitzgerald didn’t understand that gay rights appealed to at least 10% of the state and maybe more. I doubted it but even if it had, there seemed to be no option but to go with the majority. Of course, Smith was pro-choice and sided with the accommodationist exurban country club structure of liberalism. Big government, no tax cuts, liberal social policies would never have appealed to the old Bourbons.

Chuck Percy was a Bourbon (by osmosis, having been born a poor boy in Rogers Park and aping the Bourbons to the extent that his accent even sounded eastern) but in many ways—not social policies--a Bourbon he was. My boss was an old-school Bourbon who wanted to do good things for the state but both were not in tight with the Ogilvie grunters. Everett Dirksen was a patron of the Bourbons: he loved business types who wanted to accomplish great things. In his own way he was a kind of reformer with a great appreciation of the free market and business operating relatively untrammeled by restrictive government; particularly notable in how he fought repeal of section 14(b) of Taft Hartley. The Ogilvie grunters regarded him as a man of the past. The Ogilvie grunters’ favorite woman was Hope McCormick, wife of Brooks, the national committeewoman, who did as she was told by the grunters without objection.

Charlie Barr, who had brought them all together under the aegis of Barry Goldwater was tossed aside because he wouldn’t bow to the grunters. The grunters were close to him when he had some corporate power; not now. Besides, Barr strenuously opposed Ogilvie’s vacating his county board presidency to run for governor after only two years. He wanted to build a party base, not a personal base for Ogilvie, and he had hoped the county board presidency could be used to build a base for the GOP wherein conservative views would be promoted. That was not the goal of the grunters. They saw Ogilvie as Daley. Besides, Charlie’s boss at Standard of Indiana didn’t want to think about Charlie who had tied the corporation to Barry Goldwater now that Lyndon Johnson, the friend of the oil industry, was president. And the Ogilvie grunts regarded Charlie as a vestige of the past—a past they had been a part of but which they now discarded. So Charlie spun off, left the company and all but evaporated as a political force.

Another dissatisfied Republican was Tim Sheehan, the Cook county Republican chairman. He had been a Congressman and 1963 mayoral aspirant who had made a deal with Daley—but basically on other things he was a Bourbon. He agreed with Billy the Kid that Republicans aren’t naturally disposed to build a machine. He went so far as to hint broadly that Ogilvie was a crook. Not so but Tim was a deep-hating Irishman.


I will now digress to point out that my own work at Quaker was immeasurably enhanced with the hiring of a young man…four years younger than I…who would coordinate all of corporate communications and government relations under his aegis. It is a great good fortune to have one sympathetic to your goals. Not that Bob Thurston’s predecessors were not, but Bob, who came from Mead Johnson, had a marvelous capacity for government relations at a time when senior officers were not always so gifted. While my contact with Bob Stuart continued on a personal and political level, my work in corporate government relations and community affairs was channeled through Bob Thurston and his rising influence in the company made success not just possible but often a certainty.

His liaison with the senior officers made it much easier for me to function in the corporation. Rapidly, working together, we developed a government relations plan; he approved my idea for working with the black community to enhance our commitment to Chicago. He was rapidly promoted—to vice president, then senior vice president, then executive vice president and made a board member of the corporation. In addition to being a strong supporter of mine, he came up with a great number of novel ideas which we implemented together. With the keen support of our CEO, Quaker became a model company for government relations and community relations as a form of enlightened self-interest.

Before Bob Thurston came aboard, I hired an assistant (government relations staffs are never large) reporting to me who did a tremendous job…and who continued to do a great job when Bob Thurston came to us. He was Patrick Racey, gifted with talents that we often called “the wonderful Racey machine.” He had a mind that fastened on details in encyclopedic detail, far different from mine. It was the era before the Internet and all I had to go before going to Washington to lobby on an item was to sit down with Pat and have him run down verbally the legislative history. Step-by-step, from bill introduction through committee hearings through debate on the House floor, to its concurrent introduction in the Senate, to passage by a Senate committee, back to the House where passage by the House was recited by “the wonderful Racey machine” with pertinent roll-call votes to the Senate repeated by direct recall with another roll-call to the resultant conference committee. Often I would cry out “stop! Enough! I got the picture!” Racey was one in ten million who could write memos to key managers all day with the stub of a pencil (he refused to be a typist or memo dictator), give it to our secretary and copies would fly like a whirlwind throughout the company. He detested mechanical contrivances and I don’t know how he would fare today with the Internet, I-pods and the rest.

Later, after Bob Thurston came aboard, at the dawn of the corporate social responsibility movement in corporations, I hired a black man as community relations manager reporting to me who was far different from other African American corporate types. Charles E. Curry was from Jackson, Tennessee, born illegitimate whose only contact with his father was when that gentleman, from the rich black side of town, would visit surreptitiously with his mother every few days at midnight to peel off dollars with which to support the family he had sired apart from his own.

Chuck went to an historically black college and came to Chicago to as a “detached worker” in a marvelous project initiated by the YMCA where workers would hit the streets, ingratiate themselves with black youth and lead them out of drugs and crime. He was the best of the best of that group. No one knew how he could adjust to the corporate environment but not only did he do extraordinarily well but was regarded as the finest, most skilled, prescient expert of Chicago’s poverty neighborhoods. His skills helped develop our foundation from a do-good white-dominated philanthropy to one that really demanded the best from poverty neighborhoods before the company would invest in their projects.

Chuck’s expertise extended to politics as well and he was often a conduit between us and black leadership. Therefore, with Bob Thurston as our captain, I reporting to him, and Racey and Curry reporting to me but as virtual equals in expertise, we had what I modestly maintain was the best damn government relations-community relations outfit in corporate Chicago. Bob Thurston added to Chuck’s portfolio by having him sent to Emory University for a substantial period of time for graduate work. Chuck became a leader of a group of black male professionals known by the inauspicious name of the “Rat Pack.” They belonged to a number of professions: lawyers, community activists, journalists. One of them became president of the Chicago Urban League, Jim Compton; another, Danny Davis, was elected alderman, county board member and Congressman; a key member was Art Norman, now reporting and anchoring for NBC-TV News, Channel 5 Chicago. Chuck Curry retired as one of the best known black corporate executives in the city. Sadly, all of them eulogized Chuck along with me after his untimely death at 68 from cancer. Back to our story.


“Count me out,” said Charlie Barr as he watched Dick Ogilvie’s campaign for governor. “Those grunts want to build their own machine. Hell, if I wanted to play machine politics, I’d do it right and sign up with Richard J. Daley. I thought the Republican party was different, better than that. Oh well, it doesn’t much matter anymore because Standard Oil’s going in another direction, but the fact that my Republican Party is as well is very sad to me. The fact that those guys are going to put in an income tax to build a bigger government tells me that they were never for Goldwater at all: only pretending.”

“As for me,” said Billy the Kid at one of our many lunches, “I was never for weak government, always a progressive but never for a machine. First of all, building a machine in the Republican party won’t work. Our people aren’t like the Democrats. We don’t have people trying to get their brother-in-law a job running an elevator at City Hall. That’s Democratic party stuff and Drennan is an old line Democrat who thinks that’s the way to go. Well, it isn’t. With his way there’s no difference between us and them.”

But, Bill, I said, you’re a big government man and so are the Democrats. You say you can’t tell the difference with Drennan. What’s the difference between you and the Democrats?

“You don’t understand this, Roeser,” he said, “because you’re not a progressive. I want to enlarge government in a responsible way so as to help those who need help but not subsidize businesses or industries. There’s night and day difference between what I want to do and what Lyndon Johnson is doing—creating generations of dependants with his welfare programs. You used to work for a progressive governor, Elmer Andersen of Minnesota. You mean none of that stuff rubbed off on you?”

I’ll tell you this, Billy, I said. If we got to have big government, I’d damn sight rather have it come from a guy like you who doesn’t want to build a personal machine than this crowd of grunts.

Then Billy imitated the Ogilvie grunts with a guttural “money-money. Clem Stone’s drying up, Roeser! Your job: get money! Auggggggh!”

Aw shut up, I said. It’s too realistic.

Then, going back to my job after lunch, I decided I’d like to get my hand in political work on an organizing level. What’s it like to run campaigns in Chicago, apart from the pristine state of Minnesota where there was no machine? What’s it like to go against the Daley machine? I yearned to run a congressional campaign again, as volunteer campaign manager on free time after work to get the “feel” of the opposition machine. And not just one: two…one strategizing a Republican campaign on the Northwest Side of my birth and another planning the message, strategy and organization for a Republican campaign on the heavily Democratic black South Side where the black machine of William Dawson, ally of Daley, came into play. What? my wife said. A job, three kids and me and you don’t have enough to do? Sure, but just this once: I wanted to give it a try after-hours on my own in two congressionals, widely different in Chicago. “Good idea, “said Billy the Kid; “I’ll give you some ideas only don’t ask me to help.”

Okay! Seems silly now…a needless drain of surplus energy…but I was only a kid of 38. So I did. And did I ever learn a lot!

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