Monday, December 4, 2006

Flashback: The Illinois Republican Bourbons and the Pragmatists as Seen from the Vantage-Point of Billy the Kid in 1964.


[Memories from more than 50 years in politics for my heirs].

Billy the Kid and I…referring to the former two-term Illinois governor, William G. Stratton, two-time Congressman-at-Large and two-time state treasurer, cleared of one indictment by the grace and sufferance of Everett Dirksen, innocent of any theft committed by Republican state auditor Orville Hodge (outside of having a premonition Hodge was a crook), innocent of any attempt by a former press secretary to do a little special interest work on the side without telling his boss…decided to have lunch on almost a regular basis in the M & M Club at the Merchandise Mart where we both worked: he as a government relations officer for the Canteen Corporation, I as one for Quaker Oats. We did that for many years, continuing when he became a government relations officer for Associated Bank, in a relationship that lasted until his death in 2001.

“Illinois Republicans are largely controlled by the Bourbons,” said Billy. “They are the big families—the McCormicks, the Billy Wood Princes, the Ingersolls, the Armours, the Smiths or Northern Trust and Illinois Tool who are shirttail cousins of the Stuarts you work for, Bill Fetridge, the Donnelleys—Gaylord, Elliot and Jim--and to some extent the Stuarts of Quaker…his Poppa, his uncle and Bobby who you work for. None of them, the Stuarts included, never really cottoned to me but I never found them bad in the sense that they push their special interests. Where I haven’t always got along with them was that they treated you like you were their help, since they felt they owned the Republican party. Old man Wood of Sears [General Robert Wood] would call me up and raise hell because I was spending too much in the budget, that kind of thing.

“Now Colonel McCormick and I once were close when I first went to Congress and was an isolationist but when I changed and became governor he was a true sonuvabitch on spending, tax cuts. He wanted to resurrect the anti-Communist pledge that Adlai got rid of: he wanted every state worker to take. But he never called me up and tried to wheedle something out of the state for his or his company’s benefit, that kind of thing. Nor did anybody else of the Bourbons. They were all conservative except Bob Stuart’s uncle, John who ran the company for years who was and is a liberal. Old Mr. John caught me down here the other day—he must be ninety—and urged me to do what I can to elect Nelson Rockefeller president. I asked why. He said Rockefeller would be good for the cities. You don’t hear that ever from the Bourbons. I’m a good friend and admirer of Nelson so I passed John Stuart’s name on to his people but they said they already checked him out and old John was tighter than a tick; is he?”

No wild spender but I’d be tighter than a tick when a Rockefeller came around for a contribution, too.

“Yeah I suppose. The Stuarts all gave to me. Not that much, though. Not real much. Well, you have the Bourbons who think they own you because they believe they own the party—but say what you want about them, they’re principled people. Chuck Percy [who was running for governor that year against Otto Kerner] wants to hang around with them. He was born in Rogers Park but he sounds and looks like a Bourbon. Acts like one, too. Then you have the younger Republican so-called professionals who are coming up. They’re the next generation who are more pragmatic. I thought I could identify with them rather than the Bourbons but I’ll take the Bourbons every time.”


“They believe in something. They treat you like their chauffeur but they believe in a philosophy. I can deal with that. The pragmatists want to build a machine, want you to act like the Nazis—follow orders and leave the thinking to the Front Office. Thinking short-range, very short-range. Not any of them interested in government or government programs. Wanting a machine comes close to wanting to make money out of politics with both parties which is a key to real corruption. No offense, but I’m still trying to figure you out, whether you’re with the Bourbons or the pragmatists. You make me wonder. You were a full-time political staffer for years which might make you a pragmatist. You worked for a very liberal Minnesota governor and were or are a friend of Hubert Humphrey and Gene McCarthy: pragmatist again. But you also worked for Walter Judd a thorough conservative who aligned with Bourbons in Minnesota. You work for a crown prince of the Bourbons, now, Bob Stuart. I can’t figure you out yet.”

I’m easy. Not rich or powerful but count me with the Bourbons. I am a philosophical conservative; far more than you are. The liberal governor I worked for drove me nuts. A man of character and a very decent man but he was so liberal he drove me nuts. He was a Republican Lefty always crying for the downtrodden. I got my belly full of that. What helped was that while he was a Lefty, he was no pragmatist but a Lefty of great principle and we fought like animals but I respected him. A lady I knew up there, you probably know her, Elizabeth Heffelfinger: a real Republican Lefty but of great principle. She always tried to convert me to being a Republican Lefty but no luck.

He chuckled. “Great woman. I always cherished the thought she’d help me one day.”

. I turned down job offers from both Humphrey and McCarthy because I didn’t agree with them at all but I happened to like them personally. That’s past tense with Humphrey. Humphrey I learned to dislike. The reason I’m here today and am not in St. Paul is that Humphrey beat my boss with the Highway 35 non-scandal I told you about…although I should be grateful to him for getting me out of politics and into the private sector—but I’ll never forgive him for what he did to a good, liberal—naïve but good—man, my boss, the governor of Minnesota. But the guy I really loved—for his principle, character, intellect and guts—was Judd. Best man in this business I ever worked for. In every way. Goldwater can’t hold a candle to him. So mark it down I’m a Walter Judd conservative.

“What about me?”

You’re too liberal, too big government for me but you’re principled.

“Thanks. I knew Walter Judd when we were in Congress together . He’s too conservative for me but a man of great integrity. What about Rocky?”

Not interested in him in the slightest for two reasons. Too liberal number one and two much a ladies’ man number two, running around with another guy’s wife, getting her to divorce him where she had to surrender the custody of her own kids, him leaving his own wife. I’m no saint but that turns my stomach.

“I agree on the womanizing stuff not the liberal angle. I got divorced, too, but of course not that way. She couldn’t take my running for office every eighteen months so she skipped. I sued her for desertion: no real contest. I know I drove her nuts but she did me a favor in that I met Shirley and we’re a great couple. She stuck with me like a good soldier through all this. Yeah, chasing girls has always been the trouble with the Rockefellers except for the real old man. Anyhow getting back to me telling you about the Republican party here, there are the Bourbons and the managerial pragmatists who are coming up as the old Bourbons die off.”

What’s Charlie Barr of Standard Oil?

“He comes from a poor Kansas family, ain’t a Bourbon by birth, thinks he’s a pragmatist but he’s a Bourbon at heart. Charlie started off as a low-level lawyer with Standard but had a lot of conservative friends in the oil business who are in Congress. He started helping the bosses there with contacts so he got promoted to a public affairs guy here with Standard. Charlie thinks he’s a pragmatist but I know him and he’s a transplanted Bourbon. Helluva lot better than the pragmatists are. This fooling around with Goldwater stuff means he’s a man of conviction, of conservative principle. The top floor at Standard’s getting sick of it because they want to nurture ties with Lyndon Johnson. If Charlie were a pragmatist, he’d drop Goldwater right now since Goldwater’s going to be walloped but he’s a man of principle. Charlie’s starting to pay for his sins by being a man of conviction. The other younger guys around Charlie, from other companies, are just new at the game. They’re helping Goldwater because of Charlie but after the loss that’s coming, they’ll be gone with the wind. They’re pragmatists. Not Charlie. They’ll all be for the number one pragmatist of all, Dick Ogilvie pretty soon.”

Who are the pragmatists?

“Harold Byron Smith, Jr. of Illinois Tool who has tons of money, a Bourbon name and breeding, a cousin to the Stuarts, brains, talent, looks and great political sense and a desire to be involved in politics full-time. But he’s a pragmatist. Meaning he wants the Republicans to build a machine like Daley’s. A machine he’d help Ogilvie run. When Goldwater loses, they’ll all be for Ogilvie—except Charlie Barr. Smith’s guy is Jim Mack. Real pragmatic. You’re smart enough not to be rooting for Goldwater but if what you tell me is true you won’t be for Ogilvie after Goldwater loses. They—all of `em—want to build a Republican machine just like Cermak and Daley have for the Democrats. Bad stuff.”

About Ogilvie: He’s smart but I think he has the coldest eyes of anybody in town including old man Daley. Anybody who can’t laugh.,,

“Can’t laugh because he stopped a bullet in the jaw in the war. The way I got it figured: Ogilvie’s the sheriff now. Chuck Percy who’s running for governor against Kerner might make it—although it’s going to be very, very tough with Goldwater heading the national ticket. If Percy wins for governor, he should be a very good one, like I was. But suppose he loses this year to Kerner as I think he will--not because of his fault but because of Goldwater. In two years Ogilvie’ll run for president of the Cook county board and he’s likely to get it. Two years later, 1968, the governorship is up in a presidential year. Ogilvie’d have to quit as president of the board to run for governor—a bad move.”

Lord, you do think far ahead, don’t you?

The little chuckle. “Had to, all my life. Learned it from my Dad.”

If Ogilvie runs for governor in 1968, you’ll run for governor against him for term number three?

“Not saying I am and not saying I’m not. I have better contacts across this state than anyone else in either party, I’ll tell you that. I know more about Illinois than anybody else except Rainville who knows more than even Ev. I’ll be frank with you; there are many people who’d like to see me come back.”

What about the charges they could make against you?

He bristled. I had said something wrong.

“The indictment and all? I was acquitted, you remember? Also, Everett’ll be running that year and we’ll be a team. Great team. Always have, always will. Everett doesn’t like Ogilvie. Doesn’t like people who want to build a machine.”

Tell me again why you didn’t build a machine when you were in for two terms.

“My press guy, Smokey Downey, always told me to build one—use patronage jobs, control the party; look at Tom Dewey in New York and Jim Rhodes in Ohio, that kind of thing. That’s not my view of this business, build a machine. My view is: he who travels fastest travels alone and the name of this business is to travel fast: up and out and on to something else. I wanted to hire good and loyal people and move on—not build an institution. You see, I’ve never been like Daley, wanting to stick around in one job for life. I wanted to do a good job and move on and up, if possible. Let me tell you: Smokey and others came to me when Orville Hodge was in the legislature and said why don’t you hook up with him? Hook up with this guy and that guy. Together you’ll be the boss of the Republican Party like the Democrats have. When Orv announced he was running for State Auditor they said, `now’s the time to consolidate an agreement with him.’ I looked at Orv and thought he’d be after my job sooner or later before I was ready to move on. So I didn’t. And it turned out he was after my job.”

I agree with you about not building a machine.

“They told me Orv had lots of money from either an inheritance or that he married it. Hook up with him. Not on your life. So I didn’t. Let me tell you, I got hurt because he was a crook—something I had nothing to do with—but I’d be dead if I had started a machine and he’d be a principal player in it. He’s in jail now and I’d be dead meat. That’s why I don’t cotton to a machine. The first thing you get is ambitious guys tying their kite to yours, sort of weighing you down; then you get the hangers-on, the lobbyists cutting deals in your name.

“I want guys to work for me and not think about aligning with others to knock me out which is what machine people do. Pete Green [Dwight H. Green, former governor] started a machine and cut my Dad terribly…and tried later to do to me. And he didn’t get to where he wanted to go. No sir, you either govern or build a machine. Adlai for all his failings had it right. He governed—I think not all that well, but he governed—and moved up.”

Unspoken: this is what he had wanted to do for himself—run for president which was not out of the realm of possibility given he was regarded as one of the few Republican outstanding governors of his time.

I wanted him to tell me more so I continued on the old tack: But on the other hand, maybe if you had a machine you wouldn’t have gotten Orville Hodge running for auditor but somebody better and not crooked.

“Naw. You haven’t been listening. I could just as well have backed Orv because nobody knew, me included, that he had the seeds of crookedness in him. Hell, he looked okay to me and to everybody else. If I had a machine I’d probably back him. He was okay when he ran; just when he got in and saw all that money he turned crooked. If I had had a machine I probably would have listened to some of my people tell me this Orv is a comer and I’d back him and start building others up for the future along with him. Well, I told you: he travels fastest who travels alone. I didn’t do anything for Orv or try to set him up for governor while I would run against Douglas—something like that. As it was I got hurt by Orv but not as much as if he and I were buddies. Nobody said he was my man or that I was pushing him. The best thing that happened was that he was planning to run against me—that saved me from being tagged unduly as his sponsor. I tell you, Republicans aren’t Democrats and after you get out of Chicago there’s no way a machine can work.”

He proved wrong, there. We parted on that note and went back to work. To show how generally right Billy the Kid was in pegging his surmises: Chuck Percy did lose to Otto Kerner because of Goldwater. Dick Ogilvie did run for president of the Cook county board and won in 1966. He started to build a kind of machine, electing a Republican Cook county treasurer and other people down the line. Ogilvie did run for governor in 1968. Billy the Kid ran against him in the primary (along with John Henry Altorfer). Charlie Barr split with Ogilvie because he could see a machine getting built but that and having backed Goldwater was, for all practical purposes, the end of Charlie Barr. Stratton tried to appeal to the non-machine Republicans in the primary but ego being the great illusionist, Billy didn’t reckon with the fact that the Orville Hodge case and his own old indictment, even if he did beat the rap, did him in.

Ogilvie won the nomination for governor but didn’t face Otto Kerner who had been named to the federal bench but Sam Shapiro, the lieutenant governor: nice guy but no standout. Ogilvie won. He started building what he hoped would be a modern, Nelson Rockefeller-type of machine: based on patronage yes, but on liberal big government practices which means contracts and favors which produce contributions, spawning a whole generation of Republican operatives, some of whom like Bob Kjellander, are with us yet. He won the undying love of liberals for passing the state income tax which meant greater expenditures and a bigger government ala Rocky in Albany. He thought he could survive the drag for supporting the income tax. But that did him in—with his own party’s grassroots.

He possibly could have been reelected had Paul Simon, the Democratic lieutenant governor, gotten the nomination as everyone supposed. Simon was for the income tax, too and worked with Ogilvie to pass it so it wouldn’t have been an issue. Daley wouldn’t have minded an Ogilvie or a Simon as governor: they were the same to him: both big government men. But the populist, rogue liberal-demagogue Dan Walker who walked the state and talked about “the pee-pul” got the nomination in 1972: something Ogilvie or Daley, the media or anybody else didn’t foresee until too late.

And while Walker was a liberal, he drew support from conservatives on the income tax issue and from city dwellers for his opposition to Daley’s Crosstown Expressway which Ogilvie also wanted. So the man of the pee-pul won. Ogilvie’s machine mates went on to lobby for different things, fusing with the big government ideas of the Democrats. Winding up with Big Jim Thompson who built the “Combine” as John Kass called it of Republicans and Democrats for big projects.

It meant that Billy the Kid was out in the cold, never able to run for anything again—but he still was a good lunch partner.

After Ogilvie got in as governor, I asked Billy the Kid, well, what about the Illinois Republican party building a party staff, you know, like the one I served with in Minnesota and the one that built a good organization—apart from government—in Ohio under the Republican organizational genius, Ray Bliss? That’s not a machine.

“No, but it’ll never work here,” he said. “If I were governor, I’d try to disrupt it because I’d see a strong party as competitive to my interests. I always believe like Everett does: be as strong a political figure as you can but starve the party; keep it weak so you don’t someday have some charismatic state chairman with a built-in staff deciding to run against you. That’d be a page right out of Machiavelli, I guess. A very honest but candid assessment, you’ll admit.”

I do. But you did hire lots of county chairmen and put them in state government jobs.

“Of course. And they all worked, too. Those who didn’t got fired.”

My point is: wasn’t that an attempt to build a machine?

“Just the opposite. It was an attempt to keep the Republican party weak, tying the chairmen into me so they wouldn’t rattle around like loose cannons. None of `em ever had good state jobs. My theory—not ever for publication—was: keep the party weak; build up the governor; do a great job and be gone—up or out.”

So you don’t think the idea of a strong GOP state staff that would serve the entire party not a governor would work with Ogilvie?

“You try that with Ogilvie and he’ll co-opt it and use it as part of his machine.”

We tried it and that’s what happened. Ogilvie co-opted it just as Billy had predicted. To this day the Illinois Republicans have never had a strong GOP party staff. They have always relied on the “Combine” and because of that never experienced one whit of a Reagan revolution.

Not long before he died in 2001, Billy—now an old man, physically failing but still cogent—told me: “The only way the Republicans are going to get back in the governorship of this state is by having a very, very wealthy candidate—and I mean wealthy—run. The way politics is now, when you have an average income Republican candidate, it is too corrupting for him to raise money. Democrats can get away with having average income guys because they have such a built-in advantage of voting blocs: blacks, Hispanics, labor. I’m thinking of a Republican worth a billion or half a billion or something like that. The right guy could be clean, rich, un-bought, un-bossed by special interests. The times when we had good Republican governors (and unlike you, I count Ogilvie one of `em) who were of average, very average, income—like me, if you don’t mind me saying this—are over.”

I think he was right.

1 comment:

  1. I have enjoyed your comments on this subject. The Illinois media have long extolled Richard Ogilvie's "moral and political courage" for pushing the state income tax and the CTA bailout (aka the RTA) through the General Assembly. Also, those same commentators have repeatedly written that the Ogilvie's state income tax saved the state from bankruptcy.

    After reading your articles and other items, I have come to some different conclusions:
    1. The income tax and the RTA legislation had nothing to do with courage of any kind. Rather, Ogilvie was honoring the deal he made with Mayor Daley that made him Cook County Bord President and Governor and trusting Daley to honor his end, which Daley did. I suspect that Daley may have either offered the same deal to Sam Shapiro, Bill Stratton and John Henry Altorfer and they turned him down or he offered it only to Ogilvie, thinking that the others would reject it out of hand.

    2. I think the threat of bankruptcy may not have been to the state of Illinois, but rather to Chicago and the CTA. Alternatively, the Illinois liberals wouldn't have been able to spend the way they wanted to without the help of a state income tax.

    Since you were in Illinois and I wasn't when these events took place, I would much appreciate your take on these two points.