Monday, February 19, 2007

Flashback: 1968: Ogilvie, Mum on State Income Tax in Campaign, is Elected Governor and Goes for It to the Applause of the Liberals. But Had He Used Billy the Kid’s Stratagem Would He Have Been Reelected?

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

Richard Ogilivie, once a darling of Goldwater conservatives, ran as a candidate for governor in 1968 saying nothing about a state income tax one way or another. He won the GOP nomination easily, defeating, among others, Billy the Kid who was trying for a comeback. I voted for Billy the Kid (William G. Stratton) out of old time’s sake: he had been an outstanding two-term governor and he eschewed the idea of a state income tax but, reviewing the state’s financial condition as only he, among the candidates, could do as an acknowledged expert, said its near bankruptcy would be solved by massive budget-pruning or a drastic means of recovery such as an income tax—declaring that he, Stratton, would apply the drastic budget surgery needed and not the income tax solution.

All the while, Ogilvie stayed mum on the issue, stressing that there was a revenue problem but advocating revenue sharing as a solution; but he knew it would not be a solution since revenue sharing, a propensity of the Nixon administration which had been elected with him, would not arrive on time.

It was not until his first budget message, that Ogilvie tackled the income tax. He delivered his budget message asking for a huge $4 billion, an unheard of proposal—which made evident that Ogilvie was going to be a big-spender governor in the style of Nelson Rockefeller. To raise the $4 billion he outlined a sizable package of revenue bills which led off with a 4% income tax on individuals and corporations. Ogilvie received total support from Mayor Richard J. Daley. The process took many months during which time it was amended with some of the miscellaneous taxes in his budget dropped and the income tax rates set at 2.5% for individuals and 4% for corporations. The state Supreme Court held the state income tax constitutional. The new governor had planned to use the income tax revenue on schools, universities, welfare, mass transit, parks and a lot list of government services. Public aid costs were rising dramatically; he tried to make certain reductions in welfare payments but was blocked by a court order in Cook county.

The media and editorial boards joined the campaign and everybody agreed that Dick Ogilvie was a helluva guy: courageous, realistic, prescient, to recognize that big government is here to stay and should be adequately financed. Shortly after Ogilvie came out for the income tax and was lauded as a statesman, the Gang of 3—Billy the Kid, Charlie Barr (Standard Oil [Ind.]) and I sat down for lunch to digest the news—which was, in fact, the last time we three ever met.

Charlie started out by asking Stratton as a two-time former governor what he would do in the situation since in his abortive primary campaign Stratton had declared he would not support the idea of a state income tax. Stratton’s answer was classic.

“The first thing I would do would be to arrange a meeting with Daley. At times like this Daley can be a realist. I’d tell him this: `Dick, your people—your constituency—and liberal voters across the state generally can be expected to favor the income tax. My people across the state are generally anti-income tax. Your people are those who more largely depend on state services; my people generally are those who do not. I will tell you this frankly, were I you I would see the dire fiscal emergency of the state as an ideal opportunity to get an income tax. If so, my dear mayor—and I agree with you on the opportunity—you would have to pay the price. That means you will have to do the heavy lifting for this thing.

“`My public position will be unalterable: I oppose the income tax and will cut services back to the bone. My budget must be rejected by an overwhelming number of Democrats to which I shall supply some Republicans. In that way, forces in the legislature on both sides will be able to contrive it so the income tax bill can pass but I must be placed in a position that the tax is inevitable and my signature is indispensable to keeping the state out of bankruptcy. . Any attempt to put the blame on me for the tax by your party initially will result in its not being passed and services starved—or if the partisan attacks on me would continue after passage, I shall veto the goddamned thing and I mean it. I can live with that politically. I can live with being a hero of the right for vetoing the income tax. But I cannot with the onus of income tax supporter.

“So, Richard, I will repeat: ‘At the outset I will support a draconian budget with severe cuts and am willing to take the heat for it from your party. If my budget which calls for grave cuts is declared dead on arrival by the Democrats and a number of my own party—I will understand and there will be an accommodation so that a budget with an income tax will be advanced by the minority—your party, Dick—and supported by a minority of my party which whom I will disagree. But only in that situation will I sign the bill. I am willing to take the heat from my people for signing it but I must—I repeat must—be able to prove that the Democrats and certain lawmakers in my own party made my decision inevitable. With that and with the acknowledgment of the Democrats, we can go into the next election and debate other things since both sides will have played a role in the income tax being passed and signed.’”

I said, brilliant if he would go along with it. Would he?

Charlie groaned.

Stratton replied, “Knowing him well, I think he would.”

Charlie grunted, shook his head and began, “well--.”

Stratton interrupted. “Charlie, I know what you’re going to say and it’s wrong. Dick has done it wrong by coming out for the tax because of two reasons: first, he is a man of no finesse; second he does want to ape Rockefeller. In these things he is wrong, but is courageous and has recognized that government today is a major enterprise and it must be funded sensibly. He is a courageous governor for doing so. This will kill him politically but it was a prudent and statesmanlike thing to do.”

“B. S.,” said Charlie. “This palaver of statesmanship! It’s the easiest thing in the world to court special interests that want to line up at the trough with a tax hike. I agree that Ogilvie is not going to survive it, though.”

You mean he will lose in 1972?

“Of course. His plan is to get reelected and be considered a modern governor in the style of Nelson Rockefeller and possibly be considered for president. But that won’t happen for three reasons. Dick is as magnetic as a lead nail for one thing; and secondly, hiking taxes is not the way to go. Third, this martyrdom thing which will play well in the liberal press fails to discern that Ogilvie believes every man has his price which he is prepared to pay but in return for which he expects absolute loyalty. Just as Daley.”

Stratton said acidly, “it’s a marvelous thing to be able to foreclose most public services, cut off the needy, go to bed at night and sleep the peace of the just and all the while expect to be reelected, Charlie.”

“Don’t get into this business of how I can sleep at night, Bill, because you’ll lose that duel with me sure as shooting. The income tax will be passed but he’ll be defeated. He’ll be retired and converted into a multi-millionaire as the gratitude for these recipient groups including big business which will reward him with legal contracts and board directorships, having gotten used to bigger and bigger government. The gratitude will get extended to the editorial boards and the like. What bothers me is that he made the duplicitous act of pretending to be a conservative Republican. Just as you have done on occasion, Bill. Why do you guys go to the bother? What separates you from liberal Democrats? What separates the Republican party essentially—the party of Ogilvie-- from the party of Richard J. Daley? Very fine distinctions—hardly any.”

Stratton jabbed at the butter with his knife. “Are you finished?”

“Let me say this. This thing will breed corruption. The plans he has are to extend the government of Nelson Rockefeller to this state—to, for example, set up an Illinois environmental agency which will imitate what Rocky has done in New York. The corruption will come when the two parties act interchangeably, with officials leaving state employ to become lobbyists, with political donations used to gain favors from the government rather than to change government. What will occur is this: a whole generation of young people will grow up, whether Republican or Democrat, reflecting big government.”

“That’s old fashioned talk, Charlie,” said Stratton. “There are plenty of distinctions between the two parties. We Republicans have the chance of being the party of prudent management; the Democrats can either emulate us or, as I suspect, be like the Democrats, the party of outrageous growth and duplication and patronage—but to say that state government should not be modernized from what it was a generation ago is wrong. Already there are plans for a Con-Con to reform state government even more.”

Barr poked a forefinger at the former governor: “Are you saying to me that the Republican administration of Dick Ogilvie will be exempt from patronage favors and patronage corruption because they are Republican?”

Stratton said, “don’t point you finger at me, brother. I don’t like it.”

“I will,” said Barr, “because what you’re saying is pure folly. Both parties will have been corrupted by this action in twenty years time and the public will be sickened by the sameness of them.”

I said, “but Charlie will you at least acknowledge that Dick Ogilvie has done the courageous thing by coming out for the income tax fair and square rather than use the stratagem Bill has outlined?”

Charlie said, “no I will not!” Either one gets into this business to do what is right or he does not. Bill is a master of surreptitious maneuver which is why he is sitting here today with us rather than in the state house. The voters have recognized that in him.”

Charlie, I said, that is unfair. Bill has had a successful two terms as governor and you know yourself has paid the price for scandals that were not his doing and were out of his control.

Stratton arose and said, “I thank you for your kind words, Tom. Obviously Charlie belongs to that kind of ideological mind-set that cannot tolerate negotiations or anything beyond primer-level civics—a mindset for which the Republican party will pay dearly over the years. Arch-conservatives who forget nothing but learn nothing. I’ll take the bill and will say good-day, gentlemen.”

Now as to the predictions. Ogilvie signed the income tax, took the heat for it from the public and from wild-card Democratic candidate Dan Walker and was defeated. He became a millionaire, even multi-. He was praised by the editorial boards and liberal students of Illinois government ever since. The two parties moved almost indistinguishably closer together with Jim Thompson, Jim Edgar and finally the denouement of George Ryan. There were patronage abuses in both state and city governments. The Republican party appears intellectually bankrupt. The Democratic party is in the full bloom of health despite divisions.


And now your opinion. Given that Charlie proved right in his predictions, who was ultimately correct in his view of responsible Republican government —Billy the Kid or Charlie Barr? Was Billy’s view the correct one and should Ogilvie have tried it? If Charlie’s theory of root starvation of government services to balance the budget without an income tax had been adopted, would the GOP be any better off today?


  1. It would seem to me that things would be better off. From your descriptions of the current stature of the Republican Party in IL, it certainly couldn't get any worse.

    If misery loves company, you need to view the Republicans in CT, and in the Northeast in general.

  2. Lovie's LeatherFebruary 19, 2007 at 2:20 PM

    One way or the other, the democrats were going to take over Illinois. Thompson and Edgar just delayed the inevitable... and Ryan forced the inevitable (oddly enough). Stratton was right about patronage though and big gov't political parties. The fact is, in a state like Illinois, you have to settle for the Oligvies to keep the Blagojevichs out. A Peter Fitzgerald type, a conservative in a liberal state, is a rarity indeed. Yeah there is Mitt Romney and Don Carcieri in the Northeast, but they are the exceptions to the rule. When you don't have the Patakis or the Whitmans, the party becomes dead in a liberal state. First you don't have the governor's office shortly after you lose the state house and senate along with almost all statewide offices, then you start losing GOP US House seats. Then you lose a good Senator because the moderates can't learn their place either. Then you lose all statewide seats, the democrats have a 2/3 majority in the Senate, and here we are and all we can do is wait for the democrats to really muck things up. Now, who's philosophy got us in to this mess, Stratton or Oligvie???

  3. The bottom line is that Illinois Government and corruption grew exponentially in the last thirty-five years, Ogilvie took the heat for the Income tax and the credibility of the GOP was seriously damaged. Have you noticed that in every state where Rockefeller Republicans controlled state government, the Republican party was substantially weaker at the end of their tenure than at the beginning (i.e., fewer U.S. House seats, fewer statwewide offices, fewer seats in the state legislature and fewer county and local offices)?

  4. Lovie wrote:

    The fact is, in a state like Illinois, you have to settle for the Oligvies to keep the Blagojevichs out.

    Why? and what about the dynamics of a changing environment.

    In my view, Ogilvie Clones (Thompson, Edgar, Ryan, Topinka, and the cast of Bozos in the Leg. & SCC) merely keep a junkie alive with methadone, when what is really needed is to give the junkie a straight shot to the grave with Blago's Crystal Meth.

    Illinois gets the government its craven population deserves...or not. Why should decent people put up with Republican Pigs? It's much more fun to watch the coming crash and either a) pick up the pieces, or b) leave the state for better climes and watch the train wreck from the blogosphere.

    It's not that I don't see where you are coming from, but if the US can turn away from the moronic Carterist 70s, then Illinois can turn away from the Patronage, Pork, Payroll, and Pension Pigs.

    There is no guarantee that Oberweis could have beaten Blago, but he would have come closer, and the party wouldn't
    have lost all those seats in the process. I thank Bill Brady for that, and hope others thank him as well.

    I can get the concept of compromising to prevent a worse outcome, but not with the disgusting class of idiots that have taken over a once decent party.

    The Ogilvie clones are failures. All that is left is for the decent people in the party to put a stake through the heart of these clones, put salt in their mouths, sew them shut, drag them out in the sun, and watch their dust scatter in the wind.

    They don't like Blago? Why should I care? They can bill me.