Monday, April 9, 2007

Flashback: Ogilvie and Arrington, Determined to “Make Government Run Like a Business,” Were Really Public Sector Entrepreneurs.

[Fifty years of politics remembered for my kids and grandchildren].

These photos taken at home on weekends away from Washington show the home-body. The delightful child with the smile over my shoulder is Mary Catherine, now Mrs. Tom Magnor of Brookfield, Wisconsin; she is either listening to my stories of how great an athlete I was as a young man and smiling in disbelief—or thrilling to the saga of Hubert Humphrey (before yawning). The second one, as I prepared to executive a forward pass, was taken to show my kids how at ease I was football. They didn’t believe it for a minute but a photo can’t lie, can it?


The last “Flashback” dealt with Dick Ogilvie. This will be about Ogilvie and his legislative ally, W. Russell Arrington.

One thing that formed my opinion about Richard B. Ogilvie is a statement that didn’t have anything to do with the state income tax. One of his allies, State Senator John Joseph (Jack) Jack Lanigan, an Irish Catholic Republican from the South Side of Chicago, had passed a bill that approved a minute of silence in public schools for either prayer or reflection, this to counteract the Supreme Court ruling against compulsory prayer in public school. Trying to get Lanigan to support his income tax proposal, Ogilvie agreed to sign the legislation into law. As he did, however, he told the press, “well, I hope I’ll have a few more important things to sign than this legislation.”

That statement, printed in the papers, was given wide approval by the secular media: but it told me a lot more about Ogilvie than I had learned from talking with him. Ergo: An income tax hike bill was better than a bill that provided kids with a balance from the usurpative Supreme Court decision that ruled out public expression of God in the classroom.

He was at bottom a dour Scottish secularist nominal Presbyterian whose chilly heart and cold eyes could freeze the testicles of a frog. Those who lamented his laconic, mechanistic style have assumed…and tried to imagine…a deeper, more humanitarian side that avoided coverage through natural reserve. But it was not there: not in the slightest. With Ogilvie what you saw was what you got: an ice cube. Once when we ended up sitting together on a plane going to Springfield while he was sheriff, I asked him this: Are you bothered by the rule of capital punishment in Illinois that gives you, as Cook county’s top law enforcement official, the last-choice power to throw the switch on the electric chair…the then favorite means of execution? He bit down on his pipe (in that era you could smoke on a plane) and looked at me in surprise. “No, why?” While in my view capital punishment should be utilized as a last resort, I never, ever, talked to a governor or law enforcement official…or any conservative leader whatsoever including death penalty supporters…who didn’t tremble at the audacity of his serving as an arm of the state in taking a human life. Ogilvie was the first nonplused by the power.

That’s was how he was. He could easily have been a mortician, embalmer or death row electrician , in the old days, hangman, in these an injector of fatal serum. He was not comfortable with discussions of God or purpose. He was, along with W. Russell Arrington, a leading exponent of state positivism, a particularly empirical and soulless view of life. The fact that a war wound had frozen his face and made it nearly impossible for him to smile cut has been cited as an unfair smile-less representer of the governor. Nah. The same kind of wound from World War II afflicted another politician I knew well, Minnesota DFL governor Orville Freeman who was struck by shrapnel in the face and had trouble smiling. Yet one didn’t have trouble understanding that Freeman had a heart. He bled when cut; was exuberant in victory, depressed in defeat. Not so the unfeeling Ogilvie.

Not long after I had a session with Ogilvie, the ex-Goldwater partisan converted into a big government CEO, I met at his request with his colleague, the Senate leader and strongest legislator in Illinois government, W. Russell Arrington, the state Senate president who was second only to Ogilvie in power. Ostensible reason: as Ogilvie had been interested in starting a state minority enterprise effort, he wanted Arrington to be informed on the thing so he could introduce state legislation that would dovetail with my agency.

Fundamentally they had the same goals with vastly different personalities. If Ogilvie was a laconic, charmless politician—with cold eyes and the efficiency of the Big Brother in Charlie Chaplin’s classic “Modern Times” —Arrington was the exact opposite. He was a passionate believer, not in God or religion but in (a) getting ahead and (b) gaining power and running things as an autocrat. After he got ahead in law and business, he got ahead in state government by proclaiming he would run the legislative engine like a business. Except that legislating is not a business nor is government. Someone with a philosophical underpinning of a conservative would wish to trim government, foreshorten it, make it accountable.

But Arrington was not a conservative (nor was Ogilvie). They were soul-mates (Ogilvie without the warmth) of a man I knew well, Hubert Humphrey. Humphrey wanted to buy the world a Coke. They wanted government to buy the world a Coke but to exact from the Coke people ample campaign funds and jobs for themselves so as to produce a structure that was monolithic: the corporate state. Humphrey usually forgot the pay-back part to his advisers’ dismay. No dour Ogilvie, Arrington was like Humphrey in fun-loving irreverence. That’s about all.

A red-faced Irish Catholic bantam rooster from Gillespie, Illinois who shucked his faith much earlier, a miner’s son, who worked his way up from grinding poverty to multi-millionaire status, William Russell Arrington had burned the candle at both ends, taxing his weak heart with a workaholic’s schedule, then, instead of resting, working just as strenuously at off-hours play…smoking cigars, partying, chasing around, fraternizing in Springfield with other pols, inhaling the smoky air deeply into his lungs, exploding regularly with hair-trigger temper, coughing as if he were due to expire any minute while his cheeks turned blue as he struggled to get air, staying up to all hours…all with one end in view—or so he thought: applying business managerial methods to legislating and governance.

The thing with Arrington you had to watch…similar to a man I worked with for many years in the private sector…was a blow-torch temper that would seize him and turn him into an erupting Mt. Vesuvius where he would flail about saying things he would later regret—but saying them to gain relief from the tension. You would imagine that anger had gotten the better of him but it had not: it was a contrivance much as a baby throws a fit in a playpen, to get what it wanted. Anger was something he could control; it was that he chose not to.

But of the two—Ogilvie and Arrington—the once red-haired Arrington, profane, belligerent, irascible, irreverent, scatological and a pinwheel of color, would be the guy you would choose to spend time with rather than the antiseptic, laconic, occasionally tart-tongued Ogilvie. If you had a heart attack in the company of Arrington, W. Russell would give you mouth-to-mouth (which could revive you from the alcoholic content of his breath alone) and raise hell on the phone or screaming out the window until the paramedics came. If a heart attack struck when you were wish Ogilvie, he’d get around to calling paramedics but, while waiting for them to arrive, turn to his bulky valise for reading to bide his time. If they arrived in time, good; if not, he would tell you as you gasped your last it your fault for not taking sufficient care of yourself anyhow. But now to Arrington.

Born in 1906 the only child to a poor coal mining family, Arrington tossed off his Catholic religion when he was a young man because he didn’t see the need in pondering abstracts about the hereafter—he was too concerned about the here and now. He came of age as a blue-collar worker in wild and woolly East St. Louis which had night-long saloons and bordellos scattered throughout the main drag. He worked his way through the U of I and law school (law school grades were just average), got a job at a LaSalle street law firm just before the Depression where he saved one bank client from foreclosure (Forman bank which was assimilated into the First National Bank of Chicago) and studied the law thoroughly so he could apply his expertise for plaintiffs and defendants in foreclosure proceedings. Then he turned his attention to tax law with the same ferocious energy. He got some clients, not overwhelming in number, and moved to Evanston. He was waiting for the big client strike.

In Evanston, then a heavily Republican town of business where GOPers could become clients, he was led by his savvy reason to avoid the Democratic party of his forebears and get involved in Republican politics, which he did by becoming the chairman of the Evanston Young Republicans. It was a fortunate event that in putting together a fund-raising dance for his group, he recruited as chairman of the event another young man whom everyone seemed to veer away from. One who loved to dance but was eccentric, strange and a bit of an oddball—W. Clement Stone. He looked like a Keystone cop, the one driving the police car who when asked to turn over the wheel to someone else, pulled the wheel off the steering rod and handed it to the other one.

Making Stone, another Catholic fallen-away, chairman of the dinner dance—a simple-sounding soul who kept shouting, “I feel gre-a-a-t!” with a pencil-line mustache, patent-leather hair and a raucous laugh that turned heads and caused the sophisticated to shrink away—was the smartest thing Arrington ever did. Stone, then making his second or third million, was an odd duck but Arrington was fascinated. For the dance Stone set up a mechanical robot who would stride around, speak in a disconnected way and even smoke a cigar. As everybody gasped, Stone divulged the secret: he had hired a midget to hide inside the thing. There were light titters from the crowd which drifted away from him. But Arrington was fascinated. And there began a relationship that had Stone name Arrington as his general counsel in the Combined Insurance company and as a partner when the two bought Alberto Culver, the hair lotion company.

Once a long time ago when I worked for Quaker—forty years ago--I was waiting for a plane at O’Hare to take me to Washington and I saw the self-same patent-leather-haired Stone with pencil mustache…he was then seventy but whose looks had not changed since the 1920 (he lived to be 100)…waiting for the plane. I changed my ticket to first-class and having known the ticket agent since I was a frequent flier, got the seat next to the old man. I wanted to find out for myself what the secret was for someone born at the corner of Van Buren and Clark in the old days to make nearly a billion dollars. How persuasive was he?

I was rewarded with a never-stopping chatter which produced unutterable tedium. His loquaciousness was so vapid, punctured with guffaws and hearty slaps on my shoulder, that I wondered how possible it was to re-transfer back to coach. Every possible cliché was invoked except “passengers will please refrain from flushing toilets before the flight begins” and “please clean the sink as other passengers will be using it.” At one point I asked him about religion. He said: “Christian religion but I talk to God every day.”

I asked: how do you do it—supplicant to Deity, I suppose.

“No,” he said, and he groped for a descriptive.

CEO to CEO? I supplied.

He didn’t get the irony. “Uh, something like that.”

The young Russ Arrington had gritted his teeth and mastered the boredom with one purpose: to use it to get ahead. My view would be that getting ahead in this manner was not worth it.

From that time on they were fast friends and Arrington handled Stone’s legal affairs and tax matters. Together as a team they bought Alberto Culver. Stone begged Arrington to become his property full-time, move to his building and be his lawyer, but Arrington would have none of it, wisely determining to keep his law firm in the LaSalle Bank Building, carrying the title vice president-legal affairs; his only clients were Stone and Alberto Culver. Historians say, that way, Arrington avoided being labeled as Stone’s man. I also think that way Arrington kept himself sane.

As Stone piled mega millions into a billion dollars, Arrington had enough money on his own—some $80 million to $100 million then--and through his friendship with Stone to get elected to the state House, then the state Senate. By the time he got to the state Senate, he decided to run the place. His so-called conservative rationale was to run the legislature like a business; but Arrington was too smart to really believe that just as Ogilvie was too smart to imagine state government would be run like a business.

Running the place was the thrill. And for Arrington, running the place was easy. The Republicans controlled the body and all GOP senators needed campaign funds. Arrington arranged that between himself and Stone. He became chairman of the Republican state Senate campaign committee, put on enormous dinners, used his own and Stone’s contacts to fill banquet halls with $100 a plate givers and just grabbed the leadership of the state Senate through ob/scene campaign over-spending that dwarfed the Democrats.

When Arrington in the Senate said he would run the senate like a business, he meant his own entrepreneurial business—expanding services and enlarging his own power. As he succeeded, his irascible temper cowed people. This made people loath to tell him anything smacking of bad news or to contradict him. His enormous financial resources gave him unchecked power. He had very little savoir faire, was just blunder-buss. And “blunder” being the first word in the descriptive, he often had to pull in his horns after something he said offended people who were not swayed by his fortune. He pulled in his horns only once: when he came out for “open covenants” and almost lost control of his party in the Senate. He sat quietly, subdued while his colleagues ripped him apart. In the end, he kept his leadership post.

Approaching him was difficult--with questions as to how he changed from conservative to public government architect…and who hadn’t yet realized how he had changed. It had to be done subtly with some respect for the art of condescension. The question I put went this way:

Mr. President [the title he enjoyed], you began your public service with a wish to transform the legislature—initially the senate—like a business. How did you proceed in that effort?

“The first thing I found out when I got down there [Springfield] was that all the cards were in the hands of the executive and very few in the legislative. The executive had the experts, paid with taxpayers’ money, to serve up reports…some of which were lop-sided, some okay, none exactly good…which would be, as I said, served up to us. We had very little help, only a modicum of clerical. If it can be said that I did anything at all, it was to get the legislature staffed up with experts so that in questioning the executive we would have access to the latest research in order to make our case…and in so doing, allow the taxpayers to benefit from both sides having the benefit of expertise so the end-product would be better. I think we’ve done that.”

What he did was build a second government in the legislature to rival the executive. The experts Arrington hired were in connection with Sam Gove of the U of I who found bright interns, willing to work their hearts out for an autocratic tyrant who treated them like dirt—but who savored the experience of working for a turbine-driven dynamo whose street-smarts gave them the expertise to craft their own careers. Literally hundreds of young people—almost all men—went through that process including future governor Jim Edgar.

There was one thing wrong with the effort. Arrington didn’t want to cut down the size of government. He wanted to make government more efficient. There’s a fallacy there. An ideal model for efficient government was, I suppose, Hitler’s SS. One would have to apply more than efficiency to the product—but begin imbued with the philosophy that government should be reduced, by which it would automatically be more efficient and cut back. In that sense, interns savvy in economics and free-market would be helpful. But that is not the way Arrington wanted it. His ideal intern were poly sci types or potential lawyers. He wanted (a) government to be made more entrepreneurial, serve more markets, which meant it had to grow more facets and (b) he wanted to consolidate power to himself as a kind of satisfying way to justify the many hours he put in.

His first thought was to run for governor himself; but he wisely knew himself. He was not an ideal candidate because of his profanity which was nearly uncontrollable and his short-fuse temper which was but which he used effectively to get what he wanted and would not dispense with. Moreover, more important, his health was in precarious shape. He had several light heart attacks, news of which he kept to himself. His doctors told him to cut down, stop smoking cigars, curtail the drinking and the chasing leading up to one saying he should actually get out of the legislature, retire and relax. That was not for him. So one day when Dick Ogilvie, as president of the Cook county board, dropped in to see him and ask him to support his candidacy for governor, Arrington did it. From that day on, Arrington allowed Ogilvie to take the lead in public but kept his supreme legislative power intact.

There is a funny story that says after Ogilvie got elected and deduced that the state needed more revenue which would come from the passage of a state income tax, he met with Arrington and all their research-savvy aides in the governor’s office. Ogilvie said that it seemed apparent that they would have to pass an income tax; that the measure would start in the House but have to have strong support in the Senate. Arrington is reputed to have exploded, “what kind of silly, stupid goddamn fool do you think would introduce it in the Senate?” And Ogilvie puffed thoughtfully on his pipe, took it out of his mouth and said, “You, Russ.” Funny story but apocryphal. Arrington had long before concluded from his entrepreneurial sense that the income tax was needed. More money for more government. Neither man was a conservative.

There were two factors that made Arrington the powerhouse he was. First, his own huge wealth, produced as result of his association with W. Clement Stone the insurance magnate and second with their joint investment in Alberto Culver. That wealth made Arrington the natural go-to guy for all Republican politicians. But the crux of the matter is this: the same entrepreneurial juices that spurred an investment banker to take a risk on building a new industry are those that entice a public sector politician-entrepreneur to grow his product—which is government.

Thus for the benefit of this exercise, neither Ogilvie nor Arrington were conservatives. They were big government entrepreneurs. The interesting thing is that after they passed the income tax, Ogilvie was defeated and Arrington’ Republican majority became a minority. State Senator Jack Lanigan whose arm was twisted to vote for the tax was defeated, ending hope for a conservative movement in the outskirts of Chicago.

The Democratic lieutenant governor, Paul Simon, became the one who so often broke the tie in the Ogilvie administration—the first and only time the two offices were split…and which will never happen again as both are elected on the same ticket. Thereupon Arrington on the floor of the Senate would thunder to Simon who was presiding in memorably hot language—but the battles were really over turf. One example showed everything. When Simon was elected lieutenant governor, he deserved to move into the huge office that Arrington had occupied as president pro-tem. Arrington wouldn’t surrender it—no matter how bad the press he got. Turf was it; entrepreneurial government was it. Eventually he did but then a massive stroke in 1971 deprived him of speech and the ability to walk. To his credit he masterfully regained partial speech and locomotion—but never again was he to thunder again his orations. In 1978 he died at 73.

Nothing about the foregoing detracts from the colorful picture of a master legislator and politician who probably set the pace for the modernization of legislatures across the country. But say what you will, Russ Arrington was no conservative. And the tax bill he wanted to get credit for was overreach, killed him politically, lost his Senate majority and the governorship for his party.

What does that tell you? It tells me that there should only be one party that concentrates on expanding government; a second party that does that is of no use and loses its base. A second party should be a counter-government party: seeking lower tax rates, substantially reduced size of government, reduced regulation. Therein is a system of checks and balances. Today, there is no future for a big government Republican, I believe. Reagan was in addition to being a theoretical, philosophical and practical genius, a small-government adherent who had to rise about principle to build a big defense department. But his sense was libertarian.

What the Republican party needs is a controlling philosophy opposite to Ogilvie’s and Arrington’s, Nixon’s, Rockefeller’s and George W. Bush’s. A laissez-faire, largely libertarian philosophy. Nationally, the philosophy of Richard Nixon and George W. Bush was to make government more entrepreneurial. Wrong. There is no place for two parties doing the same thing. Republicanism should be to reduce the size and scope of government and should not fathom ways to hike the tax revenue but to cut its size, not to impress heavier burdens on businesses who remain but lighter to encourage others to relocate here. A good candidate for governor here these days in Illinois would propose to slash heavily at the bureaucracy and eliminate the income tax which would spur business and with it the tax base. To rely on Right to Work. It has taken me a long time to learn that and when he federal service I was another entrepreneurial public servant. I may even have done some good. But cutting taxes and government would have been better.

And at my age, I’ve learned it--better late than never.


  1. Tom-
    I lit up your BLOG early, as I often do, but it was sans images refered to, etc.

    Later today I check again, and JOY!

    If you would have just sent the pics of you and yours (and Ms. Naomi- me oh' my) it would have been another great chapter in your saga.

    Reading about Arrington & Ogilvie was hard work indeed, to put it mildly-

  2. Lovie's LeatherApril 9, 2007 at 4:10 PM

    For a guy that wants to use government power to end abortion, you want a more libertarian philosophy and a republican party that reduces the size and scope of government... right. Maybe you should have voted for Judy....