Friday, April 6, 2007

Flashback: Week Days in D. C., Weekends in Chicago with the Kids as Republicans Prepare to Give Illinois a State Income Tax.

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

Coming back to Chicago for weekends with Lillian and the kids kept me sane. All the while, in D. C. David Koch and the Commerce Communications Control network of moles-for-Roeser kept me informed. The consensus was that we were at an impasse: I was free to run the agency as I wished without interference and they were loath to knock me off for public relations reasons. An admirable standoff.

The weekend breathers also kept me in close touch with the Illinois GOP dualism as Governor Richard B. Ogilvie who hadn’t endorsed a state income tax when he ran in 1968 (for had he done so he would certainly have been defeated for the nomination as well as in the general election) did what Charlie Barr had long predicted in our luncheons with Billy the Kid (William G. Stratton, the former governor). Ogilvie had started out as a Goldwater devotee but decided to become instead a supporter of bigger state government. Once he was elected by keeping his mouth shut on an income tax, he resolved to pass one. He was joined by a walking anomaly—State Senate Republican leader W. Russell Arrington, who had also been regarded as a conservative but who in his long legislative tenure had begun to savor government’s flavor—with people looking up to him as the engineer of the train. That feeling of power had corrupted a good many people; in any event, both Ogilvie and Arrington decided to go the Democrats one better and pass an income tax which would produce enough revenue to cause people to look up at them admiringly—the emperor complex.

The luncheon debates between Charlie Barr and Bill Stratton underscored the dilemma that conservatism always faces when the choice is between keeping government small, relatively weak, decentralized and allowing major decisions to be made by local communities rather than a centralized political leader of the state. Egotism was tied to the desire of both men to be recognized as powerful: and in this way egotism interfered with the goal of conservative ideology which in their earliest days they supported. Bill Stratton, an excellent governor by liberal reckoning, recognized and applauded what Ogilvie and Arrington were doing as an example of vision and progressivism. At one stage of the game I tended to agree with Stratton rather than Barr. But seeing what a larger state government has produced—and the insatiable cry for more and more money—I confess I’m on the side of Charlie Barr. But I am in no position to condemn unconditionally. I too fell from conservative grace to take on the Commerce job. Had I been sufficiently conservative when it was offered, I would have turned it down.

But had I turned it down, let’s face it, I wouldn’t have had so many memories—both good and painful—as I have now.

On one of the weekend trips to Chicago, I was asked to stop in a see Ogilvie at his Chicago office on a Saturday afternoon. He was interested in starting an Illinois unit of government dedicated to minority enterprise and we talked about coordination. In the back of my mind was the glimmer that this great governmental expansionist had seen my federal program as something to glom on to and to duplicate in Illinois.

But we talked about the income tax. This was in July, 1969. The Republican House had passed the state income tax on June 30—the House by vote of 91 to 73 with 69 Republicans and 22 Democrats in support and 25 Republicans and 22 Democrats opposed (a handful either voted present or skipped voting altogether). The struggle was over the fact that the bill worked out between Ogilvie and Richard J. Daley would assess 3% on both corporations and individuals—a flat rate. A group of populist Democrats including downstate Representative Clyde Choate (a hugely popular lawmaker who was a Congressional Medal of Honor winner) warred against the notion of people paying the same rate as corporations; they wanted, of course, corporations taxed on a higher level.

Then insurgents introduced an amendment—2.5% on individuals and 4% on corporations sweetened with an agreement providing 1/12th of the revenue be rebated to local governments as block grants to aid school districts, reduce real estate taxes and for other purposes—mostly pork. Municipalities and counties would receive a greater share from the 5-cent per dollar state sales tax; there would be a gross receipts tax on cigarettes, beer and other booze. The compromise hiked state gas tax and vehicle registration fees with a trust authority empowered to issue $2 billion to finance road building and repairs.

It passed the so-called conservative GOP Senate by a narrow margin—35 to 21--and back to the Republican House where it passed rather easily given its controversial nature, 91 to 73 (69 Republicans and 22 Democrats supporting; 25 Republicans and 48 Democrats opposing). But to get it through the Senate—which was the toughest part--Ogilvie cut a deal with two black Democratic senators to give the Illinois FEPC power to initiate investigations rather than passively waiting for complaints—putting government there in high gear. Ogilvie joyously signed the bill on July 1, ecstatic that he would have tons of money for improving highways. When I met with him later in mid-July, near my birthday, he was still excited.

I asked him this: What happened to the old Dick Ogilvie who seemed to thrill at the Goldwater “revolution” of 1964—to become the Dick Ogilvie who is overjoyed with passage of his income tax which gives him so much more revenue to spend? What happened to the old Ogilvie?

He did not take it amiss.

“You’ve got to remember that Goldwater and what you call the Goldwater revolution had very little to do with curtailed spending,” he said. “It was a reaction against LBJ and included law-and-order, efforts to fight crime in the streets. People who call themselves conservatives are just like anybody else—they bitch when their house is on fire and the fire engine doesn’t come quickly enough. They bitch when they’re held up and there’s no cop on the beat. They want services. No, you don’t understand what the Goldwater revolution was and what it wasn’t. It was frustration against a president who got us involved in Vietnam which he didn’t have the guts to win. It was frustration with crime in the streets, with the riots following the King death, with seeming anarchy.”

Good political answer but I doubt it. Goldwater embraced all those things but also a disenchantment with big government—busing, social engineering. And Dick Ogilvie became quite a social engineer—to the point of telling downstaters they couldn’t even burn leaves in the Fall, as I’ll explain later.

He justified himself also by saying that job of a governor or chief executive of any public enterprise is to take risks with popularity by doing things that the people might not regard warmly. Think about that for a minute. It sounds Rooseveltian but would not the proper way have been to simply avoid using the duplicitous arts until the people themselves got to the point of almost begging for improvements? Ogilvie paid for his lavishness by being defeated for reelection where he went down in popularly written state history as a martyr. Arrington to the end of his life envied Ogilvie getting “credit” for the tax hike—which shows that for all his pomposity he was politically dull-witted; Arrington lost his edge as result of the tax hike and his rationale as a business-oriented conservative died: he was just another pol. And now in 2007, Illinois is in the position now of having the same old liberals banging the same old drums: lack of revenue is “starving state services” including that sacred cow “education” of which 70% of the largesse goes to teachers not to the kids in the classrooms.

Other factors figured in Ogilvie’s defeat. He was far from charismatic. A born-again environmentalist, his state EPA issued an order banning the burning of leaves in the Fall—at election time—because of the pollution the smoke would carry in the air. That was a major factor in doing him in downstate. Instead of running as a conservative—which by 1972 he wasn’t—he ran as one extolling the vast public works he had produced as result of the income tax. But the income tax, in the last analysis, did it.


  1. He climed the latter too fast, and he spelled the word "PARTY" with an "I". He was, as you say, non-charismatic and he ran against a man (Walker) who was charasmatic (and phony, in my opinion.) Ogilvie's big mistake was the State Income Tax. The Democrats blamed him for it. I often wished Governor Stratton had been nominated in 1968. He was the best governor of my lifetime and I am almost 68.

  2. Shouldn't we go to Springfield and ring the capitol building with horns honking to stop the GR tax? Why not a little civil unrest and a little civil disobediance now and then? Or is that not PC for conservatives?
    Tom listen hard to this one? Do we as conservative ALWAYS have to take the high road and turn the other cheek? IS this the Catholic or Christian way to do it? Be nice until you are fed to the lions?

    I for one think it is HIGH time we turned over the tables of the money changers!!! WHY NOT TOM? Or do you and your wife at this point desire only the comfy life? Tom from this blog and your talk show you could lead the political "charge" on Springfield to STOP the GR tax!!!!!

    IF there is ONE ISSUE that could bring the demoralized Republican party of this state together it is STOPPING this tax and the GOVERNOR AND THE MEDIA BE DAMNED! Or should we just wimp out Tom and pray the Rosery?