[Fifty years plus of politics written as a memoir for my kids and grandchildren].
When I had accumulated enough experience to run the board at WLS
meaning punch the right buttons, keep an ear out for obscenities, go to break for commercials and say things of sufficient interest to encourage listeners to call in
they decided that although I was in my mid-sixties and the oldest geezer on the station, I could do some choice spotslike the early morning drive where you show up at 4:30 a.m. to prepare as substitute for full-time hosts on vacation for a 5 to 9 a.m. push when the listenership is at its height, and evening drive (2 to 5 p.m.) in similar circumstances. The early morning drive was what I hated most. I had a terrible time being wide awake and bouncy at that time of the morning when my fellow retiree colleagues were sleeping in. Afternoons werent so bad but a combination of the two started to get to me. So I asked management for a gig of my own.
They gave me a choice one (at least I thought it so): Saturday mornings from 8 a.m. to Noon. Saturday mornings is when most of the world is recreating, driving to the store with a high listener rating. It so happened that a favorite of mine, Al Salvi, was seeking the Republican U. S. Senate nomination against the establishment favorite, Bob Kustra, the lieutenant governor of the state. Kustra and I had been fast friends during his career in the legislature since we both taught at Loyola (me part-time when I was at Quaker) and lived in the same town, Park Ridge. When he asked me to support his initial run for the state House, I was at Quaker and asked him how he stood on abortion. He didnt look me straight in the eye which made me think the issue was inconsequential to him and mumbled some equivocation.
I told him: Bob, this issue may not strike you as important but it is number one with me. Youre running for the state House in my district and youve asked me to support you. If youre not pro-life, forget it.
I knew the pressure he was under. He was a favorite of Park Ridge Mayor Martin Butler who typified the get-along, go-along Republican good old boy run-of-the-mill follower-man-ship of Jim Thompson, Jim Edgar and George Ryan. Thompson was a legendary pro-abort; Edgar was a mild-mannered pro-abort; Ryan was a fairly (then) flat-out pro-lifer but he was downplaying it. I could see that Kustras inclination was to get along with Butler whose wife Jeri was a formidable organizer. Jeri was a pro-abort but Marty technically was not. Kustra didnt bat an eye but said he was pro-life.
I said: I dont mean now, Bob. I mean after you get in. A lot of people begin as pro-lifers and then when they get in with the liberal GOP establishment start to grow and become pro-abort.
Kustra said: Youre really tough on that issue, arent you?
I said yes. Tough enough to have demonstrated, having run the risk of picketing abortion clinics which were I to be arrested could conceivably jeopardize my business careerif not get me fired. So yes, my friend, the issue does mean much to me and Im tough on it.
He said: Okay, Im pro-life. Im a Catholic, teach poly sci at Loyola and went to St. Benedict College, Atchison, Kansas where the Benedictines indoctrinated meso yes, Im pro-life.
I said: I dont mean that youre personally pro-life but will rise above principle to support legislation and actions on the other side
just like Jimmy Carter. I mean I will hold you to pro-life votes all down the line, from opposition to public funding of abortion to anything else that comes your way.
He replied: Okay! Okay! Enough already! Ill do it!
That wasnt the kind of response I wanted but he was the only candidate at that time who gave me that pledgeso I became his finance chairman, appealed in his behalf to brother and sister directors of corporate PACs. He won, became quite popular and after a few terms sought the state Senate. At that time he asked me to support him over a dedicated pro-lifer, John Nimrod whom he was eager to challenge in a primary. Nimrods pro-life credentials were not in question but he was an erratic individual, having run in congressional primaries and approached campaigns in a half hazard way. As an example, when he announced for Congress for his second go-round he not only put my name in his press release as a supporter without talking to me but said I was his campaign manageragain without talking to me. I had to disavow the campaign manager appointment and talked to him, saying: John, why didnt you cal me first before you issued the release?
His answer: Aw, I thought my staff did. Baloney. No way was I going to support someone with that kind of cavalier approach.
So when Kustra, a Ph.D in politics and a bright, astute guy, asked me to support him against Nimrod, I did but asked him to reaffirm his stand on pro-life. He said: Hey, dont you know my stand by now? I said: well, frankly, Bob, there were times when I had to pull your arm out of its socket to vote pro-life.
He said: But I always did, didnt I?
Yes. But tell me youre going to continue to do this as my state senator as you did as my state Rep even though I had to call you on the phone in Springfield to remind you.
So I joined his campaign, raised money and directed a lot of the organization. He won.
In the state Senate, he became quite a powerthe epitome of a suburban moderate, supportive of social needs but fiscally conservative.
After a term or two I kept hearing from him how Park Ridge and his suburban district was changing. No longer as conservative as it had been; Marty Butler and his powerful wife were after him to switch.
I said: Listen, Ill give you two reasons why you shouldnt. One, its not right to view a paramount issue in that way. Its not like an appropriation where you can cut down the numberssay support a grant for $10 million rather than $15 million. Its life and death to me. Second let me tell you this: the time for changing on abortion, practically, has long passed. There was a time when the issue was newbefore Roe v. Wadewhen one could be pro-abort and switch. That happened to Reagan when he was governor, although to be frank with you I dont think his switch had to do so much with his conviction as the pragmatic nature of the issue
but the point isthat time is over. Its the 1980s. You switch and it becomes a character issue.
After he became senator, one time we had lunch in the M&M Club downtown and he told me: Of all my advisers I value you the most. But of all my advisers, you are the only one who insists I stay a pro-lifer.
Oh, I said, and what are you going to do about it, Bob?
Nothing. Im just making the point that the suburbs, especially the fairly well-to-do suburbs like yours and mine, tend to favor Republican lawmakers who have a more moderate approach and I regret to say that being a pro-lifer is a label that they sort of hang on you so that you become known as a rightist.
I said: Its Jeri Butler, isnt it?
He reddened. Well, yes but also others. There are a good many economic conservatives like yousome who are even more conservative than you on economic issueswho think Im running under a handicap as a pro-lifer, thats all.
You know them.
One is Mike Hudson, isnt it? (Hudson, a neighbor and friend, had my kind of job with Illinois Tool and whose boss was Harold Byron Smith, Jr., a pragmatic party wheel-horse and legendary fund-raiser.)
As a matter of fact it is.
Its up to you, Bob.
Okay. Glad to hear you say that.
Its up to you but Ill tell you, you can kiss me goodbye. And so help me God Ill tell the world how disappointed I am with the switch.
I promise you I would.
He buttered a roll, looked down and said: You have a column in `Crains Chicago Business. Would you--?
I tell you I would talk about the character issue and relate this conversation.
Hey, you never told me its privileged.
Okay, forget it. Im not switching.
Good. What you should do is to remember your political science. Remember Edmund Burke who told the electors of Bristol that he would vote his convictions, not be a weathervane and they had the option of defeating him at the next election.
You know the trouble with you? The Burke thing is everything to you and you ignore the more complex sides of issues.
Bob. Im telling you. You switch and Ill go after you. I mean it.
You see? Youre putting pressure on me to vote your way. If I were to follow your example and be like Burke, maybe Id vote pro-choice and take the consequences.
Go ahead. Im not stopping you.
But youll blast me.
So what do you care? You say the suburbs are changing and your being a pro-lifer is akin to being a far-right extremist, you ought to welcome any blast I write and become a moderate hero.
Forget it. Im not changing, just examining how strongly you feel about the issue.
In 1990 with Kustra widely respected as a senate moderate Republican leader despite his pro-life voting record, he was placed in consideration by pro-abort secretary of state Jim Edgar as his choice for lieutenant governor. When I got a call from Kustra the day his name appeared, he didnt ask. He told me.
Ive thought about it and Im going to announce that I am pro-choice. You have to look at it reasonably.
I dont look at the issue of life and death reasonably as you put it, Robert.
Well Im going to do it. And you?
Im going to (and here I described a pincher movement that would remove a male from his manhood).
Theres something you should know.
What is that?
I had the occasion to be with (and me mentioned my boss whom I called General Patton).
I brought up the fact that we have been friends and that we disagree on this thing and he said not to give it a thought. Your PAC will support me and he will personally support me.
And, I said, I hope the money you get will offset the column Ill write for `Crains about your lack of character and the wheedling youre doing on an issue that deserves serious contemplation and not the personal jockeying youre using. Robert, listen to me--.
No, you listen to me. Im going to meet with Edgar tonight and Im going to be picked. And Im not going to let something we talked about many years ago when I first ran for state Rep get in the way.
A day or so later General Patton said he wanted a PAC contribution to Kustra and he expected--.
I said, I hope youre not expecting that I support him.
He certainly did.
Too bad. Incidentally another year has gone by and each year at an appropriate time I tell you something, I give you some scatological directions and then I go home. So heres the directions
And I went home.
When I got home, Lilllian said my boss called three times.
I said: let him wait.
I sat down and wrote the Crains column and never felt better in my life when I finished it.
The Edgar-Kustra team was elected and reelected. Whenever we saw each other, at political meetings, at conventions, we looked the other way. Once I got on a hotel elevator on the 5th floor; it stopped at the 3rd and Kustra got on. Nobody else. We rode in silence.
Bored and convinced he was getting nowhere as lieutenant governor, he cut a deal with WLS to become a talk show host. Instead of winning applause, the media scorched him, saying that out of craven ambition for the future, he quit the second highest post in state governmenteven if it wasnt powerfulto make big bucks as a talk show guy in order to boost himself for future office. It was the truth. But before he could resign, Edgar had either a heart attack or a serious cardiac insufficiency and Kustra couldnt exactly leave with the governors health in jeopardy. So he stayed. He waited for the next chance which was to run for the U. S. Senate against Dick Durbin. Paul Simon had packed it in and had given his troth of Durbin. Everybody said
Bob Novak included
everybody said Kustra was the logical guy.
So a group of conservative activists, me included, called what we called a Council of Trent. We settled on a young state representative, Al Salvi, to run for the nomination against Kustra. By then I had the WLS Saturday morning program and I leaned so heavily on the issue that the manager saw me in the Mens Room, said he liked my listeners numbers and said: Hey, I know what WLS means to you, Roeser! We Love Salvi!
He didnt like Kustra either because Kustra had signed a big ticket contract as a talk show host and begged out of it.
He said, I dont like the guy at all. But have you considered that he might be a better candidate against Durbin than your guy Salvi?
I said: Its a matter of character. When a guy lies to me thats it.
He said, okay. Anyhow your numbers are good so go get `im tiger!