Friday, May 29, 2009

Personal Aside: Had Enough of Illinois’ Laughing Stock Politics? Elect Ron Gidwitz Governor for One Term—at Least--to Do the Unpopular Necessities.

It’s No-Nonsense Time.

For the 56 years I’ve been either covering politics or working in it full-time…from writing for a small daily, stringing for the AP, running campaigns for Republicans, assistant to two congressmen, governor’s press secretary, assistant secretary of commerce, foreign service officer in the Peace Corps, corporate veep of government relations, founder of an anti-vote fraud organization here in the hey-day of old man Daley, president and chairman of the City Club and college adjunct professor… now blogging and working on a 5-day-a-week Internet paper…I’ve largely distrusted so-called “personality candidates” who want to get elected basis their charm, cordiality and good looks.

I always found the pretty-boys and pretty girls who get elected are more consumed with their own appeal than facing up to the tough issues. I’m fortunate in that for the most part, the politicians I helped get elected were of the hardy, tough kind—opposite of pretty boys. Two examples.

A Mayo Doctor in the U.S. House.

One was Dr. Walter Judd, MD, a former top surgeon at Mayo who went to China as a medical missionary during the Chinese-Japanese war, was captured by the Japanese and held prisoner and who came back to the U.S.…turning down many posts where he could do well—including a head of surgery post at Mayo to practice medicine in Minneapolis and lecture on Japan’s aggressive intent.

For several months after he resettled in the Twin Cities, he opened his Saturday night and Sunday afternoon talks to churches and civic groups recounting how he removed a piece of shrapnel from a dying Chinese baby marked “Made in the USA” (when we sold scrap iron to Japan). People listened to him as he warned about aggressive Japan—but sloughed it off…until, that is, he made one such speech at a Lutheran church basement. He had just finished when somebody ran up to the rostrum and broke in on him, announcing that Japan had just attacked Pearl Harbor. It was the afternoon of Sunday, December 7, 1941.

The next week a citizens committee asked him to run for Congress, to replace the isolationist congressman who represented Minnesota’s 5th district. Judd had been too involved in doctoring and serving as a missionary surgeon in China to give much attention to domestic politics—but he reckoned he was a Republican…so he agreed to run for the office.

I was his assistant in Washington when this no-nonsense doctor warned the House and the country that the only way to handle the threat of communism was not via détente but by application of firmness. His counsel flew in the face of the prevailing liberal sentiment which argued we could solve our problems with the USSR and China on the cheap. His tough talk to constituents didn’t endure him to them—but they respected him so much they reelected him time and time again. No pretty boy, his face pock-marked with skin cancer from too much exposure to x-ray treatments before radiation was spotted as a danger, he lived to well past ninety…was called a reactionary and war-monger…and ultimately was defeated after 20 years of being right. His last public act was at the age of 93 when he received the nation’s highest civilian award—the Presidential Medal of Freedom—from the hands of a man who early on listened to him and took his message to heart: Ronald Reagan.

A 1-Term Governor Who Saved Minnesota.

The next non-pretty boy I worked for was a multi-millionaire in Minnesota who was born in Chicago, orphaned early, worked his way through the University of Minnesota, became a salesman and acceded to the post of president and CEO of a small industrial adhesive company in Saint Paul. He turned it into an industrial giant. At the age of 52 he saw that Minnesota was running into serious trouble after a generation of liberal wastefulness, high taxes and profligate spending. He resolved to run for governor. His great wealth was a boon for him because while his competitors bowed and scraped to raise money, he was secure enough to turn bad money down—as result he drew friends to him who raised a unparalleled amount because they saw that someone of his no-nonsense caliber should become governor in a solidly Democratic state that had boasted three Democratic potential presidents-to-be: Humphrey, McCarthy and Mondale.

He won for governor. I was his assistant when he outlined super-tough measures to put the state in the black again—measures his friends warned would make him a one-termer. The legislature passed his program…no tax hikes, instead tax reductions and harsh spending cuts…plus a renewal program that restored the economy of the hard-pressed Minnesota Iron Range. Sure enough, by the time his term was up, he was defeated—by 91 votes out of 1,250,000 cast. But he became celebrated as one of the best…if not THE best…governor the state ever had because he had the courage to prescribe the tough medicine it needed which restored it to solvency.

But next week I’ll speak at the University of Minnesota which will honor the 100th anniversary of his birth (he died at 95, richer as result of his brilliant business career post-governorship than ever) and the dedication of a huge library which he endowed to the university.

Illinois has the Worst Moral Climate in History.

Compared to the condition we have now in Illinois, the problems of Minnesota in the early 1960s were like a Sunday school picnic. We not only have flagrant spending and high taxation, we have a sickeningly immoral situation in our politics…from the Democratic party… that can make one throw up. Consider: a junior Dem U. S. senator who was caught on tape trying to wheedle his appointment via what would be regarded as near-bribery…A Dem governor who was first arrested, then impeached, then fired by the legislature for corruption, unmatched since the days of the Kingfish Huey Long in Louisiana.

His Dem successor who moved up to governor but for most of the time kept his mouth shut about the boss’s evident corruption—and whose campaign manager offered to make “face time” available to lobbyists at the tail-end of the legislative session for $15,000 a pop…and who wants to hike your income taxes steeply…A likely Dem challenger to the Senate seat a young man who conferred loans from his family’s bank to Outfit leaders… A federal prosecutor probing the hiring and kickback practices of the Dem mayor of Chicago, the leader of the Illinois Democratic party, an outfit that has been in charge of Chicago since 1931, longer than the old Soviet Union..

All these things have come to pass because…as bad as the Democratic party has been… the Republican party of Illinois forgot its mission. It served up a bulbous-nosed back-slapping old pol to become governor on the basis that he could get along with everybody. He sure did. He’s serving a term in jail now. He was the latest descendent of a line of Republicans who inured to the Democratic party practices in the past, blocked any glimmer of Reagan high principles to invade the precincts of the state. Thus the GOP became known as the stepchild of the Dems—with campaigns that didn’t mention tax hikes but following elections, tax and fee hikes came.

The question now is…as I mentioned in this place yesterday…what is the Republican party going to do now? The answer seems to be: nothing.

No tough messages for reform. No resolve to get behind a good candidate. In fact nothing at all. A few candidates have come along on their own…one who runs a suburban government with the same-old, same-old. Another the political strategist who ran Alan Keyes’ campaign —and a mayoralty campaign in Cicero…Cicero…and who does a guest spot on radio. A third who publicizes his inexperience…his total non-involvement up to now in politics or governance…now asking to take up the top state post to provide leadership and governance, asking voters to supplant Democratic corruption with one tabula rasa—who might well be too naïve to see corruption until it bites him and the state in the ankle.

Gidwitz…One Term of Tough Medicine.

It has become clear to me that the man we need now is one who is not going to trade on charm or windy bromides…but one who knows more about state government through dint of experience…more also about education and taxes through his background as civic leader and business entrepreneur…than anyone else in the lists. He’s Ron Gidwitz. He hasn’t hired me or rented me and frankly he and I aren’t very close friends. He helped out on The Chicago Daily Observer but then between John Powers and I we got the thing started and continuing…and have far outstripped his contribution—so he’s certainly not our Daddy Warbucks. Nor does he want to be the sole Daddy Warbucks for his candidacy—although he has given millions of dollars to worthy causes in philanthropy.

I met with him the other day and am satisfied…after my 56 years in the Republican trenches in two states…that he is willing to run for governor—IF. If those who are looking around for a candidate understand that there are tough choices and prescriptions to be made…and IF they are willing to help him get elected to prescribe that medicine.

But don’t get me wrong. He has enough to do with a very successful life…in entrepreneurial activity…in philanthropy…in civic leadership… without running 7 days a week for governor—or serving 24-7 in a job that will, at this time in state history, be anything but ceremonially pleasant. And certainly he’s not going to run for this post—or fund it--all by himself. For one thing…as my old boss, the governor of Minnesota said (who had more bucks than Ron): financing it by yourself is a recipe for disaster. And further, if you have to do it all by yourself, it lets the people off the hook who should be pushing the wagon.

I’m writing this now certainly not at his behest but because I see that without a man of this stature and guts, Illinois will turn to yet more of the same-old, same-old for governor. If that happens, you can consign the state to the bottom tenth in unemployment and the top third in higher taxes. But it’s not my call to make…nor is it his.

It’s the call to make of those who have the power to raise the money to get this job done. If they sit on their hands and say, aw he’s rich—let him do it…they’ll miss the boat. Then they will settle for one of several types: a soft-spoken cipher with no governmental experience who surrounds himself with high paid flacks to say the popular thing, who in debate and on the stump will be unable to answer questions except in broad, meaningless generalities, about the intricacies of governmental mechanics…a familiar states attorney who is very popular in his county but has tried many times before for state office and hasn’t done particularly well—although able he is…and nice young man who touts his inexperience in government as his only recommendation.

With that I close. Which is it to be?

1 comment:

  1. John T. Mc GeeanMay 29, 2009 at 4:07 PM

    Tom:
    I never knew Walter Judd but I remember the keynots speech he gave at the Republican Convention in 1960. It was one of the best I ever heard and it had substance. Too bad he didn't run for President--he would have been a good one.

    ReplyDelete