Its No-Nonsense Time.
For the 56 years Ive 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, governors 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
Ive 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. Im fortunate in that for the most part, the politicians I helped get elected were of the hardy, tough kindopposite 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 wellincluding a head of surgery post at Mayo to practice medicine in Minneapolis and lecture on Japans 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 Japanbut 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 Minnesotas 5th district. Judd had been too involved in doctoring and serving as a missionary surgeon in China to give much attention to domestic politicsbut 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 didnt endure him to thembut 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 nations highest civilian awardthe Presidential Medal of Freedomfrom 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 downas 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 againmeasures 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 defeatedby 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 Ill 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 bosss evident corruptionand 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 familys 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. Hes 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 Demswith campaigns that didnt 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
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 rasawho might well be too naïve to see corruption until it bites him and the state in the ankle.
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. Hes Ron Gidwitz. He hasnt hired me or rented me and frankly he and I arent 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 contributionso hes certainly not our Daddy Warbucks. Nor does he want to be the sole Daddy Warbucks for his candidacyalthough 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 governorIF. 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 dont get me wrong. He has enough to do with a very successful life
in entrepreneurial activity
in civic leadership
without running 7 days a week for governoror serving 24-7 in a job that will, at this time in state history, be anything but ceremonially pleasant. And certainly hes not going to run for this postor 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.
Im 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 its not my call to make
nor is it his.
Its 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 hes richlet him do it
theyll 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 hasnt done particularly wellalthough 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?