Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Personal Asides: Why I Support Dillard for Governor


There has been some confusion over whom I support for governor. Let this piece clear it up.

In 1960 in the midst of the very narrow Kennedy election for president, a Republican businessman won the governorship of the then heavily Democratic state of Minnesota with considerably more votes than did JFK—a spread of 20,000. He unseated Orville Freeman, Hubert Humphrey’s protégé who had no expectation he would be defeated a few months later.

The citizen upstart Republican winner was Elmer L. Andersen for whom I worked during his revolutionarily creative single term as press secretary. Andersen took a state with a northeastern sector mired in recession due to the Iron Range being tapped out of precious minerals and started its revitalization by passing an amendment that allowed the slag from the ore drilled to claim the iron embedded within to be taxed not as ore but as a manufacturing process—which energized the Range and put thousands of men back to work. But it is about his historic campaign for governor that I now write: when he was confronted with the question of whether or not he would rule out an income tax hike.

The ordinary rules of elective politics would militate he insist a tax hike be off the table. The campaign of 1960 was no different than campaigns of today. The pragmatic rule was that a Republican candidate declare “no tax hike” and when he gets in consider whether or not he will keep the promise. But Elmer Andersen had been for many years not just a state senator but one of the most powerful state senators in the Conservative caucus and knew that no such promise could be made with surety. He retired from the Senate to run for governor. He and I conferred during the campaign as to whether he would play it “smart” and make the no-tax-hike declaration (with tongue in cheek in case he had to break that pledge after election)…or whether he would play it “straight” and say candidly that while he opposed a tax hike he could not in conscience make a no-tax-hike declaration without fully assessing the economic climate once he got in.

I won’t tell you what my advice was—suffice to say I was a kid then and having worked in the GOP vineyard for many years, cringing under the lash of a powerful Democratic reign I sorely wanted to defeat. But Elmer Andersen said that if he were to get elected, he ought to start off straight…and so while I held my breath, he said in a debate with Freeman that he—Andersen—would not eschew the possibility of a tax hike no matter how much he would dread the possibility. Freeman, of course, declared that he would definitely not support a tax hike come hell or high water.

Against my best judgment, I nevertheless admired Andersen’s courage and knew that if he were to be elected, I would be proud to work for a man with such guts. He was elected and he peeled off his jacket and sat for hours with the commissioner of administration, the commissioner of taxation and an incoming commissioner of taxation whom he appointed. The good news was that he concluded no tax hike was necessary. As his publicist, I breathed an audible sigh of relief.

That experience taught me that character is the most important ingredient of governmental success. Andersen went on to become one of the very great governors of Minnesota. True, so great was he that he refused to demagogue on anything so he was defeated when the Democratic party made its comeback. I was with him during that campaign also and winced as Andersen refused to over-promise or capitalize on the weakness of his opponent who very clearly was fighting alcoholism (which fact became clear with his confession to the disease years later). And on the 100th anniversary of Andersen’s birth (he died only five years earlier at 95), I returned to the state where my earliest days in politics were spent…and saw that while his opponents were cast aside like so much slag in the mining process, Andersen’s stature was bright and shining like newly mined luminescent copper. A $30 million wing of the University of Minnesota was set aside in his name.

This leads me to further enunciate support for the man I believe would be an outstanding governor of Illinois—a man I am proud to work for as a volunteer: State Sen. Kirk Dillard. In a meeting with the “Tribune” editorial staff, Dillard determinedly said he opposes a tax hike, will do all in his power to obviate one but refused to take a blood oath that he would never accept the inevitability of one. He did this because, like Andersen, he had experience in government and knew that fresh facts would come in after change of command. Similarly, no one running for president would take a blood oath that he would never lead the country to war. It would be just as draconian for a candidate to aver one or the other.

It can be said that Big Jim Thompson…never bothered unduly with principle…ran repeatedly on pledges there would be no tax increase and after election had repeatedly broken his word. Thompson was regarded as a golden boy then but his crown has been tarnished since…for broken promises and other things.

Most of the others appearing before the “Tribune” didn’t allow for the slight possibility of a catastrophic eventuality fiscally--but Dillard insisted that while he opposes a tax hike and would do everything to prevent it, he could not in conscience make that statement. Some of his conservative followers criticized him—but not me.
I think I see the potential of a great potential governor in him and am proud that he has taken that stand. In the great overall, Kirk Dillard has the right approach. He is solid on social issues…far solider than Jim Ryan on the whole panoply of them…including the solidity of supporting conceal-carry (which he introduced as a legislator) which breaks ranks with a number of namby pambies on the 2nd amendment.

This is written to let you know that when others criticize him for not taking the easy approach, I am proud that he made the right decision to forego demagoguery on the tax issue…knowing full well that he was taking a chance in not doing so. That’s the beginning shot, I feel, in instilling honesty and courage to the Illinois governorship and I am proud of him. At my age and from a lifetime in journalism, politics and corporate life, I have seen relatively few with courage but am pleased to say Kirk Dillard belongs to that select company.

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