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 OK, if you are one of those reading this book, you might want to skip this chapter.  For you, I fear it is a long sleep-inducing snore, but for me it was seminal, and so I must tell it all.

 The elation felt during my first election victory was not duplicated during the second.  I was thankful I won, and I celebrated with a lot of people who still strongly believed in me. But I now knew what being a State Senator was like and I did not think that I made for a very good one, nor did I think there were many others better.  And a growing few were real stinkers.

 The reasons I was a poor senator made me odd.  I did not like giving speeches, wasn’t much good at wheeling and dealing and I found it difficult, if not impossible, to compromise a principle to achieve a necessary end – you know, that business of supporting a measure you didn’t like in order to get one that you did. In other words, what makes democracy work.

 A legislature thrives, like any business thrives, by catering to the customers who come in the front door, and it was big money, in the form of paid lobbyists that came in the door each and every morning and hung around for the day.  They are paid to get their bosses money or protect the money they already have. They know the legislation affecting their bosses’ interests better than any legislator and, unlike everyday constituents who rarely came through the doors, these lobbyists had the dough that fueled legislators’ re-elections.  One day, some fifteen years after leaving the legislature, I decided to go back for a visit. Not a single member I served with would still be there but many of the lobbyists prowling the halls were the very same and the bureaucrats that ran the place where almost to a person identical.

 Today, with term limits (something I once supported, like most frustrated citizens), no new legislators know what they are doing. Term limits dilute the citizens’ power to elect whomever they want, while also immensely increasing the power of lobbyists and bureaucrats who do know what they are doing.  New legislators lean on them for everything, starting with directions to the bathroom on up to how a bill becomes law.

 Blue collar types seemed to like me in politics, and I was a bit partial to them.  I just liked people that work and produce, I was more comfortable around them and thus I naturally supported carpenters, machinists, steel and construction worker types, teachers, and of course fireman and policeman.  They were always either sweaty, dirty, tired or all three at the end of their days.

 I had discovered during that second campaign that the only time I would comment in front of a crowd was when I thought something important to say had been left unsaid and could be said quickly. One gathering of laborers fit those criteria.

 Labor supported me as they do almost all democrats, for the same destructive reasons all selfish interests in society latch on to one side or the other…it is the gimme, gimme, gimme that all lobbyists for special interests represent.  I do not mean to pick on labor alone here.  Lobbyists are paid to represent doctors, lawyers, bankers, bakers, butchers, and candlestick makers at the expense of everyone else.

 Labor’s political clout had been on the decline for some years, but they did support me, even when on occasion I did not support them, or in this case, even talk to them nicely. This particular election year gathering was of AFL-CIO members who came to watch a parade of candidates appear on the stage and plead for their support.  It was the kind of ritualistic begging that goes on each election and degrades all involved.  At this event each candidate was given 10 minutes to tell the Union why they thought they should get union support.   By the time it was my turn, I had seen enough groveling, and I had something to say, thought it had been left unsaid, and I could say it quickly.

 “This is Arizona. It is a Republican state with a Republican legislature, and they don’t like you very much. You are seen as liberal, and your public support will be a liability to me.  If you know me as well as you might know a close friend or family member, you know I will support people who work, whether they support me or not. So be smart, don’t support me, endorse my opponent. His name is Joe Haldiman, and he may win, and if he does you will need his door open to you.  In other words, if you think you are buying influence with me or that labor’s support isn’t being used against me, you can take your endorsement and stick it.”

 It took me less than a minute; I walked off the stage to an audience silently gawking at me.  But as I approached my seat, and to my astonishment, people began standing and cheering.  People who work can be funny that way.

 The me, me, me of lobbyists knows no bounds. They are “just doing their job” they like to say, but their job is dragging legislatures from sea to shining sea into the grimy selfishness of me, me, me. In that work they would play a big part in my long brewing and now imminent rebirth, at the end of my second term.

 It did not matter if a candidate had been absurdly but successfully labeled liberal or conservative.  If an organized selfish interest on either side helped you get in, deliverance of the goods to that interest was expected.

 During my experience in the Twilight Zone of my re-election, and oddly during my divorce, one of my biggest backers was the National Organization of Women.  Again, by sheer coincidence, they liked me because of beliefs I already possessed. Long ago my mother and Lacy Scanlon, my grade school love wish, taught me that women were a superior gender.

 Guys have been running the show since human time began. As for women, well, we want their friendship, loyalty and of course their bodily submissions.   They serve in every imaginable way without a fair or even reasonable stake in life.

 Most men are so blind when it comes to women. They fail to recognize or simply accept and expect that women will be of service to them.  That is why women are not fairly paid or promoted, why they are given inferior health care, constitute the majority of the poor and are abandoned by the millions with our children. Open a door for them? Sure! Adjust a chair as they sit? Sure! What a cheap price it is we pay. And if they object, well that is why one out of every four housewives are abused at home and 600 a day are raped or sexually assaulted.

 Superheroes defend women and children, legislatures do not.  And they don’t because …… well, …… I really don’t know why.  There are more women than men, they have the vote.  I just don’t get it, but I am damn glad I am not a woman, and it is a good thing for men that I am not a woman. For after 250,000 years of this shit, I would surely support all abortions, both pre and post birth, as long as they were of the male gender.

 I was the sponsor of the Equal Rights Amendment, a now long dead effort to ensure women equal protection under the constitution.  Protection they had historically and statistically lacked since the very moment they tricked the rest of us into eating healthy apples.  They had a little difficulty with my occasional remarks against some abortions since I did not feel I could competently divine exactly when a conscious life began but they were willing to overlook it.

 But women’s groups behaved no differently than organized labor unions, oil interests, bankers, bakers or those candlestick makers.  Anyone of which makes a good representation of how tortured and convoluted representative government can become.

 Once money from selfish interests is accepted, the bargain is struck — you have a friend, they have a friend, and it is these friendships that make such a mess of our struggle to self-govern. It is as simple as understanding that if you give $50 tips rather than $5 tips you will get a better table.

 Now this is as absurdly convoluted as it gets: The National Organization for Women slammed me for sponsoring the ERA. They had decided on a strategy that would demonstrate a lack of support by the “insensitive” Arizona legislature, to anger contributors out of more money so they could then spend it in other states they thought had better chances of success. It seemed not to occur to them that this Machiavellian scheme to cast the legislature as completely insensitive in order to raise revenue was disingenuous.  It was also unsuccessful, and the Equal Rights Amendment, that great equalizing legislation of the women, largely by women, for women perished from this earth.

 I was beginning to hate being in public office, not just because of those whose views I often opposed but because of those whose views whom I had often supported. Elected representatives thoughtfully considering the various courses that might be taken on problems facing society seemed non-existent. There was no real debate or any sort of open communion on the roads that might be taken on any contentious matter — just an endless process of deals, where blame, brag and accusation swirled in endless conflict over some morsel of advantage for one party or the other.

  I regretted that I was now obligated to serve another two years and knew I would never run for the legislature again and was happy to just quietly live out the term.   But happy and quiet was not to be. It appears I was primed to blow a gut and be the talk of the town.

 The weeks, issues and votes went by, including one that called for the biggest tax increase in the state’s history. It was a gas tax designed to build better roads that would be collected primarily from the Ford and Chevy owners of the world. Roads are very expensive largely because they need to withstand the enormous pounding they take from the tonnage on eighteen-wheeled semi-trucks.  If all you had on the roads were Fords and Chevys, they would essentially last forever.

 Anyway, the tax was designed to be little more than a subsidy to the trucking industry, so I voted no.  My argument seemed logical to me: The people creating a cost and receiving the benefit should pay that cost, in this case trucking interests.  But my old friends in labor who wanted road building jobs, bankers and realtors wanting more growth, truckers, of course, and just about every business that wanted more people and what they buy had their thumbs in the pie and opposed me.  It was not unusual for those interests to feel that way and not unique for me to be on the losing end of a vote. 

 However, this legislation, strongly supported by a Republican controlled legislature and our Democratic governor, would be forced into a second life at the hands of thousands of angry, vengeful citizens who saw no common good in any tax.

 The bill and the events surrounding it would be a life-shaping experience for no one but me.  I would take the silent, invisibility that was me, spanning back over the decades and make up for it in one foot stomping blast of words that would not be silenced for 5 days and nights.  That “another day” of my youth was about to arrive. I was 31 and about to be born again—and insist on making my life, if not worthwhile, at least not worthless.

 The story actually starts in 1912 when Arizona became a state and adopted an extraordinarily progressive and unique set of citizen protections in its Constitution. One was the citizen’s right to stop the legislature from imposing any law they thought a bad idea, called a referendum.  It required an ungodly number of petition signatures to do it, but if citizens chose to go out and get them, they could then vote on the matter themselves and tell their government to go to Hell.

 Well, for the second time since statehood the citizens of Arizona looked at what the governor and legislature were doing and did just that on the gas tax bill.  They organized and got the needed signatures requiring their government to put it up for public vote. I had played a small part in getting those signatures, but the real leader was Terry Goddard, a good, decent, honorable fellow, close friend and son of a former governor.

 This caused a great deal of shuffling amongst the well healed powers of the state.  The banks, unions, realtors, developers of every sort, weren’t going to get what they had paid for with their lobbyists and political contributions if citizens were allowed to vote the gas tax increase down.  So, they decided to sponsor a secret meeting, not at the people’s capitol building, but in a private meeting on the 25th floor of a bank building in Phoenix. There the governor and legislative leadership of both parties would hold a private conclave without pests like me, the public or the media, and decide what to do about the ignorant masses who didn’t want the wall-to-wall paving of Arizona.

 Their plan was deviously simple: The governor would call the legislature into a special session where they would pass a new gas tax bill that would do the exact same thing as the original bill that the citizens had stopped. Only the new bill would have a different bill number and title.  And for this new bill they would put enough pressure on legislators to pass it with what is called an Emergency Clause, forcing it into effect before citizens had any time to gather the signatures necessary for another referendum.


 I got wind of the plan and the secret meeting. The arrogance of it was ludicrous, I thought. “They will never get away with that!” I told Terry.  They did not invite me to the meeting, which was fine because they did invite Terry. He and I got together and devised a sure-fire counter measure.  A piece of cake we thought, there was no way we could fail to stop them, we would embarrass the whole shifty group.  He would go home, get dressed, and let me know when he went into the meeting and then just sit and listen politely to what they had to say.  I would hit the phones and contact all of the media, tell them of the secret meeting and its location.  When the media arrived Terry would simply step out and expose the effort to trample the State Constitution and the people’s will. Game Over!   He would be the people’s hero.

 It was a slam dunk, Terry let me know when he went into the meeting, I went down to have a visit with the capitol press corps and made my calls. As expected, the media stormed the bank building. The easy job, my job was done.  I patted myself on the back and waited for Terry to return with their heads.

 An hour later (it apparently did not take long),  the Democratic majority leader, one of the meetings sponsors, came prancing down the hall.  I gave him a big snooty smile and said, “I guess it didn’t go so well.” He went striding right past me and flipped a chuckle into the air, “You must not have your television on.”

 The smile dripped off my face. It just couldn’t be. I ran into my office and turned on the tube just at the right time.  There was my was Terry, my buddy, who on behalf of the Governor and the legislature, was announcing that he thought the new legislation great and would help lead the charge for final passage of the Gas Tax Bill.  

  I no longer cared about the damn gas bill, this was now legalized, corruption at its worst, a theft, a trampling of what was still right with the world. No one knew the truth of it, no one to expose the truth of it, no one but me.   I could feel my father’s eyes riveted on me and saying, “Kimmy, it is now or never.”

  I was numb. I had never had a friend, someone I trusted, even admired, turn and do such a despicable thing.  Was everyone on the take? What had Terry sold out for, what did he get?  I didn’t want to believe it, there must be some explanation, something I didn’t see, didn’t understand and Terry would surely show up soon and tell me what had happened.  But no, Terry didn’t show up, he never showed up. . .well, not until the wee hours one night 10 days later to sit in the gallery and watch me struggle to stay awake on the Senate floor.

 The rumor mill went crazy.  What deal had the governor’s son gotten?  I certainly didn’t know. I was concerned with one thing: was there anything I could do to stop it?

 The governor called the Special Session the following week, the Gas Tax Bill would be introduced, and I had something to say.  As the Senators filed in, I was sitting at my desk and after the Secretary read the bill, for the first time I reached for the microphone to speak.  I simply said, “In the three years I have served as a State Senator I have not taken your time with a single speech in this chamber, but if you do this thing, you will hear from me.  I will give you three years’ worth in a single standing,” and I sat down.  The senator sitting next to me stopped reading his newspaper and asked, “Did you say something?”

 That night I didn’t sleep. I was sad, angry, and very worried that I wouldn’t fight, that I would find some excuse to just let it go and remain quiet and hidden in the dark. I knew if I did remain invisible it would leave a hideous scar, even if no one could see it but me, along with the knowledge that my life really wasn’t worth the living of it.

  Late that night I called a few other Senators I thought might be willing to fight with me and asked them to meet me for a very early morning breakfast. Then I spent the night walking up and down the same streets I had walked so many times before, filing past all the people’s homes that I had visited during my campaigns, going over and over in my mind what I might say the next day when the fight began. At 6:00 A.M. I walked into the nearby Denny’s to meet with the “Breakfast Bunch,” the other Senators I had called.  I had not slept but I wasn’t the slightest bit tired.

 I sat down. There were only six of us, but it was a start.  They all talked outrage, but they just weren’t as crazed as I.  One, Marsha Weeks, intended to go on vacation that day.  Another seemed to see a filibuster, the only stalling tactic available, as a good press opportunity.  But two others seemed spirited and ready to audition with me for the key role in The Man of La Mancha.  At the morning session when the Gas Tax Bill came up, I would ask to be recognized by the President of the Senate and start: speak as long as I was able, then, just like in a relay race, yield the baton or in this case control of the Senate floor to one of the “Breakfast Bunch.”  They in turn would go as far as they were able, pass it on to another, and another and eventually back to me.  And so, we would go until we had shaken things up enough to stop the vote or simply run out of steam.  We hoped we could keep it up for a day or two until citizens had a chance to see in the news what was happening and get a chance to make a fight of it all their own.

 Our breakfast meeting ended, I went home, took a quick shower, got dressed, and entered my Senate office 30 minutes before the morning session would begin.  The Senate was called to order, and I was about to blab like no one had ever blabbed before.  I had thought about what I would say for a long time the night before and thought it was important—if to no one else, it sure was to me.  I had asked my secretary to record it and had set up a machine to do so under the speaker in the ceiling of my office. I knew I would want to listen to it later to make sure that I said what I meant to say, what needed to be said.  

 As I took my Senate seat, I noticed that the gallery was filling up with the usual lobbyists and guests but also with an unusual gathering of Senate staff, pages, janitors, and secretaries, including my own secretary, who it turns out never punched the record button on the machine I had set up. People were in the gallery who were never there–people around the Capitol knew something was up. I took the microphone with something to say for the second time in two days and three years. I do not remember precisely what I said, and I am not willing to try and reinvent it over forty years later. My short two or three minutes dealt with people, their struggle to self-govern, responsibility and the dignity of the Senate and was effective enough to have a few members slump in their seats and a few out of place hand claps from the gallery.

 After some moments of silence another Senator stood up in an effort to defend the plan created in the bank building meeting. I had expected this and had also thought of something to say should someone stand and disagree with me.  My response was neither mean, nor abusive but it was so blistering and humiliating that he slunk off the Senate floor. Those who were part of the secret meeting, I thought might also have something to say but were all suddenly distracted, looking away and backed off their microphones as if they might bite.

 The Senate President thought it a good time to take a recess. I walked off the Senate floor where a number of Senators gathered around me slapping me on the back, one older member said, “Son you need to speak up more often, that was worth every day of the time it took you to say it.”  Another Senator, one of my Breakfast Bunch and a long-term Senate veteran said, “They were the most eloquent remarks ever uttered on the Senate floor.” When I got out in the hall some of the people who had been listening from the gallery came down to thank me, even the Senate Minority Counsel said, “I thought your first remarks were brilliant but then when you took that other Senator down, I almost screamed with joy.”

 Now normally I would feel elated at such wondrous compliments and slaps on the back, and now, on reflection, I feel exactly that way. But I did not then. I was completely riveted to my mission. I was going to beat them.

 Thirty minutes later the Committee of the Whole was gaveled to order.  It was clear that trouble was coming so all other legislative matters were disposed of, putting the Gas Tax Bill up for debate. It was Wednesday morning just about 10:30 a. m. when I was recognized, stood and grabbed the microphone for the third time, and this time I would not give it up.

 The first half dozen hours went by easily, I never ran out of things to say. When I really wanted to make my point, I would simply read off a few hundred more names of those citizens struggling to govern their own lives, who signed the petitions that were now stacked on my desk.

  Eventually I had to go to the bathroom, and I nervously turned over the microphone to Senator Alston, the most loyal member of the Breakfast Bunch. She continued to read the names into the night as I sat there and kept her company. Then I took the wee hours shift.  By midnight the gallery was down to just two or three diehards, a few members of the press, the recording secretary, a page and one other Senator unlucky enough to be selected to sit as the presiding officer. Should I falter, he would gavel me out of business.   My other fellow Senators had all departed for home hours ago. I just stood there and kept reading those names.

 When the morning paper hit, it was not supportive, its fake decorated military leader made sure. And since almost every other news outlet was “rip and read” (meaning they had no staff and just regurgitated the news from the major paper), the point of the filibuster got zero coverage.

 That wasn’t a total surprise, but the following day people started showing up and sitting in the gallery.  Radio station KOY came in and set up microphones and broadcast “the filibuster that would not end” live on and off throughout the day.     

 This picked up my spirits because I knew someone had to be listening.  As an additional moral builder, it just happened to be the same radio station where my mother had once had a radio show back in the day when my father was the Senator, and she was trying to preserve some of her Hollywood dreams.

 On Thursday night I still did not feel any end to my energy, and as I spoke on, I marveled at the fact that I could stay awake so long.  When one of the Breakfast Bunch would relieve me, I would get something to eat, use the restroom or check with my office for messages and then come back and sit until it was time for me to take over again.

 On Friday various appeals were made to get me to stop. Some were from friends actually concerned for me, but most of the appeals came from those who had been in the “secret” meeting and just wanted to get me out of there and go home.

  Naively, I assumed other media would eventually investigate what had happened, about the bank meeting, Terry’s sell out, and explain how the Gas Tax issue had been trumped by the vastly more important issue of circumvention of constitutional intent. They did not.

 As I stood on the Senate floor hour after hour, the leadership worked the press.  Few in the media understood what had happened but some sympathetic stories began to leak out.  Thousands of calls started pouring into the senators’ offices demanding to know why the hell they were shoving this tax increase down citizens’ throats.

  The pressure was on.  More secret meetings were being held in the Capitol’s back offices. Votes needed for the Emergency Clause that would strip citizens of their right to do another referendum started to collapse. Knowing that, would get me through another night.

 On Saturday morning, I realized I had not been in a bed since Tuesday, I had not left the Senate floor except for bodily requirements since my Wednesday speech, and I was beginning to feel it.   When one of the Breakfast Bunch would come to relieve me I would go to the back of the room and tilt a chair against the wall, close my eyes and try to sleep, but I couldn’t.  I was convinced that if I did sleep, something bad would happen. About noon Senator Alston came, asked to take over and insisted that I go look out the front windows.

 Down on the mall in front of the Senate Building a group of demonstrators had arrived and were setting up tables, passing around new petitions, carrying placards, and doing chants about taxation without representation.

 I wanted to go down and tell them to forget the tax bill, the issue was now far greater, that their representatives, corporate leaders, and unions were doing a hat trick that would, if successful, turn them into chattel.  I wanted to get them to leave the Capitol and go stomp around in front of the Senators’ homes because that is where they were.  Senator Alston, me and the unlucky lottery loser selected to preside were the only Senators at the Senate that Saturday.

 Senator Alston, who I adored beyond her politics and support, was right.  The scene out front was a big boost to my spirits.

 There is no place deader on earth than a state Capitol building on a Saturday night. Generally, you could go into any state senate chamber in the country, fill it floor to ceiling with actual bull shit and no one would notice until it opened for business the following Monday. The complete deadness of the place, no one in the gallery, no press, just the legal minimum sitting in the presiding chair, made me begin to doubt myself. The lack of sleep was getting to me in a way I had not expected, it didn’t make me feel sleepy as much as it made me feel punchy. It reminded me of my college days getting sloppy headed drunk but without the morning after hoping-to-die stuff. 

 Sometime late into Saturday night I was analytical enough to notice my sentences were not holding together very well and sometimes I couldn’t remember what I had just said. The presiding Senator, for whom I was clearly ruining a weekend, leaned over from his chair above the Senate floor and with a mixture of concern and hope for a middle of the night finally asked if I was all right.

 His questioning of my stamina made me feel indignant, flushed me with new-found energy and I began speaking loudly and clearly again. As he shook his head, I swung around to say a few words to the empty gallery, only it was no longer empty.  There was someone sitting up in the shadows off to one side.

 Leaning forward in a gallery seat, with his elbows on his knees and head in his hands was my good friend, the former Governor’s son.  I said nothing to him, I just turned around grabbed a handful of the petitions he had gathered and championed for the people that had trusted him.  I read them very slowly, one syllable at a time. I imagined that each one was like a dart to his heart, but when I turned back to the gallery he was gone.

 Early Sunday morning I was having a little trouble thinking clearly again when one of the Breakfast Bunch relieved me.  He said, “Don’t worry, I’ve got it.”  I hadn’t been outside of the capitol building in four days and decided to take a short walk on the capitol grounds.  I walked out the front door and around the corner, took off my shoes and socks and walked through the grass so that I could feel the tender shoots punch up between my toes. As I approached some trees I looked around and realized I was completely alone, I was invisible again.  And then suddenly, out of nowhere and for reasons I can’t explain because I really don’t know, I began to sob.

  At about mid-day on Sunday members of the Senate started to show up. I didn’t know why, and was too spent to really care, but I should have.

 The approach was made in the interests of my health. “We want to get you a doctor, we need to get you a doctor, let us call a doctor,” the Democratic Minority Leader and key member of the secret meeting said to me.  “NO, I am fine,” I said. “Well at least take a break, go home and get some sleep, you have to rest,” he insisted.  “NO, I am fine,” I said. “Listen, I am the Minority Leader. You helped elect me as the Minority Leader of our party. I give you my word that I will not let anything happen while you go home and get a few hours of sleep.  We are all very worried about you.”

 I thought about it, I knew that my supporting cast of Senators wanted to end the filibuster the next day during the Monday session and let the votes fall where they may. I knew that I couldn’t go on forever. And I knew that no matter how clean and fresh I felt when I started, people had started standing a measured distance away from me. I stunk!

  I turned it over to Senator Alston, that closest member of the Breakfast Bunch.  And on the promise of the Minority Leader, I drove the five miles home, hopped into the shower and flopped down on the bed. Almost immediately I sensed something was not right and then remembered with a start, that when Senator Alston had done her turn, she would turn it over to the weak link. He was the same Senator that had told me days before that my remarks were the most eloquent he had ever heard, but he was also a close loyal friend of the Minority Leader. The shower had revived me a bit and brought some of my senses back. As I raced to my closet, I knew I was in trouble. Why had some Senators started showing up on a Sunday morning?  I was out the door like a shot and running into a Senate chamber still trying to tie my tie.

 Turns out that during that hour I was gone the leaders pressured my weak link and got him to agree that when Alston passed the microphone to him, he would stop the filibuster.

 An hour later and it would have been over.  My weak link had cut a deal with the leadership, he would pass the microphone over to the opposition and the filibuster would be ended. My sudden and totally unexpected appearance stopped him. Embarrassed, he left the Senate Floor, and I was gritted to make to Monday.

 As it turns out some of the other Senators had not shown up just for the killing—at least not willingly.  They wanted deals.  They had been trying to cut deals for days and every once in awhile one would come out of a meeting and look upset.  I wouldn’t understand it until the media broke a few stories.

 The votes had started to collapse, and the leadership was in a full-court press, ready to break arms and threaten constituencies and political careers in order to keep the big money deal hammered together. There was the story from the angry legislator upset about the “unheard of” pressure tactics, another from a Senator who claimed that they threatened to withhold money from his reelection campaign if he didn’t stay the line.  Sicklier was the story threatening a legislator’s constituents with the loss of a bridge needed for fire and police protection.

  If the leadership didn’t get two-thirds of the Senate, meaning most of the majority and a good portion of the minority, they couldn’t pass the bill with an emergency clause. Without that emergency clause the bill was worthless; citizens were angry and getting the necessary signatures again? No problem.   A lot of Senators took heat that day.

  At 10:00 a.m. Monday morning, five days after it had begun, it all came to an end. There wasn’t anything left to do.  All the attention that the issue was going to get had been gotten, all the tactics that could be employed were done. I relinquished the floor.  It was time to call the vote.

  It was unclear how it would go until the very last vote was tortured and locked.  Many Senators tried to explain their votes when they were called upon. Those who voted YES broke into three categories: Those who had attended the bank meeting or represented safe districts were sheepishly silent. Those who were not from safe districts tended to apologize for their yes vote and the manner in which the issue had been mishandled, manhandled and coerced. Others were clearly pained by events and even made remarks in opposition to the measure, and then inexplicably voted for the bill.

  Those of us who voted NO, said little and anxiously kept track of the tally.  It came down to a single vote and the Senator who cast it, clearly under enormous pressure, began with a blistering attack against the leadership, the bank meeting, and the way the legislation had been managed.  Then she hesitated and angrily barked, “I vote YES,” and stomped off the floor.

                          Luise Gonzales, me, Lito Pena, and Lela Alston 

       The Breakfast Bunch minus the traitor and vacationer.

  A researcher would later tell me it was the longest filibuster anywhere by anyone. I’m not sure that is true, but I was grateful to think it. I had lost the vote but as odd as it may sound, I was fine, better than fine. I felt selfishly good about myself, if not for all those I had failed.  I had come out of the dark, was visible and convinced that I had fought as hard as anyone could fight. I had done the right thing. I had lost but felt that my life might one day find some way to become worthwhile after all.   

 As I walked off the Senate floor, I was asked to meet with the media who had all gathered in the Republicans’ caucus room. As I walked in and stood at one end, the television lights came on and I was bombarded with questions. While talking, I noticed at the far end of the room another, even larger group of reporters had gathered around some fellow.  He wasn’t a member of the victorious leadership, nor any member of the legislature, nor staff, or any government figure or person I recognized.  When I asked a reporter who it was, he was surprised and said, “Why that is the guy who sponsored the private meeting you’ve been trashing these past five days. He’s the Bank President.”

(New chapters will be added roughly once a week)

Richard Kimball, Vote Smart Founder

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 There were no roads through the mountains to it, no phones, or any access to anywhere but by a 40-minute pounding ride in a boat the locals called a panga. The dirt path through the little fishing village was swept clean each morning by a few in huts selling local produce, brooms made from long thin sticks, candles, and a few other necessities. All led down to the half dozen fishing boats pulled up on shore next to the “The Yacht Club” a little place cooking whatever food the fishermen caught that day and with a shared shelf they called the library.

 For me, living there in a thatched palapa with swinging rope bed covered in mosquito netting was heaven. It was there that I came to terms with my brief political career. It was there that I found my life’s calling.  It was there, after weeks of pondering, that it hit me: it was simple.

 With the loss of common ground Americans were being fractured.  With trust lost in all media, there was no anchor to which both conservatives and liberals could depend upon for the truth and the facts essential to successful self-government.

 Without that, I thought, there would be no democracy.

 There was only one solution I thought, to create a source where facts were sacrosanct but never interpreted, to which any citizen could turn for the truth.

 Within the day I left my little chunk of paradise and hopped a ride to go create   Gerald Ford, Jimmy Carter, George McGovern, Barry Goldwater, Michael Dukakis, John McCain, and a few dozen others of both parties, understanding how essential it was, hopped on that ride with me to go build it.

 For your good and that of the country, use and support

Richard Kimball, Vote Smart Founder

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 After reviewing my little brother’s business inventory, I didn’t take time to re-pack; I just bundled up everything in my arms and threw it all in the back seat of my car. I started the engine, looked down the street and saw the not so inconspicuous car of plain clothes officers watching my house and realized I had forgotten something.  Two minutes later I drove away and pulled in behind The Bombaro bar and heaved the bricks of marijuana into the dumpster.

 That night, about 2 a.m. my baby brother found me at a friend’s house on the other side of town and wanted to say, Hi with a ballpeen hammer. In some drug induced insanity he came at me brandishing the hammer and stammering about his young daughter’s welfare.  She had just turned three and was to be the beneficiary of his drug sales. I got him to drop the hammer and then let him swing away at me. Finally, he hit me square in the mouth, popping off two caps on my teeth and saying, “This is going to be a lot easier than I thought it would be.” Realizing he really intended to hurt me, I ended it.

 The campaign stubbled on and re-election was in serious doubt, not because the Republicans were aware of much of this netherworld I had come to live in, but because they had cleverly chosen a candidate who had both the industry and ethics of a Praying Mantis in heat. The candidate they had chosen had the same name as, and was a close relative of, a popular and very well-known Phoenix Democrat named John Haldiman. Joe Haldiman, the candidate, was making good use of it and a half-hearted effort to walk the streets as I did.

 I had heard stories about what he was saying at each door but thought them so absurd as not to be believed.  Then with a bit of good fortune, I was going door-to-door one afternoon and saw him turn the corner.  I ducked behind a bush to watch.  As he made his way down the street, I saw him walk up to the door of Fay Weidman, one of my campaign volunteers who I had nicknamed Mother Superior for her penchant to dress me, feed me, and protect me in all that I did.  I quietly made my way up behind him with my index finger across my lips so that Mother Superior would know not to give me up.

 His pitch went something like this: “Hi, I am Joe Haldiman running for the State Senate and I wanted to talk to you about Richard Kimball, that embarrassing bum currently representing us. You must have heard by now that he is a baby killing abortionist, that he never graduated from college, that he is a pawn of labor, and is lying when he says he was born in Arizona.  He moved here from Illinois with the backing of their unions. We need to send him packing. That is why I agreed to run for this office.”  I looked over his shoulder at Mother Superior. The demonic expression now roasting on her face forced me to intercede, less she add to the mounting pile of shit that my life had become.

  “Hi, Fay,” as I put my arm around Haldiman’s shoulder, “This is my good buddy, Joe.”

 Election Day was getting close, and they still hadn’t found the assassin who had threatened the President and me. His wife, who had become a good friend, and I were still in hiding. Then for some inexplicable reason Broom walked right into the Democratic Party Headquarters as if it were just another day on the job. Everyone had been given an emergency number on the unexpected chance that he might appear.  I happened to already be on my way there for a meeting but wasn’t as quick as the various forces looking for him. When I arrived, Broom was sequestered in a back room surrounded by a couple of Secret Service Agents and the local police.  After an hour or so an agent came out and I asked if I might see Broom alone for a minute. The agent, thinking me naive, said that it wasn’t a very good idea.  “Listen,” I said, “He was my trusted friend, he is not armed and if I just have a minute, I might find out some things that would be helpful to all of us.”  Surprisingly, they agreed, which instantly suggested that they were far more interested in protecting Jimmy Carter than they were me.

 As I entered the room, Broom was sitting in a lone metal fold-up chair with the four or five officers standing around. The agent said, let’s give Senator Kimball a minute and they all walked out and stood just beyond the door, which they left ajar.

 Broom, who was not scared, sad, worried, or flustered in any way, just sat and stared at me. I went over to a stack of folded cafeteria chairs and set one up right in front of him and sat down. ”Broom, what is going on, this is absurd,” I pleaded. His expression did not change. He said not a word, just sat comfortably and looked at me. “Listen, do you want me to get you a lawyer, or some counseling? I know some good people, some good programs where we can get you some help. Whatever you need, I can help. Just talk to me.”  Broom Hall’s eyes had never left mine; he just looked a bit burdened but resigned.  Then he leaned forward a little and in a soft perfectly calm voice said something that you do not hear every day but was definitely a talk ender. “I am sorry Richard, but I must kill you. I have been ordered to kill you.”

 The officers came back in and although the authorities could never get enough evidence to imprison Broom, I never saw him again. I would on occasion worry about where he was and if I would get another early vote in the mail.

 Three days before the election, which was becoming an acknowledged loser for me, I was spent and went straight to bed in spite of an unsettling phone call from someone claiming to be one of my supporters.  He spoke so loudly and angrily that I had no difficulty making out these words. “What a lousy bastard you are.  You lied to me and everyone else.” He then hung up.  I took the phone off the hook and slept.  At first light I was up and walked outside to get the paper, only this time I found it amongst a half dozen of my yard signs that were broken or ripped and strewn on the lawn. Scribbled on the back of one, “I thought you were a decent man. You’re scum.”

 I went back inside and put the phone on the hook, it immediately rang, “Did you see what Haldiman did?” a campaign volunteer bellowed.

 As it turns out the opposition had mailed a hit piece to every household in my district saying essentially what I had heard candidate Haldiman say to Mother Superior at her door, only with emphasis on the “fact” of my having moved to Arizona from Illinois with a bundle of labor money.  There was one important difference: this time it lacked crudeness. It was done professionally, in a polished convincing way that had clearly been drafted by the best the opposition could hire.

 The campaign was over; even some of my volunteers were calling to ask if the hit piece was true. We called the Arizona Republic demanding that they correct the lie by doing a story. But that same editor who was later caught masquerading as a highly decorated warrior refused.

 My campaign was broken, and I was broken in just about every way I could be broken. But even if we had the money there was no way we could create a response, mail it, and have the Post Office deliver it to everyone’s door before Election Day.

 With all good hit pieces there is usually a grain of truth somewhere to lock in its bite.  In this case, it was the backing by labor charge.  The local fire fighter’s union was one of my strong supporters and the opposition was about to find out just how strong.  Turns out, they can put out more than one kind of fire.

 Down the street from my home, Pat Cantelme, President of the Phoenix Firefighter’s union owned that firefighters’ hangout called The Bombaro.  By 2 a. m. the night after the hit piece arrived at homes all over my district, I had become the best customer The Bombaro had that day.   I was tired, resigned to my election defeat and well into my bottomless glass of scotch.  Pat leaned over the bar and said, “You know, Richard, we don’t need no stinking postage stamps, if you can think of a way to respond I will have every firefighter in this city and most of the policeman turned into Postmen by the time the sun comes up.

  By 3 a. m. I had my idea.  It would be a wild crazy shot into the dark. I was about to wake up a person I had never met in the middle of the night.  I pulled the phone over and asked for a phone book.  Luckily, unlike most insurance company presidents, particularly wealthy, prominent, honest ones, John Haldiman, the patriarch of the Haldiman family had his number listed.

 I dialed, a women’s sleepy voice answered. She was clearly concerned as anyone would be from a call in the middle of the night and said, “Who the Hell is this?” I told her I was so sorry to wake her but that it was an emergency and I just had to talk to her husband.

 The next few hours ended candidate Joe Haldiman’s hopes of taking over my seat in the Senate and any future in politics.

 Not only did the prominent, honest Haldiman support me, but he thought less of his namesake relative than most people do of maggots. I told him what had happened.  By my third or fourth sentence he interrupted me, “Be at my house by 4:30,” and hung up.

 I arrived a few minutes early amongst a stream of other cars.  He had essentially ordered every Haldiman in Phoenix, a very large group as it turns out, to wake up, get out of bed, get dressed and come to his house – NOW!

 By 5:15 am I was at one of my brother Bill’s shops. He had yanked himself out of bed, ready to go to war. As fate would have it his shops were printing shops and they were up and ready to run. I handed him a card and he was off and at it, saving my ass, just as he did back when we were kids.  By 7 am firefighters getting off duty from throughout the city started showing up and taking out crates of brightly colored yellow cards, all of which would somehow manage to be delivered to every door in my district before supper time.

  Although I no longer have a copy, something I have kicked myself for years over, the card essentially read:


 All of us in the Haldiman family strongly endorse the re-election of Senator Richard Kimball. He has been an honest, strong, and honorable Senator.

 We also want you to know that we are embarrassed over the outrageous behavior of Joe Haldiman, a member of our family who has lied to you and has dishonorably and dishonestly attacked Senator Kimball with a series of vicious lies.

 Please re-elect Richard Kimball a good and decent man to the Arizona State Senate!

                A dozen signatures splashed over the card.

                All with the last name of Haldiman.

 Some years later I heard that candidate Haldiman unsuccessfully tried a second career in fraud and ended up with a number tattooed to a prison shirt.


 Somewhere in the Twilight Zone there was a Gary Marston, a one, maybe two-day long Kimball for Senate Campaign Manager, hired either just before or just after Broom.

 It was a sweet elderly woman that came to me at a barbecue I held at my home for volunteers. She said, “I feel funny and am not sure I am well.”

 Turned out that Gary thought it a good idea if one of the side deserts was marijuana brownies. Of all that happened those miserable months, it was Gary I most wanted to kill.

 I do not think I have given my experiences in the Twilight Zone justice, but it is the best I could do.  To Carole, my first wife, I weep to this day. To the rest of you that may be offended by my recollections, go frig yourselves!

(New chapters will be added roughly once a week)

Richard Kimball, Vote Smart Founder

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  I stand tight with Republicans on the battlefield slashing at half their number with stupefying fealty to an American horror.

  Like Mark Twain, the older I get, the more clearly I remember things that may never have happened and tend to forget those that did.

  So it is with that Republican half, who either ignore or believe that:

Blackmailing the Ukrainian President

Advising us to use ultraviolet light and disinfectant in our bodies

Attacking NATO and friendly democracies

Slathering praise on barbaric dictators Putin and Kim

Grabbing pussy

Violating the Emoluments Clause

Separating children from their parents

Subverting the 2020 election

Inciting insurrection

Politicizing the Justice Department

Befriending white supremacists

Firing whistle blowers

Refusing to divest to profit from his election

Stealing classified documents

Obstructing justice



are the qualities to seek in our leader.

Richard Kimball, Vote Smart Founder

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 WARNING: You are about to enter an alternate universe.

 It was during my campaign for a second term that my recollections arrive in the Twilight Zone. So surreal I do not imagine you will believe, but they are so, and although my memory might confuse the exact order of things, they all happened just as I will describe them.

 I had not enjoyed being a State Senator but without ideas leading elsewhere I decided to run for re-election. Besides, my favorite part was coming up, meeting with thousands of voters in a re-election effort, a goodly number of which had become friends.

 It was in that happy spirit that my first mailed vote arrived, a few months early, in a plain white envelope without any return address or markings.  When I opened the letter, its sole contents, a shiny, heavy lump dropped out and landed in my lap.

 Now, I had not been much interested in hunting since I was about 10 when I hit a dove with my Christmas BB gun and watched it die. As result, I cannot tell you the caliber. I wasn’t worried and didn’t even report it.   This was long before such threats and shootings became common place.  Asking around, no other Senator had received such a gift and I just shrugged it off.

 I was more concerned with the pending flop.  The flop being my major re-election fund raiser that disabled my toilet plunger and completely unable to handle the mountain of crap to come.

  It was about two days before the fundraiser when I pointed out to my wife that no one would be attending.  The “no one would be attending,” remark was referencing the event’s dismal ticket sales, and I thought served as a punch to her midsection, since it was she who was managing my campaign and presumably the fundraiser. She wasn’t hurt or concerned. She had her own life to run and had handed off most responsibilities to a campaign manager she had hired with the kind of skills and experience we could afford.  His name was “Broom” Hall. Broom, a name he earned for an ability to beat all comers in pool halls using only a broom handle.

 Anyway, the flop had been advertised as vaudeville, and as it turned out there were more people signed up to be on the stage than there were people in the audience.  It was a bit humiliating, but partly saved by the local firefighters and my brother Bob.

 The firefighters, who adopted me during the campaign, went backstage and put on pillowcases in such an unusual way that they made them all look like four-foot-tall Pillsbury Dough Boys without elbows or knees. They humored the seated dozen or so with five minutes of relief, and then we all went back to waiting for a crowd that would never appear.

 I walked over to my mother, who never wanted me to follow my father into political life and now stood there, as only my mother could, with that same cocked, rigid look that used to say, “It’s your bedtime.”

Concerned or just embarrassed for me, my brother Bob, who spent a few months on the streets singing my praises to anyone that would listen, didn’t like such events or crowds suddenly stood up.  Bob was not supposed to be part of the program, but he marched up to the stage and began an impromptu 15-minute monologue that had the lucky few howling with laughter again and again. More importantly, he made them and me feel all was right with the world despite the empty room.  It was a peerless performance that would later that night make me cry, and as unassociated as it was, tell my wife I wanted a divorce.

 The fundraiser had little to do with my decision to separate from my wife. The fundraiser failure was only an event, but I felt it made as good a catalyst as any, to make my long agonized-over position known. I was just coming to recognize a flaw in my character: no activity, no matter how initially exciting, ever sustained my interest.  I would get bored with most every game, sport, hobby, friend, or person I ever knew. I inevitably just wanted to experience something else.  However, as it applied to people, this did not mean I did not care or was not loyal. I was perhaps offensively loyal, always struggling to sustain any and every relationship, but much the way most keep the relics of their past in pictures, to recall how much fun it once was, I wanted to keep the people themselves, only at a space apart.

 I had not yet come to grips with this character flaw and so duped myself into believing that there were two episodes that caused the breakup.

 One was coming home early one day, some weeks earlier and overhearing my wife tell her friends how she had demanded that she be able to keep her own last name when we married.  She did not know I was there. 

 For days before proposing, I had agonized over the precise words and arguments I would use to persuade her to keep her maiden name. I had never understood why women gave up the name they had been born with and so closely associated with for their entire lives.  A woman keeping her maiden name was still unusual, but I was pretty sure Carole would want to but might feel a little uncomfortable talking to me about it.  I wanted her to feel great about keeping hers and thus in my marriage proposal I included a virtual insistence that she do so.

 My often-unforgiving nature in the face of some perceived injustice could not forgive this violation of trust.  This indirect condemnation of me in front of ultra-liberal friends was minuscule but impossible for me to choke down.

 More fundamental and perhaps not entirely as self-duping was that we were entering our thirties and she had informed me that she still did not want to have children.  I wanted them badly but was in no position to force her cooperation.

 My handling of the divorce was unconscionable. I would not make the slightest effort to reconcile or talk to anyone about it. She could have everything (which was nothing) and within a day she had moved to her parents, I had thrown out my campaign volunteers, locked the doors and went on a cowardly three-day binger, drinking as heavily as one can and remain breathing.  I had desperately wanted to make sure I was more miserable than I imagined I had made Carole, who I loved and greatly admired to this day.  I just could not live with her.

 When I did come out filthy, unshaven, and not particularly coherent, volunteers asked if I would see a doctor. Being there “leader” and still in my self-absorbed early years, I refused, instead deciding to give a little more door-to-door a try. It was then that one opened into the Twilight Zone.

 Getting close to home, maybe three blocks away, I knocked on a final door. A heavy-set woman, maybe in her 60s, in a coffee stained and tattered robe, threw the screen door wide open hoping to hit me. The hatred smeared across her face was real, possibly dangerous.  She backed me up the sidewalk with her thundering voice, “You bastard!  I heard what you did.” She kept coming at me.  “What are you talking about?” I blurted. “You liberal commie bastard! You think we all do not know what you did.  Everyone knows your wife caught you sleeping with that blond bimbo. We saw, we all know she chased you out with a frying pan.”   She kept coming at me. “I knew you were a lying bastard when I heard you moved here from Illinois with all that labor money. You lying, fucking bastard!”

 It was, of course, difficult to know exactly how to handle this particular voter, who had gotten her information from the Klingon Star Ship. But getting her vote was not likely, so I kept backing away. Bodily harm was her desire, but I was pretty sure I could out jog her slippers if need be.

 Her bit about a blond, money and Illinois, a state I had never been to – what the Hell was that all about?  I wouldn’t find out until sometime later when tens of thousands of leaflets arrived in voter’s mailboxes. For the moment, I was just thinking of an escape route. She continued to rant as I back peddled. I heard sirens approaching on our street and thought, please hurry. My hands were raised palms out in a gestured effort to pause the onslaught and protect myself from any knives or hatchets that might suddenly appear. I made it to the corner and my chance to escape. Spinning around I jogged down the street toward my house and it was then that I entered the Twilight Zone.

 The pace of my escape was as in a dream, where try as you might, with all of your might, you just can’t accelerate in the goo.  For as I gazed down the street, I saw a number of police cars at my house with two more squealing around a corner, doors popping and guns out.

 Starting with no supporters coming to my fundraiser, the kind of guilt that only comes from hurting someone you love, piled on by a neighbor and constituent’s revulsion of everything that is you, and now this massive police presence: Exactly how horrid a creature was I?

 I slowed as I approached home.  What I thought must be a policeman, only very nicely dressed in a suit, approached me. He explained the scene around my house as well as anyone could. “Senator Kimball, you and the President have been threatened.” The President of what I asked. “President Jimmy Carter,” he said. “Huh!” was the best I could manage.  He repeated himself and I struggled in vain to digest the comment. It was as if all the parts of my brain had suddenly become unscrewed.  I didn’t feel worried, threatened or concerned about anything that he said, I just couldn’t grasp it. I was only concerned with the crazy lady who I was certain must have tracked me and about to pounce from behind. Thankfully she had vanished.

 Oddly, as I began to mull over what the officer had said, I noticed that I felt a tiny twinge of pride. “The President and me you say?” Some wacko put us in the same category.  “I am with the Secret Service,” he said, “Please come with me.”

 We walked over to a group of Phoenix’s finest, who informed me that I couldn’t go into my home right now, that they were searching for the suspect and evidence. “Do you know who it is?” I asked. “We are looking for a fellow named Broom Hall.”

 Admittedly, Broom was a little strange and I had learned that much of his money came from an adorable little wife who made itsy bitsy stage outfits for strippers, but an assassin?  No, this was all wrong.  Despite his oddities, he seemed such a nice, even thoughtful fellow.  “Listen there has to be some mistake here,” I said to the various badges now surrounding me. “NO! There is no mistake,” the agent barked. “We deal with threats all the time; we had him on the phone for some time and this one fits the profile we do not mess around with. We have to find him, now.”

 An hour later I was to learn that Broom owned a number of guns that were now missing from his home, that he had gone after his pregnant wife because she knew too much. She was now nowhere to be found.

 The warning or threat began with a police caller, who the Secret Service, with little difficulty, figured out was Broom himself.  The caller had said that I would be taken down at a Democratic Party fundraiser scheduled for later that week by a man pretending to be and made up to look exactly like my campaign manager.

 The various officers in charge insisted that I not sleep at home for a few days while they staked it out.  After hearing about Broom, the guns and his wife, and the event to happen at the party fundraiser, I thought the idea of my sleeping elsewhere a good one, so I picked my jaw up off the pavement and dragged it down the street where my little brother had just moved into a little house.  

 Out of the blue, just as I was packing up a few things, Broom’s pregnant wife showed up. She was scared as hell and after the Secret Service interviewed her, she asked if I could help her find a place to hide out. I found a place that the officers thought a good one on the other side of town and then got us out of there.

 I didn’t have to go far, which was good, because I would still have access to my home office and files when needed, but what had been bizarre was about to go freakish.

  My littlest brother, who if anything spent more time in the Black Hole of adolescence than his four siblings had a surprise of his own.  My brother’s place was perfect, I thought. He wasn’t involved in my politics at all, few knew him, his house was just few doors away, and no one knew him. Perfect I thought, the police could stake out my house, try to trap Broom and I could still access my campaign files when necessary.

 A policeman escorted me over and agreed it would be fine. An hour after the officer left, I was putting some my stuff on the top shelf of my new bedroom closet and discovered that my baby brother was in the drug business. He had a little marijuana trouble with the law years earlier and spent months in a Mexican prison for it. There were two rather large foil-covered bricks of tightly packed marijuana.

 The coming headlines scrolled through my imagination!

 The Arizona Republic, the state’s largest newspaper, was led by a heavily-medaled military leader, who no longer served in the military but greatly enjoyed his uniform and commendations and wore them at formal occasions. It would later be discovered that he had never earned those ribbons or medals, or even served in the military, but unfortunately for me, this absurd masquerade had yet to be exposed and for the moment, he possessed real power and a lack of affection for me.

 When he got wind of all that was going on around my house, I thought he would have a difficult dilemma.  What headline would he choose?




 It would all be bullshit but that never seemed to matter to this fellow and his paper. I imagined that an after the fact simple headline might be the best result for me:


(New chapters will be added roughly once a week)

Richard Kimball, Vote Smart Founder

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Years from now honey I will be blamed for everything you do!

You would do well to have a Maxine Christy Kimball as President.

She raised four boys alone. By rough calculation she had changed almost 5000 diapers, prepared 65,700 meals, swept, vacuumed, and scrubbed 10,200 rooms and laundered a pile of clothes, that if neatly folded and stacked (not always the case), would have roughly equaled the cruising altitude of a 747. The number of motherly events she shepherd, Sunday masses, birthdays, holidays, PTAs, Cub Scouts, football, baseball, basketball, swimming, science fairs, school shows, doctors’ visits, teacher conferences, summer camps, picnics, vacations, and at least one enema on yours truly, were more numerous than my memories can reasonably be expected to calculate. Not to mention the budgeting, taxes, investments, house maintenance, debts and such other adult fare we never knew about. (excerpt from my Autobiography of a Nobody).

As for the four boys she pushed into college: Well, with them there was alcoholism, thievery, drug use and smuggling, which got one a bit of prison time.

She was qualified to be President, we weren’t!

— —

Richard Kimball, Vote Smart Founder

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Richard Kimball

Richard Kimball

7 min read


Just now

Carole and I moved to Phoenix, where she studied for the Arizona Bar while I tried to do anything I could to help pay some bills. When she passed her Bar exam, I knew I was in trouble. My talents were miniscule, my education little better than that of a performing monkey, fortunately the one profession left to me needed no training and most monkeys could do it and actually do, do it — politics.

It was Christmas 1979, I was sitting in the living room with Carole, now a lawyer, and Steve, her former boyfriend, a talented artist, teacher, and good friend to us both. What should I do with my life was the question and run for office became the answer.

We knew a bit about politics, or at least enough to know that voters would elect just about anyone. None of us knew anything about local Phoenix politics or had any money. In fact, Carole and I had just moved to Phoenix, where her family lived, had no idea who the State Legislative incumbents were, let alone whether they were doing a good job or not. That not knowing, made us no different than you, or close to 100% of you who wouldn’t recognize your state representatives if they dropped in for dinner. Despite these impediments, we made 2 decisions that evening that 11 months later would remove a nice guy and pretty fair legislator from office.

First, was a catchy slogan. Every new, first-time, unknown candidate should have a good slogan I thought, some message that helps people remember the name. A very big deal when running for those little offices that few citizens ever go to the polls for. As with all local candidates we would largely be dependent upon the spillage from those on the top of the ticket, the Presidential, Gubernatorial or Congressional candidates who get the ink, resources, and attention necessary to be known and stimulate the electorate. All of which is completely backwards. The top of the ticket gets all the glamor while it is the bottom, those little candidates, the state legislators, city councils and school boards that have the power to impact you, and your family’s everyday life. Constitutionally the president may decide what to do with the people of Iraq, but he can’t do much about your neighborhood and most of us spend a lot more time there.

Anyway, after much discussion, I decided on, “Richard Kimball is Running.” An absurd slogan for sure, but political success is often built on the absurd. In this case, my name happened to be the same as a popular Hollywood TV series and later movie called the Fugitive, where an innocent man named Dr. Richard Kimble, is forced into running from the law. It was perfect. We even put a little running man logo on our signs so the point wouldn’t be missed.

It was an instant hit. And arguably, the only popular thing I ever did in my 7 years as a politician. The second important decision we made that night was that I would run for the State Senate against a popular Republican incumbent who also happened to be a local television personality. It would clearly be an uphill slog but a person who has a lot of energy and nothing else to do, can do a lot as a political candidate.

I would spend the next 11 months going door to door, thousands of doors, speaking to an amazing assortment of beings living in anything from dumps to palaces, but all with two things in common — They all lived in my district, and none knew who the Hell I was.

I distinctly remember the four doors I knocked on early that first morning. The first two, I was a little nervous and to my relief, no one was home, so I wrote out a note that as it turned out, I would write thousands of times on my campaign brochure. It said, “Sorry, I missed you. If you have any questions, please don’t hesitate to call me at my home.” Signed Richard with my number.

She was home at door number three, and the image is forever etched in my memory. She wasn’t more than 22 or 23, with tangles of long blond hair sweeping over her shoulder and sleep still dozing in her beautiful round blue eyes. She stood barefoot, dressed only in a bathrobe that was gloriously snagged on the doorknob. This vision launched my desire to knock on door number four and the thousands to come over the next eleven months.

Door number 4 was different, a whole lot different, and a revelation that would steel me for all the doors to come that would close in my face, beginning and ending with me in mid-sentence about my running for office.

My mind still smothered in the delights of door number 3, I knocked. “Who is it?” the voice barked. Shocked out of my dreamy fantasies, “Sorry to bother you Mame,” I stammered. ”My name is Richard Kimball, I’m running for the State Senate. I just wanted…” Suddenly the door swung open. Her hand grabbed to secure the lock on the screen. “I just have one question for you,” she huffed. “Great, what is it?” I said. Glaring at me, she jammed her words into my ears, “If elected, will you promise to support a law requiring the castration of all men accused of rape?”

Now I had given a great deal of thought to many issues, but castration of the accused had not been one of them. We talked for quite a while. I was pleasant, sympathetic but never told her that I could support mutilation before conviction as a proper punishment. None the less my concern convinced her that I was a sympathetic friend, and as I imagined what horror this woman must have suffered, she became my first vote.

For a pitiful few, it is a most valuable lesson. It isn’t so much what you stand for as it is what you feel, the language you use and manner with which any normal human would instinctively respond. All of this came very naturally to me, I did not need to pretend, be bombastic or solicitous in any way. I needed to follow Franklin Roosevelt’s advice, “Be short, be sincere and be seated (or in this case quiet).”

Never liking to draw attention or talk, I was a gifted listener and empathizer with almost anyone’s view no matter what it was. It was where it came from that was of interest to me.

Going door-to-door suddenly became fun, often stimulating and endlessly educational. In fact, it would occur to me some years later that I may have been the only candidate ever who truly enjoyed campaigning but hated serving. When serving, I would learn, real people were part of your past.

In the months ahead, door after door, with my passion and interest clear to all I slowly gained support. I walked the streets of central Phoenix seven days a week, every week, from 8 in the morning to 8 in the evening for those 11 months. At some point a few people started to welcome me, they had heard I was coming from friends or relatives in neighborhoods I had been through weeks before. Sometimes they would offer me a soda or a sandwich and actually seemed to enjoy talking to me. One day a photographer showed up and wanted to take a picture of all the shoes I had worn out. I was having a good time. Most of the people were kind, thoughtful and full of all kinds of notions, and it was clear that no one had ever shown any interest in what they thought.


My little running man went up in yards and on street corners. On Election Day, State Senator Tim Hayes, a popular television personality, a good and decent man and fair Senator was gone. I don’t think he ever knew what hit him. For me, winning was one of those precious moments in life never to be repeated. The experience was pure joy.

Thousands of Arizonians took time out of their day to go to the polls, grab a ballot find my name and say, “Ya! You’re our guy!” That is the nonsensical notion that germinates the “BIG HEAD” all politicians grow. It is a complete dumpster load of the smelly stuff, as I said, people are drawn to the polls by the top of the ticket and just blindly vote for one party or the other on down the ballot. My funny little running man nudged me over the top in what had been thought a Republican district.

The experience of winning with family, friends, and supporters all about, was the purest joy but had sobered by morning.

Now what?

(New chapters will be added roughly once a week)

Richard Kimball, Vote Smart Founder

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WHO AM I? Conservative or Liberal?

The person most qualified for the job should get the job.

People that borrow money should pay it back.

Limits should be placed on access to abortion.

Separation of church and state should be absolute.

Citizens’ access to weapons of mass destruction should be limited.

Collecting taxes to exceed the defense spending of the next 10 largest countries is a dangerous squander.

We should invest in knowledge and be guided by our discoveries.


Richard Kimball, Vote Smart Founder

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Richard Kimball

Richard Kimball

2 min read


Just now


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You will never hear a politician tell you,

“Hey, things are just great, we are doing just fine,” not even incumbents. Fear is what sells in politics. In politics the world is always about to end. Complain about your current circumstance to any survivor of the Revolution, the Civil War, The World War, Great Depression, World War II or a dozen other trials they somehow bested to give you the life you have, and you’ll know regret.

“No generation of Americans have had it easier, yet every successful politician knows that fear works, it’s what drives people to the polls to vote for the very savior making them fearful. Politicians are the very definition of the expression “Drama Queens.” They can sensationalize anything, it is what gets attention, creates audience sells product and GOD DAME IT, advances the very world they harp against.

Once a researcher noted, “You are four times more likely to die drowning in a bathtub than you are from a terrorist attack.” Bathtubs have been knocking Americans off for a very long time now, but no one suggests we commit the nations treasure and tens of thousands of lives in an all-out attack against porcelain producers and plumbers. Even though it could scarcely be a lesser undertaking than what we did in Iraq, Afghanistan, or any American war in my lifetime.

The most minor issues are blown enormous when enormous issues are not apparent…”

(Excerpt from my The Miracle of Me — Biography of a Nobody)

Richard Kimball, Vote Smart Founder

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Democracy Requires Free Will

What if there was nothing that molded you, nothing that pulled you this way or that, inclined you to like or dislike, you existed in an eventless void without the thinnest tinsel of influence?  What would you think, would you even know to think?

That world once existed for each of us, at that split second our consciousness began. From that instant on, each of us has been led, guided to our thoughts, ushered to our judgements of all that surrounds us.

Each of us is the product of incalculable variations in experience. It is those variations that make me so different than you.

Those profound differences that developed, could once make mouths water at the thought of a nice slab of whale blubber in Alaska or a pile of fried or nicely aged maggots in Italy.

Starting slowly and now accelerating to starship speed, our world is homogenizing into manageable clusters of conformity where one can easily forecast what the members of one cluster or another do, want, think, and believe.

The deletions in experiences and the bundlings of commonalities are increasing in most every aspect of our lives, whether it be in how we live, what we do, where we buy, what we see and listen to. One can now easily forecast what the members of one cluster or another do, want, think and believe.

Nowhere is this more apparent than in politics, where we are captured in clusters of like view, all pulled and inclined to identical judgements, shaped by today’s unscrupulous sources.

With the loss of trusted sources of information and the growing inability to know what is so and what is not, there is no escape. And now with A.I.’s foot on the first step of the human ladder the end of unmanaged thought or what we think of as free will is near.

All that is left is the uncontrolled molding of billions of malleable minds.

Richard Kimball, Vote Smart Founder

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No one seems certain what WOKE means. All words have a life, like people, they change with age and never more so than a newly born one.

It is how a word is used that defines its meaning.  Right now the use of WOKE seems most like a synonym for political correctness particularly as it applies to any class of disadvantaged.

If it stays on that track I hope that one day it will get its due: That is to say, every single one of us owes a debt to WOKE.  If there were not enough WOKE, no one would have the vote, certainly not women, we would still have slavery, ovens for Jews would still be in operation and Christians could find themselves lion food in the Colosseum.

WOKE works. It pushes us to be better.

Richard Kimball, Vote Smart Founder

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Cupid is a Little Devil?

To preserve a modicum of sanity and friendly relations if I take a walk when someone talks politics. I have found there is comfort in not knowing another person’s views.

However, this week as so many liberal friends celebrate Trump’s indictment drawn from a sexual affair, I just want on the highest hill to scream how dangerously desperate that inditement will be made to appear.

Is paying off a prostitute really the important issue?

When the conservatives wanted to impeach Clinton for Whitewater, found nothing but Monica Lewinski and so impeached him for that, was the world made right. Does anyone really think men in power won’t follow the urge to pollinate the flowers that gather about them. Hell, even Jimmy Carter “lusted in his heart.”

Be careful what you wish for? You better.

This celebration will play the key role in turning what is an imbecile into a martyr with his millions of nymphlepts. He had sex. He tried to hide it. Ya, that’s unusual, let’s get him for that and engorge his line, “The liberals are on a witch hunt and will do anything,” with real value.

This indictment helps build him a silken cushion to fall upon when it comes to the serious issues that truly matter, like insurrection, election interference and tax fraud.

Richard Kimball, Vote Smart Founder

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Finding an exit

Sanctions will not succeed and rarely, if ever, have been the deciding factor in conflicts.

American media continues to push narratives that suggest the sanctions have real teeth and suggest the Russian people will rebel as the bodies return home.

The reality is that the Russian economy continues to expand, even out pacing Britain and Germany and will continue to do so as their trade with powerful economies such as China, India and Turkey explode, none of which support sanctions.

The Russian people’s support for the war does not faulter as had been hoped, but grows in patriotic fervor as their sources of information pitch the West as working toward Russian destruction.

The end game we hope for and need:

  1. The West recognizes roughly 7% of Ukraine as Russian, including Crimea and the Russian-speaking areas of Donetsk and Luhansk — roughly the territory Russia claimed in 2014.
  2. Ukraine, whose economy has crashed, gets to retain all of the territory they had prior to the 2022 invasion, gets peace, and the funds to rebuild, substantially but not solely provided by Russia.

Neither Russia nor the West can lose in this conflict. Anything much less or much more than such a compromise will put world disaster on the table.

Richard Kimball, Vote Smart Founder

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Now we, as the LUCKIEST GENERATION, choose to live unearned lives on the gains made by our fathers and their fathers before them. Lives that all previous generations in human history could never have imagined.

 Yes, we spent much of what was earned and saved in the past and much of what has yet to be earned in the future, all to enjoy today.

Mention rational adjustments to our spending on Social Security, Medicare/Medicaid or defense and we will butcher you.


Richard Kimball, Vote Smart Founder

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Brandon and Saudia would have been in jail instead of on a plane headed for home if my wife and I hadn’t been there. Two brilliant students just finishing internships working for us. One was headed back to work for the governor of Indiana and the other into health care in her native Georgia.

With an early pre-dawn flight, we decided to give them a lift on the two hour drive up to the Portland airport.

Now this gets a little tricky to explain, it is a “you had to be there” kind of thing. But here is my best effort: I was driving and Adelaide, my wife, was sitting in the back seat directly behind me, while Brandon was sitting shotgun and Saudia directly behind him. In the dark of the night, we came up to a stop sign before turning left on to a main but poorly lit street leading out of town and to the Interstate. Off in the distance, parked under a tree, I noticed what I thought was a parked police car. I turned left, drove five or six blocks as the police car slowly approached from the rear and then suddenly hit its lights and siren at the same instant that another police car came screeching around the corner in front of us, hitting its siren. I pulled over.

I was completely fuddled and asked Brandon what I had done. I knew I hadn’t been speeding. He shrugged his shoulders and Adelaide said, “Maybe one of our brake lights is out.” Two police cars for that?

I didn’t think so. I watched as the policemen that pulled up behind us quickly jumped out of his car and put his hand on his holster, while the other car put on its brights and blocked the road in front. “Wow! What the Hell is this?”

The officer with his hand on the gun quickly approached me from behind, then seeing me, slowed as his hand dropped to his side. Now it was he who looked fuddled.

Nervously I asked him what I had done. In an odd, suddenly cautious and disappointed voice he said, “Never mind, you can go,” and blurted out an inaudible something to the other police car and briskly walked back to his. Both cars pulled out and disappeared into the night.

Brandon, Saudia, my wife and I just sat silent for a minute or so. I glanced over at Bradon and then back at Saudia. Neither would look at me and then I got it.

I just exploded. When we had turned left onto the main street the police car down the block only saw Brandon and Saudia in the windows. with two others in the dark shadows next to them. They saw a car full of black people.

Apoplectic would be the word to describe my reaction. I had never seen it up close and personal, but now that I had there was blood in my eyes. I wanted floggings or at least a couple of badges.

I ranted about how I was going to some friends in the local press and city council. When I finally came up for breath Brandon and Saudia just looked up and stared at me, and then as if in tag-team manner asked that I not do that.

I was now the student and to be taught by two who had clearly earned their PhDs.

They told me that if I did those things, it would only make it worse for other blacks. Their suggestion was simply this: “If you really want to do some good, if you want to be helpful, Richard, sponsor some community discussions on racism and tolerance. It will bring it out into the open and maybe strike a note with a few who will make such things less likely.”

The effect those two had on me came in level parts of shame and awe. Of course they would know, this was no first time for them.

Yes, some community discussion, it was the thing to do, the smart, effective, helpful, proper thing to do. But I was none of those things, and by noon I could be found in the mayor’s office unrolling an obscenity-laced review of the night’s events.

She, of course, promised to have a stern discussion with the Chief of Police who would make sure everyone was properly chewed out and made all the more hateful.

There were more important pressing things to do with my time than sponsor forums on race. Besides I had stirred up a nice angry pot and could now, like most of the self-righteous, point my countenance skyward and arrogantly walk on, confident that I had busted some ass and created peace on earth.

Score one for me on the Mutant’s team.

The other side of the coin is this — a defense that will upset some who read this. Not a defense of those policemen in my story, but one that knows they are not the norm. I could give you equally vivid emotional descriptions of the hundreds of ethical, honorable police officers slaughtered on America’s streets each year, putting their bodies between you and real evil.

It isn’t a desire to hurt others that generates generations of police cadets. It is a desire to do good, to serve, to be of value to their community, friends, and family and to feel value in themselves.

It isn’t unusual, it is normal for some in any profession to turn to the dark side, particularly in a profession that finds a few hundred of its number murdered on the streets every year.

Could it be that showing more value and far better screening might be a more fruitful response?

You do not want to give up the protection of those willing to protect you, but we might fork over bigger salaries and a lot more training to avoid those on the dark side.

— –

(Excerpt from Kimball’s Autobiography of a Nobody — The Miracle of Me)

Richard Kimball, Vote Smart Founder

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Are you a New Wave Republican?

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Deny elections, deny vaccines, deny climate change, deny wages, deny all abortions and health care for the poor. Defund social programs and public education. Support assault weapons, a paralyzing defense budget, and a Christian nation.

Eisenhower, Nixon, Goldwater, Ford, Reagan, the Bush’s, and every other Republican leader in history weren’t!

Richard Kimball, Vote Smart Founder

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The Miracle of Me  – CHAPTER 15


Walking through your day you step past the most undervalued, precious assets we have: those few still willing to be our children’s teachers.

As parents, we no longer pay them, encourage, or respect them as our parents and their parents once did. Worse yet, since parents don’t, the children don’t either.

The temporary shell was needed to relieve the school’s overcrowding, a lonely cube of a portable classroom deposited out on the back lot. Students sat on their desk-tops, happily laughing and tossing whatever was at hand at each other across the room. They were celebrating that happy event when their teacher was out sick, and a substitute was needed. Then I walked in.

I had been substituting for about a month at some of Tucson’s tougher schools. All of them had serious problems due to funding requirements that reduced the number of teachers while retaining each student no matter how disinterested, disruptive, and abusive they were.

As I began taking the roll, I asked the students to settle down and please take a seat. Most did, with a few I had to repeat myself and one, a 13-year-old named Tommy — well he was different. Tommy remained seated on his desktop with his back to me. “Very funny,” I joked, “but I need you to take your seat so we can get started.” His response commanded the clear vocal projection of a seasoned actor on the Broadway stage, “Fuck You,” along with a crowd-pleasing hand gesture on a limb streaking toward the ceiling, announcing to all that I was his number one.

Now I was an imposing presence, 6’ 4” and 245 pounds of mostly muscle at the time. I instantly wondered how Mrs. Shenfield, my third-grade teacher at 5’ 2”, would have handled this. I had no idea, so I simply towered over him and with a stern voice ordered him to take his seat or he would be sent to the principal’s office. Tommy redelivered his line and gesture, adding that they didn’t have to do anything some dumb substitute said.

I wrote out a pink slip and told him to get out and go to the principal’s office. He sneered, snatched it from my hand and stomped out. For what remained of the 50-minute class the portable was rocked, first by him launching his body against its sides and then by rocks and bricks, until just before the bell rang when I had to unplug the air-conditioner because it started to spit out dirt and then smoke.

As soon as the bell rang, I was out the door chasing Tommy around the building where he entered the class from the opposite door. Pushing over all the desks and chairs he could, he ran out the opposite side.

I did not catch up to Tommy until the last bell of the day. He was trying to sneak out through the one gate students could get to their school bus. The march through the school’s halls to the principal’s office was a long one and for the ages. Every disgusting, vile thing he could think of, and I dare say you too, was disgorged in an endless tirade of colorful descriptions regarding my privates and how I used them. I was amused, silent and just made sure he stayed on track directly to the principal’s office.

When we got to the office, the principal was on her way out, and as I quickly explained about the destruction of property, she blurted, “I don’t have time to deal with this now,” and walked away.

Arriving the next morning there was a note on my desk saying, “Report to the principal’s office immediately.” It was there that I found the principal, Tommy and his two angry parents. The principal immediately announced that I was being dismissed. As my jaw went slack and I dumbly responded with a ”Huh?” there was a knock on the door. It was another teacher who said she had something to say. As she closed the door and began to speak there was another knock on the door, then another. Within less than a minute the room was filled with strangers, all teachers, none of whom I knew.

It appears that Tommy caused such an uproar in our walk down the halls to the office the previous day that teachers had streamed out of their classes to watch the scene as we passed. I had never seen them, nor do I remember what each one had to say that morning in the principal’s office, but it was pretty much along the lines of what that first one said who claimed she had never seen anyone suffer through such outrageous abuse and yet remain so perfectly calm.

Turns out neither Tommy nor I got released that day. With Tommy the school needed to continue counting him as a student because funding depended upon student retention. With me, well that was because if I had been fired a dozen or so other teachers were about to take a walk.

I think the world of schoolteachers (unlike college professors, who are unfortunately better paid, often full of themselves and get to teach people who pay to be there). Schoolteachers are never full of themselves and are given our youngest minds, at their most vulnerable, absorbing, educable time in life, yet we strip them of authority, money and our respect, yet still expect our children to excel in reading, math and have some knowledge of civics — all of which plummeted in recent years.


Next to my 3rd grade teacher, Mrs. Scheinfeld, Mr. Evans became the greatest teacher ever with nothing more than a moment out of his day. He was the school’s track coach with a sideline as the remedial math teacher. Or maybe it was the other way around, I really didn’t know.

I was working on some simplistic bit of math designed for pinheads in the school’s remedial math class. He walked up behind me, stood there a second checking my work. Then he did something no other teacher had ever done, would do, think to do, or have any cause to do: He put his hand on my shoulder, smiled, and said, “You’re good, too good to be here.”

With that moment from an adult I admired, I took off like a rocket into the unknown. I devoured math, excelled at math, and suddenly became better than anyone I knew at math. Within two weeks I had been taken from Mr. Evan’s remedial class and dumped into Mr. Karloff’s advanced trigonometry class. I had begun having dreams of being a great architect or astronomer.

That moment of encouragement would live on in my recreations of it for other children to this present day, whom I have strived to have that same effect upon.


Well, I did not become an architect, and my astrophysicist dreams ended abruptly with Mr. Karloff’s trigonometry class.

On my first day in his class. Mr. Karloff a mean, craggy 300 pounder with a scowl cemented to his face, caught my best buddy Stevie Bogard, who had been in the advanced class for some time, chewing gum. Mr. Karloff explain to the class that “Stevie must not have been on his mommy’s tit long enough,” as he picked him up by his heels and shook him until the gum fell out.

Unseen, in the back row I swallowed my split of Stevie’s gum and slunk deep into my seat, invisible again, my glory days with digits over.


Now Mrs. Upham, the history teacher, was the school’s oldest, with long gray-white hair pulled back so tight it must have hurt. A joyless woman and devoted sleuth, searching for any and every fault a child might have.

Now back in the 1960s, and maybe even with some teachers today, being unappreciated as they are, what they taught in history class was tested something like this:

Event #1, who was involved and on what date?

Event #2, who was involved and on what date?

And so on.

Little effort, at least in my experience, was made to make history exciting and relevant. Tests were simply exercises in memorizing names and dates, apparently with the purpose that you can still remember them to this day.

But one Friday, Mrs. Upham really hit a homer with me. She said, your homework assignment is to do a report on Arizona’s gubernatorial history.

Wow, now that is relevant, that is the office my dad ran for, and I was all in. Screw the neighborhood games and TV. I didn’t work on it all weekend, I reveled in it all weekend.

When Monday morning came around and the other students put in their one and two-page papers I handed in a 30-something page manuscript of each governor’s accomplishments, records, and dates, complete with what pretty pictures I could find of governors visiting historic sites cut from Dad’s stack of old Arizona Highways magazines. I gave Mrs. Upham a big smile as I set my masterpiece in front of her, knowing my work would be as unexpected as it was treasured.

Mrs. Upham picked it up, quickly leafed through it and then wasted no time on her evaluation. “You didn’t do this,” she scowled, then ordered me back to my seat.

I got a D.


Almost all teachers, in my experience, were on the student’s side. My French teacher was named Mr. Gauntlet. How perfect is that? It was my sophomore year, and I am pretty sure that I chose French because I thought it would impress girls. In fact, one day it did impress one. She was very cute, a new student who came to school wearing a blouse with La Fleur de Jardin printed on it. A remarkable streak of luck, since those happened to be the only four words of French I knew and would provide me with the only truly impressive opener I ever had.

She did not know what the words meant. “Why you are the flower of the garden,” I said. She turned beet red and gave me a smile to die for.

It made me want to follow up with, “Would you like to go out, fall in love, make babies and spend the rest of our lives together?”

At the end of that sophomore year a remarkable event was brought to my attention. It looked like I was going to make the Honor Roll. The Honor Roll! Me, the invisible idiot? The Honor Roll? All I had to do was somehow not flunk French. Not possible I thought, I had flunked every French test, quiz and question Mr. Gauntlet had given me. It had become so hopeless that I had stopped handing in homework assignments weeks earlier simply because I no longer understood what the assignments, now given in French, were. Mr. Gauntlet, who seemed to like me despite the grinding wreckage I made of his native tongue had mercifully stopped calling upon me in class.

But with the Honor Roll there was the chance I could announce to the world that I was not as stupid as I thought and was sure everyone else knew me to be. I went to see Mr. Gauntlet, told him about my Honor Roll dream, “if only I could somehow pass French.” A kind, gentle fellow, he wanted to protect me from myself, and told me that if I could get just enough questions right on the final exam to get a D he wouldn’t flunk me.

I went home and crammed for a full 20, maybe even 30 minutes. It was too painful, just too hopeless. When the following week’s exam was scored Mr. Gauntlet pulled me aside and told me that I did not do well, that I had not only gotten the worst grade in class but that I had the second worst grade in the entire school. “Second” I thought, well that’s something. Then to my excellent surprise and what I would later see as symptomatic of the lax educational system’s “keep students happy” horror spreading across the land, Mr. Gauntlet gave me my D.

For that D, he wanted a deal, as he put it. “I’ll give you a D on one condition.” “Yes, anything,” I said. “That you promise me you will never take French again as long as you live.”

No winning lottery ticket ever felt so good. I made the Honor Roll, dubious as it was, and Mr. Gauntlet would not have to worry that I would enter some colleague’s French class claiming to have passed his.

(New chapters will be added roughly once a week)

Richard Kimball, Vote Smart Founder

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America’s Covid Response


So much politics to write about and suddenly struck dumb, unable to hold a solitary thought for more than a blink of my red puffy eye. A strobe blinks out endless distractions, a sneeze, an aching jaw, hip, shoulder, an uncontrolled “toot” of the troubles below to come, a throat wincing at the endless hacking release of gluey phlegm so indigestible by the bathroom sink my wife begs me to spit into the trash instead.

Three years after the “Shit Show” started in Wuhan, after getting every vaccine and booster, and a few cases of N95s, I have the Covid.

And yet, I feel lucky. I live in a country that saved and is saving millions of lives all over the world, including mine. We Americans did that. As I come out of my misery, I toast us!

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Richard Kimball — Vote Smart Founder

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The Miracle of Me



My father’s passing was altogether different.

His burial ended with what seemed every police officer in town, off their motorcycles and out of their cars, in a long line of helmets in hand and in salute as the hearse rolled passed. It surprised me to see that, but I instantly understood. Even at just 13 years I quite naturally got it. The greatest person ever born was passing.

He had come to Arizona from Massachusetts in 1927 as a sick 17-year-old. He had fought ill health much of his life and when his father died his mother brought him out, hoping the dry desert air would do him good. It worked! By the end of his first year, starting as a junior at Tucson High School, he was elected Student Body President, starred in the school play, was President of both the Junior and Senior Clubs, led the Latin Forum, became the state’s debate champion, and captained the school’s tennis team. That last one, the tennis team thing, didn’t seem like a big deal until I found out the school didn’t have a tennis court at the time. In fact, I doubt there was a tennis court anywhere in town. Somehow, he got 50 of his classmates wanting to play tennis and thus convincing the town to build its first tennis courts at his high school.

He had been president of his high school, the University of Arizona’s lawyer, Tucson’s Chief Magistrate, the State Senate’s Majority Leader, and the target of a long-distance javelin thrower who stuck it in his back (or that at least is the tale he liked to tell about that long scar down his right shoulder). He had come from a family that landed in Boston in 1632, the first being a fellow by the name of Richard Kimball (my name sake), a wheelwright. By the 1880s they had created the Kimball Opera House in Atlanta (where they convinced the governor to move the capitol), and had factories and hotels from Boston to Waikiki. All of it anchored in that carriage business Richard had started and where Thomas Edison would one day display his new-fangled lights, not long before Henry Ford heard of the carriage assembly line they developed and converted it to some newfangled put puts. I knew none of this until long after his death. He just never talked about himself or his family.

Dad and Me

All that he had been to others was insignificant to me. When you are 13 years old and the greatest influence in your life becomes seriously ill, and the seriousness is kept protectively secret from you, and when he is suddenly announced dead at your kitchen door, the devastation is an indescribable torment that you never fully recover from.

The 13 years I spent with him pointed the way to every important career decision I ever made.

I was maybe six when we had our first political discussion. It was simple and to the point. As we pulled out of the St. Ambrose School parking lot, he noticed that I was staring up at the Stars and Stripes fluttering at the top of a pole in the school yard. He asked me if I knew what that was. I shrugged and said it’s a flag. He turned around, looked at me, “Do you know what it means?” I had no idea; it was just a flag. “Kimmy, that’s our flag,” he said. “For a great many years thousands have fought for that flag and many have died defending it. You should be very proud of our flag.” That was all he said, but the impact was colossal. To say that I was then proud is a whopping understatement. As we drove along, I started to notice the flag over the bank, over the post office, over the tallest office buildings in town. With each sighting I became more excited, and my sense of pride swelled. In that short drive I had become bigger, taller, and more full of myself than I ever would be again. When we finally reached home and pulled into the driveway, I saw my best buddies, Butchy Becker and Stevie Bogard, sitting under a tree across the street. I didn’t wait for the Packard to come to a complete stop, I jumped.

After Dad scolded me and disappeared into the house, I sauntered over to where Stevie and Butchy were sitting. Slowing to a shuffling swagger as they noticed me, I said, “You know that red and white flag that’s over just about every building in town?” “Yeah,” they said, glancing at each other. “Well, that’s our flag,” I triumphantly announced. Butchy and Stevie were unimpressed and gave a puzzled condescending response to the enormity of my revelation. “So what?” they said.

“Well that is our flag! It is everywhere, people have died defending OUR flag. Where is your flag?”

Everybody knew my Dad, no matter where we went folks seemed to know who he was. As a kid I didn’t know why but traveling around was just different with my dad than it was with anyone else. With him I wasn’t invisible, couldn’t be invisible but did not care, because I was very popular and didn’t have to do anything or say anything to earn people’s affection.

I knew so little about him when he was alive. My discovery of who he was, what he was, and where he came from happened long after his death. Most important to me in those early years is that he never thought I was slow or stupid. If anything, he seemed to think I was special and took me everywhere.

I loved it! Particularly the track meets, baseball games, basketball games and the U of A’s football games, where he would introduce me to the players and even got the U of A football coach to be my confirmation father (a big deal in the Catholic Church). At games, which Mom rarely went to, Dad would sometimes get us a room in the press box, where he would announce the games — something he had volunteered to do back when he was a law student in the early 1930’s because the university would not pay anyone to do it. The university changed its mind after Dad’s first game, when they heard him occasionally interject announcements about the latest sale down at the Ford dealership or the after-the-game hamburger specials at Burger Boy.

He got us one of the press box rooms hoping to keep an eye on us and keep us out of trouble. It didn’t work. Inevitably by the second half, the school would be down by a dozen points or so and Dad’s idiot children would fill the time by doing the kinds of things idiots do. If we had nothing of value to destroy, we could always toss airplanes made from the program pages or bits of popcorn down on the crowd below.

By the time he died I was old enough to know that he was a pretty big deal to a lot of people. Everyone knew him, respected him, liked him but no one more than me. My world simply cycled around his presence and anything we might do together.

The only political campaign he was ever in that I felt old enough to help with was in 1956. I was 7 and it was a race for something called Governor. I didn’t understand much about it, but I noticed one afternoon as we pulled into the neighborhood drug store a stack of colorful stickers on the back seat next to me that said, “Kimball for Governor.”

As we pulled into the drug store parking lot, I asked him what they were for. “Oh, people put those on their bumpers to show their support,” he replied, then hopped out of the car saying, “I’ll be back in a minute.”

Now it is a parent’s lot in life to provide for their kids, always helping you, encouraging you and such, but it is a rare event when a child thinks of returning the favor.

As he entered the drug store, I was instantly on the job and a few minutes later Dad came out just as I was gluing the last bumper at the far end of the parking lot.

Dropping your jaw and having it slap against your chest is, I believe, a unique ability, and I feel certain no one but my father had it. Just as surprising was his ability to run, something I had never seen him do as he grabbed and slung me into the car. Sadly, the only thanks I got was from the super-exciting squeal the tires made as we headed for home.

Dad was always suffering from some ailment that stole his breath. A few weeks after the “bumper sticker incident,” he got sick again, which was a part of our family life from time to time. He kept up his unsuccessful campaign for Governor from a hospital bed.

Giving Dad my tough look for a campaign picture

When he was healthy, I would sometimes feel trapped into listening to him talk with his friends. I cannot recall much of the adult subject matter discussed but I did notice that everyone seemed to care what he had to say and on occasion he would notice me and dumb down the conversation in efforts to include me. And that was the thing about Dad, sometimes he would treat me like I was an adult, or at least I felt like he did. The day that he spoke to me about his being the Majority Leader was to become a memory of considerable significance to me. I can’t remember his exact words, but I do remember his exact meaning. He said, “If you are interested in doing good in life, public service allows you to do the greatest good for the greatest number of people.” Twenty years later, I would sit as the youngest member of the Arizona State Senate where he sat and wonder what the Hell had happened to that idea.

Serious floor debate did not exist because outcomes were known in advance, the outcomes pre-arranged either in the majority party caucus or, if absolutely necessary, in concert with the minority leader, who might be able to corral a few cross over votes. On my first depressing day, after all the senate members filed out, I sat silently in what might have been my father’s seat thinking, “My God, was my father one of these people?”

He wasn’t, and I think I can prove it, prove that it is honor, ethics and public good that has deteriorated before I am ended with this book.

At 13, you are just old enough to know what death means, but you’re not old enough to cope. As I came home from school on a perfectly good day Mom met me at the back screen door. Her manner was matter of fact, no nonsense, just get the painful truth of it out. “Kimmy, your father passed away this morning.” In an instant, what had been ordinary, his struggling up stadium steps to his press box, the wheezing for breath, his never used old tennis racquet and golf clubs, and that odd look he gave me during my last visit to the hospital blasted into an unbearable reality. He would never talk or walk, never see, smell, touch, laugh or breathe. I would never see him again, forever, forever and ever.

To this young boy the effect instantly crushed every bone from my body. The wailing went on for hours and would re-emerge for days.

Mom, unable to console me, started sending in seconds, my older brothers, and friends of the family. They would enter my room in futile efforts to calm me down. It wasn’t until late that first night when I saw how worried she was about me that I bit into my tongue to relieve the pain that was the most excruciating I had ever known. To say I wanted to die and join him wherever he was, would be spot on the mark.

Adults are forever casting a child’s traumas as less significant than their own.

They aren’t!

(New chapters will be added roughly once a week)

Richard Kimball, Vote Smart Founder

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Say it isn’t so!

Decades ago, my congressman boss would joke: You know what the difference is between a cactus and a congress? With a cactus all the pricks are on the outside.


Give me a switch and it would be tough to choose who to smack first: The Republicans who cower at the feet of their lowliest, or those Democrats acting joyous at the spectacle.

This is what happens when the mindless self-obsessed of our number, once only seen in the crassest of local politics, are elevated to the highest offices in the land.

This is the opportunity, for what is left of reason, to come together from both sides and put our nation back on track. Not Republican vs. Democrat, but the rational/thoughtful vs. the galactically stupid.

Richard Kimball — Vote Smart Founder

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New Year’s resolutions

Losing weight.  The most popular New Year’s resolution.  Started with dogged determination and ending with that first tempting French fry, potato chip or cream puff.

Hard to imagine a resolution more made and less kept.

Maybe this year try something new, less narcissistic and a little more egalitarian, something that helps us all.

Something that gives an option to the easily digested partisan news and provides us with the nutrition we all so desperately need: Supporting a source of accurate, abundant, dependable facts on those that govern or wish to replace those who do:

Richard Kimball, Vote Smart Founder

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E = mc2

A simple equation of enormous significance to anyone that understands it and now with this week’s useful proof of it, stand ready to save the world.

equation by Vote Smart

equation by Vote Smart

Democracy equals education/facts multiplied by infinity.

You simply cannot govern yourself without unlimited education and access to facts.

It is that equation that you must focus on and why Vote Smart began. Vote Smart: a simple idea, where people get the facts and citizens have enough knowledge (education) to use them successfully.

At its core, it is not difficult to understand. If you support turning over the rules that govern your life to millions of strangers that you do not know, who you will never know, you must struggle to insure they have access to education and the facts. That is what was began begun at

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I’ve got this Mom! Free clip art

I’ve got this Mom!

Birth begins the struggle to be free, and with most boys, somewhere along the line, there is an event where a man begins to emerge, takes out the scalpel he never knew he had and severs the emotional umbilical he has been tethered to since that birth. For me it was the day that Mommy became Mom and was no longer entirely the boss of me. I have never noticed this ritual of passage with daughters. Most daughters seem to remain close to mothers for life, even interdependent. Not so much with boys.

The years following my father’s demise were a great struggle for my mother. There was some insurance, some savings, and nothing owed on the house but most income had stopped. Year by year the house was left without repairs and the four sons grew as did the size of their infractions, which became more than just adolescent mischief. She tried to cope by bringing other males into our family’s life. I am not talking any romance for her here, I am talking priests who poured bottomless buckets of advice over her and absolution over the four of us, and certainly not Mother’s financial councilors, who lost much of what little money she had left.

It was 1965 when mom talked a marine recruiter into recruiting me and my little brother. She wanted us to start thinking about manly things and have a manly influence in our lives. I was 17, Johnny 15 (why not have him listen in). My oldest brother, Billy the eldest, had joined the Navy. Bobby, second in line, who famously said in a high school newspaper interview, “You couldn’t pay me to walk a mile,” was off adventuring into the growing world of San Francisco’s mind-altering alternatives.

As for the youngest two, well, a little male influence might be just the timely thing. She would have the Marine visit us in our game room just as the delicate free world was beginning to cower from a never-ending stream of pissed-off Vietnamese peasants — peasants who would begin down the road of our destruction by tottering the first of what were called “Dominos.”

The North Vietnamese or what would become flatteringly referred to as “Gooks,” or the results of one friend’s work, who later oversaw military incendiary devices, “Crispy Critters,” were the enemy. They were according to our leaders, worth the 2 million lives lost, including 55,000 Americans, to keep anyone from collapsing that first “Domino.”

This is what happens to school yard fights as we age and whoever has the megaphone yells, “Fight, Fight, FIGHT.” Almost all those yelling getting to watch as “Seconds” do all the back lot brawling. But again, I get ahead of myself.

Back to the day of my surgical removal of the umbilical. My brothers and I were all given chores and on rare occasions when Mom ran out of ideas, we were sent off on some make work chore just to keep us out of trouble — in my case, from starting fires and such. “Kimmy,” she said, “Take this new hoe,” a hoe she had purchased to replace the one brother Bobby had intentionally broken the week before on a similar order, “and weed the back lot behind the house.” Now the back vacant lot was a half-acre plot Mom and Dad had purchased as an investment. My rebellion came on suddenly without plan and a neighborhood football game in the waiting. I looked at the lot, I looked at the hoe, and then said the most powerful two letter word representing freedom for any child said to any parent, “NO.” And then ran into the neighborhood, a neighborhood every child knows better than their parents. She searched but as she would recall sometime later, that was it, the moment when things flipped.

The transition wouldn’t be obvious to anyone on the out looking in. As my brothers and I were now in our teens our bad judgment had gone from childishly moronic to dangerously idiotic. The crashing of cars was merely one symptom of other acts of passage, in our case, booze or drugs, and all the death-seeking recklessness that resulted and makes us marvel that any of us are still alive today.

But somewhere in our more malignant, viperous adventures the mommy caring for her kiddy’s flipped. Despite the pain our stupidity caused her, when Dad died it was clear: we might be irresponsible in a great many things but now would protect her. Mom rarely knew what was going on in our supersecret and largely self-destructive years. As crummy as we all turned out to be as teenies, that same engagement that infected our childhood years of defending each other now would put our widowed mother in a protective chrysalis.

Mom was cocooned between nukes, each primed in an impregnable mommy shield.

In my case, I can remember three incidents that came dangerously close to putting a victim — or perhaps me — in the hospital, if not a jail. The first was when I was in 7th grade and she first thought she might sell our home. The finances had dwindled, the house was in need of every repair imaginable and the two oldest of her brood out of the house and on adventures of their own. On a Monday, she had listed our home with a realtor. The following Thursday, I was again on my bike with Stevie on our way home from school. As I entered our driveway, I saw my mother sitting on the front steps, her head drooped in her hands. It was not a scene I was familiar with. A realtor was standing over her shaking a finger and angrily admonishing her — for what, I did not know.

Confused, I rode up and heard the realtor say, “You said you would sell if I got a buyer.” Then the realtor looked at me, as if to solicit support, and continued, “She lied to me. I have a buyer and now she says she isn’t sure.”

As I looked down at my mother, she glanced up at me with moist eyes, the closest I had ever seen her come to crying and with an expression I had never seen on her face — embarrassment.

I have no recollection whatsoever of what I did, what I said or how I acted. If anger can cause amnesia, then I had amnesia. What I do recall is the real-estate agent running out our driveway and screaming for help to anyone that might hear. Later Stevie said, although I didn’t believe him, and my mother never talked about it, that I moved mom out of the way before I swung, but that I had stumbled on the step and the blow only glanced off the realtor’s shoulder.

Stevie, as it turns out, was most impressed, not because I hit the agent or that I then chased the agent off the property, but for what he considered the most spectacular of reasons: the agent was a woman.

I would not strike another person for 40 years, when I delivered a wondrously successful left hook to the jaw of the director of my branch office at the University of Arizona (more later).

The second time I went Kimball Boy-Kablooie, I had started high school and my mother was running a little short on cash and took on a job as a travel agent. She had been told by the owner of a travel agency that she could see something of the world on the cheap if she worked for him. I suppose we all want to see something of the world before we go. It is what I am trying to do now, at roughly the age my mother was when she took that job.

She had been hired, not because of her great sales skills, but because the agency owner knew that she knew just about everyone in town with money. The kind of people that did or could travel the world. As it turned out she wasn’t very good at pressuring her friends to purchase expensive excursions and one day I came home from school to find her in tears. This time she was really crying. I pressed her for a reason and when she finally came clean she said, “The owner yelled at me and said I wasn’t doing a very good job, and that…………….” I didn’t hang round to hear the rest — the “yelled at me” was enough. It just didn’t take much for the Kimball Boys.

I was out the door, peddling my two-wheeled stallion to the electric chair for murder. When I got to the travel agent’s office a secretary looked at me in horror, for no better reason than my bicycle continued after my running dismount and crashed into the agency’s plate glass front window. As I entered, she stood up and unintentionally blocked the most direct route to my destination. And my destination was that that MOTHER-FUCKING SON OF A BITCH that stood behind her. In the time that it took me to circumnavigate her and her desk he dove into his office and bolted the door.

I don’t know if my mother had intended to quit her job, but she thought it best not to return.

Twenty-five years later I would go mommy-ballistic a final time. It was as Mom was beginning her life’s decline. This time, I would be a not-so-fully-grown-up of 39 and would write a piece about the episode for the local paper about how injustice can sprout greater injustice.

It happened just as I was beginning what would become my life’s work, the creation of an idea that would be called Vote Smart.

Seemed the idea occupied my every waking moment. I honestly thought the idea would save me and democracy. I was intensely focused, then the phone rang.

It was Mom, she said she had just been to Walgreens to pick up her heart medication but had gotten confused and couldn’t remember the exact name. The pharmacist poked around with some suggestions of what he knew it wasn’t, including one dealing with menopause which solicited laughter from other staff and those waiting in line behind her. Embarrassed, she walked out and asked if I would go get it for her.

“YOU BET, MOM.” With that I was off to the races again. Frothing at the bit, mouthing to myself what I had to say when I got to that pharmacist.

I never saw him — he was gone when I arrived at Walgreens, which was a fine thing, because by the time I got there I was in remorse.

You shouldn’t drive angry. It is my guess that angry driving might cause as many accidents as alcohol.

I had gotten in my old beat-up clunker and hit the gas hard, storming down a street called Speedway, only to find myself stuck behind a slow poke who just wouldn’t go. I hit the horn, not in a quick pop but a long leaning scream. When the light turned green, I angrily swerved around with just enough time to glare over. What I saw was a shaking elderly fellow. He was about the same age as Mom and drooped over his steering wheel, confused, scared, wondering what he had done wrong.

Within a block as I slowly turned into the Walgreens parking lot, I was drooped over my own steering wheel.

“A Kimball Boy,” an expression my older brother coined in reference to those moments of gargantuan stupidity, that on occasion bubble to the surface in each brother.

“A Kimball Boy” has some demented itch that renders them brainless when confronted by some imagined injustice. Say like my oldest brother Bill closing a desk drawer on the tip of his pinky finger, resulting in a half dozen crescent-shaped hammerhead indentations on the guilty — in this case Dad’s mahogany desktop.

Even as I type this sentence looking at the moon-shaped indentations on that desk that I have now inherited, I can recall back before I obtained a laptop, when I would neatly pen letters, only to have the ball point punch through the paper as it rolled over one of those indentations. Had I, like my older brother had a hammer handy, the temptation to add depth, character and numbers to those crescents would have proven irresistible.

In my experience anger rarely corrects injustice, and once the explosion subsides the added unjust results become apparent. And they are never more apparent than in the little things. Like not that long ago:

I hadn’t slept well, I was on a deadline for a foundation grant, my computer kept crashing and when my work finally was done and ready to print, I discovered the printer was out of ink. I was handling the problem sensibly well until I decided to enjoy a cup of coffee for my trip to the store to purchase another ink cartridge. The coffee spilled, scorched, and I jerked up only to crack my head on the cupboard door I inadvertently had left open.

Now the butter had done nothing to me, but suddenly, in a magical transition, it had departed the plate and reappeared in large goblets dripping from the ceiling down onto the cabinets, floor and utensils that had likewise left the security of their drying rack and repositioned themselves across the kitchen floor. Thirty minutes later my clean up ended with me asking forgiveness from the spatula I had used to corral much of the abused butter.

“Ahhh,” to be a Kimball Boy.


New chapters coming each week — Full book thus far under THE MIRACLE OF ME / autobiography of a nobody

Richard Kimball — Vote Smart Founder

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Entertainer for Mass Murderer

Arms Dealer

Griner for Bout — Huh!

What are we thinking?! We get an entertainer if we free a mass-murdering thug selling arms to our enemies, anti-aircraft missiles to shoot down our pilots, someone convicted of conspiracy to kill Americans.

What a deal!

Richard Kimball, Vote Smart Founder

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Getting or Giving?

free picture art

That is the Question

“Me, Me, Me,” the mantra of the young. Forever you want stuff, to be the center of attention, to draw the focus and admiration of your parents and anyone else around.

He could twirl me above his head, putting me on top of the world, even when I was almost as tall as he was. He chose me to play ball with his older friends when mine were left on the side lines. When I dropped popcorn on some older loud-mouth kids from dad’s press box who later came for me after a football game I was scared. He simply asked me to take a run at him and then tossed me high into the air as the toughies thought better of it and turned the other way. When he needed someone to cut up or float in his magic shows he made me the star.

Kimball Picture

Delivering unexpected joy became his life’s calling card.

Might be a daughter with friends thrilled to visit the Eiffel Tower and discover an extravagant lunch waiting for all at the very top. Or a daughter scared in a hospital bed in the middle of the night after a complicated birth, to find her father had snuck in through the emergency room as if a doctor on call to spend the night with her in her room.

I was always in awe of him but never so much as I was with what he taught me early one Christmas morning.

Like many kids, my year simply rotated around Christmas, wondering the day after how we could survive the eternity of 364 more days until another Christmas rolled around.

But on the Christmas morning of 1960 my view forever altered. Everything was as I had come to expect: the glittering tinseled tree stretched to the ceiling, the felt Mr. and Mrs. Clause our grandfather had made hung on the wall, the fireplace already aglow, and Mom and Dad in their robes holding cups of coffee. What was different was what wasn’t under the tree. The number and size of the packages did not fit under the boughs, and instead were scattered all about.

I am sure my eyes went big and wide, but they were about to become saucers. It wasn’t any one gift that did it. I was not taken aback by any gift marked from Santa or from Mom or Dad which were their normal great (???). What blew me away was that most of the perfectly- wrapped gifts, often the biggest and most expensive gifts, were all marked from Billy, my 16-year-old oldest brother.

Turns out he hadn’t spent all that money from his double newspaper route on himself. He spent it on us. And just like that, I went from wanting to giving, and then spent the next 60 years getting my thrills lighting up others just the way I was lit up that one Christmas morning when I was 11 years old.

His giving and surprising others had no end, not even years later, when he dragged himself out of bed in the middle of the night just to hand me a seat in the Arizona State Senate (more later).

New chapters coming each week — Full book thus far under THE MIRACLE OF ME / autobiography of a nobody

Richard Kimball — Vote Smart Founder

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Al Gore for President !!!

Free pics

“Raging moderate”

Won the Nobel Peace Prize.

Created the Internet — Yes, he pretty much did.

Devoting his life to stop the Global Warming that is frying the future.

Actually, won popular vote for president but didn’t tear the country apart to gain power.

Very young, by current presidential standards.

Good enough for me.

Richard Kimball, Vote Smart Founder

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free pics

Yard Sale on American Ethics

If you, as an American citizen are captured, tortured, murdered, and dismembered with a bone saw it’s A-OK with Joe.

That is precisely what your President said last week when he gave immunity to Prince Muhammed bin Salman of Saudi Arabia, in an obviously agreed to subterfuge using international precedents.

That would be the same Prince that imprisons, tortures, and kills dissenters in Saudia Arabia and sends his agents elsewhere in the world to torture and dismember our fellow Americans like Jamal Khashoggi.

That would be the same two-faced Joe who previously called the prince a “thug” who had “shocked him to his very core.” The same Joe that promised he would make him a “pariah” on the world stage.

Want to celebrate American backbone Thursday by eating some off a turkeys? Just go to Joe’s house.

Richard Kimball

Vote Smart Founder

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free pictures of fire


It is impressive to me that my three brothers and I survived adolescence and continue to survive a half century later. In Mom’s lonely years, after Dad died, her sons managed to trash four cars starting with her dream car, her baby blue ’57 Chevy convertible that couldn’t see red lights and ending with me taking her dream’s diminishment, a baby blue VW bug off a 20 ft. cliff. There would be some hard drugs, a lot of booze and a stint in a Mexican prison. Those shorts are not unique or even representative of the worst things my brothers and I did and would do.

But this book is not about us, it is about Me, Me, ME! so let’s stick to the point and go back a few years one more time.

My mother was fun, tough but far less harsh than she should have been. She was the family disciplinarian even when Dad was alive. With Dad you simply feared his disapproval, which was as bad as the world could get for me. With Mom it was a too rare a hand, switch, or belt which on one, forever-to-be-disputed occasion, caused a few deserved but unintended “welts”.

In fourth grade, I thought she was unfair, too tough, but now in reflection it is a marvel that she did not end her misery by just end us all.

The “welts” incident started when my best friends Stevie Bogard and Butchy Becker were playing in the “game room” of our house where my brothers and I had our toys, balls, childhood drawings, and various knicknacks of childom. It was designed and still occasionally used as a place for adult entertainment. It was quite large and everything in it matched: knotty pine walls, ceiling, built in matching knotty pine bar with a knotty pine couch, knotty pine poker table and knotty pine bar stools.

Butchy saw it first, folded and tucked neatly behind the bar’s sink, a $10 bill. It was early December, and I knew the tradition. Each Christmas my grandfather, who couldn’t travel and join us for Christmas sent $10 to buy our Christmas tree. Mom tucked it behind the bar until it was time to make the big buy. But Butchy and Stevie got so excited with the treasure, I got excited too. Treated as treasure found, it was instantly seen as free money, now our money.

After all, I did not actually see Mom place the money there, a crack in the sink was such an odd place to put such a treasure. YEAH! That’s right Butchy, you found lost money, BIG MONEY!” Ten dollars in the 50s, is about as rich as three kids can get.

The negotiations started immediately:

Me — “Sure you found it Butchy, but it is my house, my bar, my sink, so it is my $10.”

Butchy — “OK! We’ll split it”.

Stevie- “Hey, that’s not fair, what about me, I was here too.”

Me — “What are you talking about, you didn’t find it, and this isn’t your house. You don’t get anything”

Stevie — “That’s not right, let’s ask your mother.”

Stevie, who became a very good lawyer as an adult, always had a knack for ending an argument with just the right line.

On the way to the Five and Dime the discussion was all about toys, a new football, a whole bunch of trading cards with gum, or . . . “I got it,” I said, “the toy to beat all toys. We have enough money here to buy each one of us a Zippo cigarette lighter.” The idea was an immediate hit, not because we smoked, at least not yet, but because we were fascinated with what all young men of seven are fascinated with, FIRE.

We were just smart enough to know that the store might not want to sell lighters to kids, so we devised a brilliant and as it turns out successful plan. Since Stevie’s handwriting was clearly at a crude stage and I could barely read, let alone write, we decided Butchy would do the honors. As neatly as he could, which was pretty darn good as I recall, we wrote out: “I hav givn Kimmy $10 to by three liters — (signed) Mrs. Kimball.” I remember that the fellow at the drug store looked at me a little funny but didn’t seem to mind selling us the lighters or that my mom was illiterate. So, with lighters in hand, off we ran toward the arroyo and into neighborhood history.

The arroyo was a dry four-foot-deep rut in the neighborhood landscape that had water in it maybe six days a year. It ran right by our house and was perfect for hiding our mischief. It was sheathed in a thick forest of mesquite trees and at this time of year, tall baked brown grasses.

With all the life-molding first time experiences that would come that day, it wasn’t Mr. Franklin, our neighbor that was first to see the smoke billowing over the neighborhood and did that spectacular rendition of Paul Revere. Nor was it the distant approaching sirens that converged on the scene, not even the odd smacking sound my mother’s lips made when she heard it was me, that sticks most clearly in my mind. It was the speed at which a little Zippo could turn solitude into Armageddon when it touches a few blades of dried grass in a breeze under a forest of parched desert trees.

I can’t remember what happened to Stevie that day, I wasn’t able to see him for a month, but I did hear from my brother about Butchy, who clearly had the best strategy; he ran into his house and immediately bolted himself in the bathroom. After considerable time, his parents finally managed to convince him that he would not be put to death, and he dared to unlock the door.

I, on the other hand, would be put to death immediately. My mother, having struggled with this odd, stupid, and now clearly-dangerous child for some years, cracked. She took me back into what we called the maid’s room, although we had not had a live-in maid for years..

Forced to explain what we had done and how we had done it, she then told me to take off my belt. The fire was not what upset her, it was the “Thou shall not steal” stuff I was about to get it for. She gave me one good whack for every dollar I took.

In time what happened would become a humorous contention between my mother and me until her death 50 years later.

Was it ten good smacks with my cowboy belt or not? Now this is important because in the ’40s and ’50s the world had yet to be completely overrun with synthetics. Belts were leather and if you had a real kid’s cowboy belt it would very likely have a metal tip on the end to keep it from curling up on itself in the wet and grime of kiddom.

free pictures of belts

Never mind that I deserved to be euthanized, she would swear over the years that she would have noticed the tapered metal tip and never used such a thing. I, on the other hand, remember proudly showing the kids in school, with a certain manly pride, the lightly-matching pointed marks on my butt.

Metal tipped or not, I got the best of it. Kids, once adults, are forever blaming their mom’s for imagined errors in their upbringing. The “welts” from the fire of ’56 would become my most effective weapon as I needled my mother for the next half-century, even knowing I had gotten the best of it. I got the $10, the lighters (she assumed the Fire Department or someone else had confiscated them — they had not), and my exaggerated stories about “bloody welts” from the metal whip I was smacked with. The stories were always good for effecting motherly screeches of remorse and denial.

In the end, her defense of all my and my brothers’ transgression was that look of exasperation that every mother successfully past her child rearing duties can appreciate and that shirt she enjoyed wearing emblazoned with, “IT’S ALL MY FAULT”.

New chapters coming once each week — Full book thus far under THE MIRACLE OF ME / autobiography of a nobody

Richard Kimball — Vote Smart Founder

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The “Deplorables” lose!

Hard to win a gun fight with a butter knife but turns out that slathering deplorables with butter seems to be a survivable strategy.

I am a BANG! BANG! kind of guy. I will always want a gun, but I have now been given a lot of leeway in my wrongness. Turns out most American’s, including a lot of captured Republican’s and a whopping number of Independents have said, “Take it easy Richard, we’ve got this.”

Hate for now, grows weaker, making November 8th a day for celebration, when the responsible showed their muster. When the red tide of galactic stupidity was turned away at the door.

Richard Kimball

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 Despite the trials that stick out like blades of grass on a finely mowed lawn in my childhood, I had a wonderful young life.  My recollections are filled with an endless series of seemingly undramatic events, smells, tastes, feelings, a wonderful never to be replicated sense of freedom to dig in the dirt, build a fort, climb a tree, do some good long-distance spitting, or just fart, that you will never know again as an adult. It was a world of excitement filled with what now appears to be insignificant things but then were wondrous and fun.  Even now, more than a half century from my childhood, every rare, wonderful once in a while, some unique mixture within a moment will plunge me into some distant memory of my youth when the mixture was precisely the same.  It can be something as simple as the angle of the sun sparkling off a puddle of rain, the warmth and color of the sky at that moment in the day, the taste of dirt picked up in a gust of wind, the smell of a broken branch or some crushed fresh leaves in my hand, the sound a bird makes when you have crept so close you can hear the flap as it flies away, the jarring shock of a thunderbolt when you were told to come inside, or the rich scent of a freshly mowed lawn at the park. At the right receptive moment, almost anything has the potential to let you close your eyes and send you back decades when you were tasting, smelling, feeling, hearing, and seeing it all for the very first time.

 School, church, neighborhood friends were important, but the real action was at home.  I have been fortunate to come into contact in my adult life with a number of wealthy, famous, powerful people but none ever rocked me like my brothers Billy, Bobby and Johnny.

 It would be so much more entertaining to review the childhood behavior of my three brothers than that of my own.  They were so much more adventurous in life than I.  In almost every measure that you could make of a child I was more cautious and less courageous than my brothers.

 My adventures seemed always unplanned and unintended.  If I had a hazardous harrowing experience it was inevitably a mistake. Like the first time I unwittingly slammed against death’s door and tried to shove my family through it.

 It started when my mother put in a swimming pool.  She did it at about one thousandth of the cost of our neighbor’s pools which she had no desire or ability to compete with. Instead, as only our mother could or would, she paid a truck driver to haul in a round metal cattle tank. As cattle tanks go it was a large one about 10 feet wide and 2 1/2 feet deep. She then stuck a hose in it, which we let run endlessly.

 No pool anywhere on the planet was ever such a hit.  No one wanted to swim in the parentally supervised, take a shower, don’t get dirty, crystal blue water affairs of our neighbors.  We were forever removing the bottom metal plug and refilling ours with fresh water to ready another day’s duty.  The area around the cattle tank was a mud bog of infinite possibilities where the muddy water closest to the tank was simply a slimy extension of the “pool” itself. The mud a little further away was perfect for a style of gluey bathing all its own and the mud furthest from the tank brought the kind of impromptu heaven known only to a hot desert childhood – a far more colorful version of a snowball fight. 

 The tank itself was a true wonder.  With just a couple of kids it could be instantly transformed into a cleansing vortex of what appeared to be chocolate milk.  My mother had created the nation’s first water park and not one of my neighborhood friends did not prefer it to their own chlorinated, parental law-laden show piece.

 The only fascination I had with the other neighborhood pools had to do with what creatures might be trapped in the gutter or filter. More importantly, what was with all those cleaning chemicals emblazoned with the skull and cross bones stamped on barrels and jugs of stuff?  Ah, the mystery of the innocent-looking fluids and powdered chemicals. 

 My brother Bobby was the “should have been a scientist” of our family.  At 15 he could already explain to me Einstein’s theory of relativity, how we were made of mostly nothing, and that you could not really touch anything because atoms repelled each other.  I was fascinated by his stories and more dangerously by his experiments, the most dramatic being how he could take a little yellowy powder (sulfur), mix it with this or that and create little poofs of fire and smoke.  Wow! In the kiddy land of our 1950s world, that was downright atomic.

  One day, when Bobby was off studying or reading some boring intellectual fare, I borrowed a little capful of his magic sulfur and took it over to Stevie’s, whose family possessed a few large jugs of those cleaning chemicals emblazoned with the word DANGER.

 We mixed a few things together, but nothing happened. Then we saw the large barrel of chlorine.  We took a pinch of it, mixed it with our last bit of sulfur and waited, but again nothing happened. To give it a little assistance Stevie went in to find some matches. A few minutes later Stevie and I entered the ranks of other great scientists.  The match instantly ignited the concoction with a brilliant, gagging, choking, gaseous stench.   To me the world of science would never again be as exciting or as educational as it was about to become.  In the dusk we ventured off into what should have been our deaths, and if the timing was right the death of everyone in my entire family.

  We didn’t know how people got chemicals, but we decided if anyplace would have them it would be the drug store, a short few blocks’ walk.  Down every aisle we carefully examined the bottles and powders we thought most promising and worthy of scientific research. There were all sorts of exotic-sounding substances; we considered potassium, rubbing alcohol, hydrogen peroxide and glycerin. Ah, glycerin, we thought. That is at least half of what we need for nitroglycerin. Then I saw it, couldn’t believe it was super-sized, but there it was: a big yellow pint-sized bottle marked sulfur, a sure thing, and absolutely essential for any good research.

 Using money we had saved up from neighborhood yard work, we purchased two of the largest bottles they had and headed for the basement at my house. A basement that was just large enough to house a furnace and a table to conduct experiments on.  It may have been small but it had all the other essentials:  it was dark with gray walls and one naked ceiling bulb for light. Adding to the ambience was a damp earthy odor that fit perfectly with the low growling noises the furnace made.  It was precisely the kind of site Dr. Frankenstein would have chosen for his finest work.

  It was getting late, almost dinner time, and we decided not to mess around. We went right for the sure thing: the five or six pounds of chlorine Stevie had brought bundled in a large colorful beach towel from his house and the two giant canisters of sulfur, our most prudent purchase.

 As the sky turned black, we decided to leapfrog over incremental scientific investigation and simply poured the sulfur, all of the sulfur, into the towel bundling up with the chlorine. It was our intent to go into the back yard and light it. The towel was heavy, and it took both of us to twist the towel ends together and pick up the massive ball.  I think it was Stevie that felt it first, “my hands are getting hot.”

 It was just one of those fortunate little coincidences in life, that the stairs I was walking up happened to be on the outside of the house and built out of cement. At the first step the towel began to smoke, a few more and I doubted my ability to hold on to the steaming buddle. By the top the towel was in brilliant white flame, we dropped the bundle and fell sprawling into the gravel gasping for clean air.  But even as I crawled through Stevie’s vomit and began some of my own, I was able to marvel at the towel which was now a brilliant crystal white light that turned the neighborhood night into day.

  I would later be told that the light from the ball of purest white light could be seen at the neighborhood edge and that the chlorine gas created would have terminated everyone in the house had we not managed get it out the door and crawl away.  Although my brothers had little to say in any admiring way, Stevie and I had clearly made an impression on our parents who now saw us as scientists to be reckoned with.

New chapters coming once each week — Full book thus far under THE MIRACLE OF ME / autobiography of a nobody

Richard Kimball — Vote Smart Founder

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It is too bad you didn’t run!

I have employed hundreds of people over my years helping to run a company called the United States of America.

In the old days most applicants I reviewed made a real effort to impress me. They were often pleasant, always seemed to appreciate my time, sometimes nervous but always smiling through it, and to a person, each would struggle to answer the questions I required answers to.

Questions that always had to do with their experience, and how much they knew about the job they were applying for, or issues I was concerned about. More often than not, they would give cogent responses about what they would do if they were given the responsibilities.

Today, that is all gone. Now I am not given time to talk and must listen instead to each one moan on and on about how horrid the other applicants are.

I, of course don’t feel very good about hiring any of these kinds of people. Hell, I wouldn’t hire a dishwasher that behaved that way, but what choice do we have when those are the only ones applying?

I will tell you why: Because no respectable member of your community would put themselves up or push their families into such a bloodbath. So, you are left with NO choice.

These people do not make your causes right, they just use your anger to claw their way to power.

Now, the end of this round is coming Tuesday, and most of us will toss in the towel, knowing it a mess and we’ll simply vote for what money we imagine can be kept for ourselves. To paraphrase a famous line, “My money, stupid, my money.

For those of you that still believe in the dream, I would suggest you try VOTESMART.ORG, an organization that has collected the facts about those craving the power to control your life.

Richard Kimball

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My Take

Back when I was in politics there were many legislators who wanted to find means to reduce the number of abortions and the means to protect a woman’s determination regarding her own life. Had we politically survived and worked together, millions of women would never have felt the need for an abortion and millions of fetuses would never have been aborted.

But such rational communication is long dead.

Such leaders no longer survive and the views now so hardened — “I’m right, you’re wrong”, to win at any cost, effectively causes millions of avoidable abortions.

Over time, resignation and acknowledgement of the absolute victory these two intransigent sides have had, has changed my view somewhat. Now my position on abortion simply depends on my mood when I wake up in the morning.

Some mornings I am full of love and want to save every life. So I am an absolute NO. After all, I say to myself, I am the kind of guy that catches indoor spiders to set them free outdoors. If I can avoid it, I won’t step on an ant. I just do not want to cause the end of any kind of life.

On other days, I wake up pretty sour, thinking of what my species has done to countless other species (like the Bambi experiment pictured above), including our own. I think YES, abortions should be required of every pregnant woman and post-birth abortions should be the law of the land for anyone not obeying. Only in that way can we rid the earth of my species’ befoulment of it.

Now I know on those days all people are aghast at my position, but I feel confident that every other species on the planet stands in thankful celebration and ovation.

Which leads me to my point and the truth of it. Most voters standing self-righteously on either side of abortion, really don’t care all that much. That is why a few weeks ago abortion may have been the #1 issue in this year’s election but, as always, as the election draws near, such issues of grand importance fade, taking a distant second to the true heart of voters’ real concern: MY MONEY! MY MONEY!

Richard Kimball — Vote Smart Founder

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Mark Watson

I had an exceptionally happy childhood draped in countless adventures with friends, brothers and two never-could-be-duplicated parents.

So, I ask myself, why have I spoken mostly of traumas? I think it is because the traumas we recall seem to stick up like weeds on a nicely mowed lawn.

Like Mark Watson, the only other person I would ever know who struggled so between the black art of invisibility and the desire for acceptance. There is a Mark Watson in everybody’s life. Now, even sixty-five years later, when I think of Mark, I still cringe with self-loathing.

He was a slightly odd new kid in class, so anxious to make a friend that he became the brunt of the kind of cruel jokes children are capable of.

At a class party of sorts, Mark and I were the two self-designated wall flowers when it came time for everyone to sit at a long table to enjoy some cake. It was then that a fun idea came to me that I was sure the “mob” would enjoy. When Mark followed me to the cake table I kindly offered him a chair and as he turned and sat, I pulled it away. He hit the floor in a humiliating sprawl and the class exploded in cackles of laughter.

His eyes were welling with tears as he pulled himself up, staring at me. He was completely broken and then ran out. It was the kind of look that eats your heart and burns into your brain forever.

At Mark’s expense I learned one of the most valuable lessons of life. The next morning, I became Mark’s friend but never forgot what I was capable of if I simply followed the mob.

It is easy, comfortable, and safe to follow the mob. It is why, I suppose, so many are mob followers today, rather than taking the harder, lonelier, more constructive road of thinking for oneself.

I would feel a debt to Mark Watson later in life, as I tried to be one of the constructive, and would, at least in part, thank Mark for it.

Anyway, arriving at school that next morning I became Mark’s friend. Arriving, I saw some in the class were doing their best to have a little more fun with Mark. They had grabbed the cap off his head and surrounded him, tossing it around in a circle. Mark, upset and on the verge of tears again (a schoolboy taboo of galactic proportions), was desperately trying to retrieve it. As I walked up, Mark glanced at me and just gave up, going over and taking a seat on a bench.

Thinking I was now part of the game, one in the mob suddenly tossed the hat to me. I turned my back on the mob and walked over and sat next to Mark placing it on his head. Not done with their fun, my classmates came over to snatch it off Mark’s head again, but that did not happen, and Mark and I had my reputation from the fancy-dancer Rudy fight to thank for it.

I may have done things worse in my life than jerk that chair out from under Mark Watson, but none that ever made me feel smaller or where I learned more.

New chapters coming once each week — Full book thus far under THE MIRACLE OF ME / autobiography of a nobody

Richard Kimball — Vote Smart Founder

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Cuckoo Bee


CUCKOO BEES lay their eggs amongst the eggs in another bee’s nest, hoping their larvae hatch earlier, allowing its young to feed on the provisions stored for the other’s eggs. Then with their extra-large mandibles they dessert on the others’ eggs as well.

Feeding on the haves to engorge the have nots with little demanded in return.

SHREWS don’t look like much to worry about but are total bastards. They secrete venom from their jaws, paralyzing prey, not to kill but to keep alive for prolonged feeding.

At first, Shrews look like a joke, no real threat but now they come for November 8th where democracy will be paralyzed, and the main course served.

EXTREMISTS now control the dialogue, the considerations, and in the end, the actions with too few remaining to bring reason.

Get the facts at and good luck to us all this election.

Richard Kimball, Vote Smart Founder Sign up on my Blog at: . or at:

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If you want to scare the hell out of a child and assure stunted emotional development and a twisted perception of the world, send them to a 1950s nun at St. Ambrose for an education. More specifically, send them to Holy Sister Mary Margaret.

She is probably dead now, and the children of the world are better for it. Should I think her still alive I would have a moral duty to seek her out, rip out her tongue and stitch her mouth closed forever. In the 1950’s, she and her ilk could cause serious damage to any child true to the faith.

Religious instruction was not a matter of faith to a child at St Ambrose, it was fact. Front and center in a child’s mind and training was not God or Christ but the “everlasting fires of Hell,” where, as Sister Mary Margaret put it, “your flesh would be consumed by fire, yet continually be reborn so that you would suffer the unimaginable agony of your flesh burning for all of eternity.” God’s desire was to get you to Heaven through your fear of Hell.

According to the good sister the great joy of getting to Heaven was not to be found in mounds of candy bars, cookies, cakes, and endless feature cartoons, but the ability to “look upon the face of God.” To a seven-year-old, my age at the time, I simply wondered how someone could possibly look so good that seeing them would beat out a Root Beer Float.

But Holy Sister Mary Margaret had much more to offer, not the least of which was her informing us that it was not necessary to actually commit a sin in order to be guilty of the sin. All you had to do was think of the sin and you were equally guilty. This was very discouraging. Now I was guilty on so many layers of sin that I had no hope of escaping the fiery pits.

It was the stuff that put thinking and believing believers into insane asylums as they aged. At seven years of age, I had not yet come to realize that these nuns torturing children with their unforgiving, cruel nature of God should be imprisoned, if not themselves thrown into that everlasting roaster.

Holy Sister Mary Margaret understood that our minds were too young to comprehend such horror. To remedy this unacceptable situation, she would tell us stories that were sure to reach into our imaginations with lasting effect. One juicy illustration was her telling of the “very real possibility” that our classroom might be broken into by Nazis. Nazis, who would shove us up against the wall and then ask with a gun pressed against our heads, “Are you a Catholic?” The holy Sister Mary Margaret, wanting to tempt an incorrect answer said. “If you deny that you are a Catholic, they will let you live.” But then quickly followed with, “If you love God and admit that you are Catholic, then you will be shot and experience the joy of looking upon the face of God.”

Years later I would remember thinking of all the children she must have tortured with that kind of question, and fanaticized entering her classroom, gun in hand, and offering her that very choice.

However, at seven years old, I hung on every word she said and believed every story that horrid human being told. That was until she told us how God handled the dead guy.

The previous week she had gone through some pains to explain the difference between a Venial Sin and a Mortal one. With Venial Sin (a small sin), God would place you in Purgatory, a place much the same as Hell only with a possibility that at some future time, after you experience adequate flesh burning you would be given a Get-Out-of-Jail-Free-Card. However, Mortal Sin was a sin so egregious that you roasted for all eternity in the real Hell. She just loved telling a little story or two to make certain her little charges could understand.

All her stories kept us in frozen attention, but the story about the dead guy stands alone and still rots away in my brain.

The following, minus modest changes, since I cannot remember each word precisely, is a fair if not precise representation of Sister Mary Margaret’s example for Thou Shall Not Kill:

“A long, long time ago there was a man suffering from a very strange disease causing him to fall into a deep, deep sleep where his heart quieted to a soft undetectable murmur. The people thought he was dead. They dug a deep six-foot hole, took his body, and placed it in the tight confines of a coffin and nailed down the lid. They lowered the coffin into the pit and filled it over with dirt.

Sometime later the poor, sick man woke up in the darkness. Alone and unable to move in the black tightness of his coffin, the man realized his predicament, was terrified and began to scream. But in the blackness, six feet under the ground he knew no one could hear his cries for help. Unable to withstand the horror of it, the man drove the forefingers of his hands into the temples of his head to kill himself. Even he, today, is burning in the everlasting fires of Hell.”

That night when I went to bed I could not sleep. I was tired but every time I started to doze off, I woke with a start. If I slept, I was sure someone would think me dead. Finally, in the wee hours of the night I had an idea. I got up, stumbled over to my desk and switched on the light. Searching around in the drawers I found my drawing book and ripped off a little piece of paper and wrote out a short note. I then quietly crept down the hall to the bathroom where my mother kept the safety pins. A few hours later she came in to wake me up for Sunday church. Pinned to the middle of my pajama shirt, where no one could possibly miss it, was the note: “Pleese do not berry me, not dead.”

You must understand that I believed the Holy Sister Mary Margaret’s story, absolutely. I had not the slightest doubt that was exactly what God did. Only the effect of the story was not what the Holy Sister hoped for. That morning at church, sitting at my mother’s side as she dutifully focused on the word of God, I was staring above the alter where Christ was draped on his cross, thinking, “Asshole!”

Today, I think a kind of God may exist but one that is wholly unlike the insanely narcissistic jackass preached by so many religions.

My best guess is if there is a God, it is far beyond any lowly human’s ability to comprehend its existence and would clearly be powerful enough to talk to me directly, without need of some self-anointed human middleman. The same middlemen so galactically arrogant to presume to speak in God’s name that billions pay homage to and fund their nonsense.

If there is a God, and I hope there is, he already knows how to and actually does speak to me directly through the guilt, shame, pain, and pleasures I feel with my every intention and action I take.

And what is this with so much unimaginable, often inconceivable, grotesque agonies that consume the utterly innocence? No God — not yours and not mine — can answer for the unfairness of life, the damnable repugnance of the hulking injustice that puts one existence in the convulsions of death before a single step is had and another’s anointed with a passel of servants to care for their every need.

The line, “God works in mysterious ways,” exposes the poppy cock heart of much religious training for any willing to open their own eyes. What is the mystery in a child who has done nothing, can do nothing, unable to speak, raked with painful cancerous cysts, gasping a final breath in a struggle to whisper, “Please help me mommy?” Every conscious soul on this planet would struggle so to stop such a horror if they could, but the “all-powerful” God of organized religions does not.

The incomprehensible suffering of incalculable numbers of starved, enslaved, diseased, burned, bombed, drowned, murdered, maimed, tortured living things repudiates any notion of, or any need to be humbled before the nonsense of an all-powerful, “loving,” living God. I may have a good life, you may have a good life, and we feel compelled to thank our lucky stars, but we do not represent, nor can we poll the countless, faultless others who never asked to be born and now largely reside amongst the gratefully dead.

Ok, ok, I am just a bit bitter about Sister Mary Margret’s loving God. There is some part of me that hopes I am wrong, that there is an answer that an ignoramus-like human such as myself has no hope of grasping. There is even a part of me that envies friends who have faith in this kind of God. It is clearly desirous: stats show you live longer if you are comforted and smother yourself in such beautiful, irrational, thoughtless delusions of a loving God.

There are few things more uncomfortable than that moment in an argument when you realize you are wrong. Perhaps that moment will come for me when I die, and somehow, magically, miraculously, and thankfully I will be given the power to see that all is right with God’s world. I am just not ready to bet on it. In fact, after an adult life in politics, being God is the only job I feel certain to be better at, or at least fairer, only it never comes up for election.

Richard Kimball — Vote Smart Founder

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First, they took my civics education.

Then they de-funded my school.

Then uneducated, ignorant of democracy and unable to think critically, I was set free and found my faith in what I wanted to believe rather than what I should believe.

Once American education was the envy of all, our student performance second to none, our skill at self-governance a beacon the world over.

The attack on education, truth, and the facts is no accident. The dimmer we become, the more malleable we are.

The only remedy is to sustain at least one source for trusted facts that any citizen can turn to in confidence — facts without interpretation and protected from influence. is exactly that, but requires a people’s will to use it, believe in it, and to support it. A source to which all conservative and liberal citizens can turn in confidence for the facts and the truth that is dependent upon those facts. Without that, we cannot sustain an ability to self-govern successfully.

It can be done, ensuring its integrity with an elected board balanced between the multiple sides on major national issues. Supported without dependence upon self-serving interests and operated by those willing to commit their time and expertise in the national interest and not financial self-gain.

That is what strived to be. As a young man, my boss once said, “You’re entitled to your own opinions, but not your own facts.” Without or an organization very much like it, it is not the meek that shall inherit the earth, but the stupid.

Richard Kimball

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You decide on November 8th.

If you are not white, male and don’t own land, you can’t vote. That is the way we introduced self-governance to the world, with most people still not being actual people, as in “…of the people, by the people, for the people.” Women and most non-whites were not really defined as people in that wonderous American phrase.

It wasn’t till 1920 that most Americans would finally be considered people and allowed to vote — but not all, including the first Americans, native Americans. For those that were first, one or maybe two gazillion years before anyone else — well for them, it would take a tad longer.

The freedom and the liberty that comes with that vote, has been a slow, torturous march for most of us, with barriers erected by the people, against those not yet people, all along the way.

Your vote is your personal hard chunk of power, fought for through the suffering of others, and finally giving you a say. If you do not use it, your power doesn’t go away, it simply marches over and adds its power to those other chunks that are used, by the people who get to order you about.


And use to vote smart.

Richard Kimball

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“Let Them Eat Rocks.”

I have often wondered why God did not say that, but “he” didn’t. He said, “Let them eat Life.”

Rocks are mixtures of one or more minerals. Just like apples, butter, flour, and sugar are the ingredients of apple pie, minerals like quartz, mica, and feldspar are the ingredients of granite. Mixing and matching various proportions and degrees of heat make an unlimited variety of could have been, should have been foods. Not to mention other types of rocks.

We could have evolved with suckers, dissolvers or diamond encrusted teeth and systems that made good use of such nutritious minerals. But he didn’t, he said, “Let them eat life.”

Was it an error in judgement or did he really intend the consequences?

Richard Kimball, Vote Smart Founder

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 Telling the difference between those claiming to be excited and committed to the cause and those that really were, was a talent I never acquired.

 THE “RAPE”: It was one that took place at the far back of the property where we had just saved and furnished the original 1800’s homestead cabin.

 It was mid-morning when I discovered one of the new staff I had hired did not show up, did not call in, just vanished that day and for all the days that followed.

 When I found her by phone in California, she seemed rattled that I had.  When I asked her what happened, she simply said, “Did you know, Richard, there was a rape on the property?”  She wouldn’t give me any names, times, circumstances, anything at all that would help me find those involved, she just hung up.

 One at a time, I asked each female intern and staff to meet with me. Each insisted they knew nothing. Thinking perhaps a woman just wouldn’t feel comfortable talking to me about such things, I asked Adelaide and Jessica, who headed our Research Department, (an exceptional young woman in the Aili Langseth tradition, who had earned everyone’s respect, especially mine), to re-interview the women again. But again, everyone claimed they knew nothing!

 Something about the fear in the vanished staff member’s voice gnawed at me. So, I riveted in on the boys, I couldn’t bring myself to think of them as men yet. (I had always been certain that I and all my gender matured more slowly.)

 Anyway, it was the eleventh or maybe twelfth interview of some 20 I had lined up, when a kid’s head hung so low as he entered my office that I knew I had my boy.  “Yes, it was me,” he finally admitted.

 Instantly, as is my nature, my blood went from its calm, warm, rhythmic pulses to the red-hot pounding that brings out the kind of blathering splatter that causes heart attacks.

 I fired him on the spot, but before calling the sheriff’s office, I asked the young woman I now knew as his victim, to meet again with me. She did and vehemently denied, for a third time she was ever raped. Working with the young, who have the appearance of being adults with their adult-sized bodies, can be disorienting.

 Anyway, I got them both professional counseling and heard some years later that they were still close friends.

 Over the 18 years we spent trying to build Vote Smart at the Great Divide Ranch, there would be sprains and breaks out on our tennis/basketball court, out hiking, or falling off a horse, and a few frozen fingers from those hopping on a snowmobile, all warm and toasty, then learning five miles out that wearing those gloves was a damn good rule.

 CLINGING TO THE ROOTS OF A TREE: Our older volunteers were rarely trouble but when they were, well, it could make news. It seems as we all age, our brains access memories saying, “No problem you’ve always had this,” while our older failing bodies howl,“YOU IDIOT!”

 Such was the case with B.S., a great volunteer and mountain climber wanna-be, who, hearing the dinner bell far below, took a short cut off the main trail down, hitting an ever-steepening mountain side ending in a cliff. Clinging to some roots, one of the students could hear his calls for HELP! It took three of us and a hundred feet of heavy manila rope to hook him and pull him back to the trail.

 THE THREE WHO DIED: Yes, there were three deaths, but not from bad decisions.

 The first death was from a visitor’s heart attack. We pounded his heart along with some mouth-to-mouth for the “five minutes” the County Board of Supervisors promised me it would take Life Flight to get to us. In tag team fashion we kept hopelessly pounding that heart for the extra 50 minutes until they actually did arrive.

 We lost our no-nonsense cook, who managed culinary demands like a Marine Drill Sargent, to a seizure. She got hit with it in her bed. Given our experience with the heart attack, I didn’t wait, we picked up the mattress she collapsed on and slid it into a van rushing toward a hospital where she would never wake up.  She only lasted a few days. She loved the Ranch—it was her first stop in her dreams of traveling the world. So, we held a ceremony where we sprinkled her ashes in the trout creek that passed through the Ranch, where she would join the Clark Fork, then the Columbia to the Pacific and on to the world beyond.

 The suicide just about did me in. He was a quiet fellow, a damn good researcher, and liked by everyone. No one saw it coming. Only in hindsight did his depression and counseling become known. It crushed the staff, and as will happen in such shockingly horrific events, many wrongfully scourged themselves, imagining their chance to have done something to prevent it, if they had only done this or that.

 Early one morning a staff member found him in his car, where he had put a gun to his head. Later, with his parents we would gather around a granite memorial commemorating him for what we thought forever at his favorite place. It was the dock where so many good times were launched, along with the canoes, kayaks, row boats and a large floating wooden platform with enormous wooden oars and hammocks that we called the Ship of State.

 That represents the worst of it. There were, of course, events of a more typical nature, particularly when you understand we began with no rules, everyone was expected to work hard in the office all day and then walk a hundred yards or so away and eat, play, and sleep on top of each other in dozens of bunk beds.

 Normal amusements—movies, restaurants, shopping malls, sporting events, or just McDonald’s—were all 100 slow mountainous miles away. If, in the night, their thoughts of family or old friends seeped in—well, homesickness could lose us a few.

 There was the staff member who kept his lodge room in such a filthy stench of dried bones, encrusted plates, and piles of soiled clothing that you could no longer find the floor, unless his smuggled pet moved a bundle.

 There was the pleasant local maintenance man, hired to help maintain the property who could never get started. On his third and final morning, I insisted he do nothing but take a dozen pieces of rotted wood to the trash.  When I found him four hours later fiddling with his watch with the wood still piled up next to him and asked why he had not done what I asked, he explained that he thought it might be best to take out and save the rusty nails. But first he had noticed his watch was broken and he needed to fix it so he would be able to tell when the day was over.

 There was the student intern found passed out in his own vomit on the lodge porch. He was one of our soon-to-be-gone cook’s victims, who kept a healthy supply of booze hidden behind the dry goods in the kitchen for his private party nights.

 There was the fellow seemingly born to the Brady Bunch. Well-groomed and well-mannered, he came closest to putting Vote Smart tumbling into the dust bin of history. He worked in our Research Department and was as diligent and efficient as most in that Department – that is to say that he was excellent because most of our staff ended up being just that, excellent.  In fact, one visiting member volunteer, a retired efficiency expert who had worked for a dozen major national corporations, pulled me aside after completing his two-week Member Internship and said, “While volunteering these past two weeks, I have taken the liberty of examining your work force and I must tell you they are the most productive, focused group of employees I have ever seen.”

  This made me feel great, because I never thought any of us worked hard enough. I was just never satisfied, and now I was about to take the Brady Bunch kid out and try to get him to throw a first punch.

 Mike Krejci, the best, most committed computer guru we ever had, gave me notice, one-year notice, so we would have plenty of time to find a replacement.  The Brady Bunch kid, begged us to let him train for the year and replace Mike. Mike thought if he worked hard enough it might be possible to train him. So, for a year he got a valuable and free education. Then, the very week Mike was to leave, the Brady kid announced he was leaving too. He had landed a better paying computer job in Texas.

 I was panicked, but Mike, one of the most decent fellows I have ever met, bailed us out and stayed till we could find a more honorable qualified replacement.

 There was also, the ex-con, who I hired to replace Josh, the wisest, most capable maintenance man, horseman, builder, and outdoorsman Vote Smart ever knew.

 I suppose I let the convict have the job because of the remains of my diminishing liberal heart. Even his parole officer hinted I might be making a mistake. A mistake that became clear when he led the students and staff into a sub-zero blizzard.

(New chapters will be added roughly once a week)

Richard Kimball, Vote Smart Founder 1988

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What a half-assed threat Biden delivers to Netan-yahoo and his vengeful, rightwing Hitleresque thugs attempting to exterminate Palestinians civilians.

We should be doing nothing less than opening America’s own humanitarian corridors to feed and water those staving, thrusting, bloodied civilians. That is the tradition American and Israel’s creation was built upon.

Richard Kimball, Vote Smart Founder

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                                    New Arrivals

                               Researchers taking a picture break                                    

 It pained Aili every time I told her story, making her a greater prize for it. Her Vote Smart work was, of course, exceptional, and years later after going on with her life, she became both a great success and one of Vote Smart’s major contributors.

 As it turned out, Aili was unusual but not unique. There would be other brilliant, committed young and old steaming through our doors, far more applicants than we could possibly accommodate.

 So many interns, and member volunteers were flooding the ranch that the entire office staff agreed to move to town, 26 rough miles away to make room.

 I couldn’t keep up with the media recognition they received coast to coast, so I hired a clipping service to capture stories and mentions of their work. Imagine one of those New York Ticker Tape parades burying Broadway somewhere underneath, only with all the tapes smothering our office ceiling.

 Usage of our data was going into the millions but none of it seemed to increase our contributions. Were we too academic? Was the truth, the facts just too boring? Was non-partisan politics unstimulating and unappreciated Was outrageousness winning the day? Was what we were doing wrong, what was I doing wrong?

 Was I not advertising it enough? I paid for a full-page ad in the New York Times ($90,000) and PSAs that played on dozens of radio and TV stations across the country.

                      Full page ad New York Times

 Was we too complicated. It took almost ten seconds per issue.  I had the staff build Political Galaxy, an interactive tool where a user would only need the name of a candidate and any issues they were interested in, and everything associated would instantly appear.

 More users, but still little financial help!

 The accolades continued to come, the users continued to grow, but the funds were stagnant, running about one million to $1.5 million a year, a whole lot of nothing when compared to the billions now being spent by candidates to manipulate emotions.

 My first thought was it was because the “Greatest Generation” was dying off? Then maybe because civics education had been decimated and people had no sense of what it takes to self-govern?

 Vote Smart could only keep doing what it was doing and hope that new term “viral” would eventually apply to us.

 I was miserable and a noxious poison to everyone. I just did not get why we were not hitting what I called “critical mass,” where every citizen understood they did not have to take it anymore.

 For eighteen years our Ranch operated without adequate funds necessary to hire experienced hotel, maintenance, food, or recreational managers. We existed because I put more pressure on interns and staff who were willing to take it for a time.  The best of them, those who could stand the line doubled down on their efforts. With some I was able to combine departments or slice the very best, brightest, and most committed right in two. They would spend their days doing what they were terrific at—research–and their nights trying to keep the whole place organized, doling out domestic chores, cooking, maintenance or simply hand holding the homesick or the partiers sick on snuck in booze.

 Aili, Cornelia, Jessica, Sara, Becky, Lisa, Josh, Brandon, Brian, Ruth, Jerry, Kathy, Sally, Pat, Steve, J. J., Al, Jean, Jim, Marsha, Aaron, Laura, Goldie–even Good Bunnie and Bad Bunnie, nick names staff gave to two of our member volunteers named Bunny, all come to mind in advancing us toward the Grail.

 Hope Springs Eternal: Despite the financial issues, I continued to build as if user success would develop financial success, tomorrow, and if not, then the next day.

 We built additions to offices, new cabins, a library, saved the historic 1800’s homestead cabin, built a basketball/tennis court, new bridges, a horse barn, boat dock, a two-story tree house and two-story gazebo with rocking chairs and swinging seats overlooking the river and wilderness to enjoy for the hundreds coming to help over the years. For those less adventurous we constructed a beautiful library overlooking our lake with thousands of books and a bus – well the buss was not for enjoyment it was for work and took off one day going thousands of miles from coast to coast stopping everywhere they were invited which seemed everywhere.

    National Bus Tour

 Everyone struggled, everyone gave and boy, did they hang together.

 Take BOO BOO, a name she earned one excruciating night, an exceptionally talented intern in both the office and out on various wilderness roads, where she would run enormous distances after work, including that night she never returned.

 As the sun began to set, panic set in. My first call was to local Search and Rescue where I was told they did not work after dark – “too dangerous at night,” they said. That would not stop her friends, which were everybody. I put together water bottles, flashlights, and whistles to organize teams of three to go out on likely routes. But word of Search and Rescue’s refusal got out before I could gather them. I had to chase down her besties who had headed out on their own without any of those things. I planned routes to search, times to report back, for fear we would have not one, but a dozen youngsters out lost or hurt in the dark, with no knowledge of where they went.

 A half dozen teams were organized and sent out, on specific trails outlined on my map with a specific time to be back, or else others would go out looking for them, a rule I gave as a threat.

 The searches went on through the night – no sign of BOO BOO. Four hours in, I had to make a second call, the most horrid of calls, to her parents.

 With dawn the local Search and Rescue team finally arrived in a room full of the disheartened, limp-legged young people. The very first words they said were, “It was probably a mountain lion.”

 The wails and tears instantly pounded the lodge walls. I did what I do on some occasions: I boiled, ordering the rescuers out of the lodge to go do whatever it was they do.

 It was 10 am when “BOO BOO” walked in the door. One of our search teams had found her walking down a remote dirt road. I immediately had to excuse myself and go blubber on my own where no one would see me.

 “BOO BOO” had gotten lost by mistaking a path that was a long deer route, typical in Montana, eventually petering out. As darkness fell, she did what her Eagle Scout twin brother had once told her, “Find the biggest tree, it will cast your odor out the furthest for the search dogs and cover yourself with any leaves, pine needles or whatever you can to insulate against the cold.”

 She did just that. In the middle of the night when a couple of bears paid her a visit, she successfully defended her bed of forest rubbish by growling two little ghostly words: “BOO! BOO!”. Thus her new name.

 The staff and interns made things GREAT even in the dead of winter. One year they organized the Cold As Hell National Football League where lunches were spent fighting it out in the snow.  They even had a Commissioner who kept each player’s statistics, in case you think these people weren’t great at stats.

                Vote Smart Follies Thespians

     Summer Olympics, Vote Smart Style

(New chapters will be added roughly once a week)

Richard Kimball, Vote Smart Founder 1988

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 It has become impossible to reprise the number of idiocies Trump has spewed, laws being eviscerated, or institutions emasculated.  Standards that took 234 years of freedom to build and 1.2 million lives to defend, all now under the shadow of a boot.


As one member of my own party and official of the National Democratic Committee nastily growled, as he leaned into my face,  “ Richard, It is not our job to educate, it is our job to win!”

  Americans are learning to hate each other, not because of Trump, but because of the door we all opened and asked someone, anyone to walk through. Trump was just the irresponsible nincompoop standing in that door at the right time.

 It is not unfamiliar to you or millions of other citizens that most politicians began soiling themselves as far back as the mid-1990s with Gingrich and Clinton. Citizens are not blind to the decades of chicanery that eventually convinced so many that someone, anyone, needs to mix it up and blow it up.

 How many times have you heard a Trump supporter say, “I don’t like everything he does or says, but….”

 Horror is what politicians preach along with much of the media. Be careful what you wish for, whatever that wish may be. You would be a fool to want to be alive during any generation of Americans other than the one you are.

Richard Kimball, Vote Smart Founder

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 New Year’s morning I headed back to that ranch and there it was, only now under sparkling, rich, deep blue skies and framed by 10,000 ft. snow covered peaks.  As I rolled up to where I had parked the day before, the reverence that trawled over my face would have given me away to anyone.  We would buy!

 To this day it is one of the most beautiful sights I have ever seen.  Everything on the ranch was a wintery incrusted jewel. By the time Adelaide, my soon-to-be wife crept down those last 12 miles of ice slicked dirt and petrified by the thought we would be so remote, I was ready to write the check. The oddities of life would one day make her cherish the place and me dread every moment I had to be there.  But for now, it was paradise and exactly what Vote Smart needed.

 Fortuitous, we closed the deal on April Fool’s Day, 1999, for a modest $1.25 million, about half from the sale of our Agora Farms in Oregon, and the rest coming from supporters anxious for us to “GET GOING!”

 Wanting to consolidate our offices at what I was sure would become the epicenter of all that was good and true in self-governance, we informed both Oregon State University and Northeastern University that we would be closing our operations and consolidating them at our new Montana paradise.  The decision to close our Northeastern office, a wholly successful operation that sang as smoothly as a tuning fork, would be a mistake I would later attempt and fail to rectify.

 The ranch had been used as a “city slicker” operation where the owner outfitter catered to rich Easterners who wanted to go West, play cowboy, ride, shoot and fish. He went belly-up, because money doesn’t prevent saddle sores or make you superior to a bear having to take a shit in the woods.

 The property had a number of advantages, the most obvious being its dazzling setting on the Continental Divide, handing us our new home’s name–The Great Divide Ranch on the road I renamed, One Common Ground.

 Three practical factors convinced me that this beautiful place could work. One was that the utility company was willing to put in underground fiber optic cable down those 12 miles of dirt road, providing virtually unlimited communications ability–much better than we ever had sharing university systems. Then we discovered that the public access road to the wilderness went right through the Ranch’s property, and a long-ago prior owner had made a deal with the Forest Service.  They could use the property for their road, but they had to keep it plowed free of snow each winter, meaning that we had year-round access. Finally, I met with the County Board of Supervisors about emergency services.  They all assured me that it only took 5 minutes for the Life Flight medical choppers to pop over the mountains from Missoula. It was a lie that later would cost two lives!

 I, of course, had no idea how to run a restaurant, hotel or recreation facility, yet we were about to double the size of all other such facilities in the county put together.

 At first glance Philipsburg, the closest town, was just a down-on-its-luck abandoned mining town, where you could buy a house cheaper than a car, with four abandon churches and just as many bars opened to replace them, serving it up from early morning to its 957 citizens.

 Those still living there were largely uneducated, unemployables, I would employ and make it a day or month.

 A few progressive citizens were trying to champion the little town as a tourist attraction and would eventually succeed, despite the “We Don’t Serve Queers,” and Confederate Battle Bars flag holding sway over most locals.

 I had a six weeks to prepare the place and move our equipment, programs with whatever staff was willing to transfer, if only temporarily, to help train new research teams at The Great Divide Ranch no located on One Common Ground.

 I lived at the ranch alone, working with contractors, cleaning and converting the storage building into offices, and hiring new staff. The applicants were mostly local Montanans, with a good number from the little town of Philipsburg, all a little rough, but assuring me that they were intensely interested in good government. There was the liquor store manager, a former radio disc-jockey, a handyman who had recently lost his job working on a friend’s ranch that had to make some layoffs. . . and Aili Langseth.

 I scheduled the job interviews all for the late afternoon and at the ranch so they would have to make the drive and see what they were in for. I was prepared to hire almost anyone because I figured if they were willing and committed to the effort, I could train almost anyone.

  My first days were spent cleaning out the half century of odds and ends that had accumulated in the storage building. Old wagon wheels, stoves, horse tack and a thousand other indescribable somethings, were stacked from front end to back end almost to the ceiling. I pulled out the most interesting pieces and scattered them around the property thinking they would have novelty value and add to the ambiance for those who would come.

 On a final afternoon of cleaning, a day before the electricians who would re-wire the soon-to-be-office building would arrive, I was in a big hurry.  I had scheduled my first applicant interview for 5 pm and I was a dirty, shirtless, sweaty mess.  I had not started the day half naked. In fact there was snow on the ground when I woke up that morning, but by 10 am it was long gone and getting pretty toasty, so I yanked my sweatshirt off for a time.  By 1 p.m. I was racing to put it or anything I could find back over my shoulders. Heavy clouds had rolled in and were punishing me with marble-sized hail which turned into snow 10 minutes later. By 3 p.m. it was clear and once again the sun began to burn.  I had never seen such weather. By 5 p.m. the temperature and my struggles dragging out every imaginable bent, broken or otherwise indescribable whatever had me ready for a quick shower and the one interviewee I had scheduled for that evening.

 I picked up one last, exceptionally large box full of canvas and broken sticks, what I guessed were bed slats, and began walking it from the office building the 100 yards to the lodge. From behind me I heard what I can’t adequately describe, simply because I had never heard anything that sounded at all similar. I can only say something was coming.

  The box was so large I could not balance it to take a look, so I just kept on walking.  But the sound got louder and a whole lot closer.  Another step or two and panic would set in.  If I had to describe the sound with some mash-up of letters it would be something like this: fflooomp…………fflooomp…………FFLOOOMP!!

 It was right on top of me and I dove forward into the dirt with the box breaking open and spilling its contents across the cold mud.

 I put my arms up to protect and defend myself as I rolled over to see an amazing sight pass not ten feet directly over my head.

  Fflooomp! is the sound a Bald Eagle with its gigantic wingspan sounds like coming in for a view of its own. It was my first and most innocent experience with the wilderness wildlife yet to come.

 I picked myself up, showered and sat in the lodge making some calls until late evening. The applicant, some young lady named Aili Langseth, never showed up.

 At seven the next morning I was on a conference call with people back East when someone startled me with a knock on the lodge door. A young, good-looking though rumpled woman walked in and quietly took a seat at the old copper bar on the far side of the room while I finished my call. 

 When done and a bit hassled with too much to do, I blurted out, “What can I do for you?”  She responded, “We had an appointment about a job, I am Ailee Langseth.”  Irritated, I explained to her that my only appointment that day was with an electrician. She said, “I know, our appointment was for yesterday afternoon, but I couldn’t make it.” Suddenly I remembered and my irritation increased, and I said, “Well you should have called. So what are you doing here now?”  Then I heard the rest of the story. 

 It turns out that she would have been on time for the interview, having left her home in Butte, a town ninety minutes away, in plenty of time to drive the 65 mountain miles to get to the Ranch. But when almost there she had taken a left turn, one dirt road too early and had ended up stuck in the snow on a road to nowhere. She had worked until dark trying to dig herself out but only managed to get herself soaking wet in the freezing slush. So, she crawled into the corner of the back seat, with a blanket over her wet clothes and sat out the night trying not to freeze. Later I would look up the low temperature for that night: it went down to 28 degrees. She joked that that she sat there through the night thinking of the cold hungry people in Bosnia, where, at the time, conflict had left so many people freezing and homeless. “If they can suffer through it, so can I,” she explained.

 At first light that morning a fisherman saw her and was able to tug her out.  Aili Langseth did not drive home to get warm that morning, nor to get some dry clothes on, or even something to eat. She kept coming on to the interview, to apologize for not being on time the afternoon before.

 When my jaw managed to return to its proper facial position, I said, “YOU’RE HIRED!”

(New chapters will be added roughly once a week)

Richard Kimball, Vote Smart Founder 1988

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 Long ago when I was working for congressional candidates and then became one myself, the rule was you had to have your message play to each voter three times before there was any chance the message got through.

 Today, that message is called a narrative and comes with a discovery? If you pound it without end, along with your supporters, it becomes true, no matter how absurd.

 As example: If someone recommends that swallowing bleach will cure COVID; or claims it is his ex-wife charging him with sexual assult rather than his accuser; or repeatedly asserts that Obama is the current president; or thinks Nikki Haley failed to guard the capitol instead of Nancy Pelosi; or that your inserting an ultra-violet lights is good for your health; or that drawing maps that mislead people about a hurricane; but none becomes a repetitive mantra by opponents, the insanity of it all goes nowhere.

 However, endlessly claim, along with your minions, that it is someone else that is confused, feeble-minded and too old to be president, anti-truth locks in.

  Long ago Mark Twain warned:  “A lie can travel half way around the world while the truth is still putting on its shoes.”

Richard Kimball, Vote Smart Founder

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     Vote Smart  at the Great Divide Ranch, MT, 1999 to 2017

 I was like a pusher hooked on his own steroids. I just couldn’t shove my drug down the throats of enough people, meet enough people, hold enough press conferences, give enough speeches or find enough time to bark phone orders back to the staff.

 Once, one of our interns calculated that I had traveled just about 33,000 miles that year. Mostly by car with trains and planes close behind. All of which speaks to what was my number one problem – ME!

 I demanded that everyone be as insanely committed as I was. If there was a problem, well then, we were the problem, or now in long distance hindsight I can just say, I was the problem!

 This all became appallingly apparent to me when Adelaide emailed me the photo she took of the picture that staff hung on the office wall when I was traveling.

 With the both our university’s space maxed out, Agora Farms forcing closet racists to pop out, and a bundle of cash earmarked by supporters for facilities, we needed to do as members asked, “GET GOING!”

 It was 11 am, December 31, 1998, when I pulled into the little old mining town of Philipsburg, Montana. Snow was falling and I wanted some assurance that I wouldn’t get snow bound during my last 26 miles into the mountains. I walked into The White Front bar.  Its name didn’t hit me right away, I just sat down with a half dozen early morning patrons spread out along the bar, swilling down their morning pick-me-ups in preparation for the New Year’s stroke of midnight they would never see. I ordered some coffee, got my assurance—not more than 4 or 5 inches they said. Then turning to head out of the bar, I got it. The White Front’s interior walls were all festooned with Battle Bar flags. When I flashed a look back at the bartender, she was disappearing into the kitchen under a sign that read, “We don’t serve queers!”

 After the final 26 miles, the last 12 on dirt, I arrived at an old historic mountain homestead, surrounded by wilderness in stunning nowhere Montana, where the only complainers could be moose, bear, Blue Herons, Sandhill Cranes, beavers, elk, deer, and an obnoxious array of attic-roosting bats, none of which had yet managed an aversion to people of color.

 It was 140 acres, bordered by thousands more in a government protected, towering mountain wilderness park. As an Arizona desert boy, trudging through a couple feet of unbroken snow, trying to get a sense of its half dozen buildings, I felt like a child in Santa’s winter wonderland.

 All cloaked in fluff and icicles, it had two lodges, eight rooms each, two bunk beds each, along with a dining lodge with a large stone fireplace, sweeping horseshoe-shaped bar pressed from local copper, and a fully equipped restaurant kitchen.

 WHAT I SAW? Housing for dozens of interns and the facilities to feed them.

 About a hundred yards away was a large structure you might think a barn, only it was completely INSULTATED! It was filled to the rafters with ancient fixtures from America’s past, furniture, cook stoves, items I had no notion what they might have once been used for, all worthless in Montana’s outback, but, with use of a Star Trek transporter, worth a small fortune to antique merchants in New York City. And in the center, an enormous home-made, one-ton cast iron wood burning furnace that had to have come out of a Jules Verne novel.

 WHAT I SAW? A high-tech computerized office flushing out a flood of political reality.

 Vote Smart’s offices.

 A hundred yards away in another direction, across a large trout pond was a multi-storied A-frame house built on top of and entirely encompassing an old log cabin that sat in its original 1920s condition at the very center. Montana handbuilt architecture at its best, with almost as much space for bats as people.

  WHAT I SAW? A place to train, house and entertain an endless stream of heroes who would come to help reverse the decline in The People’s control of elections and good government.

 Out the house’s back door were two rustic one room cabins with their own rusty, wood-burning cook stoves and no plumbing.

 WHAT I SAW?  Added housing for member volunteers in one and maybe my office in the other.

 These structures were all within just four acres of a 140-acre property which bordered a clear blue-green Moose Lake, so I slogged through another quarter mile of snow, trying to get to the original 1890s homestead cabin across a bridge crossing a famous blue-ribbon trout stream. My legs spent, I wouldn’t make it. So, I just stood on that bridge and dreamily looked back on the compound, the mountain steam running beneath my feet and the wilderness expanse out in front and thought, Shangri la.

 A few hours before midnight I drove into Anaconda, 40 miles away, which had the nearest public accommodations. I checked into a shabby little motel, collapsed on a concaved bed and fell asleep. A couple of hours later, New Year’s arrived, along with new neighbors who checked in to continue a drunkathon. The music blasted and hilarity went on for sleepless hours, in spite of my pounding and pleading. Finally, at my alarm’s 6 am up-and-at-em, they finally settled down to sleep. I packed up my things, pointed my TV to the thin wall separating our rooms, chose everyone’s early morning exercise guru, Richard Simmons, put him at full-volume, locked the door, tossed my keys into the motel pool and headed back to Shangri La.

(New chapters will be added roughly once a week)

Richard Kimball, Vote Smart Founder 1988

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 We did trip over a few hurdles.

 Chicago’s MacArthur Foundation sponsored a meeting of local good government groups (goo goos) to see how our database might assist them.

 Adelaide, who went to show them how we might help, found herself boiled in oil. The local goo goos were not interested in our willingness to help them, but only feared that we might get grant money which would otherwise flow directly to them.

 Turned out that that was the way with most progressive non-profits, a kind of put all the butter on my bread attitude.

 The costliest example of this was Congressional Quarterly, a Poynter Institute creation, which we had worked with for 10 years to help select the votes in our key votes database. We had asked their help simply because we thought their long-established credentials would add public confidence in our young staff’s selections. A decade into the collaboration they discovered that their paying clients were coming to Vote Smart and getting information for free, rather than paying them for it, they threatened to sue us if we did not immediately remove the thousands of key votes and our laymen’s descriptions of them. They Key Votes were a crucial component of our database.

 So, we created our own Key Votes Department and within a year our staff recreated the entire database, all backed up by over 100 political scientists and journalists representing every state in the Union.

 However, it wasn’t until that day I flew to Washington, D. C. to meet with the leaders of the League of Women Voters (LWV) that I became truly dumbstruck with the ME, ME, ME, only attitude of goo goos.  I had loved the LWV, been a member and had published, at their request, tens of thousands of what they called their Candidate Score Cards and distributed them at our own expense. On our board were one of their past presidents and another their former National Director. I wanted to meet with them because one of their staff had mistakenly told one of our staff members that we could not inform the League’s members of our existence or free services.  A mistake? It wasn’t! The order to stop us came directly from the leaders I was meeting with who wanted to keep their members ignorant of us for fear they would support Vote Smart and that would be money out of their pockets.

 Attempting to collaborate had been a cost we could not afford so we decided to assist organizations whether they liked it or not, which greatly reduced our cost trying to collaborate. We simply gave our massive database away free to anyone requesting special access to our data. A flood of “goo goos,” news organizations, law firms, political scientists, and various gadflies started signing up and got to copy and use our data, or any portion of it they found useful. We did not even require attribution. After all, it was our job to get reality out there. Our most interested user, greatest user, backed me up on my heels. They were the very last people we had intended to help, but they were so intensely interested in scouring our data down to the tiniest bit of minutia that they crashed our servers. It was the government of China.

 Any problems, like our not becoming more popular with the American people, were my fault. We simply were not working hard enough, smart enough. I was not being tough enough.

 Surely the people knew what was happening, they simply needed one untainted source of facts about what they were interested in. And that was or at least was becoming, Vote Smart.

 In the early years, staff left after completing their two year or election cycle tour with Vote Smart. Which insured us fresh staff, with new ideas and visions to be trained for the next two-year election cycle.

 I was always hard and demanding on each and every group: “Bigger, Better, Faster, Cheaper!” For part of my part, I traveled state to state, sometimes covering four states in a day, and most states once and many twice each election year, holding meetings, giving speeches and press conferences, and fundraising.

 An exhausting but exciting effort for sure. Once ending a late afternoon press conference in Chicago, I glanced at my calendar to see what would be my first morning stop: TALLAHASSEE! I couldn’t believe my error, but there it was, a press conference 15-hours away, not counting gas stops and only 18 hours to go.

 By Kentucky I felt myself drifting off and gave head to toe isometrics a try. It got me through to Tennessee where I had to turn the effort over to my radio.  Did you know your car radio, at max volume, can make your dashboard vibrate and blow a kind of self-preserving snot over your eardrums. That along with slapping myself red faced got me into the deep south with what I thought might be a half hour to spare.

 Shortly after my last needed gas stop somewhere in Alabama my need to sleep vanished quite naturally.

 Generally, it is only as a little child that when you must go you just go, and Mommy deals with it. As you get somewhat older most wake up when you need to go.  The one certainty is that if it is a number two, well everyone wakes up.

 I was wide awake through Alabama when the radio morning news cast gave me quite a shock, it was 6 am not 5 am.  I had been going east and lost an hour. I hit Mach speed.

 I thought a bit about women as I struggled through those last hours leaning on one butt cheek for a bit and then the other. Women can’t just fling it out and do their thing anywhere.  Women were in my predicament, whether it be 1 or 2.

 Well, I didn’t make it. I was a half-hour late and the press had departed. It was the State Capitol’s press conference room, so I walked around and gathered those still in their newsrooms and interested, announced the results of our testing Florida candidates, most of whom flunked our Political Awareness Test.

 Next stop Atlanta but first a little clean up on all the newspapers spread across the rear seat.

(New chapters will be added roughly once a week)

Richard Kimball, Vote Smart Founder 1988

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I have not written about politics lately.

I needed to take a breath. The world has become so alien to all my experience. It is an alternate universe, where I am no longer familiar with my fellow inhabitants.

A Congress that prohibits my dollars to aid a free people being savaged by a tyrant who eats his own to stay in power?

My friends in Israel, who now pass into a gruesome, detestable vengeance in the Middle East, unwilling to count how many crushed infants it takes to equal the worth of a single combatant.

The millions goose stepping for a Republican candidate so utterly vile in his conduct, he represents the antithesis to all his predecessors -Eisenhower, Ford, Reagan, the Bush’s, even Nixon once triumphantly held the torch for freedom.

Now each frozen embryo is a human. Next up is the 525 billion sperm ejected during my lifetime, each one independent, struggling to continue its life. Without my employing measures to protect each am I to be a mass murder of galactic proportions.

Where are the thoughtful, rational leaders that were once able to steer us clear of the imbecilic.

Richard Kimball, Vote Smart Founder

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 Vote Smart was becoming a whole pile of spinach with no bacon. People eat what tastes good not what is good, just as they like to hear what sounds good but not what is.

 It’s what was making Vote Smart’s reality difficult for citizens hungry for anyone corroborating what they already believed true.

 Finding a new Vote Smart home would have to wait, even as a dozen universities, including Duke, New York University College of Law, University of Washington, University of Florida, University of Texas, USC, Berkley, Rutgers, and my own alma mater, the University of Arizona, would make offers to house Vote Smart.

 Their interest was in some part because of the dozens of studies and reviews of our work, including:


 Scholars appointed 7 committees representing political scientists in each region of the country. All were to study political websites and then nominate three organizations they thought were the best and most useful, announcing their winners at their national convention. They took months studying. I had heard nothing the week of their convention and was nervous that we would not be amongst the 21 organizations nominates announced.

 Apologizing to the committee chair when I called pleading that “Our young staff and students had been doing the very best they could, but we were still young and would have difficulty surviving if we were not at least one of the 21 finalists announced. Can you at least tell me if Vote Smart is on the list?” My question solicited a burst of laughter, “What, you mean you haven’t heard?”. “No,” I pleaded, “Can’t you tell me before your meeting?” Still amused, he then told me that they had cancelled their final meeting to decide because it became unnecessary.  All seven committees reported back their nominees and Vote Smart was listed as number one by each and every one of them.

 As our local newspaper proudly reported, Vote Smart won “BEST PICTURE.”


 Headed by the founder of Sesame Street, the Markle Foundation in New York conducted a study comparing sources of political candidate information. They tested a dozen or more major sources including the New York Times, Fox News, CNN, USA Today, Politics Yahoo and Vote Smart.

 Had I been less a thoughtless ass, my focus on the end game — getting the Grail to voters — I might have let the staff pause to celebrate the results, but NO, as I recall, another academic result was so meaningless to me I am not sure I even shared the results, which were:

Ability to provide new information? Winner Vote Smart

Ability to increase confidence in internet use? Winner Vote Smart.

Ability to increase user desire to learn more? Winner Vote Smart

Ability to increase willingness to talk more about politics? Winner Vote Smart

DR. BRENT STEEL (Oregon State University) SURVEY

 Perhaps most importantly, as a brilliant political scientist, Vote Smart Board Member and survey specialist, Dr. Steel did a study of key minority precincts in Atlanta and the San Francisco Bay area to ascertain the effect Vote Smart had on minority populations. His results showed that there was a 5% increase in political involvement in precincts where Vote Smart was active.  In political science terms that is huge movement in a single year’s efforts.


 “Project Vote Smart is so good that even the Federal Government recommends it.” – The New York Times

 “[Project Vote Smart] would make the Founders weep for joy!” –

US News & World Report

 “Vote Smart is a bright light in an often desultory civic culture.”  – Bill Moyers

 “Project Vote Smart jammed a wrench into the spin machine, the political and media apparatus that anoints candidates and disenfranchises the vast majority of voters.” – The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

 “For reliable, meat and potatoes political information, research experts nearly all recommend Project Vote Smart” – The New York Times

 “Vote Smart is Heaven for political junkies.” – USA Today

 “Vote Smart’s materials are so good that we are distributing them to all of our affiliates.” – CNN

 The national Webvisonary Awards selected Vote Smart as “Best Picture” in the “Visualize This” category.

 The New York Museum of Modern Art chose Vote Smart to display in MoMA’s “Talk To Me” exhibit as the best example of complex data being made useful.


  You might notice that most all the studies and reviews were done by gadflies, intensely interested in politics, in our democracy not The People. 

 The studies, the reviews had only one effect and that was on my ego. I had kissed the Blarney Stone and thought citizens would explode in love for what we were doing.

  Who could not take all that and fail to deliver “The Grail?”  Well, that would be me.

(New chapters will be added roughly once a week)

Richard Kimball, Vote Smart Founder 1988

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AGORA FARMS – Chapter 53



 The angelic little community of Corvallis, where Oregan State University is located, was angelic for the white winged only. Hints of this came early, and most conspicuous was that this place had no black people.  If you saw one, it was generally assumed to be AOK for two reasons: One, being that he might help the football or basketball teams have a winning season; or two, they had spawned someone to help the football or basketball teams to have winning seasons.

 Like most white people, it was convenient for me to ignore such things. Corvallis was adorable, with its volunteer band playing in the park gazebo, in a downtown ripped right out of a Norman Rockwell painting, all with AOK white people.

 Then at 3 am one night in 1998, I woke up once and then woke up again.

 We had made a special effort to recruit minority students in our National Internship Program. We pushed hard at colleges with large minority student bodies and often provided a little incentive to come out to our lily white, WASP-y little town by paying their travel expenses.

 Brandon and Saudia were two of our first black national interns and just finishing their internship at Vote Smart. Both had been at the top of their class and on their way to successful careers, Brandon in the Illinois governor’s office and Saudia working on civil rights in her native Alabama.

 They had an early 6:30 morning flight leaving from Portland, so Adelaide and I picked them up in the wee hours for the two-hour ride to the airport. Now this gets a little tricky to explain, it is a “you had to be there” kind of thing.  But here is my best effort. I was driving and Adelaide was sitting in the seat directly behind me, while Brandon was sitting shotgun and Saudia directly behind him.  In the dark of night, we came up to a stop sign before turning left on to a main but poorly lit street that would head us out of town. Off in the distance, I noticed a police car parked under a tree with its lights off. I turned left, drove five or six blocks when I noticed the patrol car approaching us from the rear. Suddenly he hit his flashers and siren, at the very same instant another police car came screeching around the corner in front of us hitting its siren. Drop jawed, I pulled over.

 Completely fuddled, I asked Brandon what I had done, I knew I hadn’t been speeding.  He shrugged his shoulders and Adelaide said, “Maybe one of our brake lights is out.”  Two police cars for that?  I did not think so and watched as the policeman that pulled up behind us started to get out of his car and then put his hand on his gun, while the other car blocked the road in front.  Wow! What is this? I wondered. The policeman carefully approached me on the driver’s side, then seeing me, he slowed up and let his hand drop to his side.  Now it was he that looked fuddled.  Nervously I asked him what I had done. In an odd and equally nervous voice that was pretentiously stern he said, “Never mind, you can go,” and briskly walked back to his car. Both he and the other policeman drove away.

 We all sat silent for a moment, then I glanced over at Brandon and then back at Saudia, neither would look at me.  I just exploded, I hadn’t gotten it. When we had turned left onto the main street the police car down the block only saw Brandon and Saudia in the windows with two others in the dark shadows next to them. They saw a car full of black people.

 My angry rant about getting his badge and going to acquaintances in the press and city council went on for some minutes.  When I came up for a breath Brandon and Saudia simply stared at me, and in tag team fashion asked me not to do that.

 I was now the student. They told me that if I did those things, it would only make it worse for others. Their suggestion was simply this: “If you really want to do some good, if you want to be helpful, Richard, sponsor some community discussions on racism and tolerance. It will bring it out into the open and help such incidents become less likely.”

 The effect those two had on me were in level parts of shame and awe. Of course, they would know what to do, how to respond. Yes, some community discussions, it was the thing to do, the smart, effective, helpful, proper thing to do. But I was none of those things. I was just seething with righteous indignation and by noon I could be found in the mayor’s office, unrolling an obscenity-laced review of the night’s events.

 She, of course, promised to have a stern talk with her Chief of Police who would make sure his patrolmen were properly chewed out, certain to magically result in a more respectful attitude toward people of color.

 I had stirred up a nice angry pot and could now, like most of the self-righteous, point my countenance skyward and arrogantly walk on, having done exactly what Brandon and Saudia asked me not to do – busted some ass to create peace on earth.

 We had great groups of National Interns. We were quickly becoming dependent upon their full-time efforts in 10-week shifts.  We made great progress and had a lot of fun events out at our new Agora Farms.  The students started something of a ritual where each student got to pick a tree and plant it. We had peach, apple, cherry, walnut, hazelnut, even some sequoias.

 The students, my God the students! There were more signing up to do national internships than we were able to accept-young passionate and chomping down the work in enormous gulps.  They came from everywhere and in the end 14 different countries would be represented. The G-7 asked us to make a presentation. The State Department, having money to burn, asked us to send representatives to some newborn democracies in Africa and Eastern Europe to show how we did what we did. They were fools’ errands to be sure, not a one could yet cough up any open records to do what we do. Poor Lorena, who had been with me through every tangled twist, volunteered for the trip to Mongolia where she slept in yurts and choked down roasted yak while fending off some Mongolian chieftain in heat.

 Some interns were just over the top extraordinary, like Tsering. Tsering was a student from Tibet who hiked seven days over the Himalayas to say good-by to his Tibetan parents before flying to America for college and coming to Vote Smart. And there was Mia from Beijing, who became Tsering’s best friend. The two added a “Chinabetian Tree of Peace” to the growing saplings at Agora Farm’s.

 I was giddy with fresh hope.  Then one of the students who had just arrived, Saudia, (the same bright young black women I would drive to the airport ten weeks later), asked if I would teach her how to fly fish on Mary’s River, that little flush of water that ran through our Agora Farms.

 I grabbed a couple of rods and Saudia and I walked down into the little river. She took to the casting of a fly rod like she was born to it.  She didn’t manage to catch anything and I only one tiny seven-incher, but we had a great time, and she was hooked on the sport. Putting the rods away, I promised her that she could use them anytime she wanted to give it another try, and she headed back to campus.

 Barely a toilet visit later, a slightly grungy, short, light haired woman came stomping over our bridge and up the driveway. Her manner, walk and expression were all contorted as if struggling to control pressure in her steam kettle by attempting to shove a cork in its spout.  I was about to catch hell and knew it, but about what?

 “We do not want any of these people in our water!”  I recognized the woman behind the grotesque anger of her expression.  She was a professor the university promoted as a kind of nature lover, who, I think had actually written about the stream Saudia and I had just been fishing in.

 I really didn’t grasp what she had said and responded with something like, “Sorry, there must be some misunderstanding, what do you mean?”  She softened her expression and more calmly said, “We don’t want any of these people coming and getting into our river.”  Still confused, I asked whose people. Returning to her more aggressive attitude she blurted, “I know you were in the water, walking down our river with (hesitation) some newcomer. This is our river and we do not want these strangers in it.”

 I cannot remember what I said next, but it wasn’t angry.  I was simply thinking I could not have heard her right. But within a week it was clear.  Inhabitants on the other side of the little forested river, and many beyond, suddenly became aware of an amazing array of nonsense.  Before they were done, I would hear every sort of story bedecked in the horrid things we had secretly planned for them all. A few were not too delicately pirouetting around their fear: “NO NIGGERS HERE!”

 When the more serious attacks began, those who opposed the construction of our research library (a size little more than your local coffee shop), had persuaded a fellow academic, to testify to the dangers of having a building of any size built on such unstable soil. When I pointed out that the soil on that same hillside, not a stone’s throw away, had safely supported an Iron Horse whose rumbling daily deliveries of lumber equal to a thousand libraries for the better part of a century, it did not dissuade or embarrass. But the zoning board quickly and unanimously supported our plans for construction.

 The storm raged on, in the end good sense, reason and fairness lost and democracy won. In democracies, when the mob gets going that can happen.

 The naturalist’s rabble, eager to keep students of a certain sort out of their river turned up the heat on us with middle of the night threatening calls and our mailbox full of manure. They did much the same to the County Commissioners, who were forced to reverse the decision and deny us the permit to make Agora Farms a reality.

 We had raised $400,000 from members to build that research library. Humiliated by my failure in what I thought a sure thing, I wrote each of them an apology, saying I would refund their contribution.

 What happened next would steel my resolve for two decades more. If my effort to build was a failure, my effort to return the funds was a tragedy. In the end, I did not have $400,000 but $475,000, with an almost universal reaction, “GET GOING!”

(New chapters will be added roughly once a week)

Richard Kimball, Vote Smart Founder 1988

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 It is an odd thing when you lose your second parent, no matter what your age, you instantly sense an orphan’s loneliness in the world.

 Maxine Christy Kimball’s four sons secretly spread her ashes around the old family home, the home she had sold a couple dozen years before and I would buy back in a dozen more.

 The first ten years at Oregon State and Northeaster Universities were exciting times, and we completed many of our initial startup plans. Some mistakes were made, like the time we gave $40,000 to a mailing company to print and mail out 300,000 of our brochures and letters to potential supporters, only to find zero interest or return on the mailing. An impossible result. The cocky youngster I had hired to run our Membership Department reported that all had gone smoothly with the mailing company and that she had simply misplaced the Post Office receipt, our insurance that the mailing was actually mailed before paying.

 On a following weekend, I drove to the town where the mailing company was located and stopped in to get a copy of that receipt. No one was there but the place looked more closed than just closed for the weekend. I walked around the building, looking in the windows.  The place was filthy, and I could not make out any equipment. Then through a back window, squinting I could make out rows of stacked and banded envelopes and recognized our logo even at a distance.  They had not mailed any of the 300,000 letters. On Monday I returned, the place was as closed as it had been the day before.  They would never open again, we would never see that $40,000, and suing a bankrupt company seemed bad money chasing bad money.

 I let the Membership Director go, lending to a sense amongst young staff that covering up a mistake might not be better than owning up to it, maybe even $40,000 better.

 I was tough on everyone. “Bigger, Better, Faster, Cheaper” says the Daffy Duck statue on my desk. I lived by that motto, and drummed it into everyone every day.

 When I saw anyone wasting anything I would pull out my wallet and read three notes, amongst the hundreds that had been written to me by contributors. The first one was from a mother who had clearly sealed up her letter, thought again, reopened it, and added a P.S. in another color pen:

“Dear Vote Smart:

 I am sorry!  I am an unemployed, single mother of three and simply cannot afford to give you anything.  But I wanted you to know that what you are doing is just wonderful and how much I appreciate it.

 What you are doing is so long overdue.


                                 Mrs. McGillicutty

P.S. I have decided that I can’t afford not to contribute. Enclosed is my $35.”


Dear Vote Smart:

 I have been in government for 27 years and you folks are the first really good thing I have ever seen. I am now retired and living off Social Security which is just enough to cover my food and medicine.  I decided I can do without the medicine this month. Enclosed is my $35.

                                   Bill Thomas


Dear Project Vote Smart:

 I can’t afford $40. I lost my husband and have been in the hospital for a month.  But I can give you $10. God bless every one of you.

                          Mary Mitchell

 I would read one of these to a careless staffer or student and ask, “What do you think Mrs. McGillicutty would say if you spent her $35 that way?”

 It was very effective. Mrs. McGillicutty gave us $35 and saved us thousands.

 Over those first 10 years we were doing well, had climbed to over 40,000 members, but our annual budget was a paltry 1.2 million, or less than one percent of what citizens spend helping congressional candidates’ trash each other.

 Years earlier when I was Chairman of the Arizona Corporation Commission, a conservative columnist who I thought disliked me, wrote a piece referring to me as Daffy Duck. The article was shockingly flattering, ending with “All is ducky at the Commission.” That started a torrent of Daffy Duck gifts for the next thirty years. I would eventually name my log office, which had a short door, The Duck Inn, which had double meaning to any staff or intern invited in.

 I hoarded every penny and demanded more, much more, a kind of slavishness that would envy Scrooge. In retribution, the staff presented me a statue. I lived by its motto and relentlessly drummed it into everyone, every day.

 Our staff had grown from one to 36 but the number of interns was dropping because all those who qualified for internships had already finished them.

 We decided to try and extend our internships to other universities across the country in a National Internship Program and advertised the internship opportunities at our two campus offices.

 The applications poured in, far more than we could accept, with most of the young wanting to dip their beaks into the high mountains, volcanos and beaches many had never seen in the Pacific Northwest of Oregon rather than Northeastern.

 National Interns working full-time for 10 weeks were far more productive than the local students coming in for just a few hours each week, as if Vote Smart were just another class. Adding to the bonus, National Interns became a great source of new pre-trained staff once they had graduated.

 What we needed was more space. Both universities had doubled our space, but we needed far more if we were going to continue on track and start covering primaries and local races.

 To build our own research facility and with a bit of inheritance from my mother, I purchased a gorgeous nine-acre property covering both sides of the Alsea River about 30 minutes from the Oregon State campus.

 I thought it perfect, nestled in the mountains in what I considered a short drive from campus. As I walked the property line, the sounds of children splashing in the river added to my confidence. When I approached the river I pushed back the shrubs lining it and peered through the mist to see no children at all.

 Dumfounded, I began to turn back when from nothing at all I saw a wave rise and travel most unnaturally upstream.

 It was fast and magical, then suddenly as it approached falls tumbling over a large boulder, the wave broke and into the air it flew.

 I never saw a salmon run. It was mesmerizing. A good omen I thought, something else swimming against the flow, out on a quest for its version of the Grail.

 Turned out that a thirty-mile commute into the mountains was not what Vote Smart staff or students were hoping for. Many having seen my “children” splashing in rivers before.

 The second effort to buy a place of our own was a large 5000 sq. ft. home being sold for back taxes. Located at the end of a cul-de-sac, it had a back deck casting a view over some of the most luscious productive land in the world—what the Oregon Trail led to—the Willamette River Valley.

 The owner happened to be in prison, not so much for the taxes owed as for the factory set up in his basement to build weapons of mass destruction, or what the 2nd Amendment had been written for: The sale and distribution of automatic weapons of mass death with armor piercing bullets.

 Anyway, I thought this site perfect too. Adelaide, my wife, not so much.  With a look that mixed pity with disbelief, Adelaide questioned, “You see it is in a neighborhood, don’t you?”  “Yes” I responded, “Once they find out what we are up to, they will be proud to have us operating next door.  I’ll bet most of them will come over as volunteers!” 

 This is what Adelaide was up against. Sometimes my ability to be out of touch with reality was in every conceivable dimension so astounding as to suggest a pre-frontal intervention by Cuisinart. You probably thought as much yourself from that prior story, but I tell you this, the whole truth here, I simply thought what we were doing was so clearly needed, so glorious, so momentous that every American would instantly understand, would want to play a part, be a part, any part, of this historic re-birth of democracy.

 Turns out that the prison guy still had some say and hoped to get out and revive his business in gore.

 It is unfortunate that I could not close that deal. It would have provided me with the education that Vote Smart so needed me to have about my species.

 When we finally did purchase property, this time with Vote Smart resources, I got that education and an exposure to the ugly in our natures.

 Ten miles from campus on the Mary’s River, a creek really, we found what all would think the most private of settings.

 The property was down a dirt track that disappeared into a forest of Oaks, crossed a tiny single lane bridge, dead ending at a large barn and small house on a 50-acre farm without a neighbor or other structure in sight.

 We purchased the property and named it Agora Farms after the original spot in Greece where many of our notions of democracy came to be.

 We began fund raising with our members to pay it off, renovate the barn into offices and living quarters, and began the zoning process to build a research facility the hill side.  It seemed such a simple thing. It never occurred to me that anyone would fight the permit, but I had overestimated my own kind – educated, comfortable, self-righteous, progressive, white people.

(New chapters will be added roughly once a week)

Richard Kimball, Vote Smart Founder 1988

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 I was sitting at the Algonquin lounge in New York City, enjoying a cheap scotch and a fine cigar.  I had been partial to scotch for many years and like most people who look forward to sloshing some down at the end of the day, I would drink too much and not enough. It was always a challenge for me to walk the line between the two and I would on rare occasion cross the line into some slurred speech but be sober enough to recognize it and quit.

 Or almost always quit. I suppose I was as smart as a stupid drinker can be and would weigh the cost of a clownish evening of drink against the inevitable regret, sometimes embarrassment when I was younger, even the danger that could come with it.

 I had not been shamefully sloshed in many years. But now it was another day. My country began another heroic adventure to save the poor huddled masses with our bombs and their blood.

 Less than a week earlier I had bet a former Vietnam pilot and close friend 100 sit ups that our country’s brilliance, courage and Manifest Destiny II (controlling the Middle East), would take us to war by week’s end.  I won the bet that very night and watched as the White House sold it to our fellow Americans as an effort to save the Middle East, bringing its freedom-loving people the peace, prosperity and love of liberty they had unearned but deserved to have crammed down their throats.  My sarcasm and another scotch warmed me as we watched our “bunker busters” excavate our way to that tranquil Muslim World that was sure to be its result. For me it was a blindness to history, both ours and theirs, and a numbing misunderstanding of human nature.

 By evening’s end I had noticed that my speech and posture were purchasing some amusement and a bit of concern from fellow party goers. Although, I was certain my angry blubbering about the bombs was mind expanding to others and I knew my thinking still be sharp because I could plainly see that friends were all distressed by the notion of me driving home.  So, with a concern for them and the hope of saving anyone inconvenience, I did the generous, thoughtful, distressingly stupid thing. I snuck out and got in my car.

 My car, the third of four I would ever own, was an old squatty brown Audi which had never gracefully accepted my hulking 6’4” carcass without complaint.  No reason for this night to be an exception, so I accepted its clunk-on-the-head greeting as I fell into the seat and fumbled for my keys. The drive back to my bed, still the sleeping bag under my office desk, was about three miles away and would normally take a couple of minutes. But this night it would be a half hour or more. I didn’t want to hurt anyone, so I crept at little more than a walking pace down every back street there was. By the time I arrived I was hungry but still steaming in anger about all those dying and yet to die half a globe away. I pulled into the Safeway next to our office and at the top of my lungs with the whole world as my audience, I screamed “FUCK George Bush” as I got out of the car.

 Unnoticed were three athletic college students just leaving the Safeway. It seems they were very patriotic and wanted a little war all their own, right there in the parking lot.  They surrounded me and had a few things to scream themselves, mostly about my being un-American.  I of course responded and let them know how sorry I was, how much I admired, respected, and appreciated their knowledgeable, thoughtful opinions and how hopeful I was that they would heed their President’s call to duty, drop out of school, enlist and die.  Fearful that my speech might be slurred with drink or in any way misunderstood, I said these kindnesses with all the calmness, charm and volume of a charging bull elephant.

 Good fortune saved my sloppy self, for at the very moment “die” left my lips, the Safeway’s night manager and an assistant or two burst out the doors saying they had called the police. We all looked at each other, decided that this might not terminate well for any of us, and we parted ways, they to their car and me to mine.

 I drove my car the half block down to my office, went inside and collapsed under my desk.  The next morning, now starving, I started back to the Safeway to get a lot of whatever to eat. It was then that I noticed a beaten-up old car parked at a peculiar angle in the lot, its windows all smashed in, the mirrors dislocated from their mounts and on the front and back seats a number of large boulders resting in a sea of glass chips.  As I took the scene in, my mind gathered some purchase. I had to accept the fact that it was my car I was looking at. I walked on, thinking I got what I deserved but mostly hoping that the Safeway night manager’s shift would by now have ended.

 I loved the Algonquin Hotel. I could not afford to stay there or drink its scotch, but it did have a nice selection of fine cigars. The hotel was located a door down from my own which was less than a fourth the cost, so that with a flask of my own cheap scotch I could enjoy a relaxing evening in the homey elegance of the Algonquin for the cost of a single cigar.

 The cigar was not cheap, but the taste was the thing of it. I did not mind my cheap scotch and actually preferred it. Expensive scotches, sometimes given to me by well-meaning friends, always tasted like soap and never had that burning bite that made you gasp and let you know you were getting your money’s worth. It was the “buzz,” that moment that drink washes contentment through your brain that I sought most evenings.

 The cigar on the other hand needed to be a very good one, which was hard to find.  Cigars are similar to wine, where consistency becomes an art, and quality and taste can shift dramatically from year to year even within the same brand.  I had known nothing of these things two years earlier. In fact, I had not smoked in many years.  I had managed to quit cigarettes on a bet when I was in the State Senate.  Both my secretary and I had been heavy smokers and somehow we had gotten into an argument over willpower, she insisting that she had more than I. We put $0.50, the price of a pack back then, in a large jar every day that we did not smoke and the first one that gave up had to use the can to take the other to whatever kind of meal it would buy.  A month or so later I won. We had built up a significant sum and had a fine lunch at one of the city’s best restaurants.

 It would be a dozen years before I was tempted to smoke again. It was on one of my many Vote Smart trips that included New York. I was reading a short story called The Day in the Life of a Cigar. It was a charming story about the various people, wealthy and poor, whose days were enriched by one of Fidel Castro’s Cohibas—the preeminent cigar saved in his revolution through the ingenuity of a woman.

  Later that day I recalled the story and how it had tempted me to Geri, a friend who had had made Carnegie our most supportive foundation.  Where she got it I do not know, but a week later she sent me a Cohiba, impossible to get domestically because of the Cuban embargo set by President Kennedy the day after sending out Piere Salinger, his Press Secretary, to buy up every Cuban cigar in town.

 The cigar sat in my desk for almost a month when years of good fortune that comes with an enjoyable vice arrived in the form of another article, this one in the New York Times.  It turns out that cigars do have a life, need to be cared for, given a home and a good bed, kept at the right temperature with just the right amount of humidity or they soon die.

 I opened my desk drawer, stared at my Cohiba, picked it up, rolled it between my thumb and finger and the outer rapper of tobacco began to peel away. My cigar was clearly on its last legs. I thought a moment and then bit off the end, something I had seen done in the movies, and lit it up.  Had it been a cheap cigar, a bad year for cigars, or simply a cigarette, I am certain my life would not have changed.  But it was none of those things. It was, in a word, yummy.

 I was no fool on such matters. There was a reason I had quit the joy of smoking long ago and it had everything to do with my fear of death.  But my fear of death had subsided somewhat and for me a fine cigar had suddenly become the choicest of pleasures, so I set up an appointment with my doctor.

 Explaining to the doctor, a very reasonable and conscientious fellow, that I wanted to invite cigars into my evening life, that I did not inhale the smoke, at least not directly (most cigar smokers don’t), that it was a flavor—a taste thing—I asked, “How dangerous is it? Are there any studies on cigar smoking?”   He said, “Well, there aren’t really any cigar studies and if you take up just one cigar a day, there is not much chance you will get lung cancer. It is more likely that in 15 to 20 years I will be chopping out your tongue, some cheek or maybe a hunk of your jaw along with a piece of your throat.”  I did not think long. The pleasure was too great and besides, how vain can an old man be and old is what I would be in another 20 years. The doc could have my jaw.

 At this writing, more than 30 years have passed since that doctor/patient conference. I can now disclose that the 12,763 yummy evenings I have enjoyed were well worth it. Doc can have any old, wrinkled, blotchy, chunk of me when he wants. I will not regret it.

 A comfortable seat at the Algonquin bar, a fine cigar and a swig of cheap scotch taken on the sneak, suggests—almost demands—reflection on your day’s activities. It was now such a moment, feeling contented with my day and the scotch washing over my brain and knowing for certain all was right and good with the world.  I thought of calling Mommy. I had not talked to her that week as I usually did and thought I should check in.

 I picked up the phone and dialed and was instantly sobered by a man’s “hello.”  What man would dare be so presumptuous as to answer my mother’s phone? My mother had never dated another man, and now at 74, mostly on her own  — well, my spurs were on and my guns loaded. “Let me speak to Mrs. Kimball,” I demanded. With a curt but professional tone the man asked, “Who is this?”  I blurted, “This is her son, let me speak to her.”   There was a long pause and then, “This is Sargent Hickle with the Tucson Police Department. I am sorry sir, but your mother is dead.”

(New chapters will be added roughly once a week)

Richard Kimball, Vote Smart Founder

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FOUNDATIONS – Chapter 50

Websters dictionary – Foundations   a: funds given for the permanent support of an institution — 


I never go to sleep angry when I can stay awake all night pissed off. Any perceived injustice, rightly or wrongly, broils my brain into the wee hours. The “what was said, could have said, should have been said” pummels through the hours till exhaustion sets in.

 It is a rare opportunity when you get to say exactly the right words you wish you’d said, that your fury requires. Rarer still, when after saying it, you aren’t absorbed with regret and kicking yourself in the ass in the light of day.

 Such is the case in an interview I gave The Chronicle of Philanthropy, published for charity leaders and foundation executives:

Question: “Is the civics work these foundations are funding doing some good?”

Answer: “Not necessarily in governance. They want a Big Mac, a quick satisfaction kind of solution to problems:  Fund a program and will voters show up? Fund a program and will special interest influence disappear, etc?  If you can’t strike quick gold that can be easily measured and valued, someone at the foundation that supported it isn’t going to look good.”

Question: “But you apply to foundations for grants?”

Answer: “Yes, but I constantly struggle with grant writing language that makes us appear like the champions of the latest foundation fad, when the reality is that we don’t really care what the fad is; we just mold our language to adopt it.  What Vote Smart cared about last year, cares about this year and will care about next year is just one thing: That voters have the facts to make wise choices regardless of their political view and that we stay so pristinely clean that everyone could take our data to the bank. If you are going to toss power out to the mob you’d better make sure the mob knows what it is doing.

 Civics grantees become contortionists who twist their needs into the never-ending new language and new ways to serve whatever the latest foundation fads are.  That is the game.”

Question: “If you don’t want the money for the latest fad why ask for it?”

Answer: “Fall out.  With every grant for some new project there is at least some fallout that helps us with our primary goal, our reason for being.  It might be in the overhead, it might be in the volume.  For example: If a foundation thinks the public cares about or should care about campaign finance information which we provide but know they aren’t asking about, what the Hell, we can still be their man.  So, we don’t poopoo the project they want us to implement, we simply play Father Knows Best, give them what they want and we get the grant knowing the personnel or equipment the grant pays for will be un-used or under-utilized and thus available for other worthwhile endeavors. Sometimes all of this twisting gets pretty batty.  For example, one foundation wanted to fund bi-lingual researchers to handle new immigrant callers to our Voter’s Research Hotline. That is fine with us even as we know every Spanish-speaking immigrant interested in voting research can easily get by in English, but if we let the foundation do what it wants, we get two more researchers with nothing to do, who can help us with the research and answer those phones.”



Question: “Why not ask for what you need?”

Answer: “We do, but all proposals need to be put in a pretty package.  Some concerned people at foundations know the game and they know you know the game, but because they support what you do, will help you convince their own board with advice. Usually choosing the right words, just the right colored wrapping paper and bow that a foundation board will find attractive.

 If you ask boards directly for help with your REAL year-in, year-out needs you will hear: “We do not fund existing programs,” or “We don’t provide general support,” or “We do not provide sustaining support,” or” Our new president is interested in changing directions.”

 As I mentioned, few foundations will fund good government organizations or what they call “GooGoo” efforts.  This is often true when a big foundation changes presidents. New presidents or boards want their own moment in the sun and will not build a reputation on the fresh droppings of their predecessors no matter how fertile those droppings may have been. Of course, that behavior makes building anything substantial or sustainable in civics education unlikely.”

Question: “What is wrong with foundations investing in new innovative ideas?”

Answer: “Nothing, if it is successful and that success continues to be nurtured, but civics success rarely is. Big foundations get bored if there are not instant results, a kind of “been there, done that, move on” mentality.  Their attention span is like kids at recess.  They will play for a while, and if not quickly ahead pick up their ball and go home. They do this in part because civic non-profits cannot prove success. Vote Smart cannot prove that it is enabling better self-government because of its work. It is simply reasonable to assume that if a people are going to self-govern, it would be nice to make sure they have access to abundant, accurate, relevant information.”

Question: “But don’t they start a lot of good programs?”

Answer: “They sure do, and we have many of them. We have a Reporter’s Resource Center, a K-12 Education Program, and Inclusion Programs for minorities, low-income and youth, Vote Smart at your Library Program, Congressional Snapshot programs for newspapers and radio.  We have had publications for journalists, schoolteachers, and new immigrants, some printed in Spanish, Mandarin and Vietnamese.  All these programs were created at the behest of some foundation, all successful, used and needed by the end users.  All of those foundations that funded those programs knew at the outset that those programs had little chance of becoming self-supporting because the users had no money and almost every foundation eventually got bored or changed leaders and pulled their funds to do something else.

  “By 2010, you could walk through our offices and see volunteer after volunteer struggling to sustain the remnants of such efforts or visit our archives and see them boxed up. Efforts that ate substantial portions of our funds and enormous amounts of staff and volunteer time.  It is very disheartening to a volunteer-based non-profit like Vote Smart when so many of our resources are consumed by foundations that have junked their notions onto the shoulders of our students and volunteers.”

 Question: “Some think commercial interests can and will provide all of this information.”

Answer: “Could be, but we can still hope that in the thousands of years of human existence we might have learned that putting all political power, which is what access to information is, in the hands of for-profits is a dangerous thing to do. They are “for profits,” and serving the bottom line is their reason for being, not We, The People.  Foundations often make righteous efforts to combat special interests’ influence, while leaving voter education to those same interests who so clearly twist and manipulate information to scare voters into behaving the way they want them to in a voting booth.”

Question: “Why do you think voter turnout is so low in the U.S.?”

Answer: “It is hard to get energized choosing between your jerk and their jerk.  People aren’t stupid. They know that no one can win public office without playing the game and that playing the game requires one to become damaged goods and far less honorable than voters want and should expect. The wonder is why the people take it, why they do so little to encourage and support honorable citizens they know to run and then protect them from this unseemly mess.

 Let us say you and I run against each other for governor.  You want to be real, do the right thing. You spend your days talking to voters, maybe in workplace meetings, churches, schools, and neighborhoods telling people why you are running, what you think, listening to what they think, sharing ideas about how to best represent them. It’s a real give and take, learning, getting to know them and they you, all that good useful stuff.   

 At the same time I spend all my time raising big money from the wealthy, corporations, labor unions and other large professional associations who will want access to me if elected.

 In the end I will have money, you your passion for good. I will make you look foolish and I have the money to do it.  I will bombard you with trashy ads all designed to humiliate you. I’ll embarrass you in front of your family and friends and there will be nothing you can do to defend yourself, because you did what was right, honorable and helpful to all, instead of what the system requires you to do, if you want to win.

 That is why so few honorable people run, people you know, people in your own community, people who have spent lifetimes doing good. They aren’t going to run, it is just ugly, and they are not going to subject themselves or their families and friends to the process.”


 This interview was never published, I presume because an old friend I worked with in Senator Mondale’s office conducted it for the Chronicle of Philanthropy and wanted to protect me.

 When he told me I was angry, so like I said, I let it broil my brain into the wee hours and when I got up, I published it to foundations myself.


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Richard Kimball, Vote Smart Founder

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The Daisy Commercial

 We handled 211,000 Voter’s Research Hotline calls that 1992 Election, with many times that number of calls not able to get through at all.  You would think I could do the math and listen to reason.

 If we grew as the numbers suggested and I thought we would and mostly did, we would need a room big enough for a thousand phones. 

 Scott Langley, a young genius grad student who volunteered in our IT Department, gave a lot of thought to our dilemma, when he was not thinking about Gundula, a drop-dead gorgeous brainiac intern from Germany. Unrecognized by me, the love affair, unrequited I think, forecast a number of future Vote Smart trials. Life with the young!

 Scott approached me one afternoon and suggested that we create a web site, put all our researched data on it and let people review it for themselves.

 Like many of an older generation I dismissed this innocent naive young pup. “No way Scott, isn’t gonna happen” I firmly ruled. “It took the telephone a hundred years to saturate 97% of American households. Everyone has access to a phone, you do not need to know how to type, you do not need to have an education, you do not need an expensive computer, you just need to be able to dial. Hell, you do not even need your own phone, you can just go to a pay phone on any street corner and dial our 1-800 number. Forget it.”

 I successfully fought Scott and his growing number of young web site intern advocates from burdening us with some real progress. Finally, they got so irritatingly bothersome that I chucked a couple thousand dollars at them just to shut the Hell up.

 I do not really know how they did it, I didn’t pay much attention.  In hindsight, they put in a few bazillion extra hours and then asked if they could go live and announce our data was on the “Vote Smart Web.”

 You have to understand here that this is back in the early 90s, no one had such a website, not news organizations, universities or anyone else.

 “Jesus Christ! OK, OK, get out of here,” I bellowed.

 Some weeks later, Scott and his little gang surrounded me and handed me a single white sheet of paper.  It turns out that they had in those weeks more inquiries for our data on the Vote Smart Web than we had in the prior three years over my cherished phoneasaurus.

 We attracted a great many more users of our factual data, which attracted some curiosity from other foundations.

 Foundations do not often fund good governance efforts, or what they called “googoos,” largely because it is difficult to measure success in governance or in our case, making smarter voters.  In fact, there was considerable evidence that American voters were becoming dumber.

 Anyway, those foundations willing to give a pittance of what they have, saw some pretty solid evidence of our success with those we could reach.  We could show a lot of people trying to use what we had done, quite a few that would send in contributions to help, and actually generating more volunteers and interns willing to work for free than we could afford to accommodate.  Most importantly to foundations, we were a new group and thus a new find for some foundation staffer that wanted to look good in a board meeting.

 Most major foundation staff had an attitude: all had the power (dollars) to lord over non-profit startups, they knew it, and insisted that you knew it too. Having a humble, subservient hang-dog demeanor was the rule for all non-profits. Even as the staff of large foundations existed on the droppings of some dead person’s pile of success from long ago. As consequence, a lot of groveling was involved.

 My discussions with smaller foundations, where the source of their funds was often still breathing and happy to meet with me, were very different, always fun, and included lively conversations where I could harvest new knowledge and ideas.

 Russ Hemingway, a 78-year-old with rugged good looks, created a foundation that supplied millions to congressional candidates. Because of his political bent, I would not accept money from him but that was not all I was after. Firsthand experiences on how things got to be such a mess could be as valuable as cash in hand.

 As a young man Russ had been Adlai Stevenson’s (a Democratic presidential nominee beaten by Dwight Eisenhower in the 1950s) Campaign Manager. Of all the wisdom he pumped into my brain this unknown story is amongst the best.  Adlai was campaigning from the back of a caboose somewhere in the mid-west on what was called a “whistle stop tour” when Russ saw the first political television commercial ever produced. It was done by Eisenhower.  Rushing to catch up with the train, Russ told Adlai he had to get off that caboose and go cut a commercial, that Eisenhower was talking to millions in their living rooms on these new televisions while Adlai only a few hundred at each stop.  Adlai refused to get off the train, saying, “If we are to advertise ourselves like boxes of cereal, democracy will die, for you could not win the Presidency without proving you were unworthy of the job.” 

 Russ, the “young pup” of his day, eventually broke Adlai down and they did cut a silly commercial with some woman singing “Vote Stevenson, vote Stevenson, a man you can depend on-son……!”

 Candidates quickly caught on to the new power of simplistic mass massaging soon enough. A few years later Lyndon Johnson cut one of the most effective political ads ever aired.  It was anchored in the height of the Cold War. In 1964, Goldwater had responded to a reporter questioning whether he would ever consider using a nuclear weapon with, “It is just another weapon” and he would not lay his cards on the table in front of our nation’s enemies.  A pretty stand answer that had been given by our other leaders for almost 20 years.  But this was right after the Bay of Pigs and the Cuban Missile Crisis, when Americans had been digging holes in their back yards to hide from the end of the world. Johnson saw his chance and created what was called the “Daisy Commercial.” It filmed an innocent little girl in a pasture counting the petals on a daisy while a nuclear bomb explodes in the background, and Goldwater saying, “It is just another weapon.”  Its point: Goldwater is crazy and if president, would start a nuclear holocaust should conflict with Viet Nam escalate.

 The commercial was incredibly successful even though Johnson paid to play it only once. It was played over and over as a news story on all the networks, and started a media feeding frenzy that Goldwater would not survive.  Johnson would not even have to play his grossly unfair back up commercial, one no one saw, where he unfairly imagined Goldwater with the burning crosses of the Ku Klux Klan.

 Over the coming years our board meetings would take place at the Capitol Building or in various congressional offices in Washington, where most of our founding board resided. Little ever changed from the original concept of collecting factual data and laying it out in free, easy-to-access categories.

 And, of course, the three basic rules to protect Vote Smart’s integrity were scrupulously maintained: 1.  Board members with political reputations had to join with a political enemy. 2. We accepted no funding from any organization that lobbied, supported, or opposed candidates or issues. 3. All staff signed up for a two-year election cycle or whatever remained of one, and was paid only Peace Corps-style wages—just enough to subsist on.

 My foundation groveling became modestly successful, raising a few hundred thousand dollars during each of a half dozen election cycles.

  To give you some idea of how we attracted foundation support: A most promising grant was given so we could test our programs in disenfranchised communities with low civic involvement. We selected a few dozen precincts around Atlanta and San Francisco and saturated them with Vote Smart programs while staying completely out of other similar precincts.  When the election ended, I asked a wonderfully supportive good friend, prominent professor, and survey specialist, who I asked to join our board, Dr. Brent Steel to do a survey. Using a team of students making calls he went back into those precincts to see if any impact could be measured. To our happy surprise we found that those groups receiving our programs got excited about their ability to impact governance and each of these precincts measured a 5% higher “confidence in government” rating than those not receiving our programs. As Brent reported, in the world of civic engagement in a single election season, that is huge movement. But then, as happens with large foundations, their board leadership changed and neither they nor any other foundation was interested in continuing what had been a previous board’s idea.

 After some years of such foundation behavior my anger with large foundation arrogance would boil over in an interview, I gave a publication for foundation executives called The Chronicle of Philanthropy. The interview would scald Vote Smart for years to come.

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Richard Kimball, Vote Smart Founder

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Built in 1876 by my great grandfather George Kimball, President of the American Carriage Association for the Governor of Massachusetts.

With no opportunity, no freedom, punished for his faith, or his poverty, or just his unwillingness to be dominated, Richard Kimball came.  He gathered what he could carry, left family, friends, all he had ever known, never to return, to go through a tortuous passage for a chance to make his own way.

 He would have fought through the pain and loss as he set foot in the unknown.  Starting with a little stand of timber he became a wheelwright, and his children and his children’s children would take that and build carriages, hotels, and railroads as they helped build the greatest country ever known.

  The Richard Kimball of 1634 was little different than any other in our nation of immigrants and no different than immigrants today.

 How silly we are to fight those who have gone through Hell with that same courage and passion for a better life.  It is those who make us great!

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Richard Kimball, Vote Smart Founder

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Meeting Dukakis – Chapter 48

 “Well Richard, they wouldn’t let you join the circus (U.S. Senate) so you went out and created your own,” said a party leader and major Vote Smart contributor.

 Or, as a less supportive columnist wrote, “How wonderful the idea of Vote Smart is, what a great national need it would fill if only it was not being led by this idiot.”

 So, it would go for the next 30+ years.

 Good Morning America was a lesson learned. The national media did not see us as a story. If we wanted people to know what we did, how we did it and why, we would have to do it ourselves. Convincing right-wing conservatives and left-wing liberals, or even middle of the roaders, all distrusting and cynical of any political organization, to support us, would be tough. A bit like convincing Barney Flintstone that his progeny could and would eventually build wings and fly to the moon one day.

 In the beginning I had been sure that there must be, had to be, could not help but be, people more qualified, more knowledgeable, more able than I to do this thing I was doing. As it turned out, the one essential quality required, a willingness to step up to the plate, was limited to three: Lorena, Adelaide and myself.

 We were all excited. And if we were going to ever cover state offices and handle the incoming demand from voters, we were going to need more space, a lot more space and a lot more interns. Oregon State was able to double our space, but it would not be enough. Michael Dukakis, a former Massachusetts Governor, Democratic nominee for President losing to Ronald Reagan, and fellow Project Vote Smart board member, had a solution.

 I got to Boston to meet Governor Dukakis, who was teaching at Northeastern University.  Although he had joined our board, I had never met him and was anxious to do so.  I had not been involved in his campaigns but would regret that almost as soon as I met him and for a quirky reason difficult to convey.

  Americans are not warm to the most ethical and honorable, nor are they given any opportunity to see through the political fog of campaigns to recognize these attributes when they exist.

 I met Governor Dukakis at a Boston subway stop and we walked together the half-dozen blocks to meet with some Northeastern University officials about a potential Vote Smart office there.

 Now I am an ambler, you would think I never had anywhere to go and certainly did not want to get there if I did. This was not so with the Governor. We shook hands, said no more than a sentence or two of standard greeting and then as if he heard a starter’s gun, inaudible to anyone else, he was off like a shot. Though my legs were twice as long, I had difficulty keeping up with his stride.  As I loped alongside, we, he mostly, talked of politics, his passion instantly evident. He was partisan in that thoughtful, knowledgeable, convincing manner that is well peppered with a conviction you are reluctant to challenge and be proven foolish. I was listening in envy as much as awe to this man devout to his cause when I noticed something. Something he had been doing all along, but I was only now picking up on. As we coasted down the sidewalks, he had been doing this thing so inconspicuously, so unpretentiously, so unobtrusive to our conversation that had he not found it necessary to do it repetitiously I would never have noticed.  But there he was picking up trash as he flew, not a cup, wrapper or scrap of paper missed his grasp, or any trash receptacle as we sliced through the students on their way to class.

 Who does that? Who picks up other people’s trash?  It was not what he did as much as how he did it that earned both my admiration and my duplication to this very day.  Liberal or Conservative, t’is no matter, it is those like that, willing to stoop and pick up after you that should be our leaders.

 We met with all the university mucket mucks about the possibility of opening a second office at Boston’s Northeastern University. It became instantly clear that Oregon State’s angelic location in lily-white waspy Corvallis was set on remaining lily-white,  while Northeastern not only welcomed minorities but fought to attract them. It was the difference between intellectuals that talk the talk and those that walk the walk.

 We sent Angela Twitchell, the young woman we found two years earlier clerking in a sporting goods store to run the show in our new Boston office.  She quickly shamed my efforts in Corvallis. Hiring a crack crew just wetting their post-college feet, she easily organized the kind of office I struggled mightily to find just half as much success doing. Spirited, ambitious and smart, Northeastern took on some of our biggest problems, most importantly the testing of candidates in what we called our National Political Awareness Test, another ditzy name I forced on everyone that had no relationship to the actual test itself. It tested a candidate’s willingness to actually answer voters’ questions, with the byproduct of saying what they would do for you or to you on major issues if elected. To run it she selected a bright new doctoral student named Kyle Dell, a top-notch political scientist that we would one day ask to join our Founding Board.

 Her office so rarely had problems that I began to wonder as to the necessity of me. Although I would visit the office now and then, I only had to visit it once to fire someone, the only hiring error she ever made. He was afflicted with a little booger on the brain. He fancied himself as a man of the future as long as that future degraded Jews. I imagined his firing a great pleasure, so I insisted on doing it myself. It wasn’t a pleasure. Crushing anyone is not fun particularly a young person, not even when dealing with an ignorant antisemitic.

 We paid subsistence wages, just enough to cover cheap rent and eat or about $1000 less than wages at McDonalds. For the privilege of working at Vote Smart, staff was expected to cover seven-days a week. The only holidays I recognized were Christmas, Thanksgiving, and New Year’s.

 We wanted to be dependable and available, which in those early years could never be done in a 40-hour work week. In addition, at least during the last months of an election year you might be expected to work nights too.  We were open 24 hours a day.

 My demands on staff, students and volunteers would lighten, by necessity, in years to come, but in the early years I expected everyone to devote their lives to Vote Smart. We were at war, and they better know it, act like it, and fight like their lives depended upon its success. If they didn’t, they were gone.

 I lived Vote Smart every waking hour and a great many that were not. Having invested my savings, home, retirement, and soon inheritance in the Project, and refusing my salary for five years, I became as poor as anyone can be—and I loved it.  It was the quest, I was going to save a nation, make my life worth the living of it, and force anyone I could to do the same. Who can have a life better than that?

 There were a staggering number of people who needed no impressment, who on their own motion strode through our doors asking if they could help.  Over the years there would be thousands signing up for the minimum 120 hours of commitment required of interns, and volunteers signing on for 300 hours or more, all receiving nothing but a handshake in payment. They would be as young as 14 and as old as 93, some poor, some wealthy. Doctors, lawyers, teachers, a hundred other professions; every color, gender, and state were represented a hundred times over—even two dozen foreign nations sent students to help and learn how to build what we were attempting to build.

 I was relieved but not surprised by the assortment and numbers of people willing to chip in and build Vote Smart. I often peered through a door or window at them slaving away and wondered: If I had had a different life, stayed a teacher, been a labor leader, a surgeon, bank president, or spent a life as a butcher, baker or candlestick maker, would I be sitting there stuffing envelopes, proofreading endless pages of data, straining eight hours a day over a computer screen?  I was doubtful, but there they were.  

 In one memorable week the Launch Director for NASA’s Apollo Program, Patti Hearst (not the gunslinger but the matriarch) in a diamond necklace and Tom Gugglin, a sick former teacher and Korean War Vet we found trying to make a home on a piece of carpet in the dumpster behind our office sat there stuffing envelopes together.  Everyone doing whatever it took, whatever needed to be done, to get this idea off the ground.

 Who could not make a grand success with such interest, such support, who could fail with so great a resource as that?

 The work at Vote Smart was monotonous, redundant, repetitive Hell. Every job at Vote Smart was interesting for a day, maybe two, but political research on thousands of candidates quickly degenerates into dementia-inducing boredom. When that happens, mistakes are made and Project Vote Smart was not going to make any mistakes.

 The data Project Vote Smart provided would be as dependably useful as the morning sun. I would say to the staff, “Remember when you enter data on an elected official or candidate, their reputation is in your hands and so is Vote Smart’s.” NO ERRORS was the mantra.  Each series of voting records, issue positions, ratings, and biographical records had to be proofed and signed by each person doing the initial data entry.  Then their work would go to a supervisor where they would sneak in six intentional errors.  The work would then go to three other proofreaders, each having to proof it until they found all six errors and no others. If a seventh error was found we started again from scratch. “NO ERRORS!”

 The work was numbing and the pressure for accuracy intense.  Sometimes in the early days the pressure was released in a number of loud, not always pleasant arguments, always about politics.  Understandably, people who were committed to such tasks simply assumed that the people next to them were good people too and saw things the right way just as they did.  Not so!  You did not know if you were sitting next to a right winger, left winger, or someone just completely out in orbit. So, we hung large signs with big black lettering at each office entrance:

                  CHECK YOUR POLITICS

                     AT THE DOOR!

(New chapters will be added roughly once a week)

Richard Kimball, Vote Smart Founder

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Kimball with nieces 


 “Can I please have a bicycle, or a doll house, or a football, or a tea set, or a baseball glove, or some skates, or a bow and some arrows, or a cap gun with holster, or a pair of ballet shoes, or a basketball, or a jump rope,  or some marbles with agates and steelies, or a swing set, or a play house, or a Pogo stick, or a ping pong table, or a Barbie doll, or a chemistry set, or a couple of Nancy Drew mysteries, or a BeeBee gun,  or a Hula Hoop, or some swim fins, maybe some monkey bars—- I just want to do stuff.”


 “I just love my room.”  59% of girls and 86% of boys ages 10 to 17 are asking Santa for video game-related gifts this Christmas.”

Richard Kimball, Vote Smart Founder

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Night Shift 

With Adelaide and Lorena, the notion that was Project Vote Smart began to sputter to life.  Adelaide gave the effort stability, maturity and dignity, Lorena provided an encyclopedic political knowledge and seasoned research skills, the volunteers and interns afforded us the capacity, while I came with a whip. With the whip I would learn to take blood from the lazy, unfocused, or any naive innocence that came to my attention, either in fact or imagination.

 The young inexperienced helpers coming in the door were excited and off on an exciting adventure, whereas I dressed my brain each day in battle fatigues and went off to war. The two did not mix all that well–I was ruthless.

 Almost all the young people we hired came with a kind of wide eyed excitement not yet tempered by life’s lessons. For a few the most arresting lesson was the work itself. In time, I would come to understand that some modern young Americans thought life’s lessons were easy and free, and that adulthood and the imagined respect they thought came with it required no more effort than what naturally occurred in their having grown an adult sized body. 

 Most of these young cubs would rise to the effort often in impressive ways, while some discovered that doing something worth doing required the kind of sustained straining that had just never been in their experience.  Pointing out an error or suggesting some improvement could be devastating or even produce anger and in the worst cases I would later learn a kind of childish revenge.  I slowly learned the lessons of a seasoned diplomat. In the rarest and most troubling cases there were a few who, although committed and willing, had parents who so successfully guarded them from any uncomfortable experience in life that they had no experience whatsoever, rendering them incapable of effectively doing much of anything.

 No one was more loyal, kind and determined than Beth. She was on her way to becoming a schoolteacher and she would make a good one, designing her own assignments, but like a few others, her compassionate soul had been waylaid by the rumor that Project Vote Smart was seeking citizens to save the nation, which was actually true.

 For an array of reasons, nothing this sweet young lady did was not made worse for her having done it.  I hated the thought of dismissing anyone, particularly one who cared and tried so hard, but it would have saved us a significant sum to have paid her not to work.

 Late one morning in frustration, I gave her a task that could not go wrong. We needed a tiny piece of wood to repair our conference table which had a splintery spot that caught and tore people’s clothing. I wanted her to walk a few blocks to a lumber store where she might purchase a small piece of wood to cover the spot.  I worked with her, wrote out the dimensions, 2” by 8”, told her to purchase the piece as cheaply as she could, it was just a patch. Certain that she knew where the lumber store was, I told her the store would cut a piece to those dimensions for a dollar or two and sent her on her way.

 A half hour later, late for a lecture I was to give, I rushed out the front door to see Beth walking back from the lumber store empty handed. As I ran past, I yelled, “Where is the little piece of wood?”  Disappearing around the corner she yelled a response, “They’re going to deliver it after lunch.”  Oh God.

 Returning a few hours later I found a lumber delivery truck in front of our office and two men carrying up an enormous 8×4 ft. sheet of plywood. I bounded up the stairs to ask Beth what was going on! “Where is the little piece of wood you went to get?”  “Why, it’s on the conference table.”  And so it was, sitting there right on top, my little spot of wood exactly as I wanted it.

 As the two men entered the room and propped the 8 foot plank against the wall, I noticed that a little notch had been cut off one corner.  The bill, plus delivery, was a hundred and something.

 Beth, seeing my disbelief offered, “They said the cheapest kind of wood they sold was plywood, so I bought the plywood and had them cut out the piece you needed.” A perfectly logical following of my instructions.

 I tell that story because she was not unique, amongst our interns or first jobbers. Thankfully, more often than not, we found ready talent and in the most surprising places. Impressive, idealistic young people who, given the chance and wanting to make a difference in the world, awed us with their ability to learn, apply and lead. I think of Angela, a sporting goods clerk; Jodi, a Mary K Cosmetics saleswoman and single mom; Alex, a recent law school graduate; Julie, the university provost’s daughter; and Mike, a mostly self-taught whiz kid in the new IT field.  They, along with some heavenly-sent interns, put the Grail within our sights.

 By Election Day we had compiled basic background research on almost 1400 candidates for federal offices.  We covered every congressional candidate; if they filed, we covered them, including: Mickey Mouse, the Lord God Almighty (apparently  residing in Las Vegas) and even a few running for office from prison cells. If rules allowed them to file and make the ballot under any name from any address, we covered them.  The “Lord God Almighty,” on the ballot under just that name and who understandably lived and worked where he was most needed, lost. Other flakey candidates lost too, but not necessarily to those less flakey.  My point is that we covered everyone. We made no distinctions, if they made the ballot, we were on it and collected every detail we could.

 We had set up a “Voter’s Research Hotline” bank of 50 phones, and staff, interns and volunteers were well trained and ready to answer them all.  Next to each phone we placed an industrial strength metal catalogue stand with binders we called “The Bible,” each containing hundreds of pages of data. Each caller would have their own personal researcher to look up whatever they needed to know.  Voters’ inquiries poured in over the lines.   At the end of each day, research teams marched in from the research room and added new pages of data to the bibles from that day’s research: the candidates newly announced, new votes, ratings, issue positions, money or new biographical details were all refreshed and updated in all 50 bibles.

 Somewhere early in the process we recognized that many citizens wanted paper copies of the information, or what one student called “data on dead trees.” So, we published a Voter’s Self-Defense Manual giving 100-page samplings of the data we had collected on each state’s congressional delegation and some brochures urging citizens to take control, be the boss, fight back, reclaim our power from a Washington that had grown out-of-touch and self-obsessed.

 What the staff, students and volunteers had managed to do in little more than a year was remarkable by any standard. The only serious problem occurred the month, I ran out of money to pay the small paychecks staff depended on to live.  I had known for weeks that funds weren’t coming in as fast as they were going out and with each payroll, we nudged closer to financial death.  Not wanting to dampen the enthusiasm, the work, the enormous progress we were making, I had said little, but they knew anyway.  I had been counting on another $25,000 grant from a goddess named Geri Mannion, Vote Smart’s program officer at the Carnegie Corporation who had magically saved us before, but it had not materialized and so the day came.

 Vote Smart went broke and so was I. I gathered the entire staff on the lawn outside our Oregon State University offices.  I filled them in on the details of our dilemma.  There was simply not enough money to both make payroll and to maintain the programs, and something was going to have to give.   I told them I would give each department five minutes to argue why their department was so important that we could not cut it.  I do not know if the staff met in advance and organized what happened next or not, but they got me, they got me good!

 Lorena, heading the Research Department, clearly the most crucial department, stood up first. “I do not care if you cannot pay me, but don’t you dare cut my program,” then she simply sat down.  My recollection of how long I held it together is pretty foggy, but I would guess I was able to keep my face on for two or three others that got up and said essentially the same thing before I had to excuse myself.

 The episode ended with my only missing payroll by three days.  Geri did come through with another $25,000 grant, I paid everyone and swore to myself I would never go through such a meeting again.  I quietly began a policy of adding 10 to 15% miscellaneous to all future grant requests, and hording it for any such future rainy day.

 A few months into our Oregon move, an eccentric, political gadfly with enough money to run for president named Ross Perot called.  Ambitious but earnest, this fellow was about to launch a quixotic campaign against both the Republican, George H. Bush and Democrat, Bill Clinton, candidates for president.  He wanted us to send him a box of our materials, brochures, pamphlets, press announcements and anything else we might have written. Naively thinking he was going to distribute them in support of us we were happy to oblige. Two weeks later he launched his campaign, using lines pulled directly from the texts of our press releases, manuals, and brochures: Voter Defense, Be the Boss, Take Charge, Fight Back, etc.  With Mr. Perot’s status just above goofball, but lower than mainstream, we just hoped he would help Vote Smart or at least give our people some credit.  Neither acknowledgement nor support for Vote Smart ever found its way into his adopted rhetoric.

 In the spring before that 1992 November election we had received a call from a PBS program called The McNeil/Lehrer News Hour.  This news show, popular amongst those few able to tie their own political shoes, wanted to do a story on “this idea called Vote Smart.”

 Unsurprised by the NewsHour’s attentions, I simply wondered how long it would take NPR, the radio version of public broadcasting, to discover and do stories about Vote Smart. That, as it turned out, would take more time than I would have on the planet.

  PBS would continue their interest with other interviews including a program called Adam Smith’s Money World.  Arriving at Adam Smith’s studio in Washington, DC a bit late, they rushed me in and slapped a little microphone on my lapel.  The host then spent a nice 30-minutes grilling me about this great new idea called Vote Smart. However, the interesting and telling part of the program happened after the cameras were turned off.  I had stood up, un-hooked the clip-on mic and said to the host, “Thank you for having us on, Mr. Smith.” The bemused look on “Mr. Smith’s” face struck me as strange. Then he put his two hands on my shoulders and said, “My name is Goodman, Mr. Smith died 200 years ago.” 

 So, The NewsHour and Adam Smith’s Money World would be the only prominent national stories that year that told what we were doing and how we were doing it. We would learn that it was the how we were doing it part that conquered voter cynicism, their disbelief and growing lack of trust in any political organization.

 Smith’s Money World generated hundreds of calls but on the evening The NewsHour played their Vote Smart segment things went a bit differently. I was so distracted with other work and so certain that it was merely a tiny taste of the feast to come that I did not watch. While all the staff and students were over at our university Hotline office, I was working in our main downtown office alone and that is how I came to answer the phone after hours and savor such sweet angry words.

 “What the Hell is this Project Vote Smart?” the caller obnoxiously demanded. The Vice President of Northwestern Bell, the telephone operating company covering the seven-state northwestern region of the country, our region, was not happy.  “Why, want’s the problem?” I asked.  It turns out that ten seconds after The NewsHour program ended the telephone company was hit with 35,000 simultaneous calls to one number, our toll-free Hotline. That spike caused Bell’s computers to crash.  I offered a somber apology even as my brain squealed in delight.

 I hung up and called the campus office. It was busy. I kept hitting redial, busy, busy and busy. I grabbed my coat and jogged over to campus. Everyone was on the phones or running around like excited ants in a sugar bowl.

 Again, we slept with the phones, we did not want to miss a single caller, “Where have you been, I have been calling for two hours?”  Followed by the most wonderful words, “How can I help.”  Over the next seven days, thousands of new supporters and tens of thousands of dollars joined the effort.

 The 1992 election day drew near, and no other network program had called to do a story, so we began to call them so often we became an irritant.  We thought we were the perfect election season NPR story, but they just got irritated at our staff. “Do not call us anymore! We are aware of you. We talk about you in the halls. Stop calling us!”  The very next day their program, “All Things Considered,” made what they “considered” clear. It was late October, a week before the election, when a thankful nation finally learned what to do with all those gooey pumpkin seeds.

 Oh yeah, there were a local radio shows and a few syndicated, my favorite being the G. Gordon Liddy program. You may recall this guy who during the Nixon days impressed people by putting cigarettes out on his forearm saying, “The trick is not minding.”  He loved Vote Smart, which for me suggested we had crossed the Rubicon into the extremist camps.

 At 5am on Election Day ABC News, the network standard for accuracy set by Edward R. Murrow during World War II and then Walter Cronkite for a few decades showed up at our Hotline office with its new version of cutting-edge journalism called Good Morning America. This nuevo, goofy, happy news film crew knew nothing nor cared anything about what we did or how we did it.  They just wanted some early morning color to kick off their Election Day coverage. 

 They gave us a few seconds to point at the phone bank, then filmed the students dealing with voters calling for help. When I asked if we could tell them how we were doing what we did, they said that would be inappropriate – “Too supportive,” they said. Supportive of what I thought? Getting the same accurate information that your reporters are using.

 One thing these news organizations did do was use us. During the campaign journalists started calling us to do the research they used to have to do for themselves.  They took so much of our voters’researcher time that it was impacting our ability to handle actual voters’ calls. One such reporter stimulated an idea that would for some years be enormously useful to all political journalists, academics, and anyone else with an interest in doing an accurate accounting on a candidate or issue.  He was an anchorman for CBS in Chicago and had been given the assignment to do a story explaining the workings of the Electoral College to the citizens there.

Intern: “Project Vote Smart, can I help you?”

Reporter: “Yes, I am doing a story for CBS on the Electoral College and have a few questions.”

Intern: “Of course, what can I help you with?”

Reporter: “Well I need some background. First, can you tell me where the College is located?”

Such questions from these Murrow/Cronkite replacements heralding the demise of journalism became a great source of amusement for our staff and interns.

 At the suggestion of Peggy Giddings, a conscientious PBS journalist, we created a Reporter’s Source Book that contained both a “Golden Rolodex” of experts on the various sides of national issues available to interview but also a synopsis of the major issues facing the nation and the options being debated for dealing with them. Up to 6,000 of them were sent each election year to journalists and academics that wanted to do their job.

 Our phones just didn’t stop ringing. There was no way we would be able to help the thousands of callers slamming our phone bank on Election Day.  We simply did the best we could that first year and did handle almost a quarter million callers. A good number of them were from people standing in voting booths pulling out their cell phones and asking, “Who is this guy?”

(New chapters will be added roughly once a week)

Richard Kimball, Vote Smart Founder

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