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 Two hundred sixty-nine thousand five hundred and twenty hours had passed since that first hour in my palapa in Yelapa overlooking the Sea of Cortez. I had been grilling fresh grouper and swilling down some cheap tequila I had sweetened with limes plucked from a bow hanging over my porch when the IDEA came to me. The thought that had me stuffing my backpack early the next morning, hopping a rickety old train and bouncing back home to an existence I hoped would finally make my life worth the living of it.

 The IDEA rooted and passed through Oregon State University, Northeastern University, University of Texas, University of Arizona, University of Southern California, and finally anchored in those last 18 years at The Great Divide Ranch Research Retreat in Montana.

 Losing the Ranch ended me on the spot, but I hoped not the Idea. Was I dispirited? You bet! But an “itsy bitsy, teenie weenie” bit of me was relieved. 

 I was no hotel developer, restaurant manager. I was no wrangler, no recreation park planner and certainly not a house mother to a few thousand young students and first jobbers that flowed through the gates of our remote research ranch. All those things I would never have to be again. What had consumed my time and responsibilities would end. What was left was the IDEA, one pristine, unopinionated, protected source of facts any voter could turn to with absolute confidence – Vote Smart.

The IDEA protected in concrete: No funds from corporations, unions or any organization that supported or opposed political candidates. All political board members had to join with a political enemy. No pay for most staff and those that were paid had to sign on for two years at minimum subsistence wages, with all the organization’s finances instantly open to anyone that cared. All to assure voters that anyone and everyone working on the idea had no political agenda and the effort they worked on had nothing to hide.

             A sign I had hung on every office entrance.

 The IDEA was something those few still surviving from the “Greatest Generation” were as certain of as I and the reason they became Vote Smart’s greatest supporters.

 It was 2017, with the “Greatest Generation” vanishing and as Vote Smart moved and struggled to grow financially, a source of Sludge so noxious with deceit it would asphyxiate the nation with its stench, burst out of its adolescent silly-putty attracting absorbent, infantile, manipulable minds with no knowledge of what had been fought for since 1776.

 Some loathsome media and officials seeking selfish advantage waded into the sewage attacking America in its best of times. They jumped into the fact-less slime encrusting every city, town, and hamlet, intoxicating the very worst in human nature.

 The Sludge, earlier a Democrat, backer of Democrats, abortion supporter and gun control advocate, would become a gigantic record-setting deficit spender, the very antithesis of every conservative ever known.

 It was as if he jumped into a phone booth, flashed out in a different suit and said: “There go the oblivious. I will lead them!”

 Simplistic, crude and vindictive, it was leadership most foul, but leadership none-the-less. Politicians had so lowered the bar on integrity, they never saw it coming – someone who could see where the bar was going and simply dumped it into the dirt.

 For me, this might be the chance for the return of civics education on an all-inclusive national scale.

 We opened our new office at Drake University in Des Moines with as much fanfare as a small liberal arts school could muster, and I plastered its façade with quotes from those responsible for our being.

  • “If a nation expects to be ignorant and free in a state of civilization, it expects what never was and never will be.” -Thomas Jefferson
  • “Liberty cannot be preserved without general knowledge among the people.” – John Adams
  • “Knowledge will forever govern ignorance, and a people who mean to be their own governors must arm themselves with the power knowledge gives.”
  • —James Madison
  • .
  • “Knowledge is in every country the surest basis of public happiness.” – George       Washington

 Most importantly, after three decades of effort, trying to do and be everything, living in or at the offices, I turned over the day-to-day staff management to Walker McKusick, who had been with us for some years and was one of the most amiable, capable managers of people you could ever know.

For me, well, I would become obsessed with the vulgar, narcissistic, shameless sham leading millions of my countrymen, neighbors, even members of my own family. My disappointment with the Ranch, my desire to step back toward retirement would have to wait until I could re-root Vote Smart in granite for the coming fight to save democracy—or in Vote Smart’s vernacular, The Facts.  The honorable world of compromise, negotiating disagreements, conservative vs. liberal or otherwise, was dead. Now it was simply truth vs. lies, fact vs. fable.

 Like the last flicker of a light bulb that burns at its brightest, I would strain to deliver only to become a nobody after all.

  (New chapters will be added roughly once a week)

Richard Kimball, Vote Smart Founder 1988

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