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Category: Government


                                    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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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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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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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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Couldn’t Be More Perfect

  There is a special spot at the Nation’s capitol reserved for doing television interviews where you will notice this figure standing behind most as you watch the news.  I don’t know if journalists choose the spot intentionally, but I hope.  As the figure looks down on the participants, I can almost hear him tell another joke. A short sampling from Will Rogers about a 100 years ago. See if you spot any that still apply today?

 “I don’t make jokes.  I just watch the government and report the facts.”

 “The short memories of the American voters is what keeps our politicians in office.”

 “If America ever passes out as a great nation, we ought to put on our tombstone: America died from a delusion she had Moral Leadership.”

 “The problem in America isn’t so much what people don’t know; the problem is what people think they know that just ain’t so.”

 “We always want the best man to win an election. Unfortunately, he never runs.”

 “I remember when being liberal meant being generous with your own money.”

 “America has the best politicians money can buy.”

 “I hope there is some sane people who will appreciate dignity and not showmanship in their choice for the presidency.”

Richard Kimball, Vote Smart Founder

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 Well now he’s done it.  Promised, if elected to “root out all vermin” that disagrees with him. People like General Milley, Pense and so many other former friends he wants put to death.

 I am not very liberal, but I am proud to stand by his vermin, a term first used in the 14th century referring to animals that are difficult to control.

 I don’t think he can control me or you, or any thinking conservative or liberal, unless of course you’re amidst the mindless goosestepping boot lickers that are making him possible.

Richard Kimball, Vote Smart Founder

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OUT OF MY ASHES -Chapter 45

 With the 1990 CNIP test successful, a bit more money, and the goal of covering the entire congress and presidential races in 1992, we needed more space and a lot more help.

 I tried to convince The University of Arizona’s modest Political Science Department, but it was a no go. They thought I was just doing what I was doing as a platform to run for congress again.

 When other universities found out that we were looking for a home, Rutgers, Duke, the University of Florida, Cal-Berkeley, New York University College of Law, the University of Washington, and a dozen others offered a minimum of 2000 sq. ft. of office space, all utilities and computer support. The picture was clear: I was moving.

 The number of offers was great for my ego, since my lofty senate aspirations had deflated it much the same way as the Hindenburg. In the twenty-some schools I visited one problem became apparent: no one could understand the name Center for National Independence in Politics, nor could they fully remember that name when it became useful to do so in a spoken sentence.

  I only recalled the story of my creating that acronym during a racquet ball game for one unfortunate soul competing to house CNIP. The University of Denver.  His jaw dropped out so loosely that I thought it might not have a bone attached, while his eyes clearly betrayed his instant regret that U. Denver had made an offer at all.

 Exposed as the idiot I still worried I was, I never repeated the tale again. On more than one occasion, even I would hesitate a bit before our full name rolled off my tongue.  Even you, right now, reading these words will need to review its mention in the prior paragraph before coming up with it.  The name would have to go!

 A name?  Something easy to remember with a new logo would be nice. Perhaps something suggesting smarter voters?  Vote Smart was born. So, it would be and although I immediately filed it with the IRS as an “also known as or AKA,” only the earliest involved would remember our primary: Center for National Independence in Politics.



 We would end up choosing Oregon State University, not because it was the most prominent, it wasn’t, but because they committed up to 100 students per semester to work on the effort. Located in Corvallis, Oregon, it had advantages: a cheap place to operate and a retired former Oregon Senator named Mark Hatfield, serving on our board, committed to making sure things went smoothly there.

 So, we cut a deal, loaded up our files, office equipment and a well needled cactus given me by a friend as the means to discipline myself in preparation for all the self-serving political pricks who would attempt to puncture the effort.

 Oregon State gave us a prime location smack in the center of campus, convenient for students and big enough to handle all the interns who signed up to help with research.

 We set up our administrative office a half mile away in the center of the most idyllic town I had ever seen.  Corvallis is the kind of town that Norman Rockwell memorialized in countless paintings. Its only failing would be its lack of appreciation for diversity and the quiet racism that over the coming years would expose itself in such a crude manner that it would become a big problem for Project Vote Smart and any black hoping to be an accepted member of their community.

 So excited, we couldn’t move fast enough: new, real offices, all the interns we could need, enough money for a dozen staff –maybe not experienced professionals but at least idealistic, high energy, trainable, recent grads. Before my imaginative eyes, so on my way that I felt I could almost reach out and touch it, there it was: the Grail.

 Lorena O’Leary, my original and greatly underappreciated staff member, grabbed her two-foot ruler, joined me and off we went. Shopping at Goodwill and the University’s surplus equipment barn we put together the needed desks, tables, chairs, used computers and other necessities within a few days.  While doing it, we also managed to hire staff. If you could breathe, speak, dress yourself, make it to the bathroom in time, and the one absolute requirement, idealistic, you were given a shot.    

 We divided up the effort into various departments:

Research – covering biographies, contact information, and campaign finances.

Voting Records – collaborating with an organization called Congressional Quarterly to select key votes. An association they would later nastily regret in that “me, me, only” consuming view of the world.

National Political Awareness Test – Testing each candidate’s willingness to answer issue questions citizens wanted answers to and they would face if elected.

Performance Evaluations – collecting the evaluations of candidates done by hundreds of liberal-to-conservative selfish interests that graded candidates on their willingness to support their me-me causes—a kind of report card.

Toll-Free Voter’s Research Hotline – enabling any citizen to access the data through their own personal intern researcher over a free phone call.

Fundraising – seeking supportive members and cultivating foundation support.

Administration/Training – Lorena and I

 I was off on a child’s white horse, like Captain America, galloping off with my fact shield to save America.

 My wasteful youth was past. The life’s work that would happen “another day” had arrived and it would greet me every morning for the rest of my days – well almost. I was making my life worth the living of it.

 Besides, the way I saw it, there were only two reasons to go to bed. One was to sleep, which I had little use for, and the other, consumed my every thought, because I had left her behind in Tucson.

(New chapters will be added roughly once a week)

Richard Kimball, Vote Smart Founder

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Finding Money – Chapter 44

 The vast majority of Hotline callers’ questions were much the same as any employer might ask. They focused first on backgrounds, then actual job performance (voting records), followed by issue positions, then more distant ratings, with campaign contributors bringing up the rear.  Occasional calls came in from the cynical, wanting to know what sinister outfit we worked for. Rare were the obnoxious, but often enough so that we had to train researchers how to handle them. “We must act like automatons,” I warned. “Do not respond with any emotion, no matter what the question. Simply give the facts. If you are asked for a fact we do not have, just say, ‘We do not have that information at this time.’” Lorena O’Leary, who trained the volunteers, handled calls best:

North Carolina caller with a deep southern drawl: “I jus have one queston fer ya honey.”

Lorena: “Well we are here to help. What information can I help you with?”

Caller: “Can ya tell me how long Harvey Gantt’s dick is?”

Lorena: “I am sorry sir, but we do not have that information available at this time.”

 A couple of weeks later, the election was over and we held a little party with a few awards. We had managed to successfully handle over 7,000 calls, more than we thought we could, and more than any foundation thought we would.  Lorena was a wonder and got the most prized award, an odd two-foot-long golden ruler, along with some rubber gloves.

 The timely success of the test was enough to generate a $25,000 grant from the Carnegie Foundation and the number of excited callers gave us the notion that voters themselves just might be willing to chip in too.  I had big dreams:  Build this until we could cover every race from the Presidency down to city council.  A central source of every fact on every candidate, so trustworthy that any citizen, conservative or liberal, could turn to it, use it and trust it;  at their whim, instantly get that accurate, abundant, relevant, factual information on any elected official or anyone campaigning to replace them. It would take years, but we could start building with the 1992 presidential and congressional contests.

 Surprisingly, if not shockingly, we discovered that virtually every other governance non-profit, like the League of Women Voters, Taxpayers Union, Common Cause, PBS, NRA, AARP, publications, church groups, and on and on, sold their members like chattel on an auction block.  It was why, if you donate to one organization, your mailbox, phone number and email address is soon filled with so many others groveling for help.  

 So, I purchased names and contact information from two of those organizations.  Then Jack Greenway, a friend and owner of the most delightfully unpretentious old elegant hotel you could ever know, the Arizona Inn, did the unthinkable.  He allowed me to take over one of his hotel dining rooms and have what I jokingly called a champagne and caviar mailing. I wrote a letter about what our new organization was up to, purchased 5000 envelopes and stamps.  Then I hit Safeway and got two 2 oz. jars of the cheapest caviar and spread it thinly over 10 pounds of cream cheese.  That, along with some Ritz Crackers and two dozen bottles of Andre champagne, selling at $2.90 a bottle, would do the job.

 I got a hundred or so former campaign workers and friends to do the kind of mind-numbing, monotony that must have come to Sisyphus rolling that rock up the hill. They sat for hours folding, stuffing, sealing, and stamping those thousands of letters. People willing to do such tedious tasks they are not required to do, when so many more pleasant entertainments are available, were always a marvel to me. Anyway, they did it, and I and you should love them for it.

 I was sitting there stamping and sealing as fast as the best of them when Richard Kleindienst walked in. This “disgraced” U.S. Attorney General from the Nixon Administration I am proud to say was my friend and for my money the least corruptible of the stupefyingly corruptible lot that led to Nixon’s resignation. This is, of course, a half century before Trump, when stupefying, corruptible, nor any other word in any language is adequate to describe how dangerously gruesome it has all become.

 Anyway, Kleindienst loved the idea of CNIP and had suddenly appeared to cheer my fellow envelope stuffers on.  He walked from table to table giving everyone encouragement, talking of the corruption in politics and the rampant hypocrisy in campaigns.  An ironic commentary for sure.  Sixteen years earlier, most in the room who were my Democratic campaign workers would have trampled each other for a chance at clubbing him to death.  But time can calm almost any tempest, so he was appreciated, even enjoyed. Who better to talk about CNIP’s need to expose truth than someone out of an administration that so dramatically concealed it?

 Six days later there they were, two envelopes addressed to CNIP in my box. One had a check for $25, the other had one for $10 but included a long two-page letter.  The letter writer said that he was old, had been working in politics his entire life, but this was the best idea he had ever heard.  I was instantly galvanized with fresh purpose. Over the next two weeks letters stuffed my box. We raised more than it had cost us to do the mailing and I wiped my brow, thankful that I had gotten the money back and a bit more.

 A few years later, I would hear from people in mail order businesses that such returns were spectacular. Turns out that once you find your supporters, the real money comes in the renewals that come again and again, year after year. Had I been smart enough to see that at the time I would have hawked my kidneys to obtain every penny I could for more mailings, but I was just thankful that I got the money back.

 I did start purchasing more lists from organizations that pimped out their unknowing fans, but I did so very cautiously.  After all, the money I was now spending was not just my own.  I could hardly bear parting with a single cent these strangers were sending in to help.

 I was still substitute teaching for basics like food and rent but with the class time to fold, stuff and stamp. My efficiency increased to a thousand pieces a day, which now included a crude brochure. This was, of course, back when you had to lick the stamps and envelopes, something I preferred over a wet sponge for speed purposes.  When using a sponge, you are never sure you’re getting the right touch of dampness.  Too much and it drips down the envelope, too little and the envelope may not stay secure. Licking ensured just the right amount of moisture each, and every time.  Now, you wouldn’t know this, but halfway through a thousand stamps licked your retch reflex kicks in. On the day that I rudely interrupted the student film by chucking in the waste basket, I decided to save the licking for an at home ordeal. There, I discovered that a sip of scotch now and then was just what the Post Office ordered.

 With growing support and blooming visions of the possible, other board members came through with cash. My favorite congressman sent me $5000. Republican Congressman Bill Frenzel, few will now recall, was arguably the most respected member in Congress. This was back in a day when some members still earned respect and deserved it because it was they who somehow kept congressmen from devouring one another and coughing up each other’s blood.

 Foundations suddenly seemed less reluctant to meet with me. I hopped a plane and headed back East for meetings with Carnegie, Markle, MacArthur, Revson, Pew, Markle and a few smaller foundations. Even a few corporate funders were willing to meet: Prudential, AT@T, MCI.  I was happy to get cash anywhere I could, but the corporate ones bothered me. A great deal of support for the nation’s largest institutional non-profits comes from corporations and were rightfully under attack for being influenced by the corporate source of their support.

  I thought a great deal about this when I returned home and decided that if CNIP was to be a success, it had to be trusted and completely above suspicion. So, I adopted a number of rules to insure public confidence, the three most important being:

  1. No one with a political reputation could serve on CNIP’s board without a political opposite or as I became fond of saying, “a political enemy.”  Thus, President Ford joined with President Carter, Senators McGovern with Goldwater, Representatives Ferraro with Gingrich, me and Senator McCain, and so on.
  2. No money would be accepted from corporations, unions, political action committees or special interests of any kind. It would be funded by foundations (old robber baron foundations no longer attached to the corporate source of their funds), and individual citizens, or it wouldn’t be funded at all.
  3. The staff would be primarily student interns whose only pay would be academic credit, a recognized plus at universities that saw CNIP as a great classroom they didn’t have to pay for. The staff that were paid would operate much like the Peace Corps: They would sign on for a two-year election cycle tour and receive just enough to live on.

 It was through protections like these that an increasingly cynical public would find confidence in the Center for National Independence in Politics (CNIP), a name I chose no one could remember or understand, which now included me.

(New chapters will be added roughly once a week)

Richard Kimball, Vote Smart Founder

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 THE BOARD – Chapter 43

 I had $20,000 in savings I would put to the effort. I have always been odd about money, you either had some, or you did not, but if I could eat, I was good to go either way. Besides, I was on a mission to make my life worth living and that was all the resource anyone really needs.

 In time I shared my notions with a great many people: activists, journalists, senators, representatives, governors, and a couple of presidents.

                            OUR FOUNDING BOARD

President Jimmy Carter                President Gerald Ford

Senator Barry Goldwater             Senator George McGovern

Governor Michael Dukakis          Senator John McCain

Senator Mark Hatfield                   Senator Gorden Smith

Senator Bill Bradley                       Senator Edward Brooke

Senator David Boren                      Senator Max Baucus

Senator Frank Moss                        Senator Charles Mathias         

Senator William Proxmire           Senator Bill Frist

Rep.  Newt Gingrich                       Rep. Geraldine Ferraro                   

Rep. Jim Leach                                  Rep. Pat Schroeder

Rep. William Clinger                       Rep. Ron Dellums

Rep. Esteban Torrez                        Rep. Claudine Schneider

Rep. Nancy Johnson                        Rep. Morris Udall

Att. Gen. Richard Kleindienst     Archivist Adelaide Elm

CNIP President Richard Kimball

and 13 Other National Leaders

  To a few, my idea of forcing candidates to fill out applications of employment seemed dreamy and hopeless, but as long as I didn’t expect their money or their time, they were happy to lend their names onto a piece of stationery. In years to come most did more, some a lot more, opening their wallets, influence, and reputations to raise millions, but for now it would fall to me and volunteers.

 Collecting all the factual data and sorting it so that any citizen, liberal or conservative, could easily access it and find what they wanted to know was the challenge. Was it really possible?

 At one early meeting, Bill Frenzel, a prominent Republican Congressman of his day, suggested that rather than build a new “googoo” organization to take on this mammoth task, maybe one already existed that could be convinced to take it on.  “Googoos” was a condescending term used by some foundations when referencing non-profits interested in good government.

  Anyway, that started a series of meetings in Washington, D.C. with other national good government groups, the first “googoo” being the League of Women Voters (LWV).

 Her name was Peggy Lampl and she was the League’s National Director. “Fabulous idea, if it can be done,” she wondered. “I will bring this up with our board.”

 Turns out that the League’s board would have nothing to do with it, nor any other “googoo”, just “too difficult” they all contended. But Peggy and the former League President, Lucy Benson, became so excited over the notion that they joined our board.

 Years later, after we found some success, the LWV decided we were competitors and became the only organization in the country that refused to let us tell their members that we existed or what we were attempting to do. That kind of “me, me, only me” mentality was just beginning to bite into the mind set of everyone in politics.

 It would be six months before the “googoo-ey” inklings from my grass hut began to take hold, just as I was running out of money again.

 At first, I lived quite happily on my earnings teaching as a substitute and a few classes at a local community college. Now, I fear that my listing the number of times I went broke in this story may make me sound crazy generous. I was not crazy generous! I was just locked into a Quixotic exciting adventure to save democracy. I was going to bring home the Grail. Besides, as I said, I never worried about money, but then I had never experienced hunger, cold or periods without clothes or shelter. I just didn’t have much or as Thoreau, a nineteenth century philosopher, suggested: make yourself rich by making your needs few.

 I had volunteers, lots of them, friends that helped in my Senate run who still believed in me. Some were new friends who became supporters after hearing commentaries I made on the local PBS television and the all-news radio station that I was having some fun with on the side. I arranged a series of mini TV debates against the Chairman of the Republican Party and Richard Kleindienst, a wrongfully vilified former Nixon Attorney General.  Sometimes I would debate, sometimes I did simple commentaries. I enjoyed them all, particularly my last one when the station decided my services were no longer necessary.

 Chomping down on one of my mother’s favorite childhood meals, a baloney and margarine sandwich, I turned the TV on to a religious program featuring a fellow by the name of Robert Tilton.  This guy, so sleazy, with religious gimmy-gimmy so disgusted me that it became difficult to down the childhood slop in my mouth.

 So, I teed off with that afternoon’s commentary:

 “What is the most disgusting thing you can think of? Is it waking up one night to find a fat tick suckling from the tender tissues of your armpit? Perhaps it would be licking the bottom of a bus station toilet seat.  For me it is neither of those things. For me it is television preachers, who prey on the old, sick and lonely for what money they can swindle them out of……” 

 I was told that my comments received a record number of caller complaints, that the station had never seen anything quite like it.

 “Mr. Kimball, I am afraid we can no longer air your commentaries,” said an impressed but apologetic station manager, “Was it the toilet seat comment?” I asked? “Was it a bit over the top?”  As I relistened to my commentary, YEAH, the toilet seat – that was over the top.

 Fourteen hundred candidates were running for federal offices alone. Gathering facts for all that, would be a considerable undertaking for dozens of trained well-paid professional staff, of which we had none.

 Again, I thought perhaps we might design collaborations between a few large “goo-goos” willing to work together for the common good. But that was a notion that would remain as successful as trying to hitch a ride to the moon on a gnat’s wings.

 I began to focus our fundraising on foundations that I thought would surely want to give this idea a go. I asked two students (former volunteers on my Senate campaign) to research and list every foundation that seemed to have any interest in civics education. A week later they returned with a list of 130 such foundations.

 Then I set up a system to write grants that would be overseen by a professor that taught grant writing at the University of Arizona.  In the end we pumped out those 130 grant requests. One hundred, twelve foundations didn’t respond, with all those that did rejecting us. Dumbfounded, I called each and every one of them. Of the few that had taken the time to consider the proposal, most thought no one would use the data even if it could be collected.  As one major foundation said, “It’s just not sexy enough, Richard. It is too academic, too cerebral, voters won’t use it.”

 More exposing, I noticed that in the pile of rejection letters there were many curiously identical, almost word for word. Ahhaa! Foundation staffs were clubby.

 Getting grants required getting in the door. You had to know people or know people who knew people if you were going to pry any funds for a new “Goo-goo” – it was politics.  I knew politics and started camping in cities, until I pried open some of those doors. Only then did they start to think about it.

 As the elections of 1990 approached, there was no possibility of covering 1400 congressional candidates. With an all-volunteer staff and no office other than my living room, I would need to “throw down,” if we were going to move on.

 I sold my house and used the money to operate.  I rented a small leaky-roofed apartment near the University of Arizona. We converted the apartment into offices while I used a room in the back to sleep in. For $4.50 an hour I hired my most loyal campaign volunteer, a wonderful young women named Lorena O’Leary, who I would abuse for the next eight years in every way you can abuse someone except sexually. She worked like a dog, almost as hard as I did. We got our hands on two IBM Selectrics, the cutting edge end of the typewriter world, put in a couple of phones, about 40 pounds of paper and index cards to collect and organize data on, and a couple of trash cans that served the dual purpose of collecting trash and the rain that would drip through the ceiling on the infrequent occasions of rain in Tucson.

 We caught a lucky break right away. A break that would deliver a badly-needed piece of equipment and inform me that I had been celebrating my birthday for some 40 years on the wrong date.

 An astrologist, a faith I have little patience for, walked through our office door. She was covered with scar tissue from some undiscussed horrid event of long ago. Seeing her walk in, carrying a big box, I feared my expression might give away the shock I felt at her appearance.

 Three quarters of her face and neck, along with both arms were covered with heavy latticed scar tissue. After helping her with her box and reaching to shake hands she said, “I have a computer I would like to donate but I have a condition?”

  A computer would save us a great deal of work. “That would be great,” I said, “What is it I can do for you?”  She became unsettlingly serious, “I want to do your star chart and I need the time and day you were born.”  

 It was not the kind of quid pro quo I had become accustomed to in politics. With such a strange but simple request I told her that I was born on October 20th, 1948, but that I did not know what time of day. “That’s all right, if you know what hospital it was, I can find that out.”

 I told her the hospital, thanked my lucky stars as she headed out to research that moment in my mother’s life when she decided to give me that one last wailing groaning push. I had been a big baby.

 The computer was such a prize that we gave it a name, George, and when it was retired less than a year later, I insisted that it remain in our archives for decades.

 That odd mystical lady was to return a week later a bit upset. She told me that she could not get what she wanted because the hospital had a fire back in the 1950s and the original records no longer existed. The best she could do was an old newspaper clip from Tucson’s morning newspaper.

 It appears that the paper got a big break from some heavenly source the day before I was born and reported my October 20th birth in the October 19th edition, thus announcing my coming a day before I came, beating everyone, including my mother, to the event.

 Although my travels put us on some foundations’ radar, there wasn’t nearly enough money to cover all the congressional races to demonstrate voters’ willingness to defend themselves if they had a source with which to do so.

 I chose to limit our research to just 24 congressional candidates in two states, North Carolina and Nebraska. They both had heated senate races with one being of particular interest in North Carolina.  It was between an old, entrenched, anti-civil rights, anti-voting rights, race baiter named Jesse Helms and a new progressive and black former mayor of Charlotte named Harvey Gantt.

 With friends and volunteers, the research progressed quickly in all five categories, comparing detailed biographies, ratings, campaign contributions, voting records and current issue positions as best as records showed.

 The delivery method selected was named The Toll-Free Voter’s Research Hotline, a 1-800 number that would be staffed by trained volunteers around the clock to look up any information on any candidate a caller was interested in.

 To do that would require more space, phones, computers, and less indoor rain.

 We moved into a couple of rooms in a dumpy two-story office building with a little available space upstairs should we hit pay dirt and need more phones.

 Sandwiched between an insurance agent and some fellow who repaired sewing machines, the rent was just above what we had, so I decided to give up the apartment we had used as an office and sleep in a bag under my desk. No big deal, it wouldn’t be a quest if you got to dine on foie gras and sleep in silky sheets.

 Senator Bill Proxmire, D-Wisconsin, and Congresssman Jim Leach, R-Iowa, two early joiners of our board flew to Raleigh-Durham, North Carolina and Lincoln, Nebraska, held press conferences, and announced what we had created, and that if North Carolinians and Nebraskans were tired of the political commercials and want to get the facts on candidates, just call CNIP’s Toll-Free Voter’s Research Hotline.

 We did not need to wait long.  The announcement appeared in a number of papers, and a couple of late-night political talk show hosts adopted the Hotline, calling out its number like some mantra.

 The two phones we had rang so often that we couldn’t make outgoing calls. We had hit pay dirt. It was then that I said good-bye to my retirement savings, rented the upstairs office and put in six more phones. It was not enough; all six lines would often light up at once. This required us to set up a red emergency button on a central table upstairs, strung out the door, down the stairs railing and to a buzzer in the downstairs office. Hit it, and all Hell broke loose where all researchers would burst out the door and run up the stairs to help with the phones. It happened every time some media person in Nebraska or North Carolina mentioned our number.

 Thankfully, no one in the complex complained about the noisy clamor that occurred every time someone hit the red button. By the last week of the election, when the vacuum guy, insurance agent and a few other offices caught on to what we were trying to do, they would run out with us and give us a cheer as we launched ourselves up the steps to save voters with the facts.

(New chapters will be added roughly once a week)

Richard Kimball, Vote Smart Founder

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 Tossing power out to the mob was not done lightly by America’s founders. All of Europe thought the Americans’ revolution crazy. As one Scottish historian explained: “If you start with bondage, that might lead to the courage of revolution in America and if the revolution is successful that will lead to great abundance. But over time abundance will turn to selfishness and greed, and that will eventually turn to apathy and complacency. Once they become apathetic, dependence will follow and lead them right back to bondage.” 

 As good fortune would have it, America had better thinkers:

 “If the nation expects to be ignorant and free it expects what never was and never will be.”                   Thomas Jefferson

 “Liberty cannot be preserved without a general knowledge among the people, who have a right and a desire to know; but besides this, they have a right, an indisputable, unalienable, indefeasible, divine right to that most dreaded and envied kind of knowledge, I mean the character and conduct of their rulers.”                    John Adams

“A popular government, without popular information, or the means of acquiring it, is but a prologue to a farce or a tragedy, or perhaps both. Knowledge will forever govern ignorance, and a people who mean to be their own governors must arm themselves with the power which knowledge gives.”                    James Madison

 European pessimism back then, which rings with such worrisome truth today, was not ignored by America’s Founders, particularly the implied selfish factions sure to develop. “Factions” was their term for selfish interests.  The fear was that if power was tossed out to the people, the people would simply form “factions” and then do battle over the rewards they could gift themselves.

 Having miraculously won power from the greatest power the world had ever known and then tossed that power out to the people was an astonishingly brash and ludicrous thing to do in their time and may well finally prove to have been so in our time.

 Our Founders were not gods, not perfect, but they designed a plan to head civilization toward equity, tolerance, and a forced consideration of one another. It was the Grail and I meant to get us back hard on track toward it.

 Would you have done it?

 Would you do it right now?

 Say you were George Washington and could become King, would you decide to throw it away, and instead cast power out to millions of strangers, people you do not know, will never know, in some spectacularly trusting, very peculiar notion that they will be good to you?

 It was an unnatural act then and it is so now.   For all human history, people—thinking, feeling, laughing, crying, family-raising people just like you and me—lived in bondage, under rules in which they (you) had no say and if you did not obey, you were taxed, maimed, imprisoned or dead. 

 It was largely a Genghis Khan world, a clever fellow who essentially rode into town one day with his friends and said, “Give me everything you have.”  When they refused, he slaughtered every man, woman and child and rode off to the next town.  Again, he said, “Give me everything you have.” When they refused, he hacked them to death and rode on.  Eventually towns got the message and gave him all they had. It was once in just that method that the world’s greatest empires were created, including the largest, which was Genghis Khan’s. In his homeland they still find in him a source of adulation.

  The idea of a self-governing people was not new with America, but it was those Americans that gave it legs to stand on, and then WOW!

 List all the human advances you can, for all human time up to 1776.  There are some, and arguably the most important — the printing press, which allowed generations to speak to one another across time.

 Take another moment and list all the advances since 1776 when the human spirit becomes unbridled.

 Greece and the Roman Empire gave wondrous glimpses of the possible. Then came 1776 and human enterprise was unleashed on a global scale.  With little thought, your list would be dozens then hundreds, and still most of us would not think of, know of, or understand the breadth and depth that knowledge has brought us. Your list would make those of the prior 40,000 years seem devoid of advance in either human comfort, health, convenience, or nourishment. Almost regardless of your circumstance, if you live in America today you live with benefits and comforts beyond the imaginings of any ruling King or Queen through the millennia. This relationship between freedom and advance is not merrily a coincidence.

 Pride in our forebearers should ooze from every American pore. Little wonder why so much of the world has copied our struggle to self-govern, even when with some whose brutish cultural heritage make notions of freedom and human equality repugnant to their tradition.

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Richard Kimball, Vote Smart Founder

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   Mike Johnson

       Middle of the End

 Johnson cut his teeth leading Trump’s charge to steal an election without any evidence and thankfully lost his argument in every court in the land.  A Trump suckphant who defends the vilest American President, even as Trump’s closest friends, advisors, and attorneys plead for forgiveness, cower in shame and head to prison.

  Johnson, now in charge of the House which controls your purse, supports this authoritarian who would hang heroes like Milley, America’s top general, and trash my old opponent and friend John McCain.

 I am ill over how low those Americans supporting this have fallen.   Make no mistake: Trump just won the United States House of Representatives. If he wins the Presidency and the Senate falls, “The Great Experiment” is over.

Richard Kimball, Vote Smart Founder

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WALKABOUT: noun A short period of wandering Bush life engaged in by an Australian aborigine as an occasional interruption of regular work.

 For months after the Senate campaign, I did nothing. My frenzied life over the years suddenly ended and I was completely unprepared for what was laid out before me.  What was before me was an enormous pile of zilch.

 If your training is in politics, you’re not trained for any real people work.  With no job, no degree, a small home and about $8,000 in retirement I was done.

 Some people suggested I could beat the local Republican just elected to our Congressional seat. A good fellow I had served with in the State Senate.  It was either that I thought, or strap on a backpack with a few necessities and do my “walkabout” somewhere with a lot of different.

 Now before America’s craving for illegal drugs fed, watered, and fertilized blood-thirsty cartels willing to sell them to us, before overdose deaths tripled, and before half of all Americans over 12 years had or were seeking illegal drugs, disappearing in Mexico was pure vagabond enchantment.

 Using legs, buses and trains, I backpacked for months, meeting an amazing assortment of wonderful people with a sprinkling of crooks tossed in.  I had a loose itinerary where I would show up in cities and towns from the American to Guatemalan border where I knew that the Mexican presidential candidates (the crooks) would be speaking. I fell in love with the Mexican people, their innocence and heart melting unpretentious charm offered up in town after town, even as the civic culture punished them for that innocence and made me long for the relative integrity of the U. S. variety.  Not having taken Spanish at the University, I could understand little of what those I met said.

 So, when I stopped in a place called Cuernavaca and met a family willing to give me a room, bed and meals for next to nothing, I went to school for a month of intense Spanish training. I worked at it hard. Every day after classes I would give myself assignments that forced me to use that day’s lesson.

 On a Sunday, I saw this enormous mango tree bursting with plump ripe fruit. The tree towered over a little brook in a lush postcard pasture, simply bursting with butterflies.  Since my oldest brother and been collecting butterflies almost since birth, I decided my assignment that day would be to go around town talk to people about mariposas and purchase all the necessary things needed to construct a net to catch them.  When it was done, I returned to the pasture to see what I could catch. Ten minutes into my chasing and swiping I heard children laughing. I stopped and looked up the hillside to see an elderly woman, young mother and two children giggling at me.  It was instantly clear what a sight I must have been. This 6’4” 240 lb. clumsy American stumbling through a pasture swatting at insects. I started to laugh too.

 Anyway, we started up a conversation. I could say just enough to communicate the basics of my enterprise, mariposa and coleccion.  I understood little of their Gatling Gun fast responses, but it was clear they wanted to see what I had caught, so I showed them the three or four I had managed to capture in a little box. Then the children asked, and somehow I got it, would I like to see their coleccion too? I followed them down a path to their home on the muddy bank of the stream. Dozing in a hammock near an open fire, where what looked like a giant pizza tin was heating up, was the father.  He sat up, smiled, while pointing his finger at what was his tree stump-of-a-seat offering. The home was nothing more than a few boards with cardboard panels tacked along the sides.  The roof was a combination of old, rusty, twisted up tin sheets and palm fronds.

 One of the little girls disappeared into the vegetation while the others kept jabbering so fast I could not pick out the words, but it was clear they were talking about me. The smiles, laughter and friendliness were a joy to watch and be a part of. They clearly did not often have visitors. If it had not been for the shack of a house, dirt floors and pounds of laundry hanging on wires strung through the trees, these folks could have been stars on a Mexican version of The Brady Bunch and I might have accepted their offer to let me stay with them.

 Then the one little girl returned, arms filled with a half dozen little glass jars, each one holding a dead, largely decayed snake in some sort of fluid.  That was the collection they wanted to show me and I examined each with real wonder.  They all continued to spew out words so fast, I had to ask them to speak more slowly in the hopes I could pick out a few. After numerous requests for them to “repetir,” and considerable effort to patch together some meaning, I finally got it. If I had understood every word, the conversation would have gone differently, but I didn’t so it went something like this:  They had been asking me where I was staying. I had been responding with the word “no,” meaning I did not understand what they were saying, but they decided I had “no” where to stay. The same miscommunications happened regarding my eating.  When all was said and done, I suddenly realized that they were now asking me to dinner, offering their hammock as my bed and saying I could stay with them as long as I needed.

  Such were the people I met all through Mexico, wonderful, generous with all they had, which for the hideously disadvantaged by their so-called democracy, was nothing.

 The only exceptions to these wonderful people were their “on the take” politicians and one diminutive old lady at an unusually uncrowded train station.  On a quiet Sunday I was getting on a subway in Mexico City to go to Maximilian’s Castle, when it seemed that all the few others waiting chose the same door as I to get on the train.  It was a tight squeeze and I did what had been my habit and put my hand in the pocket where I knew my wallet to be. Only this time I found another hand in my pocket with my wallet in it. I turned to see who it was and it was a tiny little lady somewhere in her 40s or maybe 70s (ages can be hard to tell in Mexico), who looked up at me with an embarrassed expression and said “Oops.”

 “Oops?” I repeated, “Is that Spanish or English?”

 One of the Mexican presidential candidates came to the little town I had chosen for my Spanish lessons. A fellow who would become Mexico’s president named Salinas de Gortari.  His party, PRI, had planned a celebration and parade down the main street.  I went a little early to get a good view. Maybe one or two thousand people were milling about on both sides of the long avenue. I waited some twenty minutes past the appointed hour. Then a hint that the parade was in progress—a small group of four or five musicians that walked by dabbing at their musical instruments. Following them there was just a bunch of stragglers, mostly in suits walking and talking with each other. I only knew it was the president-to-be by the back of his head. He was balding in a distinctive pattern that I recognized from his pictures. No one cheered; there was no commotion whatsoever as he passed down the street. Once passed, the crowd began to quickly disperse with a long line forming in front of some folding tables that had what I thought was some kind of petition to sign.  When I asked what it was, I discovered it was for teachers.  They had closed the town’s schools on the condition that the teachers and their families show up on the parade route and sign in to prove they had actually attended the parade.

 A couple of weeks later I found myself in Oaxaca, Mexico to see another serious contender. I could not tell if he was a crook or not, but there was zero doubt that he was the candidate when he arrived.  He was scheduled to give a speech in the town’s zocalo or central park.  Again, I went early to get a good view. I was lucky I did.  The place was flooded by thousands of noisy cheering supporters. Being taller than just about every other person in the crowd I saw the candidate, Cuauhtemoc Cardenas, arrive in a short line of cars about 100 yards away. He was immediately incased in a circle of bodyguards who had locked arms to keep his mob crowd of fans from ripping some souvenir out of his clothing. No rock star ever had a more enthusiastic mass of frenzied supporters.  I knew then and there who would win or should win. 

 Some weeks later the election was held. I read that all of the state-run computer systems failed and when they were brought back online . . . well, I was glad and thankful that I was back home, where we would never allow corruption on that scale to stand. Right?

 Near what was to become the end of my “walk-about,” I found myself in a sleepy tropical fishing village. It had no electricity, no phones, no roads to it. If you got there at all, you got there by boat.  Surrounded by mountains, it was perfect for me, and so there I stayed under a palm-thatched roof with an open-air toilet and propane grill, in my cheese- clothed bed swinging from ropes, for a few dollars a night. I would return there several times over the years. But it was on that first visit, with thoughts of politics still eating away in my brain and American’s inability to see or deal with what politicians, their hacks, and the major parties were doing to it, that I got smacked with what would become my life’s work. 

(New chapters will be added roughly once a week)

Richard Kimball, Vote Smart Founder

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 The election was still some weeks away, but the race was over. I continued to go through the motions, giving little club speeches and media interviews but it was a hapless time for me.  Knowing that I owed it to my supporters who were hoping for a miracle that would never come and to other Democrats running for other offices, I submissively marched on.

 Although it would have no impact on the race or even be apparent to me at the time, the most fortuitous event of the campaign was yet to come.

 It was not long before the election when I had to fly back to Washington for an evening fundraiser held for me by Arizona’s Democratic congressional delegation.  It was not much of an event. Maybe a hundred people, mostly lobbyists, along with a few other dignitaries, thinking it party obligatory to show up. It was becoming clear to most in the know that I was going to go down hard.  

 That evening my mind was not on shaking more hands or raising money.  My thoughts were entirely of the person I had met with earlier that afternoon.

 I had walked into Barry Goldwater’s office just to see if he was in and say a quick hello.

 He had been friends with my dad and since then had become Dad to the entire Republican Party, a thoughtfully conservative party, not the one that has him spinning and thrashing in his grave today. Despite our political differences, I admired him greatly.  He had somehow been able to survive election after election saying any damn thing he wanted, to anyone he wanted, on any subject he wanted, and that had become unique in politics.

 As I walked into his office he stood up, not to greet me, but to shoo his staff out. He then told me to sit down and walked over to his door and slammed it shut.  I thought I was in for it, but the next few minutes were a revelation. Agitated, he began recalling his early days in politics when he was running for a city council seat in Phoenix.

 He had thought he saw a better way to manage the city, he wanted to have his say and did, but had not been able to do that kind of thing for many years, because he was now spending all of his time raising money to defend himself from well-healed Democratic challengers viciously attacking him with commercials that spoke nonsense to people by the thousands. Then he got to his point: he started talking about my closing debate remarks.  It was as if he had spoken every word himself.

 He talked about how politics had changed during his life, that it was a different cut we were selecting our leaders from, a nastier, less able group. He was sickened by what was now required to win.  He thought the behavior of campaigns and candidates was “dangerous” and “dishonorable” and that was part of the reason he was getting out.

 It all made me think back to when he was friends with Jack Kennedy, and they had agreed to campaign together across the country in Lincoln-Douglas style debates just before Kennedy was shot. What a difference, what a new standard that would have made!

 I left that meeting locked in thought.  He’s a Republican, one of the most prominent conservative Republicans in the nation, he sees what I see.  There is something here, there is something to be made from this, but what?

 On Election Day, the staff was in good spirits or at least putting up a pretty good show, the office was filled with excited volunteers coming and going.  This is what it was all about, the day the people got their say, got to choose their representatives.  It was an easy day to forget all the tracking polls that showed my plummeting numbers, to forget our lack of funds, to forget we had no commercial buys, to think, well . . . it could happen.

 I knew better, but I did dream a bit that evening as we all waited for the returns, particularly after John finally got around to taking that swing at me. Unfortunately, his swing hit one of my volunteers instead.  I ran into her as I was entering our campaign office. She was standing outside in tears.  When I asked what the matter was, she just looked up at me, mumbled “McCain’s gift,” and motioned inside.  

  I walked in where everyone was pretty angry. “Fuck him!” “What an Asshole!” “Let’s call the press and let them see what he is really like,” were a few of the blasts I heard.  “No,” I said, “the race is over.”

 The results rolled in showing things were worse than anyone expected – a humiliating rout of some 18 points.

  My efforts at the traditional call to concede were met with “John is very busy sleeping,” but I did have his gift.  It was surprisingly beautiful, upset as everyone was, no one had ever seen anything quite like it: an enormous funeral wreath of dead black roses.

(New chapters will be added roughly once a week)

Richard Kimball, Vote Smart Founder

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                             Where Dopey Lives.

 Unlike my previous campaigns I was spending little time talking to real people. I had to raise money, big money from deep pockets if I had any hope of paying for all the hard-ons and their plans. Any spare time and I was off to the library, where I really needed to be. I would read through mountains of position papers on dozens of issues I knew were important but knew little about. Concerns citizens would want McCain or me to deal with if elected, the hard-ons viewed my library time as a waste of time.

 Any citizen would be drop-jawed to discover how little candidates know about most issues. These candidates started just as you are now. For a sense of it just ask yourself, right now, how much we should be spending on each of the perplexing components of defense spending; or why Americans’ health care costs are so out of sync with the rest of the world; or explain why we have fewer people than guns to protect ourselves from each other and the government We, The People control; and at what point should a woman lose freedom over her body to the growing child within it. And if you can handle a real whopper, try to describe our taxing structure, explain why it has such colossal winners and losers. So complex, no citizen can fully comprehend it, forcing Americans to file blindly or fork over a fist full of cash to some brick-and-mortar tax advisor like H&R Block. Or if really fortunate, seven-digit cash to tax lawyers steering you clear of any tax at all.

 After a half century riveted on politics, I still have no confidence in answers to these questions for me, let alone you.

 When running for a major office or any office, particularly for the first time, you just don’t know what you don’t know, and most candidates don’t know diddly, they just need to appear as if they do. Today, once elected they mindlessly retreat into the party line, locked into the stream of money that makes their elections possible.

 If you doubt me, just digest this one statistic:

The blue and red dots accurately visualize the number of cross-over votes over a 50-year period:

  Any nincompoop can easily figure out the relationship.  For any not yet advanced to the nincompoop level, I ask, “Will your waiter give you a better table with a $5 tip or a $500 one?  It is just that simple.

 Major candidates are trained and practiced on all the questions hard-ons imagine they might be asked. In today’s politics the public doesn’t require you to answer the question asked at all, but back in my day, if you didn’t, couldn’t, or wouldn’t answer a question the media would feast on you for their evening news meal.

 We accept behavior from these candidates wanting to rule our lives that we wouldn’t accept from any other applicant for any other job. Let’s say you are hiring a babysitter. Johnny from down the street says he would love to take care of your kids and directly answers your question about your kids doing their homework, getting their baths and ready for bed and in it on time.  Then little Lucy comes in and says she wants the job too.  You ask her the same question, but she responds with, “That’s an excellent question but let me tell you about Johnny.  He flunked his reading exam, got sent to the principal’s office for spitting and there are rumors that he stole a popsicle at the Piggly Wiggly. You would never hire Lucy, that is unless she was applying to represent you in Congress. Because for that job, dirt works, that is why there is so much of it.

 Anyway, back in my day, one of the first to feast on me was mother.  It was one of those speeches I coughed up on an issue I knew little about other than from my library studies. As a 38-year-old, I pontificated about the elderly, the burdens of aging and their difficulties with health care.  When my talk ended, I was perfectly puffed up, thought it a great talk, on all the experiences older citizens face aging.

 Unfortunately for me, Mom had been quietly sitting in the back of my retirement community audience. Just another of those that had been living for some years now with the pains and worries only one in their last years understands.  When the talk was done, she looked up at me, got out of her seat, took my arm, and walked me out in silence. I was surprised, I thought I would have swelled her with pride as I was.  No, she just waited until we were off alone where others would not hear and then said, “My, you’ve grown a mighty big head, haven’t you?” It was her polite way of saying, “You don’t know shit.”

 After a month or so of listening and watching my hard-ons do their thing, I cut them off and insisted on giving a comprehensive speech on why I was running. There would be no bull, I would talk about what I would do on the issues about which I had some command, with a mention or two on important issues of which I was learning.

 It would be important, if only to me, and would not be some crap lifted out of a consultant’s can. I wanted and did give my sense of the world I thought was to come.  A world where I thought future battles would be won or lost with knowledge, not bombs.

 I nailed that speech covering concerns on education, defense, environment, health care and social security. With little help from the hard-ons, my staff and friends pressed the media to attend. For 50-minutes I poured out my heart on real issues, at a conference center filled to the brim with retired auto workers.

 Not a news reporter showed up. I was stunned. This was my reason for running, this was why I hoped people would vote for me. My speech was a total snore then, and since this chapter has a bit of what I said then, maybe now too.

 I imagined again, someone walking up and putting an arm around me with the refrain “Now, now, Richard!”  But it was only one of the hard-ons smiling at me from across the hallway as I exited with a muffled, “No attacks, no blood, no drugs, no sex, no drama, no media.”

 I hadn’t managed one scummy, newsworthy reference to John McCain. Like many back then, I blamed the media for an unwillingness to report the important. But it was no more their fault than a grocer for putting more ice cream on the shelves than spinach. You push what sells, not what is good for you.

 Today, like any other business, the news business chases money. Money comes from the number of viewers you have to buy products. In the media as in politics, attracting that audience is everything. Fear, sex, crime, the crooked, violent, salacious misdeeds of our species on parade gather audience. Like any species, we pay attention to and are forewarned by the behavior of others. Our senses are heightened when we’re threatened, when we’re told to be afraid, are in danger. Just cry out “FIRE” in a crowded theater and you will see what I mean.

 People have been drawn to bad news for some time now.  It’s instinctive and essential for self-preservation. The media has learned to take that instinct and turn it into dollars.

 So most everything we see on TV, hear on radio, or follow on the web is bad. The sky is forever falling–be afraid, very afraid. The media and politicians make the best, most obvious use of this, constantly telling their audience what to fear, who to fear, and blame for all your worries in your town or your nation. The competition for audience in the media and between candidates is now so vicious that it is impossible to tell what is so and what is not.

 In spite of it all, there would be a chance to correct much of this in my future, in what would become my life’s work, which I hope to get to before this book or I end. When that finally happens, I would be asking my young staff and students: “If you were sitting in the lap of God and he asked what generation of Americans would you like to be born into? You would be a fool not to choose mine.”

 As an American, my generation has had few burdens not recently self-inflicted. No revolution, no invading country burning down Washington, no Civil War killing hundreds of thousands of ourselves, no War to End all Wars, no Great Depression, no World War II.  My generation has had it easy. Not only that but we have become the most cunning of all American generations by far. We suckle on the milk filled tit won by our parents and our parents’ parents’ parents and have the brass to pile the burden of our growing debts onto the shoulders of our offspring and those of theirs. And yet, we have the pluck, as we party on everyone else’s dime, to complain about everything.

 No truer words have been spoken than, “We have nothing to fear but fear itself.” Today the crescendo of fear knows no end. Americans own more guns than there are Americans, you’re more likely to die in your bathtub than in a terrorist attack. If you are murdered it is a hundred times more likely that it will be at the hand of someone raised in a Christian culture than a Muslim one, and if you are killed by a Muslim there is a better than 90% chance that you are a Muslim.  We all know that. Right?

 The United States of America conceived the beginnings of a culture where freedom enables common people to enjoy the invention, production, and prosperity of their own labors. We have learned, advanced, and enrichened, with an explosion of shared knowledge. An idea of freedom and democracy that has been cloaking the world. And if some culture was not ready for it, we have been so confident in it, and impatient for it, we’ll shove it down their throats.

 We simply think of it as free enterprise, a marvel that few of us really get.  As a species we cannot naturally run, swim, or fly faster than a thousand other species. We cannot hear, see, feel, or smell better than a thousand others.  The only anchor of our success, the only thing that gives us advantage, the only thing that has enabled such astounding success and the progress that gives us all the comforts that we now smugly see as our right, is our ability to know.

 Yet we do not see it, do not heavily invest in it, we barely encourage our ability to know.  In the human environment the least able to succeed, from the moment of conception to death is directly proportional to their access to knowledge.

 When you touch something today, anything at all that is in your field of vision, ask yourself how it happened, where did it come from. Unless you are reading this out in the woods, you will see that everything around you came from our ability to know. So extraordinary is this one tool that we have invented ways to run, swim, fly, hear, see, feel, and smell better than anything else on earth.

 If we should survive as a species, some future generation will look back and ask about us, “Good God, they had two centuries of advances unequaled in all prior human history. All clearly anchored in their freedom and ability to know, and they still could not see it. How is it possible they could be so brilliant and distressingly dopey at the very same time?!

(New chapters will be added roughly once a week)

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