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Category: Kimball’s Book


OK!  I have given myself something to do with this writing about my life. It has entertained me most, but also been a kind of therapy that works about as well as the “lobotomy pills” I now take each day.

I have enjoyed my life. It’s adventures always exciting to me, at least in hindsight.  I haven’t written about my two stepsons because they think so little of me, much the same as that wonderful love of my life has recently revealed about her feelings.

But those things as disappointing as they would be, should I write about them, would simply give evidence and I guess rightful cause to all about their ending of my life’s passion, Vote Smart.

I began seeking applicants to replace me but the difference between the salary our board approved for me so long ago, that I never took and my insistence that we were all essentially volunteers caused many candidates with substantial fundraising experience to turn away.  So, I recused myself from any involvement in the Executive Board’s selection of my replacement.  Then my full-blown liberal, giving, trusting, dreamy La La Land I wanted for everyone and Vote Smart came into full bloom. I decided to announce I would drop off the Board for one year to help build confidence in whomever replaced me. After all, I would be remaining on staff for that year to train and advise.

I then let the board know I would not withdraw the $1.7 million owed me in back wages but instead donate it to Vote Smart. I only requested $30,000 annually for my retirement, that could be easily paid from returns on a small endowment a foundation had created, decades earlier that could not be used for operations thus holding Vote Smart’s funds and my contribution unaffected. They all said that my proposal was much too generous, but agreed since that was the only way I would take it.

Then one of our Board members who was leaving his academic position suddenly announced that he was interested in taking over for me.  He was a good guy, someone I had selected earlier to serve on the Board, someone who had done good work for me in one of our research departments two decades earlier before entering academia.  I was excited about the possibility and strongly supported it.

But then, over some days it became known that he had no intention of moving to Vote Smart’s offices but instead would operate it from his home in Pennsylvania.  He also wanted twice the actual salary that I had been taking.

I was certain that the Board would not accept either condition.  It had taken me 30 years of living at Vote Smart’s offices, leading staff,  implementing programs, guiding, course correcting, hiring and settling and raising some $50 million to learn all that I knew.  Turning Vote Smart over to someone managing from afar would be like hiring a brain surgeon to operate on cancer without ever taking the trouble to attend medical school. His fellow Board members, knowing him, liking him, as I had hired him anyway.

I remained hopeful, but knew that such distancing and that salary increase for a single administrative position would place administrative costs at well over a fourth of Vote Smart’s entire budget. Without some plan to make those cost up could be lethal to major givers, while also killing one of Vote Smart’s key legs (no one is here for the money). 

To alleviate the issue, that liberal, trusting, goodie two shoes of my nature chose not to complain but simply go off salary for my last year and donate my time instead.


The day my staff position changed to teacher/advisor I was gone in every way my replacement and Board could make me gone.

I was kept from participating in every important decision.  At first, I was just fuddled, but soon panicked. New budgets were being created with plans to spend but not to raise.  The fundraising plan so successfully tested was retired in exchange for one created on a whim that I knew was certain to fail and they would have zero experience to tell them why.

 I wrote long emails to the Board, reminding them of how we had accomplished what we had, particularly with fundraising in step-by-step, how to’s, in hopes of getting through. Not my replacement or any board member would respond, nor a thanks for my having donated my final year’s salary.

I never had the chance to introduce my replacement to some members of the full Board (who weren’t members of the Executive Committee), a few of which contacted me with concerns about decisions the Executive Committee was making which they were no longer party to, causing some, since I was gone to simply drop away.

With the new leader’s decisions to ignore the past, I was certain that what I and my wife had created would simply bleed out the money I left them and die.   So, I did what I do.  I EXPLODED!

My anger was blistering, particularly against the Alpha on the Executive Committee, a Viet Nam war pilot and longtime personal friend who I called a coward for his unwillingness to respond to any of my concerns.

Over the days ahead they cut me off from any contacts with staff, all current financial information, and they refused to approve the tiny retirement package I requested, deciding to keep all the money for themselves.  I threatened to sue–my legal counsel was sure it would force them to accept my modest terms of retirement, but I had no stomach for suing what I had created.  In the end they offered me a pittance if I signed this:

You will not at any time discuss or disclose … the substance and/or nature of any dispute between Vote Smart and any employee or former employee, including you.

You will not at any time directly or indirectly make, or induce any other person to make, derogatory or disparaging statements (whether or not you believe the statements to be true) of any kind, in any manner or by any method – whether oral, written, electronic (including but not limited to social media), or otherwise.

They all knew me, I had selected each to serve on the board, I would never sign away my rights in return for money, no matter how deserved.

In the year that followed, I would get zero information. When the year I agreed to stay off the Board to support my replacement was up, the Board refused to let me back on the organization I had created.  After two years of pleading with them to let me know their condition and their refusal to give me any information the organization I birthed and loved, and had continued to support, lost my support, which I informed each Board member in a personal message. 

The only response from the Board was from the Alpha who wished me well with one word: “Hooray!”

So, it ended.  The organization I bet a life on withered, I never existed and was a nobody after all.


Richard Kimball, Vote Smart Founder 1988

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 Drake University came with heavy burdens. Drake is a small liberal arts school with only a few thousand students, but they promised Vote Smart 40 interns a semester–a promise they could not keep. Efforts to attract students from surrounding schools were of little success, and the great National Internship Program we had built at our Montana Ranch evaporated.  Turns out that neither members nor students excited about seeing snow-covered mountain peaks, pristine lakes and streams, bears, moose, beavers, elk and such, felt much the same about watching corn grow or hog slaughtering.

 Securing enormous amounts of factual data and maintaining public trust and open records all voters, journalists and academics could depend upon, was never a problem.  Exacting standards had been set since inception and were easily maintained.

 However, replacing the losses in interns and member volunteers would be difficult. The loss would not be so much in labor as in cultivating lifelong supporters, financial and otherwise, along with the kind of income-generating mystique that comes with the public’s knowledge of so many selfless people working on their behalf.

 For a time we could afford to patch things together by simply increasing paid staff. But each year’s loss of development through National Interns and member volunteers would be permanent if we stayed in Iowa.

 There were three immediate concerns, the first being the Board:

Our board members, anchored in the principle of political opposites, were dying. How could we maintain political balance on the board when conservative vs. liberal no longer represented the national divide?  Our board could not be a balance between truth and lie, fact and fabrication without becoming a ridiculous comedic farce.

Maintaining public confidence in integrity had but one answer: balancing the board with well known, articulate, respected representatives on opposing sides of major national issues like immigration, taxes, crime, health care, abortion, education, guns, and foreign policy. Many such leaders were willing, if not anxious to join the board, but the selection should not be up to me, but to whomever replaced me as I grew closer to retiring.

The second concern was money.  With all our efforts advertising Vote Smart in major news organizations and web sites, little was accomplished.  Trying to blurt out what we were doing in a few ad lines to a cynical public hardened by politicians and their operatives endlessly pitching swampland was a waste of time.  We needed to earn more time from those that might consider helping us. The only time we ever got that kind of time from media was the day, years earlier, that the PBS NewsHour covered us swamping our Voter’s Research Hotline for days and generating tens of thousands of supporting members.

   Emailing voters was like sending a rain drop to fall on the sun–it never got there. National news editors were never going to let our database, no matter how important, beat out a news story of the stark raving mad that was becoming the message of the day and every day.

 So, our focus would be on personalized direct mail riveted on the facts in opposition to the new grotesque slathering’s of anti-factual nonsense abducting every major news outlet.

 If I had a fundraising talent, it was talking to citizens directly about our idea in personal letters. Writing a personal letter to thousands at a time takes some considerable thought and testing.  Over the years I had tested every imaginable tiny permutation that might impact, first the opening of a letter, then the reading of a story that would hit them in the gut with relief.    I could tell you why not to use a window envelope, why to use a personal stamp, why putting “IF YOU WERE A FISH, YOU WOULD READ THIS,” gets a much better response than the nambie pambie, “YOUR VOTE YOUR  RIGHT.” Why using a paper clip instead of a staple increases a reader’s interest, why personally signing a letter, which I learned to do a thousand in 20 minutes, will get you twice as many readers, why, if you can get them to open the envelope, that envelope is key and must be instantly tethered to your first sentence and then paragraph.

 Most importantly why writing passionately, exposing who you are as if you were writing home to Mother, rather than “I want to get into your purse or wallet,” was everything at Vote Smart.

Now, with a Buffoon-in-Chief and without ever mentioning him, we had the perfect vehicle to get out our message about reality, truth and the essential facts necessary for successful self-governance.  As always, I sent various drafts to friends, members and sometimes staff to meter possibilities.

Then I began the expensive testing, first sending out a few thousand to known involved voters, which got the hoped for positive reaction since the loss of the GREATEST GENERATION.   I read every response, tweaked the letter again and tested again. The response was better with a few mailing lists making more on the first sending than they cost, which is unheard of.

A key was to know that the value in a return was not so much in what they gave initially but how much, now that you found another friend, they would give over time.  Turned out that it was the perfect message to get us moving forward with a future that could only grow with a dangerous Buffon leading every news story with seismic waves of bull shit.

The third concern was Google.  Artificial Intelligence (AI), used to inform and misinform, would shape democracy’s future. If there were any chance that self-governance could anchor itself in a future of reality in AI’s new world, there would need to be at least one trusted source for the facts that any voter could turn with confidence.

 So, I cultivated contacts at Google with the notion that Google and Vote Smart could become that source.  Vote Smart could provide the crucial component that protected the data under the controlling management of our staff and board, consisting of key figures representing every side of major issues, while they supplied the ability to provide even greater specificity tailored to the interests of every user.

 It was a shot in the dark, but they were interested–only I hesitated, wanting to turn over its potential implementation to whomever would replace me.

 Then the person I agreed to as my replacement, and those whom I had chosen to hire and supervise him turned my 30-year passion for the cause, and me, into what I had feared most since childhood: a nobody.

New Chapters once a week

Richard Kimball, Vote Smart Founder 1988

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

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

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

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

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

             A sign I had hung on every office entrance.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

  (New chapters will be added roughly once a week)

Richard Kimball, Vote Smart Founder 1988

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NOW IT’S CHILLY – Chapter 61

           WE GOTTA GO

 On one of my many winter trips East I stopped in Chicago to meet with some supportive foundations, members, and do a few media interviews. The local weather report said the temperature would quickly dip below zero that night. Being an Arizona desert boy, I looked forward to feeling what that was like, and did a few hours after returning to my hotel. The desk clerk kindly called me to say, “Mr. Kimball it is now one degree below.” I bundled up in my Target turtleneck tee and zipped up my polyester fleece to walk around the block.

 The wind was fierce and as I turned the corner, back to my hotel, I was on the run: I could no longer feel my face.

 That experience came to mind one winter evening in Montana, when I heard that the students, many from the Sunbelt, had just left the Ranch to drive the 26 miles to a party in town for a departing staff member. The forecast: blizzard, heavy winds, snow and 16 degrees below zero.

 Snow had been accumulating for a couple of hours by the time I caught up with them about ten miles out, with the lead car impossibly submerged in a drift. With temperatures plummeting and darkness falling I told them they had to turn around to the safety of the Ranch before the road back became snow blocked.

 The vote was unanimous. NO! They wanted to party! Then the ex-con I had hired as a maintenance man insisting, he was a real Montanan, and this weather was nothing to worry about, began kneading one student into a slog through the drifting deepening snow by foot to see if he could find some help along the 16 remote miles still to go to town.  I jerked around and ordered the student to go back to his car and the idiot ex-con to his truck.  Neither would.  I had a full-blown revolt on my hands and the kid nagged on by the idiot to go on a blizzard hike began high stepping it through two-foot drifts, on a road you could no longer see where it was or wasn’t, any more than the car driver who submerged his vehicle in front of everyone.

 Screaming at him, I begged the kid to stop, but emboldened by his party loving friends snuggled in their cars stomped off into the blizzard. Thankfully, maybe 100 yards into his trek, with visions of snowplows dancing in his head, nature called to him: “You’re going to freeze and die.”

 The kid returned, embarrassed and angry, he too, snuggled into a warm car with a gas gage just above empty, while the rest of the partiers waited for some magician’s way forward. I kept demanding car to car that they turn around back to the Ranch and safety. No one moved, so I waited and prayed reality would sink in, which eventually did.

 When I pulled into our parking lot at the end of that long line of cars it was clear, I was no savior, I was the villain that killed the party. I was relieved anyway, or at least until the soon-to-be-gone Montana ex-con insisted he was taking an intern back out on our snow mobiles to tug the snow-smothered car out. I simply told him that if he wanted to go die, that was mighty fine with me, but if he took a student with him on one of my snowmobiles, I’d have him back in prison as soon as the sheriff could pick him up.

 It took most of the next day for the State Highway Department’s plows to clear the state route, then the business routes, rural school roads, and finally way out to us.

 A dark thought came to me as I finally got to bed that horrid night: How big a news story would it have been had a few dozen students been found frozen to death.  It would have been big, REALLY BIG and everyone in the country would have heard about it and finally discovered Vote Smart.  OK, OK, as I said it was a dark thought.

 I would never recover. Things quickly degenerated into what Dr. Brent Steel, our wisest, most experienced board member, called an “isolated culture.” The students and some staff members, never having seen any of our Board Members, decided they didn’t exist and wanted to take over Vote Smart.

 One member of the board wanted me to simply fire them all and start with a new crew. But it was only a few young party loving pups with Alpha personalities, I had to let go.

 I was done. The effect of all this was that I was spent, and what had been a wonderful, beautiful dream over three decades was done.

 The Grail was as far away as ever.


  A dozen universities competed to be Vote Smart’s new home. And when the president of one came for a visit and tour, I chose.  We would sell the Great Divide Ranch where we had been building and operating for 18 years, and a dozen before that had to move to a small liberal arts school in Iowa, Drake University.

 I started to think of retirement, but then the greatest educator in a century burst onto the scene.

(New chapters will be added roughly once a week)

Richard Kimball, Vote Smart Founder 1988

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 For 18 years I would get up long before the sun, walk out the back door, pick up an armful of small logs, kick open the crude board door to a tiny ramshackle 1920s trapper’s cabin, toss the wood into a rusty old cook stove, fire it up and hoped it would be above freezing by the time I returned with a cup of coffee.

 The Duck Inn, my office, was so miserable, member guests likened me to some early Christian involved in self-mortification.  Not so. I loved it, enjoyed it in my warm fleece, with a cup warmer and the little space heater between my legs as I began early morning calls to those just getting up and out on the East Coast.

 The most delightful moments were rare evenings sitting on the porch with Adelaide, when we weren’t entertaining any of the 7,200 newcomers or guests who slept and ate in our home over those 18 years.  We just sat and watched all the young people heading out after another days agonizing,  monotonous defense of the facts to play basketball, tennis, ride horses, go boating, fish or hike through that extraordinary property with its gazebo, teepee, tree house, rope bridge,  and endless beaver ponds – maybe on their way to the old homestead or grave yard beyond, where we had put a dozen pets, including Hopsalot, a favorite bunny done in by a fox, and Teddy, everyone’s favorite horse who was done in by lightning and then eaten by a bear.

 From that porch we witnessed a great many sights one does not normally see:

 The huge bull moose with a deep, blackened scare where some heroic hunter did his best on this dossal King of the forest.  He would often frequent the lake between our buildings foraging for his dinner on the bottom aquatics.

 Once, after joining my after-work flyfishing lessons, a half dozen interns were trying their luck when the King arrived and waded in for his supper. Not getting any trout strikes, the students blamed the moose for disturbing the waters.  They got in a rowboat to chase the master away. Not a half dozen strokes out the King looked up from his meal to find a curious sight: a boat coming toward him stern first (never having rowed before, they had gotten in the boat backwards). The King turned his enormous rack toward them and began swimming as if to greet the newcomers. The effect was instantaneous. Hunters no more, with Olympic effort they made it back to shore just as the King got bored and finished up his purely vegan meal.

 “A bear, it’s a bear!” some student called out. Bears were infrequent visitors because we kept our leftovers secured, but when they did come, we had Fish and Game come out, trap them, and take them elsewhere. But on this evening’s occasion, a particularly cuddly-looking one relaxed on the lodge lawn as dozens of interns ran for their cameras. Seeing them rushing back towards him from various directions, the bear panicked and scampered high up into a Douglas Fir.

 The students quickly and completely encircled the tree, cameras clicking. It was then that I thought I should get involved.  So, I leaned forward in my porch chair and called out the most effective line I ever uttered: “It’s OK, just make damn sure you are not the closest one when that terrified animal busts out for freedom.”

 Over the first ten years at the Ranch, we continued to slowly grow. But just at the point I began construction of a large addition to our office, to house more staff and students who would begin efforts on local county and city elections, our membership numbers took a dip.

 Our biggest supporters, the “Greatest Generation,” was dying out.  And the younger generations,  so stripped of civics education in our schools, that less than a third knew of their right to choose a religion, express themselves, or assemble.  Protections they were unaware that the “Greatest Generation” and every generation before them had fought and died to make certain they would have. These younger generations were becoming vulnerable. Exposed to manipulation and an AI future that without or something very much like it, would  first confound, and eventually bring everyone to heel.

 I did not see any of this until everyone went out in a blizzard to party.

(New chapters will be added roughly once a week)

Richard Kimball, Vote Smart Founder 1988

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(New chapters will be added roughly once a week)

Richard Kimball, Vote Smart Founder 1988

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 Vote Smart’s offices.

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

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

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

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

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

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

(New chapters will be added roughly once a week)

Richard Kimball, Vote Smart Founder 1988

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 We did trip over a few hurdles.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(New chapters will be added roughly once a week)

Richard Kimball, Vote Smart Founder 1988

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

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

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

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


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

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

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


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

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

Ability to provide new information? Winner Vote Smart

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

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

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

DR. BRENT STEEL (Oregon State University) SURVEY

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


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

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

US News & World Report

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

(New chapters will be added roughly once a week)

Richard Kimball, Vote Smart Founder 1988

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AGORA FARMS – Chapter 53



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(New chapters will be added roughly once a week)

Richard Kimball, Vote Smart Founder 1988

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Dear Vote Smart:

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

 What you are doing is so long overdue.


                                 Mrs. McGillicutty

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


Dear Vote Smart:

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

                                   Bill Thomas


Dear Project Vote Smart:

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

                          Mary Mitchell

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(New chapters will be added roughly once a week)

Richard Kimball, Vote Smart Founder 1988

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(New chapters will be added roughly once a week)

Richard Kimball, Vote Smart Founder

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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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 Her name was Adelaide, she was successful in all things I was not: good career, good manners, good grooming, good music, good dress and good cooking, just plain good at being good.  And she was a few other things I was not: accomplished, tenderhearted, diplomatic, gracious, well-read, and MARRIED.

  I had trafficked with more than a few women since my split with Carol five years earlier.  In one way or another most were beautiful women and my road from one to another was at some expense to my reputation. Each time I thought, this might be the one, the beginning of everlasting love and mother of the children I so badly wanted.  Each time what looked good faded into normalcy making the less flattering characteristics more pronounced. I would begin to think how shallow I was, how the value on one’s beauty, male or female, is so colossally paramount in American culture, that if one is physically attractive, it becomes depended upon like a bird on it’s wings, it is all that is nurtured at the expense of developing other qualities.

 So here was another beauty sitting there having breakfast with two friends. Four half an hour I sat at a table across the room trying to catch her eye, reading her from the way she dressed, did her hair, ate her food, and related to those around her. Then she glanced at me. Now that my interest was seen, would she look again, would she smile, would she say, “Come get me?”

 Even at 38 I was largely a coward with women and needed some sign, some suggestion that I was likely to succeed if I approached. This beauty saw me looking once and gave not the slightest hint of interest again.  For whatever reason, I was too deeply hooked on this classy woman and had to put on my big boy pants.  So, I followed her out and selected the least original line from the vast male repertoire randy men have to choose, “Don’t I know you?”

 For me, “true love” lacked any useful definition. It was some mark you were supposed to recognize when some inexplicable thing happened in a relationship.

 So let me now, right here, remove the mysticism of what “true love” is. Let me unveil it for all time, remove doubt for all future lovers regarding that confounding axis of hormones, societal pressure, commitment, self-satisfaction, and the desire to extend one’s life through the making of another you. Sex has nothing to do with it.  Sex is simply a by-product of love, the prolific by-product of an enormous variety of encounters.  That is to say, most men want to pollinate all the flowers, all the time. And most flowers like pollen and would take pollen from someone rather than no one.

 When you find your true love, you won’t magically stop looking at flowers, but you will be hopelessly and dangerously addicted to one flower and your life’s devotion to keeping that one bloom a happy blossom.  Like drug addiction, you’d kill for it or die for it.

 Adelaide, who I called Huggie Bunnies, is my true love today as she was 38 years ago, but I was not hers.  That would take all my cunning and every trick and contrivance I could employee and some I must still deploy.

 At first glance I wanted desperately to bed her but far more than that, I wanted to be with her. I wanted to be with her all of the time.  I am convinced that the bedding thing could have happened, would have happened and quickly, only she was a good girl, and she was married.

 She had been separated from her husband but still had hopes that the marriage could be saved and had not yet divorced him. Thus, I found myself in Oregon working my ass off on the Grail thing, but with her plastered throughout all my thoughts.

 She was the archivist at the Arizona Historical Society and would be its director today if I had not pleaded that she move to Oregon with me and make history instead of recording it.

 She was completely unimpressed with me. On our first date, thinking it might help sway her to my pillowy cause, I took her to a speech I was giving during the final weeks of my race for the U.S. Senate.  She stood at the back of the room, surrounded by two or three male admirers she was politely acknowledging rather than listening to me.  When I got to some of my punchier lines I raised my voice, not to fill the room with my brilliance, but to wrestle attention from the mouthy jack asses looking to pollinate her.

 Over the weeks, other more practical tactics would be engaged: Little gifts and a few big ones. Among the most effective was the bouquet of one gazillion roses I had sent to her office or the goofy Santa Clause who magically appeared on top of a mountain where I knew her to be, bearing every gift of food and drink I knew she craved along with enough theater tickets for two to require a dozen more dates.

 I asked her to marry me, that very first year. The answer was NO, which began some annual begging.

 Even after she divorced and I had convinced her to give Corvallis a try with me, the answer remained no, a kindly no, if “never no,” can be kindly.  

 But each year I would press my case again, and again, and again. For seventeen years I would press my case, even as our ages passed any hope of having any of the children I so wanted, I would ask, each year asking more extravagantly than the year before.  I remember as her 50th birthday neared, and our eighth year in Corvallis, I had noticed that the daffodils had bloomed each year by the third week of April. So, eight months before her April 21 birthday, I secretly planted a thousand daffodil bulbs on the hillside facing our house. Right on que April 21st they bloomed in bright yellow fifteen-foot-high digits – 50.  Suddenly seeing them, as a large surprise party began, she walked up the hill to get a closer look at the massive display that had suddenly appeared. After slowly walking around them and through them with the utmost scrutiny of the 50 shape she exclaimed, “It says SO…I don’t get it, SO what?”  

 I surprised her with her favorite animal, a miniature donkey we named Cinco Zero for the occasion and then that first chance I got I repeated the words once again, “Will you marry me?”  But no it was, and no it would be.

 My grandest effort came with a bit of revenge tossed in. I had planned it for the better part of a year, saving all I could and borrowing the rest to give her one of two gifts.   She loved travel, particularly under sail. She took sailing classes in a little 7’ Sun Fish, which she loved. It was the one area where we separated interests and often company. I did not enjoy sailing, at least not the moving part. Parking the damn thing and reading a book or fishing was fine, but to Hell with all that “come about, heave to” crap.

 Anyway, on the morning of her birthday I gave her two tiny boxes, each one containing a gift, either one of which I could just afford but not both.

 “You can choose one to open for your birthday, but you can’t have the other,” I explained.  Befuddled, she stared at the two pretty little boxes with their silky bows, as what I had said sunk in. She looked up at me with a slack jawed expression, “What? I must choose. I don’t get both?”

 It was perfect, I had put her in the one place she could not stand to be, no matter what she did she would both win and lose, just as I had been for so many years, both having her and not.

 She shook them, lifted them up as if she had x-ray vision and carefully examined how each little box was rapped for some sign.  There was nothing, the weights are identical but the contents quite different.

 “NO! You cannot do this to me. You have to tell me, “She pleaded.  Oh, the pure joy of that moment. After 17 years I thought, this must be what heaven feels like.

 It was a torture for her.  But she persevered, and with a little of that eeny, meeny, miny, moe business, she slowly set one box down on the table and began opening the other.  “Am I making a mistake,” she appealed, “Is it the other one I would really want?” petitioning for some hint.  I smiled and quivered with pleasure.

 She continued slowly taking off the wrapper. Inside was nothing more than a cruddy little map scribbled on a piece of brown paper bag with an X at one spot.

 I got behind the wheel of her car while she took the map and went over the directions. A half dozen turns and a mile later we entered a large parking lot in front of a lush green golf course.  Being a cold early spring, the lot was empty but at one end stood an odd sight.

 As she looked around trying to figure out what the map was all about, she drove by a large boat on a long trailer, “Look at those huge sails, they’re going to be in big trouble if the wind comes up,” she said.

 Then she saw the boat’s name, THE HUGGIE BUNNIES!

  What delicious fun it is to see one in such googly eyed wonder, so stunned was she, that she was about to forget the word NO. Overwhelmed by the sight of her boat in full-sail being launched on a golf course she jumped out of the car and climbed aboard. After inspecting every topside detail she stepped down into the tiny galley and sleeping area.  There she saw my extravagant intentions next to her crisp new captain’s hat – a note wrapped around the furry neck of a stuffed bunny. “Will you marry me?”  She uttered the sweetest of words, “Yes.”

 She put on her new hat and began barking out instructions to furl the sails and secure the ship. I hooked up the sailboat to her car and slowly pulled it back to where my little map began.  Pulling in, I just caught the hint of a smirk and before I could complete the parking maneuver, she was out the door and on the run.

 She was off to grab the other box I had unfortunately left on the table. Leaving the boat half parked I was just in time to wrestle the box out of her hands, bolt for the bathroom and lock the door.  As she pounded, “Now calm down” I said, “I want you to listen up Huggie Bunnies,” and flushed…..“No, NO, what was it, you have to tell me.”

 Even with the Yes, it would take her more than a year to set the date, but I finally had the most excellent partner, more exceptional than yours whomever you are.

 It took a long time and cost a lot, but I would do it all again “to the moon and back.” What I tell people is this, “For 17 years I asked her to marry me and for 17 years she said no.  Finally, she became so old she forgot.”

 What was in the other box?  

 Spasms of pleasure riddled my body for years each time she begged me to tell her what was in the other box.  I always refused or gave her some misdirection or another. Then she hit upon a thought, “It was the same gift in both boxes, wasn’t it!”  That thought, which she insisted must be so, gave her relief.

 I would on occasion try to revive my devilish pleasure by suggesting something else the second box secretly harbored, but she had become certain that both boxes had identical maps. There was no convincing her. My devilish pleasure was gone. I have never told and won’t tell here now what was in that second box, but on the chance my wife may read this one day, I will give this hint: It was not the boat, it was a thing more boring but also more loved.

(New chapters will be added roughly once a week)

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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