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ARE YOU GONNA BE A PROBLEM?  –  Chapter 59

ME

 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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THE GREATEST PEOPLE YOU COULD EVER KNOW – Chapter 58

                                    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

Sign up on my Blog at: richardkimball.org

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AILI LANGSETH WALKED HERE – Chapter 57

 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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WINS BEST LIAR

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

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

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

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

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

Richard Kimball, Vote Smart Founder

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VOTE SMART’S SHANGRI LA? – Chapter 56

     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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THE UNWANTED, WANTED US – Chapter 55

 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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AN UNKNOWN WORLD

I have not written about politics lately.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Richard Kimball, Vote Smart Founder

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AGORA FARMS – Chapter 53

      AGORA FARMS – BC

      AGORA FARMS – AD

 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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HOME FOR VOTE SMART  – Chapter 52

 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.

                                 Sincerely,

                                 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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FOUNDATIONS – Chapter 50

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

FOUNDATIONS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

LOOK OUT, HERE IT COMES!

 I THINK THE WORD “DROPPING” IS WHAT DID IT!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

                 ——

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

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

 OOPS!

(New chapters will be added roughly once a week)

Richard Kimball, Vote Smart Founder

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SHE CHANGED YOUR WORLD – CHAPTER 49

The Daisy Commercial

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 After some years of such foundation behavior my anger with large foundation arrogance would boil over in an interview, I gave a publication for foundation executives called The Chronicle of Philanthropy. The interview would scald Vote Smart for years to come.

(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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Couldn’t Be More Perfect

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 “America has the best politicians money can buy.”

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

Richard Kimball, Vote Smart Founder

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HEIL TRUMP MEIN FUHRER!

I AM VERMIN

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

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

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

Richard Kimball, Vote Smart Founder

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OUT OF MY ASHES -Chapter 45

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

        PROJECT VOTE SMART

           VOTESMART.ORG

 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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 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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KIMBALL’S PULPIT – CHAPTER 42

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 Would you have done it?

 Would you do it right now?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(New chapters will be added roughly once a week)

Richard Kimball, Vote Smart Founder

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Medium.com at: https://medium.com/@daffieduck2016

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IN FOOTBALL THEY CALL IT A HAIL MARY

CHAPTER 38 – THE MIRACLE OF ME

                    MCCAIN ON A BOX TOO HIGH

 It was three in the morning, I was a bit drunk, and pretty weepy sitting on the floor with the last surviving Hard-on, who had won my trust and become what I was certain to be a lifelong friend. He was the Press Secretary on loan from a U. S. Senators office and the only other person left in the office that night.

 I looked over at him, “We can do this.  Forget the money, forget the commercials, let’s do it differently, we can change the way people campaign.  Let’s just get in the car, head out non-stop and start talking real to real people, every group, every church, every club that will listen about things that matter. Screw all this puffed-up manipulative nonsense. It will catch on; I know it will.”

 His response was conventional prudence, dead on accurate, safe, Hard-on realism, and ended the last flicker of hope that I could campaign honorably with my head held high. “If you do that, you will be a joke, I will quit and you will be alone,” he said.

 I simply did not have the confidence to watch all the paid staff pack up, move out and leave me to campaign with real supporters, real friends, and family. Even though I almost certainly would have fallen back to 16% by election day, I have deeply regretted that lack of courage for almost 40 years.

 The following day I was sandbagged in a meeting with major contributors, staff and some close friends who pleaded with me to change my mind. I relented and let the Hard-ons stay.

 The race was over for me, there was no passion, no interest, no desire to run or to serve.  I hated politics and could not wait for Election Day to come, get spanked, and be done with it.

 Appearances had to be maintained for the down ticket candidates, even if just a passionless façade. I owed that, if not to the Hard-ons, at least to the volunteers, my family and friends that had done so much to support me and really did feel that “We need you, Richard Kimball, in the U. S. Senate.”

 I would get a final last chance to be heard in one statewide prime-time televised debate. I had challenged John to debate me in each of the state’s 14 counties knowing McCain would say no and maybe take a hit in those he refused.  His public response was a more effective and amusing, “I want to debate him not live with him.”

 The two-campaigns met and argued over every little detail: Would the candidates stand or sit, would there be podiums, would there be chairs, would the candidates be allowed to walk, what subjects could be covered, how would the set be designed, who would sit on what side, would the questions be known in advance, who would ask the questions etc. etc.

  Each side saw advantage in one thing or another.  One was that they wanted to sit but we wanted to stand.  We wanted to stand because I was 6’ 4” while John, a jet pilot, was somewhat smaller enabling him to fit in that A-4 Skyhawk cockpit he got shot down in.

 My Hard-ons were pleased that they won the stand argument, but failed to see the simple remedy McCain would employ so as not to be seen looking up at me.

 My campaign tried to do as all campaigns do, that is to put me through a series of rehearsals where the Hard-ons and staff fired questions and I would practice giving responses.  Within 30 minutes or so when it became apparent that I would not tolerate my answers being tweaked, the first and only rehearsal ended.

 Discussion after that simply focused on what the Hard-ons considered a “Hail Mary” effort attacking McCain.   John had a temper, a pretty bad one, and we knew it. There were rumors about his behavior toward his staff, colleagues, and family some of which came in firsthand.  The guy had a fuse, and it could be ugly and easily lit. The plan was hatched, that at the end of the debate, when he was comfortable and having only his prepared closing remarks to make, I would hit him with a vicious attack exposing the previously unknown “truths” of his behavior, and in doing so hopefully, expose his inner self. The Hard-ons greatest hope was that he might take a swing at me.

 Adding nothing to my credit, I did not oppose the idea and prepared to deliver the slimy sodden mess.

 On the day of the debate and particularly in the car with my mother on the way to the debate hall, nightmarish thoughts swirled in my panicky brain as I struggled mightily not to show it.  I was certain that my ignorance and foolishness would be dramatically exposed for all to see and be aghast.  In my mind, my incompetence was real, the thought that I should desire to be a member of the most powerful governing body on earth was such a farce, that when all was said and done at the debate not one on my campaign, not a supporter, friend or even mother would be able to vote for me or even look me in the eye.

 Then an odd thing occurred.  We arrived at the hall, and I suddenly felt calm, resigned to my fate. It did not seem to matter much what I did, there was nothing I could do about it, what would happen, would happen.

  I spent a few minutes shaking hands with members of the audience, most particularly those in my opponent’s camp. I heard one of John’s Hard-ons jokingly ask him if he wanted to work the audience.  He didn’t.

 As I shook hands I came eye-to-eye with some of his family, I knew I couldn’t close with the slimy attack thought so crucial to my chances of shaking things up. There was something else I thought I might close with instead.

 During the debate, I only got hit by one or two questions that I had not expected. My answers were largely unpracticed ramblings but not out of line.  I even had a few moments of fun, or what I thought was fun, though much of it would again ensure that the media coverage would say little about anything of substance.  

  John had voted for full funding of the Bradley Fighting Vehicle, a new military transport that was supposed to be indestructible with substantial defensive and offensive capability.  The vehicle was grossly over budget (as was usual with military contracts) and had flunked its field tests.  When the vote failed, John had voted for a bill providing half funding for the vehicle which also failed.  Then finally, when legislation was proposed to strip all funding for the vehicle, John voted for that too. I had a bit of fun with his support for full, then half, and finally no funding for the Bradley suggesting that John wanted to be all things to all people.

 Most impactfully and perhaps stupidly I then added emphasized with a bit of information completely unknown to the television audience. “You are so insistent on being what you are not, that you even pretend for the audience to be taller than you are by standing on that box hidden behind your podium.”

 A spattering of cheers and boos came from the various partisan factions in the audience, while several photographers edged out of their front row seats to take side shots of John standing on his box.

  He was upset.  And the debate suddenly became far livelier off camera during the commercials than on.  During the breaks we would glare at each other, he would bark things suggesting I was naïve, and I would fire back that he was incapable of honesty.

 Finally, the debate, which the League of Women Voters ridiculously claimed was the most substantive ever, came to the final commercial break just prior to our closing arguments.  I looked over at John, who stood there stiff, and lock jawed staring out above the audience but at no one in particular.  I thought about the scummy attack I had prepared to make in my close. 

 I wouldn’t do it, as I have said, I did not really know the man, had no real reason to dislike him and I was not going to trash his personal behavior. I could not imagine the Hell he suffered as a prisoner, and I secretly admired that he had fared so much better than my imagination suggested I would have.

 Tossing out your all-important closing remarks just before you are about to make them in front of a large audience and thousands of viewers on state-wide television is an odd thing to do.  A kind of discomfort settled over me that I had not felt since before my State Senate filibuster. What was I going to say? My knees began an uncontrollable shuddering behind my podium.  Afraid that the audience might notice I jammed my knees together in an attempt to settle them.  An action that simply made it appear as if I badly needed to pee.  

  The camera came back on and the moderator said, “Mr. Kimball it is time for you to give your closing remarks, you have two minutes.”  What the Hell, I thought.  The election is over I might as well say what had been tormenting me since I took that first $50,000 check. I looked directly into the camera and said these words.  Now I have never gone back to look at what I actually said, but I am pretty confident these words if not spot verbatim, are damn close.

 “Understand what we do to you,” I started, nodding to John. “We spend all our time raising money from people we do not know, people who are going to want access to us if we win and we both spend it in the same identical three ways; First we measure you, we hire pollsters to find out what it is you want to purchase in the marketplace, just like Campbell’s soup or Kellogg’s.  Second, we then hire some consultants who know how to tailor our image to fit what we then know you want to buy. And finally, the most expense thing we do is bombard you with the meaningless, issueless, emotional nonsense that inevitably results. And which ever one of the two of us does this to you best, is going to win.”

 The audience sat in goo goo eyed disbelief without the tiniest peep.  Then John went and gave a standard patriotic close and the debate was over for everyone but the media. For them, or at least their coverage of the debate, it had not yet begun.  The media’s debate coverage would focus almost entirely on what happened next.

 As the announcer was thanking us and the television audience, I decided to have a last bit of fun. While the cameras were still on, I leaned over to John and reached out my hand to shake as he began to reach out his. Only I did not take the last step to be close enough for John to both reach my hand and stay on his box at the same time.

  He quickly retracted his hand.  I just smiled and kept my hand out. His anger was converting into silent fury.  Suddenly, recognizing my thoughtful gesture the moderator chimed in, “Yes it would be appropriate to shake hands now.”   I smiled again at John as my hand went to that same just out of reach spot.

 John crimped a smile to cover the pure venom underneath and stepped off his box to take my hand.  My God, I thought, I have him, he’s going to strike me.  When the camera lights snapped off the stage was instantly rushed by his Hard-ons.  Within seconds he was snared and maneuvered out the back door and into a waiting car before the media could get to him.

 The media coverage had its usual cow pie focus.  On television, when he stepped off the box to shake my hand it looked like he fell into a hole. The following day all the newspapers had stories and pictures of the soap box, little if anything was said about our differing opinions on any issue of significance.

 Years later when he was running for President, I would read a short memoir from a person that had been on his staff the evening of that debate. Writing about the debate’s ending he wrote, “John wanted to kill Kimball.”

 After the debate no one, not my family, not my staff, not the media — no one mentioned my closing remarks. It was as if I had only imagined saying them, and no one heard them but me.  Some weeks later I discovered one person did hear them and that would finally drive me toward a chance at making my life worth the living of it, after all.

(New chapters will be added roughly once a week)

Richard Kimball, Vote Smart Founder

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CHAPTER 35 – THE MIRACLE OF ME

“Tah Dah: HERE I AM”

“Hey Mack, what should the sound bite be for today.”

 So, I headed back to Arizona, hired the suggested “say-anything, do-anything-to-win” campaign consultants and one of the requested polling firms — people who only got stiffies for the bumps and grinds of politics. The result was a TV commercial suggesting Arizona horses would vote for me, so you should too.

 When the pollster finished measuring the citizens’ impressions of me and pasted together the me, they said they saw, I was a stranger to myself. “They don’t like you, Richard. Well, it isn’t that they do not like you, it is just that they do not like anything you stand for.” Or, as one more generous and gentler consultant flattered me with, “Richard, you are just a little too bright for such a dim state.”

 Amongst many things that now troubled all the consultants about my chances was my past anti-war activism and my divorce — nothing to do with issues facing the nation but deadly liabilities non-the-less. They were the reasons John McCain, walking with his pretty pregnant wife and a couple of his kids at the head of the 4th of July parade got rowdy cheers from the crowd, where as I, riding with my mother in a horse drawn black carriage at the end of the parade, got one embarrassingly audible, “Way to go Richard.”

  My only positive, the pollsters reported, was that I was a native Arizonian. A vote for my mother who chose a nice spot to punch me out onto planet Earth.  Being a native was not much advantage when you consider that my hometown had grown from the 50,000 of my first year to 1 million in my 38th one. This was not because Tucsonans were unusually randy but because retirees elsewhere were sick of shoveling snow and came to Arizona in post war droves, making me a freak of nature.

 So, our first commercial came out emphasizing my mother’s location on the day of my deposit.  The commercial shoot would go down, right next to my third-grade poop in front of Jerry Eagerton, as one of life’s most humiliating episodes.

 I was to become a useless eunuch in a stampeding herd of consulting hard-ons looking to stick it to John McCain.  I just didn’t get it right away.

 When I arrived at the ranch setting to shoot that horrid commercial, the hard-ons explained that they were having a difficulty with the first scene because the actor that was to play the part of the rancher was sick. As a replacement they fell upon the friend I arrived with. They thought he looked like a rugged rancher, not the New Yorker he was. He had fun getting dressed up in the outfit they had and the Stetson they paid him off with and then asked him if he could ride a horse. He said, “Sure.” It never occurred to the hard-ons to ask me. 

 I had been on a horse once in my life when I was seven, thirty some years earlier at summer camp. The ride lasted all of 10-seconds when the horse, disagreeing with my vice-like grip on his reins, thought it best to buck me off into a prickly pear cactus. The afternoon I spent with the nurse and her trusty pliers served me well. For thirty some years I had discovered a great many more pleasant things to do than get back up on a horse.

 The absurd nature of the commercial was becoming apparent when the hard-ons became aware that I did not look all that comfortable on a horse, but it did not deter them from the caricature of me they wanted to create.  “Well, we will just have you two walk and talk in front of the stalls filled with horses.” After a few takes the hard-ons, being mostly of the eastern ranch ignorant variety, realized that the horses weren’t members of the Actors Guild.  They would get the horses properly set for each take, but by the time they said “action” and we walked by, they had simply gone about their business and turned around. It turns out that horses’ asses and a candidate, as perfect as that really was, wasn’t good politics. “We need those horses facing forward and attentive,” the director yelled.  More than that, I thought, I was pretty sure I was going to need each horse’s vote if I wanted any votes at all.

 The hard-ons were going to get the image of me they wanted. They eventually sewed a bag full of baby carrots to the side of my trousers that the camera would not see and had me parade back and forth in front of the horses feeding a little carrot to each as I passed. Much like voters, when the horses got something, they were much more supportive.

 Next came the scene designed to counter the baggage this divorced, childless bachelor had compared to a war hero with kids and an expecting pretty wife. This scene was the easiest for me to play out, because I would rather spend my time with a group of children than I would with most adults.  We were able to take the shot in one take.  They had brought a half dozen kids donated up by staff and volunteers. The kids and I laughed and giggled as I lifted them up to pick Arizona oranges and played a bit of soccer with those we dropped. We had the only fun during that shoot and the message was pretty clear: I loved kids; kids loved me. Were they my kids, the viewer would wonder?  Who knows, the commercial wouldn’t say.

 The next scene was of a picnic, where I walked around smiling picnickers representing everyone that would be or could be an Arizona voter. Old, young, male, female, black, white, Hispanic, Indian, Asian… the exact blend at a picnic table no one had ever seen. It could not have been more unique had they stuck in a Martian. If you did not see yourself at that picnic table, your kind had yet to be discovered in Arizona.

 The final scene was one that had every hard-on exasperated and on my case. They had designed the scene for simpletons, as one, I was to say a line I had never, would never say to any person and not expect the refrain BULL SHIT!

 The hard-on said, “Just imagine you are in front of a crowd of enthusiastic supporters. You turn, look directly into the camera, smile, and say these words from your heart: ‘I feel this way because I was born here, and I love Arizona.’”

 I hated the line, and I could not, as directed, smile while saying it.  On take number twenty something, with the required Arizona sunset waning and all the hard-ons going limp with frustration, I decided to take over as director.

 The real director, in desperation, had set up a makeshift audience of cast, prop people and any passer-by that wanted to be on TV, to see if it would make me feel more comfortable pretending to give a speech and being warm and fuzzy about being an Arizonian.

 Just before the next take, what would be the final take, I leaned over to my New York friend and asked him to stand at the very end, where he would be the last person I would see as I turned to face the camera and say those mind-numbing words the hard-ons thought so necessary. I told him, “Please don’t just stand there as I turn, do something, do anything, take my mind off this agony, make me smile as I turn.”  The cameras rolled and as I turned, there he was, his middle finger stuffed up his nose. Perfect! The hard-ons had to leave the sounds of my laughter on the cutting room floor, but we were done.

 That first “Vote for Me” commercial that ended up on television was humiliating and I ordered off the air. No one was very happy, particularly about the money that had paid for it. But money that was followed by more money.

 After all, the country badly needed a guy born in the desert, can walk in front of horses, enjoys other’s children, has a friend from New York City, and supports fruits, which you should too.

(New chapters will be added roughly once a week)

Richard Kimball, Vote Smart Founder

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