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                                    New Arrivals

                               Researchers taking a picture break                                    

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

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

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

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

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

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

                      Full page ad New York Times

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

 More users, but still little financial help!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    National Bus Tour

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

                Vote Smart Follies Thespians

     Summer Olympics, Vote Smart Style

(New chapters will be added roughly once a week)

Richard Kimball, Vote Smart Founder 1988

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AGORA FARMS – Chapter 53



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(New chapters will be added roughly once a week)

Richard Kimball, Vote Smart Founder 1988

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(New chapters will be added roughly once a week)

Richard Kimball, Vote Smart Founder

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FOUNDATIONS – Chapter 50

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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


(New chapters will be added roughly once a week)

Richard Kimball, Vote Smart Founder

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Night Shift 

With Adelaide and Lorena, the notion that was Project Vote Smart began to sputter to life.  Adelaide gave the effort stability, maturity and dignity, Lorena provided an encyclopedic political knowledge and seasoned research skills, the volunteers and interns afforded us the capacity, while I came with a whip. With the whip I would learn to take blood from the lazy, unfocused, or any naive innocence that came to my attention, either in fact or imagination.

 The young inexperienced helpers coming in the door were excited and off on an exciting adventure, whereas I dressed my brain each day in battle fatigues and went off to war. The two did not mix all that well–I was ruthless.

 Almost all the young people we hired came with a kind of wide eyed excitement not yet tempered by life’s lessons. For a few the most arresting lesson was the work itself. In time, I would come to understand that some modern young Americans thought life’s lessons were easy and free, and that adulthood and the imagined respect they thought came with it required no more effort than what naturally occurred in their having grown an adult sized body. 

 Most of these young cubs would rise to the effort often in impressive ways, while some discovered that doing something worth doing required the kind of sustained straining that had just never been in their experience.  Pointing out an error or suggesting some improvement could be devastating or even produce anger and in the worst cases I would later learn a kind of childish revenge.  I slowly learned the lessons of a seasoned diplomat. In the rarest and most troubling cases there were a few who, although committed and willing, had parents who so successfully guarded them from any uncomfortable experience in life that they had no experience whatsoever, rendering them incapable of effectively doing much of anything.

 No one was more loyal, kind and determined than Beth. She was on her way to becoming a schoolteacher and she would make a good one, designing her own assignments, but like a few others, her compassionate soul had been waylaid by the rumor that Project Vote Smart was seeking citizens to save the nation, which was actually true.

 For an array of reasons, nothing this sweet young lady did was not made worse for her having done it.  I hated the thought of dismissing anyone, particularly one who cared and tried so hard, but it would have saved us a significant sum to have paid her not to work.

 Late one morning in frustration, I gave her a task that could not go wrong. We needed a tiny piece of wood to repair our conference table which had a splintery spot that caught and tore people’s clothing. I wanted her to walk a few blocks to a lumber store where she might purchase a small piece of wood to cover the spot.  I worked with her, wrote out the dimensions, 2” by 8”, told her to purchase the piece as cheaply as she could, it was just a patch. Certain that she knew where the lumber store was, I told her the store would cut a piece to those dimensions for a dollar or two and sent her on her way.

 A half hour later, late for a lecture I was to give, I rushed out the front door to see Beth walking back from the lumber store empty handed. As I ran past, I yelled, “Where is the little piece of wood?”  Disappearing around the corner she yelled a response, “They’re going to deliver it after lunch.”  Oh God.

 Returning a few hours later I found a lumber delivery truck in front of our office and two men carrying up an enormous 8×4 ft. sheet of plywood. I bounded up the stairs to ask Beth what was going on! “Where is the little piece of wood you went to get?”  “Why, it’s on the conference table.”  And so it was, sitting there right on top, my little spot of wood exactly as I wanted it.

 As the two men entered the room and propped the 8 foot plank against the wall, I noticed that a little notch had been cut off one corner.  The bill, plus delivery, was a hundred and something.

 Beth, seeing my disbelief offered, “They said the cheapest kind of wood they sold was plywood, so I bought the plywood and had them cut out the piece you needed.” A perfectly logical following of my instructions.

 I tell that story because she was not unique, amongst our interns or first jobbers. Thankfully, more often than not, we found ready talent and in the most surprising places. Impressive, idealistic young people who, given the chance and wanting to make a difference in the world, awed us with their ability to learn, apply and lead. I think of Angela, a sporting goods clerk; Jodi, a Mary K Cosmetics saleswoman and single mom; Alex, a recent law school graduate; Julie, the university provost’s daughter; and Mike, a mostly self-taught whiz kid in the new IT field.  They, along with some heavenly-sent interns, put the Grail within our sights.

 By Election Day we had compiled basic background research on almost 1400 candidates for federal offices.  We covered every congressional candidate; if they filed, we covered them, including: Mickey Mouse, the Lord God Almighty (apparently  residing in Las Vegas) and even a few running for office from prison cells. If rules allowed them to file and make the ballot under any name from any address, we covered them.  The “Lord God Almighty,” on the ballot under just that name and who understandably lived and worked where he was most needed, lost. Other flakey candidates lost too, but not necessarily to those less flakey.  My point is that we covered everyone. We made no distinctions, if they made the ballot, we were on it and collected every detail we could.

 We had set up a “Voter’s Research Hotline” bank of 50 phones, and staff, interns and volunteers were well trained and ready to answer them all.  Next to each phone we placed an industrial strength metal catalogue stand with binders we called “The Bible,” each containing hundreds of pages of data. Each caller would have their own personal researcher to look up whatever they needed to know.  Voters’ inquiries poured in over the lines.   At the end of each day, research teams marched in from the research room and added new pages of data to the bibles from that day’s research: the candidates newly announced, new votes, ratings, issue positions, money or new biographical details were all refreshed and updated in all 50 bibles.

 Somewhere early in the process we recognized that many citizens wanted paper copies of the information, or what one student called “data on dead trees.” So, we published a Voter’s Self-Defense Manual giving 100-page samplings of the data we had collected on each state’s congressional delegation and some brochures urging citizens to take control, be the boss, fight back, reclaim our power from a Washington that had grown out-of-touch and self-obsessed.

 What the staff, students and volunteers had managed to do in little more than a year was remarkable by any standard. The only serious problem occurred the month, I ran out of money to pay the small paychecks staff depended on to live.  I had known for weeks that funds weren’t coming in as fast as they were going out and with each payroll, we nudged closer to financial death.  Not wanting to dampen the enthusiasm, the work, the enormous progress we were making, I had said little, but they knew anyway.  I had been counting on another $25,000 grant from a goddess named Geri Mannion, Vote Smart’s program officer at the Carnegie Corporation who had magically saved us before, but it had not materialized and so the day came.

 Vote Smart went broke and so was I. I gathered the entire staff on the lawn outside our Oregon State University offices.  I filled them in on the details of our dilemma.  There was simply not enough money to both make payroll and to maintain the programs, and something was going to have to give.   I told them I would give each department five minutes to argue why their department was so important that we could not cut it.  I do not know if the staff met in advance and organized what happened next or not, but they got me, they got me good!

 Lorena, heading the Research Department, clearly the most crucial department, stood up first. “I do not care if you cannot pay me, but don’t you dare cut my program,” then she simply sat down.  My recollection of how long I held it together is pretty foggy, but I would guess I was able to keep my face on for two or three others that got up and said essentially the same thing before I had to excuse myself.

 The episode ended with my only missing payroll by three days.  Geri did come through with another $25,000 grant, I paid everyone and swore to myself I would never go through such a meeting again.  I quietly began a policy of adding 10 to 15% miscellaneous to all future grant requests, and hording it for any such future rainy day.

 A few months into our Oregon move, an eccentric, political gadfly with enough money to run for president named Ross Perot called.  Ambitious but earnest, this fellow was about to launch a quixotic campaign against both the Republican, George H. Bush and Democrat, Bill Clinton, candidates for president.  He wanted us to send him a box of our materials, brochures, pamphlets, press announcements and anything else we might have written. Naively thinking he was going to distribute them in support of us we were happy to oblige. Two weeks later he launched his campaign, using lines pulled directly from the texts of our press releases, manuals, and brochures: Voter Defense, Be the Boss, Take Charge, Fight Back, etc.  With Mr. Perot’s status just above goofball, but lower than mainstream, we just hoped he would help Vote Smart or at least give our people some credit.  Neither acknowledgement nor support for Vote Smart ever found its way into his adopted rhetoric.

 In the spring before that 1992 November election we had received a call from a PBS program called The McNeil/Lehrer News Hour.  This news show, popular amongst those few able to tie their own political shoes, wanted to do a story on “this idea called Vote Smart.”

 Unsurprised by the NewsHour’s attentions, I simply wondered how long it would take NPR, the radio version of public broadcasting, to discover and do stories about Vote Smart. That, as it turned out, would take more time than I would have on the planet.

  PBS would continue their interest with other interviews including a program called Adam Smith’s Money World.  Arriving at Adam Smith’s studio in Washington, DC a bit late, they rushed me in and slapped a little microphone on my lapel.  The host then spent a nice 30-minutes grilling me about this great new idea called Vote Smart. However, the interesting and telling part of the program happened after the cameras were turned off.  I had stood up, un-hooked the clip-on mic and said to the host, “Thank you for having us on, Mr. Smith.” The bemused look on “Mr. Smith’s” face struck me as strange. Then he put his two hands on my shoulders and said, “My name is Goodman, Mr. Smith died 200 years ago.” 

 So, The NewsHour and Adam Smith’s Money World would be the only prominent national stories that year that told what we were doing and how we were doing it. We would learn that it was the how we were doing it part that conquered voter cynicism, their disbelief and growing lack of trust in any political organization.

 Smith’s Money World generated hundreds of calls but on the evening The NewsHour played their Vote Smart segment things went a bit differently. I was so distracted with other work and so certain that it was merely a tiny taste of the feast to come that I did not watch. While all the staff and students were over at our university Hotline office, I was working in our main downtown office alone and that is how I came to answer the phone after hours and savor such sweet angry words.

 “What the Hell is this Project Vote Smart?” the caller obnoxiously demanded. The Vice President of Northwestern Bell, the telephone operating company covering the seven-state northwestern region of the country, our region, was not happy.  “Why, want’s the problem?” I asked.  It turns out that ten seconds after The NewsHour program ended the telephone company was hit with 35,000 simultaneous calls to one number, our toll-free Hotline. That spike caused Bell’s computers to crash.  I offered a somber apology even as my brain squealed in delight.

 I hung up and called the campus office. It was busy. I kept hitting redial, busy, busy and busy. I grabbed my coat and jogged over to campus. Everyone was on the phones or running around like excited ants in a sugar bowl.

 Again, we slept with the phones, we did not want to miss a single caller, “Where have you been, I have been calling for two hours?”  Followed by the most wonderful words, “How can I help.”  Over the next seven days, thousands of new supporters and tens of thousands of dollars joined the effort.

 The 1992 election day drew near, and no other network program had called to do a story, so we began to call them so often we became an irritant.  We thought we were the perfect election season NPR story, but they just got irritated at our staff. “Do not call us anymore! We are aware of you. We talk about you in the halls. Stop calling us!”  The very next day their program, “All Things Considered,” made what they “considered” clear. It was late October, a week before the election, when a thankful nation finally learned what to do with all those gooey pumpkin seeds.

 Oh yeah, there were a local radio shows and a few syndicated, my favorite being the G. Gordon Liddy program. You may recall this guy who during the Nixon days impressed people by putting cigarettes out on his forearm saying, “The trick is not minding.”  He loved Vote Smart, which for me suggested we had crossed the Rubicon into the extremist camps.

 At 5am on Election Day ABC News, the network standard for accuracy set by Edward R. Murrow during World War II and then Walter Cronkite for a few decades showed up at our Hotline office with its new version of cutting-edge journalism called Good Morning America. This nuevo, goofy, happy news film crew knew nothing nor cared anything about what we did or how we did it.  They just wanted some early morning color to kick off their Election Day coverage. 

 They gave us a few seconds to point at the phone bank, then filmed the students dealing with voters calling for help. When I asked if we could tell them how we were doing what we did, they said that would be inappropriate – “Too supportive,” they said. Supportive of what I thought? Getting the same accurate information that your reporters are using.

 One thing these news organizations did do was use us. During the campaign journalists started calling us to do the research they used to have to do for themselves.  They took so much of our voters’researcher time that it was impacting our ability to handle actual voters’ calls. One such reporter stimulated an idea that would for some years be enormously useful to all political journalists, academics, and anyone else with an interest in doing an accurate accounting on a candidate or issue.  He was an anchorman for CBS in Chicago and had been given the assignment to do a story explaining the workings of the Electoral College to the citizens there.

Intern: “Project Vote Smart, can I help you?”

Reporter: “Yes, I am doing a story for CBS on the Electoral College and have a few questions.”

Intern: “Of course, what can I help you with?”

Reporter: “Well I need some background. First, can you tell me where the College is located?”

Such questions from these Murrow/Cronkite replacements heralding the demise of journalism became a great source of amusement for our staff and interns.

 At the suggestion of Peggy Giddings, a conscientious PBS journalist, we created a Reporter’s Source Book that contained both a “Golden Rolodex” of experts on the various sides of national issues available to interview but also a synopsis of the major issues facing the nation and the options being debated for dealing with them. Up to 6,000 of them were sent each election year to journalists and academics that wanted to do their job.

 Our phones just didn’t stop ringing. There was no way we would be able to help the thousands of callers slamming our phone bank on Election Day.  We simply did the best we could that first year and did handle almost a quarter million callers. A good number of them were from people standing in voting booths pulling out their cell phones and asking, “Who is this guy?”

(New chapters will be added roughly once a week)

Richard Kimball, Vote Smart Founder

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OUT OF MY ASHES -Chapter 45

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



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

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

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

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

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

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

 We divided up the effort into various departments:

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

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

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

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

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

Fundraising – seeking supportive members and cultivating foundation support.

Administration/Training – Lorena and I

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

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

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

(New chapters will be added roughly once a week)

Richard Kimball, Vote Smart Founder

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Finding Money – Chapter 44

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(New chapters will be added roughly once a week)

Richard Kimball, Vote Smart Founder

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 THE BOARD – Chapter 43

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

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

                            OUR FOUNDING BOARD

President Jimmy Carter                President Gerald Ford

Senator Barry Goldwater             Senator George McGovern

Governor Michael Dukakis          Senator John McCain

Senator Mark Hatfield                   Senator Gorden Smith

Senator Bill Bradley                       Senator Edward Brooke

Senator David Boren                      Senator Max Baucus

Senator Frank Moss                        Senator Charles Mathias         

Senator William Proxmire           Senator Bill Frist

Rep.  Newt Gingrich                       Rep. Geraldine Ferraro                   

Rep. Jim Leach                                  Rep. Pat Schroeder

Rep. William Clinger                       Rep. Ron Dellums

Rep. Esteban Torrez                        Rep. Claudine Schneider

Rep. Nancy Johnson                        Rep. Morris Udall

Att. Gen. Richard Kleindienst     Archivist Adelaide Elm

CNIP President Richard Kimball

and 13 Other National Leaders

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(New chapters will be added roughly once a week)

Richard Kimball, Vote Smart Founder

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 Would you have done it?

 Would you do it right now?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(New chapters will be added roughly once a week)

Richard Kimball, Vote Smart Founder

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(New chapters will be added roughly once a week)

Richard Kimball, Vote Smart Founder

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(New chapters will be added roughly once a week)

Richard Kimball, Vote Smart Founder

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                    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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    Pretending often works!

 Despite myself, for a few months we were making steady upward progress in the polls, mostly because it was the only direction to go. Bigger contributions and more volunteers were coming in the office door.  Before long we started to look similar to a real campaign.

 Then we got cute.

 We knew one of my biggest problems was that John McCain, shot down in Viet Nam, spent 5 ½ years of hell in the Hanoi Hilton at the same time I was a long-haired, anti-war demonstrating student, occasionally kicked back Bogarting my friends’ joints (If you know what that means you probably were too). Worse than that, I made no secret of it.  Unlike Bill Clinton who famously said, “It touched my lips, but I did not inhale,” I admitted that my lips proved a poor barrier.

  Oddly, because I thought the one place the defense budget needed to be enormously increased was to provide education and first-class health care of returned veterans, the head of the Viet Nam Veterans Association, the head of the Disabled American Veterans, the head of the Blind American Veterans, our Congressional Medal of Honor winner along with a number of other now prominent returnees liked me best.   Well, I wasn’t exactly sure they liked me personally that much, but then it did not matter. In big ticket politics I would learn the support you get from people that hate your opponent can be more valuable than those that love you. And in this case, it was clear they were pissed off at McCain.

 The Hard-ons decided to plan a big media day, where all of these veterans’ groups would announce their support of this wonderous, glorious me.  Each step would be carefully orchestrated by the stiffies to appear as if our campaign had nothing to do with it. A Democratic muck-itty-muck would quietly provide a plane, and the veterans would fly all over the state on their own (no Kimball staff) where they would hold press conferences in the state’s four biggest cities on a single day.

 This was going to be big, really big. The vets, on their own, supporting the former long haired, draft dodging, pot smoker?   John McCain’s hero status would take a hit. It was Kimball standing tall with our troops simply because he thought they needed more support after war than they did during it.

 My veterans all got up before the sun on a carefully selected day, a day the Hard-ons were certain had no other competitive news events.  Cloaked in their freshly pressed dress uniforms, with eye popping displays of commendations stuck to their chests, they were square jawed, steely eyed magnificent. As the sun crested the Desert Mountains and began heating another blistering Arizona summer day, they lifted off.

  As with almost everything important in life, say, homering on that high school fast ball, your move for that first good night kiss, or taking a soufflé from the oven, politics requires good timing. Bad timing and you swing too late, she’s through the door before you built the courage, the soufflé falls flat, or in this case no one gets the message.

 The veteran’s first stop was Flagstaff, AZ. A single reporter showed up who had been assigned to cover our event the night before. He apparently slept late and had yet to turn on his radio or television.  He would be the only reporter to show up at any of the Flagstaff, Yuma, Phoenix, or Tucson media events.

 As it turned out we were not the only people who decided to get up early that day.  In the White House, Ronald Reagan got up early too.  Unknown to any media, the public and certainly anyone in Libya, he had selected that morning to send off his own flight crew, only they would be active military with instructions to fly over Libya and blow it up.

 When your big story is blown off the news by much bigger news, you can’t just pretend your news didn’t happen, rewind and do it again another day.  

 Despite my campaign’s fumbles, when the next polls came out, we found ourselves at 42%. I was thrilled, we had gone from 16% to what would be our pinnacle.

 John’s campaign commercials showing him young, busted up and hobbling from a plane after his release from prison hit everyone’s TV set.

 We dropped a few points in the polls, so my Hard-on and Chief came up with the idea that I should go to a little town called Kingman where he knew John was going to do a radio interview. Somehow, he and the Hard-on, on loan from a U. S. Senator’s office, managed to schedule an interview with me immediately following.

 It was there they wanted me to confront John for the very first time and try to stir things up a bit. A gutsy idea they suggested take place in the Republican’s Attila the Hun part of the state.

 I got there while he was still on the air and tried to fluster him with my unexpected appearance. I stood on the other side of a thick pain of glass and tried to disturb his on air presence with an unwavering glare. At the time it did not occur to me that my threatening stare through the window of a small-town right-wing radio station would be an amusing curiosity to a man who spent five years in the hands of the Viet Cong.

 However, as I stood there, it did occur to me that I didn’t know John McCain, had never met him and was suddenly aware that I had no real reason to dislike the man. But here I was glaring through a window at my “enemy.”  This little Hard-on stunt would get me exactly what I deserved.

 When John finished the interview, he got up and walked out as if I did not exist, which I would wish I didn’t.

  Then it was my turn to get an interview. The aggressively unfriendly radio jock’s first question was that I explain my attack on John’s environmental record, referring to something I had said a few days earlier in Phoenix.  The way he blurted out the word “attack,” tossed me, I did not like it. And in response, I spoke openly and honestly, opening the most common self-inflicted wound created by a naïve candidate.  In apologetic tones I stated that I was sorry if I had attacked him, perhaps I spoke too harshly, and I regret it.  I simply disagreed with some of his environmental votes.  Oops!  

 The “sorry about that, perhaps I spoke too harshly, and I regret it” portion found its way into one of John’s most successful commercials.  Richard Kimball apologizes to John McCain.

 A cardinal rule of politics is that you never did such things. If a candidate is quoted saying something that did not go over well, you better say your comments were taken out of context. If you gave out some bad facts, say you misspoke.  If an old picture pops up with a joint in your hand or white powder on your nose, say you didn’t inhale!  Caught in bed with an intern? You had better say “NO, NO, NO” like your political life depends on it, because it does, or did back then.  Saying you might have used better judgement will drive a dagger in your heart. Think Nancy Reagan, “Just say NO.”

 Anyway, that bit of honesty and talking as if I were a human backfired and gave our polls a burn, our Hard-ons were getting nervous, not so much about my losing but that they should not be to blame for losing badly.

 My main job had become to raise money to fuel more of what we had done, what we would continue to do. I no longer owned a home or even had an apartment. At the end of each day, I would be dropped off at some friend or volunteer’s home.  I was driven by someone everywhere.  The one vehicle I owned; an antique 1967 Volkswagen van had been parked for months behind our Phoenix office and was slowly disappearing as thieves pilfered it for its parts to sell other classic car owners.  Hating my campaign was a new experience for me, and I knew it was because this campaign no longer represented me but the boners’ representation of me. The end of the stiffies began to take form in my mind when two somewhat amusing events added sulve to our wounds.

 One was a serious problem that self-corrected.  The state’s biggest and most influential newspaper had an editor who enjoyed parading around in his military uniform loaded with the ribbons and commendations he had won in battle and service to his country. He was a friend of John’s and had an intense publisher’s dislike for me. I had wrongly presumed this was because unlike he and John, I had not served with distinction in the military.

 In politics, like much else in life, when you have an enemy, your best defense is to demonize them, but how do you demonize someone who “buys their ink by the barrel.” In his case the heavens opened and rained a moment of clarity on that son-of-a-bitch.

 He was exposed like some turtle suddenly finding they had no shell. He had no military experience whatsoever.  He had been parading around town for years, including occasions with John, in a military outfit overloaded with commendations and medals acquired from some lets-make-believe Hollywood costume shop. This all-powerful OZ was toast and my stiffies would eat it up as best they could, while John would run from his relationship with him, much the way one would from a gas explosion in a sewage plant.

 The second event was discovered a few weeks later. We were to learn that I was not the only Senate candidate who could put his foot in his mouth.  In politics you can make mountains out of a bit of nothing, particularly if you have that bit of nothing on tape.

 It started with my joking around with some of my campaign volunteers.  I was talking about how my apology was turned into a McCain campaign commercial when a University of Arizona student recalled an off-the-cuff remark John had made speaking to his class. John had been talking about a retirement community called Leisure World. Only the student said he did not call it Leisure World, for a laugh he referred to it as Seizure World.  It was nothing, the people living at Leisure World often joke they lived in Seizure World.  Without much hope the key question was asked, “Did anyone tape his appearance?”

 It took a couple of days for the Hard-ons to run down the professor, get our hands on the tape, pick another day without news competition (this time successfully), draft some press releases, and organize another “independent” event.  This time it would be supportive senior volunteers at my campaign who would demonstrate and demand a public apology from John McCain for his heartless remarks about seniors.  One clever fellow showed up dressed in a coffin, so that the cameras could catch him rising up one last time to vote against John McCain.

 Nonsense can turn campaigns. Even anchored in meaningless wackery, the media will become a willing, wonton whore, if what you do, they think sells. A simple off-handed remark made months ago, that anyone, including myself could have made, was everywhere on TV, radio and newspapers. Some cartoonists drew pictures of the heartless John McCain, showing him walking over the bones of the elderly to enter the U.S. Senate.

 This time John would take a hit in the polls.  That would help our fundraising, giving us another round of commercials. Commercials as it turned out that would cut to the bone, my bone.

 First was the Hard-ons effort to revive the military support for my candidacy.  They had found a mother and wife of a Vietnam MIA (Missing in Action) and put her on camera endorsing me.  Somehow as she announced her support for me, they had managed to get her to cry. I had not been told, a violation of my specific instructions, but somehow ignored. I never actually saw the commercial nor do I remember having done anything about it, other than becoming so angry that the commercial was pulled.

 The second was a radio commercial a few days after, again, that I had not been informed of.  I first heard it over my car radio on the way to some speech in rural Arizona.  The commercial was attacking John on an environmental issue. It was not inaccurate exactly, but that does not mean it was fair, which it was not.

 I am not sure what upset me more, that the attack was misleading or that I was now saying things that I had no intention of saying.  In any case, it was no longer me running for office. I rushed back to Phoenix, where I fired my Hard-on and Chief along with his PR people and then met with my supportive staff and volunteers.

 I told them that I would manage the campaign myself, design all our future media and of course be the candidate.  In concern, not so much for the campaign but for me I heard a chorus of, “You can’t do it all Richard!” each had said in their own way.  “Money will freeze up.”  “You will not be taken seriously.”  “No candidate can manage everything and run for office at the same time.”

 The blowback was total and seemed unanimous.

 I was devastated and threatened to quit the race, “You can’t quit,” they insisted, “Look what everyone has done for you, how they are counting on you, the people that have given you their money to run on, the volunteers who have spent thousands of hours on the phones, holding signs, going door to door, leafleting parking lots.”  Of some impact, were candidates of my own party running for smaller offices and counting on me to pull voters to the polls who would vote for them down ticket.  “If you quit,” they would say, “you will burn us too, along with all those that care for you and fight for you and” here it comes again, “need you, Richard Kimball, in the United States Senate.”

(New chapters will be added roughly once a week)

Richard Kimball, Vote Smart Founder

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“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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 Chapter 34 – The Mircale of Me                                                


U. S. Senate Campaign

Newspaper Cartoon


 Good fortune can appear in frightful packages. A fearsome Republican newcomer had moved to Arizona and entered its politics.  Married to wealth, a former prisoner of war with the pent-up energy of a caged pit bull and temperament to match, he scared the Hell out of Arizona’s Democratic governor who had been drooling over the Senate seat being vacated by America’s conservative lion, Barry Goldwater.

 Not unlike me, McCain had been a poor student, at the bottom of his class, focused on anything but school, he was unconventional and would invest every ounce of his energy when running for office or fighting for what he believed was right.

 Unlike me, he had money, lots of money. And he had survived five years of misery in a Vietnamese prison camp while I was enjoying the good life, safely barking about bringing him and every other soldier home from a fool’s war that went nowhere and advanced humanity nowhere—a farce that served only to feed the supersized heads of idiots that insisted upon it. Yes, I barked and barked and then enjoyed another kegger with my frat brothers—all while McCain was kicking back on his prison cell floor after being busted up again.

 As one operative told me shortly after McCain won a seat in the House of Representatives, “One day you are going to run into that guy.”

 It would be a changing of the guard. Goldwater, who had almost single-handedly bent the nation towards a more cautious, conservative road, had become exasperated by the religious and political fanaticism that had twisted his road into intolerance. Over the past dozen years or so, I had grown to respect and admire this retiring political icon.  This, in spite of the fact that years earlier when I was 15, Stevie Bogard and I walked into a Goldwater for President headquarters and pretend to be volunteers. We told his office that we loved Goldwater and wanted to do what we could. We took all the bumper stickers that said Goldwater, left and then went out and pasted them under stop signs around town.  We, of course, were certain that drivers would read it as STOP Goldwater, a perfect representation of my level of political sophistication at the time.

  Anyway, Goldwater had announced his retirement, thus opening a seat in the “world’s most powerful deliberative body.”  McCain announced his candidacy for the seat and over the following few days our governor and other well heeled, well known, Democratic big names fought over just the right words to explain their deep sorrow at not being able to run at this time. As they galloped away into a sea of “prior commitments,” one of my influential supporters crudely put it, “What do we know about this guy other than he can’t fly and he can’t escape.”  And with that, I realized my opportunity to cop-out on the last three years of my Commission term.

 I knew I would have little chance, as one cartoonist later graphically displayed, with a roulette wheel showing me as the double digit zero and McCain with the rest.

 So, I announced, and the horse race polling instantly began, showing me with 16%, or put another way, roughly the same number of people that still think the world is flat.

 To me 16% was a surprisingly large number and given the choice of a few more years on the Commission or the chances God gives snowflakes in the desert of becoming a U. S. Senator – I became a flake.

 It would have been such a simple matter to stop me. Any other Democratic candidate willing to make a fight of it would have instantly backed me off and sentenced me to those three more years of Corporation Commission Hell. But no one else came to the stage, no other so imprudent.  As a result, I became the Democratic nominee to challenge the unbeatable, well heeled, heroic, teeth gnashing John McCain.

 My biggest problem, as I was quick to discover, was that I wanted it. I loved Arizona, its rich history, the people I had grown up with, the smell and taste of the state that only a child raised in its flavors could truly feel a debt to.  

 Unlike almost every other elected official I had ever met, I had never really acquired a taste for the power ingrained in elected office. I just didn’t much trust others to have it.  The only time I enjoyed my soon-to-end political career was when I was campaigning.  I had just loved meeting people, occasionally being recognized by strangers, and talking about stuff. People in their homes or just out on the streets were never on the make.  No manipulation, no ego (minus mine of course), just their thoughts, passions, worries and ideas.  Granted, some ideas could be a little off the wall or lacking the practical reality that comes from swimming in pools of the politically ambitious.  

 The notions of citizens were usually honestly arrived at, thoughts and ideas were equitably intended, if not well informed, while those in the halls of power were well educated but almost to a person, self-promotional.

 Spending real time with real people wasn’t done in campaigns for “Big Ticket” offices. To be taken seriously, or at least not embarrass myself, I would have to raise $1 million. To have even a chance of winning, I would need four times that. That was back in the 1980s, when U.S. Senate seats were very expensive by historic standards and dirt cheap by current ones.

 Despite that fact, my campaign naively started like all my prior efforts had, going door to door with friends and family.  I was going to do this right.

 One of the things that going door to door gives you is a lot of time to think, particularly when no one is home as it was on my first day knocking. As I walked, I daydreamed this calculation:  Imagine, I thought, that at the next house there was not only someone home but that they were having a party with two dozen guests.  They invited me in and gave me an hour to tell them why I was doing this crazy thing and listening to what they had to say.  Then I imagined that there were a few dozen at the next house and again at the next, and every house ever-after.  I did just that and never took a day off for all the months left to campaign.  Not only that, but I was so brilliant, so articulate, that every single one of those people fell in love with me and voted for me on Election Day.  It added up to a little over 2 percent of the expected turn-out. That is not how you get to be a United States Senator.

 Anyway, when I did give speeches they were about things I wanted to say, they were heart-felt and passionate, and after a few weeks I started to climb a bit in the polls.

 After a month or so I thought we were doing OK, people were holding bake sales, stuffing envelopes, and having little receptions. Even my brother Bob, a teacher who had just enough money to buy his clothes at Goodwill, somehow put together the maximum and gave me $1,000. We had raised $25,000 in our first month, a lot of money–or at least what I thought was a lot of money.

 I had climbed from 16% to 25% in the polls.

 It was then that I got The Call. The kind of call that all potentially winning, or perhaps just useful candidates get in one form or another.  Mine was from the AFL-CIO.  It seems they knew I was often partial to people who worked but it was unclear why they thought that should translate into their support, since I thought union leaders could be no less corruptible than their white-collar counterparts.  

 Moreover, most union members seemed oblivious to what was happening to their jobs.  The country’s corporate leaders were deep into replacing them with cheaper slave labor from abroad, where workers struggling to get a cup of rice or a tortilla into their child’s stomach were much kinder to their bottom line. Corporations reducing costs flow toward cheap labor where workers are un-hobbled by freedom, fairness, equity, or any other advance since the invention of the whip.

 Anyway, when The Call came, I acted just like the puppy dog they wanted, and I was. Knowing McCain would spend millions I was anxious and immediately hopped on the plane to Washington.   

 I was taken to the AFL-CIO building, constructed during organized labor’s hey-day on the opposite side of Lafayette Park from the White House, with the U.S. Chamber of Commerce just across the street. When I walked into the front door, I was met by a few labor leaders and led upstairs to a tiny little room where a few members of the United States Senate sat, along with a couple of other wannabees just like me. It was an odd feeling sitting there–waiting for what, I was not sure. But then the door opened and one of the Senators got up and went into the next room. Ten minutes later another was called in, then another and another, until finally they called me.

 I walked through the door and entered this enormous conference room. The conference table in the middle seemed to stretch for a city block, with large carved mahogany medallions of historic labor leaders hanging high on the walls. Labor heads from across the nation sat in large leather chairs, some lazily pitched back smoking cigars as if out of a Frank Capra movie. I knew no one in the room; the Senate hopefuls that had preceded me had been excused. For a newcomer to the big game, it was intimidating.

 I was introduced and given a few minutes to tell them about my campaign and how I might win. My talk started off a bit clumsily as I recall, and I assume that I talked with some passion about people that worked, but the truth is I really do not remember what I said. When I was finished a Mr. Perkins, their Chair, said, “Well, Richard, we think you might be able to pull this off and we would like to start you off today with this $50,000 check.” He had the check in his hand.

 Boy, I thought, whatever I said was really effective. I was so effective that they were willing to break the law and start me off with an illegal campaign contribution exceeding the legal limit.

 I objected and pointed this out. Mr. Perkins smiled and put his arm around my shoulders much the way my own father used to and said something that would be repeated by others during the months that followed, “Now, Richard.”  Then he went on to explain, “No, no, you don’t need to worry about that. It’s all legal.  See, we all represent different unions, with our own memberships, our own Political Action Committees. We simply like to bundle our funds and spend them collectively for greater impact. It’s all legal,” he assured me.  

 I thought about it a moment and then, like any prudent politician, I stuck my hand out for the check.  What happened next, I cannot say I recall with perfect accuracy, but my recollection here is fair or at least the best I can do.

 As I stuck out my hand out, they put in it, not the check, but an 8.5 x 11 sheet of paper with maybe a dozen names on it. Then they told me that they wanted me to spend the first $20,000 of the money to hire one of these pollsters they had confidence in.  

Mr. Perkins said, “We want to see what people in Arizona like about you and what they don’t, what they like about McCain and what they don’t.”  I was not all that interested in doing such a poll but I understood their need for one and said OK, thinking I would make good use of the other $30,000 and again stuck my hand out for the check.  

 Again, they handed me another list of names. “These are some people with trophies on the wall. We want you to spend another $20,000 as an initial payment to one of these trophied consultants who knows how to design effective campaigns and create successful messages.”  The trophy remark was in reference to victories they had produced in other congressional and gubernatorial races in the country.

  Now I had my dander up. “This is my campaign,” I barked.  “I am running because I have some serious differences with McCain on Star Wars (missile defense), Contra Aid (U.S. sponsored revolution) and other crucial issues. I am going to run my campaign and say what I think,” I told them.

  “Now Richard,” Mr. Perkins said again, “We

don’t want to stop you from saying what you believe. But we aren’t stupid, Richard. We aren’t going to just hand over this check and say, ‘Have a nice day, you sure seem like a nice guy, good luck to you, hope to see you in the United States Senate someday.’  “Don’t be stupid, Richard. “We need to make sure you spend this money wisely, have the talented help who can emphasize those things you believe, that the citizens of Arizona believe, because WE NEED YOU, Richard, IN THE UNITED STATES SENATE.”

 That last line felt pretty good, my head swelled a bit and besides, to say “no” would admit that I was stupid.  My being so out of my element and in such unfamiliar surroundings and company, I wasn’t certain I wasn’t. Stupid, that is. Why provide additional evidence.  Their argument seemed logical; they weren’t asking me to lie outright.  I could say what I wanted, and they were going to help get the person the country needed into the United States Senate — that would be ME!

 So, I took the $50,000 as I would a dozen or so other such checks from special interests and pranced off and into political oblivion.

(New chapters will be added roughly once a week)

Richard Kimball, Vote Smart Founder

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Terry never did announce his candidacy, and I never knew if I had gotten bad information or if Terry just decided to turn tail.  Either way I ended up the nominee of my party for the open seat on the Corporation Commission. And although I did not know much about regulation, I would soon discover neither did the other two Commissioners.

 The Republicans nominated Arizona’s State Treasurer, a fellow who knew little more about regulating companies than he did about hard ball politics.  It would be a tough campaign for him, not because I was tough on him, I rarely mentioned him.  For me he did not exist, I ran against the other two Commissioners who had a low key, quiet, invisible way of sticking it to citizens on behalf of the major utilities.

 The other two Commissioners would not be up for re-election for a few years, but my effectiveness generated a serious effort by citizens who didn’t want to wait for their terms to end. Recall petitions were attracting thousands of signatures.

 When I won the election and the recall effort fell just short of the necessary signatures, I had made two bitter enemies.  This would be confirmed on the morning of my second day on the job. The first day was spent moving into Jim’s (the retiring commissioner I was replacing), empty office and dropping into the offices of the two other Commissioners to calm ill feelings in hopes of getting along as best we could. The meetings were congenial enough.  However, the next morning when I arrived, I received a more official welcome from my two fellow Commission members. They had ordered the staff to remove all my things from Jim’s office and dump them into the hallway.

 It was their way of saying, “Our two votes will tell your one vote where to go and where to live around here.

 The childishness degenerated into a kind of infantile paralysis at the Commission, in which I participated. I would give as good as I got. Like on the day Taurus, my love—a 14-year-old border collie who suddenly took ill. The vet pumped Taurus full of drugs—just before I had to be at a Commission hearing—advising that I keep a close eye on her for the next 24 hours. I had put my suit jacket in the bottom of a large cardboard box, laid Taurus on top and then carried my crippled sweetie up the Commission stairs to my office.

 Thirty minutes later my secretary nervously opened my door saying that the Department of Public Safety was on the line and needed to talk with me right away.

 “Commissioner Kimball?” the officer asked uncomfortably.

“Yes, I am Richard Kimball, what can I do for you?”

“Well Commissioner, I know this is odd, but pets are not allowed in your building, and we have gotten a complaint that you have a dog in your office. If you do, I need to ask you to remove it, or they insist that we come over and take it.”

 “You’re going to arrest my dog?” I joked.

“Sir,” he said with obvious embarrassment, “We have had a strong complaint from the Commission and so we are required to enforce the law.”

 I explained my dog’s situation and mine, then asked, “Can you give me just 20 minutes?”  Curious, he asked, “Of course, but why?”

 “Because that is how long it will take the media to get here, film your arrest of my half-dead best friend and capture a couple of interviews with my two colleagues for the 6 o’clock news.

 As it turned out the complaint was quickly dropped, but the next morning as I arrived without my recovered buddy, a maintenance worker was drilling in a brass plate next to the Commission’s entry door. The plate said: NO DOGS ALLOWED.

 Oddly, the three of us voted together more often than not. The nots were the cases dealing with the biggest utility companies in the state. It wasn’t that I had evidence to prove their rate hike requests were unnecessary, it was just that we had no way of independently verifying they were necessary.  It was instantly clear to me that it was all one big company-controlled shell game with quick-handed utility companies controlling the shells and maximizing their take by tricking both consumers and their assumed protectors, us.

 The basic rules and primary problem in Arizona utility regulation are easily explained: 

1. Because costs would be outrageous if numerous competing utilities had to support their own independent production and delivery systems, monopolies are allowed to exist.

2. Because the state must give utilities a monopoly to reduce both their costs and those of consumers, the utility must get approval of the rates it charges citizens.

3. Because the Arizona legislature refused to provide funds sufficient to regulate utilities, the regulators must trust the data and testimony provided by the utilities.

  This doesn’t mean utilities always get what they ask for but that is largely because of a “blink and whisper” understanding between the utilities and the Commission.  The “blink and whisper” requires the major utilities to request more money than they need or is reasonable.  Then the Commission can cut the rate requested down to something that is less unreasonable to maintain the appearance of protecting consumers (their voters).

 It works pretty much that way in every state I know of.

 Commissioners never really know what is going on beyond what a utility tells them.  Utility executives’ only reason for being is to maximize profit for stockholders and thus provide good reason to pay themselves a salary that could be 5,000% higher than that of any regulator whose responsibility is to be in charge.

 I kept saying “No” to the large utilities, not because I thought their requests unreasonable but because I could not independently verify that they were reasonable.  My two colleagues kept arguing an opposing rationale: we have no evidence suggesting what they say is not so.

 You say no to the Big Dogs of the business world, and they will label you as anti-business, even as thousands of small businesses suffer and even go under from spiraling utility charges.

 My relationship with the other two Commissioners settled into a comfortable agreement to disagree. Then one died from a heart attack and the other resigned.

 The governor had to appoint two new Commissioners until new elections could be held. It was then that things got as good as I would ever experience in politics. He chose two academics, a Republican business professor at Arizona State University and a Democrat, a law professor at the University of Arizona.  They were bright, conscientious and, unlike previous Commissioners, unmotivated by politics.

 These two new Commissioners allowed me to become the Commission’s Chairman and I then proceeded to preside over one hell of a Commission mistake and another that paved a road to utility control.

 In our blindness we allowed a Tucson utility to split up. With the combination of insufficient staff, no independent research, an unscrupulous utility chief and our own naivety we approved the sale of assets. The power producing parts of the utility formed a new company that didn’t sell power directly to citizens thus the Commission could not regulate while the distribution and sales stayed under Commission supervision. We effectively lost control of costs and citizens got screwed.

 To our credit, the two appointed Commissioners and I managed to adopt new regulatory principles that forced utilities into pretend competition. We started approving not rate increases but the possibility of rate increases.  We would set rates on what amounted to an average or fair rate of return on the costs the utility bore.  However, if they failed to reach the efficiencies we judged to be normal and achievable, they would get penalized by our reducing their profits. Conversely, we would provide them with a financial incentive: Should they exceed our expectations a bonus larger than what they had requested could be obtained, thus rewarding them for good decisions and efficient operations.  In effect it was pretend competition in a world where no competition exists.

 As it turned out I would not be at the Commission long enough to see if our plan would work or even be sustained.  I was about halfway through my six-year term, new elections had been held to replace the governor’s temporary appointees and two fellow “consumer advocates” were elected as result of all the concern created. They were politicians to the bone and egos and jealousy, including my own, would reign again. Only this time we were all of the same party, all so-called “consumer advocates.” A perfect representation of why people get so disgusted with government. There we were, the Commission totally reversed, presumably intent on representing and protecting citizens.

 What achieves primacy in the minds of the elected?  Me! Me! ME!

 I was elated with their elections. OK, a bit weary that Marsha, the vacationing member of the Breakfast Bunch, and wife of the former Commissioner Jim Weeks was one. The other was Renz Jennings, an ultra-liberal former State Representative who slept in an open shed on what he said was his farm, though it had little produce to put in anyone’s pot other than his own.

 Bottom line: The Commissioners who had been in the utilities’ silk pockets were now replaced by three scrapers, all posturing for an Oscar as Best Consumer Advocate. For my part, I wanted war, with either the Republican State Legislature that would not fund us, or the large utilities themselves who thought themselves protected by our in ability to examine them.

 I wanted to force the legislature to give us adequate funding or the utilities to provide funds for us to independently verify the need or requested rate increases.

 For an initial blast across the utility’s bows all we needed to do, I thought, was let it be known that we would not blindly approve any rate increase without the ability to independently investigate the utilities’ operations and need for a rate increase.

  My hopes of accomplishing this took a hit on the first morning we all met. My new colleagues had only stomach enough to go to war with each other.

 Renz asked me to join him and Marsha “socially” for breakfast one morning.  The social gathering quickly turned into a Commission business meeting.  I pointed out that it was inappropriate to discuss Commission business secretly outside of an open public hearing. I had fought hard against the first two Commissioners I served with when they wanted to continue with Commission tradition and privately discuss the public’s business, only without me.  I made it so difficult for them to do so that I managed to enforce a rule prohibiting expartee (secret) meetings.

 My two new commissioners instantly poo-pooed any such prohibition and continued their Me-Me negotiations.

 What was foremost on their minds was to get themselves elected chairman of the Commission.  They thought it was best that the chairmanship be rotated between the three of us and since I had been elected chairman by the two appointees, one of them should now get it.  I can’t deny that this hurt a little. I had initiated what was clearly a successful fight against the pro-utility Commission long before they got involved. Now that the fruits of the fight were supposedly ready for harvest, I thought their Me-Me position a bit unjust, but I listened.

 The question continued over the next week: Which one of them should get to be the next chairman. Marsha thought she was the clear choice, having spent years in bed with a former Commissioner.  Renz, for his part kept cornering me with the grace of a turtle climbing stairs, to say three things:

     “I have no ego!”

     “I am more likely to side with your positions than she is.”

     “You will vote for me to be Chairman, won’t you?” 

 This was going to be three more years of “Please won’t someone shoot me?”

 It might be worth it I thought if only I could push through my one primary objective, get the commission the resources it needed to actually regulate utilities.

   I was certain that the citizens would support us on this. Consumer savings would make up for any budget increase a thousand-fold.

 Both options would require the three of us to stick our collective necks out, but even if we failed the loud public fight would make the shell game apparent to any citizen concerned with their utility bill (just about everybody) and put enormous pressure on the Republican Legislature.  Anyway, after all that I could say was said in support of doing our job and actually regulating utilities, my two Me-Me colleagues let it be known that they had no stomach for it.

 I was trapped and completely disinterested in finishing my six-year term of office. Unlike in the State Senate, I had a sense of some success since the Commission would no longer just rubber stamp rate increases, but I wanted out. What excuse could I give? How could walking out with less than half my term served be explained?

 A freshly-minted Arizonian, former prisoner of war, freshly elected to congress and about to burst onto the national stage would provide the answer.

(New chapters will be added roughly once a week)

Richard Kimball, Vote Smart Founder

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A researcher would later tell me it was the longest filibuster anywhere by anyone. Not sure that is true, but it somehow helped me believe that I did what I could.  The thing is this: the how and why the gas tax bill bite out of taxpayer earnings was done is not unique or even unusual. It is just how and why the big fish eat the little ones.

 It explains, I suppose, what Winston Churchill once said, “Democracy is the worst form of government, except for all the others…”

 Citizens could correct much of this with a bit of campaign finance reform, but the degree of difficulty in fighting for that appears more arduous than just taking it in the chops year after year.

 What remained of my second term would have passed in a pillowy snore if it were not for one other ritual of institutionalized political corruption.

 It was that in-your-face, sacramental, decennial mugging of a free people celebrated in every state legislative body called reapportionment.

 It started with Elbridge Gerry, one of our Founding Fathers, a very wealthy privateer, who once claimed, “The evils we experience flow from the excess of democracy.” As Massachusetts Governor, he signed a bill setting the borders of a political district to include only those he liked so absurdly as to look like a salamander. A precedent that state legislators still strive to duplicate today. The practice is named in Elbridge’s honor: Gerrymandering.

 After each decennial census defines the redistribution of people, congressional and legislative district borders are redrawn, and Gerrymandering is the common accepted practice by which every legislature routinely destroys most voters’ ability to fairly elect someone to represent them in congress or their state legislature.  They do this openly, wantonly, and most impressively, directly in front of every citizen they are screwing. They easily anoint the winners and losers in almost every district’s races, while maintaining the voters’ sense that they matter, but without any real need for those pesky voting booths.

 It is an entirely partisan affair, where the controlling party’s sole objective in each state is to exterminate the opposition by dismembering the citizens’ ability to have choices other than those they have pre-selected. This is done so outrageously that some district lines are drawn to support or oppose a single human being.  In one example, in my state, during the last year of my legislative service, that person would be me.

 From the controlling party’s view, it is just a huge complicated, computerized numbers-mashing political affair too convoluted to trouble citizens comfortably sedated in their Barcaloungers with a cold beer, engrossed in Dancing with the Stars.

 Following the Gas Tax mess there seemed to be consensus between the leadership in both parties as to what should happen with a certain central Phoenix district, my district. They all agreed that the four surrounding districts should expand inward, each adopting a chunk of my central Phoenix supporters and repositioning my district, or at least its number, out on expansive wasteland in an upper eastern corner of the state that had been reserved in an earlier century to screw Indians.

 Supporters were surprised that I didn’t call foul. I was no longer attending party caucuses, where I knew my district boundaries were left undefended.  I had no interest in running for re-election, they could do with me as they willed. I was going to be happily done with elected office, nothing could make me want to run for office again. Well, OK, there was one thing, perhaps the only thing: a hot-blooded desire for revenge.

 Following the filibuster a few of the Breakfast Bunch and I decided to take a holiday.  We took a four-hour ride south to a dusty Mexican beach town called Puerto Penasco.

 Those of us who had arrived early were sitting on the beach talking about Marsha Weeks (the Breakfast Bunch’s vacation member) and her husband, Jim. Jim was on the three-member Corporation Commission but had been diagnosed with cancer some months earlier and let it be known that he would not run for re-election.

 The Arizona Corporation Commission is one of those odd unique things that the progressive Arizona of old had created in its constitution. It was designed like a fourth branch of government. Power in the state was to be divided between the Executive, Legislative, Judicial and Corporation Commission branches of government. The Commission regulated the state’s railroads, securities and utilities, including the nation’s largest nuclear plant, called Palo Verde. It was powerful and of considerable importance to banks, developers, unions and of course utility companies, all those that I had fought on the gas bill. 

 Anyway, a few of us were sitting on the beach talking about Jim and Marsha when they drove up.  They quickly walked down to where we were sitting, clearly with something to tell. “Guess what?” they said as they approached, “Terry Goddard is going to announce his candidacy for Jim’s seat on the Corporation Commission.”

 I froze. Then someone said, “So that’s it, they’re all going to back him for Jim’s seat on the Commission, that was the pay off.”

 I was instantly catapulted to my feet. “When is he going to announce?” I asked as I headed up to toss my unpacked luggage back in the car. “We heard it would be sometime around noon tomorrow.” I slammed the car into gear and disappeared in front of a billowing cloud of dust that followed me the entire four-hour drive back to the Capitol.

 At 10:00 a.m. the next morning I stood at a press conference in Phoenix announcing my candidacy for the Arizona Corporation Commission. It was a big surprise to everyone, mostly to me.  I only knew two things about the Commission. One was that the two remaining commissioners had a reputation for hobnobbing with the utilities they were supposed to regulate, and now a second thing.  It was the price Terry extracted from that bank meeting to get him to switch horses and screw Arizona citizens.

 The fact that I didn’t know much didn’t much matter to me or to the press.  People in the know, knew what I was announcing. “Come and get it Terry!”

(New chapters will be added roughly once a week)

Richard Kimball, Vote Smart Founder

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

                          Luise Gonzales, me, Lito Pena, and Lela Alston 

       The Breakfast Bunch minus the traitor and vacationer.

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

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

(New chapters will be added roughly once a week)

Richard Kimball, Vote Smart Founder

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 WARNING: You are about to enter an alternate universe.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 The coming headlines scrolled through my imagination!

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

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




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


(New chapters will be added roughly once a week)

Richard Kimball, Vote Smart Founder

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Richard Kimball

Richard Kimball

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Just now


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You will never hear a politician tell you,

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

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

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

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

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

Richard Kimball, Vote Smart Founder

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