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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Richard Kimball, Vote Smart Founder 1988

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

New Chapters once a week

Richard Kimball, Vote Smart Founder 1988

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NOW IT’S CHILLY – Chapter 61

           WE GOTTA GO

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 The Grail was as far away as ever.


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

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

(New chapters will be added roughly once a week)

Richard Kimball, Vote Smart Founder 1988

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(New chapters will be added roughly once a week)

Richard Kimball, Vote Smart Founder 1988

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(New chapters will be added roughly once a week)

Richard Kimball, Vote Smart Founder 1988

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 New Year’s morning I headed back to that ranch and there it was, only now under sparkling, rich, deep blue skies and framed by 10,000 ft. snow covered peaks.  As I rolled up to where I had parked the day before, the reverence that trawled over my face would have given me away to anyone.  We would buy!

 To this day it is one of the most beautiful sights I have ever seen.  Everything on the ranch was a wintery incrusted jewel. By the time Adelaide, my soon-to-be wife crept down those last 12 miles of ice slicked dirt and petrified by the thought we would be so remote, I was ready to write the check. The oddities of life would one day make her cherish the place and me dread every moment I had to be there.  But for now, it was paradise and exactly what Vote Smart needed.

 Fortuitous, we closed the deal on April Fool’s Day, 1999, for a modest $1.25 million, about half from the sale of our Agora Farms in Oregon, and the rest coming from supporters anxious for us to “GET GOING!”

 Wanting to consolidate our offices at what I was sure would become the epicenter of all that was good and true in self-governance, we informed both Oregon State University and Northeastern University that we would be closing our operations and consolidating them at our new Montana paradise.  The decision to close our Northeastern office, a wholly successful operation that sang as smoothly as a tuning fork, would be a mistake I would later attempt and fail to rectify.

 The ranch had been used as a “city slicker” operation where the owner outfitter catered to rich Easterners who wanted to go West, play cowboy, ride, shoot and fish. He went belly-up, because money doesn’t prevent saddle sores or make you superior to a bear having to take a shit in the woods.

 The property had a number of advantages, the most obvious being its dazzling setting on the Continental Divide, handing us our new home’s name–The Great Divide Ranch on the road I renamed, One Common Ground.

 Three practical factors convinced me that this beautiful place could work. One was that the utility company was willing to put in underground fiber optic cable down those 12 miles of dirt road, providing virtually unlimited communications ability–much better than we ever had sharing university systems. Then we discovered that the public access road to the wilderness went right through the Ranch’s property, and a long-ago prior owner had made a deal with the Forest Service.  They could use the property for their road, but they had to keep it plowed free of snow each winter, meaning that we had year-round access. Finally, I met with the County Board of Supervisors about emergency services.  They all assured me that it only took 5 minutes for the Life Flight medical choppers to pop over the mountains from Missoula. It was a lie that later would cost two lives!

 I, of course, had no idea how to run a restaurant, hotel or recreation facility, yet we were about to double the size of all other such facilities in the county put together.

 At first glance Philipsburg, the closest town, was just a down-on-its-luck abandoned mining town, where you could buy a house cheaper than a car, with four abandon churches and just as many bars opened to replace them, serving it up from early morning to its 957 citizens.

 Those still living there were largely uneducated, unemployables, I would employ and make it a day or month.

 A few progressive citizens were trying to champion the little town as a tourist attraction and would eventually succeed, despite the “We Don’t Serve Queers,” and Confederate Battle Bars flag holding sway over most locals.

 I had a six weeks to prepare the place and move our equipment, programs with whatever staff was willing to transfer, if only temporarily, to help train new research teams at The Great Divide Ranch no located on One Common Ground.

 I lived at the ranch alone, working with contractors, cleaning and converting the storage building into offices, and hiring new staff. The applicants were mostly local Montanans, with a good number from the little town of Philipsburg, all a little rough, but assuring me that they were intensely interested in good government. There was the liquor store manager, a former radio disc-jockey, a handyman who had recently lost his job working on a friend’s ranch that had to make some layoffs. . . and Aili Langseth.

 I scheduled the job interviews all for the late afternoon and at the ranch so they would have to make the drive and see what they were in for. I was prepared to hire almost anyone because I figured if they were willing and committed to the effort, I could train almost anyone.

  My first days were spent cleaning out the half century of odds and ends that had accumulated in the storage building. Old wagon wheels, stoves, horse tack and a thousand other indescribable somethings, were stacked from front end to back end almost to the ceiling. I pulled out the most interesting pieces and scattered them around the property thinking they would have novelty value and add to the ambiance for those who would come.

 On a final afternoon of cleaning, a day before the electricians who would re-wire the soon-to-be-office building would arrive, I was in a big hurry.  I had scheduled my first applicant interview for 5 pm and I was a dirty, shirtless, sweaty mess.  I had not started the day half naked. In fact there was snow on the ground when I woke up that morning, but by 10 am it was long gone and getting pretty toasty, so I yanked my sweatshirt off for a time.  By 1 p.m. I was racing to put it or anything I could find back over my shoulders. Heavy clouds had rolled in and were punishing me with marble-sized hail which turned into snow 10 minutes later. By 3 p.m. it was clear and once again the sun began to burn.  I had never seen such weather. By 5 p.m. the temperature and my struggles dragging out every imaginable bent, broken or otherwise indescribable whatever had me ready for a quick shower and the one interviewee I had scheduled for that evening.

 I picked up one last, exceptionally large box full of canvas and broken sticks, what I guessed were bed slats, and began walking it from the office building the 100 yards to the lodge. From behind me I heard what I can’t adequately describe, simply because I had never heard anything that sounded at all similar. I can only say something was coming.

  The box was so large I could not balance it to take a look, so I just kept on walking.  But the sound got louder and a whole lot closer.  Another step or two and panic would set in.  If I had to describe the sound with some mash-up of letters it would be something like this: fflooomp…………fflooomp…………FFLOOOMP!!

 It was right on top of me and I dove forward into the dirt with the box breaking open and spilling its contents across the cold mud.

 I put my arms up to protect and defend myself as I rolled over to see an amazing sight pass not ten feet directly over my head.

  Fflooomp! is the sound a Bald Eagle with its gigantic wingspan sounds like coming in for a view of its own. It was my first and most innocent experience with the wilderness wildlife yet to come.

 I picked myself up, showered and sat in the lodge making some calls until late evening. The applicant, some young lady named Aili Langseth, never showed up.

 At seven the next morning I was on a conference call with people back East when someone startled me with a knock on the lodge door. A young, good-looking though rumpled woman walked in and quietly took a seat at the old copper bar on the far side of the room while I finished my call. 

 When done and a bit hassled with too much to do, I blurted out, “What can I do for you?”  She responded, “We had an appointment about a job, I am Ailee Langseth.”  Irritated, I explained to her that my only appointment that day was with an electrician. She said, “I know, our appointment was for yesterday afternoon, but I couldn’t make it.” Suddenly I remembered and my irritation increased, and I said, “Well you should have called. So what are you doing here now?”  Then I heard the rest of the story. 

 It turns out that she would have been on time for the interview, having left her home in Butte, a town ninety minutes away, in plenty of time to drive the 65 mountain miles to get to the Ranch. But when almost there she had taken a left turn, one dirt road too early and had ended up stuck in the snow on a road to nowhere. She had worked until dark trying to dig herself out but only managed to get herself soaking wet in the freezing slush. So, she crawled into the corner of the back seat, with a blanket over her wet clothes and sat out the night trying not to freeze. Later I would look up the low temperature for that night: it went down to 28 degrees. She joked that that she sat there through the night thinking of the cold hungry people in Bosnia, where, at the time, conflict had left so many people freezing and homeless. “If they can suffer through it, so can I,” she explained.

 At first light that morning a fisherman saw her and was able to tug her out.  Aili Langseth did not drive home to get warm that morning, nor to get some dry clothes on, or even something to eat. She kept coming on to the interview, to apologize for not being on time the afternoon before.

 When my jaw managed to return to its proper facial position, I said, “YOU’RE HIRED!”

(New chapters will be added roughly once a week)

Richard Kimball, Vote Smart Founder 1988

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 Vote Smart’s offices.

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

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

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

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

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

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

(New chapters will be added roughly once a week)

Richard Kimball, Vote Smart Founder 1988

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 We did trip over a few hurdles.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(New chapters will be added roughly once a week)

Richard Kimball, Vote Smart Founder 1988

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Dear Vote Smart:

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

 What you are doing is so long overdue.


                                 Mrs. McGillicutty

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


Dear Vote Smart:

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

                                   Bill Thomas


Dear Project Vote Smart:

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

                          Mary Mitchell

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(New chapters will be added roughly once a week)

Richard Kimball, Vote Smart Founder 1988

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(New chapters will be added roughly once a week)

Richard Kimball, Vote Smart Founder

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The Daisy Commercial

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(New chapters will be added roughly once a week)

Richard Kimball, Vote Smart Founder

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Meeting Dukakis – Chapter 48

 “Well Richard, they wouldn’t let you join the circus (U.S. Senate) so you went out and created your own,” said a party leader and major Vote Smart contributor.

 Or, as a less supportive columnist wrote, “How wonderful the idea of Vote Smart is, what a great national need it would fill if only it was not being led by this idiot.”

 So, it would go for the next 30+ years.

 Good Morning America was a lesson learned. The national media did not see us as a story. If we wanted people to know what we did, how we did it and why, we would have to do it ourselves. Convincing right-wing conservatives and left-wing liberals, or even middle of the roaders, all distrusting and cynical of any political organization, to support us, would be tough. A bit like convincing Barney Flintstone that his progeny could and would eventually build wings and fly to the moon one day.

 In the beginning I had been sure that there must be, had to be, could not help but be, people more qualified, more knowledgeable, more able than I to do this thing I was doing. As it turned out, the one essential quality required, a willingness to step up to the plate, was limited to three: Lorena, Adelaide and myself.

 We were all excited. And if we were going to ever cover state offices and handle the incoming demand from voters, we were going to need more space, a lot more space and a lot more interns. Oregon State was able to double our space, but it would not be enough. Michael Dukakis, a former Massachusetts Governor, Democratic nominee for President losing to Ronald Reagan, and fellow Project Vote Smart board member, had a solution.

 I got to Boston to meet Governor Dukakis, who was teaching at Northeastern University.  Although he had joined our board, I had never met him and was anxious to do so.  I had not been involved in his campaigns but would regret that almost as soon as I met him and for a quirky reason difficult to convey.

  Americans are not warm to the most ethical and honorable, nor are they given any opportunity to see through the political fog of campaigns to recognize these attributes when they exist.

 I met Governor Dukakis at a Boston subway stop and we walked together the half-dozen blocks to meet with some Northeastern University officials about a potential Vote Smart office there.

 Now I am an ambler, you would think I never had anywhere to go and certainly did not want to get there if I did. This was not so with the Governor. We shook hands, said no more than a sentence or two of standard greeting and then as if he heard a starter’s gun, inaudible to anyone else, he was off like a shot. Though my legs were twice as long, I had difficulty keeping up with his stride.  As I loped alongside, we, he mostly, talked of politics, his passion instantly evident. He was partisan in that thoughtful, knowledgeable, convincing manner that is well peppered with a conviction you are reluctant to challenge and be proven foolish. I was listening in envy as much as awe to this man devout to his cause when I noticed something. Something he had been doing all along, but I was only now picking up on. As we coasted down the sidewalks, he had been doing this thing so inconspicuously, so unpretentiously, so unobtrusive to our conversation that had he not found it necessary to do it repetitiously I would never have noticed.  But there he was picking up trash as he flew, not a cup, wrapper or scrap of paper missed his grasp, or any trash receptacle as we sliced through the students on their way to class.

 Who does that? Who picks up other people’s trash?  It was not what he did as much as how he did it that earned both my admiration and my duplication to this very day.  Liberal or Conservative, t’is no matter, it is those like that, willing to stoop and pick up after you that should be our leaders.

 We met with all the university mucket mucks about the possibility of opening a second office at Boston’s Northeastern University. It became instantly clear that Oregon State’s angelic location in lily-white waspy Corvallis was set on remaining lily-white,  while Northeastern not only welcomed minorities but fought to attract them. It was the difference between intellectuals that talk the talk and those that walk the walk.

 We sent Angela Twitchell, the young woman we found two years earlier clerking in a sporting goods store to run the show in our new Boston office.  She quickly shamed my efforts in Corvallis. Hiring a crack crew just wetting their post-college feet, she easily organized the kind of office I struggled mightily to find just half as much success doing. Spirited, ambitious and smart, Northeastern took on some of our biggest problems, most importantly the testing of candidates in what we called our National Political Awareness Test, another ditzy name I forced on everyone that had no relationship to the actual test itself. It tested a candidate’s willingness to actually answer voters’ questions, with the byproduct of saying what they would do for you or to you on major issues if elected. To run it she selected a bright new doctoral student named Kyle Dell, a top-notch political scientist that we would one day ask to join our Founding Board.

 Her office so rarely had problems that I began to wonder as to the necessity of me. Although I would visit the office now and then, I only had to visit it once to fire someone, the only hiring error she ever made. He was afflicted with a little booger on the brain. He fancied himself as a man of the future as long as that future degraded Jews. I imagined his firing a great pleasure, so I insisted on doing it myself. It wasn’t a pleasure. Crushing anyone is not fun particularly a young person, not even when dealing with an ignorant antisemitic.

 We paid subsistence wages, just enough to cover cheap rent and eat or about $1000 less than wages at McDonalds. For the privilege of working at Vote Smart, staff was expected to cover seven-days a week. The only holidays I recognized were Christmas, Thanksgiving, and New Year’s.

 We wanted to be dependable and available, which in those early years could never be done in a 40-hour work week. In addition, at least during the last months of an election year you might be expected to work nights too.  We were open 24 hours a day.

 My demands on staff, students and volunteers would lighten, by necessity, in years to come, but in the early years I expected everyone to devote their lives to Vote Smart. We were at war, and they better know it, act like it, and fight like their lives depended upon its success. If they didn’t, they were gone.

 I lived Vote Smart every waking hour and a great many that were not. Having invested my savings, home, retirement, and soon inheritance in the Project, and refusing my salary for five years, I became as poor as anyone can be—and I loved it.  It was the quest, I was going to save a nation, make my life worth the living of it, and force anyone I could to do the same. Who can have a life better than that?

 There were a staggering number of people who needed no impressment, who on their own motion strode through our doors asking if they could help.  Over the years there would be thousands signing up for the minimum 120 hours of commitment required of interns, and volunteers signing on for 300 hours or more, all receiving nothing but a handshake in payment. They would be as young as 14 and as old as 93, some poor, some wealthy. Doctors, lawyers, teachers, a hundred other professions; every color, gender, and state were represented a hundred times over—even two dozen foreign nations sent students to help and learn how to build what we were attempting to build.

 I was relieved but not surprised by the assortment and numbers of people willing to chip in and build Vote Smart. I often peered through a door or window at them slaving away and wondered: If I had had a different life, stayed a teacher, been a labor leader, a surgeon, bank president, or spent a life as a butcher, baker or candlestick maker, would I be sitting there stuffing envelopes, proofreading endless pages of data, straining eight hours a day over a computer screen?  I was doubtful, but there they were.  

 In one memorable week the Launch Director for NASA’s Apollo Program, Patti Hearst (not the gunslinger but the matriarch) in a diamond necklace and Tom Gugglin, a sick former teacher and Korean War Vet we found trying to make a home on a piece of carpet in the dumpster behind our office sat there stuffing envelopes together.  Everyone doing whatever it took, whatever needed to be done, to get this idea off the ground.

 Who could not make a grand success with such interest, such support, who could fail with so great a resource as that?

 The work at Vote Smart was monotonous, redundant, repetitive Hell. Every job at Vote Smart was interesting for a day, maybe two, but political research on thousands of candidates quickly degenerates into dementia-inducing boredom. When that happens, mistakes are made and Project Vote Smart was not going to make any mistakes.

 The data Project Vote Smart provided would be as dependably useful as the morning sun. I would say to the staff, “Remember when you enter data on an elected official or candidate, their reputation is in your hands and so is Vote Smart’s.” NO ERRORS was the mantra.  Each series of voting records, issue positions, ratings, and biographical records had to be proofed and signed by each person doing the initial data entry.  Then their work would go to a supervisor where they would sneak in six intentional errors.  The work would then go to three other proofreaders, each having to proof it until they found all six errors and no others. If a seventh error was found we started again from scratch. “NO ERRORS!”

 The work was numbing and the pressure for accuracy intense.  Sometimes in the early days the pressure was released in a number of loud, not always pleasant arguments, always about politics.  Understandably, people who were committed to such tasks simply assumed that the people next to them were good people too and saw things the right way just as they did.  Not so!  You did not know if you were sitting next to a right winger, left winger, or someone just completely out in orbit. So, we hung large signs with big black lettering at each office entrance:

                  CHECK YOUR POLITICS

                     AT THE DOOR!

(New chapters will be added roughly once a week)

Richard Kimball, Vote Smart Founder

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 What was in the other box?  

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

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

(New chapters will be added roughly once a week)

Richard Kimball, Vote Smart Founder

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Isn’t what it once was!

 One incorruptible source for the facts. A source void of opinion or interpretation that both the right and the left could turn to in absolute confidence for the documented records on those who govern or wish to replace those who do.

 Detailed biographical, educational, financial and voting records, comprehensive public comments made, and evaluations by dozens of conservative and liberal groups were available to anyone caring enough to gather them. All could easily be made searchable by name and issue of interest.

 Like a bat to the head, it struck me: a candidate could be forced, with or without their cooperation, to provide a detailed application of employment, just the way all people must do—only better.

 Hell, I thought, voters wouldn’t have to listen to all the self-promotional nonsense milking the people’s emotions. Voters could clearly see what candidates had done in the past and then know what would be done for them or to them if elected. Frustration would no longer be a citizen’s only alternative; they would mob such a system.

 In February 1988 I left my grass hut and by March the Internal Revenue Service received an application for a new non-profit called the Center for National Independence in Politics.

 An absurd meaningless name for sure! Such things can make sense after passing a barber shop called SNIP and when out of oxygen during a challenge match of racquetball with an older brother. That is exactly how I came up with an acronym before I came up with an actual name. I wanted something that would fit the logo I had in mind:

 That is to say, I made some mistakes. Although my idea was a great one, it had a bit of slop stuck to it.

 With just a few former campaign volunteers who still had faith in me we could test the idea in a couple of states. That, and finding some prominent people of both major parties to back up the work and you had the makings for a cure to all the choreographed chicanery of then-day American Politics. Everyone in politics knew this cancer was now eating away at the heart of our democracy.

 Yes, this would work, I was certain of it. I was excited, I had something to do, something important to do. I felt like I had seen the Holy Grail off in the distance. All I had to do was go get it and bring it home to a needy nation. So, I caught that train and headed home.

  As it would turn out, I had little trouble finding the Grail. Bringing it home would prove difficult, and once it arrived a few million instantly used it.  But as I would discover, the other 200 million or so just wanted to enjoy whatever their version of a Barco Lounger, beer and a football game was.

 Back home I had to find some means to earn a bit of money that didn’t take much time so I could work on CNIP. Substitute teaching and teaching a few classes at a community college would be perfect, only it required a college degree.  So, I took my Mexico walkabout to visit the Dean of the Languages School at the University of Arizona. It seems that my crude, largely street slang Spanish impressed him so much that he passed me out of my two-year language requirement on the spot. So, twenty years after entering the University as a wholly irresponsible young man I got my degree. When I mentioned it to my mother, she was not so much surprised as she was in disbelief. I think many mothers always see their children as they were when young. In her mind she still saw her children as the nitwits we would forever be, and in my case not without some reason.

 The only thing pressing on my mind when I returned from Mexico was my need for an office to work on my idea and some place to live. Either one would also serve as the other. I purchased an old liquor warehouse which had been on the wagon run from Mexico to Tucson in the 1800s. It had 12-foot ceilings, thick adobe walls and was located in a poor neighborhood, filled with down on their luck men smelling of malt liquor, and bottom rung strung out prostitutes. It was all I could afford, but I loved it.  At the same time, I started doing that teaching work to pay some bills.

 Being a substitute teacher was perfect.  As it turned out substitutes don’t do anything, certainly no teaching.  You were expected to show a film or whatever time-consuming monotony had been assigned by the absent teacher to keep them busy. Most often I simply sat in the back of a class writing letters and stuffing envelopes to everyone I could imagine might help me with my vision, while National Geographic played on a screen or kids wrote reports, usually on one of three things: What I did with my summer, what I got or gave for Christmas, what I plan to do with my summer, all depending on the season.

 As a result, I got some money to eat on and a lot of time to map out a strategy to bring home the Grail.

 Education, the staple of human advance, is in large part due to teachers. After all, next to parents and perhaps peers, they have the greatest impact on child development and each generation’s ability to achieve bigger, better, and cheaper. I always got great support from teachers’ unions. Like all special-interest, labor or corporate unions, teachers want more money. But it wasn’t until I became a teacher that I experienced how ruinous our lack of support for teachers had become. Teachers are no longer supported or have any standing in their communities. With funding often anchored to attendance, schools are more dependent upon students being in the classroom than they are teachers being there.

 Classrooms are stuffed, not with teachers (outgoing money), but with students (incoming money). As a result, students are now in control and teachers suffer the slings and arrows as if responsible for every imagined social ill.

 Public schools are often built and managed like prisons. They need to keep students (money) in. Substituting back at my alma-mater, Tucson High, where my father was student body president, it was easy to notice all the new fences and locks.  The administration told me that it was to keep the unwanted (drugs, weapons and such) out. But that was not actually true.  It was instantly clear to all that fences couldn’t keep anything out, but it could keep students in.  That was the point, the administration wanted to keep its students inside, their funding depended upon it.  Even if they ditched all their academic classes, which a good number did, they got funding if they were at school in any sort of organized class.  So, for those that did not want to learn any geometry or what a constitution was, or even how to read it, the administration had a day long GYM class where the willfully ignorant could play basketball and other games all day long.   

 I always wanted to be sent to the schools where substitutes often refused to go. They were always in troubled neighborhoods where broken homes and alcoholism were common. At 6’ 4” and 260, I could look intimidated and had no problem being assigned to the toughest schools.  Had I been a petite gentler soul, as most teachers were, . . . well, I don’t know how they could do it and my respect for them grew enormous.

 In one, I was assigned 8th graders for a week who had to take their class in a portable classroom that had been erected out on the playground because of overcrowding.  As typical, I started the class with roll call. Also, as typical with students hitting their first teen years, they quickly recognized a “substitute-free day” and were a little unruly—many sitting with their backs to me on top of their desks, blurting out some form of “here” when their name was called. When told to sit down some objected that they did not need to listen to me and one simply refused and told me to “fuck off,” to the laughter of a few of his friends. I asked again and got a “go fuck yourself.”

 The inevitable slip was written out, he was shown the door and directed to go to the principal’s office.

 For the next 40 minutes I wavered between abandoning a classroom of unrulies and running outside to stop the “go fuck yourself” student from pelting the portable with bricks.  Just as the bell ending class was about to ring, the air conditioning unit took a direct hit and began to smoke.  As I unplugged it the bell rang, students streamed out the back door with me quickly following to find the vandal.  Seeing me coming he ran around the unit with a couple of his friends. As I chased them, they ran back into the classroom through the front door trashing all the papers and desks and back out the rear door as I entered.

 As I cleaned up, my next class entered.  Each student looked at me and immediately took their seats – might have had something to do with my countenance. I went on with my day.

 At this miserable day’s end, I stood at the one and only exit to the school and saw my thirteen-year-old, “go fuck yourself,” vandal approaching.  I stood in his path and said, “You need to come with me to the principal’s office.”

 As I blocked his escape, making a path to the principal’s office, his only road, he began a torrent of expletives and descriptions of me that were evidence I was with a prodigy. He was, without question, a young and highly skilled linguist. The unending vulgarity cascading from his mouth was a real marvel to behold. During our walk to the principal’s office, I became a “fucker, mother fucker and a fucker’s fucker,” along with being a “queer, bastard, homo, and shit faced cock sucker,” sprinkled with occasional requests to “suck his dick” or “lick his balls.”

 Through the school’s halls and breezeways to the administrative offices we went.

 The school’s principal came out to investigate the disturbance.  When I told her what had happened, she became annoyed, said, “I have no time for this now,” and exited the building. The smiling little snot quickly followed her lead.

 In my portable the next morning there was a note, “Report to the principal’s office immediately.”  As I entered her office, seated across from her was the couple that had bred the little snot, all claiming that I had twisted the little darling’s arm when I walked him.

 With an apologetic, hopeful smile the principal said that such behavior was not tolerated at the school and that she had called me in to prove it so. Then with a glare at me she spat, “Your services are no longer required here Mr. Kimball, pick up your things and go.”

 Did she know me?  Did she hate my politics? Or was she so unsupportive of all her teachers? Stunned, and more than a bit confused I stammered out a quick defense, saying that I never twisted any arm, or acted angrily at all.  Halfway through the principal’s repeated order to leave, another teacher entered the room, then another, and another until the room was jammed with a dozen or so.  They, too, were angry and ready to unload.  For a moment I thought it was at me and I had re-entered some other unworldly Twilight Zone.

 But it wasn’t at me that the teachers focused their anger, they had the principal in their sights.  They had apparently heard I was being discharged and were now surrounding her desk.  

 It turns out that my focus the afternoon before was so riveted on keeping the little snot on the road to the office that I never noticed all the teachers up and down the hall who had come out to investigate the little angel’s torrent of obscenities.

 The principal was still seated at her desk and now a bit flustered herself when the commentary flew from one mouth, then another and another.

 “You are not firing this man!”

 “I have never witnessed anyone subjected to such disgusting abuse as Mr. Kimball was.”  

 “He never got angry or even raised his voice at (whatever that snotty, con-to-be’s name is).”

“He was completely calm, unbelievably calm, never touched that kid.”  

“Did you go see what that kid did to the classroom, to the air conditioning unit?”

 And then my favorite:

“He took that horrid abuse with a dignity that was as awe inspiring to me as it should have been to (the snot’s name again).”

 In the middle of this most amazing and gratifying release from the Twilight Zone, someone said, “Hey, they’ve gone!”

 The snot and his breeders had vacated the building.

 Most importantly, the Grail: In those classes I found that I was very good at signing and stuffing envelopes.  In fact, even 30 years later I still held two Grail seeking records: One was my ability to sign 1000 letters in 20 minutes, the other was to fold, seal and stamp them by the time Johnny Carson went off the air.

(New chapters will be added roughly once a week)

Richard Kimball, Vote Smart Founder

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free pictures of fire


It is impressive to me that my three brothers and I survived adolescence and continue to survive a half century later. In Mom’s lonely years, after Dad died, her sons managed to trash four cars starting with her dream car, her baby blue ’57 Chevy convertible that couldn’t see red lights and ending with me taking her dream’s diminishment, a baby blue VW bug off a 20 ft. cliff. There would be some hard drugs, a lot of booze and a stint in a Mexican prison. Those shorts are not unique or even representative of the worst things my brothers and I did and would do.

But this book is not about us, it is about Me, Me, ME! so let’s stick to the point and go back a few years one more time.

My mother was fun, tough but far less harsh than she should have been. She was the family disciplinarian even when Dad was alive. With Dad you simply feared his disapproval, which was as bad as the world could get for me. With Mom it was a too rare a hand, switch, or belt which on one, forever-to-be-disputed occasion, caused a few deserved but unintended “welts”.

In fourth grade, I thought she was unfair, too tough, but now in reflection it is a marvel that she did not end her misery by just end us all.

The “welts” incident started when my best friends Stevie Bogard and Butchy Becker were playing in the “game room” of our house where my brothers and I had our toys, balls, childhood drawings, and various knicknacks of childom. It was designed and still occasionally used as a place for adult entertainment. It was quite large and everything in it matched: knotty pine walls, ceiling, built in matching knotty pine bar with a knotty pine couch, knotty pine poker table and knotty pine bar stools.

Butchy saw it first, folded and tucked neatly behind the bar’s sink, a $10 bill. It was early December, and I knew the tradition. Each Christmas my grandfather, who couldn’t travel and join us for Christmas sent $10 to buy our Christmas tree. Mom tucked it behind the bar until it was time to make the big buy. But Butchy and Stevie got so excited with the treasure, I got excited too. Treated as treasure found, it was instantly seen as free money, now our money.

After all, I did not actually see Mom place the money there, a crack in the sink was such an odd place to put such a treasure. YEAH! That’s right Butchy, you found lost money, BIG MONEY!” Ten dollars in the 50s, is about as rich as three kids can get.

The negotiations started immediately:

Me — “Sure you found it Butchy, but it is my house, my bar, my sink, so it is my $10.”

Butchy — “OK! We’ll split it”.

Stevie- “Hey, that’s not fair, what about me, I was here too.”

Me — “What are you talking about, you didn’t find it, and this isn’t your house. You don’t get anything”

Stevie — “That’s not right, let’s ask your mother.”

Stevie, who became a very good lawyer as an adult, always had a knack for ending an argument with just the right line.

On the way to the Five and Dime the discussion was all about toys, a new football, a whole bunch of trading cards with gum, or . . . “I got it,” I said, “the toy to beat all toys. We have enough money here to buy each one of us a Zippo cigarette lighter.” The idea was an immediate hit, not because we smoked, at least not yet, but because we were fascinated with what all young men of seven are fascinated with, FIRE.

We were just smart enough to know that the store might not want to sell lighters to kids, so we devised a brilliant and as it turns out successful plan. Since Stevie’s handwriting was clearly at a crude stage and I could barely read, let alone write, we decided Butchy would do the honors. As neatly as he could, which was pretty darn good as I recall, we wrote out: “I hav givn Kimmy $10 to by three liters — (signed) Mrs. Kimball.” I remember that the fellow at the drug store looked at me a little funny but didn’t seem to mind selling us the lighters or that my mom was illiterate. So, with lighters in hand, off we ran toward the arroyo and into neighborhood history.

The arroyo was a dry four-foot-deep rut in the neighborhood landscape that had water in it maybe six days a year. It ran right by our house and was perfect for hiding our mischief. It was sheathed in a thick forest of mesquite trees and at this time of year, tall baked brown grasses.

With all the life-molding first time experiences that would come that day, it wasn’t Mr. Franklin, our neighbor that was first to see the smoke billowing over the neighborhood and did that spectacular rendition of Paul Revere. Nor was it the distant approaching sirens that converged on the scene, not even the odd smacking sound my mother’s lips made when she heard it was me, that sticks most clearly in my mind. It was the speed at which a little Zippo could turn solitude into Armageddon when it touches a few blades of dried grass in a breeze under a forest of parched desert trees.

I can’t remember what happened to Stevie that day, I wasn’t able to see him for a month, but I did hear from my brother about Butchy, who clearly had the best strategy; he ran into his house and immediately bolted himself in the bathroom. After considerable time, his parents finally managed to convince him that he would not be put to death, and he dared to unlock the door.

I, on the other hand, would be put to death immediately. My mother, having struggled with this odd, stupid, and now clearly-dangerous child for some years, cracked. She took me back into what we called the maid’s room, although we had not had a live-in maid for years..

Forced to explain what we had done and how we had done it, she then told me to take off my belt. The fire was not what upset her, it was the “Thou shall not steal” stuff I was about to get it for. She gave me one good whack for every dollar I took.

In time what happened would become a humorous contention between my mother and me until her death 50 years later.

Was it ten good smacks with my cowboy belt or not? Now this is important because in the ’40s and ’50s the world had yet to be completely overrun with synthetics. Belts were leather and if you had a real kid’s cowboy belt it would very likely have a metal tip on the end to keep it from curling up on itself in the wet and grime of kiddom.

free pictures of belts

Never mind that I deserved to be euthanized, she would swear over the years that she would have noticed the tapered metal tip and never used such a thing. I, on the other hand, remember proudly showing the kids in school, with a certain manly pride, the lightly-matching pointed marks on my butt.

Metal tipped or not, I got the best of it. Kids, once adults, are forever blaming their mom’s for imagined errors in their upbringing. The “welts” from the fire of ’56 would become my most effective weapon as I needled my mother for the next half-century, even knowing I had gotten the best of it. I got the $10, the lighters (she assumed the Fire Department or someone else had confiscated them — they had not), and my exaggerated stories about “bloody welts” from the metal whip I was smacked with. The stories were always good for effecting motherly screeches of remorse and denial.

In the end, her defense of all my and my brothers’ transgression was that look of exasperation that every mother successfully past her child rearing duties can appreciate and that shirt she enjoyed wearing emblazoned with, “IT’S ALL MY FAULT”.

New chapters coming once each week — Full book thus far under THE MIRACLE OF ME / autobiography of a nobody

Richard Kimball — Vote Smart Founder

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