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I must confess my guilt.


Hardly a day has gone by these past nine years when I haven’t gotten up in the morning, opened my computer and hoped to hear news of Trumps fatal heart attack or brain aneurysm. He has represented all that I have opposed in life – honor, truth and decency.

He is a danger to all that I believe.  I can’t say that my feelings do not border on hate, which is exactly what he has generated, not just against him but against each other, which for me is unforgiveable, both for him and for me.

Richard Kimball, Vote Smart Founder 1988

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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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The headlines tomorrow will NOT use the words intelligent, thoughtful or useful.

 Political slapstick has NOTHING to do with leadership. The debate may generate great interest as its promotion has saturated the news coverage day after day after day, but you will only get a picture of what each candidate’s directors, producers, editors and even costume designers have labored over many weeks.

If you want the best vessel to deliver a product, whether it be Cambell’s soup, Kellogg’s cereal or a President, this is the show for you.

I may just watch some Abbott and Costello!

Richard Kimball, Vote Smart Founder

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This week’s favorite stories.

As American lives experience the best in all human time and citizens find time to turn and eat themselves, I find time for the little stories that speak to our basic natures.  

 This week I ran into these morsels:

Bags of poop are being ballooned from North Korea into South Korea, triggering air raid warnings to our troops.

Murdoch The Magnificent, the most rewarded sculpturist of fecal messaging, finally purchases his master peace of love with a fifth “Hail Mary” buy.

Richard Kimball, Vote Smart Founder

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

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

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

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

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

             A sign I had hung on every office entrance.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

  (New chapters will be added roughly once a week)

Richard Kimball, Vote Smart Founder 1988

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NOW IT’S CHILLY – Chapter 61

           WE GOTTA GO

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 The Grail was as far away as ever.


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

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

(New chapters will be added roughly once a week)

Richard Kimball, Vote Smart Founder 1988

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(New chapters will be added roughly once a week)

Richard Kimball, Vote Smart Founder 1988

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When last did any of us have an intelligent thoughtful conversation on a political issue?

  I once lived on politics. At parties, dinners, or gatherings of any sort I so enjoyed the give and take of anyone foaming forth with political opinion.  I enjoyed it most when secretly agreeing, I would take an opposing view and put the greatest value when my view of things had been changed.  Nothing engages more than that moment in an argument when you realize you are wrong.

 My wife referred to it as my “party games.”

 It is such no more.  Most have simply become what they choose to listen to and what they listen to is what they want to hear.

 Political discussion has devolved into angry, simplistic argument, regurgitating this self-serving media source or that.   Who speaks loudest, most fervently often feels victorious but only hardens what might be a less demagogic, respectful opposition. Views are never changed.

 You can look back over the past decades and witness how thoughtful conversation evaporated into slogans, or in today’s vernacular “narratives” successfully punching their way into the public mind, like easy to grasp, quickly satisfying Big Macks.

  Absurdly, there is no longer communion on facts.  It is no longer a world as one of my past employers put it on the Senate floor, “You are entitled to your opinion. But you are not entitled to your own facts.”  Today everyone claims the facts. Without a trusted source of what is fact and what is not, voters simply choose the facts they like.  

 There will never be more Lincoln Douglas style debates that consume the nation’s interest, no longer the hours long arguments atop soap boxes in public squares that followed the American revolution and certainly not the long thought out through examinations of public issues discussed in Greece or the Roman Forum – times and places where the art of argument was a studied and appreciated art that enabled an attentive citizenry capable of self-governance.

  Today, a voter’s political discussion is what remains after Dancing with the Stars, American Idol, TikTok and a thousand more attractive entertainments consuming their time.  For most, the time left for the “downer” politics has become, is just enough to get a Big Mack loaded with the simplistic self-satisfying nonsense some cook gets voters to eat.

Richard Kimball, Vote Smart Founder

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  free image of bumpy road

AI will transform everything in your life.  Knowledge of you and everyone else will become increasingly detailed and intimate.  Entirely because it enables the ability to drive you and all the billions of us to go this way or that is worth everything money can buy. 

 It just won’t matter when the responsible few we now elect try to catch up and cage it.  No punishment can match the gold to be had.

  AI could also lead to unimaginable GOOD, but little interest or real money is being applied to that.

 There was once a chance with an organization open to complete exposure, a balanced board of political enemies, a refusal of support from selfish interests and everyone giving instead of taking. It has gone and unless such a being can be recreated you are headed into the dark so, “Fasten your seatbelts, it is going to be a bumpy night!”.

Richard Kimball, Vote Smart Founder

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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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What a half-assed threat Biden delivers to Netan-yahoo and his vengeful, rightwing Hitleresque thugs attempting to exterminate Palestinians civilians.

We should be doing nothing less than opening America’s own humanitarian corridors to feed and water those staving, thrusting, bloodied civilians. That is the tradition American and Israel’s creation was built upon.

Richard Kimball, Vote Smart Founder

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                                    New Arrivals

                               Researchers taking a picture break                                    

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

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

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

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

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

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

                      Full page ad New York Times

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

 More users, but still little financial help!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    National Bus Tour

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

                Vote Smart Follies Thespians

     Summer Olympics, Vote Smart Style

(New chapters will be added roughly once a week)

Richard Kimball, Vote Smart Founder 1988

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 It has become impossible to reprise the number of idiocies Trump has spewed, laws being eviscerated, or institutions emasculated.  Standards that took 234 years of freedom to build and 1.2 million lives to defend, all now under the shadow of a boot.


As one member of my own party and official of the National Democratic Committee nastily growled, as he leaned into my face,  “ Richard, It is not our job to educate, it is our job to win!”

  Americans are learning to hate each other, not because of Trump, but because of the door we all opened and asked someone, anyone to walk through. Trump was just the irresponsible nincompoop standing in that door at the right time.

 It is not unfamiliar to you or millions of other citizens that most politicians began soiling themselves as far back as the mid-1990s with Gingrich and Clinton. Citizens are not blind to the decades of chicanery that eventually convinced so many that someone, anyone, needs to mix it up and blow it up.

 How many times have you heard a Trump supporter say, “I don’t like everything he does or says, but….”

 Horror is what politicians preach along with much of the media. Be careful what you wish for, whatever that wish may be. You would be a fool to want to be alive during any generation of Americans other than the one you are.

Richard Kimball, Vote Smart Founder

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(New chapters will be added roughly once a week)

Richard Kimball, Vote Smart Founder 1988

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

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

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

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

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

Richard Kimball, Vote Smart Founder

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 Vote Smart’s offices.

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

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

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

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

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

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

(New chapters will be added roughly once a week)

Richard Kimball, Vote Smart Founder 1988

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 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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I have not written about politics lately.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Richard Kimball, Vote Smart Founder

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AGORA FARMS – Chapter 53



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(New chapters will be added roughly once a week)

Richard Kimball, Vote Smart Founder 1988

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