Political Baptism II

1987 was a busy year for me in politics. Not only was I the Secretary-Treasurer of the UFCW Iowa Branch and the Secretary-Treasurer of the local union, UFCW Local 440, I was the Chair of the Crawford County Democratic Party. I had contact with most of the Democratic Party presidential candidates that year.

The Iowa Caucuses were scheduled to occur in February of 1988. In the late months of December 1987, I received a call from Denny Colvin, the President of the UFCW Iowa Branch. He told me that Louie DeFriese, President of UFCW Local 431 in Davenport wanted a meeting of the PAC. So, Denny scheduled a meeting of all Iowa Branch local representatives to meet at the union hall in Cedar Rapids, Denny’s local union. I thought it was odd that someone who is not the president would want to schedule a meeting, but then, I didn’t know who Louie DeFriese was. Before I left on a drive to Cedar Rapids, I was informed that Louie was a longtime union organizer/president and a huge donor to the Democratic Party and many of its candidates.

I arrived in Cedar Rapids and learned that the International Union’s political vice-president from Washington, DC, was also invited. The purpose of the meeting was to endorse Michael Dukakis. I said, “wait a minute! I have polled my membership and discovered that ‘undecided’ is the preferred choice of our membership, with Jesse Jackson coming in second.” I may have been naïve, but I could see that DeFriese was looking for some sort of position in the Dukakis White House. We didn’t have a considerable amount of money in the PAC, maybe a few thousand dollars, but I convinced a majority of the other representatives that our money could be better spent on statewide candidates like Dale Cochran for Secretary of Agriculture, Elaine Baxter for Secretary of State, and Jo Ann Zimmerman for Lieutenant Governor.

That summer I received several telephone calls from Senator Paul Simon (D-Ill.) My daughter, Sara, answered the phone in our house – she was a teenager. Sara and Senator Simon became familiar with each other to the point of talking to each other on a first-name basis. Senator Simon impressed me so much when I was at the IFL Convention in Waterloo. I was walking down a hallway in the hotel, and Senator Simon was walking with an entourage toward me. He asked me how Sara was doing. It blew my mind.

I received a FedEx overnight letter from Governor Dukakis asking for my support. Congressperson Gephardt asked my daughter, Erin, to come stand by him during a speech at Cronk’s Café to emphasize the importance of children in the race, and U.S. Senator Joe Biden did the same. I had lunch with the Rev. Jesse Jackson at Cronk’s Café in Denison where he autographed his book for me. He was wearing a bulletproof vest.

The County Democrats had a fundraiser at Yellow Smoke Park, northeast of Denison, and seven candidates showed up: Dukakis, Simon, Jackson, Gephardt, Biden, Arizona Governor Babbitt, and U.S. Senator Al Gore. It was a warm summer day, and more than one candidate quietly told me that Gore was a fool to speak while wearing his wool jacket. The rest had gone as far as rolling up their sleeves and removing their ties. It was a great honor to individually introduce each candidate.

I was politically confirmed at that point in my life. I became the County Chair of the party because I did something no one else had done. At a central committee meeting, the current chair asked if anyone wanted to be in charge of the GOV (Get Out the Vote) Campaign. I volunteered. I didn’t know that previous campaign leaders took the computer printout and did nothing with it. I recruited several people to help me, phones were installed in the union office, and every person on that list was called. On election day, Democrats had won seats in every office of the county, from sheriff to auditor, to county attorney, and supervisor. Crawford County had one elected official that was Republican. We even had a Democratic state senator and representative. Unfortunately, our congressional representative was a Republican (Jim Ross Lightfoot), and so was our governor (Branstad). I was shocked when I was nominated to be the chair, but I also accepted the challenge to keep the county blue. Today, it is bright red! There is one Democrat serving as a county supervisor.

Governor Dukakis was third in the Iowa Caucuses with 22.3 percent. I doubt $2,000 was going to help him win the Iowa Caucuses. Congressperson Gephardt won the Iowa Caucuses that year with 31.1 percent, and U.S. Senator Simon (Ill.) came in second with 26.5 percent.

I wound up caucusing for and being a delegate for “undecided” because there were no other candidates in my caucus who were viable.

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One Response to Political Baptism II

  1. Michael Scott says:

    What a nice story about Paul Simon and the friendship created with your daughter. A genuine gentleman. He took the time.
    Recap – Great memory of recollection you have, MT. Your posts are like reading a history book. Keep them coming.

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