Saturday, October 02, 2004

His Political Story

I'll never be a political blogger.

The only presidential candidate I ever campaigned for was John Anderson in 1980. I thought he was brilliant, until he realized what everyone already knew...that he wasn't going to win. So he sold his ideals for campaign donations. I'm certain that's when I stopped believing in what politicians said, and instead started watching what they did. I'm glad I learned the lesson early.

I've met a lot of politicians and elected officials over the years.

I met Gerald Ford in 1992. I was early for a press conference for a Republican candidate for Congress and found myself alone in a room full of food at a fancy hotel in downtown San Antonio. I was stuffing my face with donuts when I felt a tap on my shoulder. My first thought was, "Oh man, it's going to be some political flak telling me the food is for the campaign contributors."

I turned around and there was Gerald Ford. He reached out his hand and said, "Hi, I'm Gerald Ford."

I shook his hand while looking around nervously. There was no one else in the room with us. No secret service, no entourage, only me...Gerald Ford and a plentiful supply of donuts.

My first words were, "Hi...I'm Michael President aren't there supposed to be people around guarding you from people like me?"

He laughed and said he didn't require that much attention and was staying at the hotel so he decided to come down to the banquet hall early. We exchanged small talk for a few moments before the political flaks and the candidate (who's now a congressman) arrived and quickly whisked Mr. Ford as far away from me as possible.

They let me stay by the donuts though.

I first met George W. Bush in 1991. It wasn't over donuts. He was at our radio station campaigning for his father's re-election. At that time, George W. had not held any office and he wasn't very good in dealing with the flurry of conservative talk radio callers who were critical of his father....that "read my lips" flip flop really ticked off those folks, as evidenced by how the 1992 election turned out. I suppose though, George W. was like any son, anxious to defend his dad, but he was obviously uncomfortable and unpolished.

The next time I had a chance to actually speak with him was in 1995 when he was Governor of Texas. It was at an event promoting changes in the state's adoption laws to make it easier for people to adopt, cut through the red tape, and find good homes for more kids in need. The event was held at another San Antonio hotel and it attracted only a handful of local reporters so it was fairly intimate. Mr. Bush was a completely different person from the guy I remembered. His wife was with him and he was charismatic and charming. It was obvious he was passionate about the issue of children and it was obvious as well that he was more comfortable with himself.

I liked that George W. Bush. I still like him, though I see the uncomfortable and unpolished parts of him still.

Bill Clements was governor when I worked in Austin. I never had an intimate conversation with him, but I covered a lot of his events and press conferences. He seemed to always be dressed in a brown polyester suit. Clements was an old school Texas oil man.

He leased an oil rig to the government of Mexico which blew out - dumping millions of gallons of crude oil into the Gulf of Mexico. There were tar balls on beaches from Corpus Christi to the Bay of Campeche. When asked about it Clements said it was "much ado about nothing" and we should "pray for a hurricane."

Quotes like that are like manna from Heaven to a young radio reporter.

While his sense of propriety was non-existent, Clements' sense of humor was often overlooked.

When told that the very liberal Texas Agriculture Commissioner Jim Hightower was learning to speak Spanish, Clements said, "Oh good. Now he'll be bi-ignorant."

Bill Clements was probably as good of a judge of ignorance as anyone.

When I met Ann Richards she was a County Judge. She was funny and passionate. She surrounded herself with people who were passionate too...but many of them were young and inexperienced. They ended up hurting her career and distorting her judgment. They convinced her that George W. Bush didn't stand a chance of defeating her.

Jim Mattox was the State Attorney General when I met him. He was blunt and offended a lot of people with his bullying ways. I got to know him when I covered his trial on commercial bribery charges. He was acquitted, but it tainted him with enough stink to derail his political future. He lost his bid to become Governor to Ann Richards. Some people say Jim Mattox, who abandoned plans to become a Baptist preacher to become a lawyer, was a crook. All I know is that the Jim Mattox I saw in front of the camera was the same guy I saw when the cameras went away.

John Sharp was the State Comptroller for many years - a powerful position in Texas. He was funny and charming, and always good for a clever sound bite. He appeared to work hard at saving taxpayers money, but when you really looked at what he did, he simply shuffled numbers from one column to was mostly slight of hand with a few press releases thrown in for good measure. He was only the second politician I've ever met who didn't hide his hypocrisy from the press. He'd give a wonderful caring speech to school kids, and then walk over to a group of reporters and tell the filthiest jokes I've ever heard. I learned new cuss words from John Sharp.

The only other politician I've met whose hypocrisy was so blatant was a County Commissioner in Montgomery County in East Texas, but I don't think he even realized he was a hypocrite. I won't name him, but he was a former professional boxer who milked his fame into a minor political career. I only met him once. I wanted to interview someone for a story I was doing about Cut and Shoot Texas. He met me at the Cut and Shoot post office for the interview and when we were done he mentioned he was thinking of running for statewide office...Texas Land Commissioner. He said he thought he could help out the people of Texas. I had no reason to doubt him until -as I stood there, microphone still in hand, tape recorder still running - he said to me without blinking, "I just have to figure out how to git the nigger vote."

I was so stunned, I don't think I even replied except to say that if he ever decided to run to please....please call me. He never ran...I never used that tape.

When I first came to San Antonio I grew close to an up and coming State Representative who I thought broke the mold. He was a Harvard graduate, a Texas democrat which meant he was fiscally conservative but more moderate on social issues. He hated the hypocrisy of politicking - glad handing and money raising - and told me as much when I first met him face to face. We had spoken often on the phone, but I didn't meet him in person until several years later. He was devoutly religious, and had abandoned plans to join the clergy to become a prosecutor. He was honest and humble and didn't seem to care about money. I actually considered going to work for him at one time, but something stopped me from giving it more serious thought...probably the memory of John Anderson.

He went on to become a State Senator and then a crusading Texas Attorney General. He even ran for Governor.

Today Dan Morales is a convicted felon. He's serving four years in prison for tax and mail fraud on a plea bargain stemming from his attempts to line his own pockets and the pockets of his friends with some of the 17 billion dollars he strong armed out of the tobacco industry for the state.

No...I'll never be a political blogger. There's too much personal history for me to give any type of objective opinion.

I do believe though that we should learn from history. That's why back in July I bookmarked something that Katy at wrote.

Maybe you'll think it's worth reading and remembering too.