Category Archives: Republican Politics

Talking for Cash

Mitt Romney generated a bit of a flap back in January when he said he got “speaker’s fees from time to time, but not very much.”

According to his financial disclosure statements, from February 2010 to February 2011, that “not very much” added up to $374,327.62 in the 12 months before February 2011.

Words, like so many other things, have become a commodity that can go up or down in value, based on who’s uttering them and why. Celebrities, whether political, journalistic, sports or entertainment, can often command big fees for the star power they can bring to an event. Others, like a struggling author hoping to generate some attention for a book or a candidate trying to break into the headlines, may be more willing to make an investment of time and energy, without regard to whether they will actually get paid.

Back in 1965, when she was chairman of the Michigan Republican Party, Elly Peterson helped organize 10 dinners around the state on the same night, each featuring a prominent Republican. The goal was to help the party reduce its campaign debts. Ten Republicans, including New York Governor Nelson Rockefeller, accepted the invitations. But Ronald Reagan, who was then making speeches as a warm-up to runinng for governor in California, did not. “He would come only if he got a big percentage of the take or $20,000 flat,” Peterson recalled. “He didn’t come. We didn’t want him. Overnight we paid off a big sum.”

Reagan apparently continued this practice until the mid-1970s, when, the late Lyn Nofziger recalled, aides advised him that this was the way to build political loyalty. Thus, I found it interesting that in the year before he was planning to mount a campaign for the presidency, Mitt Romney apparently decided to charge a substantial amount for making speeches of his own.

Now Romney’s not the only one, of course. Newt Gingrich said his going rate is $60,000 a speech, and former presidents like George W. Bush and Bill Clinton can command even more. Setting a high fee is also, arguably, a way to keep every small-town Chamber of Commerce or second-string trade association from bugging, It’s like the old adage, “If you have to ask, you can’t afford it.”

Call me old-fashioned or call me merely jealous, but I’m troubled by the idea of politicians making money this way. Certainly, Mitt Romney is  now talking for free to whomever will take the time to listen to him. But one wonders whether there might be a bit more enthusiasm for him today, if he had given a bit more time a few years ago to share his passion for free, rather than to line his pockets.

Especially when he wasn’t exactly going hungry.

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Filed under Presidential Campaigns, Republican Politics, The Writing Life

The Mother as Candidate

Sheryl Gay Stolberg of The New York Times quotes my book in a front-page story about Lenore Romney’s 1970 race for the U.S. Senate. The accompanying video has some great clips of Mitt Romney’s mother from her appearances as a candidate and first lady in Michigan in the 1962-70 vintage.

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The Michigan GOP Presidential Primary, 1976

As the Republican presidential primary race has unfolded this year, commentators have noted that all the campaign contributions and televised ads mean little if a candidate doesn’t have an organization. Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, for example, failed to meet the somewhat stringent requirements to get on the Republican presidential primary ballot in Virginia, the state where he now lives.

President Gerald R. Ford nearly suffered the same fate in 1976. The Ford campaign, it turns out, came very close to missing the filing deadline for the Republican presidential primary in Michigan, Ford’s home state.

The little-known story turns up in the personal papers of Elly Peterson, the moderate Republican leader who is the subject of my recent book, Elly Peterson: ‘Mother’ of the Moderates. Peter Fletcher, then the Republican national committeeman from Michigan, also recounted it when he provided a videotaped oral history for the Michigan Political History Society. On March 15, 1976, four days before the primary’s filing deadline, Fletcher discovered that the Ford campaign had failed to file the necessary papers to get the incumbent president’s name on the Michigan primary ballot.

Peterson was an old friend of Fletcher’s; at that point, she was serving as the volunteer co-chair of ERAmerica, but had not yet been recruited to join the Ford campaign. Fletcher wrote and told her that when he had tried to alert the President Ford Committee, “the big legal brains said I was wrong. Sent them back to their law books and they called back confessing I was right.” Fletcher was asked to go to Detroit Metropolitan Airport and wait so that he could hand-deliver the appropriate papers after they arrived on a plane. He told Peterson they never arrived. He concluded cynically: “Renews my confidence in the strong hands of leadership in which we have entrusted the future of our nation.” Fletcher eventually received the affidavits, and said he delivered them with only two hours to spare.

Ford’s name went on the ballot, and he beat Ronald Reagan in the May 18 primary by a margin of 2 to 1, stemming a tide of primary defeats that might have ended his presidential election hopes right there. That night, he captured 55 delegates to 29 for Reagan.  Reagan eventually lost at the convention by a margin of 1,187 delegates for Ford to 1,070 for Reagan. If Reagan had captured all 84 Michigan delegates in that topsy-turvy campaign year, it might have made the decisive difference in the race.

Stuart Spencer, deputy chairman of the Ford campaign, later said, “I have always maintained—and a lot of his right-wing friends think I am nuts—that Reagan was lucky he got beaten in the 1976 primaries. He would not have won that race: Jimmy Carter was going to carry the South, and without the South, Reagan could not have won in 1976. But come 1980, after Carter had basically had a bad presidency, Reagan was the beneficiary. He has always been a lucky politician.”

As this year’s Republican primary battle drags on, actually being on the ballot becomes more and more critical.

 

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Video of My Appearance on C-SPAN’s Book TV

http://www.c-spanvideo.org/program/Elly

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Filed under In Peterson's Words, Politics and Journalism, Republican Politics, The Writing Life, Women in Politics

Teens for Dad

Okay, first a confession. After driving eight hours home from a vacation on Saturday, I settled into my armchair to catch the final moments of coverage of the Republican straw poll in Ames, Iowa, surely one of the most bizarre spectacles in a presidential campaign season that promises to be full of them. As the cable news shows recounted highlights of the candidates’ pitches to their paid-for voters, Rick Santorum’s caught my attention.

Santorum was on a stage with his wife and four of his seven children–the sons, who range in age from about 18 to 10. Santorum thanked the boys for all the telephone canvassing they had done on his behalf, and joked to the crowd that there probably wasn’t a person present who had not received a phone call from one of them.

I was curious about the boys. It’s quite possible that in the tightly-knit, “family values” world of the Santorums, they are actually quite dedicated to their father’s campaign and the views he espouses. Or it’s possible that their smiles and phone calls were extracted as part of a negotiation over something else they wanted (sports car, TV in bedroom, Iphone?) Or it’s possible that the Santorums simply imposed their parental will–“you WILL go to Iowa, you WILL call potential supporters and you WILL be polite.”

No matter which scenario is closest to the truth, there’s one candidate in the pack who might identify with the Santorum boys, and that’s Mitt Romney.  George Romney, Mitt’s father, first ran for public office when Mitt was 15. In her self-published memoir, Elly Peterson recounted how Mitt would sometimes accompany Peterson and his mother, Lenore Romney, when they campaigned around the state on behalf of the Michigan gubernatorial candidate. She recalled how the religious convictions of Romney senior could be a source of amusement for the rest of the family. On one trip near Traverse City, she recounted:

“We consulted the maps which showed a road that looked like it went over the water. In talking about it, Mitt kept returning to the fact that the road had to be okay because the map showed it.

Finally, his mother, in exasperation, said, ‘Oh, Mitt, you know good and well a road will not go over water unless there is a bridge.’

‘Oh, that’s right,’  Mitt comes back, ‘Dad isn’t here!’ ”

As it turned out, Mitt missed out on his own father’s failed presidential campaign five years later because he was off in France, performing Mormon missionary service.

One wonders whether the Santorum boys think THEIR father walks on water…or whether, off camera, you could find them off in a tent at the Iowa state fair, making snarky comments over a fried butter stick.

No matter which, they are certainly not experiencing the summer of a typical American teenager….for better or for worse.

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Remembering Betty Ford

I was sad to hear the news that Betty Ford had died, but happy that she was remembered as a First Lady who had made a difference. It’s hard now to remember how astonishing her  announcements that she had breast cancer, and, later, an addiction to painkillers were at the time.

Elly Peterson was not a longtime close friend of Betty Ford’s, but I know she admired her, and they worked closely together in the mid-seventies, when Peterson worked in Gerald R. Ford’s presidential campaign and served as co-chair of ERAmerica. Betty Ford was not afraid to  speak her mind, and make reasonable pronouncements about the world in which she lived, no matter the political consequences. Her children might be smoking marijuana, her daughter might live with someone before she was married, it was better for women to have abortions in medical facilities than in back alleys. Of course, that was not necessarily good politics as far as her husband was concerned, but so be it. She was certainly a breath of fresh air, no matter your age or political perspective.

Betty Ford’s commitment to the Equal Rights Amendment was important to Peterson, and other moderate women who were working for ratification of the amendment in the mid-1970s. When Peterson served as deputy chairman of the President Ford Committee in 1976, she recognized that Betty Ford was an asset who could help attract moderate women to support the president. Even after her husband was defeated in 1976, the former First Lady played an important role in continuing to support the Equal Rights Amendment. At the National Women’s Conference in Houston in 1977, Betty Ford and Rosalynn Carter served as honorary co-chairs of a rally in support of ERA that was attended by 4,000 persons. It was a demonstration that at the time, there was strong bipartisan support for the amendment. Ford remained a vocal advocate for the ERA at least through 1980, when the Republican National Convention failed–for the first time in many years–to endorse the ERA in its platform.

As I was wrapping up the research on my book, I interviewed Kathleen Currie, who had served as the PR person for ERAmerica. She commented on Peterson’s political savvy and her lack of ego in pursuing the ERA campaign. She recalled that Peterson’s attitude was “I don’t have to be on the podium for this to work,” and “Why do you need me when we could have Betty Ford?”

Persons younger than me will probably forever associate Betty Ford’s name with celebrity addiction. I don’t think she would mind that, but it would be nice if she were remembered for more than that.

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Filed under Minding the Middle, Republican Politics, Women in Politics

Michele, Phyllis and Elly

Detroit News columnist Laura Berman offers this commentary on my book.

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