Tuesday, July 13, 2004

Natural Disaster will perform at 4 p.m. Saturday at the Sane Mule Motorcycle Shop near Boulder City. It should be an interesting gig.
Our leader, Richard Taylor, who normally is the lead guitarist, will be the drummer. This comes after his stint playing bass at the Johnson Family Show last month. Our regular drummer, John Scott, is in California visting relatives. With Richard on drums, Mark McClintock plays lead guitar, Tim Brazelton is on bass, and I play the shaker and chip in with vocals. Richard sings lead on about half of the songs and I do the other half.
Our rehearsal Monday night at Tim's house went well. We started with our usual opening number, "Kansas City," and went right through the list to "Blue Suede Shoes," which we have been using to close our shows right from the beginning.I am really liking the new songs we have added to our repertoire, including Roy Orbison's "Pretty Woman," and the Chancellors' "Little Latin Lupe Lu," which I sing, and "Made in Japan" and "Take My Hand, Precious Lord," which Richard sings.
We're not expecting too many people to be there to listen to the music. Most of them spend the day on their motorcycles zipping around the country. When they return to the shop, it's usually to get something to eat and drink.
Fortunately, we will get paid for this gig. Not with money, but with something even better, especially concerning the weather...ice cream.
Speaking of ice cream, our practice Monday night prevented me from going to an event I have attended each presidential election year since 1992, the Lincoln Ladies Ice Cream Social at Memorial Hall in Carthage. As you might be able to tell from the name, the Lincoln Ladies are Republican. I am not. However, ice cream is a universal language so I have always made it a point to attend.
Also, despite the bad name it gets from 24-hour cable news networks and late night comedians, politics is a great spectator sport.
My first political experience came when I was a junior at East Newton High School and convinced a senior, Wayne Johnson, to run for the East Newton R-6 Board of Education. Wayne received three write-in votes,if I remember correctly, and we both were captivated by politics.
The following December (1973), I convinced Wayne that he should run as a write-in candidate for Newton County Court (what is today known as the Newton County Commission). We didn't believe that an 18-year-old could get his name on the ballot. We started the write-in campaign with me writing a letter to the editor to the Neosho Daily News and Wayne signing his name to it. In the letter, I complained about the condition of the county roads and claimed the County Court had done nothing about it, so I would have to run for county court from the Eastern District as a write-in candidate. The incumbent was a Republican named Bill O'Neal. Wayne was a Democrat.
Neosho Daily reporter Bill Ball did something that Wayne and I should have done...he actually checked the state law to see if Wayne had to run as a write-in. He discovered that an 18-year-old could legally run for county court. All of this was revealed on page one. It was priceless publicity.
I served as Wayne's campaign manager and a lot of things fell into place. Wayne by this time was a freshman at Missouri Southern State College. He was taking a basic political science course taught by Annetta St. Clair, a mover and shaker in Jasper County Democratic politics. (She is still big in area politics 30 years later) Mrs. St. Clair required her students to participate in a political campaign. It didn't matter if it were Democrat or Republican, she said, thought it seemed the students who worked for Democratic candidates received higher grades. Many of the students volunteered to work for Wayne.
That helped us do something that had not been done in Newton County politics up to that time...a door-to-door campaign of the entire Eastern District. Up until that time, candidates usually did a small amount of door-to-door, worked the party dinners, and left their cards at stores and laundromats.
We made it our goal to visit every house in the district, including the Joplin area of Newton County. Though we initially had some help from the MSSC students, most of the door-to-door campaigning was done by Wayne, his girlfriend (now his wife) Rhonda Trammell,an EN graduate and MSSC student from Granby named Gary Judd, and me.
We were shocked to discover that Wayne was the first Newton County candidate anyone could remember campaigning in the Joplin area.
We campaigned in Joplin, Granby, Diamond, Newtonia, Ritchey, Stark City, Fairview, and Stella, where I received my first speeding ticket.
In the Democratic primary we faced the mayor of Fairview, Richard Harter. He didn't do any campaigning, as far as we could ascertain, and we rolled over him in August. The Republican incumbent,Bill O'Neal, decided not to run for reelection, another break for us, so we were up against a man from Joplin whose name escapes me (ah, the perils of old age). I remember his first name was Larry and that's about it. The general election wasn't even close, and at 18, Wayne Johnson was the youngest county court judge ever elected in this state.
He served one two-year term. By this time, he was married to Rhonda and needed more money so he decided to run for county clerk in 1976. Unfortunately for Wayne, he no longer had me working for him, and even if he had, he was not going to beat former county collector Bob Bridges, a popular Republican who had decided to make a political comeback.
Last I heard of Wayne he was selling used cars in Broken Arrow, Okla. As far as I know, he has never made any effort to get back into politics.
That was the last time I served as campaign manager for a local candidate. I served in an advisory capacity on a couple of Newton County races over the next few years, but my next foray into politics didn't come until 1984.
I debated whether to do it, because I always believed that newspaper reporter should steer away from participating in politics, but the lure of presidential politics was too great, so I became Barton County campaign manager for Colorado Senator Gary Hart, who was running for president.
This was in the days before Missouri went to a presidential primary. Instead, delegates to the Seventh District Democratic Convention were selected through the caucus process.
We met on a Tuesday night in the Lamar Trust Company community room. It was an experience I will never forget. The Barton County Democratic party was split into two factions, the older group, which was supporting former Vice President Walter Mondale and the younger group, which included the county's Democratic officeholders, Presiding Commissioner Doug Haile, County Clerk Bonda Rawlings (who is still serving in that position) and County Assessor Doug Sprouls. Others who were on the Gary Hart side were my fiancee, Penny Culp, a recent high school graduate named Edith Epple, who coincidentally now works at Lamar Bank and Trust Company, and the town pharmacist, Ron Wrestler. If Ron's wife had been involved, I could have said it was a coalition of the young and the wrestlers, but she wasn't there.
The head of the county Democrats, Dr. Tom Carroll, went through his usual procedure as he prepared to call for the first vote or caucus. He asked if anyone wanted to say a few words for either of the candidates. In the past, no one had. This time, I had written a speech supporting the Hart candidacy. It went pretty well, but no one had one prepared for Mondale.One elderly lady tried and it was almost laughable.
Though my speech was easily better, there were still several more Mondale supporters at the caucus, so when the first vote was taken, Mondale won by about 10 votes. Since Barton County could send two delegates to the district convention, Dr. Carroll said both delegates would support Mondale.
I had read the rules carefully before the caucus and knew that was not the way it should be. Hart was close enough that he should have one delegate. I argued the point, but Dr. Carroll wasn't going to budge. Finally, he said he would call the State Democratic Committee. He tried numerous times, but was unable to get through.
Finally, he said, "We'll just take one more vote and that should settle it." I started to protest, but Doug Haile, who was a far wiser man than I, said, "Don't worry about it, Randy. It's going to turn out all right."
I didn't understand how he could think this. Gary Hart was getting robbed of a delegate. But when the vote was taken, Hart won by four votes. I asked Doug how he knew. "People don't feel that strongly about Mondale or Hart, Randy, but they feel very strongly about cheaters."
Dr. Carroll was conciliatory. "Well, I guess each candidate will get one delegate," he said. I was tempted to argue the point, but wisely decided not to.
I would have been Gary Hart's campaign manager again in 1988, except for his bad reaction to the press trying to hunt down rumors that he was a womanizer. He challenged the press to prove it. They staked out his hotel and discovered that a sexy young blonde named Donna Rice was meeting secretly with him. Later, the National Enquirer came up with a photo of Miss Rice, wearing a micro-mini skirt sitting on Hart's lap on a friend's yacht, which had the unfortunate name of "Monkey Business." Hart's candidacy was over before it really even started. He dropped out of the race, dropped back in later, but by that time it was too late. (Ironically, Miss Rice has been back in the news recently as head of an organization that battles pornography.)
That was my last venture into presidential politics.
And that brings me to my first visit to the Lincoln Ladies Ice Cream Social.
By this time, I was a general assignment reporter for The Carthage Press. The 1992 gubernatorial race (I threw that word in there for Alicia Bradley's benefit) was the most interesting state race I can remember. Three state officeholders, Secretary of State Roy Blunt, Treasurer Wendell Bailey, and Attorney General Bill Webster were running on the Republican ticket, while Lieutenant Governor Mel Carnahan was the only viable Democratic candidate. I had a chance to interview all four men. Carnahan's last visit to Carthage came on March 30, since Democrats traditionally have not done well in southwest Missouri. All three Republican candidates were invited to the Lincoln Ladies Social held only one week before the August primary. No one really wanted Roy Blunt or Wendell Bailey there. The event was designed as a coronation for Carthage's native son, Bill Webster.
I was never a big fan of Bill Webster. To me, he has a lot in common with the current president, George W. Bush. Both are Republicans who were elected to office because they had powerful fathers. Neither of them ever showed me anything that would indicate they deserved their high offices. Richard Webster, at one time had been Speaker of the House in Missouri, then later served three decades until his death in 1989 as the top Republican in the State Senate.
About six hours before the ice cream social, I had the opportunity to interview Roy Blunt at the radio station in Lamar. After the interview I was talking to the woman he was married to at that time and asked her if her husband was going to brave the lion's den that night. She said he had an engagement at Aurora and probably would not be able to make it.
At that moment, Roy Blunt, who had been talking to another reporter, showed that he had been following our conversation. "You know," he said, "I might just brave the lion's den after all."
It was probably the greatest act of political courage I have seen in this area. No one wanted Roy Blunt in Carthage that night.
When I arrived at Memorial Hall, the place was decorated in red, white and blue. Of course, I went straight to the ice cream before I examined the decor very much more. Candidate posters lined the wall. Cute young women in red, white and blue outfits wore their Webster for Governor buttons proudly.
Candidates for county office and state representative and senator worked the crowd, shaking hands, kissing babies, doing whatever they could to persuade people to support their candidacies.
Bill Webster, who was also at that dinner in Aurora, had not yet arrived. Shortly before the candidate speeches began, as I watched the parking lot to see when Webster would arrived, a small car pulled in. Roy Blunt had arrived.
I stationed myself by the door. I wanted to capture the reaction the Carthage faithful would have when this infidel crossed into sacred territory.
The secretary of state walked through the door as if it were just another political event. A few gasps were audible. I heard one older woman say, "What's he doing here?" making it seem as if an ex-con had just entered the church.
Other similar sentiments were expressed everywhere I went. One man said, "I'm not going to vote for him, but I'll give him credit. He's got guts."
After shaking a few hands, Blunt made his way to the stage and sat down on a folding chair to await his turn to speak.
Still near the door, I heard the sound of a helicopter approaching. It didn't take a genius to figure out that Bill Webster had arrived.
The chopper landed in the parking lot by Memorial Hall and Webster climbed out. He made no move to enter the building.
Since the big story was Webster and Blunt, I left Memorial Hall and tried to get a brief interview with Webster. I was successful, but as usual he didn't say much and what he did say was not very impressive.
Inside, the speeches continued through the candidates for county office, then state office, until finally it was time for the governor's race. Since Wendell Bailey was a no-show, Roy Blunt went first. He made a joke about Webster offering him a ride on his helicopter, but he decided to take his car instead of being strapped to a blade. It didn't even receive polite laughter, though I have to admit I was amused.
After that, Blunt gave his stump speech. It was a good one and the Jasper County audience gave him a polite, though definitely reserved response. They gave the secretary of state time to leave the building, then the big show began.
The lights were turned off except for one big spotlight trained toward the back of Memorial Hall. A tape player began playing Bruce Springsteen's "Born in the USA." The applause began and everyone stood as Bill Webster finally entered the building. As far as I was concerned, all he had shown was that he (and his supporters) thought he was too good to sit with the rest of the candidates. Besides, that would have spoiled the coronation.
Red, white and blue balloons were released from the balcony. As Webster strode down the aisle, he removed his dark blue jacket and for a moment, I really thought he was going to toss it into the crowd. It was like he was some kind of a god, or even worse, a rock star.
It was the same speech I had heard him give elsewhere and Bill Webster was not a particularly good public speaker, but his fans ate it up. This is what they had come to see.
A week later, I was at the Capital Plaza Hotel in Jefferson City on the night of the primary election. I had talked Carthage Press Managing Editor Neil Campbell into sending me to cover it since this would be the first time a Carthage native had ever received a party's nomination for governor...if he received it.
The outcome was in doubt because Blunt had run a series of devastating ads pointing out Webster's crooked dealings with the state's second injury fund. It would take quite a while to explain what the fund was, but what Webster did was plain and simple, he took bribes and he rewarded the people who gave them to him.
That was one of my best evenings as a reporter. I spent the evening with two gorgeous women. Unfortunately, the first part of the evening was spent having dinner with one of the women and her husband. Then that woman, her teenage daughter and I went to the Webster party. (That has always been the way my luck has run.)
The liquor was flowing freely at the Webster bash. (I'll quickly point out that I didn't drink any since I haven't had any alcohol since I was 14 years old.) A small combo was playing a combination of jazz and big band tunes and a number of people were dancing. They were dressed to the nines.
Tony Feather, a Sarcoxie native and Webster's press secretary, told me I could have a 10-minute interview with Webster. I waited patiently. Later, he returned and told me it would have to be a five-minute interview. I said that would be fine.
As usual, I had my clipboard with my yellow legal pad out, jotting down notes, getting description of everything, adding atmosphere to my story. Tony Feather returned and told me I wouldn't be able to get a one-on-one interview with the attorney general. I would have to do it as a group interview with other print reporters.
After the election returns were in and it was obvious that Webster was the party's choice to face Mel Carnahan in the general election, Webster emerged and immediately went to the bank of television cameras situated at a side of the room.
The other print reporters stood and watched as Webster ran the gauntlet. He walked from one television reporter to the next, letting each TV station interview him for as long as it needed. A female reporter from a Columbia station removed her black pumps (then she took her shoes off, just kidding) climbed on top of a chair and asked Webster if he would mind standing on the chair next to her. The man who was being described as "our next governor" was happy to oblige.
The print reporters stood around, complaining to each other. How were they going to get their stories. I was busy getting mine. I walked around behind the bank of television cameras where Mrs. Webster was standing with Tony Feather. "Mrs. Webster, do you have time for a few questions?" She said she did. I asked about how she was feeling at this historic moment, then I asked her about how she felt about the Roy Blunt ads. Believe me, I had my story.
I never got my Webster interview, but I hung around close. I wrote about what happened. I wrote the story on my interview with Mrs. Webster. It was a great experience for me as a reporter. It was a disaster for the state of Missouri.
I drove home that night, reaching Carthage a little after 5 a.m. I wrote my stories and went home a little after 7.
Bill Webster's decision to continue his candidacy for governor set in motion a chain of events that has had ramifications to this day.
The charges against him were the centerpiece of the November election, which Carnahan won easily. Bill Webster was later convicted and sentenced to two years in prison. A man who was at one time the state's top crimefighter, was nothing but a criminal. The state's top attorney had his law license stripped from him. (In the one-page retrospective I wrote for The Press about Webster's career, I found some interesting photos to accompany it, including some I took that night in Jefferson City, and believe it or not a photo of Webster when he was Carthage Senior High School Prom king.)
If Webster had done the right thing and dropped out of the race, it is possible the following things would have happened.
-Roy Blunt, not Mel Carnahan, would have been elected governor. The Republican party was well ahead in the polls for other offices, but the Webster scandal dragged it down.
-If Blunt had been elected governor, Carnahan would not have been killed in the 2000 plane crash that occurred as he was running for the U. S. Senate after spending two terms as governor.
-Because of the sympathy factor after Carnahan's death, he was elected to the U. S. Senate posthumously over John Ashcroft. In other words, if Webster had dropped out of the governor's race, we would never have had to have John Ashcroft as U. S. attorney general.
It's fascinating to think about, but ultimately it is an exercise in futility.
The sad thing is, there are still many people in Carthage who think that Bill Webster was railroaded. How many times did I hear people say, "He wasn't doing anything that everyone else isn't doing."
Well, he was. Bill Webster was a crook. He got what he deserved.
Tonight's movie was "Knock on Any Door," a 1949 message movie by director Nicholas Ray, starring Humphrey Bogart and introducing a young actor named John Derek.
Bogart plays an attorney who defends Derek's character, Nick Romano, who is accused of murdering a policeman following a botched robbery. Though the movie is watchable because anything with Bogart in it is watchable, the plot is a joke.
This was the beginning of the thinking that environment is what turns people into criminals. Nick Romano's father died,he grew up in the slums, he spent time in reform school, where he saw his best friend die from abuse. So, naturally who can blame him when he turns to a life of crime. It's society's fault. Whatever happened to personal responsibility?
Derek never became the big film star everyone thought he would be, but men should be grateful to him. He discovered, wooed, then later promoted three much younger women later in his career. It was he who brought the first Bond girl, Swedish actress Ursula Andress to prominence, followed by Linda Evans of "The Big Valley" and "Dynasty" and his three-decades younger wife Bo Derek, who starred in the movie "10" with Dudley Moore and later made several movies which were just barely above soft-core porn.
This is not one I would recommend, though as I said before, anything with Bogart in it is watchable.
Two last notes on the movie:
The director, Nicholas Ray, didn't do well with the juvenile delinquency theme in this movie, but six years later, he hit the jackpot with a movie about the same topic, "Rebel Without a Cause" starring James Dean, Natalie Wood, and Sal Mineo. Also, this movie is where the phrase, "Live fast, die young, and have a good-looking corpse," originated. It was spoken twice by Derek's character.

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