Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Good Democrat, Good

Robert E. Hartley. Paul Simon: The Political Journey of an Illinois Original. Carbondale, Il.: Southern Illinois University Press, 200i.

In the 1940s, it was possible for small town newspapers to sell 400 copies a week and be profitable. Paul Simon, at 19, decided to publish and edit a weekly paper in Troy, Illinois. Simon was a college student at Dana College in Nebraska where he had organized the Young Republicans. The local newspapers in Simon’s Illinoins lone area went up for sale and Simon decided to quit college and go into the newspaper business in 1948.

Simon believed Troy should have a public library and a sewer system. He used his editorial position to advocate his positions, although not always convincingly. Voters turned down a library proposal he advocated.

Simon was upset about gambling and vices and how police looked the other way. He became disillusioned with Republican politicians and became a Democrat at 21. He, though, opposed the local Democratic Party machine. He established his key principles that all should receive basic needs, that incentive is important to get people to improve their lives, and that deficits should exist only during economic depressions.

Governor Adlai Stevenson directed raids on gambling establishments in Simon’s part of Illinois. Simon appreciated the Governor’s actions. Simon testified before hearings held by Senator Estes Kefauver on the connection between gambling and their contributions to politicians who let them operate. Simon was drafted and continued writing editorials while in the Army.

Simon at age 25 ran for the State House of Representatives. He challenged two incumbents where cumulative voting was allowed. By getting supporters to cast their cumulative votes for him, he came in first.

While in office, Simon made personal financial disclosure. This was before the law required such disclosure. Simon was a member of the Democratic State Group of liberals who fought the Democratic Party establishment. He would marry one of the Study Group members, Rep. Jeanne Hurley.

Simon fought racetrack legislation noting several legislators were investors in the track.

Simon learned of payroll abuse in Auditor General Hodge’s office. He advised his source to take the matter to the press. The reporters who wrote the story won a Pulitzer Prize and Hodge went to jail.

Simon further criticized the press for its lack of focus on undue influence in the legislature. Simon noted no full House journal was published and that roll all votes were seldom published in newspapers.

Simon claimed several legislators were corrupt. Senate Majority Leader W. Russell Arrington and House Speaker John Touhy refused in investigate. The Illinois Crime Investigating Committee, two thirds of which were legislative appointees, looked into the matters. It was co-chaired by Robert Canfield and Prentice Marshall. The Commission stated the charges were “virtually impossible to prove or disprove.” A minority report stated further investigation was warranted but that rules prevented further action.

Simon invested in a string of newspapers across the state. This increased his visibility to readers.

Simon opposed increasing the sales tax. He advocated for an income tax. He opposed the death penalty.

Simon ran for the U.S. Senate in 1968. The Democratic Party, strongly led by Mayor Richard Daley, slated him for Lt. Governor instead. Simon agreed, seeing it as a stepping stone. Some party regulars saw this as a way to end Simon’s career.

Simon supported peace in Vietnam while Daley supported the war. Simon was elected Lt. Governor while a Republican was elected Governor. Simon hired Richard Durbin, a future U.S. Senator, to his staff. Senate President Arrington took the largest space that was usually reserved for the Lt. Governor and forced Simon into a smaller office.

Simon visited mental health facilities and criticized when he found inadequate care. He called for more racial minority hiring in police, fire, National Guard, etc.

Daniel Walker ran for Governor as an outsider. He defeated Simon in the Democratic primary charging Simon was a part of the Daley machine without acknowledging Simon’s political independence. Walker was an unpopular Governor, which helped make voters wish Simon had been elected.

U.S. Rep. Kenneth Gray announced he was retiring. Simon was urged to run for feared being labeled a carpetbagger as he lived eight miles outside the district, even though the law does not require a member of Congress to live in a district. Simon moved into the district and was elected. Simon was criticized for taking out loans when his campaign ran out of funds, and some of the loans carried no interest.

Simon began writing books on his thoughts and views on politics. He challenged incumbent Charles Percy for the U.S. Senate. He won.

Simon ran for President in 1988. He came in a surprisingly strong second place in the Iowa Caucus yet could not raise enough funds to mount a strong campaign afterwards.


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