Richard Norton Smith. On His Own Terms: A Life of Nelson Rockefeller. New York: Random House, 2014.
In 1960, Barry Goldwater advised Richard Nixon to try to win the election by winning Illinois and Texas, adding “I’d like to win this goddamn election without New York. Then we could el New York o kiss our ass and we could really start a conservative party.” Nelson Rockefeller symbolized the New York Republicanism that Goldwater despised. Rockefeller.
In 1964, Goldwater and Rockefeller fought for control of the Republican Party, Goldwater voted against the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Rockefeller had paid for Rev. Martin Luther King’s medical bills when he was stabbed in Harlem in 1958, provided King with bail money, and funded rebuilding churches burned by bigots. At the 1964, Republican National Convention, Goldwater was accursed of using racial discrimination in Delegate selection, to which one Goldwater Delegate responded “Yeah, and the next convention there won’t be no n-----s to expel.”
Rockefeller’s divorce and remarriage was an issue hurting him in 1964. As for his record as Governor, he ook New York state government from a $400 l deficit to a $5 million surplus. This was achieved by raising income through increased taxes on income, gas, cigarettes, and estates. He increased the minimum wage, created the first state arts council, created an atomic energy authority, and provided more state funds to elementary and secondary education than did any other state.
As Governor, Rockefeller supported “pay as you go” spending. He also used much bond spending which many conservatives found unreasonable.
In 1937, Bolivia nationalized its oil industry causing financial losses to Standard Oil of New Jersey, in which Nelson Rockefeller was heavily invested. Rockefeller traveled to other Latin American countries seeking to show his goodwill.
Rockefeller became the U.S. Coordinator of Inter-American Affairs. It became known as “the Rockefeller Office.” It sought to improve living conditions in Latin America so these countries would look to the U.S., and not to other countries, as their ally, Rockefeller saw his efforts as a New Deal for Latin America
Rockefeller later stated he believed Eisenhower stepped away from dealing with the Soviet Union when he should have been stronger against them. Rockefeller credited Franklin Roosevelt for successfully stopping communism.
Rockefeller proposed Eisenhower created a Transportation Department. Eisenhower objected. A Transportation Department was not created until 1967.
Some would consider Eisenhower as a 19th century liberal. Eisenhower criticized Republican members of Congress who tried to cut funds for his newly created Education Department declaring “if any of those fools were running for reelection right now, they’d lose the vote of every liberal in the country---and that includes me.”
Rockefeller in 1956 wrote to Vice President Nixon “under you and the President, the Republican Party is now emerging, at home and abroad, as the great and liberal party of the future.”
As Governor, Averell Harriman placed research and treatment in helping people with mental health problems over warehousing them. He vetoed proposed tax deductions for working women and the elderly. He vetoed licensing station wagons at the same cost as other passenger cars. Harriman alternately criticized Rockefeller for costly promises for more programs and for being a Republican who would cut programs. Harriman spoke on he Eisenhower recession trying to link all Republicans including Rockefeller to it Harriman had a bronchial throat condition during most of the campaign which hurt his image.
As Governor, Rockefeller broke the tradition of appointing the state party chair to be Secretary of State. Instead he appointed the first woman to serve in that post.
Rockefeller created New York’s first income taxes and first gas taxes. The 1959 legislative session approved almost 1,200 bills, 508 of which passed during the last three days of legislative session.
Rockefeller banned outside gifts to himself and his administration. He sent back a dime someone sent him.
Rockefeller used gas tax revenues to build more roads and construct more mass transit.
The legislature, without staff and crammed into offices, did not have the tie or means to read and analyze the 8,000 bills before them.
Raising the taxes on incomes hurt anyone earning more than $6,000 a year. He was criticized for his “soak the poor” policy,
State Sen. John Hughes, with some newspaper editorial support, led a battle of his insisting that $80 million be cut from the state budger. Mail ran 100 to 1 to legislators favoring this. Rockefeller received two letters against the Hughes plan The state budget was cut $40 million.
Among legislation Rockefeller approved were checks on labor racketeering, extending residential rent control for two years, allowing some uncovered workers to get workers compensation, and creating ew offices regarding local governments, transportaiton, and nuclear energy.
Rockefeller vetoed a third of the bills the legislature approved. He vetoed abolishing mandatory minimum penalties for having or selling drugs and vetoed allowing public school teachers to spank students.
Rockefeller created an Office for Regional Development. He wanted zoning statewide. Local interests prevented that from happening.
Rockefeller encourage people to build fallout shelters He won approval of the state paying half the costs of schools creating nuclear hideouts. Critics saw this as a waste of about $100 million.
New York in the mid-20th century ranked 47th of the 38 states in supporting higher education, Rockefeller led a large growth in the state university system.
Rockefeller run for President in 1960. Emmet Hughes believes Rockefeller was not expecting to gain the nomination but wanted to become the “conscience of the Republican Party.” Rockefeller wanted government funded health care for the elderly, tax cuts to encourage economic growth, federal aid to education, and strong civil rights laws including strong voting rights laws.
Nixon met with Rockefeller and offered Rockefeller the Vice Presidential nomination Nixon noted Lyndon Johnson running on the Democratic ticket made it harder for Republicans to win in Southern states. Rockefeller on the ticket improved Nixon’s standing by about two percentage points in critical states Nixon wanted to win of New York, Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Ohio, Rockefeller turned down the offer.
Rockefeller allowed the New York State Housing Finance Agencyto issue general obligation bonds that were not counted towards the state’s constitutional debt limit.
Rockefeller wanted to replace Robert Moses with his brother Laurence Rockefeller for chairing the New York State Council of Parks. Moses had held that position for 38 years and wished to stay. Rockefeller offered to extend Moses’s terms on some of his other positions in exchange for this one position. Moses instead threatened to quit all his posts, expected the press to rally to his defense. There was little press responded. Rockefeller accepted Moses’s resignation and destroyed the powers that Moses had.
Republican State Chair Jud Morhouse and State Liquor Authority Chair Martin Epstein were indicted in a bribery scheme. While Rockefeller was not involved, some consider this the worse scandal of the executive branch during his time as Governor.
Rockefeller spoke around the country in 1963. He pledged if he were President he would create 20 million jobs, cut personal and corporate taxes, and use taxes paid by the new employees to offset the revenue losses from the tax cuts.
The 1964 Republican New Hampshire Primary reacted to a movement to draft Ambassador Henry Cabot Lodge for President. Lodge received 35%, Goldwater 22%, Rockefeller 21%, and 16% wrote in Richard Nixon.
Robert Novak observed that Rockefeller’s support of civil rights caused many new Republicans (many of whom who left the Democratic Party over their support of civi rights) caused many new Republicans to oppose him. Further, many Republicans distrusted government which made “Rockefeller-style pragmatism” unacceptable to them.
Johnson’s landslide victory over Goldwater also presented New York with Democratic majorities in both legislative changers.
In 1968, Nixon noted he campaigned for Goldwater noting “when you fail to pitch in and fight in a tough battle, you cannot lead in the next battle”, a reference to Rockefeller’s failure to campaign for Goldwater.
Rockefeller and President Johnson spoke well of each other. Rockefeller supported Johnson’s Vietnam policies.
1965 was perhaps the height of 20th century liberalism. Medicaid and Medicare began. The Voting Rights Act passed. The Department of Housing and Urban Development was created..
As Governor, Rockefeller supported and help create stronger drug laws, mandatory inspections of all vehicles, six month probation period for new drivers licenses, increased aid to education, and increased environmental protections. He proposed created the state’s first sales tax at 2%m doubling the sales tax, and doubling auto registration fees. He vetoed increasing the minimum wage. He allowed New York City to borrow $36 million in 1965-65 Fiscal Year followed by borrowing $256 million in 1965-66 Fiscal Year to borrow its budget. Mayor Robert Wager proclaimed “a bad loan is better than a good tax.”
Rockefeller had a billion dollar bond issue to pay 30% of local sewage treatment plant costs. 350 more facilities were built which greatly improved water quality.
Rockefeller asked U.S. Rep. John Lindsay to run for New York CIty Mayor. He promised the Lindsay campaign would start with $500,00. Lindsay accepted. Rockefeller and family members contributed $600,000 to Lindsay.
The Rockefeller staff and Lindsay staff distrusted each other. Rocekfeller staff members felt Lindsay was “ungrateful” for Rockefeller’s support. When Lindsay won, he ethanked Sen. Jacob Javis and did not mention Rockefeller.
Javits predicted “nothing but disaster” if Rockefeller ran for reelection in 1966, stating “the fact is we are totally lacking in leadership ...the Governor cannot lead and there are few who will follow.”
Mayor Wagner and labor leaders made pre-set bargaining agreement deals and would go through the motions of negotiating. Lindsay dod not realize this was the old system and he stood up to the labor leaders. This led to several public employee strikes, beginning with a subway workers strike. Rockefeller provided New York City with $100 million in state assistance, half of which was an accelerated delivery of already promised money. Lindsay proposed a $4.6 billion budget, which was 19% larger than Wager’s last budget.
Rockefeller created a panel of experts on public employee strikes led by George Taylor of the University of Pennsylvania, The panel proposed laws passed in New York and then other states that banned public employee strikes, created large fines of unions for illegal work stoppages, and created collective bargaining for civil servants with mediation followed by binding arbitration.
New York state covered one third of its citizens with Medicaid with $200 million of sate funds. Javits warned the Federal government would not pay for such broad coverage. Three million enrolled in the first year at a cost of $1.3 billion. overage was then reduced to to exclude ost people from ages 21 through 64 and those earning $5,500 or less instead of $6,000 or less.
Rockefeller ran for reelection in 1966. He had customized brochures and distributed 27 million pieces of literature to voters. The Rockefeller campaign claimed they spent $5.2 million on the campaign and many believe it cost more A side effort to reach young voters cost over $1 million.
Liberal Party Alex Rose had unionized garment workers and fought organized crime on the garment industry. He was among those who, correctly it was later revealed, believed organized crime was close to the Queen County Democratic Party organization. State Sen. Frank O’Connor was a product of th Queens County Democratic Party organization who won the Democratic Party nomination for Governor in 1966. He had the support of several local party bosses. The Liberal Party nominated Franklin Roosevelt, Jr. for Governor. Some believe Rockefeller and Rose made a deal to divide the ant-Rockefeller vote.
George Romney was elected Michigan Governor in a landslide that made him a leading Presidential candidate. Rockefeller gave Romney his delegate and research files as well as aides Hugh Morrow, a speechwriter, and Henry Kissinger, a foreign affairs adviser. Some Romney aides viewed Kissenger as sent to keep Romney a supporter of Johnson’s Vietnam policies. Romney visited Vietnam and declared “I just had the greatest brainwashing that anyone can get.” Kissinger resigned from the campaign.
Rockefeller and the new Governor of California, Ronald Reagan, attempted to develop a friendship. Rockefeller did not believe Reagan was a Goldwater extremist. Reagan created the largest tax increase of $933 million raised to balance the state government budget, They both discussed reduced Medicaid spending and welfare reform. A Gallup Poll had a Rockefeller-Reagan ticket at 57% to 43% for Johnson-Humphrey.
Romney withdrew from the race. Gov. Spiiro Agnew led a Draft Rockefeller movement fully expecting Rockefeller to run. Rockefler saw polls of Nixon leading him in the critical Oregon Primary by 47% to 26%. Rockfeller surprised Agnew and others by announcing he was not running. Agnew felt humiliated and became friends with Nixon telling Nixon how terrible Rockefeller was. Some ,such as Pat Buchanan, believe Rockefeller was forced into not running by threats from Nixon supporters that his personal life would have been attacked and an affair exposed. Rockefeller even confided he feared a smear campaign. Kissinger denies Rockefeller had an affair stating Rockefeller used women for “emotional support.”
Jackie Robinsup condemned Rockefeller for not meeting with Rev. Martin Luther King’s brother and Father Jaes Groppi of the Poor People’s Campaign even though all three were in the same hotel. Instead, Rockefeller met with conservative business leader Richard Mellon of U.S. Steel.
Rockefeller hired Edward Logue to lead his state government’s Urban Development Corporation that would provide one fifth of assistance to private housing programs. Logue had been a major figure in planning redevelopment in New Haven and in Boston. Logue had the legislature allow his efforts to circumvent local building permits, primarily to avert Mayor Lindsay’s plans. Rockefeller paid off Logue $31,389 in political debt from his unsuccessful run for Boston Mayor as well as loaning him $145,000. Rockefeller got State Senate leader Ear Brydges to help pass the legislation for this Corporation by getting him drunk and by promising him an international airport in Buffalo.
Rockefeller changed his mind and ran for President. After Robert Kennedy’s assassination, some Kennedy supporters backed Rockefeler, especially some civil rights supporters.
Nixon was nominated. Former Governor Endicott Peabody launched an effort for Rockefeller to run for Vice President with Hubert Humphrey on the Democratic ticket. Humphrey personally inquired if Rockefeller was interested. Rockefeller stated he was not interested.
in 1969, Rockefeller called for increased Federal funds for education and for a nationwide standard on who could collect welfare. He spoke out against raising state taxes. He proposed reducing state spending by $60 million.
Rockefeller ran against Arthur Goldberg, the Democratic nominee for Governor in 1970. Goldberg was a former U.S. Supreme Court Justice and U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations. State Sen. Basil Paterson was his running mate for Lieutenant Governor. Goldberg had resigned from the Supreme Court to accept the Ambassadorship in hopes of persuading President Johnson to withdraw troops from Vietnam. An early poll had Goldberg leading Rockefeller by 11 percentage points.
Rockefeller had 380 paid staff in his $7.2 million campaign to Goldberg’s 35 paid staff. Rockefeller spent $3 million in TV ads compared to $1.5 million spent by Goldberg. Rockefeller again had targeted mailings from such groups as German-Americans, travel agents, chiropractors osteopathic physicians etc.
The AFL-CIO endorsed Rockefeller.
When Goldberg spoke in Albany, his speech was drowned ou by jackhammers, steam whistles, ruck engines, concrete mixers, etc.
Laurence Rockefeller invested $65,0000 in having Victor Lasky write a critical biography of Arthur Goildberg. In 1974, Nelson Goldberg would accept responsibility for having the book published.
Rockefeller had a few campaign mistakes. He may have drunk too much when he declared that Neg Negan, running on his Republican ticket running for Comptroller, had no chance of winning, He also accused Goldberg of bribery without showing the evidence.
Rockefeller became more conservative. While he donated $45,000 to incumbent Republican U.S. Senator Charles Goodell he did little to combat Republican campaign workers who left to work for Conservative Party nominee James Buckley. William F. Buckley, a conservative writer, announced he was voting for Rockefeller for Governor. Rockefeller won by 730,000 votes while Buckley won his election.
Prisoner violence in the Tombs prison in Manhattan followed by violence in prisons in Brooklyn, Queens, and Long Island City led to many prisoners being transferred to a rural upstate prison in Attica. The Attica Prison Commissioner wrote Rockefeller with fears that the new prisoners did not recognize government, were militant and not following authority, and he feared a riot Rockefeller sent 50 more corrections officers. Rockefeller was criticized for not being on the scene and for issuing his orders too quickly.
Attica prisoners captured guards and held them captive. U.S. Rep. Herman Badillo, who had helped negotiate and defuse other prison riots, warned Rockefeller that storming the prison would get the hostages killed. Rockefeller ordered the prison stormed by state police officers using dum dum bullets banned by the Geneva Convention. The guards dressed the hostages as prisoners. 43 died including 10 corrections officers.
Rockefeller joined in supporting President Nixon’s plan for sharing Federal revenues as block grants to state governments.
In 1971, Rockefeller stated his top priority was $4 billion in assisting private slum reconstruction by the Urban Development Corporation. He later withdrew that propsal from the election ballot.
Rockefeller supported a one year instate residency requirement in order to receive welfare.
Rockefeller told Brooklyn Democratic leader Meade Esposito that they both feared that electing too many Republicans would end social services which they both support. Rockefeller wanted Esposito’s help in getting new taxes passed with Democratic legislative support. They also then contacted U.S. Rep. Hugh Carey of brooklyn stating hat Rockefeller was willing to help Democrats in New York Congressional redistricting if Ways and Means Committee Chair Wilbur Mills would consider revenue sharing. Mills, needing a Democratic majority in Congress to keep his chair, was interested. Mills promised $407 million in new revenue. Revenue sharing later became law.
With Esposito’s help, urban Democrats and suburban Republicans formed a “fragile governing coalition” that increased the capital gains tax and increasing funding for education, welfare, mental health, narcotics control, and some other social services.
In 1972, Rockefeller supported creating no fault auto insurance. He vetoed a ban on abortion.
Geraldo Rivero showed on television the poor conditions of Willowbrook State School for children with intellectual disabilities. Rockefeller had gained more funding funding for mental health. Public outrage over seeing the bad conditions led to new laws giving patients more right and which better protected their property. Willowbrook was closed in 1987.
In 1973, Rocekfeller sought to increase drug penalties including life sentences without parole, probation,or plea bargaining for selling or using hard narcotics. Offenders 16 throuhg 19 could apply for parole after serving 15 years. The Conservative Party opposed tis fearing it would become too dangerous to work as police officers. Rockefeller compromised on removing hashish as a hard drug and allowing limited plea bargaining and allowing parole with lfietime supervision. THe measure passed on a party line vote and Rockefeller signed it into law.
The number of people imprisoned rapidly increased. In 2009, under Governor David Patterson, mandatory minimum law were repealed.
Rockefeller signe the Adirondack Park bill which gave the state ontrol over 6 million areas at wilderness. Tis expanded the 2.3 million acres the sae legislature preserved in 1985.
Rockefeller was bored at being Governor. He resigned as Governor. He wanted to assist President Nixon on a grand scale. He decided to lead a study group, the National Commission on Critical Choices for America. He also wanted Malcolm Wilson to have time at being Governor to help with his campaign for a full term. To help Wilson to run against Speaker Peter Duryea, Rockefeller convinced Louis Lefkowitz to provide damaging evidence against Duryea to Districdt Attorney Frank Hogan While a judge summary dismiss all charges, this hurt Duryea’s choice at becoming Governor. Wilson, though, would be defeated by Hugh Carey.
Nixon told Kissinger “the worst mistake I made in my life was appointing this man (Gerald Ford) Vice President.”Nixon told Kissinger to advise Rockefeller not to become involved with a Ford Administration predicting it would become a “total disaster.”
Ford chose Rockefeller to be his Vice President. Critics observed Rockefeller attracted aides by giing them gifts or loans that were forgiven to get aroun statutory bans on making payments to them. Congress confirmed Rockefeller.
Donald Rumsfeld, White House Coordinator (the new title of the Chief of Staff position) and his Deputy, Dick Cheney, clashed with Rockefeller philosophically and on governance. Rumsfeld wanted to weaken the Federal government’s powers. Rockefeller wanted a national Finance Corporation to handle national energy needs which Rumsfeld opposed. Rockefeller fought over staffing a commission Ford asked him to lead then saw Ford reject the findings. Rockefeller favored extending the Votiing Rights Act. This went against the “Southern strategy” national Republican leaders were creating. This position cost Rokefeller his place on the 1976 ticket. A poll showed Rockefeller on the ticket cost Ford one fourth of Republican voters. Ford asked Rockefeller to withdraw and Rockefeller agreed.
After leaving the Vice Presidency, Rockefeller attempted to convince the Saudi Arabian royal family to create an international development bank that would be an alternative to the World Bank, would be similar to past Rockefeller efforts at helping developing countries, and would provide rewards to the Rockefeller family. Rockefeller’s death ended this idea.