One of my very best friends, Bill, spoke to me today and said that he was really tired of me writing about being old and having bathroom problems. I always take Bill’s words seriously. In the 36 years that I have known Bill, he has always been someone who has lifted my spirits with his positive attitude and his sense of humor. Our families have traveled together, done some political things together and have laughed uncontrollably at silly stories or jokes.
I am writing this blog as a sort of payback to Bill for his constant friendship.
Bill and I are registered in two different political parties. We don’t really disagree much about many issues, but he belongs to one party and I the other. For most of my life, I have been an independent. Since I represented a very conservative constituency in the rural areas of Pennsylvania, I decided a number of years ago to register as a Republican. That was not the only reason.
My involvement in politics began a very long time ago, as long as 1948 when I touched Henry Wallace’s shoe when he came to the lower East Side of Manhattan. As I approached my 21st birthday, I was eligible to vote. The constitutional amendment had not yet been passed to allow 18 year olds to vote. I had just come back from the service and was very interested in the national election of 1960. In the debates that I saw between Richard Nixon and John Kennedy, I saw the possibility of going to war in Vietnam and China. Mr. Kennedy seemed to be saying that he would defend Quemoy and Matsu islands off China. I was really concerned that he would start a war in the Far East. Just a few years before, we had completed the Korean War. I did not think that another war in the Far East was a good idea. So I voted for Mr. Nixon.
I was registered as an independent for the longest while. I never voted a straight party ticket and still don’t.
In my years as a superintendent of schools, I had many dealings with the political world. It was at that time that I began my interest in lobbying for rural schools. When I became an intermediate unit director, I saw an opportunity to expand the organization and do some economic development. I decided to approach then Governor Thornburgh. I had an opportunity to meet him and speak to him about some of my ideas. Ginny Thornburgh was a conduit for me to the governor. She was very interested in special education, as I was in charge of a large special education program. I presented the governor with some ideas for economic development (created by my associate Mike V.)
He was very interested in these ideas and sent a young man who was in charge of economic development for the cabinet. I do remember his first name, George, but not his second (I do remember that he was a member of the Bloomingdale family). We did do some job creation and business creation. His administration supported the things we did. The economy not doing well at that time and we had vast unemployment (20-27%).
The Secretary of Education, Bob Wilburn gave me all the help that I needed with the special education programs, which flourished with the great staff that we had. Our pre-school program was not challenged by any other intermediate unit in the state.
Yes, Governor Thornburgh was a Republican. However, it was easier to deal with his folks than I had experienced with others. He increased school funding at 7% and 8 % in successive years. I always believe in putting your money where your mouth is.
As I got to know Western Pennsylvania people, I was contacted by our Congressman, Bill Clinger. He and his executive director Rick Peltz usually backed up most of our strange ideas. They came to our events, whether a speech by Buckminster Fuller’s associate, or a meeting about starting a race track in Clarion County, or a toilet bowl factory. Yes, we dickered with a Swedish conglomerate to get a factory in the area. In another amazing coincidence, we encouraged Senator John Heinz to help us with the project. He was kind enough to help out. I wish that the company had come to our area. They did not. They went to Mexico. However, the idea that these people supported us was wonderful.
One of my very good friends was Senator James J. Rhoades. He was the chairman of the Senate Education Committee. He came from a small mining town in upstate Pennsylvania. Jim had been a junior high school principal, the same time I was. We met once in a while at sports meetings. As Chairman of the Senate Education Committee, he was foremost a white knight for rural schools. Over and over again, he came forth to support funding and programming that helped rural schools. He also was a pusher for economic development in rural areas. Jim passed away in an automobile accident. I will never forget the phone calls that I got from him asking me to get over to the capitol and talk to him about some problem in education or asking me to go see some folks who were opposing something that he wanted to do. I miss him still today.
Many of you remember William Scranton as the Governor in the mid 1960’s. He was the guv who consolidated the over 2500 school districts into 505 school districts. He was a man of principle and the consummate gentleman. At the outset of our equity suit against the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, I was taken to meet him by our attorney, Fred Speaker, who had been the Attorney General under Governor Scranton. We met at the Scranton club and Mr. Scranton taught me lesson that I have not forgotten. He supported our case but warned that the wealthy school districts would try to stop us from changing the funding system. He was eventually correct. Wealthy districts entered the case against us. He also said that we should not back off and he was right. We may have had no decision in the case, but his advice to lobby hard paid off in giving more dough to rural school districts. I will never forget him or that meeting.
Many of the people mentioned above have passed away. I still have communication with some that are still around. I still call for advice from some of them. Maybe it’s a coincidence, but they were all Republicans. Sure, there were many Democrats that came to our aid, but the above people helped me personally and I will never forget them.