Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Vote for the Ranger

Last night I went to a fund raiser for a Democratic candidate for Congress. I was a bit stunned and somewhat at a loss for words!
by Charlie Leck

“Where the bleep did all these old goats come from?”
I posed the question to a friend who'd gotten me to come on down there. I whispered the question. I don’t use such language publicly (except occasionally on the golf course).

“That ain’t Dave Roe,” I said to this friend, shaking my head in disbelief. David Roe is a handsome, square-jawed, silver haired, bright eyed, tough son-of-bitch. My goodness! I called on Roe back in the 70s, when he was head of the AFL-CIO in these parts. He was one of the most powerful political figures in the state – and he knew it. Now you can go to a web site called the Political Graveyard and find Roe there, among the others who once had enormous influence (my goodness who has the time to come up with these web sites?).

“Yeh, it is,” my friend said. “That’s the same guy!”

I was with a firm that provided significant news alert bulletins to labor unions and provided up-to-date legal decisions that might impact projects in which they were involved. Nationally, of course, the AFL-CIO was a major buyer of our services. I called on Roe to make sure our services were satisfactory here in the Minnesota region.

Roe was a tough guy. He was always busy and on the run. He’d give you five minutes to tell him what you wanted, ask your questions, introduce any new services, and then get the hell out. His eyes were intense and they examined you for any sign of weakness. He listened keenly and without much interest until you told him something that ought to interest him.

“Don’t bullshit me! I haven’t got time for it!”

He was that kind of guy and you had to respect it in him – or don’t bother calling on him again. He had a certain amount of respect for me because I got him – I understood him – and I gave him what I had to say and then got to hell out of his way.

“Okay,” he’d say, “see Shorty (or was it Smitty), and tell him to sign me up for that. You say the national office is recommending it, huh?”

“Yes, sir, I have a copy of their bulletin right here!” I’d hold it out to him, but he’d wave me off.

“Got to go,” he’d say, rising from his chair and grabbing for his suit coat. “See Shorty (or was it Smitty).”

His body was trim and like steel. He dressed immaculately. His silver hair was coifed perfectly. His cheeks had lots of color and his eyes flashed with bright alertness.

“That’s Dave Roe?”

“Yup, that’s him,” my buddy said. “Same guy!”

Old now, and slumped a bit, he still looked like he owned the place – this old-time Democratic hang-out on the near Northeast side of town. Jeez, the number of times I took union leaders to lunch in that place. It brought back memories.

Rick Nolan was giving a speech to an attentive and adoring crowd. His hair was gray and his skin somewhat wrinkled. He looked healthy and strong, but not like the Congressman from the 70s. It was an old-style, political stump speech – one you could tell he’d give dozens of times in dozens of towns across the iron range in Northern Minnesota. He’s 69 years old now and running for Congress again. If he gets returned, he’ll pick up seniority where he left off. It’s something that appeals to those who listen to him. He reminds one of Jack, Bobby and Teddy. Nolan praises Bill Clinton in his speech to those gathered around him.

“Where are all the young people?” I turned to my friend, asking while I tried to continue chewing on my large bite of Kielbasa and sauerkraut.

“Don’t think they’re tough enough for stuff like this! Nobody seemed up to taking on an incumbent. It took a real ranger to do it.”

I looked down to the campaign button I had pinned to my chest – VOTE FOR THE RANGER, NOT THE STRANGER!

Nolan was shaking a finger at the crowd and, without a mike, speaking loudly to the people packed around him.

“I’m from the range and I know the range. I’m not a squatter who keeps his real home somewhere up there in New England. And, I’m an iron range businessman – a small businessman – who knows what it’s like to work and provide work on the range. I’m tired of the likes of the Koch brothers and Sheldon Adelson spending millions to buy a congressman up there on the range. No sir! I’m a ranger and not a stranger!”

Nolan took me on a time-trip back to the 70s, when I was active in the Party. It was a good trip; for politics was more fun back then. First of all, the money was more local. We raised a couple of hundred thousand and ran a good campaign. We didn’t have to worry about millions of dollars pouring in from Nevada or Texas to influence the vote. We couldn’t have dreamed there would be a decision like Citizens United back then.

“What’aya mean corporations are citizens too?”

“I’ll tell you what I’m gonna do if I get elected,” Noland was shouting out to us. “I gonna fight for the range and I’m gonna find a way to bring jobs and business back to the range because I know the range and I’m from the range and my own life-stake is on the range. I’m no outsider who doesn’t know beans about what it’s like in Northern Minnesota.”

A bunch of old timers, remembering what it was like in the 60s and 70s, were cheering and hooting like they were thirty-year-olds again; yet, we’re all too old to get out there and walk the walk. Now we can only talk the talk and, as someone hollered out last night, “add another zero or two to that number you’re puttin’ on that check!”

Yup! It was a return to yesteryear and the good old days of hearty and real local politics. There’s no local politics like that left today, but it was fun to pretend for awhile. I saw a glimmer in Dave Roe’s eyes when he turned to say good night to some folks with whom I was sitting. Of course, in spite of the fact that I looked exactly like I did back then, he didn’t even recognize me. He still looked like a tough guy to me – a no bullshit kind of guy who just wanted you to do your job and get out of his way.

I like these journeys back in time. If you wanted to be a big time politician back then, you had to be able to give a stump speech. Nolan had it down, brother, and he has a week to go. He’ll give that same rockin’ speech in a dozen more towns across the range.

Lord, I hope he wins!

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