Sunday, November 29, 2009

First Chapter of My Memoirs

A few people have been after me to write my memoirs for awhile now. Palin's book has been very successful and Obama's helped lead him to the White House. I thought that I'd give it a shot. This is a very rough draft. If you think it has potential let me know. If you don't, please let me know that too. There's an obvious rewrite that needs to happen. Without further adieu here is the beginning of the first chapter:

Chapter One
Andy Griffith is a Democrat?

It was the Corn Dog Festival in Hampton, August 2005 with the gray dilapidated water tower rising like Olympus above the House of Spaghetti. I breathed in a summer bouquet of corn dogs, elephant ears, and hard working Joes and Janes. The corn dog is the most Republican of foods. You take something delicious like a hot dog, but then you make it better by frying it and you put it on a stick so you can eat it while you work. That’s why corn dogs sell so well in red states like Texas.

As I walked through the park, I could breathe in the fragrant bouquet that the great melting pot of the golden state was cooking up on that afternoon. Foot-long hot dogs and cotton candy. Nachos and egg rolls. The toothless banjo players on the rugged wooden stage and the carnies—always the carnies, those descendants of the cowboys of the old West finding their manifest destiny hitched to the back of an old truck with a 30 year old tilt-a-whirl.

Inching through rivers of people like a salmon drawn to spawning grounds, I saw young carefree teenagers and a young couple holding a small homely baby. There were many older folks who had seen Hampton go from a small town of 3,800 in 1970 to its current size of nearly 14,500 today. These were good honest folk, the kind that America had been built on.

“Hey Jack! You sure love a good corn dog.”
“Oh wow Jack! You sure are ruggedly good looking in a sauce and sophisticated way.”
“When are you going to get into politics Jack? Isn’t it time you gave something back to the state?”

The sun was beginning to really beat down and I wiped the sweat from my brow thinking back to the long day’s on the family’s olive farm when the heat of the sun could turn your skin to leather. As I wound my way through the crowd, a high school dance troupe took the stage and the music began to blare much to the chagrin to the crowd of seniors who had been enjoying the banjo music. I stopped by the Right to Life booth where they were selling homemade fetus shaped butter cookies. I plunked down a dollar and took one of the cookies. As I ate it, I thought of how precious human life really is.

It also reminded me of how impatient I was with politics. I was so tired of politicians raising my taxes to pump up social programs for the people of California when there were so many people who were never born. Why wasn’t anybody doing anything for them? Politics were tricky. I was connected enough with grass roots conservatives that they all asked me when I was going to run for office, but I wasn’t connected enough with the state Republican Party that they’d ever endorse me for congress in the 54th District.

A friendly volunteer from the Robert Baird Society poked his head out of his booth and beckoned over to me. It had been over 40 years since my father had been one of the 12 founders of the group that helped lead the fight against world wide communism, fluoridation of drinking water, the infiltration of the civil rights movement by our country’s enemies, the domestication of cats, and the United Nations. I had hated that way that political machines and their pals in the media had distorted things to make the group seem irrational. I admired the brave volunteers who manned the booth knowing the jeering and heckling they would endure from liberal hippies who protested their goal of trying Bill Clinton for war crimes. If men like these were crackpots because they wore tinfoil underneath their baseball caps or bottled their own urine, then maybe we were all crackpots.

I couldn’t help wonder if I was a little nuts for opening myself up to the same kind of criticism my dad had. A run for public office would be difficult and not all my views were popular with the liberal elite. My father could have easily ignored the dangers of an emerging new world order and lived a happy and prosperous lifestyle. His grandfather’s invention of the Kimble Olive Pitter and our land holdings had made the Kimble very wealthy. However, the Kimbles had always been brought up on the grand tradition of service to others.

It seemed that real public service, crafting policies that were good for business, had been derailed by politics and its infernal machines. I wanted to help people and I had a business in government. It was an interest that had first been awakened as a small child by watching Ronald Reagan and the way he had stopped the Air Traffic Controllers from striking and had brought democracy to Central America. Pursuing public service is what had brought me to Indiana to study at Notre Dame where I received both my BA and MBA in business administration.

Most people starting out in politics have to start at the bottom. I was lucky because with my father’s connections and financial support I knew that the United States Congress could be within my reach. California’s 54th District is rather unusual in that it has a small Hispanic voting population, but the majority of the district is white, wealthy, and over 60. They had been served in the House by Jerry “Hoop” Hooper for a dozen years and like most of the district he was older, white, and wealthy. He also wasn’t terribly influential in the House. In a Republican district, he seemed to have no trouble voting with the Democrats. I knew I could beat this guy.

And so, on that hot August night, I took the stage before an America cover band came on and I faced the electorate and I looked them square in the eye and let them know that I would be running for Congress and needed their support. A whole lot of things could have happened and most of them were bad. I knew that a lot of things could have happened at that moment and most of them were bad. Then I saw a young woman who couldn’t have been more than 25 years old in a white floppy hat. She tucked her corndog in the crook of her arm and began clapping. Then, like a polio outbreak, the applause began to spread through the entire crowd.

I began to stop and smile at the audience and they returned my enthusiasm. As the band behind me began to play the opening chords of Sister Golden Hair, I felt like I was a rock star. I had committed to the race and there was no backing out now. I had developed a strategy that I thought would win in this district, but I needed to implement it well.

I had done a little bit of research before entering the race and I knew that although Jerry Hooper was a popular representative who did well in a hypothetical poll with any opponent, his support was neither deep nor committed. I asked my childhood friend John E. Lee to run my campaign for me, but I made it very clear to him that I had some ideas of my own and I would not be the type of politician that is handled. That wasn’t for me.

John and I had become good friends in 5th grade when we both got our heads stuck in opposite sides of a bike rack when we dared each other to do it. It was November and the wind had a bite to it as we screamed for dear life out on the playground. When the janitor finally sawed us loose he called us “the braniac twins”. Somehow, the name just kind of stuck. Nobody would ever pick on John though because he had a reputation for being mean and if you got in a fight with him, you knew he would bite your nose or ear if he got a chance. Oh yes, he loved to choose noses.

As an adult, John was not all that much taller than he was in 5th grade. At only 5’9” his waist was always spilling out of his pants like toothpaste being squeezed out of a tube. At 35 years old, he was bald and wore thick glasses, but what he lacked in looks, he made up for in loyalty and an attack dog ferocity which I needed if I was to bring up Hooper’s negatives.

As a fiscal conservative, Jerry had made a major miscalculation when he had argued against a wage increase for home health care workers to $6 an hour. The move was very popular with many of the seniors who voted. Unfortunately, the 54th District has a large number of absentee votes and you can be sure that many of them were filled out by those very same nurses that he was putting down.

Nobody was more popular in my district than the actor Andy Griffith. He didn’t live in the area or even the state, but Matlock reruns on syndication drew higher ratings than first run network programming. One of the local stations had a Tuesday night lineup of Matlock at 5PM, a two-hour Matlock movie at 7PM, followed by another episode of Matlock at 9PM. Jerry had been a bit too friendly with a group of people who were interested in turning that station into a WB affiliate.
The crowning glory of my election strategy would be Andy Griffith’s endorsement. My dad had a friend who played golf with Andy Griffith’s agent. I knew that a picture with Andy Griffith and an endorsement would go quite far in getting me instant credibility with many of the seniors in my district. I had found out when Andy Griffith would be coming to California and I made plans to meet with him to see if I could get him to support my candidacy.

After spending 4 hours driving to Los Angeles and another 3 hours waiting for Griffith to arrive, I finally got to speak to him in the lobby of the Beverly Wilshire Hotel. Despite his advancing years, Andy Griffith moved with a spryness that belied just how close to death’s door he really was. We shook hands and I gave him my pitch. I told him how I was pro-business and in favor of the types of wholesome family values that he had always advocated on his shows. I promised him that I would help protect our country from terrorism and the liberal agenda. He sat patiently as he listened to me speak, but then finally stopped me to say, “I’m sorry son, but I’m a Democrat.”

Needless to say, I stood there slack jawed in stunned silence. John immediately lunged at Andy Griffith, but between myself and Mr. Griffith’s assistant we were able to hold John back and hustle Andy Griffith out of the room. I still remember everybody looking at the scene as I screamed frantically, “Cover your nose Mr. Griffith! Cover your nose!”

I had learned a valuable lesson in doing proper research before hand. It turns out that Andy Griffith was well known as a Democrat and the folks in North Carolina had even unsuccessfully tried to convince him to run against Jesse Helms for Senator once. Needless to say, I not only didn’t get an endorsement, but with John frothing at the mouth and trying to bite him, I didn’t get a picture with Andy Griffith that day either. I had no better luck with Angela Lansbury whose grandfather was once the leader of the Labour Party in Britain.

Unfortunately, with the primary slated for October 4th, I had less than 2 months to campaign due to my late entry. Head to head results showed that I trailed Hooper 55% - 41%. I don’t think the founding fathers ever meant for getting elected to be so hard. We tried to hammer Hooper on the issues, but we were only getting so far. I tried to assure that voters that while Hooper had voted for the war in Iraq, that I was even more in favor of it and while Hooper wanted to lower taxes, I wanted to get rid of them altogether, but I couldn’t seem to get much above 40%. Then I like to believe Jesus intervened because what happened next was surely a miracle.

Jerry Hooper was living the American dream. At 62, he was not only serving as a member of the United States House of Representatives, but he was financially well off and his daughter Karen was about to marry Al Giamoti, the son of an Italian immigrant who had graduated Stanford Law School and was doing very well in intellectual property law. Little did Jerry know that his whole world would be crashing down around him.

It was during a late night strategy session when John who first noticed that Al Giamoti sounded an awful lot like the Arab name al-Jamati. At that moment all we had was the inkling of a seed of an idea, but perhaps we would be able to use this to our advantage. The next day during a campaign stop, an older woman asked me if there was anything a liked about Congressman Hooper. I told her I thought he was lacking as a congressman, but was a great person and added that I was really impressed with him as a father. I said I admired his open-mindedness that in the middle of our war on terror, he would not stand in the way of his daughter marrying Mister al-Jamati was a wonderful gesture of international peace and understanding. I also pointed out that al-Jamati was not under federal investigation at this time.

Poor Hoop never saw it coming. Al had dark Italian features and to the voters of my district, he must have looked as Arab as they come. We hired a telemarketing firm to call people and ask them questions about their opinion to the wedding designed to get them to wonder why Congressman Hooper’s daughter was marrying a Islamic extremist. By the primary day, 7 out of 10 Republican voters in the 54th District believed that Al Giamoti was actually an Islamic scholar named Khalid al-Jamati who had ties to terrorist training camps in Afghanistan. By the time Congressman Hooper distanced himself from his future son-in-law it was too late.

Congressman Hooper was too old school to really compete with the strategy that John and I employed. He kept trying to talk about his experience and service to the people of the district. These are the sort of things that sound great on paper, but that voters haven’t really cared about since Gerald Ford was President. When he claimed I was dangerously inexperienced, I bragged about my outsider status. When he said my dad was behind my campaign, I claimed my dad was behind his campaign too. He had no idea how to react to that one.

Push polling is a very controversial technique, but I’m not too proud to admit that we used it. In push polling, you have one of your staff show up early at a polling place and dress like a worker for your opponent. That worker then searches for somebody sympathetic looking who is voting for you. They will engage your supporter in heated conversation before eventually pushing them. If you can find a pregnant woman or a senior citizen, they make the best targets. We learned that it’s generally best to avoid veterans, when one of the greatest generation knocked out one of our young interns who tried this. The trick is to not push hard enough for them to press charges, but hard enough that everybody at the polling place that day will be talking about what a jerk you opponent’s campaign worker was. This technique can really swing a close election.

We did everything we could to squeeze out every vote we could. If our staffers found somebody driving obnoxiously or with loud music playing, my staffers were under instructions to follow that driver and when the care finally parked to put a Hooper bumper sticker on it. That way, when the obnoxious driver cut somebody off, they’d see the Hooper bumper sticker.

When the smoke finally settled, I won a very hard fought 49% to 43% victory in that primary. My next stop would be the general election where I would face a real liberal or at least a moderate named Bill Joyce. Jerry Hooper called to congratulate me, but I’m sorry to say that the call was terse and not the gracious concession that I had hoped for from a man I always admired.

“Mr. Kimble, it’s me Jerry Hooper. I’m calling to concede the primary,” he said. I could tell from his tone that he wasn’t happy.

“Hey Jerry, I was expecting to hear from you. Can you believe how well I’m doing? Pretty wild isn’t it?” I said trying to cheer him up.

“It’s a Goddamned crime is what it is Jack. I had thought better of the voters than this,” he said.

At first I laughed at his joke, but then pulled back as I realized he wasn’t joking. There were a few moments of very awkward silence.

“Well, you won the Republican nomination. I have no doubt the party will be happy to get behind you. Good luck Mr. Kimble,” he said.

“Great Hoop. I hope I can count on your support. I’d love for you…”

Unfortunately, we were disconnected. My staff and I had settled into the ball room at the Bristo Camino Holiday Inn to hear the election results come in. When I announced that I had just got off the phone with Congressman Hooper, the room exploded into applause. An election is hard work and it meant so much to those people that all the time spent passing out leaflets, making phone calls, going door to door, slashing tires, going to rallies, and getting out the vote had not been in vain. The wedding band that I had hired played Kool and the Gang’s song Celebration and we got down Republican style. The energy in that room was pulsing. You could literally feel it. Together, we could change Washington.

There is an unfortunate footnote to the primary. Karen Hooper and Al Giamoti stayed married for a little less than two years. I felt bad for whatever small part the campaign might have played in their breakup. I’m sure it can’t be easy for a couple of young people to build a life together when the bride’s father is forced to distance himself from his future son-in-law for fear of scandal. I wish those two kids all the best. Jerry seems to be doing well since his retirement from Congress. He’s become a regular at a local bar called Schultz’s. I’ve seen him around a few times and he seems much happier without the stress of politics in his life.

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