Politics 2003Week of July 14


A little more than a month after he survived the dislodging of his running mate for failing to meet residency requirements for statewide office and rolled up more than half the vote against three rivals for the Republican nomination for governor, four-term Rep. Ernie Fletcher is on a roll. A just-completed Public Opinion Strategies (POS) poll showed that Fletcher is leading his Democratic opponent, State Atty. Gen. Albert B. (Ben) Chandler III, 46% to 39% statewide.

Although the election to pick a successor to lame-duck Democratic Gov. Paul Patton is nearly four months away, it is a bit surprising to find the conservative Fletcher (lifetime American Conservative Union rating: 84%), who has never won office outside his Lexington-based 6th District, with a lead over Chandler, who has won statewide office twice and is heir to possibly the most durable political name in Bluegrass State history: Grandfather A.B. (Happy) Chandler served as governor for two non-consecutive terms as U.S. senator, and was the nation’s second commissioner of Major League Baseball.

In part, Fletcher backers insist, his early and strong posture stems from the disgust of voters after 32 unbroken years of Democratic governors. Sixty-three percent of those polled by P.O.S. said their state has "gotten off on the wrong track" and only 27% say Kentucky is "heading in the right direction." The same survey showed that 76% of state voters agree with the statement: "Kentucky is falling behind other states and needs a change of leadership."

Last year, Georgia, Hawaii, and Maryland-all of which had gone longer than Kentucky without a Republican governor-made history by breaking tradition and finally putting the GOP back in their governor’s mansions. Now Kentucky is the state that has gone longest without a Republican governor.

Concluded Ed Tobin of the Republican Governors Association: "Ben Chandler has been part of the problem for too many years to be considered part of the solution."


In one of the hardest-fought party convention battles in Montana history, John Rabenberg was elected Republican state chairman last week. Rabenberg, a veteran party volunteer and Fort Peck farmer, won 102 to 74 over former State Rep. Gilda Clancy. He succeeds outgoing Chairman Ken Miller (who is relinquishing the party helm to ponder a bid for governor amidst growing rumors that Republican incumbent Judy Martz will not seek re-election).

Although numerous publications tried to portray the fight between Rabenberg and Clancy, a lobbyist for the Montana Eagle Forum, as an ideological battle, party sources insisted to me that just wasn’t so. The 66-year-old Rabenberg had as much backing on the right as Clancy, and like her is a supporter of retention of the strong pro-life plank in both the state and national party platforms. Evidence that Clancy was not the unanimous choice of the party’s cultural conservatives came in the endorsement for Rabenberg by Betty Babcock, also an Eagle, and wife of revered former Gov. (1961-68) and present Republican National Committeeman Tim Babcock. (Betty Babcock had been key, party sources confirmed, in securing Eagle Forum founder Phyllis Schlafly as a Lincoln Day speaker for the party earlier in the year.

In part, Rabenberg’s triumph was due to his reputation as the "sign king" of Montana Republicanism. Every two years, the small silk-screen operation on his farm is deployed in favor of Republican candidates, and thousands of large wooden signs are made. In 2000, when Republicans swept the state for George W. Bush and won most statewide contests, Rabenberg turned out more than 12,000 signs that would have cost $40 apiece if he and his people had not silk-screeened them for less.

As a show of party unity, the new chairman asked erstwhile rival Clancy to join his executive board. She refused to commit right away, however, because, as she told reporters, "I always discuss everything with my husband before I make important decisions."


Nov . 11, 1999: "This is Bob Stump," snapped the crisp voice on the other end of the line, the chairman of the House Veterans Affairs Committee and veteran Arizona congressman was telephoning me, as he always did, without using a secretary to place the call or having a press secretary handle my request (Stump never even had a press secretary or a congressional web page, never issued a press release nor did media "events"-dismissing all that as "self-promotion crap."). He was calling me to talk about the Veterans Day breakfast Bill Clinton had that morning for the heads of national veterans organizations. How could Clinton claim, fumed Stump, that "‘we have increased the defense budget’ when he vetoed two defense budgets in a row because there was too much money in them?" As he had every year since becoming Veterans Affairs chairman in 1995, the Arizonan declined Clinton’s invitation to join him on Veterans Day because, in Stump’s words, "I have no respect for the man."

In a nutshell, that was the Bob Stump I remembered upon learning that the chairman of the House Veterans Affairs and then the House Armed Services Committee from 2000-02 had died of a blood disorder June 20 in Phoenix. Plainspoken, unassuming, and patriotic. Indeed, as much as any member of Congress who had fought in World War II, the 76-year-old Stump was the embodiment of "the greatest generation."

Phoenix native Robert Lee Stump lied about his age to join the Navy at 16. As a combat medic, he saw action on Luzon, Iwo Jima, and Okinawa. Following his discharge, Stump returned home to earn a degree in agronomy from what is now Arizona State University and then became a cotton and grain farmer. In 1958, Democrat Stump was elected to the state house of representatives and a decade later, he won a seat in the state senate.

When GOP Rep. (1966-76) Sam Steiger gave up his House seat to become the Republican nominee for the U.S. Senate, state Senate President Stump topped the Democratic primary for the seat with 31% of the vote over four opponents. In November 1976, Stump put the 3rd District in the Democratic column by edging out Republican and fellow State Sen. Fred Koory. But Stump was different from most of the Democrats elected to the House that year. As HUMAN EVENTS noted after his election (see HE, Nov. 20, 1976), "the Arizona Chamber of Commerce rated Stump the most pro-free enterprise of all Democrats in the state senate. In his congressional campaign, Stump came out against ‘unnecessary government regulations,’ for a ‘balanced federal budget,’ against d??©tente, against giving up the Panama Canal, for mandatory sentences for those convicted of major crimes, and against gun control."

Increasingly uncomfortable in the leftward-lurching Democratic caucus in the House, Stump (lifetime American Conservative Union rating: 97%) finally switched parties in 1981 after voting for President Reagan’s tax and budget cuts. Voters back home didn’t appear to mind; having re-elected the Democratic Stump with 64% of the vote in 1980, they gave him 63% of the vote as a Republican in ’82. Despite his relatively recent minting as a Democrat and a spirited challenge from a much-younger Rep. Curt Weldon (R.-Pa.), Stump nevertheless emerged as chairman of the House Armed Services Committee in ’00. Wielding the gavel at Veterans Affairs and later at Armed Services, Stump sponsored legislation to limit burial at Arlington Cemetery to veterans who were killed on active duty or won major medals; supported a missile defense program; and made no bones of his belief that homosexuality was incompatible with service in uniform. In 2000, Stump was the lone Arizonan member of Congress not to endorse John McCain for President, preferring to remain neutral.