Two big political names—one in Alabama and one in Georgia—went down at the polls last week. In the Alabama statewide run-off, George Wallace, Jr., namesake son of his state’s best-known politician in many decades, lost the Republican nomination by a 55%-to-45% margin. Wallace, who had been state treasurer and an unsuccessful candidate for Congress as a Democrat, was defeated by Montgomery attorney Luther Strange, a political neophyte. Although there were few issue differences between the men, many GOP donors and other party leaders rallied to the relatively unknown Strange because they did not want Republican Gov. Bob Riley to have to share the statewide ticket with the namesake of someone they believe kept their party from reaching its potential in Alabama for at least 15 years.
Also in Alabama, Republicans did nominate the heir to one of their most beloved names over a recent Democratic convert. Former State Rep. Perry Hooper, Jr., whose namesake-father was the state’s longtime Republican national committeeman and its first-ever Republican chief justice, won the run-off for a spot on the state Public Service Commission. Hooper defeated former State Sen. John Amari, a Democrat-turned-Republican. As a Democrat in the 1980s, Amari was part of a group in the state senate known as the “contras” who were dedicated to thwarting the conservative agenda of Republican Gov. (1986-92) Guy Hunt.
. . .And in Georgia
In Georgia, a Republican long touted as one of the party’s “young men to watch” lost the GOP nomination for lieutenant governor. Ralph Reed, famed nationally as the former head of the Christian Coalition, was defeated by a 56%-to-44% margin by State Sen. Casey Cagle. The contenders both campaigned as strong conservatives, but their contest focused almost exclusively on Reed’s ties to disgraced former Washington lobbyist Jack Abramoff. Cagle TV spots slammed Reed for making “millions with convicted felon Jack Abramoff” and “selling out our values.” Documents released in the ongoing probe of Abramoff show that he had paid Reed more than $4 million to organize evangelical conservatives to oppose Indian casinos that would have competed with those run by Abramoff’s clients. Reed repeatedly denied any wrongdoing.
Reed was also criticized for some clients he has had as a business consultant, including Bill Gates’ Microsoft and Puerto Rican statehood.
A sign that national Republicans were putting space between themselves and the controversial Reed came when President Bush addressed a statewide Republican banquet earlier this year. Bush, for whose winning ’04 re-election the 45-year-old Reed had been a key strategist, simply acknowledged to the audience that there were two Republican candidates for lieutenant governor. Normally, the President isn’t shy about making his preferences known in primaries—especially when a friend is involved.
Winthrop Paul Rockefeller, R.I.P.
The immediate reaction of many Human Events subscribers whenever I wrote about Arkansas Lt. Gov. Winthrop Paul Rockefeller was wonderment about what I was doing profiling a member of that family, since his uncle Nelson long was the embodiment of everything conservatives hated in the Republican Party and first cousin Jay is an out-and-out liberal Democratic senator from West Virginia.
But the man known universally throughout Arkansas as “Win Paul” was, like his late father (the first Republican governor of his adopted state from 1966-70), a different kind of Rockefeller. He liked guns, automobiles and law enforcement (police radio enthusiast Rockefeller served on the State Police Commission for 14 years), smoked cigarettes, and, in contrast to his many cousins who gave large sums to far-left causes, embraced capitalism and free-market solutions to domestic problems. Running as a conservative, he won a special election as Arkansas lieutenant governor in 1996 and later won two full terms.
Earlier this year, however, Rockefeller abruptly ended a long-planned race for governor and revealed he was fighting a severe bone marrow condition that could lead to leukemia. On July 16, he died at age 57.
The only child of Winthrop Rockefeller and socialite Barbara “Bobo” Sears, Rockefeller was raised by his mother after his parents divorced and spent his youth in Manhattan, Switzerland, France and Great Britain. After graduation from Texas Christian University, he moved to Arkansas to be near the father he had rarely seen. As the sole heir to his father’s estate, “Win Paul” was regularly on the Forbes list of wealthiest Americans and oversaw four automobile dealerships, real estate and resort holdings, and the sprawling Winrock Farms estate outside Little Rock.
Rockefeller, who also served as state Republican chairman, always insisted to all he met that they call him “Win” rather than by his official title at the time or “Mister.” When asked about published estimates that his assets totaled $1.2 billion, he would insist that this was a gross exaggeration and said only that his situation was “comfortable.” When Arkansas Democrat-Gazette reporter Rex Nelson asked the lieutenant governor if he was “Rockefeller Republican,” Win Paul laughed and replied: “Well, I guess I am.”
The House of Stroger
Only days after Polish President Lech Kaczynski stunned the world by naming as prime minister his identical twin brother Jaroslaw Kaczynski, another case of an elected official’s tapping a family member for a powerful government position spawned controversy and widespread media criticism.
With Cook County (Chicago) Board of Commissioners President John Stroger hospitalized and out of sight from the public since his stroke in March, speculation has been rampant about when the 77-year-old head of the county government would resign and who would succeed him in the patronage-rich presidency and as the Democratic nominee for re-election this fall.
Over the last two weeks, those questions have been mainly answered. On the weekend before July 4, Chicago Alderman Todd Stroger announced that his father planned to step down and brandished a letter from his father that made clear that that he wanted 43-year-old Todd to succeed him. Last week, the 80 members of the Cook County Democratic Committee met behind closed doors and tapped “Stroger the Younger” as the substitute nominee for board president.
“A Fraud on Cook County Voters” blared a massive editorial in the Sunday, July 10, Chicago Tribune on the eve of young Stroger’s anointment by the ward leaders. The Tribune charged that the Democratic bosses in the county had misled voters about John Stroger’s condition and that his exodus from office came just past the filing deadline for an independent to file for the board presidency this fall. (County Commissioner Forrest Claypool, a former chief of staff to Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley, had drawn 48% of the vote against Stroger in the March Democratic primary, just days after the incumbent had his stroke. The timing of Stroger’s resignation kept Claypool from launching what might have been a winning race as an independent.)
Meanwhile, the lone alternative to a Stroger succession is conservative Republican Tony Peraica, an attorney and county commissioner. The controversy swirling around the “Todd-for-John maneuver” is expected to give a significant boost to Peraica’s chances of becoming the first Republican to hold the presidency in four decades.
“A nice young man, but not ready for prime time,” is how Chicago Sun-Times columnist Laura Washington characterized Todd Stroger. “In his pitches for the job,” she wrote, “he has shown he has no handle on the mountain of crisis facing county government. He has had three months to absorb that information. Still, the pols in those smoke-filled rooms say his knowledge of county government is perfunctory. Todd Stroger is keeping mum for one reason—he doesn’t have much to say.”