Minneapolis, Minn. — Every time I attend a Republican National Committee regular meeting somewhere around the country, there have been some changes at party helms in the various states and new Republican leaders to become acquainted with. The recent summer meeting of the RNC at the Sheraton Bloomington was no exception.
Only three months ago, for example, Oklahoma Republicans settled a three-candidate race for the party chairmanship by electing stalwart conservative Tom Daxon. A certified public accountant by trade, Daxon helped oversee the recovery of Orange County, California, in the ’90s after the county had declared bankruptcy and numerous local officials were forced out. A former state auditor and the 1982 Republican nominee for governor, Daxon most recently served as the of head of the Oklahoma equivalent of the federal Office of Management and Budget in the cabinet of former Republican Gov. (1994-2002) Frank Keating. Daxon is considered a close ally of one of the most prominent conservatives in the Sooner State party organization, Republican National Committeewoman Bunny Chambers.
With State Party Chairman Rob Capehart resigning his post to study abroad on a Fulbright Scholarship, West Virginia Republicans chose urologist Doug McKinney as his successor. A strong conservative, McKinney was an unsuccessful candidate for the GOP nomination for governor two years ago. As associate chairman, the second-highest office in the party hierarchy, McKinney tapped fellow conservative Lynn Staton, wife of former Rep. (1980-82) Mick Staton (R.-W.Va.). Over coffee, McKinney pointed out to me how the national political spotlight would be on his state soon because it had opted out of the presidential primary system in favor of choosing delegates to the ’08 national convention by convention.
“Delegates will be selected in a process that will begin late in ’07 and we will hold the convention in February, about the time of the New Hampshire primary,” McKinney told me. In recognition of its changed status in the presidential sweepstakes, the Mountaineer State has begun to attract potential national candidates and their surrogates. At the same state executive committee meeting at which he was elected, McKinney noted, Sen. Trent Lott (R.-Miss.) spoke on behalf of his ’08 favorite for the White House, Sen. John McCain (R.-Ariz.).
Of Helen, Jim, Phyllis and Me
The last day (August 2) that the old White House press room was open to reporters before nine months of renovation to the room has now passed. The surprise appearance there that day by the President and First Lady, along with six former press secretaries to past Presidents, made headlines and was a featured story on almost all of the evening newscasts.
One surprise visitor (who, like me, had to stand because he didn’t get there in time to get a seat at the standing-room-only briefing) was ABC-TV’s Sam Donaldson, best known as his network’s chief White House correspondent when Ronald Reagan was President and now known primarily as an occasional talking head on “This Week.” Obviously imitating the Peck’s Blab Boy of the press room, radio talk show host Les Kinsolving, Donaldson kept trying to ask the President the same question Kinsolving had posed to Press Secretary Tony Snow the day before: “Do you think Mel Gibson should be forgiven for saying the Jews caused all the wars?”
Bush dismissed Donaldson by saying, “We don’t have to answer questions from has-beens”—prompting widespread laughter throughout the room. In a comeback that was not picked up in the official transcript, Donaldson remarked to those around him that it was better “to be a has-been than a never was.”
Sitting in a wheelchair beside the President was the man for whom the briefing room is named—James Brady, press secretary to Ronald Reagan—seriously wounded in the attempted assassination of the 40th President in 1981. At one point, I remarked to correspondent Helen Thomas that Brady, in an earlier incarnation as a political gun-for-hire, had managed the campaign of a nationally known conservative, Phyllis Schlafly, when she ran for Congress in Illinois in 1970.
“I don’t believe it,” said a surprised Thomas, clearly unable to accept the fact that the best-known advocate of gun control in the nation could have run the campaign for the Eagle Forum head. In 1970, Schlafly opposed then-Democratic Rep. George Shipley in Illinois’s 23rd District, which then included her hometown of Alton. As HUMAN EVENTS reported Aug.15, 1970, “She boasts the professional expertise of the same firm that managed Gov. Richard Oglivie’s successful statewide campaign two years ago”—which dispatched Brady to oversee the Schlafly campaign. But even with expertise, more than 4,000 volunteers, and a six-figure budget, Schlafly lost 54% to 46%. Recalling the campaign to me many years later, she said, “Jim lived in our guest house and did a fine job.”
Undaunted by Helen Thomas’s skepticism, I went up to Brady. “Human Events?” he said, “you work for a fine rag!” When I told him of Thomas’s disbelief about his past. Brady grinned, turned his head to Thomas, and settled the issue. “Helen,” he called out, “It’s true! It’s true!"