Gizzi on Politics: Special Edition

Karl and Me: Remembering Rove

Saturday, November 29, 1980: The wedding of my friends Frank Lavin and Ann Wortley at the Syracuse Hotel had concluded and the best man was about to lead us in a toast. Recalling such moving events in the couple’s courtship as “their first date — seeing the Rocky Horror Picture Show,” Karl Rove had the audience convulsing in laughter as they raised their glasses. And then, Rove led the other groomsmen in putting on plastic pig snouts as they tossed confetti at the bride and groom!

That was my first introduction to the man who did more than anyone to make George W. Bush President of the United States. As news of his resignation as deputy chief of staff to the President spread across the land this morning, my nearly three decades of knowing Karl Rove came back to me. As he was in standing up for College Republican friends Frank and Ann, Rove was almost always unpredictable and unforgettable.

In those days, Karl was coming off his days as national chairman of the CRs, having secured the position after a stormy national convention in which his leading opponent — a Michigan man — and Rove came to a tie. Under CR rules, if there is a tie in the chairmanship race, it is to be broken by the Republican National Chairman. It was, and Rove rose to national prominence when the tie-breaking vote that made him chairman was cast by the then-RNC chairman, George H.W. Bush. Among those at the stormy convention were Larry Casey of New York — later a top aide to several Republican congressmen and now a Bush Administration official — and Mississippi’s Roger Wicker, now a congressman. The third candidate in the race for chairman dropped out to back Rove’s opponent from Michigan because he believed he was the conservative in the race; the “third man” was Terry Dolan of Connecticut, who would later become a swashbuckler in conservative campaigns as head of the National Conservative Political Action Committee.

Karl Rove, with the author’s father Al Gizzi, at White House Christmas Party, December 13, 2006

If you get the impression Rove was viewed with suspicion by those who considered themselves conservatives first and Republicans second, go to the head of the class. When I tell this to young people who see the present White House deputy chief of staff as a hate figure of the left who is demonized by the national media, they are usually amazed. But it’s true: in the ‘70’s and ‘80’s, working with his closest CR buddy Lee Atwater, Rove was seen as someone who wanted to win first and then worry about the ideology of who won. If you questioned him or his candidate, he seemed to feel, you were the enemy.

“Voracious reader” is a term often applied to Rove in profiles. I can give personal testimony to that: when his major client, former Republican Gov. Bill Clements, launched a comeback bid in 1986 (four years after his surprise defeat), I reminded readers that former oil roughneck Clements was himself a political roughneck who, when asked how he could win when polls showed him getting a small percentage of the Hispanic vote, replied: “I’m not running for governor of Mexico.” Through friends, Rove let me know he had read my article, that the Clements quote was from his first race for governor eight years earlier (which he had won), and his consultant was not pleased with me dusting it off. (Clements went on to win nomination easily and roared back into the statehouse, one of only two Republicans anywhere to take out Democratic governors in the Democratic year of 1986; the other was Tommy Thompson of Wisconsin).

“Shame on you!” went a handwritten note Rove sent me in 1999, when I quoted a Wall Street Journal article citing statements of then-Gov. Bush that sounded less than absolute in ruling out tax increases. (He was right: the Journal reporter had not printed the governor’s full statement, which was decidedly anti-tax increase). When Rove was speaking at a Houston Republican event in the 1990’s and then GOP County Chairman Gary Polland gave him a ride from the airport, HUMAN EVENTS came up and Rove launched into a tirade about an article I wrote quoting an Austin source that Gov. Bush gave a lot of appointments to Democrats (although he never questioned the veracity of the story, Polland later told me).

From his days as a political consultant to his days in the White House, Rove could disagree without being disagreeable. When I brought my mother to the White House Christmas Party in ’05, he came up to her, introduced himself, and recalled his first meeting with me at the Lavin wedding. As Mom later recalled, “He was the most attentive person I met that evening.” (although she later admitted, the President and First Lady were also very attentive as well).

A year later, when I brought my father to the White House for the Christmas Party and we were in line for some food, Karl Rove bounded up and said “Who’s that you’ve got there, Gizzi?” He promptly grabbed my father’s arm, chatted briefly, and posed for a photograph. Last year, when my wife and I were at Barnes and Noble on a Sunday, a man in boots a fedora hat and checkered shirt suddenly came up. I stared blankly. “Gizzi, Karl Rove,” he said with a grin, realizing that his garb made him out of context to me. Rove then proceeded to talk to my wife about their common Midwestern roots and how he had been on a bus in Wisconsin with our old friend Steve Wieckert.

As he leaves the White House whose current resident he did so much to put there, Rove has been likened to such past politcos par excellence as Atwater, campaign manager for the elder Bush in 1988, and James Carville, who did so much to make Biil Clinton President. But the elder Bush and Clinton had been gearing up to run for President years before Atwater and Carville came along and helped them finish the job. Rove was much more — like Colonel Edward M. House was to Woodrow Wilson and Louis Howe to Franklin D. Roosevelt, Rove knew his potential president before he was even a governor and, believing him, guided him along his rocky road of destiny.

The political landscape is not likely to see his kind again for a while. Pundits and pols will miss his humor, his quirks, and his insight. And I will miss a friend.

(A Footnote: Rove’s antics at the wedding in 1980 dominated discussion of fellow guests Grover Norquist and Steve Wieckert and me as we all drove back to Washington the next day. As three young conservatives in a Washington that Ronald Reagan would soon take over, we also discussed our futures: Steve, an aide to Wisconsin Rep. Tim Petri, was eventually going back to his hometown of Appleton, Wisconsin and be the next Joe McCarthy: I was going to be a powerful columnist like the late Joe Alsop; and Grover, well, he was going to be Grover, a conservative icon; with Steve Wieckert now serving in the Wisconsin legislature and me having my own weekly column and blog and Grover a unique national figure, I would say we have come a long way but still have miles to go)

The ACLU Strikes Again — And Again — For Illegal Immigration

At a time when thirty two states have successfully enacted legislation to deal with illegal immigration and more than fifty local governments have either taken action or are considering it on the issue, there is a major roadblock that their actions will almost surely have to overcome: the American Civil Liberties Union.

In two of the communities that have taken high-profile action to stem an alarming tide of illegal immigration, the ACLU is already hot on the job. In fact, an ACLU suit (in which the group was joined by seven other plaintiffs) against the town of Hazelton, Pennsylvania was recently upheld in U.S. District Court. Facing a rising tide of overcrowded housing and crime because of illegal immigrants, Hazelton Mayor Lou Barletta won enactment of the Illegal Immigration Relief Act, which suspended business licenses of employers who knowingly hire illegal alien and also penalized landlords who rent to them. Once the measure took effect, Barletta told me in June, “you could see the [illegal] people leaving….There was nothing to keep them there when employers and landlords were going to check them out.”

Now Barletta and the city fathers must go the U.S. Court of Appeals in an attempt to overturn the decision, issued by a Clinton-appointed district judge, James Munley.

In Prince William County, Virginia, County Supervisor John Stirrup was inspired by Barletta’a original measure (which he read about in HUMAN EVENTS) and offered a tough measure of his own to deal with the mounting illegal immigration problem: permitting the county police force to ask residents if they are illegal immigrants and, if found to be in the country illegally, arresting them and sending them on to the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agency for deportation. Following a crowded and stormy public meeting, the eight-member Board of Supervisors in Virginia’s second-most populous county voted unanimously last month to enact the Stirrup measure.

And—you guessed it!—the ACLU was on the job again. In a letter sent to the supervisors on July 9th—the day before the vote on the Stirrup measure—ACLU Executive Director Kent Willis and Legal Director Rebecca Glenberg sent a letter denouncing “this ill-conceived resolution” and warning of “legal and policy problems that will have a severe impact on the civil liberties of Prince William County residents.” (A copy of the ACLU warning salvo is attached).

So, as Congress remains vague on what it will do to deal with the problem and local communities deal with what they say is a crisis that hits home, forewarned is forearmed: the ACLU is out there, waiting.