Remembering a Founding Father
One of the key men responsible for nurturing both the modern Republican Party in the South and the post-war national conservative movement, including HUMAN EVENTS, died December 31. Roger Milliken, extraordinarily successful textile magnate and vigorous backer of conservative causes and candidates, was 95.
The scion of a Northeastern textile family and a Yale graduate, the man that generations of conservatives called only “Mr. Milliken” took over his family’s business in 1947 and began modernizing and expanding it. Under his leadership, the Milliken textile empire would register almost 1,500 patents.
“He was a conservative’s conservative,” wrote Rick Pearlstein of Milliken in Before the Storm, a history of modern conservative politics. “in 1956, when workers at his Darlington factory organized to form a union, Milliken shut it down permanently rather than negotiate.”
It was Milliken’s money and vigor that were pivotal to getting the Republican Party in South Carolina out of the proverbial telephone booth in the 1950s and making it a viable force. In 1959, he helped get enough Republicans to hold a state convention of respectable size and brought in Barry Goldwater as its keynote speaker.
A year later, Milliken helped his state’s delegation to the Republican National Convention to support Goldwater for President. The Arizonan promptly took his name out of contention, making his famous “Grow up, conservatives” speech urging them to take over the Republican Party.
And that they did. With Milliken promptly laying down $30,000 to launch the “Draft Goldwater” Committee and hire F. Clifton White as campaign manager, the effort to secure the presidential nomination for a true conservative succeeded in 1964. That same year, Milliken helped persuade South Carolina Democratic Sen. Strom Thurmond to switch to the Republican Party. Several accounts also have it that Milliken also had George Wallace (whom Goldwater despised) poised to become a Republican, but the Alabamian abruptly backed off when Thurmond beat him to the switch.
Milliken had known Ronald Reagan since the Goldwater campaign. He was an early contributor and enthusiastic fund-raiser to Reagan’s 1976 and ’80 presidential campaigns and a key figure to be consulted in all major decisions by the campaign. The South Carolinian was also a benefactor of just about every major pillar of the conservative movement in its embryonic stages. He was a strong backer of the Heritage Foundation and of publications such as HUMAN EVENTS, to which he faithfully subscribed for himself and many others from the early 1960s until his death last week.
One of the most poignant reminiscences of Milliken came from his fellow South Carolina conservative, former Republican Rep. (1980-82) U.S. Court of Claims Judge John L. Napier.
“Mr. Milliken was larger than life—a billionaire who walked with the common man,” Napier told me. “When we were both delegates to the 1984 Republican National Convention, I was standing next to Mr. Milliken in our delegation in Dallas. He was waving a 3×5-inch American flag during President Reagan’s acceptance speech. By every right, this man should have been on the stage or in a celebrity skybox. Instead, he was standing on the convention floor with the rest of us, cheering on the man he had done so much to make President and change history.”
A N.H. Goldwater Girl After ‘Big John?’
Having overseen a comeback by his fellow Granite State Republicans that is being dubbed “the New Hampshire Miracle,” John Sununu will leave the party chairmanship January 22. His “swan song” will come a week after the nationally watched Republican National Committee meeting at which Sununu and his fellow RNC members will decide whether to re-elect Michael Steele as national chairman or pick one of his four challengers. Much sought out by the national press for his opinion on the heated race, former Gov. (1982-88) and White House Chief of Staff (1989-91) Sununu is playing his cards close to his vest about his choice for the RNC helm.
But in terms of his own state party, the man known universally as “Big John” is anything but neutral. In a recent statement, Sununu declared that the next state chairman should be able to articulate the conservative message, raise the resources necessary to put the organization in fighting trim, and be able to speak to all party factions—from the business community to the newer Tea Party movement.
And “Big John” even has someone in mind who fits the bill: Chesire County (Keene) GOP Chairman Julianna Bergeron, who has been in investments and volunteer fund-raising for charities for decades. The conservative Bergeron has also been a tireless volunteer in Republican campaigns since she was in junior high school when she handed out brochures as a “Goldwater girl.” (Despite the help of Bergeron and other eager volunteers, Barry Goldwater fell short in the 1964 New Hampshire primary to a write-in effort behind moderate Henry Cabot Lodge).
By most accounts, the 57-year-old Bergeron is the strong favorite to be elected at the next meeting of the 493-member GOP state committee. However, no one dismisses her lone opponent, tea party activist Jack Kimball. Last year, Kimball came in second in the three-candidate race for governor.
The next state GOP chairman will have big shoes to fill. Under Sununu’s watch, New Hampshire GOPers in 2010 won a U.S. Senate seat, picked up both of the state’s U.S. House seats, and turned their 225-to-175 seat minority in the state House of Representatives into a whopping majority of 298 to 102 seats. Republicans also flipped a 14-to-10 seat disadvantage in the state senate to a majority of 19-to-5 seats (the largest Republican majority in the senate since 1962).
In New Hampshire’s little-noticed but powerful Executive Council, Republicans went from a 3-to-2 seat minority to control with five-to-nothing. Among the victors in the shutout was Chris Sununu, seventh of the outgoing chairman’s eight children and the chief executive officer of the Waterville Valley resort.
New Conservative Faces on the Hill
Since one-third of the 242 Republican House members who took office last week are freshmen, there has been considerable interest in the right hand men and women to the new GOP lawmakers.
In many cases, “right hand” is a pretty good adjective to apply, because so many are well-known and well-liked in the conservative community.
Jim Hayes, for example, was a familiar and much-liked figure to Midwestern conservatives as a regional operative for the National Rifle Association. He went on to serve as campaign manager and then chief of staff to Rep. (1994-2008) Jerry Weller (R.-Ill.) Now Hayes has been tapped as top aide to Rep. Vickie Hartzler (R.-Mo.), who unseated House Armed Services Committee and 36-year Rep. Ike Skelton in one of the biggest upsets of 2010.
Karen M. Czarnecki, new chief of staff to freshman Rep. Mike Kelly (R-PA), was deputy assistant secretary of labor in the George W. Bush Administration and senior advisor to Secretary of Labor Elaine Chao. She was also a commentator on the panel discussion program “To the Contrary” and a frequent pundit on Fox News.
Taking a new assignment is Mary Vought, a familiar fixture among conservatives and to Capitol Hill reporters .As press secretary to Republican Representatives Scott Garrett (N.J.) and Michele Bachmann (Minn.) and later as spokesman for the House Republican Conference, Vought won high marks even from liberal reporters for getting back to them promptly and answering questions on short notice. Now Vought will move over to the Senate side as director of communications for freshman Sen. Ron Johnson (R.-Wis.).