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A Dream of Roadrunners in Minnesota’s 1966 Republican Gubernatorial Campaign
“I have a dream,” said Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., as he addressed crowds assembled in a massive Civil Rights demonstration. I once had a dream like that, too. It was to find hundreds of people who would be willing to run from one city to another in a gigantic relay marathon to demonstrate their support for the Republican Party. They were to be called “the Roadrunners”, and their effort was to help elect a Republican Governor of Minnesota in 1966.
Having lived in Minnesota for a year and a half, I became involved in the activities of the Young Republican League in that state. I belonged to a club called “Central City” whose jurisdiction comprised four legislative districts in the downtown area of St. Paul. The chairman of Central City, Paul Beckman, resigned his position to run for the state legislature from District 45B, on the theory that it was better not to be closely identified with the Republican Party in a district which returned four-to-one pluralities for the Democrats. Along with five to ten other Republicans, young and old, I took part that year in Paul Beckman’s “independent” campaign. On August 25, 1966, I succeeded him as chairman of the Central City chapter of the Minnesota Young Republican League.
Formulating a Plan
The idea of a marathon came to me one afternoon in the middle of June the same year, as I was seated in the back of a Greyhound bus on the way to St. Paul from New York City. Originally this undertaking had no political associations, but was something which a commercial organization such as a chain of gasoline service stations might sponsor for its employees, perhaps in competition with the employees of a rival brand. For instance, if 1,000 Texaco station attendants, members of their families, or friends could be found who would agree to run one mile apiece, there would be enough people to cover the entire distance on foot from New York to Chicago. They would form a gigantic chain, each runner passing a baton to another runner who would be waiting for him down the road. If 1,000 Shell Oil company employees could be persuaded to do the same, they might have a race. If 3000 employees from both companies were recruited, there might be a race from coast to coast.
Of course, this was the wildest speculation. It was unlikely that a single corporation or commercial enterprise could muster 3000 persons fit and able to run a mile apiece on some remote stretch of highway, and even more unlikely that the prospective runners would be evenly distributed between New York and California. The best chance would be for a political party to sponsor it: but would the Democrats or the Republicans consider such an enterprise worthy of their serious attention? A month and a half later, I received the first indication that they might. I was talking to Anita Beckman, Paul’s wife about arrangements for a fundraising event which Central City would soon be sponsoring and in the course of conversation happened to mention my “far-fetched” scheme to her. To my surprise, Anita Beckman said she thought it was a good idea, and she encouraged me to do something about it.
Just because two people liked the idea, though, did not mean that it was realistic. I needed the opinion of someone with a little more political experience. That person was Dick Wolff, Paul Beckman’s campaign manager. Dick, an administrative supervisor at 3M, was the past chairman of the East Side Young Republicans during which term he had distinguished himself by signing up over 100 new members. He was presently a member of the State YRL Board of Directors as well as the Republican chairman of his legislative district. I cornered Dick Wolff after the next meeting of the Beckman Campaign Committee and put the idea to him. He, too, liked it. Dick suggested that I draw up a more complete proposal to present to the state board of directors of the Young Republican League at its next meeting, which would be in the middle of September.
It would be well over a month, then, before any official action might be taken on the Roadrunner idea. I could use this time to formulate my plan in greater detail and line up informal backing for it. The immediate opportunity was August 13th, when Central City would be sponsoring a boat party on Lake Minnetonka, west of Minneapolis. Between sixty and eighty people would be aboard depending on how hard we pushed ticket sales. They would include mostly officers and other active members of YRL clubs in St. Paul, Minneapolis, and their suburbs, as well as several Republican candidates or members of the candidates’ families. Among those who had bought tickets was Hap LeVander, son the the Republican candidate for Governor.
Friday night, August 12th, our rented boat, the “Tonka Bell”, cast off from its docking place at 9:30 p.m.. It was gone until 1 a.m. During this time, as we cruised around the misty lake, stereos were blaring on both decks and people were busy buying set-ups below at a counter off the dance floor. I was in high spirits that evening, and in that mood approached several people with the Roadrunner idea. There were varying reactions to it. For instance Mike Pritchard, who was the 4th District YRL chairman (St. Paul and suburbs), said he would support the proposal, while Carl Carlson, the 4th District Vice-Chairman, was not in favor. Later in the evening I introduced myself to Hap LeVander, and outlined the activity which I had in mind for his father’s gubernatorial campaign. Hap reacted favorably, volunteering to run one of the laps. Later, as we were leaving the boat, I ran into him again, and, to dispel the impression that my proposal was just cocktail conversation, I repeated my intention to go through with the marathon. Again, Hap LeVander gave his encouragement.
There was one other such occasion at which I buttonholed people for their endorsement of the Roadrunners. On August 27th, the Young Republicans of White Bear Lake, a suburb north of St. Paul, sponsored an Ox Roast at a farm which belonged to one of its members. Here my proselytizing efforts were less successful. Although several individuals agreed to run, the atmosphere was really too light-headed for such a proposal to be taken seriously. People warded it off by advancing alternative suggestions such as a bicycle marathon which would start out simultaneously from all four corners of the state and converge upon the State Capitol in St. Paul. Those whom I asked specifically to endorse the project were, by and large, unimpressed. I remember in particular the comment of Janet Morgan, the much-respected YRL state chairwoman, that she “wasn’t too excited about it.”
However, the die had already been cast. Two days earlier, on August 25th, Central City had held its monthly meeting, the one at which I was elected chairman. Our speaker for the occasion was Jerry Olson, campaign manager for Harold LeVander. Besides being the Republican candidate for governor, LeVander was a prominent attorney in South St. Paul, a former law partner of Harold Stassen, son of a Lutheran minister, and an experienced orator. He had won a sharply contested bid for the Republican nomination over former governor Elmer L. Andersen, John S. Pillsbury, Jr., and William B. Randall (who was known mostly for his role as prosecuting attorney in the T. Eugene Thompson murder trial).
As Jerry Olson explained it that night, the LeVander campaign was then a bit in the doldrums because the candidate himself remained largely unknown to the public and the Democrats were monopolizing the news coverage. For, 1966 was the year that the Democrats, or the “Democratic-Farmer-Labor” Party (DFL) as they are called in Minnesota, tried to dump their incumbent governor, Karl Rolvaag, and replace him with A.M. “Sandy” Keith, their younger and more dynamic lieutenant-governor. Keith won the DFL nomination for Governor at the party’s state convention, and gained Vice President Humphrey’s subsequent endorsement (with the observation that his party ought to make room for the younger generation), but Rolvaag decided to challenge Keith‘s victory in the primary. Playing upon the indignation what followed the party’s ungallant move to retire him, Rolvaag trounced Keith at the polls by a two-to-one margin with the help of a thousand billboards that read “Let the People Decide!”
Against this pyrotechnic display, the Republicans could hope only to obtain occasional press coverage. Consequently, they were relying upon their own billboards which conveyed the message that Harold LeVander was “an honest, decisive, new leader.”
My own project seemed to be in a good position to contribute to the publicity effort. After the meeting I approached Jerry Olson with my proposal, noting that Hap LeVander had agreed to run one of the laps. With little hesitation Olson responded that he thought the marathon was a good idea. He encouraged me to go ahead with the preparations but requested that I come in to see him once the project was further organized so that it could be coordinated with the rest of the campaign.
For the next two or three weeks, my time was taken up by other activities such as helping the Beckman campaign, running Central City, and moving into a new apartment. I continued working on some unrelated papers, which were my full-time occupation, until the third week in September when the Roadrunner project began in earnest. Meanwhile, I drew together the threads of many thoughts about how the marathon might be organized and wove these into a concrete proposal:
First there was the question where and how far the relay would be run. My original notion of covering the distance between Canada and the Iowa border, which was approximately 400 miles, now seemed too ambitious although the feat had to be spectacular in order to arouse excitement. The route finally decided, from Duluth to the Twin Cites, was picked as much for a thematic reason as it was to shorten the distance. On a road map I plotted a tentative course, which led from a lakeside park on the north side of Duluth, down Highway 61 to St. Paul for 150 miles, and then through various streets in St. Paul and Minneapolis to the parade grounds of Fort Snelling, on the outskirts of both cities. The total distance was 185 miles.
Routing the marathon through 35 miles of city streets would enable a maximum number of spectators to observe it. In addition, it was important to schedule the marathon so that the runners would be passing by at times when people might best be able to assemble on the streets to watch. The week-end would be ideal: The race might start late Friday afternoon in Duluth after the offices had let out. Saturday would be spent on the open highway. Early Sunday afternoon the runners would triumphantly enter the Twin Cities metropolitan area, where for the next two or three hours they would zig-zag through city streets winding up at Fort Snelling for a late afternoon celebration. If the runners averaged slightly more than nine miles an hour, the marathon would take twenty hours altogether - let’s say, 4 hours on Friday, 10 hours on Saturday, and the remaining 6 hours on Sunday. The election was Tuesday, November 8th. The Roadrunners might be scheduled for the week-end immediately preceding this: from November 4th through November 6th.
The main challenge would be to find enough runners to cover the distance. A mile apiece would probably be too strenuous for people who were not in condition, but a half mile should be no problem for most YRLers. Perhaps back-up runners could be on hand in case anyone had trouble completing his distance, as well as a doctor to deal with possible heart attacks. At a half mile per runner, it would take 370 people to go from Duluth to Fort Snelling. Where could this number of volunteers be recruited for such a crazy undertaking in less than two months?
Primarily the Roadrunners were for young men in their teens and twenties. The Young Republican League of Minnesota and the Minnesota Federation of College Republican Clubs, two official party auxiliaries, might be expected to supply the bulk of runners, with the Teenage Republicans also contributing a few. The Young Republican League at that time had approximately 3500 members throughout the state. The College Federation was a looser affiliation of Republican clubs on 27 college campuses, having an average of 100 members apiece. If my project could win the formal backing of these two organizations, their organs of communication might be utilized to sign up runners.
In addition, volunteers might come from sources outside of the institutional structure - from the sheets which were signed at the Minnesota State Fair by persons expressing an interest in the YRL or Teenage Republicans TARs), from high school or college cross country teams, from the families of older Republicans, from personal friends and acquaintances. As an incentive to participate, I thought each runner might receive a certificate personally signed by Harold LeVander.
Once the names came in, they would be grouped into carloads of six, and each carload would be assigned to a three-mile segment of the highway. The cars would belong to drivers who had volunteered for this duty by checking a box on the recruitment sign-up sheet. Each driver would be responsible for picking up five runners at their homes, driving them up to an assigned spot on the highway by a particular time and then driving them home when their part of the relay was done. He would receive a letter beforehand, indicating the precise mileages and descriptions where his contingent was to begin its run, along with the time they were to be there, and, of course, the names, addresses, and telephone numbers of the five runners. Obviously someone would have to survey the entire route in advance. When the car reached its destination, it would park on the side of the road, and the runners in their jogging attire would wait until the Roadrunner caravan came along.
This “caravan” would be a group of cars traveling with the man who was running. Five cars would be included - two in front of the runner and three behind. One of the two front cars would travel up the road to where the next carload of runners was waiting. One runner would remain on the highway to assume his part of the relay while the other five would climb into the car. When the caravan caught up to that point, the waiting car would fall into place directly ahead of the runner. Every half mile it would stop briefly to let a fresh man out, who would take the baton from the runner just finishing. He would then do his stretch. When the group of six runners was done, the empty car would proceed three miles up the road to pick up the next carload. Meanwhile, the other front car, which alternated with it, would be waiting with six more runners to begin their three-mile segment.
In back of the runner, another two cars would be working in tandem to pick up runners who had completed their half-mile lap. When a car had picked up all six runners, it would drive them three miles back up the road where their own car was parked. They could then drive home as the empty shuttle car returned to the caravan. Meanwhile, the other shuttle car would be picking up runners for its part of the cycle. A fifth car, also behind the runner, would carry individuals who had volunteered to run twice. These persons would perform back-up duty if the need arose. A possible sixth car in the caravan might be wired as a sound truck, or it might serve as a portable command post, carrying a doctor, photographer, time keeper, publicity man, etc.
Besides these arrangements, work had to be done on publicity. The event had to be made exciting so as to draw large numbers of spectators and impress the voters with its exuberant spirit. Such an undertaking might have a negative impact if it were received apathetically. Therefore, the runners would be given colorful armbands or headgear to wear. In Duluth and in the Twin Cities lamp posts on the streets would be decorated with banners, crepe paper and campaign posters along the route where the Roadrunners were scheduled to pass. Sound trucks might circulate throughout the Twin Cities playing loud music and urging people to watch the marathon. Notices in the newspapers would disclose the route the Roadrunners would be taking. Republican campaign workers would hand out LeVander-for-Governor literature to spectators on the sidewalks who were waiting for the runners to pass.
At the beginning of the marathon in Duluth, there would be a small celebration as sheets of paper bearing an undisclosed message would be rolled up and sealed inside the baton which the runners would be carrying. It would be announced only that the message expressed Harold LeVander’s political philosophy or his position on an important campaign issue. On Friday evening and again on Saturday evening, after the runners had completed the required distance for that day, a political rally would be held in a farmer’s field near the point where the run was halted. There might be a rock ‘n roll band, refreshments, political speeches, and other evening festivities for those who drove out from the cities for the occasion. In the morning after a Paul Bunyan-style pancake breakfast to which newsmen would be invited, the marathon would be resumed. Sunday afternoon at Fort Snelling a larger celebration would take place. Harold LeVander would unseal the baton, and read the message which it contained. He and other candidates might also address the assembled crowds as a finale to the campaign.
Every possible service would be provided to encourage the media to give the marathon maximum coverage. Photographs would be supplied to the newspapers showing Hap LeVander and other prominent volunteers on the road. A statistician accompanying the caravan would compile the run times for each runner from which various averages might be computed and predictions be made. This information would be transmitted by a special radio or telephone system to a communications center in the Twin Cities, which would then pass on significant information to the newspapers and to radio and television stations. In this way, up-to-the-minute reports on where the runners were and predictions on when they would pass certain landmarks in the Twin Cities would be made available. A roving PR man would be on the look-out for unusual incidents that might be worked into a news story. Alternatively, he might invent something relevant to the event. The “information” might be released to the press, for example, that the times were a bit slower on Highway 35 near Hinckley because the runners had tripped over cracks in the pavement.
(This gimmick alludes to the phony “Highway 35 scandal”, which the Democrats, reportedly at the urging of then Senator Hubert H. Humphrey, raised during the final week of the 1962 gubernatorial campaign. The charge was made that Elmer L. Andersen, the incumbent Republican governor, had ordered the Highway Department to hurry up completion of certain section of Highway 35, halfway between Duluth and St. Paul, so that the ribbon-cutting ceremony would take place before the election, and that, as a result, substandard materials had been used in the concrete. An official investigation later showed that these accusations were false, but there was not time to refute them before the election. As a result, the DFL candidate, Karl Rolvaag, unseated Gov. Andersen after a prolonged recount by a margin of 69 votes.)
The whole effort would be directed at creating a favorable image of the Republican Party in the eyes of Minnesota voters, a majority of whom preferred the Democrats or were apathetic about politics. Such an enterprise, requiring the cooperation of hundreds of runners, would dramatize the unity of the Republican Party that year in pointed contrast to the Democrats. Its novel nature would suggest that the Republicans were not afraid of new ideas. As a spectacle, it would project youthful vitality. Being personally physical, it would refute the contention that the Republicans were the party of money instead of people. It would reach those many voters who were more interested in sporting events than in political oratory. It would generate a feeling of momentum for LeVander in the closing week of his campaign. It would distract attention from the last-minute charge or issue which the Democrats were expected to raise again in 1966. How could this scheme possibly lose?
As late as September 19th, those plans were still largely on paper. From that morning, I now began working nearly full time to put the ideas into effect. The first step was to obtain detailed information about roads between the Twin Cities and Duluth from the Minnesota highway department so that the individual laps of the marathon could be plotted. After buying nine section road maps in the basement of the Department of Transportation building, I went upstairs to examine a loose leaf notebook which contained lists of the distances between highway junctions to the nearest one-tenth of a mile. This preliminary research would provide a framework for a more complete survey of the route which would later be made on the spot. An elderly employee of the Highway Department who inquired about my activities seemed pleased that the Republicans were planning some sort of publicity-raising event in connection with the Highway 35 scandal.
The same evening, September 19th, starting at 8 p.m., the Young Republicans of the 4th Congressional District were holding their monthly board meeting at the Multi-Clean company offices in St. Paul. I as chairman of Central City was invited to attend. Mike Pritchard, the 4th District chairman, had given me a place on the agenda to submit my proposal to the group for its endorsement. As it happened, the meeting bogged down in a rambling discussion of a campaign rally which the 4th District was organizing for the Republican Congressional candidate, and so it was not until the board members were impatient to adjourn that I was called upon to speak. Having an abundance of detail to present, I hurried through my proposal as best I could.
The first part of the talk dealt with the mechanics of the relay and the second part with the publicity arrangements and overall purpose. After ten minutes or so Mike Pritchard cut me short to open up general discussion. The chairman of the 46 club, Jim Winzenburg, whom I had met for the first time at the White Bear Lake Ox Roast, in a calm voice declared that he thought a bicycle marathon from the four corners of the state would be much better. Flushing with anger, I accused him of making a proposal which he had no intention of carrying through, as I did mine.
At this point, seeing that the lines had been drawn, Mike adjourned the meeting but not before calling for a motion, which passed, that the 4th District YLR Board tentatively endorse my project subject to the action of the State Board the following week-end. Afterwards, the editor of the 4th District newsletter offered to give me a full page in the next issue to explain the Roadrunners. Another member of the board, Sandy Weiss, who worked in the publicity section of Dayton’s department store, offered to explore the possibility of press coverage with several of her associates in Twin Cities newspapers.
The Roadrunners were off to a roaring start! The following evening, Tuesday the 20th, I addressed a meeting of the East Side Young Republicans, Dick Wolff’s club, and passed around the sheet for volunteers who would be willing to run, drive, or serve on the steering committee. Out of thirteen persons in attendance, nine signed up to run, including several women. A week later I appeared for a similar purpose before the 48B YRL club in St. Paul where four out of six members signed up. I also tried to interest one of the two Republican state representatives who were speakers at this meeting in taking a lap, but he was in his 50s and not athletic. The other man had a cane.
The State YRL Executive Board held its monthly meeting - an all-day session - at the Ranch House Restaurant in Bloomington on Saturday, September 24th. The meeting was attended by approximately thirty people from all eight Congressional districts of Minnesota. I arrived shortly before noon. Dick Wolff and Mike Pritchard had already sounded out several other board members about the idea and the reaction was favorable. Both the state chairman, Paul Magnuson, and the state chairwoman, Jan Morgan, were sympathetic to the cause. Dick had brought with him a stack of Thermo-fax copies of a two-page outline summarizing all aspects of the Roadrunner proposal which I had given him to run off at his office earlier in the week. I had been given a place on the agenda to deliver my pitch. At this time each board member would receive a copy of the outline.
My presentation at the State YRL board meeting was not as long or as argumentative as on the previous Monday since most members were already acquainted with its content. However, the discussion brought a wider range of comments. Some defended the marathon as an off-beat activity which would perk up the 1966 campaign and add a new spirit to the Young Republican League. Others were worried that the relay might break down at some point or that it might drain off too many campaign workers particularly in the 5th District (Minneapolis) where the YRL was pledged to work for the Congressional candidate all day Saturday before the election. Some were outspokenly critical, notably Don Simpson (a banking executive who lived in White Bear Lake) and Joyce Zniewski (who two months later married George Thiss, the GOP state chairman), warning that the marathon could do much damage to the party’s image if it failed.
Nevertheless, most board members were in favor of my proposal. Paul Magnuson proposed that the board endorse the project in principle, and that a committee composed of the eight district chairmen and himself meet the following Saturday at the Republican state headquarters to work out the details.
After the meeting, Jan Morgan came up to me, and said warmly that she had not quite understood the proposal when I had mentioned it to her the first time at the Ox Roast, but now thought it was a marvelous idea. Tom Dungan, the 8th District chairman (Duluth), was also particularly interested. Several people from the meeting then drove over to see the new Republican State Central Committee headquarters on Viking Drive in Edina where Lois Meyer, the YRL Executive Secretary introduced me to a number of party officials. I gave them all copies of the Roadrunner fact sheet. I also met Louise Maas, secretary of the Minnesota Federation of College Republican Clubs, who gave me the name and telephone number of that organization’s chairman, Bert Rude.
Evidently it would be another week before firm plans could be made concerning the Young Republican League. Before next Saturday’s meeting I had to move quickly to establish relations with the other main organizations which might supply runners or leadership talent for the marathon: the College Federation and the LeVander Volunteers.
On the following Monday I telephoned Bert Rude, who was a student at Concordia College in Moorhead, Minnesota. Bert was at first reluctant to become involved in such an offbeat activity but he warmed up when I identified myself as the chairman of Central City. It happened that he had belonged to the same YRL club in 1965 while he was working at the State Capitol as a legislative messenger. Bert told me that the next meeting of the MFCRC Executive Board would be at Augsburg College on Sunday afternoon, October 2nd, and suggested that I discuss my proposal with the club chairmen at that time.
The next move was on Wednesday. I had a 1:30 p.m. appointment with Jerry Olson at the Republican state headquarters. My points of business were:
- to ask if Harold LeVander might be scheduled to spend an hour or two at Fort Snelling late Sunday afternoon, November 6th.
- to ask if other Republican candidates might also be scheduled to give speeches at that time.
- to ask if Harold LeVander could personally sign certificates which would be awarded to each of the 370 runners.
- to request that the LeVander Volunteers take charge of all related campaign activities.
- to request a budget of $300 to meet organizational expenses.
- to ask if sound trucks might be available in the Twin Cities on November 5th and 6th.
- to ask for the name of someone from the LeVander Volunteers or of some other experienced Republican who might be willing to advise the Roadrunner’s steering committee or possibly serve as its chairman once the project was underway.
Jerry Olson’s response, to my astonishment, was affirmative on all points. There would be no problem with Harold LeVander’s schedule, related campaign activities, financing, etc. Olson gave me the names of Jim Nielsen of Hennepin County, who might be willing to help with the steering committee, and Lyall Schwartzkopf, who knew about sound trucks. His chief concerns were: first, about the message inside the baton; second, whether we could recruit enough runners in time; third, whether we could obtain police clearance for the marathon, especially in the Twin Cities. Olson asked me to send him a copy of the message as soon as it was written and to let him know soon if there were any problems with recruitment. Paul Magnuson and Mike Pritchard, both lawyers, were already working on police clearance.
Finally Saturday arrived and it was time to meet with the YRL district officers. I was at the Republican headquarters on time for the 11 a.m. appointment but no one else was there. After waiting for twenty minutes, I phoned Paul Magnuson’s home. Paul’s wife said he was on his way. When he arrived fifteen minutes later, still nobody else had showed up. Paul suggested that we walk over to a nearby Howard Johnson’s restaurant where we could talk over the project anyhow.
For the next hour, over coffee, we discussed mostly the message. I had written the first three or four pages of a speech which related a historical-geographical theme to that of political integrity, and read these aloud. Paul, who was a member of Harold LeVander’s law firm, said they were a good reflection of the candidate’s own thinking. He tossed out an alternative suggestion, though, that the Roadrunners might carry an ounce of uranium to dramatize Minnesota’s potential as an iron-smelting center if atomic energy could be substituted for coal. This was one of Harold LeVander’s pet ideas. Towards the end of our session, Lael Fruen of the 3rd District (Minneapolis suburbs) stopped by briefly with her young daughter. Little was accomplished that morning because few YRL officers were present but Paul Magnuson remained enthusiastic that the Roadrunners could help revitalize the Young Republican organization in Minnesota as well as the LeVander campaign.
The following day I attended the last of the preliminary organizational meetings, the College Federation board meeting. On the way over to Augsburg College in Minneapolis I picked up a hitchhiker who, by chance, was going to the same meeting. He was a student at the University of Minnesota named Walt Lorshbaugh. When we arrived, Walt introduced me to some of his friends who were officers of clubs in and around the Twin Cities. In due time I located Bert Rude and was given a place on the program, under new business, to present my proposal.
Although 75 to 100 students were in attendance, the arrangements were not as favorable for enlisting support from the various clubs as I might have hoped. I spoke for about ten minutes to this group. After the meeting was adjourned, the students remained for awhile in the meeting room and in the hallway. I wandered around from one circle of conversation to another asking who might be interested in taking part in the marathon and taking down their names, colleges, and telephone numbers on a sheet of paper.I was able to obtain only ten names representing seven different college campuses, although these included some of the state’s largest clubs.
Between meetings of this sort with Republican groups or their officials, I was busy with the preliminary paperwork for the recruitment effort. The Young Republican League had newsletters on three different levels - local, district, and state - which might carry notices of the Roadrunners. The College Federation had a statewide publication plus newsletters for some of the chapters. Hopefully, I might utilize the facilities for mass distribution provided by these various newsletters to acquaint the membership of the YRL and College Federation with the Roadrunner project before they would be approached individually, either by myself or by the club chairmen, to sign up for a half-mile jog.
The editor of the Young Republican League state newsletter and the editors of several district ones had already volunteered to make space available for an announcement of the marathon event if I would write it. The local clubs might be prevailed upon to do the same in their publications. I wanted to write three sets of recruitment notices in three different styles so as not to bombard the members with too much repetition. The announcement for the state publication, which was sent to its editor on September 29th, was intended to be a light-hearted, catchy description of the marathon and its purpose. The one sent to the editors of the district newsletters - rather to those representing the five Congressional districts which were closest to where the event would take place -was phrased as an official invitation to sign up, and it had a coupon attached. Finally, the same week I sent letters to 26 YRL club chairmen which contained a suggested announcement for their club newsletter. These publications would be coming into the homes of hundreds of physically fit Young Republicans at various times before November.
The other enterprise upon which I had pinned great hope was an attempt at direct mail solicitation. From Lois Meyer I had obtained a photostat of the list of persons who had signed the sheet at the 1966 Minnesota State Fair indicating an interest in the Young Republican League or the Teenage Republicans. The list contained over four hundred names, some barely legible. I combed through these for the names and addresses of young men who lived in the Twin Cities metropolitan area or else in the direction of Duluth. These boiled down to 159 names. Each one received a two-page mimeographed letter inviting him to contribute in this unique way to the LeVander campaign and a business-reply postcard, where he might write his name, address, and telephone number, and indicate whether he would also be willing to drive, run “double duty”, or serve on the arrangements committee. The postcards in themselves took a day to prepare as I had to obtain a permit at the main post office in St. Paul, design an acceptable format, and then make arrangements to have several hundred of them run off on perforated cardboard on the multilith machine at Republican state headquarters.
These 159 letters were mailed out on October 10th. Over the next several weeks the replies which I received netted the names of 41 runners, most of them high school or college students. Nine people volunteered for double duty, and ten said they would be willing to serve on the committee. One letter arrived from a teenager in Edina who could not run because he had broken his arm. However, he enclosed a newspaper clipping about a small radio station which he and a friend operated by themselves and offered to use their apparatus to maintain instantaneous communication between the Roadrunner caravan and a center of operations.
To handle the paperwork, I bought 500 envelopes and 1,000 sheets of paper, most of which were used up at the end, and $50.00 worth of postage stamps - all in commemoratives that featured Johnny Appleseed standing with shovel and carpetbag in front of a bright red apple. More than a few afternoons were spent at the Republican state headquarters, where, with the cooperation of Lois Meyer, YRL Executive Secretary, I ran off copies of the letter and other recruitment materials on the party’s mimeograph machine:
On October 6th, copies of the two-page Roadrunner fact sheet went out to the chairmen and chairwomen of all 26 YRL clubs in Districts 3, 4, 5, and 8, together with a sign-up sheet to be passed around at their next meeting and a letter explaining what was requested of them. Later the same materials went to thirteen other club officers in the 1st district (southeast Minnesota). On the same day I mailed out fact sheets, sign-up sheets, and explanatory letters to twenty college Republican club leaders, and fact sheets to twenty other interested individuals such as Republican party officials or personal acquaintances.
On Monday, October 10th, I sent fact sheets, letters and several return postcards apiece to all twenty-one known YRL members active in the 8th District. A special effort had to be made to recruit runners from that end of the Roadrunner route. Also, I sent Jerry Olson a copy of the proposed message which had been written over the weekend along with a letter telling what had been accomplished in the recruitment of volunteers. Tuesday a suggested announcement for the College Federation state newsletter went out in the mails to Bert Rude.
Meanwhile some of the other arrangements were falling in place. Sandy Weiss had talked to reporters on the Minneapolis Star who said they would give the Roadrunners good coverage. Mike Pritchard had found a young man in training for another marathon who was willing to take ten miles, if necessary. The U.S. Weather Bureau supplied the highs and lows on November 5th for the ten preceding years preceding. Their average - 45 high and 29 low - indicated at least passable temperatures for the weekend of the event.
A number of YRLers and other friends said they would be glad to help with decorations, campaign rallies, and other work. Jim Nielson, whom Jerry Olson had suggested to serve on the steering committee, referred the matter to Frank Kent, Hennepin County YRL chairman (later Minnesota commissioner of Human Rights), who said he would have two names for me by Friday, October 15th. This made eight people, not including my closest YRL friends, who had consented to serve on the committee. I made tentative arrangements to hold its first meeting at my apartment on the following Tuesday, October 18th, starting at 8 p.m.
With most of the spadework done, it was time to grind out commitments. On Wednesday evening October 12th, I spent nearly four hours at the Republican state headquarters placing calls on the WATS line to the chairmen of various YRL and college Federation clubs. The purpose was to sound them out on the project as it had been explained in the mailings, learn what arrangements had been made to recruit runners, request that the sign-up sheets be passed around at the net meeting, and, in some cases, obtain the date and place of the next meeting so that I could make an appeal in person. A large number of club chairmen or their chairwomen were not in but those I did contact were helpful.
First called were the chairmen of the College Federation clubs. Charles Brown of Macalester College painted a discouraging picture. November 4th through 6th would be Parents’ Weekend, and, besides, the club was planning some door-to-door canvassing for LeVander during the same period. The date of their next meeting had not yet been set but I might call back after the 20th. On the other hand, Steve Fischer of Augsburg said his club was meeting at 7:30 the following evening and invited me to attend. Doug Swenson of Gustavus Adolphus (St. Peter, Minn.) promised to bring up the subject of the marathon at their next meeting on October 18th, and also check with the cross-country team for volunteers. The representatives of St. Mary’s College and St. Theresa’s College in Winona, of St. Olaf’s and Carleton College in Northfield, and of the University of Minnesota main campus and the Duluth branch were not home. However, Walt Lorshbaugh of the University said a sign-up sheet had been posted in the clubroom. He also said he would notify me of their next Executive Board meeting and would personally serve on the Roadrunner steering committee.
Now, starting with the 4th District (St. Paul and suburbs), I phoned the chairmen of all the clubs except for the two whose meetings I had already visited and my own. George Davis of the 43 South club gave me the time and place of the next meeting and said he would make a recruitment pitch if I could not attend. The 43 SW club was inactive, however its chairman, Tom Carlson, said he would call a few people. Wolf Penzel of the 44 North club said he would pass the sign-up sheet around at their next meeting and mail it back to me. Jerry Sullivan, vice-chairman of the 45 club, said that his group was not meeting that month but he would pass the sheet around at the Executive Board meeting. The chairman of White Bear Lake, Tom Malloy, explained that most members of this club were in their thirties; however, he would appoint two coordinators to recruit volunteers from the families of members and from the local TAR group. Finally, Sig Swanson of Washington County agreed to pass the sign-up sheet around at his group’s next meeting.
For the 5th District (Minneapolis) and the 3rd District (Minneapolis suburbs) it was harder to find people at home. I was able to reach the representatives of only four out of fourteen clubs, plus Lael Fruen, the 3rd District chairwoman, who was coordinating recruitment activities in the suburban area. Lael gave me the names of six persons, besides her husband and herself, who had said they would run or help find runners. She promised three other names the following evening. Al Prinica, chairman of the Ward 1 club, informed me that his club was dissolved and he himself was now living in St. Paul. However, he and a friend would be willing to run a mile apiece and he would also try to sign up volunteers at the next Junior Chamber of Commerce meeting.
The chairman of the Ward 2 club, Sandy Waddell, said he was busy talking with members about running, and he would contact me once his list had been assembled. Larry Doyle, the Minnetonka chairman, said that his club - the largest one in the state - was sponsoring a dance at the Wayzata Country Club on October 22nd. An announcement of the Roadrunners would be made at that time if I was unable to attend in person. Besides that, he would appoint a coordinator in the club to recruit runners. The chairwoman of the Richfield club, Maybeth Kern, invited me to their next meeting, on October 24th. She also agreed to serve on the Roadrunner steering committee.
Finally there was the 8th District (northeastern Minnesota) whose area encompassed most of the route that the runners would be covering. I had been told that Tom Dungan, the district chairman, had been trying to contact me, but he was not at home this particular evening. The chairman of the Isanti club was not available either, as his phone was disconnected. However, the third club in the district, Chisago, made up for the other two. Chairman Ken Banta said that the sign-up sheet had been passed around to teenagers in the country and that the head of the LeVander Volunteers was also busy recruiting runners. Mr. Banta, a farmer, consented to let the Roadrunners hold a rally Saturday night on his property which was adjacent to Highway 61. He also referred me to another member of the club, Dr. William Hilgedick, who agreed to be the medical consultant for at least part of the marathon.
The proposed message
That was where matters stood at 11:30 p.m. on Wednesday evening. When I first come in that afternoon, I had run into Jerry Olson by chance in the hallway outside the YRL office. I asked him at that time what he thought of the Roadrunner speech which had been mailed to him on Monday. He replied vaguely that he had not yet had an opportunity to study it. He wanted to talk it over with Paul Magnuson. I had never intended that my version of the speech necessarily be the final one, but I did want to state as plainly as possible a theme which I felt would lend inspiration and dignity to the occasion. Here for the record is what Harold LeVander was supposed to read at the conclusion of the marathon (with a few modifications of phrase):
“ Your marathon has carried its continuous motion, and this message, 180 miles from Duluth to the Twin Cities metropolis. We find ourselves now in a place where the modern history of our state began. The first permanent settlement in Minnesota was here at Fort Snelling, near the junction of the Mississippi and Minnesota rivers. The first governor of our state, Henry Sibley, lived in a house not far from here which is still standing. He took office a little more than a century ago.
It is incredible that a whole complex civilization could have been built up from the wilderness in such a short period of time. A century and a half ago none of our cities and roads and farms existed. True, a few representatives of the invading European culture were in the area earlier - missionaries, explorers, and trappers - but they did not stay. Father Hennepin was here briefly in 1680. Captain Du Luth in the same year paddled down portions of the St. Croix River, looking for the Northwest Passage. Finally, as early as 1655, a French fur trapper by the name of Radisson might well have set foot within the boundaries of our present state.
These individuals were not the vanguard of colonization. What brought them to Minnesota was not the land, nor its rich mineral deposits, abundant forests, good soil, nor its clean air and water, nor any of those natural blessings which make our state so attractive for human habitation. Strange to say, the first reason which European man had for coming into this region, and indeed to America itself, was to pass through it as quickly as possible. The early explorers wanted to find a waterway route through the northern land masses of this continent to the Pacific Ocean and from there sail to India and China, which were nations of enormous wealth.
Pause for a moment to consider what an unusual position Minnesota occupies in the arterial complex of North America. On one hand, the Great Lakes system, the lifeline of an economy based upon coal and iron, winds its way for many miles eastward through its colossal chain of lakes and rivers to the North Atlantic; its western terminus is the port city of Duluth. On the other hand, the Mississippi River, which Abraham Lincoln called “the Father of Waters”, has its source in Minnesota from where it flows for a thousand miles past many states, and empties into the Gulf of Mexico below New Orleans. The Twin Cities are the furthest point north it is possible to navigate continuously upon this great river. Consequently, for the Roadrunners to have come by foot all the way from Duluth to St. Paul and Minneapolis is to have straddled, Paul Bunyan-like, the two great continental waterway systems of North America.
Now, what of this feat in relation to the present political campaign? The marathon, of course, does not prove that the Republicans can give the people better government if we are elected to office. The evidence for this claim lies in the record of past Republican administrations, and in the candidates, principles, and programs which we offer in 1966. Nor does running constitute a superior mode of transportation from one city to another. What it does, actually is provide the occasion for a short sermon which I would like now to give:
The Northwest Passage, which explorers sought for so many years, is today a dead dream. Not only has careful surveying shown that there is no such chain of lakes and rivers to move cargo effectively across the continent, but also the sailing vessel, canoe, and canal barge no longer play the important role in transportation that they once did. Today India and China, which were once known for wealth, are among the poorest of nations. For these reasons, no one in 1966 would still seriously consider taking up the quest to find that legendary route to the Pacific, except as a sport.
But there is another kind of Northwest Passage which people do still take seriously today, and it is in the realm of politics. The original explorers of this land thought that they could find a convenient passage way through the North American continent to the riches of the Orient. Today some people believe that glittering political programs will provide them with an easy passage way to a life of guaranteed prosperity and happiness. They think that their problems are a result of society being set up wrong and all that is needed to solve these is to give some forward-looking politician power to rearrange the institutions of the community. However, after watching this nation and other nations navigate unsuccessfully upon that premise for many years, I venture to say that there is no such “Northwest Passage”.
Certainly the time to explore this territory has been long enough. The world has watched the Soviet Union spend fifty years in a so-called “transitional stage” on the way to an inevitable “Worker’s Paradise”. Now it is apparent that, despite total power in their hands to bring about that object, the communist leaders have succeeded only in creating a dreary place to live. Their economies remain many years behind those of the capitalist nations. The world has watched Communist China take a “Great Leap Forward” to expand its industry, only to wind up two steps behind; and more recently a Cultural Revolution”, producing chaos. It has seen Nazi promises lead to a world war and human butchery.
Even in our own country, whose visions of central planning are more moderate, what hasn’t already gone awry? We have had control of prices which leads to runaway inflation, urban renewal which makes the cities unlivable, welfare programs for children which destroy the family, civil rights legislation followed by race riots, the inexorable progress of higher taxes and heavier restrictions upon individual enterprise, politicians talking peace and making war. And yet, many people still believe in the promises that are being made.
The politicians themselves do not always believe them. At the Federal and state capitols the realist has taken over from the idealist, and the realist knows that it is to his advantage to perpetuate the hopeful facade of his predecessor. A certain attitude has swept through the ranks of public office holders that in our complex society the people are not qualified to be told the truth. Instead of deciding important questions by use of reason, the modern representative too often divides up the voters in his district into a number of sociological categories, learns what each group would like to hear and how large the groups are, and frames his policy accordingly.
Speeches for today’s politicians are not true expressions of opinion but market-tested reflections of existing moods. A candidate’s public statements are either devices to pin damaging labels on an opponent or simulations of statesmanship for himself, according to the offensive and defensive rules of the game. Sincerity is also a desirable attribute, but in his heart he believes that the people are too stupid for him actually to take them into his confidence.
Being dishonest with the people may win a few elections, but even in a pragmatic sense I do not think such a policy is desirable. Over the long run it makes for a sick political system; it causes people to become apathetic about politics altogether because they have ceased to believe anything they hear in the campaigns.
Before the Republican party can win favor with a majority of the voters, we must come to grips with the true issues of the day and not merely slip behind what the Democrats have more advantageously staked out for themselves in hopes that attractive candidates and good organization can make the difference in a few elections. At this moment we are freer to choose our own policy than the Democrats. And if there is any one principle I should like my party to adopt before all others, it would be this: that politicians should stop lying to the people.
Now, it is all very well for a Republican candidate to say he is in favor of telling the truth, some people will say, but how can the voter be sure that he will be any more likely than the Democrat to act on this principle? The issue of personal integrity is a bit shopworn, but I raise it because its absence is precisely what is wrong with politics today.
Certainly the Republican Party is not always truthful, nor the Democratic Party always untruthful; yet I think we clearly have the better record, who are the party of Abraham Lincoln, Theodore Roosevelt, William Howard Taft, and Dwight D. Eisenhower. For, what the Democrats have been saying and doing in recent years goes well beyond mere exaggeration or campaign salesmanship they can only count on short memories to erase their foul record. Let me cite some examples of lies they have used in recent years to win elections:
- In 1960, when John F. Kennedy campaigned for the Presidency, he accused the Eisenhower Administration of having permitted a serious “missile gap” to develop between American and Russian strategic forces. A few months after the election, when this erroneous impression no longer served a political interest, Secretary McNamara announced outright that there was no such gap.
- In 1964, during Lyndon B. Johnson’s successful White House campaign, the President treated Barry Goldwater’s suggestion that the United States should bomb North Vietnam as if this policy would only have been proposed by someone of questionable mental stability. A year after Mr. Johnson was reelected, the United States began bombing North Viet Nam.
- Finally, in 1962, Karl Rolvaag was elected Governor of Minnesota by means of a shabby trick - the infamous Highway 35 scandal - which could only have been a deliberate attempt to deceive voters.
While nearly everyone would acknowledge the element of dishonesty in such actions, many people would refrain from condemning the perpetrator on the grounds that politics is a dirty business. However, I do not see any good reason why it is necessary for the leader of any state or nation to be a liar. In recent years much has been written on what qualities make a good President, and in Governors as well, because only this can guarantee that he will consistently serve the public interest. The Chief Executive should approach is office with a reverence of the people, their land, and heritage, not as a personal distinction which an ambitious and clever man can win if he is plucky enough. For a chief of state to try to deceive the people through political cleverness is a piece of petty arrogance, befitting a servile nation perhaps, but not America.
If the conceits of the past could be attributed entirely to the men who exhibited them their dishonest acts would be easy enough to overcome, but unfortunately the cause runs deeper. How was it possible for President Woodrow Wilson to have campaigned in 1916 “He kept us out of war”, only for the United States to have entered the European conflict in 1917? How as it possible for President Franklin D. Roosevelt to have flaunted a policy of neutrality in 1940, only to have this country committed to fighting a war the following year? How was it possible for President Lyndon B. Johnson to have ducked the Viet Cong one year, and announced a massive build-up of troops the next?
Apparently there is something about the Democratic mentality which leads straight into war once a Presidential election is over. Indeed, with so many large-scale wars during their administrations in the 20th Century, it is not difficult to see why the Democrats have had their share of celebrated world leaders. We have had enough “strong Presidents” who have left this country in a weak, over-extended position; now for a change let us have a “weak” President who leaves our country strong.
The Democrats believe that the incumbent government should take credit for everything which goes right in society, or the blame for everything which goes wrong. On this theory the Republican Party was responsible for the Great Depression, and the Democrats for the prosperity of the early 1960s. On this theory, too, the ancient Chinese held the emperor responsible for all earthquakes, famines, and other natural disasters. The Democrats seem to believe that any political platform of a positive nature must call for increasing government control over the people. Their idea of how a society can make progress is for experts from the universities to study a range of identifiable problems and recommend legislation. For each positive development in society they suppose that there must be a particular law or government program which produced it.
The Republicans believe, on the other hand, that the greatest innovations have come from individuals who fought these through on their own rather than from public committees charged with recommending improvements. Creativity in the arts and sciences will flourish more when there is money in the hands of individuals interested in art or science, who can spend it any way they choose rather than when all the money comes through government agencies or foundations that judiciously consider the merits of each proposal. Republicans believe that the government should act within the limits of its constitutional authority, even as individual persons are required to obey the law. Instead of attempting to create a more advanced state of society in every respect, it should preserve the freedom of the people to do this.
Among those enterprises which Republicans believe have contributed to the strength of our state and nation have been commercial establishments. We do not believe in slaughtering “the goose that lays the golden egg” for the sake of possessing its immediate wealth. Obviously, regardless of the political system, the people will not be able to enjoy wealth which was not first produced. We encourage more efficient methods of production insofar as its benefits will eventually find their way into greater prosperity for the people.
The Democrats have frequently treated business as an enemy because its rewards have created social distinctions: it is better, however, for a man to have risen to the top by working successfully than by talking successfully. It is better for our leaders to be the managers of factories than the inciters of work stoppages, racial confrontations, or widespread animosity between different classes of people While charging the businessman with all manner of wrongdoing, the Democratic politician is reluctant to spend his money. His visions of the “affluent society” offer new horizons of political opportunity without having to consider who baked the bread. Now, I am not proposing that riches be allowed to run rough-shod over people but pointing out the simple fact that every time the politician has knocked down the businessman he has taken the top place for himself.
Behind the many victories scored by the Democrats at the polls has been the well-planted feeling among voters that the Democratic Party was for the common people, which included themselves, and the Republicans were for the rich. Strange it is that so many renowned Democrats have been multi-millionaires.
But now there are sociological categories that are being used as ammunition against us Republicans. Professing to combat inequity and prejudice, the Democrats tell each religious, racial, ethnic, or occupational bloc of voters that they are the true friends of that particular minority. As best I can interpret their argument, it is not so much that the Democrats are promising outright to dip into the public treasury for their political friends as that they are trying to convey to each bloc a feeling of being somehow special. It is like the simultaneous courtship of five or six different women. The secret behind this strategy must certainly be to keep each bloc unaware of what the other blocs are also being told. How the Democrats have managed for so long to convince both the white Southern segregationist and the northern Negro integrationist to vote for them, for example, has been a wonder of American politics.
What legitimate role such issues of race or social class have in an American political campaign I do not know, except that, when used effectively, these subliminal appeals beat us every time. If the Democrats say they are for the city dweller, are the Republicans supposed to be only for people who live on farms or in small towns? If the Democrats say they will help the Negro, does this mean that the Republican Party cares only about white people? If the Democrats say they are friends of the factory worker, are Republicans supposed to be their enemies? When did we Republicans ever say we were against all these groups of people?
The day is coming, however, when people of all types will learn to recognize the sweet talk for what it is and call for immediate delivery of those promises. Some day soon mankind will look back upon the panacea of contemporary politics, which has brought so much turmoil to the 20th Century, as one of the follies of history, even as we today regard the Northwest Passage as a fallacious dream.
Surely when the weight of taxation, bureaucratic regulation, and perpetual war grows too heavy upon the shoulders of the people, it will occur to them to throw it off. Government will then be reduced to a sensible arrangement of people living side by side, and demagogues will be considered unprogressive. Honesty will return in greater measure to politics because the people will insist upon it. Let us in the Republican Party help prepare the way toward this happier future.”
The plan falls through
Unfortunately, the future of the Roadrunners was settled as early as Thursday morning, October 13th. As I was seated at my kitchen table drawing up plans for the forthcoming committee meeting, I received a telephone call from Janet Morgan, who said she had been asked by Jerry Olson and George Thiss, the GOP state chairman, to request that I discontinue all plans for the marathon. The reason she gave was that the Republican campaign was progressing better than had been anticipated thanks to the American Allied Insurance Company scandal which was just then opening up against the Democrats. The leaders of the party did not wish to generate any publicity which might distract attention from the scandal, or, indeed, take unnecessary risks at that point. I asked if I might come in to discuss the matter with someone, but Jan said firmly that the decision had already been made.
There was little to do now, but terminate my project in an orderly fashion. I ran off a short announcement on the mimeograph machine at the Republican headquarters, and mailed a copy to all 115 people who had previously received written communications from me.
“ Dear Fellow Republican:
The Republican State Chairman and the campaign manager for Harold LeVander have asked that the Roadrunner project be cancelled. They feel that the Republican Party is getting enough favorable attention from the American Allied Insurance scandal to win the elections, and believe that a marathon race before the elections would serve only to divert attention from that issue.
I am sorry to report this decision, but wish to thank you for your help and cooperation.”
After October 13th, I went back to the mundane activities connected with Paul Beckman’s ultimately unsuccessful campaign for State Representative and to my duties as chairman of Central City and coordinator of the LeVander Volunteers in District 45B. When I was in her office Thursday afternoon, Lois Meyer suggested that I might want to utilize my literary talents by writing something about the insurance scandal but the suggestion did not then appeal to me.
As it happened, the Republican leaders were entirely correct in their judgment that this issue was powerful enough to win for the party on election day. For, in their internecine battle over the gubernatorial nomination, the Democrats had left a few loose ends, which needed only to be pulled vigorously for their slate of candidates to go down to a disastrous defeat.
Briefly, the American Allied Insurance company was a Chicago-based holding company which had subsidiaries operating in Minnesota. Lieutenant Governor A.M. Keith, later Gov. Rolvaag’s rival for the DFL nomination, served for a year on the Board of Directors of one of these, the United States Mutual Insurance company, including several months on its three-man Executive Committee. In February 1965 Keith resigned from both positions amid rumors of the company’s financial weakness.
A few months later, an investigation by the U.S. District Attorney disclosed that millions of dollars of the firm’s assets had been siphoned out of American Allied by high-ranking officers, presumably by Philip Kitzer and his sons who were the principal owners. The company was declared insolvent and its policyholders were notified that they could expect to receive only a few cents on the dollar for their claims. Seventeen persons, including the Minnesota Insurance Commissioner, were indicted for fraud by a grand jury in Minneapolis.
The Republicans charged that Gov. Karl Rolvaag and Sen. Walter Mondale, then Attorney General of Minnesota, had knowledge of these irregularities as early as August 1964, when a former director of the company disclosed the wrongdoings in a letter to the Insurance Commissioner, who said he had sent copies to them. However, it was not until the last week in March 1965 that Rolvaag had instructed the new Attorney General, Robert Mattson, to do an investigation. The thousands of Minnesota policyholders first learned of the matter on April 11th , when two Republican state legislators made the facts public and accused the Governor of trying to bottle up a scandal. At the least, Karl Rolvaag was guilty of negligence in permitting the unsuspecting policyholders to continue paying insurance premiums during those seven months of indecision. At the worst, he was trying to place his ambitious Lieutenant Governor in a compromising political position.
The “insurance scandal” also consisted of a corporate check for $2,000 which Philip Kitzer, Jr. had contributed to Mondale’s Senatorial campaign. Not only were checks drawn on corporations for political contributions illegal, but this particular corporation was in a position to receive favors from Walter Mondale and other state officials. Kitzer testified later that he had regarded the $2,000 as a “shakedown”.
The Democrats, never ones to be discouraged by a rough campaign, blunted these charges by every means at hand. Mondale said he had returned the money to Kitzer nine and a half months later, when he had first learned of its source. Rolvaag maintained that the insurance tragedy was an unfit topic to be dragged into a political campaign. Both Rolvaag and Mondale denied having received information about the insolvent company prior to March 1965. Then, in the few weeks remaining before the election, when the furor over American Allied had begun to subside, the Democrats launched their own counterattack.
Ever since its formation in the ‘40s and before that as the separate Democratic and Farmer-Labor parties, the DFL in Minnesota had stood adamantly against the adoption of a state sales tax on the grounds that it would hurt the poor. When he first announced his candidacy for Governor, Harold LeVander had indicated that he favored the sales tax, although he had later backed away from that position. Early on, the Democrats had tried to tag LeVander as a Goldwater Republican, because he had received strong support from conservative rural delegates at the Republican State Convention in June. However, that label did not fit - In 1968, LeVander was one of Nelson Rockefeller’s most ardent supporters for the Presidential nomination - so they cast their eyes about for a more promising issue. The sales tax, they decided, was their best hope.
During the final two or three weeks of the campaign the DFL leveled a barrage of charges that LeVander planned to pass a sales tax if he were elected Governor. LeVander repeatedly denied that he was in favor of this. Still the charges continued. It was well known that many Republican legislators supported the sales tax, and LeVander’s own statements earlier in the campaign had pointed in that direction. The problem was for LeVander to state as plainly as possible that he was, in fact, against that regressive, unpopular form of taxation.
(Paul Magnuson later told the East Side Young Republicans in my presence that the LeVander Committee had then regretted that it did not have 370 runners coming down the highway from Duluth, who could carry with them unmistakably and dramatically Harold LeVander’s position on the sales tax.)
On election Day itself LeVander gave in to strong pressure from his Republican supporters; he stated unequivocally that as governor he would veto any sales tax bill which did not make provision for a popular referendum before the tax went into effect. * Late Tuesday afternoon, a host of campaign workers, including myself, were on the streets passing out mimeographed leaflets which spelled out this position.
* ( This pledge had strange consequences in the next session of the Minnesota Legislature. The Conservative-controlled legislature passed a “non-regressive” (exempting food, clothing, rent, and other necessities) 3% state sales tax. Governor LeVander, honoring his campaign pledge, vetoed the bill. The legislature then adopted a slightly different measure by more than a two-thirds majority in both houses, which was enough to override the Governor’s veto. Thus, the most important piece of business in the 1967 legislative session found the Republican Governor on one side of the issue and 90% of legislators from his own party on the other.)
That night, November 6th, the Republican state candidates and hundred of party workers were gathered at Capp Towers in Minneapolis to watch the returns of a real cliff-hanger. The Democrats were ahead in the early hours of the evening. They were still ahead for the three major offices of state government - Governor, Lieutenant Governor, and Attorney General - when I arrived at 10:30 p.m. Rolvaag and the DFL candidate for Attorney General, Wayne Olson, had appeared the night before on an hour-long television program, amiably discussing the issues of the campaign with Vice President Hubert Humphrey and Senator Eugene McCarthy. Gradually it became clear, however, that the combined endorsement of these two luminaries had failed to elect either man to office.
First Douglas Head, the incisive issues man on the Republican side, took over the lead from Olson and was elected Attorney General by a margin of 80,000 votes. Then LeVander passed Rolvaag, winning eventually by 70,000 votes. LeVander became the chief executive of Minnesota, while Rolvaag not long afterwards was appointed Ambassador to Iceland. Then, still later in the evening, the real upset occurred: James Goetz, the 30-year-old Republican candidate for Lieutenant Governor, overtook Robert Short, a nationally known political operator, trucking executive, and owner of hotels and professional sports teams, who had financed Rolvaag’s, Olson’s and his own upset victory in the DFL primary. Goetz beat Short by 25,000 votes.
Election night 1966 was a moment of triumph for Republicans across the nation, but especially in Minnesota. Of the six Constitutional offices in state government, three were wrested from the DFL, and two others were retained by the Republican incumbents. The party’s candidate for Railroad and Warehouse Commissioner was elected by a wide majority. The Republicans picked up one Congressional seat, giving them five of the eight. In addition, Republican-oriented “conservatives” captured a two-thirds majority in both houses of the State Legislature. State-wide, only U.S. Senator Walter Mondale and Minnesota Secretary of State Joseph L. Donovan managed to win for the Democrats.
The Roadrunner idea sank permanently out of view, as if it were something mentioned once or twice at a drunken party. Whenever I encountered people who had also been involved with the project, the subject was like a dark personal secret, which both parties were anxious to forget.
Occasionally reflections of the theme would trickle to the surface. Two weeks after the marathon’s cancellation, I happened to drive past a line of cars parked near the Capitol Approach area of St. Paul. The cars all had bicycles strapped to their tops. One had a placard on the side which read “Jim Goetz Bicycle Marathon”. I stopped to ask a tired-looking young man nearby what this meant. He said a fraternity from the University of Minnesota branch at Duluth had ridden bicycles in a relay from Duluth to St. Paul, where a small celebration in honor of Jim Goetz, the Republican candidate for Lieutenant Governor, had just concluded on the steps of the State Capitol. Likewise,the following year some athletes at Carleton College hit baseballs all the way from its campus in Northfield, Minnesota, to Metropolitan Stadium in Bloomington.
For a long time I never gave up hope that the Roadrunners might some day be revived. Two distant cities might yet be spanned, not be telephone or airplane, not by cars, not by bicycles, not by whacks of a baseball, but by human beings exercising their most elemental technique of locomotion, in a spirit of cooperation, health, and reverence for the land. Still, a suitable occasion for this activity had to be found.
The next opportunity for a politically-sponsored marathon would be in 1968, the year of a Presidential election. My plans began to take shape in June 1967, when it was announced that Jerry Olson was resigning his position as an administrative assistant to Gov. LeVander to become the full-time coordinator of the “Romney-for-President” effort in Minnesota. Governor Romney was my own first choice for the Republican Presidential nomination.
Perhaps Olson could be interested in organizing a Roadrunner-style marathon to demonstrate popular support for his candidate? After all, he had expressed his approval of the idea barely a year earlier and was familiar with its details. The theme of long-distance running would fit George Romney, who himself jogged every morning better than it did Harold LeVander. The time of year would be better suited for outdoor activity than a cold day in November.
On October 5, 1967, less than a month after Romney announced his candidacy for President, the Minnesota Republican Workshop featured the Michigan governor as speaker at its annual banquet in St. Paul. I had just written an article for the Workshop bulletin and was invited to attend. Standing in line to shake hands with Gov. Romney after his combination speech-news conference, I ran into Jerry Olson. I expressed my enthusiasm for the candidate’s performance that evening. Olson said, “We need lots of help.” I replied, “I’d be happy to do whatever I can.” What I had in mind was something particular, though I did not mention it at the time.
By the middle of February I felt the time had come to act. On the 21st, I telephoned Jerry Olson’s home to make an appointment to see him. Olson said he would be in Wisconsin assisting Romney’s primary campaign there for the rest of the week. He suggested that I call him back Saturday afternoon. This I did, apparently just as he was coming in the door back from the trip. We made an appointment to meet in the coffee shop of the St Paul Hotel Monday morning, the 26th, at 11 a.m. Meanwhile, I prepared a detailed outline of my proposal for the Romney campaign.
I walked into the coffee shop shortly before 11 a.m. on Monday and sat down at a table waiting for Olson. At 11:30 I was still waiting. I checked all possible coffee shops and cafeterias in the area but Jerry Olson was in none of them. Late in the afternoon, when I reached him by phone, Olson said he had been tied up at a breakfast meeting and had tried to have the St. Paul Hotel page me. We made another appointment for 4 o’clock the following afternoon. The next day, at 2 p.m., Olson telephoned to say that he had to break this appointment also, because of a late afternoon meeting with Gov. LeVander. He suggested that I try again Saturday, On Wednesday, February 28th, Gov. Romney announced in New Hampshire that he was withdrawing from the Presidential race.
Romney’s announcement made little difference in Minnesota. Already the liberal wing of the Republican Party, led by Gov. LeVander, was marshaling its support behind Gov. Rockefeller of New York, instead of the man whom Rockefeller was nominally supporting. An equally large segment of the party, mostly from areas outside the Twin Cities, was behind Richard Nixon.
While most of the former Romney supporters were reportedly turning to Rockefeller, he was the last man I wanted to see nominated. Not only was his political viewpoint, consistently showing arrogance toward the middle class, offensive to me, but I also felt Rockefeller and his backers had demonstrated a lack of trustworthiness in their erstwhile “support” of Gov. Romney. At the same time Nixon was becoming increasingly attractive to me in his own right.
In retrospect, then, I was even glad that I had been unable to arrange a time to discuss my plans with Jerry Olson. Several months later, when the New York governor after a false start finally announced his candidacy for the Presidential campaign, Olson became one of the managers of his national campaign. The device of the Roadrunners, in those hand, might even have been useful to Rockefeller in his campaign prior to the National Convention.
As the weeks and months passed, I became restless at the prospect that my pent-up dream would lapse. Though it did not quite fit the style or circumstances of his campaign, Richard Nixon would be given the opportunity to have Roadrunners demonstrating on his behalf. The chairwoman of Central City’s successor YRL club, Midtown was also the office manager of the Nixon-for-President state headquarters. Through her I obtained the name of Gene Trumble a public relations man who was coordinating Nixon’s campaign for delegate support at the Republican State Convention in Duluth, June 13th through 15th.
The second week in May I telephoned Gene Trumble to ask for an appointment to discuss my idea with him. I intended to propose that the Nixon delegates and alternates organize a Roadrunner-style marathon to be held over the 4th of July weekend which would dramatize the support for Richard Nixon in the home state of Hubert Humphrey and Eugene McCarthy. I would turn over my maps, lists of names, and other materials to him, which would save a few weeks organizing the event.
Unlike Olson, however, Trumble asked me to present my plans immediately over the phone. From my brief description, I think he had the impression that I intended for the marathon to be organized and executed in the few weeks remaining before the state convention. Trumble, anyhow, vetoed the idea, saying that such a marathon had been tried unsuccessfully one before. Instead,he suggested that I channel my creative energies into formulating a plan for a smaller demonstration at the convention, which might tie in with Duluth’s waterfront facilities.
Although this suggestion meant the end of the Roadrunners, it did relate to one part of the theme so I accepted this challenge with little regret. A couple days later my proposal was ready:
The Nixon committee might buy a small doll or figurine, perhaps carved out of wood. This figurine would be shipped by barge from the Twin Cities down the Mississippi River as far as New Orleans. Then it would be picked up and flown to Montreal, Canada. From here the figurine would be taken aboard another boat traveling through the Great Lakes back to Duluth. A camera accompanying it would verify the places where the figurine had been, and these pictures would be posted in an exhibit at the convention.
The Nixon-for-President rally would be built around this theme. At the convention the figurine would be circulated among the various county delegations bearing the inscription, “I took the long way around for Nixon”. A sheet of paper pinned to its back would invite the delegates and alternates to sign up if they, too, would be willing to “take the long way around for Nixon”. This would refer to the path which the Nixon supporters would follow during the demonstration planned at the convention center. For example, it might be a route marked by arrows which wove around the main hall of the amphitheater in and out of several doorways.
I outlined my new proposal to Gene Trumble on May 18th, after an organizational meeting for Nixon’s backers among the state delegates in Minneapolis. Trumble asked me to check whether it was still possible to arrange the expedition before June 13th. Monday morning I walked on the phone with a representative of the American Commercial Lines, a barge company operating on the Mississippi River, who agreed to transport the figurine to New Orleans. The trip would take between eleven and fourteen days depending upon barge connections in St. Louis. Then I called an official of the Port of Duluth, who agreed to handle arrangements with a steamship agency in Montreal for it to be shipped from Montreal to Duluth. This part of the journey would take five or six days, if it were possible.
Altogether, then, the shipment by water might take as long as twenty days, which would leave only three days before June 13th to make all the necessary arrangements, including finding the figurine and transferring it from one carrier to another in both places. Either a shorter route would have to be devised or the plan would have to be cancelled. When I called Gene Trumble, he recommended cancellation.
So at last the Roadrunners and all the political adventures which they had occasioned were ended. There was no marathon of any sort, nor was there more than a perfunctory demonstration for Nixon at the state convention. Word went out that the candidate wanted no bruising intra-party clashes. The Rockefeller forces, however, had no such reservations. With both the Governor himself and Mayor Lindsay on the scene, they pushed so hard for votes that a disproportionate number of the Rockefeller sympathizers were elected delegates to the National Convention.
Whereas at the state and district conventions an estimated two-thirds of the delegates favored Nixon, in Miami Beach the Minnesota delegation gave the same margin of its vote to Rockefeller. (At the state convention I almost lost my delegate seat, as the Rockefeller-inclined leaders of my county claimed erroneously that I no longer met the residency requirement.) Nevertheless, Richard Nixon, whose campaign style was soothing rather than combative or dramatic, went on to win the nomination and the election.
When I read this narrative forty-three years later (2009), I am embarrassed by my youthful presumption in submitting such a lengthy and personally opinionated text to the LeVander campaign with the idea that the gubernatorial nominee himself would read it at a ceremony to be held at Fort Snelling. This was surely a reason that Jerry Olson and others cooled on the Roadrunner project. I came across as a flake - and perhaps was - in organizing such a project so grandiose both in scope and theme. I was a young man with big ideas swirling around my head who was going for broke on limited resources.
The Northwest Passage theme might have been all right if I had limited it to that and not added the angry assertion that Democrats were liars. The “lesson” might have been that, after learning that the waterway passage to the Pacific was elusive, Minnesotans settled down and made something of their lives in the richly endowed land they had found. So, likewise, we should ignore the empty promises of politicians - Democrats - and pursue the opportunities at hand in a free society. That message might have worked. But I was too young to be sensible.
I am struck by how much latitude I was given by Republican officials to pursue my dream and by how organized and active the party and its auxiliaries were in the 1960s, compared with now. People in high positions tolerated well-meaning experiments such as mine. Today, it seems, the political process has been reduced to money, media advertising, and aggressive special-interest groups.
The narrative understated my relationship to the George Romney and the Romney-for-President campaign. In fact, Governor Romney was a close business associate and personal friend of my father. He had known me since I was a boy. I became interested in politics and in the Republican largely through a desire to promote George Romney’s candidacy for President. While living in Germany, I wrote a political manifesto supporting his candidacy a copy of which I had personally handed to the Governor at a “Michigan Day” event in Flint.
The last time I saw George Romney was when I went through the receiving line in St. Paul described in the narrative. The Governor asked in surprise: “What are you doing here?” I replied: “I live here (in Minnesota).” That was the extent of our conversation. I did later have a brief visit with the Governor’s wife, Lenore Romney, at their home in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan, in 1994. Their son, Mitt, was then running against Ted Kennedy for U.S. Senate. George Romney was away in Massachusetts helping out in his son’s campaign.
Harold LeVander served one term as Governor of Minnesota and did not seek reelection. His chief of staff, David Durenberger, was later elected to the U.S. Senate, where he served two terms. LeVander’s son, Hap, attended college at Macalester where he frequently debated a student from Ghana named Kofi Annan, who later became Secretary-General of the United Nations. Paul Magnuson, then head of the state Young Republican League, later served as chief judge of the U.S. District Court in St. Paul. Robert Short, the DFL candidate for Lieutenant Governor who lost to Jim Goetz, was the owner of the Minneapolis Lakers basketball franchise, which he moved to Los Angeles. He was the DFL candidate for U.S. Senate in 1978. So there were some up-and-coming persons involved in that 1966 election campaign.
Harold LeVander came from the liberal or moderate wing of the Republican Party at a time when Goldwater-style conservativism was gaining influence. Some speculated then that political ideologies had become obsolete and government would now be run by technocrats. I disagreed, tending to side with the conservatives in part because I was addicted to ideas and ideologies. I was then a big fan of the poet Walt Whitman who had written a prose piece, “Democratic Vistas”, that speculated how the ideas of democracy would affect American culture. Some of my political ideas were similar to those of Ronald Reagan, whom I cheered from the sidelines without taking an active role in Republican politics then.
I thought of myself as a Republican, or a conservative, until the second half of the 1970s when my politics swung to the left. That was because of an interest in the shorter-workweek issue. I began to research the issue and write papers, and ultimately a book. While pursuing that interest, I became connected with labor activists, socialists, and even a U.S. Congressman (John Conyers) and later a former U.S. Senator (Eugene McCarthy) who shared similar interests. I briefly took part in DFL politics and then became associated with third parties and the Independence Party, in particular. I’m a maverick at heart.
There was one further attempt to revive the Roadrunner project, which I did not mention in the narrative because it happened afterwards. When George Romney’s presidential campaign ended, I became a Nixon loyalist. My parents were living in New York City at the time. My father was then a senior vice president of the National Association of Manufacturers. One of his responsibilities was to organize the NAM’s annual “Congress of Industry” which brought manufacturing executives and their wives to New York City for a three-day conference.
President Richard Nixon was the featured speaker at the NAM’s 75th anniversary Congress in 1970. I learned from my father that Robert Finch, who was secretary of Health, Education, and Welfare in Nixon’s cabinet, would be attending one of the sessions. Finch, who was Nixon’s original choice for a running mate in 1968, was politically close to the President. My idea was to buttonhole Finch at the NAM Congress and propose the Roadrunner idea to him in connection with Nixon’s 1972 re-election campaign.
Alas, Finch canceled. I never had a chance to meet him. I sometimes think that if the Nixon re-election campaign had chosen to mobilize its volunteers in a gigantic marathon relay instead of doing opposition research on the Democrats, burglars might never have invaded the DNC headquarters and the Watergate scandal might never have happened. A more positive tone for President Nixon’s campaign in 1972 might have had different historical consequences.
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