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Chapter Thirteen: To South Carolina and Home Again

 

I was planning to visit my father and brother on the east coast during the Christmas holiday. Then I caught a virus which kept me in bed. Two primary filing deadlines had to be met: The deadline to file for the South Carolina Democratic presidential primary was 5 p.m. on Friday, January 2, 2004. For the Louisiana primary, the filing papers and payment had to be received in Baton Rouge between January 28th and 30th.

On December 23, 2003, I wrote a personal check for $2,500.00 in payment for the South Carolina primary and mailed it to the Democratic party chair, Joe Erwin. On the afternoon of Monday the 29th, I received a telephone call from Monica Bell of the South Carolina Democratic Party reporting that, while my check had been received, I also needed to fill out an application form. She would email the form as an attachment. The completed form could be returned by fax to meet the deadline, but I should also mail the original.

I was still feeling ill and was in bed when, right after the call from South Carolina, a man called who I thought was from the same office. I did not write down his name. Aware that I had filed for the South Carolina Democratic primary, he was checking my qualifications to be President. Was I at least 35 years of age and an American citizen? Was I born in the United States? I qualified on all counts. Then he asked me if I was a Democrat. I replied that, no, I was actually a member of the Independence Party of Minnesota. Would you be willing to become a Democrat this year, he asked? I said that I would. I added that, as a practical matter, party affiliation in Minnesota was determined by which party’s precinct caucus one attended. The caucuses were held every two years. This year’s would be on March 2nd. My preference would be, however, to skip the caucus since, after South Carolina, I planned to campaign continuously in Louisiana until the primary on March 9th. The man asked no more questions. I went back to sleep.

I had wanted to leave Minneapolis on December 23rd to see my brother and father, stay for several days, and then return home shortly after New Year’s Day. The trip would involve 2,500 miles of driving. I would then pack my bags for a much longer trip to South Carolina for its primary and then, after the February 3rd, drive from South Carolina directly to Louisiana for the primary on March 9th. Hopefully, most of the work would be completed on the condemned duplex, the inspectors would sign off, and the city would lift the condemnation and issue the rental license so that my new tenant could move in. Before my planned departure, I filled out certain forms and signed my name so that required paperwork could be handled in my absence by my former brother-in-law, Alan Morrison, and the apartment building’s caretaker, Keith Baker. My illness forced a change in plans.

I was in no condition to travel until after the new year. Reluctantly I saw a doctor at the emergency clinic who prescribed antibiotics. This helped. On Saturday morning, January 3rd, I was ready to leave Minneapolis for my great southern adventure. I would visit my father and brother first, using the house in Milford, Pennsylvania, as a base of operations, and then drive down to South Carolina passing through Washington, D.C. That arrangement would give me the opportunity to visit Kevin Diaz in the Washington offices of McClatchy Newspapers, parent of the Star Tribune. We had become acquainted when he was the City Hall reporter for that newspaper and I a landlord activist. When I had first announced my candidacy for President, Diaz had emailed me to visit him if I came to Washington.

First I had to go through the difficult process of gathering all the papers, clothing, and campaign equipment and accessories that I thought I might need in South Carolina and Louisiana. Whether to take that large Mexican hat was a particular issue, resolved in the affirmative. I bought a small tent for possible use in state parks. To avoid late charges on my bills and credit cards, I had prepared a list of account numbers and mailing addresses for making prompt payments while on the road. My new cell phone would have many uses on this trip. My wife helped me sort through my belongings and pack. She, too, would be gone between January 24th and March 14th while she visited China. My step-daughter would remain in Northfield, attending college. We had to worry only about feeding the cat.

Well rested when I departed around 8 a.m., I took the route past Rochester (Minnesota) and LaCrosse (Wisconsin) before joining I-94 through central Wisconsin down to Chicago. As night fell, I was in northern Indiana, circling the tall Civil War monument in Angola, and then passing east through northern Ohio, first Toledo and then heading toward Cleveland, along U.S. Highway 2. Finally, I stopped to sleep on the reclining seat of my car at the Ohio rest area just before the junction with Interstate 90. Having an inflatable neck rest and a blanket, I fell promptly asleep and did not awaken until dawn.

Then I continued my trip through Cleveland and Youngstown, Ohio, and into Pennsylvania on Interstate 80 which traverses the state west to east. I went through Stroudsburg, Pennsylvania, rather than Scranton, because this southern route along the Delaware river would save a few miles if I first visited my father at a nursing home near Newton, New Jersey. I had a short visit with him and then drove the remaining 25 miles to Milford, arriving at my house on the evening of Sunday, January 3rd.

I had planned to stay in Milford for only two days. On Tuesday afternoon, January 6th, I made preparations to leave for South Carolina. The first order of business was to call political reporters and editors at several of South Carolina’s large daily newspapers. I called the Aiken Standard, the Anderson Independent-Mail, the (Charleston) Post and Courier, The State in Columbia, and the Florence Morning News. Contact persons at these newspapers all said that they would welcome a visit from me. Then I called the Greenville News and spoke with its political editor, Dan Hoover. Did I know that my name had been removed from the primary ballot, he asked? Hoover added, “I think you’d better call the South Carolina Democratic party.”

I did call the party. The telephone receptionist, with whom I had already spoken, did not confirm or deny Hoover’s report but said I would need to speak with the party’s executive director, Nu Wexler. He was not available then. I left my number for the return call. This receptionist, Nancy, thought he might return the call later that afternoon. Wexler did not return my call, either that day or the next, or the day after that. I was intending to leave Milford on Wednesday, January 7th, but stayed there an extra day in case Mr. Wexler tried to call. I myself called the party’s office two or three times. Wexler was either in a meeting, or he was gone; in any event, he never returned my call.

If I was to have lunch with Kevin Diaz in Washington, I needed to leave Milford early in the morning. it was a six-hour drive. Departing just before 7 a.m., I drove to Scranton and down through Harrisburg in a light Pennsylvania snow. The snow eased as I entered Maryland. After taking a wrong turn, I called Diaz by cell phone to confirm my time of arrival at the National Press Building where he worked. Luckily, I found a free four-hour parking space on the Capitol Mall. Then I walked back to the press building, located the McClatchy offices, and waited for Kevin to finish a phone conversation for a story.

Kevin Diaz suggested that we have lunch at a buffet food place on the second floor. As we rode down an escalator, he pointed ahead. “Isn’t that Al Sharpton?” It certainly looked like him. The smartly dressed presidential candidate was seated on a stand having his shoes shined. I went up to Sharpton and introduced myself as a rival candidate for President. I told him I was from Minnesota. Sharpton seemed amused by this. He asked my name. In a good-natured way, he pretended to be worried about the competition from me. We shook hands. Then Kevin Diaz introduced himself to Sharpton and shook hands. Walking to the food court, Diaz said he was hesitant to approach Sharpton in case it had been someone else. I responded, “I have no reputation to protect.” He smiled. There was a story about my encounter with Al Sharpton in Sunday’s Star Tribune.

Together at a small table, we talked first of his forthcoming trip to Brazil where he would assess the impact of trade upon agriculture, especially sugar production. We talked, of course, about national politics. Howard Dean was then the front runner. Diaz had read parts of my Independence Party book. He was interested in my exchange of correspondence with his boss about the lack of coverage for my Senate campaign. He said he thought that top editors at the paper were sensitive to complaints about “liberal bias” and might be open to discussions. As a fringe candidate for President, he said, I could not expect much coverage; at most, something might be done in the Variety Section. We also talked about race. Diaz said it had been his policy to stay away from this subject ever since he had drawn flak, both from the black community and the police, for a series of articles on the gang problem that he wrote in 1991. He had even received death threats.

As it approached 3 p.m., Kevin Diaz had to go back to work. He first gave me directions for driving south out of town. Rejoining I-95, I drove through Virginia at a moderately fast rate of speed. South of Richmond, I pulled into a rest area to check my motel reservation in South Carolina. I also thought of calling the Greenville News reporter, Dan Hoover, who was my only source of information to date about being kicked off the South Carolina ballot. I was curious to know how he had learned of this.

Hoover read me an email from the Democratic state party chair, Joe Erwin. It was in the form of a letter to me, stating that I could not be on the ballot because I was ineligible to receive ballots at the National Democratic Convention. The DNC chair had made that determination. Mulling it over in the car, I thought maybe I could salvage the situation by waiving my right to delegates. There was a long stretch of road through North Carolina and then into South Carolina. At Florence, I picked up Interstate 20 for a short trip to Columbia, arriving at the Motel 6 in West Columbia just after midnight.

The following morning, Friday, around 9:30 a.m., I left the motel dressed in my best suit, brief case in hand. I drove into Columbia to pay a call at the offices of the South Carolina Democratic Party, located at 1517 Blanding Street. For the first time, I met Nancy the receptionist. A burning issue in South Carolina, she told me, was whether ketchup or mustard should be used on barbecued ribs. My business was, of course, to know why I had been kicked off the South Carolina primary ballot. A young man named Wyeth Ruthven, who was a legal expert, appeared from a side room. I learned that he had stayed overnight at a motel near Milford on a recent trip to Boston.

Meanwhile Nancy ran off a copy of Joe Erwin’s letter to me, the one which Hoover had read over the phone. This letter referred to “the South Carolina Delegate Selection Rules (Section VI.A.1)” and ”Section 11.K.(1)(b) of the Delegate Selection Rules for the 2004 Democratic National Convention.” I said that I did not know what those citations meant. Could I please see the text? In time, Ruthven produced a 20-page printout of the South Carolina rules. He also gave me a copy of a two-page letter which Terence R. McAuliffe, DNC chair, had written to Erwin. This is what I wanted. I took several minutes to study the text.

Essentially, McAuliffe had decided that I could not have delegates at the Democratic National Convention because I was not a good Democrat. And South Carolina party rules stated that I could not be on the presidential primary ballot unless I was “entitled to obtain delegates” at the convention. McAuliffe’s objections to me were that I had run for Mayor of Minneapolis as a member of the ‘Affordable Housing Preservation Party’ against a Democratic incumbent, had “sought the nomination of the Independence Party as a candidate for the U.S. Senate, and had “publicly stated (that I remained) a member of the Independence Party ... and (had) reservations about joining the current Democratic Party.” Therefore, he wrote, “McGaughey is not a bona fide Democrat and does not possess a record affirmatively demonstrating that he is faithful to, or has at heart, the interests, welfare and success of the Democratic Party.”

I asked Nancy if Nu Wexler was in. He was not. Nancy herself was not the person to talk with about this situation. It therefore fell to Wyeth Ruthven to listen to my response. I pointed out, first, that there was no “Affordable Housing Preservation Party” The first three words were just a label to identify my campaign issue. Also, the Minneapolis mayoral election is a nonpartisan contest. The incumbent mayor’s chief opponent, who beat her in the 2001 election, was also a Democrat.

McAuliffe’s second allegation, however, was true. Yes, I had run for U.S. Senate in the Independence Party primary. It was also true that officially I remained a member of the Independence Party because I had last caucused with them. However, two weeks earlier, I had also told an unidentified caller, when asked, that I would be willing to join the Democratic Party - changing my position from that when I first announced for President in June. Who this man was I did not know. Was he someone from the South Carolina Democratic Party? Wyeth Ruthven and the others were sure that he was not.

I called attention to the paragraph in McAuliffe’s letter which quoted Article VI of the Call for the 2004 Democratic National Committee. This passage said a bona fide Democrat was someone “whose record of public service, accomplishments, public writings and/ or public statements affirmatively demonstrates that he or she is faithful to the interests, welfare and success of the Democratic Party ... and will participate in the Convention in good faith.”

“Public writings?” From my briefcase, I pulled out copies of several books that I had published . One book had a foreword by a Democratic member of Congress. Another was coauthored with a former U.S. Senator who was a Democrat. I wanted Ruthven to see these books in case someone questioned their existence. Therefore, while my organizational affiliation was somewhat shaky, the views expressed in my writings were well within the scope of what Democrats might advocate. Ruthven said he knew this; but my beef was with the national party, not the one in South Carolina. Go see them. (It did not escape me that, had Nu Wexler returned any of my phone calls, I could easily have called on the DNC when I was in Washington the previous afternoon.)

There was little more for me to do at 1517 Blanding Avenue. These were all nice people having to front for nefarious actions taken by the higher-ups. I went back to my motel and immediately placed a cell-phone call to Phil McNamara, the DNC’s Director of Party Affairs and Delegate Selection, who had been given as a contact person in McAuliffe’s letter. I reached McNamara on the second try. He pulled up a copy of McAuliffe’s letter from the computer. Urging McAuliffe to reverse his decision, I went through the same points as in my argument with Wyeth Ruthven. The main point at issue was whether I had refused to become a Democrat. No, he, McNamara, was not the person with whom I had spoken on December 23th; he did not know who that might have been.

When I had finished covering most points in the letter, McNamara said that he would pass this information along to Terry McAuliffe. But he had to say that, once McAuliffe made up his mind, he seldom changed it. People at party headquarters were upset that I had run for Senate against Paul Wellstone. Norm Coleman’s victory in Minnesota had been a major setback. I argued that my campaign was not directed against Wellstone; I was running in the Independence Party primary. I asked if I might visit the DNC offices in Washington, D.C. on Monday to meet in person. McNamara discouraged this. He said he would get back to me by telephone the following week. I urged him to respond sooner rather than later so that, if McAuliffe’s decision was favorable, I could return quickly to the campaign trail.

After this telephone conversation, I thought it useful to write a letter to McAuliffe, pleading my case. It was a handwritten letter since I had no typewriter. Then, I drove into Columbia to find a post office and perhaps do some sightseeing. I wound up near the South Carolina State Capitol and decided to visit this place. A well-dressed man was giving a tour to a young couple and their son. I asked if I could tag along.

While we were standing at the threshold of the House chambers, I noticed that seven of the state representatives were named Smith. I said, “I guess, around here you stand a good chance of getting elected if your name is Smith. Where I live, it’s Olson or Anderson.” Our tour guide asked me where I lived. “Minnesota.” Where in Minnesota? It turned out that this man was from Duluth, Minnesota, and had also lived in the Brainerd area. He was an “elected official” - perhaps, comptroller general. This man asked me what I was doing in South Carolina? “Running for President.” Unsure whether I was now a celebrity or a freak, I continued to tour the beautiful Capitol building with this man and the young family, who were from Sweden. At length, I excused myself for fear that my parking meter had expired. They wished me good luck in the campaign.

There was little point in remaining in South Carolina much longer. I stopped at Maurice’s Barbecue Restaurant in Columbia on my way back to the motel. It seemed a hangout for supporters of the lost Confederacy. I bought booklets about the history of the Confederate flag and about how Abe Lincoln was not so honest. Several inscribed photographs of George W. Bush hung on the wall. On a different wall was a picture of Robert E. Lee. The meal was delicious - it was barbecue with a mustard base. I had a good night’s sleep and checked out of the motel around 8 a.m. the following day.

I was headed immediately for Cincinnati, Ohio. A boyhood friend from Detroit, who now lived there, had once invited me to visit him if I were in the area. Driving up Interstate 26, I was pleased to see a billboard near Spartanburg asking whether “your job has been outsourced yet?” I then crossed the border into North Carolina on Interstate 40 and, shortly afterwards, passed into Tennessee through mountainous terrain. Near Knoxville, I left I-40 to take I-75 up through Tennessee and Kentucky to the Ohio River in the north. Gassing up in northern Kentucky, I called my old friend.

The last time I had seen this man, John Court - we called him “Christy” - was at the Pentagon in 1968. He had been a policy analyst there. Later, John moved over to the Nixon White House to work for Henry Kissinger. Yes, he had accompanied Dr. Kissinger to China, but his work focused more on Pakistan and the Soviet Union. After leaving public service, John Court turned down a number of attractive job offers (including publisher of the Star Tribune) to become a venture capitalist in Cincinnati. He was general manager and part owner of a printing company, besides being an investor in real estate. His wife, Georgia, taught creative writing at a university. She had also been a health columnist for the Cincinnati Enquirer.

Sipping wine, we caught up on the old days and discussed politics. John was a diehard Republican; Georgia was more liberal. In his day, he had closed down union plants and opened nonunion ones, yet he saw a need for unions. Surprisingly, both John and Georgia were in basic agreement with my arguments that housing debt could bring calamity, that jobs were becoming scarce, and more education would not necessarily save the young. We argued, however, about the shorter workweek. Himself financially secure, John had retired after suffering a stroke two years earlier. Though his speech was slurred, his mind remained sharp. He had recently toured the Far East. I met their teenage son when he returned home for the evening. Then I went to bed in the attic guest room.

The following morning, John Court gave me a brief sightseeing tour of Cincinnati. The rest of the day, Sunday, January 11th, was spent driving back to Minneapolis, via Indianapolis and Bloomington, Illinois. I reached the Twin Cities around midnight. My wife was sound asleep. The next day’s accumulated mail included a Fed-Ex packet containing the same two letters from Erwin and McAuliffe that I had seen in Columbia. My returned check was also enclosed. On the first day home, I typed another letter to Terence McAuliffe.

Phil McNamara’s promise to call me next week after McAuliffe had reviewed my case turned out to be hollow. After Wednesday I called McNamara twice a day, and then several more times the following week, only to reach a recorded message. When I tried to call McAuliffe himself, my call was transferred to the “public comment line.” Again, I contacted the South Carolina Democratic Party. Had they heard from McNamara or McAuliffe? Someone there let slip the information that the primary ballots had already been printed.

That did it. I was no longer under any illusion that the national party would reconsider. Even if it did, the state party would not bear the expense of reprinting ballots just for my sake. Despite previous assurances that this had been my “last message”, I sent another email, “campaign is over”, to persons on my email list. But that, too, was untrue. Louisiana was still a question mark. If McAuliffe would not let me receive delegates from South Carolina, the same rules ought to apply to any other state. But how about getting on the primary ballot?

I called the Election Section of the Louisiana Secretary of State’s office. A woman named Julie took the call. After explaining why I had been disqualified in South Carolina, I asked if the same rules applied to her state. Julie took a minute to check. Then, to my amazement and delight, she told me that the rules were different. “In Louisiana,” she said, “we don’t care what you’ve been.” Anyone can run for President in that state’s primary if they pay the filing fee and file within the qualifying period. However, the application form and the fee must be sent to Baton Rouge so that it arrives between January 28th and January 30th. If a candidate cannot appear at the election counter in person, overnight mail would be the best guarantee of timely delivery.

Therefore, another email message went out to Louisiana media informing them that my presidential “campaign (was) still on in Louisiana.” This one had a better claim to finality.

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