Saturday, December 19, 2020

TRIBUTE TO A GREAT AMERICAN-DON FOWLER

A few years ago, I received an honor from my alma mater, the University of South Carolina College of Arts and Sciences. I was particularly grateful that Don Fowler was in attendance. In the ceremony, I reflected on my time at USC. I talked about my great professors, and especially Don "who combined the best of academia and a keen real- world understanding, and who encouraged my involvement in campaigns and political organizations". Even after leaving South Carolina for DC, it was my good fortune to continue to cross paths with Don. He was not just a wonderful professor but had a long list of other accomplishments including service as the Chair and Executive Director of the SC Democratic Party, National Chair of the Democratic National Committee (DNC), and CEO of the Democratic National Convention in 1988. He had a distinguished career in the military (Colonel- US Army Reserve) and was also a successful business owner (government affairs/communciations). Despite his own amazing career and powerful positions, he had a unique, God given ability to make whomever he was with (including every student he ever taught) feel important and valued. He regularly called me about some student of his who wanted to work in DC. He would give that student a glowing reference and ask if I could meet with him/her to give career advice, help with their "networking", and help with their job search in DC. Of course, I always obliged, because Don did the same for me, and for so many others too. He was "linked in" personified well before "Linked In! He was always generous with his time, and was an inspiration in his willingness to help others on their paths in life. He was a mentor to me from the mid-70's all the way up to his recent passing. In fact, I needed some of his advice/guidance just two weeks ago . I emailed him and we also talked by phone. He said he was weak from the chemo treatments. He said: "I don't get around much these days" and the leukemia had "required a reordering of my life." Don, who was always positive, then added: " I still can do a lot of things" but he was disappointed that he "had to drop my classes at USC". He then reminded me that he had been at "Carolina since 1964."
I thank God that I had the opportunity at the end of our call to tell him how grateful I was for all he had done for me, and what he had meant to me for so many years. He was a great educator, a wonderful, loyal friend, a distinguished military leader, and an eternal optimist who always looked for the good in people (even Republicans!). We lost a great American this week, but his positive impact on the lives of so many will continue for many years to come. I join many others who are giving thanks for the life and significant contributions of Don Fowler.

Tuesday, November 17, 2020

REFLECTIONS OF A FORMER SENATE GOP STAFFER

                                                                                                                                           November 2020 

 

 

 

 

                        REFLECTIONS OF A FORMER GOP STAFFER

 

Earlier this week I responded to a Facebook post from a friend from my hometown in South Carolina. Overwhelmingly, the friends on the thread were strong Trump supporters. For them and for many others, (8 of 10 Trump supporters according to a national poll I saw today) there is a belief that the election was stolen. Most also believe Biden will have a scary socialist agenda, as well. What follows is an edited version of my response my friend’s post. I have never expressed political opinions on Facebook before, and do not think my comments here are “political” either. These are just my personal observations.  However, I do know that we are a very divided nation, and it is hard to say anything about Trump, the election, or Biden without triggering strong, sincere emotions. After being in DC for 35 years and working in politics most of my life, my guess is that progressives who voted for Biden won’t like some of what I have to say. Neither will many strong Trump supporters. So, I was not expecting to get a lot of “likes” or “shares”, but surprisingly I did!  I also know that we live in in hyper-partisan times and the Senate has changed since I worked there. Yet, I am still an optimist and believe that we can have greater civility and manifest our "better angels" on both sides of the political aisle for the benefit of Americans. I was asked by a few friends to post this on my own Facebook page in the hopes that it might be of some utility.  After the response I received on Facebook, friends asked me to post it more widely.  Maybe it will make some folks feel a bit more comfortable/less anxious. I sure hope so.

 

 “I don't want to use FB to express my own political opinions or try to convince/argue with anyone else about politics or politicians. But I do notice that many of my hometown friends are on this thread and many are concerned about the prospects of a Biden presidency. I just want to give some perspective, for what it's worth, about some personal observations I have had over the years here in DC. I came here in 1985 to work for Senator Thurmond, clearly a strong GOP conservative. He was already 83, and there were Senators and staff who (offensively, in my opinion) made fun of his age and even his mental acuity. Senator Biden was just the opposite. He was very deferential and gracious to Senator Thurmond --always. Not only in public, when the media was watching, but also behind closed doors when it was just Biden, Thurmond and a few top staff. They worked together very well and constructively in confirming judges and passing legislation. Before Senator Thurmond died, and his funeral preparations were being made, he asked Joe Biden to be one of his eulogists. There were good reasons why. They truly had a great deal of affection for each other. They didn’t agree politically on much of anything, but they were friends and they were willing to try to compromise occasionally. Senator Thurmond wanted his best Democratic friend, Joe Biden, to show that in his career he had garnered the respect and admiration from both Republicans and Democrats. Biden could have said "no". That would probably have been better for him politically within the Democratic party ranks. But he was true to his friend from the beginning of their relationship to the end.

 

I attended Senator Thurmond's funeral in South Carolina. Biden's eulogy was one of the most moving I have ever heard. Please Google it for yourselves. Later I worked for Senator Alan Simpson, Republican from Wyoming. I was his chief of staff/chief counsel while he was the GOP Whip, the #2 Republican in the Senate. He and Biden were also on the Judiciary Committee. In my job, I worked on the Senate floor. Several times a day, all the Senators would come to the Senate floor to cast votes. The GOP leadership staff sat on one side of the chamber (in the back) and the Democratic staff sat on the other. There was only one Democratic Senator who ever came over and sat with us GOP staffers, often just to chat, to ask how we were, to find out about the voting schedule, etc. That was Joe Biden. He had an amazing ability to greet us lowly staffers by our first names. That was pretty impressive. Most Senators (on both sides of the aisle) didn't treat staff of the other party so courteously. Biden definitely stood out for us GOP leadership staffers. He and Simpson also had a very warm personal relationship,  and worked together to get a variety of bills enacted. Just a few years ago, then VP Biden personally asked Simpson to co-chair the Bipartisan Commission to reduce the Federal Deficit (Simpson-Bowles). I do respect that many Americans don't like what they think will be Biden’s policies/political views. I am not going to engage on that. However, I do want my FB friends to know that civility, graciousness, and a willingness to listen and even compromise with Republicans are a part of his DNA . I've had the opportunity to personally witness that in my nearly 10 years on Senate staff and then later in my work in the private sector, too. I hope that these observations (sorry about the length) might give some friends even a tad bit less anxiety about the future....”