The big truth: we just needed 20k votes

Topeka Capital Journal
Aug. 4, 1986

Election Day is at hand again, and what better time to recall, painfully, my only venture into the world of politics: the 1964 campaign by Bud Wilkinson to become a US senator from Oklahoma. It was the first time for both of us and, thank God, the last.

Bud was a football coach running for high public office, but he was some kind of coach. In his 17 seasons, he had brought the Oklahoma Sooners what was then undreamed-of success. He was a tall, handsome, highly articulate man, a genuine local and national hero.

In terms of national prominence, he was what Knute Rockne had been and what Paul “Bear” Bryant later became. Because of his charm and intelligence, he was the guy you’d pick over all the rest as the football coach most likely to succeed in public life.

I had known Bud many years and was working for him in President Kennedy’s Council on Physical Fitness and Sports when he decided to run. His friends in Oklahoma told him that because of his strong ties to the University of Oklahoma, he needed to name a key campaign worker from rival Oklahoma State.

“I know just the man,” Bud told them, referring to yours truly.

They asked, “is he famous, or even well known”?

“Not for anything we’d want to publicize,” Bud said, “but he will have to do.”

So it was that I joined the campaign by popular demand, long before Bud even announced. And he may have lost the election a month or more before he officially entered the race.

It was at a small meeting in the old Willard Hotel in Washington, and the question was whether Bud should change his registration from Democrat to Republican. Like most Oklahomans, Bud was a registered Democrat so he could vote in primaries. The Republicans in those days didn’t have enough candidates to have primary contests.

There was strong argument against the change. The more moderate Democrats would understand it, but a lot of “dirty dog” Democrats would resent it. But Bud, by philosophy and instinct, a conservative Republican, made the decision.

Soon after, he made the switch, and it got tremendous publicity. He also went into court and officially changed his name from Charles Burnham to Bud. Then he announced. The ball was teed up, and the game was on.

When it was announced that I was joining the campaign, one small newspaper from the “Little Dixie” section of Oklahoma made a gem of it. Ignoring the fact I was a native, and an Oklahoma State grad, it pointed out I had attended St Gregory High School and was coming out from Washington. Its headline read: “Eastern Catholic to help Bud.”

We hired Ed Turner, a local TV ace, to be our publicity man. Tony Calvert, a prominent oil man, was our finance man, and he raised more money than we could spend. We got top people to organize every county, and we had legions of volunteers. We had a good team and a hell of a candidate.

But we had problems. In the presidential race, Barry Goldwater was running against Lyndon Johnson, and in Oklahoma, as elsewhere, there were Republicans and Goldwater Republicans. Most of the Republicans didn’t like Goldwater, and the Goldwater Republicans didn’t like Bud because he had intruded into their parade.

We kept telling them privately we loved Barry, and they kept replying, Yeah, but you don’t love him enough. Finally, Bud publicly endorsed him, and an awful lot of Republicans took the trouble to write us and say, Count me out.

Still, we thought Bud would win. He flattened a primary opponent, a Goldwater man. Then, a late summer poll rattled our bones.

It showed Bud’s opponent, Fred Harris, leading statewide, 51 percent to 31, with 18 percent undecided. Harris led in every congressional district, and had 20 percent of the registered Republicans, probably those defectors. Harris’ campaign theme was simple: me and LBJ.

He was tough. Told he wasn’t as well-known as Bud, he replied, “After I beat him, I will be.” He debated Bud head-to-head and did well.

In the weeks that followed, Bud worked tirelessly seven days a week. In our final poll, he had cut the lead to two percentage points, but that was it. With close to a million voting, LBJ carried the state by about 120,000. And Bud last to Harris by about 20,000. Close, but no cigar.

Postscripts:
Bud and I made it to Washington after all, going there in 1965 to run a well-heeled operation called the Lifetime Sports Foundation. Bud went on to become an insurance executive, with a brief time out to coach the pro Saint Louis Cardinals. He lives in Saint Louis and spends most of his time traveling in Europe and playing golf.

Ed Turner, our publicity man, went back to television and today as vice president in charge of news for Ted Turner’s (no relation) Cable News Network. He once said of the campaign, “We took a household name and drove it into oblivion in six months.”

Fred Harris went to the Senate and immediately became involved with Bobby Kennedy and various liberal causes that alienated Oklahomans. In 1972, he resigned from the Senate and made a token run for President. He hasn’t been heard from politically since.

Tony Calvert, the finance man, still is in the oil business. He says people occasionally ask him, whatever became of what’s-his-name, the Easterner who came out to help Bud?

Teresa, Nelson and Walter walk into a kennel

(Editor’s Note: For many years, the late Topeka Capital-Journal Outdoor Editor Jim Ramberg and his good friend columnist Dick Snider covered the newspaper’s fiercely competitive “Dog of the Year Contest” with equally competitive annual newsprint faceoffs. Here is the 1990 version.)

Quality canine shines over Topeka … again

By Jim Ramberg
July 8, 1990

Let’s face it. Everyone gets old. Some do it more gracefully than others.

Look at Nolan Ryan, for instance. A class act, still throwing a 90-mph fastball.

George Foreman, that roly-poly fighter, isn’t going around singing “Yesterday.” He’s knocking the stuffing out of fighters half his age.

And Mick Jagger, the little English wimp, is still cavorting around on stage at the age of 50.

Of course, you have people who old age effects in a negative way.

They become mean spirited, cranky, vindictive. What’s worse, they get confused and often get their facts wrong.

Let me give you an example.

There’s this guy who writes a column here at the paper. This columnist. (his name sort of rhymes with Back Slider) lashes out at everyone and everything. He has attacked the legislative pension fund, the Expocentre, even (I’m not kidding) his own family. Continue reading

Memorable leads

Topeka Capital Journal
June 27, 1986.

The other day here, writing about gobbledygook, I quoted an Illinois statute, in which the first sentence was more than 260 words long. A friend remarked that it must not have been written by a newspaper man – or newspaper person, as we are supposed to say now – because they are trained to write short “leads,” or opening sentences.

It doesn’t always work out that way, as the sentence above proves. But it is true that editors like short and simple beginnings, and some of them get nasty about it.

James Thurber had an editor who demanded short leads, and made such an issue of it that one day, covering a news story, Thurber wrote:

“Dead.

“That’s the way they found John Doe today.”

And that brings us to the subject of memorable newspaper leads and headlines, Continue reading

Moses, fan mail, and the long con of the NRA

Topeka Capital Journal
June 7, 2000

On the subject of gun control, here is a sampling of the responses your humble servant receives from unruly readers:

“Your statement in today’s paper about government at any level in this country taking away our guns shows what a misguided imbecile you are. You morons of the media went to court to protect urinating on a statue of Jesus as free speech.”

And, “I am not an NRA member. However, I do feel the organization has value in much the same way that our esteemed Reverend Phelps has value to the case against homosexuality…. You and others of your ilk would have laws against urinating in the woods, while allowing a homosexual to adopt a child…. thanks for reminding me to skip your column.”

And, “There was no peace treaty signed in Korea. Technically, the war isn’t over…. Sorry, but you’re as off base here as you are on gun control. Thought grows less painful with practice. Try it.”

And, “You are a moron. Read the Second Amendment, which guarantees our right to own guns.”

Is this any way to treat a man of peace? Continue reading

When heat tested whittlers, nuns and nearly naked newsmen

Topeka Capital-Journal
June 22, 1987

Often on the golf course, when four or five men are about to suffocate from heat and humidity, they talk about how they would react if they were forced to go out in that weather for four hours and do something equally as senseless as chasing a golf ball.

The other day, one such group followed that brief discussion by talking about what life was like before air conditioning and what it would be like now, if that marvel of marvels hadn’t been invented. Things would be different, that’s for sure. Continue reading

Ex-Marine recalls the California blackboard jungle.

Topeka Capital-Journal
May 25, 1988.

My brother-in-law, Dr. Warren Linville, was in town last week on a rare visit. He is a native, but presently his shingle reads that he is the Superintendent of schools at Umatilla, Ore., and claims that outside his back door the Columbia River is a mile wide.

I use his “Dr.” title for several reasons: I think he likes it, he worked pretty hard to get it, and, more importantly, He took a bunch of us to the North Star for those famous steaks, and potatoes and gravy, and picked up the check. Continue reading

How about, “Proving journalism is the last refuge of the vaguely talented?”

(Editor’s note: During the 1990s, Snider was identified at the end of his twice-weekly column in a blurb that called him simply “a local retired newsman.”)

Topeka Capital Journal
April 30, 1990

It has been ordained that I be identified at the end of these columns, that there be some line there explaining who I am, in case somebody might be wondering. It is a good idea. You have every right to know who is responsible for what goes on here. Continue reading

One evening with Willie Nelson

Topeka Capital-Journal.
April 23, 1997

Willie Nelson was on “60 Minutes” Sunday night, having a lot of fun with the fact he has finished paying the settlement for the $32 million he owed the IRS in back taxes, interest and penalties. He got into that mess because, for one thing, he was a little naive earlier in his singing career, and this column is here to tell you I don’t know him now, but I knew him then, slightly, and briefly. Continue reading

Generation passes one birthday at a time

Topeka Capital-Journal.
March 21, 1997

Yesterday, March 20, was the first day of spring, and you remembered. It also was my birthday, and you forgot. At least you didn’t send me a present, or even a card, which is nothing new. Even my family, especially my children, make it a point to forget my birthday because they have built up this myth that I never remembered theirs. Continue reading

Fields of dreams and delusions.

Topeka Metro News
March 25, 2005

Devere Nelson, known to his millions of fans worldwide as Dev, used to sit in a little closet-sized control room, or studio, or whatever they called it, at WIBW and recreate baseball games that Topeka’s professional team was playing on the road. Continue reading