Historic Tidbit: Ohio Senator Stephen Young once received a hostile letter from a constituent, at the end of which he listed his phone number and added, “I would welcome the opportunity to have intercourse with you.” Young wrote back and said “you sir, can have intercourse with yourself.”
Ohio had two Senators who served side-by-side for ten years. Both were Democrats over 60 when elected and each would live into their mid 90s, but that’s where the similarities ended.
Frank Lausche was quiet and religious, not known for taking initiatives on many issues but one whose honesty and frugality would become his legacy. Stephen Young was about as outspoken as can be, and could easily have been mistaken for inventing the phrase “He suffers fools gladly.”
Lausche was an electoral powerhouse, winning most of his races by huge margins. Young was considered a fluke who twice had the fortune of beating candidates with stellar names by running in the most Democratic years around.
Lausche had a long career in Ohio politics, becoming Governor before he was 50. Young did not win statewide office until he was nearly 70. Finally, Young was the most loyal Democrat around, sometimes even to the left of the rank and file, an avid foe of Vietnam. Lausche supported the war and openly flirted with (and was flirted by), the other party.
Neither men were bad speakers but while Young could throw in a malapropism or two, Lausche’s abilities were gifted. And predictably, there was tension between the two stemming from one not supporting the other, and vice-versa. Yes, elections make strange bedfellows and Lausche and Young were an interesting study in colleagues of the same party and state not exactly being enamored with one another.
Lausche, the son of Slovenian immigrants, could be spotted a mile away with, what The Toledo Blade’s Josh Boak refers to as his “unkempt steel wool hair.” Lausche was the second of ten children and his dad was a steel mill worker. He lost his father at age 12 and, after serving in the Army during World War 1 could have become a professional baseball player but decided to go to law school. Lausche was deeply religious and would be a regular at his church, Cleveland’s St. Vitus, his entire life.
He made a couple of unsuccessful runs for the Legislature but gained notice of party leaders. Eventually, his rise took another route: the bench. Lausche would become a Cleveland Municipal Court Judge followed by common plea. In that role, Albert Woldman would write Lausche was thought to have “committed political suicide” by going after gambling clubs and their owners, many of whom were Democrats. But that enhanced his popularity and he easily won the Cleveland Mayoralty in 1941.
Lausche’s first brush with fame came shortly after that election. Democrats and unions wanted him to fire the famed crime-fighter, Elliot Ness, which he did not. And his mobilization of war relief efforts in Cuyahoga gained him a reputation as “an inspired war leader for the people of Cleveland.” George Voinovich, a Lausche successor as Governor, Mayor of Cleveland, and master of frugality, was asked his party affiliation, to which he replied, “I’m a Lausche Republican.”
Boak said that at the time of his election as Governor that Lausche owned two suits. It would not be far-fetched to think he couldn’t afford another. For how much did he spend on his ‘44 race for Governor? $27,132 (and he’d reimburse Cleveland for time on the trail). Conversely, the GOP spent just under $1 million.
By the time he’d leave office, Lausche had served a record number of terms as Ohio Governor. He then decided to try for the Senate and beat incumbent George Bender.
Almost instantly, Lausche became known as a weathervane. When he won his Senate seat in 1956, the Democrats had a single vote margin. Lausche had said publicly that he might vote for California’s Bill Knowland as Minority Leader and Merle Miller, in his book Lyndon, called Lausche “more conservative than most conservatives.” Lausche did keep everyone hanging until the last minute, a roll call in those days but in the end, he stuck with Johnson.
Lausche was initially very lukewarm to JFK and it wasn’t until well into the fall campaign that he came aboard. But when he was in, he was in with both feet. When they wanted to know how the Kennedy/Nixon debate was, it was reported that Lausche’s banging on Kennedy’s hotel door meant he’d won. Lausche was among the advocates pushing for the strongest possible Civil Rights bill, and he proved a solid backer of the “Great Society.” But he always had problems with the unions. But until 1968, he was never threatened.
Until his last race, Lausche did pretty well in Ohio. His five terms as Governor is a record. Surely he would have won re-election to the Senate had he not lost the primary. Dissatisfaction among Democrats did not stop Lausche from capturing the Democratic nomination for Governor in 1944, and he beat ex-Cincinnati Mayor James Garfield Stewart 52-48%. Some, including Bob Taft, surmised that his Catholicism and the fact that he looked foreign might hurt him in rural Ohio, but he appealed to the southern part of the state by opposing strip mining and the many Cleveland ethnics via his background. He was seen as a man of the working class, which propelled him to a 52-48% win.
Lausche was turned out of office 51-49% in Republican 1946 (a Governor’s term was two years at that time), mostly over his refusal to call a special session of the Legislature to deal with World War II bonuses.
But he made a comeback in 1948 and served eight more years. In 1952, he beat Charles Taft, son of the former President and brother of the famed Majority Leader by 450,000 votes and was the first Ohio Chief Executive to poll two million votes. This time he’d learn from past mistakes. He’d authorize money for Korean War vets. He spearheaded a “Plant Ohio” conservation program, expanded the welfare rolls, and modernized state buildings (which led to the construction of new schools and hospitals) made him popular.
And he put through the Ohio Turnpike which, for the state, was considered a giant step forward, though he did face grumbling over a gas tax used to pay for it. Still, voters approved a $500,000,000 bond referendum.
In early 1956, Eisenhower was urged to dump Richard Nixon as VP, and put Lausche in his place. Ike was heard to have said he’d “love to put a Catholic on the ticket, if only to test it out.”
Ike’s interest in Lausche came despite his flirtation with seeking the 1956 Democratic nomination. He said he “dreaded the thought of occupying the nation’s highest office,” but “would be available.”
As such, he was put forth as a “Favorite Son” candidate and did say that “everything else being equal (Ike’s health),” he would back the Democratic nominee. He did the same in 1960 but was so incensed by Governor Mike DiSalle’s early endorsement of Kennedy that he threatened to run as a “Favorite Son.” Lack of time for organization kept him from following through.
In the Senate, Lausche would become known as “Frank the Fence.” Some of his foes derided his style as “Lauschesh-t.” He opposed JFK’s Medicare plan, and other Democratic initiatives in the Senate. But voters didn’t seem to mind. When his seat came up in 1962, he beat John Marshall Briley 62-38% after Briley called him “a little old and tottery.”
One of Lausche’s gifts was that he said what he was and was what he said. Boak pointed out that Lausche “spoke to a group of hostile Cincinnati Democrats for about an hour in 1944. Before he came out, it was dead sure that 90 percent of the people would vote against him. When he left, 90 percent of the people were on his side…” During prohibition, he had received applause after addressing the Chagrin’s Fall’s Women’s Temperance Union, when he was asked how he felt about wine and beer. Lausche said he “could use a cold glass of beer right now.”
But that forthrightness ultimately became his undoing.
Lausche would become very hawkish on the Vietnam War and his relations with labor would not get any better. That would lead ex-Ohio Congressman John Gilligan to challenge him in the 1968 primary. Lausche hardly took him seriously. Why should he have? After all, Gilligan had been bounced from the House after one term two years earlier. But In 1968, the nation was changing and when the votes were counted, Gilligan had beaten Lausche by over 100,000 votes (he would lose the general election).
Ohio Politics by Alexander Lammis and Maryanne Sharkey said Lausche’s explanation was that, “For 25 years, labor unions fought me. They flooded Ohio with money from the unions throughout the country. I wasn’t conscious of what was going on. I was late recognizing it and the turn against me occurred very late in the campaign. By then it was too late.”
Lausche said he’d vote for the GOP nominee for President, who would end up being Richard Nixon.
He died in April 1990. Appropriately, his bio by James Odenkirk was entitled, Frank Lausche: Ohio’s Great Political Maverick.
Young was the last Senator to have an 1880?s birthdate which, at 69 in 1958, was a factor many thought would hinder him in his challenge to John Bricker. Certainly the issue plagued him even more in 1964, at 75. Ex-Ohio Governor John Gilligan recalled, “There were lots of people counseling him against making those two races. But he went right out there and did his thing and won both races. He beat the two best names in Ohio.” Those names were Bricker and Taft. Bricker had been Governor of Ohio (and Lausche’s predecessor), but still had national fame from being Tom Dewey’s running mate in 1944.
At the beginning of 1958, he was as entrenched as entrenched could get. How did Young win? There was an anti-union initiative on the ballot that would allow employees to refuse to join. Ironically, Lausche supported the initiative, which was widely unpopular among Democrats. But it brought them to the polls. Even without the initiative, 1958 was shaping up to be a huge Democratic year, and Young would attack Bricker for being outside the mainstream. “My opponent is John W. Bricker, the darling of the reactionaries.” He attacked Bricker for his “phony campaign oratory” by opposing air strength and backing a cut to the Marines.
The Blade reported Young attacking Bricker for voting for “the special interest of the Pennsylvania Railroad, which he had represented as a lawyer.” Bricker also had seen his influence diminish by the one vote loss of the Bricker Amendment. In a year of many upsets, Young’s was perhaps the biggest. He sent Bricker packing 52-48%. Who ran his campaign? Howard Metzenbaum, who would tell the story of “a 69 year old man (coming to) me asking me to run his campaign. We were not real close but I thought John Bricker the antithesis of everything I believed in.” They spent just $45,000. And Lausche had given him nary support. As a result, Young refused to allow Lausche to stand next to him when taking his oath.
Young’s dearth of statewide wins prior to his Senate race was not for lack of trying. He had won his first elective office at 23, 46 years before he would become a Senator. That would be 1912, when he won a seat in the Ohio House. His first statewide run came in 1922, when he ran for Ohio Attorney General. He lost. Ditto to a 1930 primary for Governor. He would make two more runs for Attorney General again and one for Governor, and lose. In between, there were three separate stints in the U.S. House (one of which ended in defeat) and service as counsel to the Ohio Attorney General. And despite being well into his 50?s, Young would serve in World War II.
By the time Young came up for a second term in 1964, it seemed unlikely he could repeat his luck. He would face Robert Taft Jr, a political golden boy whose name sake was his famous late father, “Mr. Republican,” and grandfather the former President. And early on, there was no guarantee that Young would make it to the primary. Bobby Kennedy was encouraging John Glenn to challenge Young in the primary, and he was prepared to do so until he sustained serious injuries in a bathtub accident. Glenn withdrew from the race.
Taft didn’t bring up the age issue but at 75, it was on the minds of many voters. Young responded thus: “I’m not as young as I used to be. But I’m not as old as I expect to get.”
The race was close. Very close. The returns see-sawed the entire night and when the counting was done, Young was just 17,000 votes ahead of Taft. Not until driving to Washington the next day was he fully assured his lead was irreversible. It was another improbable win which Young acknowledged Johnson’s coattails were pivotal. “Without it,” he said, “I doubt I could have won.”
But Washington was just beginning to get to know the real Stephen Young. Asked whether the Civil Rights issue played a role, Young said probably not, “as Taft campaigned vigorously for the Negro votes.” But he added that he enjoyed widespread support.
In 1964, Young backed the Tonkin Gulf resolution but within one year, was one of three Senators joining the original “noes,” Morse and Gruening, in voting against the Vietnam Appropriation. By early 1966, he was calling for a complete pullout. “I would sleep better at night,” he said, “if someone other than Dean Rusk were Secretary of State.”
Adversity often presented Young an opportunity to showcase his humor further and not even home-state colleagues of the same party would be spared. On one occasion, Ohio Congressman Wayne Hays appeared to question Young’s patriotism for his dovish views on the Vietnam War. Young made a parliamentary inquiry on the Senate floor. “Would it be a violation of the rules of the Senate were I to assert in this chamber at this time that Representative Hays of Ohio and one-term Representative Sweeney of Ohio are guilty of falsely, viciously, and maliciously making stupid, lying statement, assailing the loyalty and patriotism of Senators…and that they are liars in alleging that ‘we have aided our enemies.’”
Ironically, the presiding officer was Alaska’s Ernest Gruening, one of the two Senators who had opposed the Tonkin Gulf Resolution. But Gruening had no choice to remind Young that it has “been held out of order.” to refer to members of the other body “in opprobrious terms, or to impute to him unworthy motives.” Young replied that “if, however, on some future occasion a similar contemptible attack I made on me with insect-like buzzing of lying allegations by either or both of these publicity seekers, I shall surely embalm and embed them in the liquid ambers of my remarks.
Staffer Al Baldwin called Young “a colorful guy” adding that the Senate, “was less colorful” when he left. Baldwin called him “very outspoken and courageous. He was a real fighter…he wouldn’t say things to be popular. He’d said what he believed, whether it was popular or not. That kind of outspokenness tends to be rare in politics.”
Classic examples were his responses to hostile letters. On one occasion, he wrote back, “Dear Sir: It appears to me that you have been grossly misinformed, or are exceedingly stupid. Which is it?” He called Vietnam, “an Asiatic Eden of Eden converted into a hell on earth by man’s inhumanity to man.” At Harvard, he referred to Chinese laborers as “junks full of Chinks,” apparently unaware that the term “chinks” was derogatory.
As expected, Young did not run for re-election in 1970, retiring at 81. But he briefly considered doing so if Glenn were to run. Young would say he didn’t “regard Glenn as a problem,” and stressed his support for “open primaries.” Young said he doubted Glenn’s qualification to hold a Senate seat, though even some Young supporters saw his threats as hostility toward Glenn, calling Young “vindictive.” In the end, Young retired when Metzenbaum agreed to challenge Glenn, beating him in the primary but losing the general election (both would win Senate seats later in the decade).
Young would live nearly 15 more years, passing away in December 1984 at 95.