For Success, GOP Must Be Smylie and Love
A tale of note. A few years before John Love became Governor of Colorado, one of his colleagues was named Loveless. His first name was Herschel and he was Iowa’s Chief Executive from 1955-’61. He was a Democrat and rural unrest over Ike’s agriculture policies swept him in and he maintained high ratings among Iowans. So we have Love and Loveless. But they were both public servants of the highest esteem
By Scott Crass
Amid a string of national losses, the national Republican Party has been openly pondering for years how to broaden it’s outreach. To appeal to more people, to seem more inclusive and not so rigid and, you know, start winning elections. Here’s a solution. Return to the qualities of Smylie and Love.
Sounds like a hallmark card, doesn’t it? But there were actually two such Republican Chief executives way back when whose names were such and who governed with such qualities. They would be Robert Smylie and John Love.
The pair were long-time Governors of Idaho and Colorado in the 1950’s and 60’s, states where the Republican lean was notable, but not super-imposing. Each man was close to Richard Nixon and both won three terms. Their tenures overlapped slightly. But it was partly because of fondness by Nixon that he had other things in mind for the pair, which is one reason Love didn’t finish his third term. More important, both were extreme moderates who governed as such. And as a result, Smiley and Love thrived. It was a bygone era in national and Republican politics, but one where the my way or the highway approach was somewhat docile, even amid ideological factions that didn’t always get along.
Now I’m not suggesting that conservatives play along to get along simply to start winning. I’m the first to believe that if you have certain principles or are even guided in a certain direction, then by-golly you should fight for it. But an angry demeanor is another thing. So is rhetoric. And when some merge the action with words and find the other side not willing to give an inch, that’s paralysis from which no one benefits.Which means it wouldn’t hurt to be Smiley. And love. Get my drift” Let’s have a look.
Bob Smylie (1914-2004)
Smylie was the only person to win a third consecutive term as the “Gem State’s” Chief Executive (Cecil Andrus was elected to four non-consecutive terms). Indeed, by staying in office 12 years, he had doubled the length of service of any of his predecessors. Smylie was a proud moderate who received prominent mention as a possible VP nominee (Oregon’s Mark Hatfield was of similar pedigree). He narrowly survived the Democratic year of 1958 (as a Republican incumbent in neighboring Wyoming was being upset), and won his third term with 55% four years later.
/>Photo from College of Idaho.edu
In office, Smylie’s championed a minimum wage increase, the highway construction program and the institution of a five day work week for state employees. He increased spending on health services and higher education and created the Department of Commerce. He and his wife were big supporters of the arts.
But it was the establishment of the Idaho State Parks and Recreations Department that would be his creme-dela-creme, in exchange for the state being given the rights to what is now the Harriman State Park. The result was that Smylie would be surprised in 1998 with a dedication of the department with his name. But Smylie strongly advocated a three percent sales tax to help finance the state’s school system, which after it’s implementation lead many to remark that Idaho’s now had a”three legged stool: income, property, and sales taxes.” And for Smylie, that had consequences.
Smylie lost renomination for a fourth term in the 1966 Republican primary by 18 percentage points, and to his dying day, credited the sales tax for his loss. The irony was that was only part of it, as schisms within the party were starting to emerge. The year was 1966 and the man who beat Smylie was a conservative State Senator named Don Samuelson, who would go on to win the general election.
If Smylie/Samuelson was an early test of the stainless steel/country club Republicans vs. true believers. Smylie had the support of a number of businessmen, while John Birch members backed Smylie. Many conservatives held resentment toward Smylie for what they feel was lukewarm support he had given Barry Goldwater two years earlier (Goldwater’s loss in Idaho was just 5,000 votes, his closest in the nation). Smylie through his role as National Governor’s Association head also was involved with an effort to oust a pro-Goldwater chair.
The acrimony between Smylie and Samuelson is noteworthy, as Smylie had mentored him in politics. It was he who had convinced Samuelson to seek elective office in 1960. But in his challenge to Smylie, largely on the tax issue, he refused to say that he was actually against it, though he had voted that way in the legislature. Only that it was now up to the voters. He instead hit Smylie on the growth of the budgets. To rub salt in the wound, after Samuelson ousted him, President Nixon sought to console Smylie by naming him to the Advisrsy commission on Intergovernmental Relations but Samuelson refused to sign off.
Had Smylie lived to fight the general election, he may have won. Smylie had vowed in his concession that his loss would not deter his strong advocacy for the tax, which was going to the voters alongside the general election. It was approved. When he lost, he was the longest Governor currently serving. Phil Batt, one of his successors who himself was more establishment as opposed to hard-charging, said Smylie was “what you would call a moderate.” The Democratic Minority Leader in the Senate at the dedication of the building in Smiley’s name said, “once or twice in a lifetime, we have the opportunity to honor somewhat who has impacted every citizen.” He called Smylie “a giant and said this recognition is past due.”
Smylie took one more run at public office, for the Senate seat being vacated by Len Jordan. He finished fourth in the primary. Smylie resumed practicing law and took an active role at Idaho State University. He died in 2004 at the age of 89.
John Love (1916-2002)
Love’s Governorship initially came to be not by partisan warfare but regional. There’s often animosity between urban vs. rural but in 1962, it was the O.K. Corral. That said, it seemed highly unlikely that a man whose only prior involvement in politics was a losing bid for El Paso County GOP Chair would ascend to the Governorship, but that’s exactly what happened.
Love, a lawyer and veteran who put his way through law school, first stunned the Speaker of the State House in the GOP primary. But that was only half the battle. He also had to get past incumbent Governor Steven McNichols. But while McNichol’s effectiveness was not questioned even by his opponents, Coloradans may have felt that he was leading them to far, to fast. Voters were hungry for change and Love ousted him.
Love was such a novice that he collaborated with Democrats on making the state budget even larger. But it was his “Sell Colorado” campaign that truly gained the most exposure, and much of his focus was on the now legendary tourism and ski industry, but also Hewlett/Packard and Kodak.
/>Photo from Denver Post
Love’s most ambitious agenda involved a bid to make Colorado the site of the 1976 U.S. Olympics. But in doing so, he tangled with environmentalists and voters through cold water on the idea by prohibiting the use of state money. But Love’s record on environmental issues was fairly strong.
It may not be an exaggeration to call Love a Founding Father of smart growth, for he was a champion of land use management. Love signed the Colorado Air and Water Pollution Act which, according to Colorado.gov, put “important air and water pollution” laws into affect. And he increased funding for both public and university education.
And Love signed the first legislation in the nation liberalizing abortion. While it did not make it available on demand, (that would’ve been quite radical well before Roe vs. Wade), it did relax many restrictions that, until that time, made obtaining one impossible. Upon doing so, Love said the law “extends (abortion) beyond the possible death of the woman or her serious physical injury to include mental impairment of a serious and permanent nature when verified by a psychiatrist. It also extends to cases in which it is likely that the child would have a grave and permanent physical deformity or mental retardation. Finally it extends to certain cases of rape and incest.”
Love also put his seal on a bill downgrading making marijuana possession to a misdemeanor, as many liberals had advocated.
Love didn’t abandon the party fold on fiscal issues. A champion of tax cuts, he pushed through a massive package just 16 days after taking office, skill that, for a political novice, surely would make consummate dealmakers like LBJ gain notice. The early success would amount to criticism in later years however when Love pushed through a series of smaller tax increases.
By the middle of his third term, Love was appointed by Nixon to head the Director of the Office of Energy. But Love was not a man of controversy and, sensing the storm hovering over the cloud of Watergate, he resigned after just five months. He died in 2002 at 85.
Just before the 2000 Republican National Convention, William Schneider authored a column, “Conservatism With A Happy Face.”
He had written about how that convention would lack an “imposing podium from which speakers hurl thunderbolts at the opposition.” Speaking of Bush and Cheney, he spoke of a “kinder, gentler conservatism. As opposed to a harsh, confrontational conservatism.” That may not have worked out exactly as planned. But I’d like to think that, for both parties, it’s something to shoot for. It worked pretty well for Smylie and Love.
Those of us who follow politics no that throwing up the red flag when it comes to issues one feels strongly about is not successful for public policy. But neither is alienating everyone who has even the slightest bit of disagreement, particularly when public opinion is not always on your side. Broad coalitions is what it’s all about. It worked pretty well for Smylie and Love. That is the key to success.