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Remembering Gov. Harold Hughes

August 8, 2012 - Mike Donahey
The black and white picture seemingly served as a time machine — rapidly transporting me back 48 years ago.

The late President Lyndon B. Johnson and late Sen. Harold Hughes were shown side-by-side at the Iowa Democrat state convention in Marshalltown, 1960.

It begat memories of many a political campaign and of my brother and I applying hundreds of bumper stickers with our late father on behalf of Hughes and Johnson.

Hughes was then Iowa governor. Johnson, then a Texas Senator, was in town making his case before Iowa Democrats that he was the best man to carry the party’s torch in the 1960 presidential election. LBJ, as he became known, lost the nomination to John F. Kennedy. But JFK wisely selected the crafty Texan as vice-president. Johnson convinced many a Southerner Kennedy would do the job and that was key in carrying a number of states against Republican Richard Nixon in 1960. The states that went Democrat made the difference, as Kennedy-Johnson eked out a razor-thin victory.

Hughes was revered in our family, especially by my father. Dad was a politically savy, working-class man who grew up in a Depression-era Democrat and union household. The governor was a World War II combat veteran and a former truck-driver. He truly was “one of us.”

Hughes hailed from the small town of Ida Grove and would go on to be the only Democrat elected to three terms as governor. However, there was more, much more to Hughes than being a former trucker and hailing from small-town Iowa. He was a recovering alcoholic, who before joining AA, encountered much trouble with the law when drink got the best of him. Hughes put a shotgun in his mouth contemplating suicide once, despondent because his family had left him.

Hughes was elected Senator in 1968, but near the end of his six year term, became feed up with elective politics because he thought the country needed a “spiritual revolution” according to one of his former aides, Bob Kholos. It was not a sudden conversion. Hughes was a lay Methodist minister and didn’t apologize for being a follower of Christ. I recall him being plain spoken, honest and while senator, broke with then President Johnson on Vietnam. In short, every minute I spent putting bumper stickers on cars for Hughes was an honor.

Compare Hughes to Gov. Branstad. Branstad's record of inflated job creation counts (does not include jobs lost) the implementation of a hard-to-use and inefficient kiosks to "help" unemployed folks find work and now a teacher "improvement" plan devoid of details — all would never have seen the light of day under a Hughes administration.



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