Rogers C. B. Morton was one of my larger-than-life unsung heroes of the 20th Century.
For those of you who don’t remember him let me bring you up to date.
Morton was born in Kentucky and migrated to Maryland where he served four terms in Congress, before becoming Secretary of the Interior under Presidents Nixon and Ford and then Secretary of Commerce under Ford.
Morton also served as chairman of the Republican National Committee from 1969 to 1971.
I liked Morton because he was a farmer and an outdoorsman and supported the early efforts in Congress and as Secretary of the Interior to clean up our nation’s waters. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rogers_Morton
One day in late 1978 I was sitting in my editor’s office at a major metropolitan newspaper in Florida when I got a call from the publisher of the paper.
It seemed Morton was due in town the next day for a board meeting of the industrial corporation that owned the newspaper and the publisher was tied up until noon. He asked me if I would meet Morton at the airport and entertain him until lunch when the publisher would be available to take Morton to the corporate board meeting.
Of course, I jumped at the chance.
It was a most pleasant morning. I dutifully picked Morton up at the airport and on the drive back into town we stopped at a restaurant overlooking the water for a nice leisurely breakfast and conversation.
I then gave Morton a grand tour by automobile of the major commercial interests in the area and drove him through some of the conservation lands that had been set aside to protect our natural resources.
We ended up back at the newspaper office a half hour before we were to meet the publisher so settled into the editorial board conference room for some coffee.
I mentioned to Morton that I had a few questions to ask him since it would be expected of me to write a column about his presence in the area and he shocked me by telling me I could be as candid as I wanted because his health was failing and he had only a few more months to live.
The talk turned to politics since just that week the Republican National Committee had started accepting donations by credit card. We worked our way through several elections and the top Republicans of the day and then I posed a question that I had always wanted to ask of a person of Morton’s stature.
“Just how do you find people to run for office?” I asked.
Morton began by telling me how difficult it really was to find good candidates for political office.
“We are always on the lookout for promising young men and women,” he said. “When we find someone we believe might make a good political candidate, we do our research before approaching them.
“We want to know as much about them as possible, and we want to be assured they are good, solid citizens before we try to encourage them to seek public office.”
Once they are assured, Morton said, the party goes to work in contacting the potential candidate, arranges introductory meetings, discusses the potential candidacy, and eventually asks the candidate to consider running for office.
“If we’ve done our job well,” Morton said, “we usually get a positive reaction with the caveat that they would like to discuss it with their family before making a final decision. And then we wait.”
Too often, Morton added, they are disappointed with the results.
“When the potential candidate, even though he may have been fired up about the prospect of running, gets back to us his family and friends have discouraged him from running reminding him of the public criticism that is often brought to bear on candidates and those around them.
“Too often we’re stuck at the last minute going into a campaign with no viable candidate,” Morton said.
I asked the obvious question, “So what do you do?”
“I hate to say this, but we look at the law firms who have been the biggest donors to our efforts and go knocking on their door. We simply ask them, ‘Who do you have you can spare?’”
And almost as often, Morton said, “They look at their list of lawyers and say, ‘Well Joe isn’t really making it here.’ And we have our candidate!”
Rogers C. B. Morton died a few months later and this is the first time I have written the story of how he told me they find candidates.
Dave Whitney is a retired journalist and adventurer who has won many writing awards. He was born and raised in central Ohio, attended school in Missouri, served in the US Army Security Agency, and migrated to Florida a half-century ago. Author of four books, he is a former Associated Press writer/editor and has been nominated three times for the Pulitzer Prize during his writing career. As editor and founder of the Free Press newspapers in the Florida Keys, he was the first publisher to pick up Frank Kaiser’s “Suddenly Senior” column when it entered syndication. Whitney currently resides in Lakeland, Fla., after living 25 years in the Florida Keys.
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