Wednesday, July 11, 2018

Robert D. Ray: Some Memories & Observations

The late Governor Ray closer the time I first met him. 

I first remember meeting Robert D. (Bob) Ray when I was 11 years-old. I rode in a car with him and my parents into the city of San Francisco from the airport. The occasion was the Republican National Convention in 1964. Ray was then the chairman of the Iowa Republican Party and leader of the Iowa delegation, and my dad was working for the moderate Republican candidate, Gov. William Scranton of Pennsylvania. My mom came along because, well, it was San Francisco and she'd lived and worked there during the Second World War. I got to tag along because I was the oldest--or perhaps merely because no one would want to look after four kids back home. In any event, it was the first of many occasions when I had the chance to be around Bob Ray and observe him behind the scenes. Of course, the convention nominated Barry Goldwater for president, and he was soundly trounced by Lyndon Johnson. But the Iowa delegation, to its credit, supported Scranton 14-10 over Goldwater in the crucial vote to the credit of my dad and Bob Ray (a Scranton supporter).

Both Ray and my parents remained loyal to the party and supported Goldwater in the election (although I never believed my dad all that enthusiastic about the task).  Ray, along with other moderate Republicans, worked hard after the '64 Democrat landslide and significantly revived the party in the following election. In 1968, Ray ran for the Republican nomination for governor against a couple of other contenders and won the nomination and went on the win the general election that year. From that point, he never looked back.

Because my dad's firm, Central Surveys, conducted political opinion research in those days, he helped with some polling for Ray and the Republicans. On one occasion, sometime after I'd started college at the University of Iowa, located in the People's Republic of Johnson County (and my faith was quietly beginning to waiver), my dad invited me to join him in traveling to Des Moines. The purpose of the trip was to attend a meeting at the Governor's mansion to discuss planning a survey for the upcoming gubernatorial race. We meet with Governor Ray and several of his aids and party officials. What I observed was pretty much what I'd seen (but would have been able to articulate) ten years before:  with Ray, I found someone who hadn't changed really at all despite having reached a place of some power and prominence. He displayed a dry and understated sense of humor, especially toward some who were critical of him. (Was Roger Jepsen already getting ready to try to unseat him from within the party? Perhaps.) In any event, while mild-manner and not the least bombastic, neither was he a Pollyanna nor did he suffer fools gladly. These were refreshing traits in any politician.

These are memories of a long by-gone era. The Republican Party in Iowa then was neatly divided between the moderates and the conservatives. As I observed it,  the contest was between the pragmatic wing composed of those who looked favorably on progress in areas like civil rights and opportunities for women, and who thought of government as a means--- limited but still substantial--with which to take action for the public good. Thus, Ray supported government programs and initiatives, yet when the government wasn't responsive to the citizenry, he grounded Air National Guard planes until the Guard paid damages that they'd caused to a couple of Iowa families. He also refused to approve of double-bottom trucks on Iowa interstates, much to the chagrin of the trucking industry. He supported and signed into law a bottle deposit requirement over the howling objections of the grocery industry. The attitude of he and his supporters contrasted with the conservatives, who were against most change and who were hell-bent on repealing the New Deal. And they always seemed angry (and still do).

I should add that my perceptions of Ray and his sense balance, humor, and sound judgment were reinforced by hours of talk I heard from Bob Tyson, our close family friend and one of Ray's right-hand men. Tyson served as the Executive Secretary of the Iowa Republican Party during Ray's time as chairman and then served in Ray's administration of Director of something-or-other. But I think Tyson's primary task was to know about everyone, Republican or Democrat. And in all of those stories that Tyson told us--and he was a natural raconteur--he never had anything derogatory to report about Ray or even to incidentally impune him (other than he tended to fall asleep when driving). What I saw and experienced on discrete occasions was apparently what Tyson perceived on a daily basis.

It's easy after someone dies to inflate memories and sweep faults under the rug, but I don't have to do that. As I drifted away from the Republican fold, I did so without any rancor and not without some remorse. There were Republicans then that I would be happy enough to have run the government. My parents and the likes of Bob Ray foremost in my mind as I think this. But as I floated left, the Republicans took a hard right and haven't stopped. What would that generation think about our current president? I don't know, and I wouldn't presume to channel the dead, but these early lessons about politics from my parents, Bob Tyson, and Bob Ray have helped shape the abhorrence that I feel toward the current pretender. I have seen better, so much better, that I can't but the all the more to resist its negation. 

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