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Mass. Exodus
Political Junkie
Send your questions about campaigns and elections.

By Ken Rudin
Special to washingtonpost.com
Friday, March 16, 2001

Question: I was quite surprised to hear that Republican Gov. Paul Cellucci is resigning. What makes the Canadian ambassadorship so lucrative that he would vacate his office as chief executive of Massachusetts? Former Gov. Bill Weld did the same thing in 1997, resigning in the hope of becoming ambassador to Mexico. One difference, at least, is that Weld was in the middle of his second term. Technically, Cellucci has only served half of one elected term. I was also curious about his successor, Lt. Governor Jane Swift. At 35, she would be the nation's youngest governor. Would she also be the first governor to give birth while in office? – Taylor Crouse, St. Joseph, Mo.
Swift comes into office amid ridicule for past lapses. (Collection of Ken Rudin)

Answer: Weld signaled he was bored with his day job as governor in 1996 when he ran for the Senate against John Kerry. He was so intent on becoming ambassador to Mexico that he actually resigned as governor in advance of the confirmation hearings. His nomination was ultimately blocked by Senate Foreign Relations Chairman Jesse Helms (R-N.C.), but I never got the impression that he felt he made a mistake by giving up the governorship.

Cellucci may only be in his first term, but he's been in state government for about a quarter-century. I don't think he's as much bored as he is aware of all the potentially strong Democrats out there preparing to run for governor in 2002, and perhaps that's why he eagerly accepted the nomination to the Ottawa post. The 10-year reign of Weld and then Cellucci as governor may have been due more to personality and weak Democratic nominees than a sign of growing Republican strength in the Bay State. In the past decade there has been no noticeable increase in GOP strength or in GOP membership in the legislature. Of course, Massachusetts' position as a solid Democratic state was cemented during the 1972 election when it was the only one George McGovern carried against President Nixon. But now there isn't even a Republican in the state congressional delegation, and it's been nearly 30 years since a Republican won a Senate seat.

Just as Cellucci took over when Weld quit, Jane Swift will become the next governor upon Cellucci's confirmation as ambassador. She would become the state's first female governor, the nation's youngest, and yes, the first to give birth while in office. She is expecting twins in June.

Swift also has been a lightning rod for criticism. She was scolded for using government aides as baby-sitters and using a state helicopter to avoid Thanksgiving traffic so she could rush home and attend to her daughter who was ill. Her travails have led to widespread ridicule, and her poll numbers have taken a nose dive. The odds on her winning next year are not great, and not everyone is convinced she'll run.

Question: In your Feb. 23 column you mentioned a senator named Lester Hunt (D-Wyo.), who committed suicide while in office back in 1954. This may seem morbid, but could you tell us about other members of Congress or high-ranking officials who have suffered a similar fate? Back in the 1980s, I believe Sen. John East (R-N.C.) tragically took his own life and, of course, we all know about Clinton aide Vince Foster. – Danny W. Davis, Clermont, Fla.
East took his own life in 1986. (Collection of Ken Rudin)

Answer: East, who contracted polio in the 1950s and consequently had to use a wheelchair, had many physical problems and was being treated for depression, factors that may have contributed to his 1986 suicide by carbon monoxide asphyxiation. Hunt, who shot himself in the head, was apparently despondent over reports that Sen. Joseph McCarthy (R-Wisc.) was about to reveal his son's arrest for engaging in a homosexual act in Washington. Just a week before his death he had announced he would not run again that year because of ill health. Two other senators took their own lives: Frank Brandegee (R-Conn.), who had financial problems, in 1924; and James Lane (R-Kan.), beset by health and financial problems, in 1866. There are also reports that claim Sen. Joseph Medill McCormick (R-Ill.), who died in 1925, committed suicide.

The only House member I can recall who took his own life was William Mills (R-Md.), who shot himself in 1973 following news reports that he failed to report a secret $25,000 contribution from President Nixon's re-election committee.

In addition to Vince Foster, other government officials who committed suicide include Jeremy Boorda, the chief of Naval Operations involved in a controversy about his service medals, in 1996; John Wilson, the president of the Washington, D.C. City Council who was suffering from depression, in 1993; James Forrestal, who had just resigned as President Truman's secretary of defense and was being treated for depression, in 1949; and two people caught up in the corruption of President Harding's administration, Charles Cramer and Jesse Smith, back in the 1920s. There are many who question the circumstances surrounding Foster's death, just as there were some who claimed Forrestal was murdered.

Question: While reading Harold Stassen's obituary the other day, the disparity between the first and second half of his life really struck me. His first half was marked by his meteoric rise -- governor at 31, delegate to the U.N. Charter signing at 38, presidential candidate at 41, advisor to President Eisenhower at 46. His second half was marked by a sad deterioration into a political punch line. What was the turning point? When did people stop taking Stassen seriously? And what was such an ardent liberal doing in the Republican party? – Richard Skinner, Arlington, Va.
Stassen's bid to dump Nixon in '56 earned him the enmity of the GOP establishment. (Collection of Ken Rudin)

Response: You ask some very good questions. Most people thought of Harold Stassen as a caricature, a guy who just ran and ran for president with no hope of victory in sight and no sense of embarrassment. A year or so ago, Newsweek's Anna Quindlen wrote that Pat Buchanan "has become the Harold Stassen of his generation." If you look up "perennial candidate" in William Safire's New Political Dictionary, the first thing you see is Stassen's name. As you note, it wasn't always that way. For awhile he was the front-runner for the 1948 Republican presidential nomination, and had he -not Thomas Dewey - won the Oregon primary that year, he might have been the party's standard bearer to take on President Truman.

At the same time, Stassen was a foe of the GOP's conservative wing, and openly clashed with Joseph McCarthy over the Wisconsin senator's "methods." But probably the turning point for him was his unsuccessful effort to dump Richard Nixon as President Eisenhower's running mate in 1956. Stassen had been urging Eisenhower to replace Nixon with Christian Herter, the governor of Massachusetts. When the president refused to commit to Nixon one way or the other, Stassen publicly suggested Nixon step aside. That led most party leaders to rally behind the vice president and it began a period of ostracism of Stassen by party leaders.

As for why "such an ardent liberal" stayed in the Republican party, that was Stassen's philosophy his entire life. He was part of the midwestern progressive Republican tradition best represented by Robert LaFollette. He opposed the GOP's pre-war isolationism and pushed for Wendell Willkie's nomination at the 1940 convention. He believed in the United Nations and international efforts for disarmament and peace. Those views may not sound like mainstream Republican views today, but they certainly were in vogue in the 1940s and 1950s, the apex of Stassen's influence.

Department of Corrections: Last week's column, which listed William King among the seven vice presidents who died in office, stated that King was elected with Zachary Taylor. Of course, King was vice president under Franklin Pierce, not Taylor. The mistake was spotted immediately by alert readers Will Cohen of Lakewood, N.J.; Evan Norris of Chappaqua, N.Y.; Matt Pinkus of Silver Spring, Md.; and Aaron Kleinman of West Hartford, Conn.

Got a question? Ask Ken Rudin: junkie@washingtonpost.com

Ken Rudin, political editor at National Public Radio, is also the creator of washingtonpost.com's ScuttleButton contest.

© Copyright 2001 Ken Rudin

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