Friday, May 29, 2009

Ever hear of Tom Roeser? Minnesota and Illinois Political Hack; SJU grad

If you are at all inclined to read political gossip, one of the best that I have come across is Tom Roeser, a man born in Illinois but who got his degree some 60 years ago or so from St. John's, who dabbled in politics for a time, worked for a Minnesota Governor and a Congressman, and ended up back in the Chicago area where he ended up the publisher of a large suburban newspaper, and became one of the grand poobahs of Illinois political columnists. He's a joy to read.

Today he wrote about Congressman Walter Judd (a medical doctor and a missionary) and Governor Elmer L. Anderson (an entrepreneur) who were two of the finest politicians that Minnesota has known:
  • For the 56 years I’ve been either covering politics or working in it full-time…from writing for a small daily, stringing for the AP, running campaigns for Republicans, assistant to two congressmen, governor’s press secretary, assistant secretary of commerce, foreign service officer in the Peace Corps, corporate veep of government relations, founder of an anti-vote fraud organization here in the hey-day of old man Daley, president and chairman of the City Club and college adjunct professor… now blogging and working on a 5-day-a-week Internet paper…I’ve largely distrusted so-called “personality candidates” who want to get elected basis their charm, cordiality and good looks.
  • I always found the pretty-boys and pretty girls who get elected are more consumed with their own appeal than facing up to the tough issues. I’m fortunate in that for the most part, the politicians I helped get elected were of the hardy, tough kind-opposite of pretty boys. Two examples.
  • A Mayo Doctor in the U.S. House.
  • One was Dr. Walter Judd, MD, a former top surgeon at Mayo who went to China as a medical missionary during the Chinese-Japanese war, was captured by the Japanese and held prisoner and who came back to the U.S.…turning down many posts where he could do well-including a head of surgery post at Mayo to practice medicine in Minneapolis and lecture on Japan’s aggressive intent.
  • For several months after he resettled in the Twin Cities, he opened his Saturday night and Sunday afternoon talks to churches and civic groups recounting how he removed a piece of shrapnel from a dying Chinese baby marked “Made in the USA” (when we sold scrap iron to Japan). People listened to him as he warned about aggressive Japan-but sloughed it off…until, that is, he made one such speech at a Lutheran church basement. He had just finished when somebody ran up to the rostrum and broke in on him, announcing that Japan had just attacked Pearl Harbor. It was the afternoon of Sunday, December 7, 1941.
  • The next week a citizens committee asked him to run for Congress, to replace the isolationist congressman who represented Minnesota’s 5th district. Judd had been too involved in doctoring and serving as a missionary surgeon in China to give much attention to domestic politics-but he reckoned he was a Republican…so he agreed to run for the office.
  • I was his assistant in Washington when this no-nonsense doctor warned the House and the country that the only way to handle the threat of communism was not via détente but by application of firmness. His counsel flew in the face of the prevailing liberal sentiment which argued we could solve our problems with the USSR and China on the cheap. His tough talk to constituents didn’t endure him to them-but they respected him so much they reelected him time and time again. No pretty boy, his face pock-marked with skin cancer from too much exposure to x-ray treatments before radiation was spotted as a danger, he lived to well past ninety…was called a reactionary and war-monger…and ultimately was defeated after 20 years of being right. His last public act was at the age of 93 when he received the nation’s highest civilian award-the Presidential Medal of Freedom-from the hands of a man who early on listened to him and took his message to heart: Ronald Reagan.
  • A 1-Term Governor Who Saved Minnesota.
  • The next non-pretty boy I worked for was a multi-millionaire in Minnesota who was born in Chicago, orphaned early, worked his way through the University of Minnesota, became a salesman and acceded to the post of president and CEO of a small industrial adhesive company in Saint Paul. He turned it into an industrial giant. At the age of 52 he saw that Minnesota was running into serious trouble after a generation of liberal wastefulness, high taxes and profligate spending. He resolved to run for governor. His great wealth was a boon for him because while his competitors bowed and scraped to raise money, he was secure enough to turn bad money down-as result he drew friends to him who raised a unparalleled amount because they saw that someone of his no-nonsense caliber should become governor in a solidly Democratic state that had boasted three Democratic potential presidents-to-be: Humphrey, McCarthy and Mondale.
  • He won for governor. I was his assistant when he outlined super-tough measures to put the state in the black again-measures his friends warned would make him a one-termer. The legislature passed his program…no tax hikes, instead tax reductions and harsh spending cuts…plus a renewal program that restored the economy of the hard-pressed Minnesota Iron Range. Sure enough, by the time his term was up, he was defeated-by 91 votes out of 1,250,000 cast. But he became celebrated as one of the best…if not THE best…governor the state ever had because he had the courage to prescribe the tough medicine it needed which restored it to solvency.
  • But next week I’ll speak at the University of Minnesota which will honor the 100th anniversary of his birth (he died at 95, richer as result of his brilliant business career post-governorship than ever) and the dedication of a huge library which he endowed to the university.
Some of Roeser's finest writing in his eponymous (I love that word) blog has been about Father Ernie, his philosophy professor up at St. John's in the 40s. Delightful and surprisingly instructive about the philosophy of St. Thomas Aquinas, mind you. Check it out.

  • Fr. Ernest. Shut the door please. The caterwauling in the halls is detrimental to our conversation. Mr. Bede Hall, you-the garrulous one. Shut the door and then return to your seat and if you would, please, shut your mouth [laughter]. What did I say that was funny? [Laughter dies immediately]. Harrumph. [A clearing of the throat that was done to express professorial displeasure].
  • The question is raised on occasion: The Church says I must follow my conscience. Very well-but what if my conscience runs contradictory to the Church? What are the things a man must do to ensure his conscience is not in error…let’s see, Mr. Roeser. You say what? WHAT? Yes: you must form it correctly. But how do I do that Mr. Orville Hesch? What? WHAT? Pray a lot! Wrong! You should pray but that is not requisite in this case. Mr. Cornelius Whalen. Yes, YES. You can pray all you wish, Mr. Orville Hesch but the first step to ensure conscience is not in error is to form one’s conscience. Gentlemen, conscience is not infallible. Thomas says in Question 79 “Parallel with the duty to obey conscience is to-“…what? EDUCATE IT, gentlemen! EDUCATE IT! What do I mean by this?

And if you are interested in the gang that grabbed our president off of the streets of Chicago, made him an Illinois state senator and then a U.S. Senator and then the President of the United States, well, Tom Roeser has a lot of the inside story. You can find him at I won't give you any details on what Roeser has to say about Chicago politicians. I might end up in jail with him.

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