Jerry Kopel


This column is about a Republican president, a Democratic governor, 40 state Democratic legislators, two citizens, and a left-handed primary.

The Republican president was paranoid about enemies. He confided in a loyal underling about the need to obtain information, which information was believed to be lodged in a major Democratic headquarters. With the underling in charge, the headquarters was broken into.

If you guessed the above was about Richard Nixon, you were only partially right. The book "J. Edgar Hoover" by Curt Gentry, who also wrote "Helter Skelter", tells the world about another president involved in a break-in.

On page 153, Gentry cites a 1983 book by Rutgers history professor Jeffrey M. Dorwart that reveals an event in the presidency of Herbert (no relation to J. Edgar) Hoover.

"His presidency paralyzed by the worst economic depression in American history and reeling from vicious political attacks, Herbert Hoover had become overly excitable and sensitive to any opposition or criticism. Thus, when he received a confidential report alleging that Democrats had accumulated a file of data so damaging that if made public it would destroy both his reputation and his entire administration, Hoover determined to gain access to the material."

According to Gentry, the 1930 break-in was to occur at Democratic party headquarters in New York City, overseen by Lawrence Richey, personal secretary and longtime employee of the president prior to Hoover's becoming president.

"To conduct the break-in, Richey selected Glenn Howell, a Washington based naval intelligence officer (whose secret logbooks provided part of the documentation for Dorwart's account)...When Howell and his civilian assistant, Robert J. Peterkin broke into the Democratic headquarters, they were unable to find any such file."

And there was one other coincidence. Both Watergate and the New York break-ins occurred in June.

Gentry's book is worth reading, a documentary of the life of one of the most untrustworthy and powerful men in Washington while he lived (that's J. Edgar, not Herbert).

* * *

This coming Tuesday, March 7 is the birthdate of former governor Steve McNichols who would have been 86. McNichols served as governor from 1957 through 1963. Democrats controlled the Colorado House and Senate for the six years of his tenure, and that was quite helpful in McNichols many successful projects.

McNichols served six years in the state senate (49-55) and two years as lieutenant governor (55-57) to Ed Johnson. In 1960, he was elected chairman of the National Governors Conference. Only a four word epitaph is needed for Gov. McNichols: "He reformed state government." In anyone's list, McNichols has to be one of the top five governors to ever serve, although many Coloradans thought otherwise at the time.

McNichols did not suffer fools lightly and in his six years as governor, he made a number of enemies. And he never really knew how to be "one of the boys". He ran for a third term in 1962 and was defeated by Republican John Love. Former Gov. Love celebrated his 83rd birthday last Nov. 29th.

* * *

There is a social "club" I belong to that meets every other Friday at noon to discuss practically anything. One of its 22 active members is a famous Colorado physician, a moderate who has always taken his political duties seriously.

Six weeks ago, sitting across from me at the conference table in the room where we meet, he announced that he was not going to vote in the coming elections, primary, general, or whatever. Asked why, he indicated total disgust with the candidates and the process.

About two weeks ago, a writer for the Statesman (not me) announced that he had changed his registration from Democrat to Independent. And this was a SERIOUS Democrat, who had given of time and money over many years to the Democratic party.

If both these incidents have any significance, it's not good news for Democrats. I haven't found more than three Democratic members of the club who are enthusiastic about the choices for president in the Democratic primary. Democrats are probably 16 of the 22 active club members.

* * *

Meanwhile, over at the state capitol, the Republicans have not treated the Democrats too badly when we look at "numbers", at least as of the morning of Feb. 24th. But the jury is still out on Republicans voting for bills of "substance" carried by Democrats.

In the House, there were 121 bills introduced by Democrats and 73 of those bills were still alive Feb. 24th. About six or seven were still stuck in their original committees and are probably dead, although some might have "late bill" status.

Take 121 into 73 and you have 60 percent still breathing. Of course, a number of those are in House Appropriations Committee and will die there. Based on past statistics, any percentage of Democratic bills passing that totals 45 percent or better would be quite in line with the upper level of past minority performance.

Over in the Senate there were 71 bills introduced by Democrats and 42 were still alive, again not counting as alive Democratic bills still stuck in their original committees. Many of the 42 bills are in Senate Appropriations, but as of Feb. 24th, if you take 71 into 42, you have 59 percent still alive.

Are those numbers, 60 and 59 percent, just coincidence?

* * *

Colorado Democrats who vote in the presidential primary really have no choice, because both Al Gore and Bill Bradley are left-handed. So is John McCain. Only George Bush is (ugh!) right-handed.

According to a recent New York Times column, one in ten Americans is a southpaw. Here are some comments by various psychologists and authors quoted in the Times column.

"They tend to be more dominant rather than nurturing. And they tend to be a bit more pushy and a bit more cold....They score higher on tests of divergent thinking, a style of reasoning that generates multiple solutions.

"Being left-handed in a right-handed world creates stress. There are a large number of individuals who, when faced with a number of stressors, are driven to become more successful. Some even achieve greatness."

And yes, President Clinton is also left-handed.


Jerry Kopel writes a column for the Statesman based on 22 years past experience as a state legislator.

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