Main | FRANK CHURCH FOR PRESIDENT vs. Jimmy Carter--by Bob Kholos »


 Hp_scands_69214191228 (I finally found the Photo and Story by Llyod Shearer about Senator Hughes, which appeared on theHp_scands_6921423031 front cover of Parade Magazine--Upper right corner)     Hp_scands_69214285551_2

    By today’s political standards, an alcoholic, who used to beat up the local Sheriff while drunk, and had stuck a double barreled shot gun in his mouth to commit suicide because his family had left him again, after being drunk again, would not have ever been considered for elected office.
    The fact he had a strong belief in Jesus and was Born Again, and was a lay Methodist preacher would put him at risk with the liberal elements of the Democratic Party.
    Yet, one of the best summers I ever had was traveling to Washington, DC to work as a communications guy for this man who many wanted to run for President of the United States in 1971.
    The campaign office on Ivy Street was host to the future careers of such people as Sandy Berger, Clinton’s National Security Advisor, Eli Siegal, who started Americorps, Dan Miller, the head of Iowa Public Television, Bonnie Campbell, Attorney General of Iowa, and the late Alan Barron, among others.  Many Washington insiders read the Barron Report.  Barron said, “I came to Washington to do good, and I wound up doing well.”
    Senator Hughes was always interested in other people’s religious beliefs.  Many of the campaign strategists were Jewish.  So, when Hughes summoned Alan Barron into his Senate office, and asked him, “What does Judaism mean to you?” Alan replied, “Lox and Bagels on Sunday.”
    United States Senator Harold E. Hughes from the small town of Ida Grove, Iowa, a recovering alcoholic, was a serious person.  He was a combat rifleman in Italy during World War II.   Like a lot of Veterans who have to fight the enemy and then have a war within upon coming home, he was in a bad mood more than the average person.
    When I accompanied him to a fundraiser in New York, he turned to me on the plane and said, “Bob, sometimes I get depressed just flying over this city.”
  I couldn't believe my ears when he made a formal speech in Iowa to the statewide gathering of Methodist Ministers.  Hughes said,"I'm tired of you people preaching Love on Sunday, and Hate on Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday." He broke with Lyndon Johnson on the Vietnam War and in 1968 ran against the war for the Senate seat in Republican Iowa.   Long time aide Edward Campbell said he thought that Hughes would lose the race because he got so stressed out that he took off during the last week of the campaign and went fishing, refusing to campaign.  He was so loved in his home state that it didn’t matter.  He won by a couple of thousand votes.
    The former truck driver, and the only three term Democratic Governor of Iowa, was almost too honest to hold public office.  On Meet The Press, he told Columnist Bob Novak that he supported legalization of pot.  When the conservative pundit asked him how he knew it was safe to smoke, Hughes replied that he had smoked it during the war, but got more of a kick from looking at the bottom of an empty whisky bottle.
    Large hands, about 6’ 3” in stature, with dark wavy hair, deep booming voice, and sometimes-sullen mood, he could command any room he walked into.
    He was far from perfect and maybe that is why I loved helping him. I wasn’t paid much for working for his possible campaign, but the truth is that I would have paid to work for this Senator.
    I walked into his Senate office just after he lost an important vote on further funding the war in Southeast Asia.  It was a split vote and Vice President Spiro Agnew broke the tie.  Hughes looked up and said, “These god dammed Senators would sell out their own grandmothers for a vote.”
Becoming philosophical he would say repeatedly, “There are no solutions, seek them lovingly.”
    He smoked about three packs of cigarettes a day, swore a lot and had a 100% rated environmental voting record.
    Environmentalists were shocked when they walked into his inner office and saw a Moose head mounted on the wall behind his desk. He was brought up in rural Iowa as a sports hunter and saw no hypocrisy between his environmental voting record and his rural habits. The staff got so disgusted with his smoking habits, that they taped a couple of cigarettes to the animal’s mouth.
    His focus, though, was really getting people off alcohol and drugs.  He understood the addictive personality and told me, “I was born to be an alcoholic.”
    When the Senate balked at a new sub-committee addressing these concerns, Hughes went out and asked for private donations to start it.  He was so respected by his colleagues from both parties that they finally created a sub committee on Alcohol and Drug Abuse.
    The Shooting Gallery in Harlem
    While still pondering a run for President, Hughes asked me to come with him on a tour about the problem of people on Heroin.
He said he didn’t want to just go to sanitized presentations at auditoriums, but rather meet the addicts on the street and their own environment to get a “feel” for the problem.
    We traveled to Harlem, New York and met first with Martha Davis.
During the late 1960’s, a person like Martha Davis had to have incredible fortitude just to get the crumbs of social services for saving lives.
    The sea of African American faces and the running children swarming around the group of White politicians, a Black community worker and reporters, had the intensity of starving Montanyards in Vietnam.
    As we walked through ankle deep garbage piled around the side of a large housing project, I was reminded of something Senator Adli Stevenson said in the 1950’s.  He said that Urban renewal was nothing more than “Negro removal.”  Here was the proof.  Instead of living in small multiple housing near mixed neighborhoods, Black people were hurried off into these ghetto housing projects all over the big cities of America.
    Men wearing expensive three piece suits, chaperoned by a large Black community worker and a small rag-tag group of press, were ready to trip through the dark, underground foundation of an old tenement building in order to reach a a Heroin “Shooting gallery.”
    The “tour” had been arranged by Martha Davis, the caring, desperate African American community worker, who was trying to save children and young adults from the scourge of Heroin addiction, which was so prevalent in the inner city.  She wanted to give the political establishment a feel for the environment of addiction and she succeeded.
    From her office a couple of floors up in the project, she told a nine year old child to make a score of some of the “junk” while we were in her office.  We watched as the child simply ran up to someone on the street, gave him money and, in return, received a small bag of Heroin.  The kid could identify five pushers on the block, and that was not unusual.  The child came back minutes later and handed us the bag of drugs, as the Subcommittee members shook their heads in disbelief.
    After that humbling experience, Martha took us across the street to begin our jouney into the rubble of the underground to reach the “shooting gallery.”
    We went down into the basement of the old tenement building and it was difficult to see through the dark, musty and rubble foundation.  Leading the way were Senator Hughes, Martha Davis, a Black man I couldn’t identify, the local NBC crew, followed by New York Senator Jacob Javitz, me, and a few others struggling behind me.
    As we were crawling on our hands and knees, at a very slow pace, I started to get claustrophobic and Vietnam flashbacks.  How I get out of here became more important than the way in.
    At least in Vietnam, I had my rifle and a couple of grenades strapped to my gun belt.  Here I was naked, with a bunch of “rookies” behind me, possibly freezing and blocking my quick exit.
We got really close.  The knock on the door.  No response.  “It’s Martha Davis, and I’m here with the people I told you about.”
Another moment of silence.  Then the small wooden make shift door opened, and it was very dark inside.
    All of a sudden the TV crew, who were warned against turning on it’s light, did so anyhow.  The bright directional light mounted on top of the camera and directed into the small room, which had only been lit by a couple of candles.
    During the midst of people screaming, “Shit, turn that fucking light off....what the fuck’s going on,”  I got a glimpse of one guy sticking a needle into his arm and another guy sitting down getting ready to do the same thing.
    “He’s got a knife,” someone yelled.  The scramble was on.  We turned around and low crawled double time back to the street.  The person that made a thrust with his knife at Senator Hughes, missed.  He was stopped by the Black man I couldn’t identify earlier.  He was an undercover New York City Policeman.  Although Hughes had directly asked the City not to give us police protection because of the sensitive nature of the hearings and the paranoia that surrounds drug addicts, Mayor Lindsay had him there just in case, and “Just in case,” happened.
    Hughes hurried back to his hotel room and made a quick phone call to the Mayor.  He asked that they release the young man who made the knife thrust at him.  At first Lindsey hesitated.  But, Hughes said, if  we were not there, and the light had not been turned on, he would not have tried to stab anyone in the confusion.  The Mayor reconsidered and had the kid released.
    After our brief walk, we were escorted by Mrs. Davis to the Harlem Hospital, where she had taken over an entire floor to get the doctors to treat young addicts.  Martha complained she received very little help from the medical establishment because of the stigma of Heroin addiction.  She was critical of some of the Black doctors who also refused to get “involved” with “those” patients.  She also complained, as we were making our way to the Heroin ward, that these children needed such things as toilet paper and other basic necessities.
    Our hearts sank as we viewed a series of bunks crowded together with sweet young female faces. 
    Senator Hughes started a dialogue with girls ages 10, 11 and 12, along with teenagers, who were trying to get off Herion.  Some of them had been turned into addicts by their own Mother, in order to prostitute them in securing more money for her own habit.
    These are the people who are swept under the political rug in America.  They have no constituency except for a few bleeding heart liberals.  There are few votes for politicians who pick up their cause.  There is even a futile air about charity for them, because of the popular axiom that, “Once an addict, always an addict.”
    Before these children have a chance to become angry and powerful with the world, they are subdued into the underworld of despair, alienation, prostitution, drug addiction and mental breakdowns.
    After this meeting, the Senator started pushing for Methadone treatment centers to partially solve this horrible problem.  Even if Heroin addicts became addicted to Methadone, it would keep them out of jail and give them a chance to live again.
    With amazing sensitivity,  Hughes then toured some of the the more established detoxification programs set up in other areas of Harlem.
In one such group, a woman paraded a group of young addicts, Black and White, before us.  They all had colorful uniforms, and sang a couple of songs.  The Senator was not impressed because he felt they were too regimented, and would have recurring problems once they got back into the real world with real pushers in their old neighborhoods.
    Hughes was taking this situation step by step.  He identified with the addicts.  He turned to me in almost a whisper and said, “If the situation were reversed and I was now their age, instead of being an alcoholic, I would probably be a Heroin addict.”
    Perhaps he would have been one of the glorified 10% who recover from addiction and are able to go on with somewhat normal lives.  But, he became an alcoholic in his adult years, and as an adult was able to make the changes necessary to quit drinking for 20 years.  If he had become an alcoholic at the age of nine, as some of these kids were Heroin addicts, I doubt that he would have become a productive member of our society.
With empathetic fervor, the Senator toured another facility.
    We traveled to Spanish Harlem and found a program that seemed to work a little better.  They claimed more that a 10% success rate with their addicts.  When a strung out young person came into the clinic to “cold turkey” their addiction, they were only allowed to stay for a few days. Then they would be allowed back into the program a day at a time.  This process allowed the recovering addict to spend some time in his neighborhood, exposed to the same pushers and peer pressure. They would be allowed back to the detox center, where specially trained counselors, would deal with the day to day problems of the streets.
    The Windy City
    The plane flight to Chicago with Senator Hughes was, on the whole, uneventful.
    I noticed that he kept reaching into the back pocket of the storage area in the the seat in front of his legs. In those days, planes had plenty of leg room for coach passengers. Every time a flight attendant would come by and ask if he wanted a drink, Hughes would quickly return the item back into the little brown paper bag in front of his knees.  Of course, he declined the drink offer.
    I got eye strain as I tried to turn my eyeball to the extreme right,while keeping my head straight ahead, trying to observe the secret item in the bag.
    He leaned over, grabbed the paper bag, slowly pulled the paperback out and quickly turned the cover back so no one could see the content of the book.
    I finally caught a glimpse of the title.  It was on the subject of Extra Sensory Perception.   
    1971 was not a time for a possible candidate for President to be caught reading a book on E.S.P., unless the office seeker was from California.
As Dan Miller, now heading Iowa Public Television, warned me at the time, if the Hughes fascination with the paranormal got out to the press, it would be the end of his political career.
    After we landed at O’Hare Field, we were whisked away to Chicago’s ghetto.
    First, we toured the newly built Malcolm X College and studied the “Black Artists in Prison” gallery.  We talked to a few people about drug addiction and then went to the streets.
    We toured an old warehouse, which had been turned into a dilapidated, single room, apartment complex, under the iron fist leadership of Mayor Richard Daley.
    The place was occupied by a few seniors and many young families who spent 90% of their welfare or Social Security checks on rent.  One of the major problems, as outlined by one of the residents, was that young children and babies, were often the recipient of rat bites.  While touring this depressing site, one of Chicago’s hard bitten reporters started sniffling, holding back tears.  In the local reporters back yard, she had not been exposed to the lack of care or basic services provided to other parts of her vibrant city by Daley’s machine.
Hughes turned to her and said, “Got a cold, huh?”  She nodded in agreement.
    In Vietnam, I went to fight an enemy of democracy.  Who was the enemy of democracy here?
    After this experience, no one talked.  The hush of reporters and government aides, was a response to the futility of the situation.  It was a move from platitudes to reality.  It was like getting shot at, the first time in a war, and realizing there is no way out and that words are not deeds.
I went ahead to the next area and waited for the group to catch up.  I  was told in advance that this was a particularly depressed ghetto neighborhood.
    The taxi driver asked in a statement, “You sure you know where you’re going!?”  When I explained that I was with a special Federal Government Committee, he agreed to drop me off.
    I was slightly uncomfortable, standing on this street with a suit and tie on, not to mention I was the only white guy in the entire neighborhood.  The older generation of Blacks were drunk, staggering and weaving through the block with no particular destination in mind.
    The younger men and women were stoned.  Some were sitting on the edge of the curb, looking between their knees at the gutter, appearing on the edge of tumbling over into the street.
    I assumed someone was going to give me a hard time, considering my circumstances, but it took only a few minutes to figure out why I wasn’t bothered in this naturally hostile environment.
    As I watched in amazement, every few minutes a police car would cruise the neighborhood.  The white officers, going up and down the street. Back and forth, cruising at about ten to fifteen miles an hour, just checking things out.
    About the fourth time around,  the squad car stopped in the middle of the street and the driver gave me a hand gesture, as he slumped in front of the steering wheel.
    “What are you doing here,?” the red faced, heavy set, beer bellied officer, quizzed me.
    “I’m waiting for Senator Hughes, because we’re holding a special Senate committee hearing,” I replied,
    “Huh?” he said, never listening to my explanation.  “Let’s see your I.D.”
    I handed over my government identification as he looked it over briefly.
    “Does the Mayor know about this,?” he quizzed.
    “I’m not sure, but I think so,” was my non confrontational reply.
    “Just a minute,” he demanded, as he reached for his 2-way microphone.
    With all of the courtesy, a cop cruising a Chicago ghetto, interacting with a liberal white guy with long curly black hair, in 1971,  he punched his gas pedal and stormed off without explanation, after receiving advice from his dispatcher.
    I assumed I wasn’t going to arrested on some trumped up charge, so I slowly walked to the sidewalk again.
    It was a typical hot and humid summer day.
     I wanted to take my jacket off, as I waited for the Senator to arrive.
    The police were now conspicuously absent and I was in a dangerous neighborhood, so I decided to leave my coat on.
    I remembered a street wise kid from Watts, in 1969 telling me the circumstances in which I should take my coat off, in such a situation.
He said that if I took my coat off, no one would think I was a cop, because they could see I wasn’t carrying a gun, and probably wouldn’t snip at me.
Since the entire block watched me interact with a well known, at the time, reactionary police force, but didn’t know the content of conversation, I was better off leaving me coat on.  They wouldn’t know whether I was packing heat, and if they thought I might be an undercover officer, they most likely wouldn’t choose to kill me, particularly, in that neighborhood with a constant police presence, allowing drugs to be openly used and distributed, without interference.
    Finally, the entourage of reporters and officials with Senator Hughes, arrived.
    With the press at our side, we began the walk down “devastation alley.”
    It was difficult, with the crush of people, for Hughes to talk directly with some of the people.
    A tall thin Black woman, about 30 years of age, started trying to butt into the group.
    “Senator! Senator,” she yelled.  I ushered her to Hughes.  He turned around.  With dark, glassy eyes, she moved closer.
She tapped him on the shoulder.  “Are you the Senator trying to get people off Heroin?”
    “Yes,” he slowly replied.
“    Well, just remember, you weren’t born a United States Senator, and I wasn’t born a Heroin addict.”  Before Hughes could conger up a reply, she ran off.
    Hughes ended his political career after one term in the US Senate.
    He told me that he felt we needed a “spritual revolution” in our country.  I replied that, “there are people in this country who don’t even know who you are, that really need you.”   He didn’t respond.
  “Pack” Hughes, as they used to call him, was a sometimes gruff, but sweet guy to his employees.  He couldn’t stand the bullshit of politics and realized he needed to go on a different path.
He told me privately once that when someone desperate would call his office, not matter what time, he had his staff forward the call.  Once, he said I was really tired and a guy from Iowa, who was a member of AA tried to call him for help because he was suicidal.  Hughes didn’t return the call, and the man subsequently killed himself.
He published a book called “The Man From Ida Grove.”
Senator Hughes did from emphysema, on October 22, 1996, at the age of 74.
(I'm having a slight problem loading these photo's, sorry.)
                Thank you for reading this long-winded blog, but I really loved and admired this imperfect guy.
Note: The language I use here was "in use" during that time period.  For example: I used "Black" instead of African American or Afro American.
Please click photo's to enlarge.




Post a comment

If you have a TypeKey or TypePad account, please Sign In