Saturday, September 05, 2015

The LuLac Edition #3023, September 5th, 2015

Senator Richard Schweiker in his 1974 Senate re-election bid. (Photo: LuLac archives).
Former Senator and Cabinet Secretary Richard Schweiker died on July 31st. As stated in our previous edition we would have done something sooner but this whole thing escaped us. Mrs. LuLac was surprised when I told her (my friend Dave Dellarte informed me about it on Friday evening) and even Bernie the Intern wasn’t aware of it. So we hope this makes up for missing it.
Schweiker was a Republican who was on Richard Nixon’s enemies list. I personally became very familiar with Mr. Schweiker during the 1968 Presidential election. At that time, incumbent Senator Joseph Clark was running for a third term. Clark was a liberal Democrat who was a dove regarding the Vietnam War. Schweiker was an incumbent Congressman from Norristown who previously had designs on running for Governor in 1966 after Bill Scranton’s term ended. But Republican big wigs at the time dissuaded the young man in a hurry. 
During the ’68 campaign as a young volunteer for Hubert Humphrey I was of course taking the party line on Senator Clark. But I was intrigued by Schweiker. On social issues he and Senator Clark were pretty close. He also supported civil rights legislation, the creation of Medicare, increases in Social Security, and federal rent subsidies. What the big difference though was Schweiker’s support of gun rights vs. Clark’s stand on gun violence. Schweiker won the Commonwealth by 280,000 votes while HHH carried Pennsylvania with 170,000 votes. With Bob Casey and Grace Sloan winning other statewide offices, Schweiker was the lone GOP candidate to win anything in Pennsylvania that year. Pennsylvania I soon realized was continuing a tradition of not being a straight party line state. My dad voted straight party in that ’68 election and was surprised by my attachment to Schweiker. I told my dad that Schweiker was reasonable. A little more on that later in this story.
During his Senate term Schweiker was very progressive. It was a time when the Republican party had a very big tent for Republicans of all views. In today’s atmosphere of the GOP, Schweiker would never have made it past his first term as a Congressman. Schweiker opposed the Vietnam War and President Richard Nixon's nominations of Clement Haynsworth and G. Harrold Carswell to the U.S. Supreme Court, and had an 89% rating from the liberal Americans for Democratic Action But to temper that part of his record, he also supported school prayer, and opposed gun control and desegregation of busing. Even with those beliefs that the right embraced Schweiker was deemed uncooperative by the Nixon administration and wound up on the vaunted Nixon enemies list. Schweiker was a pioneer in increasing government spending on diabetes mellitus research, through his authoring and sponsoring of the National Diabetes Mellitus Research and Education Act. This legislation, passed by Congress in 1974, established the National Commission on Diabetes to create a long-term plan to fight the disease.

Schweiker with senior Senator Hugh Scott (left). (Photo: Time Magazine). 
When the 1974 election rolled around Schweiker was unopposed in the GOP while two Democrats, Insurance Commissioner Herbert Dennenberg and Pittsburgh Mayor Peter Flaherty duked it out. Flaherty won and I prevailed upon my father to give his vote to Schweiker. I argued that Schweiker was pro labor, was right on the Vietnam War, called for investigations into Watergate early and was on Nixon’s enemy list. My father relented and said that for the first time since the 1930s he was going to vote for a Republican. That Republican was Dick Schweiker. Schweiker became the first Republican senator ever endorsed by the Pennsylvania AFL–CIO, and Jake Yonki. He received 49% of the vote in heavily Democratic Philadelphia. More on that later. 

Schweiker here with the late Senator Ted Kennedy. (Photo: Washington Post archives). 
In his second term Schweiker was a member of the Select Committee to Study Governmental Operations with Respect to Intelligence Activities, better known as The "Church Committee". That committee found that allegations of CIA plots to assassinate Cuban Premier Fidel Castro during John F. Kennedy's presidency went unreported to the Warren Commission even though CIA director Allen Dulles was a member of the Commission. Dulles was CIA Director during infamous Bay of Pigs invasion. These initial findings led Schweiker to call for a reinvestigation of the assassination of Kennedy. Idaho’s Frank Church appointed Schweiker and Colorado Senator Gary Hart to be a two person subcommittee to look into the "performance or non-performance" of intelligence agencies during the initial investigation of the assassination. In he spring of 1976, Schweiker told CBS Morning News that he believed the CIA and FBI lied to the Warren Commission. June came and he appeared on CBS' Face the Nation and said that the Commission made a "fatal mistake" by relying on the CIA and FBI instead of using its own investigators. Schweiker also stated that he felt it was possible that the White House was involved in a cover-up.
During the 1976 Republican fight for the nomination Ronald Reagan was very close to upsetting incumbent Gerald Ford. They were so close that Reagan’s team had their eye on delegate rich Pennsylvania. If the Reagan team could pry loose 40 delegates from the Ford camp they might have won the nomination. Reagan only had 10 delegates and needed more. The person supporting Ford was Drew Lewis who had run an unsuccessful campaign for Governor against Milton Shapp in 1974. Schweiker seeing Lewis was a lost cause, at least in Lewis’ estimation  felt Schweiker bailed on him and could have done more to help him. Schweiker at age 50 was already in D.C. for nearly 15 years and went to a meeting with Reagan and his people. The idea was that if Reagan named his choice early and it was a Pennsylvanian surely the GOP delegation would fall in line.
During the summer of ’76 I was finishing up my final year at King’s and doing an all night classical music show on WVIA FM. My shift was 10pm to 6am and since it was the summer I came home and slept. On the day Reagan picked Schweiker as his Vice President in an attempt to get the nomination courtesy of Pennsylvania, I was asleep. When I groggily got up and made my way to the kitchen for some 3pm breakluncfest, the late edition of the Times Leader was on the kitchen table. My father usually sat at the table thumbing through it. Instead he had the front page opened and pointed to the headline. "Reagan Picks Pennsylvania Junior Senator”. My father said “See, I knew I never should have voted for him!” 

Schweiker and Reagan at a meeting with party leaders. Journalist Elizabeth Drew panned Schweiker's blue suit but left Reagan alone with the leis. (Photo: Washington Post) 
With Drew Lewis and other Pennsylvanians not budging, Schweiker’s stock fell with party leaders. My father wasn’t the only one annoyed. But it was a stunning bold political move that might have worked if only Drew Lewis not held a grudge. At the convention in response to Reagan’s choice of Schweiker, Jesse Helms touted Conservative James Buckley. Kansas Senator Bob Dole was Ford's pick. Needless to say the Reagan/Schweiker idea didn't work but there were some nice appearances at the convention. 

The Reagans and Schweikers at GOP convention. (Photo: New York Times).
 After Kansas City, Schweiker started becoming more conservative and his moderate views were replaced by newly elected Senator John Heinz. Schweiker announced he was not running for re-election in 1980 but said he was going to work on Reagan’s 1980 effort. Ironically the guy who blocked Reagan’s nomination (the aforementioned Drew Lewis) and Schweiker’s ascension to be a possible Vice Presidential run was all for Reagan in ’80.
Schweiker accepted President Reagan's appointment as U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services in January 1981. Drew Lewis also became Transportation Secretary. He held the position until he resigned in February 1983. During his tenure, Schweiker worked with Reagan and House Speaker Tip O'Neill to reform Social Security, put greater emphasis on preventive medicine, reduced Medicare and food stamp grants to the states, and restricted welfare eligibility.
After leaving the Cabinet in 1983 he served as president of the American Council of Life Insurance until he retired in 1994.
Schweiker never really was a factor again in Pennsylvania politics after his stint with Reagan ended. But he has to be remembered as a moderate Rockefeller Republican who won elections in Pennsylvania by being reasonable and explaining his positions. Schweiker was also omnipresent with the media sending out  reel to reel tapes to radio stations called Senator’s Report. He also was very kind and accessible to me when I was the News Director at the King’s College Radio station WRKC FM 88.5 and when I was interning at varios broadcast stations in their news departments. In my interactions with him I found him cordial and always ready with facts to back up his argument.
Richard Schweiker’s leadership in the 60s and 70s happened at a time in America when debate within a party was not only accepted but encouraged. When people ask why nothing gets done in Washington today it is because people like Dick Schweiker aren’t there anymore. And Democrats wouldn’t trust a guy like him in today’s atmosphere.
The passing of Dick Schweiker reminds us that the moderate politics he represented is long gone too. As for my father, he died before the 1980 campaign ever got off the ground. Schweiker remains as one of the few votes he ever cast for a Republican. I’m sure my dad would have forgiven Senator Schweiker for his association with “that cowboy actor” as my father referred to Reagan.
Check that, if my father could see the GOP of this century, I’m POSITIVE he would have no problem with Schweiker or even Reagan for that matter.
RIP Senator….if you meet a guy named Jake from Pittston, Pennsylvania wherever you guys are, tell my dad I said hello. Reagan too. (Wikipedia, Pennsylvania Politics, LuLac archives).  
EDITOR'S NOTE: Schweiker was 89 and lost his wife Claire, a pioneer broadcaster of Children's programming ("Romper Room") in Philadelphia. She died in 2013. 


At 9:37 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Nice job. You are correct, a Dick Schweiker or even a Hugh Scott who was considerably more conservative than Mr. Schweiker would never hold that high an office as a Republican today.

At 10:06 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

The reason wh you missed it is because it got very little attention. One of the things I love about your site is the fact that you really give credit to past political people who are mostly forgotten by the general public. Except for their families, the significance of what they have done is pretty much ignored.
Except by you Mr. Yonki and this wonderful site.
As-always, brilliant.
Wish I could do a Katty Kay accent because I know you love those tall Brits from MSNBC but I hope the rest suffices.

At 8:20 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Wonderful piece. The delay was a sign. It is fitting that you wrote this on Labor Day weekend because Schweiker was a true friend of labor.

At 8:28 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I must admit to being a little disappointed. I went to the LuLac expecting a communist type manifesto extolling labor and vilifying the greedy job creators.

At 8:38 PM, Blogger David Yonki said...

I must admit to being a little disappointed. I went to the LuLac expecting a communist type manifesto extolling labor and vilifying the greedy job creators.


I decided to let my tribute to the late Senator Schweiker stand. The only GOP Senator to win the endorsement of the AFL CIO.
Kicking back now and watching our Teddy Roosevelt, another Republican I admired put the business leaders of a century ago in their place when they were exploiting 12 year old immigrant kids picking coal.

At 7:28 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Speaking of labor day and unions, just wondering if you might know has any US President actually been a member of a union?

Also, I see Steve Corbett going on his pro union rants, but wasn't he employed by a union busting newspaper? And, does WILK have a union?

At 11:32 PM, Blogger David Yonki said...

Speaking of labor day and unions, just wondering if you might know has any US President actually been a member of a union?


Yes Ronald Reagan joined the Screen Actors Guild and paid $25.00 for his union membership. Reagan, as President of the Screen Actors Guild battled the major studios to make sure that actors, any actor with a union card got residuals.

Also, I see Steve Corbett going on his pro union rants, but wasn't he employed by a union busting newspaper?


He arrived after the strike when the TL was in competition with the Voice. Some people who worked for Congressmen worked there too. I heard his pro union stances today and I agree. Except for public service employees and a few holdover unions, local workers get what the business owners offer. Some get treated fairly, others get exploited.
The only difference between the wages offered at market rate in 1915 vs. 2015 in this area is that there is no coal dust in the cubicles and you won't get killed at work.

And, does WILK have a union?


No, the last union shop here for broadcasting was in the 70s when WBRE TV and Radio had a union.


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