Film tells story of election that changed American politics

“The Front Runner,” a film about a race for U.S. President. Starring Hugh Jackman, Vera Farminga and J.K. Simmons. Directed by Jason Reitman. Based on the book by Matt Bai, “All the Truth is Out: The week Politics went Tabloid.” A Columbia Pictures production, 113 minutes. As seen at the Town Center AMC, Leawood, Kan.

by Murrel Bland

It was the fall of 1953. I was a seventh grader at Ottawa (Kan.) Junior High School. It was a new experience—coming from a one-room country school of about 20 students in the north-central area of Franklin County to a junior and senior high school with more than 700 pupils.

Little did I know that one of my schoolmates was destined to run for the president of the United States. His 1987 campaign changed the way mainstream media would cover politics.

Gary Warren Hartpence was born on Nov. 28, 1936, in Ottawa. His parents were Carl Riley Hartpence and Nina Pritchard Hartpence. His family changed its last name to Hart in 1961 because it was easier to remember.

Ottawa was a town of about 10,000 people in the 1950s. It had a prosperous downtown with numerous Main Street merchants. Nearby farms in Franklin County created a successful agricultural industry. The town was known for its strong support of churches including Methodist and Baptist congregations and conservative Republican politics. It was also famous for defeating school bond issues.

Hart was the “All American boy.” He was a member of the football, basketball and track teams. He also was vice president of his junior class and a delegate to Boys State—a mock government workshop sponsored by the Kansas American Legion.

Florence M. Robinson, a career journalism teacher at Ottawa High School, chose Hart as managing editor of the school newspaper, The Ottawa Record. It was that same teacher that would influence my career in journalism.

Hart attended what then was Bethany (Okla.) Nazarene College (now Southern Nazarene University); he graduated in 1958 with plans to become a clergyman. He met his wife, Oletha (Lee) Ludwig at Bethany. He then received a Bachelor of Divinity degree from Yale University at New Haven, Conn., in 1961. He then received a law degree from Yale in 1964. He practiced law in Washington, D.C., and Denver.

Lee Ludwig is the sister to Martha Ludwig Keys who served in Congress from what was the Second District in Kansas in the 1970s. That district included part of Wyandotte County.

In 1972, I was visiting with a high school and college classmate at a reception for a former journalism professor.

“Do you remember Gary Hartpence?” the friend asked.

“Yes,” I said.

“Well, he is the national director for the McGovern for President campaign,” my friend said. “But his name now is Gary Hart.” Hart had volunteered for the campaigns of John F. Kennedy in 1960 and Robert F. Kennedy in 1968. McGovern won the Democratic party’s nomination, but lost in the General Election to Richard Nixon in one of the most lopsided elections in U.S. history.

Hart was elected U.S. Senator from Colorado in 1974 and again in 1980. He first ran for president in 1984. Despite a slow start, he became the main challenger to Walter Mondale. Hart ran again for president, becoming the Democratic front runner in 1987. This is where the film concentrates its coverage; much of the film is in a semi-documentary style.

In April 1987, reporters and a photographer from The Miami Herald followed Donna Rice from Miami to a Washington, D.C., town house where she met with Hart. The scandal spread through the national media along with another damaging story that Hart had incurred a $1.3 million campaign debt.

In May that year, Hart called a news conference and announced the end of his campaign.

“I refuse to submit my family and my friends and innocent people and myself to further rumors and gossip,” Hart said. Hart then paraphrased President Thomas Jefferson who said he trembled for his country when he thought we may get the kind of leaders we deserve. Hart said his situation will provoke a needed debate on whether the system has gone out of control. Gossipy articles about who is sleeping with whom, previously restricted to The National Enquirer and its ilk, was now in the mainstream media.

The film does an excellent job of portraying the inside, gut-wrenching details of American politics. Hart is portrayed by Hugh Jackman, an Australian actor known for his role as Wolfman in the X-Men film series. Other excellent performances are turned in by Vera Farminga who portrays the long-suffering Lee Hart and J.K. Simmons who is the cynical yet savvy veteran campaign manager, Bill Dixon. Farminga stared in Sundance award-winning films including “Down to the Bone” and “Love in the Time of Man.” Simmons is probably best known as the professor in Farmers’ Insurance television commercials.

There certainly is a strong message in this film—that the media is more concerned with sexual misdeeds than more important issues such as world trade and the environment. But there is also a matter of character; the film speaks to that matter in the way Hart treated women.

Hart wrote an article for The New York Times in 2004. He admitted to being a sinner. He said he was asking for the same degree of forgiveness from his many critics that they were willing to grant George W. Bush for his transgressions.

Murrel Bland is the former editor of The Wyandotte West and The Piper Press. He is a 1959 graduate of Ottawa High School.

Letter to the editor

Dear citizens of the community of Kansas City, Kansas,

On behalf of the dedicated men and women of the Kansas City, Kansas Fire Department, with whom you entrust your lives, the lives of your family members, and your property, I would like to extend a sincere thank you for your unwavering support of our department.

As our community continues to evolve, so does our mission to continually advance and improve our department and to ensure that the citizens we serve are consistently receiving the highest level of emergency services available. We have a very enthusiastic membership that spends a tremendous amount of time training, developing, and refining their skills to efficiently and effectively mitigate the emergency situations to which we respond. We take great pride in being able to offer this advanced level service to our community. I pledge to continue to train and support our members so that we can continue to serve you in a swift, safe, and professional manner.

Our community has an Insurance Service Office (ISO) rating of a 3/9 with 99% of Kansas City’s citizens’ property. This rating is often utilized to set insurance rates. The lower the number, the better the rate. We serve over 128 square miles of territory in the city, as well as providing mutual aid to other cities and townships when requested. We are committed to providing the utmost standard of fire suppression, Advanced Life Support transport emergency medical services, hazardous material mitigation, technical rescue, fire prevention, arson investigation, and public education in the region. Our dedicated Firefighters respond to an average of over 20,000 emergency responses annually, and that number is growing every year.

We are here for you, and I feel very strongly about our Department being involved in our community. You will see our apparatus and our members at various public events throughout the year; from festivals, church parties, parades, and even youth sporting events. Our fire station doors are always open to our neighbors, the public, and we welcome and encourage visitors anytime. Please feel free to stop by, introduce yourselves, and get to know your public safety neighbors, who have sworn an oath to utilize their specialized expertise, talents, and time to serve and protect you.

As your Fire Chief, it is always a pleasure to work with such dedicated and concerned personnel, who continually strive to improve their skills in an effort to provide the highest quality of service to the community. I am proud to have the opportunity to lead this organization into the future for you, the citizens of KCK. If there is ever any way that I can be of assistance to you, please do not hesitate to contact me.

Michael Callahan
Fire Chief, Kansas City, Kansas

Census Bureau gears up for decennial count


by Murrel Bland

Article One, Section Two of the U.S. Constitution empowers Congress to carry out a census in “such manner as they shall by Law direct.” The first census was carried out by U.S. marshals in 1790 when there 3,929,214 persons in the United States.

Alan Organ, a partnership specialist with the U.S. Census Bureau, explained this fact and other information Friday morning, Nov. 9, at a meeting of about 25 members of the Legislative Committee of the Kansas City, Kansas, Area Chamber of Commerce. Organ said that it will be important for everyone to be counted and urged chamber members to cooperate with the Census Bureau.

Organ, a medical doctor who taught at the University of Kansas School of Medicine, said he has met with Mayor David Alvey and the mayor has assured him of his cooperation. The mayor has appointed Gordon Criswell, an assistant county administrator, to assist in this effort.

Organ said he is working with other community organizations including El Centro and faith-based entities.

One of the main reasons that it is important that every person is counted is that the census data is used in distributing federal funds. Those funds for fiscal year 2015 for Kansas totaled more than $4.4 billion, according to a report from the George Washington University Institute for Public Policy. Those funds came from several federal departments including Health and Human Services, Transportation, Agriculture, Housing and Urban Development and Education.

Organ said census forms will be mailed to everyone’s home. If the form is not returned, a census worker will follow up to get the form. It is estimated that by Census Day, April 1, 2020, there will be about 350 million persons in the United States. The 2010 census counted 308,745,538 persons.

The Census Bureau is part of the U.S. Department of Commerce. It has several temporary jobs including recruiting assistants, clerks, field supervisors and census takers. A typical job pays about $33,000 a year. Persons interested in applying for a job may telephone 1-855-562-2020.

Murrel Bland is the former editor of The Wyandotte West and The Piper Press. He is the executive director of Business West.