Lost the second of three Congressmen I served during my time as a congressional aide in Washington.
Paul Findley, 98, who talked me into coming to Washington as his press secretary and legislative assistant in 1981, died surrounded by family at a hospital in Jacksonville, IL, Saturday. Manuel Lujan, a New Mexico Congressman who later became Secretary of the Interior, died earlier this year in Albuquerque.
Without Findley’s prodding, I probably would not have given up my newspaper job in Illinois to come to Washington. Without Lujan, I would not have stayed in the nation’s capital for 23 years.
Findley was a moderate Republican who opposed the Vietnam War, supported Civil Rights and worked to gain recognition for the Palestinian state. Lujan was more conservative but could moderate his positions if his constituents pushed him to do so.
With Findley, I visited and saw the deplorable conditions of Palestinian refugee camps in the Mideast but his support for their cause cost him re-election in 1982 when opponents of that cause dumped hundreds of thousands of dollars into the campaign of Richard Durbin, who won and is now a Senator from the Land of Lincoln.
I returned to some of those same camps with Lujan in 1985 and found conditions even worse.
Findley was a hard-working, honest Congressman. We had become friends, even though I was often rough on him in my twice-weekly newspaper column in The Telegraph in Alton, IL, over the years.
After his re-election campaign in 1980, he asked me to come out to Washington to talk with him and his chief of staff (called “administrative assistants” then). Amy and I spent three days there but said “no” and went back to Illinois.
A little over a month later, he asked me to meet him for lunch near Springfield in Illinois, and we talked again. “You’ve spent a lot of space telling you readers what I’ve done wrong in Washington,” he said. “Why don’t you come out and show me how I can do it right?”
He was joking, of course, but the appeal to my ego worked and we packed up and headed for Washington.
Findley had a lot of good points.
He selected the first African-American page in Congress, opposed farm subsidies because he felt they benefited the wealthy agricultural producers and hurt family farms and drafted the War Powers Act that forced presidents to notify Congress before embarking on conflicts and wars.
He was a watchdog on wasteful Pentagon spending. He highlighted a German-made machine gun that cost nearly $75 million in the 1960s and was never delivered.
But it was his belief that the U.S. should recognize the Palestinians right to a homeland that would bring him down. Those opposed to that belief spent hundreds of thousands of dollars for ads in support for Richard Durbin, who beat him in 1982.
During his 11 terms in Congress, he said the country and the world had changed and he had to adapt.
“With the passage of time, world conditions have changed, and so have my views,” he said. Abraham Lincoln, he added, said politicians should reject outmoded ways of thinking if they no longer fit the times.