Valley Voices

Confessions of a lifelong political junkie

Newell Bringhurst
Newell Bringhurst

I confess to being a lifelong, incurable political junkie.

I contracted this disease while a youngster coming of age in Midvale, Utah, a small mining community south of Salt Lake City. My earliest memory is of the 1948 presidential election, when incumbent U.S. President Harry S. Truman visited our community, traveling by train during his successful whistle stop campaign.

Even more vivid, are memories of the 1952 presidential campaign involving Republican Dwight D. Eisenhower, whose broad, smiling face beamed across the screen of our recently purchased 21-inch, black-and-white television. Campaigning on the slogan, “I Like Ike” he prevailed over stiff-looking, dour Democratic nominee Adlai E. Stevenson.

Eight years later, as a college freshman, I followed with avid interest the memorable presidential election of 1960. Democratic nominee Massachusetts Sen. John F. Kennedy came across as articulate, youthful, and full of vigor – or “viggah” – as expressed in his distinctive Boston brogue.

Republican nominee, incumbent Vice President Richard Nixon, appeared pugnacious, tired, and badly in need of a shave during the candidates’ storied television debate. Thus, Kennedy prevailed in the general election, thereby ushering his New Frontier reform program.

By 1964, after turning 21 – then the minimum voting age, I involved myself directly in the political process. I enthusiastically campaigned on behalf of incumbent President Lyndon B. Johnson by knocking on doors and distributing fliers in my Salt Lake City neighborhood.

In the general election, the tall Texan with the distinctive Stetson swamped the extreme right-wing Republican nominee, Arizona Sen. Barry Goldwater. Subsequently, I regretted my involvement, disillusioned by Johnson’s vigorous prosecution of the Vietnam War, which I came to view as an unmitigated disaster.

Thus in 1968, as a graduate student at UC Davis, I applauded Democratic anti-war insurgents, Sens. Eugene McCarthy and Robert F. Kennedy, both of whom challenged Johnson for the Democratic presidential nomination.

Both campaigned on our campus, as did black comedian-turned Peace and Freedom Party candidate Dick Gregory – the latter vowing to paint the White House black, if elected president. But none of the three prevailed.

Richard Nixon won on his promise to end American involvement in the Vietnam War through implementation of his so-called “secret plan.”

By the time of the 1972 election, I had secured my first full-time teaching position as a history lecturer at San Jose State University. My wife, Mary Ann, was an enthusiastic backer of Democratic nominee George McGovern, proudly wearing a campaign button proclaiming, “McGovern is Due in ‘72”.

This proved prophetic at least in part, in that she gave birth to our daughter, Laura, that same year. McGovern, however, lost overwhelmingly in the general election to incumbent President Richard Nixon.

Four years later, I declared myself for Morris K. Udall, a liberal Arizona U.S. congressman running for the 1976 Democratic presidential nomination. Udall fell short, losing out to a former Georgia governor, James E. “Jimmy” Carter. The personal highlight of that campaign was Carter’s visit to Boise, Idaho, where I was living, upon assuming a teaching position at Boise State University.

I had the opportunity to meet and shake hands with the successful presidential candidate at a campaign rally. The facilitator of this brief encounter was actually our daughter, Laura, at the time just 4 years old. Carter, upon entering the hall, eyed and approached our blond, blue-eyed daughter, who bore a striking resemblance to his own 8-year-old daughter, Amy.

By 1980, the year of Ronald Reagan’s successful march to the presidency, I had moved on to Kokomo, Ind., where I had secured a tenured professorship at Indiana University, Kokomo. With my daughter, Laura, in tow, the two of us attended a campaign rally on behalf of the candidate. On that occasion, however, we were unable to personally interact or even get close to the former California governor who appeared as a mere dot on the distant horizon.

By 1981, I was back in California, teaching political science and history at College of the Sequoias in Visalia. This position enabled me to “infect” my students with my enthusiasm for the political process.

In 1984, I attended a Fresno rally for Democratic presidential hopeful Gary Hart, whose effort fell short, losing out to ultimate Democratic nominee former Vice President Walter Mondale, the latter, in turn, swamped in the general election by incumbent Ronald Reagan.

Four years later, in 1988, Democratic presidential nominee Michael Dukakis brought his campaign to the Valley – hosting a whistle stop in Hanford, which I attended.

Accompanying me, once more, was my daughter, Laura, by this time a junior, who had enthusiastically campaigned on behalf of the Massachusetts governor. Dukakis’ losing effort to the incumbent vice president, George H.W. Bush, notwithstanding, I was heartened and most proud of my daughter’s political involvement.

Dukakis’ 1988 Hanford whistle stop also brought back memories of Harry Truman’s 1948 whistle stop in the small Utah community where I came of age.

Newell G. Bringhurst, a retired professor of history and political science from College of the Sequoias welcomes responses at