Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Third Place

(Historical note: December 30th marks the 103rd anniversary of former Idaho Governor Frank Steunenberg. I highly recommend the Idaho Meanderings website for primary and secondary sources and insight on the former governor, the Trial of the Century and the history of labor and mining in this state.)

In February of 2008 when the Stallings Collection at Idaho State University officially opened to the public, it was not lost on the historians in the room the magnitude of that moment for future research on a myriad of topics unique to Idaho, the Western states and the legislative process. It was not lost on me that the 2008 opening of the papers documenting the political career of a fine public servant fell exactly twenty years after that public servant came in third at the Democratic National Convention.

At the 1988 Democratic National Convention held in Atlanta, a surprise move by three Minnesota delegates left our own Idaho second congressional district congressman with three nominating votes for President of the United States. Granted, as Stallings, ever the historian and political scientist, was quick to point out, a person needed 2,079 votes to retain the party's nomination.

Aside from those who worked for Stallings, a few wise political junkies throughout the state and Stallings himself, few people can tell you that Stallings won three votes in 1988. Even fewer can tell you why, again, including Stallings himself.

An unknown history professor from Idaho came in third behind Governor Michael Dukakis and Reverend Jesse Jackson.

The votes Stallings received from the three Minnesota delegates, Jackie Schweitz, Michael LaPlante and Joe Woitalla of the Minnesota Citizens Concerned for Life, were widely touted as being a nod of approval for Stallings' strong anti-abortion/choice positions.

Only in Idaho's second congressional district could a Democratic candidate receive three nominating votes as a Democrat and come back home stronger and better suited for a re-election! Stallings, to the dismay of some Democrats, myself included, held the traditional position of Idaho voters as well as his church, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, that abortion was only acceptable in cases of incest, rape and when the life of the mother was in peril. Stallings' position on abortion never faltered (though some questioned his support of Governor Andrus upon Andrus' veto of House Bill 625, a piece of legislation in the Idaho legislature that would have placed Idaho in a precarious legal position as a state with the most extreme abortion restrictions).

There are certainly times in my days working in the Stallings Collection that I find myself at odds with the positions of Congressman Stallings. There are days when I find myself cursing his votes on flag burning, reproductive rights, gun rights, etc., but at the end of the day I have immense respect for his principles and his courageous and unyielding positions.

When I think about the leadership Stallings offered Idaho and the example he provided for young Democrats like me, an example he continues to provide and I continue to be grateful for, it is hard to look at those three nominating votes in 1988 and not be a little proud. There was an intrepidity in Congressman Stallings that is unmatched by congressmen today. It is an intrepidity I hope Congressman-elect Minnick will emulate.

It does not seem that twenty years have passed since Stallings' eventful trip to Atlanta in 1988. However, it does seem fitting that his papers would open to the public this year, of all years. The year that marks the 20th anniversary of a not-so-memorable event in Idaho political history, yet a highlight in the career of a dedicated public servant.

(Black and white images courtesy of the Department of Special Collections at the Eli M. Oboler Library, housed in the photograph section of MC-067, the Stallings Collection. Top image, Congressman Stallings. Bottom image, left to right: Congressman Stallings, former Governor Evans, Governor Andrus. Additional thanks to Teresa Heitmann for photo and scanning services of middle image--Stallings' delegate button from 1988 and his rules manual for the 99th Congress.)

1 comment :

John T. Richards Jr. said...

Tara: Thanks for the blog plug at the top of your post. Always appreciated. Sounds like quite an interesting process as you work your way through the Stallings Collection. I would have never guessed that he had received three votes at the 1988 Demo convention. We probably would have been better served if he had been more competitive with Dukakis. If a demo can survive in Idaho then I would suspect they could have even broader appeal nationally. Good work indeed!