Party Insiders

Today’s post comes from Renee in North Dakota.

We have one television, and it is in our family room in the basement. We rarely go downstairs to watch TV.  I haven’t seen any live coverage of either of the recent political conventions. I couldn’t bring myself to watch the first, and, although I identify as a Democrat, I haven’t made time to watch the second, either. My father adored Hillary Clinton, and I know he would be watching the convention were he here.

My father’s family has a long history of being Democrats. I recently discovered that my paternal grandfather’s uncles were ultra-dedicated Democrats and had pretty interesting lives.

George (b. 1869) and Martin (b. 1871) Freerks, my Grandfather Boomgaarden’s uncles, were born in Pekin, Illinois and grew up in Parkersburg, IA. They were the children of German/Friesland immigrants. English was their second language.  Neither boy attended much school as children or teens, as they had to help on the farm. Martin estimated he attended 90 days of school his whole life. Despite their lack of education, both managed to independently study for the bar exam and became lawyers in Kansas and North Dakota.

George (Gerhard) was a North Dakota delegate to the Democratic National Conventions in 1896 and 1900. I imagine him listening to William Jennings Bryan’s famous “Cross of Gold” speech in Chicago in 1896 (“You shall not crucify mankind upon a cross of gold”). He named one of his sons Horace Jennings Freerks, after the philosopher and the orator. George was the assistant city attorney in Wichita and ran unsuccessfully for Attorney General of Kansas around 1908. I guess Kansas was a really Republican state at the time, and George’s campaign was doomed from the start. I admire him for trying. He practiced law in Wahpeton, North Dakota with his brother, and eventually moved to Crosby, MN to be close to some iron mine investment property. He died in 1924.

Martin spent most of his professional life in Jamestown, ND. He changed his last name to Fredericks since people kept mispronouncing it as “Freaks”.  He was deeply involved in the Non-Partisan League (NPL), a socialist party that was the precursor of North Dakota’s current Democratic Party and the subject of a wonderful film documentary called Northern Lights. The NPL is the reason why we have the Bank of North Dakota and the State Flour Mill. (Our current Republican governor is pretty glad for the State Bank, even though such an institution goes against his principles, as he intends to hit up the bank for a $100,000,000 loan to address revenue shortfalls). Martin’s son was the last person in North Dakota to successfully read for the Bar and was elected a district judge. His son married Lawrence Welk’s daughter.

I have, on occasion, considered running for our local school board or maybe even the city council. I don’t know if I have the patience or the thick skin necessary to do so.  Our entire school board was voted out of office in a recall election about 15 years ago when they dared propose changing the team mascot name from the Midgets to something more politically correct. Image what might happen if I tried to initiate real and meaningful change. I might get run out of town!

 What political office would you like to run for?

78 thoughts on “Party Insiders”

  1. i am more interested in putting pressure on politician to be of more service to the people than I am in becoming a politican. I guess if I did decide to run for office I would go for a local office such as city counsel member

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I have discovered through experience that being on a Board of Directors for an organization I strongly support is as close as I want to get to political office. And you’re right about the thick-skinned part, which I don’t do well.

      You know quite a bit about these relatives, too, Renee! Parkersburg, IA, which you mentioned, is very close to Marshalltown where I grew up. There’s now a little tea shop on Main Street that my mom and I once visited.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. My grandfather ran for County Commissioner. It was a tie vote, and they settled it with a coin toss. Grandpa called it and won the election. He slso was on the county draft board during the late 1960’s, but I think that was an appointed position.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Some friends of ours, a husband and wife, both lost their seats in the state legislature and school board during primary elections here this June. I would find that pretty depressing and hard to not take personally.

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  4. I will not be doing any campaigning in the future either.

    Voters can be extremely fickle and I admire people who put themselves out there, vulnerable to the whim of the moment. Every election cycle there is talk of the post-convention bounce, and you have to wonder who the voters are who are so suggestible that they change their minds every time the parties engage in this rather predictable political theater. Trump looks appealing one week and Clinton the next…really?

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I know – but, the reality is that SOMEONE has to be president. Eugene McCarthy is the last candidate for president about whom I was truly energized until 2008. I was more than enthused, putting up four 4X6′ Obama signs. Four because the other three were destroyed.

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  5. People who run for office almost always have lofty goals they hope to accomplish. Those ideals inevitably collide painfully with such “real world” factors as unions with narrow vision, budget limitations, the power of entrenched groups, human weakness and the shockingly short attention span of voters.

    Anyone with a dream must scramble desperately to promote a progressive vision when “the system” keeps asking them to scale back on their idealism. You can’t get anything done in government without compromising, but after making compromises it sometimes seems impossible to distinguish between the good guys and the bad guys.

    Amazingly, a few courageous and bright people can resolve the tension between high ideals and all the factors that encourage them to take the easy path. I am not egotistical enough to think I would be one of the rare good ones. My natural role would be a staff leader working under someone who has a gift for doing good things in spite of all the temptations of the world.

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    1. I don’t buy the argument that opticians can be excused from doing bad things because they gave in to political pressures. I think politicians should not do things that they believe are wrong to advance their careers. They should not put their careers ahead of doing the right thing.

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      1. Politicians don’t get to do bad things to promote their careers. And I think that almost never happens, anyway. What happens is a politician wants to get something positive done, but everyone tells him or her that it isn’t practical . . . or it is too early . . . or that waiting will allow a better bill to pass in the future. Faced with a crisis over which Democratic delegation to recognize from southern states in the 1960 election, Fritz Mondale feared it was too early to seat the rebellious black delegation. I think he now feels that was the wrong judgment, and he mentions it often.

        Every politician works in a highly ambiguous ethical battlefield. When the Devil comes with his temptation, it isn’t “you will be a big deal if you sacrifice this dream of yours.” No. The Devil says, “If you back down a little now, you can win your dream tomorrow.” And sometimes the Devil is right.

        No politician looks in the mirror and tries to figure out a way to cheat voters and advance his or her career. Every politician sweats in hot committee rooms and wonders if he or she should vote for a reform bill that contains a nasty concession.

        Liked by 1 person

        1. I know of many cases where politicians have stretched the truth or lied about what they did when they did some bad things. I know this is true because whistle blowers have released emails and other documents giving proof that they did this.

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        2. That all sounds very “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington” and I wish it were true, but it doesn’t explain gerrymandering to deliberately skew the overall will of the people, stonewalling or blockading voting rather than submitting it to a fair contest, placing or allowing party loyalty to override principle, pandering to irrationality with false or emotional arguments and the concessions politicians and their parties make to major donors and influence groups regardless of principle or the common good.

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        3. Oh boy, I knew I’d get in trouble today. I love this group of people. There is only one way I seriously disagree with most of you, and today highlights it. I just don’t buy into what I regard as your cynicism about “politicians.” I think we should be reasonably skeptical about them, just as we should be reasonably skeptical about anyone trying to sell us something (whether it is a used car or an educational reform or a drug for helping our kids).

          Now I have the impossible task of trying to argue with two of my favorite people: Jim and Bill!

          Liked by 1 person

        4. Jim, you seem to think politicians lie. I have a terrible secret to tell you. Sometimes pharmaceutical salesmen lie. Sometimes teachers lie. Sometimes ministers lie. Sometimes manufacturers lie. Sometimes used car salesmen fudge the truth. I’ve even heard that sometimes lawyers lie, as amazing as that might be.

          Politicians don’t have a monopoly on dissembling. Not even close.

          Never, ever underestimate the power of the human mind to believe in something, even something that you think is wrong. Do you think the people who sell seeds that are linked to certain pesticides believe they are harming the universe in order to gain personally? Do they sweat at night because they make a living doing something that many people regard as evil? I don’t think so.

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        5. I’m trying to respond to Bill, but with this WordPress system my comments are likely to end up somewhere else. Let’s address the people who gerrymander and deliberately deprive certain social groups of full access to the ability to vote. I hate when that happens. But those people do not skew the political system in order to do harm. They have convinced themselves that the highest good can only be served if certain groups are encouraged to vote and certain groups are discouraged. They do things that favor one political party over another because they have convinced themselves a warped system will produce better legislation, “better” according to their view of the world.

          The Supreme Court made crazy thinking the law of the land when they handed us (imposed on us) the wildly crazy Citizens United ruling. But as wrong as they were, they meant well.

          In my lifetime this nation has suffered from three especially dangerous men: Joe McCarthy, Richard Nixon and Donald Trump. All three were hideously wrong threats to the basic principles of justice and decency. But all three were sincere in thinking they had the right answers to social issues.

          There are men who say, “The only solution to a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun.” Not true. But I believe “The best solution to a guy with a bad idea is a guy (or a gal) with a good idea.” People aren’t good and bad so much as they are wise or wrong. Wrong people are just as motivated to accomplish their ends as good people and just as convinced they are right. And that is just as true if they are plumbers or senators.

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        6. I disagree. Donald Trump gets up every day and tries to figure out a way to cheat voters in order to advance his brand. He attends no committee meetings and has stated that, “I’m the only consult I need”. Of course, he’s not a politician!

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        7. We disagree, Crystalbay. Donald Trump gets up every day and says incredibly stupid, self-serving, unrealistic, rude, crude and wrong things. And the SOB is just as sincere as you or your neighbors who steal your signs. I WISH he weren’t sincere. The most dangerous people in the world are those who are sincere . . . and wrong. Hell, the Taliban are as sincere as any people on earth, and look how cruel they can be.

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        8. You seem to place a higher premium on sincerity than I do. I don’t find any comfort in observing that a person wielding power is deluded, but sincere. Believing that the system is best served by denying, though gerrymandering, certain segments of the populace their voice is so contrary to the principles on which the country was founded that, no matter how sincere their twisted motives, those people have no right to power.
          It appears to me that more energy is spent in congress devoted to getting and maintaining power than to principled legislation. The Republican’s stated intent to block every Obama initiative, even ones that were originally proposed under a Republican administration, is a bald exercise of power, with at least a whiff of racism, and not an expression of high-flown principles, sincere or not.
          Your apparent definition of “doing harm” strikes me as curiously limited; it seems not to include doing things that will result in harm being done, inevitable things that will be hard to attribute. A case in point is global warming, which the Republicans denied and blocked substantive discussion of until much too late. All for the sake of fossil fuel interests and their financial support. They may or may not have been in sincere denial of the ultimate consequence of their obstruction, but the evidence was available to them and the results are the same.

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        9. No, Bill. No. I don’t excuse politicians (or priests, or nurses, or cops) who are sincere as they do wrong. I only sounded that way to you because I was countering the arguments of those who think bad people have bad motives . . . and know it. Almost all the dreadful things done in this world are done by people who are convinced they are doing the right thing.

          Indeed, Congress wastes an enormous amount of energy in political infighting, and that is a tragedy that harms us all. But Republicans fight everything Democrats oppose because they think the greater good will be served by the nation defeating Democrats and voting Republicans into office. And liberals can be just as smug and dismissive of conservative values.

          All my life I have tried to promote intelligent legislation. My political character was forged in the battle to get the US out of Vietnam. I now agree with you that short-sighted environmental policies are destroying life on this planet.

          I just don’t blame all the wrong on “politicians.” Some politicians (Paul Wellstone, Hubert Humphrey) are courageous, intelligent public servants who do everything they can to promote good policy. We shouldn’t sneer at politicians. We should do whatever we can to defeat the most misguided politicians and elect those (like Lincoln, FDR and others) who do politics well.

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    2. George Wallace was a dumb guy with a head full of bad ideas, but he was strictly a minor leaguer. He was never a serious threat. And (while I shouldn’t say this without checking my memory) I think even he woke up later and saw the error of his ways. No, McCarthy, Nixon and Trump are major leaguers. They had terrible ideas and were effective at fooling others to support them.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Steve, I think your assessment of Wallace is very wrong. He was definitely not dumb, nor was a minor leaguer. But you’re right that after he became a born-again-Christian, he apologized for his segregationist efforts earlier in his career. Cb, you’re right, he was shot, but not killed. He lived twenty years after the assassination attempt.

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        1. I agree, PJ, that my dismissal of Wallace as “dumb” was careless and wrong. We sort of disagree on the “minor leaguer” claim. To my mind, McCarthy, Nixon and Trump represent a threat to the foundations of our government in a way Wallace did not. But I have probably erred in dismissing Wallace as a regional demagogue. He aspired to be a national demagogue. Of the three, I still regard Nixon as the most dangerous, for he combined a threat to the Constitution with great political skills.

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        2. I’m no fan of Richard Nixon, but somehow I never saw him as a demagogue. How do you see him as a threat to the Constitution? And say about him what you will, he did have a long record of serving his country, both in the military and various public offices. Considering that he’s long dead, I don’t worry about him as a threat to anything.

          Trump on the other hand is still very much a threat to American democracy. I guess that I don’t consider him a major leaguer in the sense that he politically is a one time flash in the pan opportunist, devoid of any plan other than self-aggrandizement. He has no vision for what he wants for this country, and he certainly has no record of service to it of any kind. I find it truly troubling that this blowhard has so many supporters, and I shudder to think of what could happen if he gets elected.

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        3. Hi PJ. First, I absolutely agree with your comments on Trump. He is toxic, and I am embarrassed and tormented by his rise to power. He has the potential to do incredible damage.

          I can’t really answer your questions about Nixon in detail in this space, for his crimes against the Constitution and against the fundamental principles of this government are too numerous to mention. I’ve studied the man. The more I learned, the more spooky he looked.

          Let’s look at a few major facts. Start with the fact Nixon came to power through a shocking act of treason. Because he feared Paris peace talks with North Vietnam would favor Hubert Humphrey, Nixon sent a secret message to North Vietnam telling them to not sign a treaty because when he got in power, he’d give them a better deal. The war continued for years when it might have been stopped. Nixon’s act was not just sort of wrong: it was high treason, and it cost thousands of lives.

          Once in office, Nixon conducted a war on several groups: the press, the Democrats, the student protesters, the US justice system and (most dangerously) the US Constitution itself, with its separation of powers. He used (or tried to use) hired thugs, the IRS, the FBI, the CIA and his own administrators to break laws, smear people’s reputations, steal information and misguide journalists. The whole list goes on and on. Watergate became such a scandal, many experts now think, because Nixon was so desperate to hide earlier crimes. He was willing to do terrible things to cover up earlier crimes, and one reason was that he cynically believed that was the way other presidents did things.

          Much of this can be summed up in Nixon’s claim that “if the President does it, then it is not illegal.” That strikes at the very heart of constitutional democracy.

          My fight here is ironic in view of my firm position that most politicians are essentially honorable. They sometimes do illegal or unethical things, but they think they are serving a higher purpose. Nixon is an example of that. For all the crimes he committed, he was fiercely committed to making some advances in US policy (such as opening the door to China, putting the Soviet Union on defense).

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  6. As a private person and one indifferent to widespread approval, I have a hard enough time not looking upon the desire for public office as a sort of pathology. It is inconceivable that I would ever be willing to submit to that sort of scrutiny or wish to go begging for affirmation by the masses. I wouldn’t get approval. I wouldn’t be willing to compromise enough of myself to try.

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  7. Up to, what, 20 years ago we used to vote for county surveyor. I never saw a name listed. Could you run for that office if you could not do math?
    I once got a six write-in votes for justice of the peace.
    Two of my classmates ran against each other for sheriff, two of the larger jerks I have ever known, both open bigots, both with minor criminal records. So one had to win. The other went into a life-long pout. The one who won got less than 1/3 of the votes four years later. He is still in a pout, spewing his venom.
    County commissioners in many rural counties are almost ignored, yet they make huge decisions, some technical decisions, tough decisions. A friend of mine held the office for eight years. He said that only a couple meetings a year were attended by the public.

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  8. I’m joining discourse on TB after absenting the last four day following the convention. Just one brief speech brought it altogether for me out of dozens of excellent speeches. A Muslim father, whose decorated son was killed in Afghanistan, stood up bravely in his accented words and said; “Mr. Trump – what have you sacrificed ever in your life? You have done nothing. What have you done besides take and never give back to your country?” He then whipped out a copy of the Constitution and asked, “Have you even read this?”

    Liked by 6 people

  9. I think I would run for Tomato Inspector. Under my regime, cardboard, anemic, pale, hard tomatoes would be banned. Luscious, colorful, juicy tomatoes would be held up as the gold standard.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. I could use you in my backyard. Broke down today and put up netting all around my tomato bales; I don’t mind sharing a little w/ critters but apparently they mind sharing with ME!

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      1. I don’t know. I don’t drink beer! Strasburg, where Lawrence was born , is behind what we call “the sauerkraut curtain”, where the Germans from Russia settled. It is a pretty closed society over there.

        Liked by 1 person

  10. We had a Mayor once on the trail, right? I forget where he was mayor of.

    To follow up on yesterdays blog:
    –I’m lighting ‘The Little Mermaid’ for Wits End Theater in Chatfield MN.
    –This year my oats is just plain oats. Will be sold to the local elevator for too little money. (The last two years I grew ‘seed oats’ but this year they didn’t need any more growers)
    –And yes, my schedule changes by the show or season.

    I am an elected official; one of 5 supervisors for HaverHill Township, our nearly 6 sq mile neighborhood. But I don’t consider myself a politician.
    We set the annual budget for the township at the March Annual meeting when we also hold elections for the three year term for supervisors and 2 year terms for clerk and treasurer.
    We have roughly 1000 registered voters. Twenty three voted at the last township election in March.
    It would seem our primary responsibilities are taking care of the roads. We deal with grading and dust control, culvert replacement and ditch mowing. Snow blading and adding rock. We cut up trees that come down that are blocking roads and we frequently are picking up trash that lesser law- abiding people dump in our ditches.
    But we also oversaw creating our own zoning laws for our township. And Haverhill was instrumental in starting a lawsuit against Olmsted County back in 2004 allowing townships to do their own zoning.
    We deal with fire protection contracts and law enforcement contracts.
    Chairmanship rotates among the 5 supervisors so sometimes it’s easy and sometimes we get the hot seat.
    It was my honor to be chairman in 2001 when the local Muslim community was trying to build a mosque in the township.
    I got my picture in the paper more than I’d like for that.

    Our monthly meetings don’t generally draw too many people. And not for lack of interest– wait, yes. for lack of interest. But if we’re not doing a good job we hear about it so people seem to be OK with what we’re doing.
    There is the occasional resident who disagree’s with something we’re voting on and they have threatened to ‘vote us all off!’

    But mostly, it’s a way to give back to our little neighborhood. I was on our planning and zoning board first. Served on that for the term limit of 6 years. And in 1999 was appointed to fill a vacancy on the town board. And was then elected to my first three year term in 2000. Filing fee is $2.

    And I am not in any way related to Lawrence Welk. But Billinmpls and I are distant relatives. 🙂

    Liked by 5 people

      1. Back in 2013, and I’ve forgotten the blog topic, but Billmmpls mentioned going to the Keinholz cemetery over by Lacrosse. I knew the Keinholz name and we talked about that until Bill posted this:

        News flash! Your great great great grandfather, Peter Kienholz, born in 1783 and my great great great grandfather, Ulrich Kienholz, were brothers. Cousin!

        Liked by 1 person

  11. I have NO political ambition whatsoever. I have served on the boards of several community organizations over the years, and know first hand that it can be a very frustrating and thankless job.

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    1. Your perspective is reasonable, PJ. One aspect of politics that is not fun is the way elected officials have to go, hat in hand, to the voters to ask to keep their job. That usually works pretty well, with good public servants returning to office and poor ones being shown the door. But the public can be a fickle boss to work for, fickle and not always fair. There is a well known quote about that. Some prominent office holder got beaten in a close election. A reporter asked him how he was handling the abrupt loss of his job. He said something like: “Well, you know, the people have spoken. The bastards!”

      Liked by 2 people

  12. There have been a couple of times I have contemplated runs for school board, but in Minneapolis that is no minor feat. (Heck, I had a pal who ran for park board a couple years back and even that was a contentious race that year…how often do you get door knocked for park board by multiple candidates?…) I have, for better or worse, figured out that there is blessed little the school board can actually do to change the inequalities of my city’s school system. To truly make change means going back in history and changing where African Americans were allowed to buy homes (not by law as such, but by systemic racism), it means changing and economic system that has some parents working 2 and 3 jobs to keep a roof over their kids’ heads and food in their stomachs leaving them no time or resources to be involved in their kids’ educations, it means going back through generations to correct inequalities in the system that left people like me college ready with little effort and others with barely enough education to pass a GED, it means changing a system set up for middle and upper middle class families with a parent who stays home that teaches to the middle of the spectrum of students to one that is truly ready to take on everyone who comes through the classroom door. That is more that one person on a school board can do. That is more than 10 people on a school board can do. Standardized testing does more harm than good I think and it will take more creativity than putting in a few charter schools or adding things that are meant to appeal to the likes of folks like me (language immersion programs, Montessori programs, etc.). More budget for music and art would be a great place to start since those disciplines help young brains and learning in so many ways. Breakfast and lunch at school help – and more schools are figuring out ways to provide food for dinners and over the weekend in ways that don’t shame the kids who need it. The hardest nut to crack is the disparity between an elementary school like my daughter’s where a large portion of the parents are not only advocating for students (mostly in a good way, not a helicopter parent way) but are actively volunteering in the school and in the classrooms and the elementary school a few miles away where a portion of the parents speak little English, don’t have the time or resources to be involved, and where they “extras” like music and art are minimal at best.

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  13. School boards are tough, really tough places to serve. One of my former co-workers at the school where I worked is currently serving on the Minneapolis school board. Talk about out of the ashes and into the fire. I’m sure her years of teaching in inner city alternative schools will stand her in good stead.

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    1. You’d have to ask him, Bill. It’s one of those things that I find simultaneously amazing and incredibly stupid. I think it may have something to do with excessive testosterone.

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      1. It’s reassuring to know that if I happen to fall out of a plane four miles up that, as long as I happen to be wearing a special suit and an oxygen mask and four skydivers coincidentally fall out at the same time I might be OK provided I can find a giant net to land in.

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        1. Yeah, you do kinda ask: What’s the point? Has no practical application whatsoever that I can see.

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    2. I thought this was really cool! I am imagining the engineering that went into the cranes supporting the net and how many times he ‘test’ jumped from what heights. Having parachuted once, the free fall was the most exhilarating part, and I wished it was longer, so three minutes of free fall would be very WAY Cool!

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  14. OT Liam report: Although yesterday only got to about 80 degrees, my daughter and her family wanted to swim at the pool in my apartment complex. We’ve had a deliciously cool summer since early June. My daughter, her husband and Liam showed up at my apartment to change into their suits. Liam needed help tying the drawstrings on his suit, but my daughter was busy doing her own change. I spoke up, “I think I could tie that for you, Liam.” He looked doubtful, then came over and presented his belly so I could tie a bow knot.

    Liam said, in a hopeful voice, “Even though you are very, very old Grampy, I suppose you haven’t forgotten EVERYTHING.” What hurt was he meant that as a compliment!

    Liked by 1 person

  15. The only office that makes sense is dictator of the world, but we Libertarians are strangely averse to politics. We’d rather have basic, effective government run by statesmen and stateswomen rather than the typical egomaniac who runs for office.

    Chris in Owatonna

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