I am seriously
concerned about whether we can survive, let alone flourish, as such a pluralistic
society if we continue to undermine our only remaining universal institution.
Dick Cherry '49
What event of the 20th century had the most significant impact on your profession or field of study? What lesson do you take away from that event?
For a career of studying, teaching and participating in American government, the most significant event of the 20th Century was Roosevelt's New Deal and it's follow-on: the KennedyJohnson Great Society. Its lesson: That democratic government has the potential to be a positive force in the lives of individual Americans and society at-large. Consider how much better America and life in America is because of: Social Security, NLRA, GI Bill, Medicare, Civil Rights Act, Voting Rights Act, Model Cities, Peace Corps, OEO, etc.
Personally, what is the most meaningful life lesson you have taken from your vocation or avocation?
The most meaningful personal life lesson for a legislator, an advocate, and an appointed public official is that life is frustrating and depressing it you don't have a voting majority! Without it you can accomplish little or nothing and may soon face unemployment.
What person(s) or mentor(s) have had the most significant impact on your life? Can you describe how that person affected your life?
At Wabash my mentor and role model was Dr. Warren Roberts, who inspired and convinced and prepared me to pursue a career in Political Science rather than Law.
In the Texas Legislature I admired and tried to emulate Bob Eckhardt, who was simultaneously an intellectual and an effective politician, and who later became a distinguished Congressman.
However, the most inspirational figure from my time in the Texas House was Barbara Jordan; whom I first met, before she was famous, when she testified in support of my bill to abolish the poll tax and replace it with permanent voter registration.
Sen. Ralph W. Yarborough, whom I served as Chief-of-Staff, exemplified political courage as the champion of the GI Bill, the National Seashores, the Endangered Species; but most of all as the only Southern Senator voting for the Civil Rights Act (which got him defeated).
Moon Landrieu, Mayor of New Orleans, whom I represented for eight years in Washington (through the National Center for Municipal Development, which I founded) taught me that a mayor who is an astute politician of great vision can transform an entire downtown with major projects of the scope of the Superdome.
Finally, President Jimmy Carter, a compassionate and brilliant fellow-introvert who appointed me to the sub-Cabinet office of Assistant Secretary of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) gave me confidence by his confidence in me. He is still teaching me and the rest of the world that there should be no such thing as retirement when it comes to doing good!
In your experience, what is the greatest misconception the public has about your vocation (or field of study) or the people in that vocation?
The greatest misconception that the public has is that government is
something they are supposed to be either indifferent or hostile toward.
I have no problems with poking fun at cupidity and stupidity in government,
a la Will Rogers, but spewing venom daily via talk radio is another matter.
In our increasingly multi-racial, multi-ethnic, multi-lingual, multi cultural,
multi-religion United States, the only institution we all share is a common
democratic government. I am seriously concerned about whether we can survive,
let alone flourish, as such a pluralistic society if we continue to undermine
our only remaining universal institution.