My Story

At Cobo Hall

When I Was A Republican

By James Donahue

My father was a strict Republican. When he went into the poll booth I am sure he was one of those guys that just put an X on the party box at the top of the ballot.  I never knew how my mother stood politically because in our house, if you didn’t agree with Dad it was best to keep silent about such matters. Grandfather Andrews on my mother’s side was a factory worker, a union member and consequently was a strict Democrat. When Grandpa and Dad got together the house timbers sometimes rattled when they yelled politics.

I grew up and worked in a strong Republican area in Michigan. I always considered myself an independent voter because I never liked some of the people the Republicans and Democrats put up as presidential candidates. For example, I loved Kennedy, liked Jimmy Carter and Gerald Ford and didn’t like Lyndon Johnson. I strongly disliked Nixon, was not happy with Reagan or Clinton and really disliked George W. Bush. One year I was so angry at the party candidates I voted for George Wallace.

Sanilac County, where I worked as a bureau reporter, was so strongly Republican that nobody dared to run for office as a Democrat and expect to win. At least until I was reporting the news. We had a woman that ran as a Democratic Party candidate for County Commissioner who was extremely bright and was so superior in the way she conducted her campaign, and because I gave her fair and even coverage in our newspaper, she actually won the office. She turned out to be such a good and hard working commissioner I believe she won a second term.

By-and-large, the Republicans dominated the political scene in Sanilac County. They held county conventions that were heavily attended and politically charged. The Democrats held caucuses that drew perhaps 50 or 60 people. I covered them both, but rarely got much of a story from the Democratic meetings.

One very hot political year while present at the Republican county convention, there was a call for people to volunteer as delegates to the looming State Party convention in Cobo Hall, Detroit. Those were the days before delegates were elected for these jobs. The people showing up at the county conventions just picked the ones they wanted to attend from those present at the gathering. By that time I was so well known among all of the county elected people, Republicans all, and because I was present at the convention, they seemed to forget that I was there as a reporter and picked me as an alternate delegate for the state convention.

My first inclination was to refuse the appointment. But I was tempted to go just to find out what went on behind closed doors at state conventions. I called my editor the next day to talk it over. He was open-minded about the whole thing. We joked about the opportunity and he gave me his permission to go, but cautioned me about getting too involved in the politics. As an alternative, if I was lucky enough, I would get to be no more than a fly on the wall watching things that few news reporters ever get to see.

When it was time, we car-pooled our way to Detroit and shared rooms in some of the high-priced downtown hotels.

The convention was a grand experience. I saw state and national political figures giving rousing speeches, met with delegates from all over Michigan, listening to them hammer out resolutions declaring issues to be put before the entire body before the end of the week. Some of the issues involved small, local matters, while others involved such matters as dealing with housing, unemployment, and all of the other things that political figures use for platforms when seeking public office.

While I do not remember now what they were, the Sanilac County delegates had certain issues that they strongly wanted put on the table. But to get this done, they had to make back-room deals with delegates from other Michigan counties. We agreed to support their issue if they voted for ours. Sometimes compromise agreements were established in some of those cloak-room meetings. In the end, nobody got all that they wanted out of the convention, but everybody walked away with something they could take home with them

Watching the inner workings of that convention gave me a very clear picture of all of the shenanigans that are constantly going on in state capitals and the U. S. Capital. The larger the level of government gets, the more complex the kind of deal making that goes on, I suspect. One thing we did not have to deal with at Cobo Hall was lobbyists trying to buy our votes.

On the final day of the convention, everybody gathered in one large meeting hall where we put the issues up for votes and drafted the party campaign platform for the next state and federal election. Then we voted to approve the final document. Finally we listened to a speech by the party’s state chairman and then the governor. I believe it was James Blanchard. How soon we forget stuff like that.

I returned to my bureau office, wrote a broad personalized story of my experiences in Detroit, and that was that. For a while after that I actually thought of myself as a Republican. I did until the Republicans did something really lame. As I said I liked Gerald Ford, a Republican who replaced Nixon, and Jimmy Carter, a Democrat that followed Ford. I think it was Reagan who began converting me back to being an independent.

After Bush I swung to the extreme left and became a Democrat.