Thinking about JFK’s funeral and the placing of his closed casket in the Capitol rotunda, back in 1963, along with the news this past week that the Senate Democrats voted to alter the filibuster rules reminded me that in 1964 U.S. Senator Clair Engle of Red Bluff, Ca. cast one of the votes needed to break a filibuster that had been holding up the landmark Civil Rights Bill of 1964.
The slain president had not been able to push through his civil rights legislation. But his vice president, now president, Lyndon Johnson was an old power house in congress and now as president he was able to get it passed. But the Democrats needed every vote they could get to invoke cloture to break the filibuster. Republicans and many Southern Democrats were opposed to the civil rights bill (of course as most of us know, those Southern Democrats shortly thereafter became Republicans).
The vote took place in June. Sen. Engle died the next month.
I was attending Red Bluff Union High School at the time and my dad was working on the local newspaper. I recall going to the Tehama County Courthouse and passing by Sen. Engle’s casket, placed in the courthouse rotunda, to pay our respects. I don’t think I knew the total significance of his legacy at the time.
But here we were in what used to be called one of California’s “cow counties”. I think that tag referred to the northern counties that were low on population of people and maybe higher on cows. But anyway, here we were, little Tehama County, but we were home to the U.S. Senator who broke the filibuster, or helped break it, against the 1964 civil rights bill. And he did so while suffering from a condition that left him speechless. He instead pointed to his eye, for an aye (yes) vote.
That’s significant to me in that here he was a Democrat. We used to have Democrats representing us up here in this north part of the state (I now live in neighboring Shasta County). But a lot of folks around here probably forget that. I mean this has been conservative Republican country up here for so long now, most people probably take it for granted, especially the relative newcomers.
I won’t go into all the reasons for the shift in politics right now (assuming that I really know them anyway), but I can tell you my own personal experience/observation that might explain part of it:
Like I always feel I have to warn listeners or readers nowadays, I may have made reference to all of this before. Anyway, a few years ago I was attending a cancer patient support group. There was a retired fireman from the San Francisco Bay Area there. As a public employee and member of a union he by his own admission had a good retirement program. And, he said that he was a Democrat for years. And we all know that the Democratic Party has solidly supported unions and visa versa. But he moved up here to the northern tip of the Sacramento Valley on his own piece of land and he underwent a transition. He became a conservative Republican. And I think that is the story for so many. They retired, cashed in their equity (homes) in the Bay Area (or LA), left their Democratic Party leanings (and some of the liberalism that went with it) behind.
(Also when the logging industry was in high gear here, which it no longer is, a lot of the lumber mills were unionized, with union workers supporting Democrats.)
You see, when you’re working and the money is coming in and the Democratic Party seems to support your interests at the time, you support it. But then life changes. You’re now living off that nest egg from the equity in the house you sold and perhaps other savings, not to mention Social Security (oops, thanks to the Democrats), with Medicare coverage (oops thanks once more to the Democrats), and you only have so much life left (you can’t do it over again, as far as we know) so you become a little more protective of what you have and quite a bit more tax resistant. All very understandable really, if a little hypocritical.
Politics is all about self interest. And sometimes one’s self interest or perception of it changes. Of course the two main political parties have gone through transformations and flip flops on the issues over the years as well.
Our last Democratic congressmen up here was Harold T. “Bizz” Johnson. A lot of well-to-do Republicans have nice places along the Sacramento River. Old Bizz was big on the Army Corps of Engineers project to dump tons of rocks along the river to protect its banks, to protect those homes from bank erosion. I imagine a lot of Republicans voted for old Bizz. He was our congressman up here between 1959 and 1975. Republicans have held his old seat since. But they bring the bacon home too. That’s what it’s all about, isn’t it? Our current Republican is a rich farmer who rails against government spending and handouts and at the same time accepts millions of dollars in agricultural subsidies for his family’s farming operations.
(And just to show what a fair-minded person I am, I could make an argument in support of that congressman’s acceptance of subsidies. You night be against them, but you pay taxes that finance them, so if you are eligible for them it only makes good business sense to partake of them. However, I don’t know his voting record on the farm bills, but there again, you have to either vote yay or nay on a bill, the good parts and the bad parts come in a package.)
Oh, and here’s the Wikipedia link for Clair Engle: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Clair_Engle