|Froehlich Campaign - Mobile Headquarters, Wisconsin 1974|
Fifty years is a milestone.
It is an important measure of longevity. It marks the memory of a noteworthy event, or the continued existence of a marriage, organization, company, or movement.
Anything that lasts beyond two generations is useful to assess - what sustained it, and what can be learned from it.
On April 22, 1970, as a sixteen-year-old Junior at Wayzata High School, I stood before an assembly of students and faculty to kick-off the first Earth Day, introducing Dr. James Elder, a biologist who worked for my father. He spoke about environmental contaminants.
This was my first public political act. It began fifty years of political activism that led to serving in Congress, the White House, various federal agencies, two Republican National Conventions, three Republican State Executive Committees (Minnesota, Virginia, Wisconsin); and recruiting, managing, or advising 110 victorious candidates for offices at all levels.
I was well-prepared for these fifty years. My mother, Irene Faulkner, instilled a love of reading and a passion for conservative Republican politics. My father, Ki Faulkner, instilled a love of nature and taught me lessons of leadership. They both embedded honesty, integrity, a deep love for America, and the primary life driver being volunteerism - placing the community or a cause before oneself.
My career included superb bosses, who proved you can lead without ego or guile. Fortunately, there were amazing mentors. Brad Nash, Mayor of Harpers Ferry, provided insights about Washington politics from Coolidge to Eisenhower. Who did what to whom for what reason revealed and connected countless and invaluable elements on how things work and why. Gene Hedberg, office mate in the Reagan-Bush national headquarters, provided similar insights from Truman through Ford. Over many meals at the University Club he connected dots and explained the psyches of Gerald Ford, George H.W. Bush, Jim Baker, and other moderate Republicans.
During the Reagan Transition and early White House, Bill Wilson and Joe Coors, leaders of the President’s “Kitchen Cabinet”, took me under wing. They made me an honorary member of the Cabinet and shared insights into Ronald Reagan going back into the 1950s.
Other mentors proved that being right is more important than being popular. “Bud” Robb was the only Republican Commissioner of Hennepin County, Minnesota. His lone voice and vote were inspirational. Rep. John Ashbrook (R-OH) proved that expertly using procedural rules could grind the wheels of liberal government to a halt and expose waste and wrongdoing. Gerry Carmen, General Services Administrator, proved that common sense and total commitment to doing the right thing can change everything forever, overwhelming institutional inertia and corruption.
During these fifty years, I went from the youngest in the room to one of the oldest. Learning from others, and from experience, instilled life lessons worth sharing on this anniversary.
Be true to yourself.
Many politicians lose their way when the enticements of power swirl around them. Remember why you entered the “arena” in the first place. No short-term fling is worth risking a lifelong reputation.
Remain outcomes oriented.
The goal should remain incontrovertible while the means to achieving it should be flexible. The effort should always be worth the effort. Strategic success comes from extensive preparation, mastering situational awareness, and deconstructing large actions into integrated tactical achievements.
Success comes from understanding that everything and person is connected to everything else. Persuading people, mobilizing resources, winning campaigns, implementing substantive and sustainable change, comes from pursuing diverse and sometimes unconventional actions. Allies as well as opponents may arise from the most unlikely places. Doing things that have never been done before may be the most effective means of achieving things that have never happened before.
People equal policy.
Who you work with is the root cause of success or failure. Success comes surrounding oneself with trusted, loyal, capable people. Those who do not make personnel their primary focus will suffer leaks, treachery, and failure.
Check your ego.
You should always think beyond yourself. Fixating on personal gain can be the road to riches, but also ruin. A true leader is comfortable surrounding themselves with subject matter experts who are far brighter and more experienced in their selected disciplines. A successful leader fosters collaboration among these experts, gives them inspirational direction, provides the resources critical for success, and flies cover and buffers their activities from petty politics.
Neither party has a monopoly on honesty, corruption, intelligence, or stupidity. The greatest achievements transcend partisanship. If the goal is large and important enough, common ground can be found across the political spectrum. Finding those of integrity who aspire to the greater good is the winning edge.
Brad Nash, neighbor and mentor, passed at age 97, actively affecting public policy to the end.
That is my goal as well.