The Power of One

Any one of us can make a difference.  If you ever doubt that, remember two words: Mel Hancock.

He died Sunday at his Springfield home.  He was 82.

In the late 1970s this burglar alarm salesman—actually that’s kind of a dismissive description; he founded a company that sold bank security equipment–became convinced government spending needed to be brought under control.  He started a grass roots movement that put an issue on the ballot limiting state government income and voters approved it in 1980.  It took years for the courts to determine exactly what the amendment meant.

He tried to make things even tighter about fifteen years later and in doing so he pushed Governor Carnahan and the Farm Bureau to put an alternative plan before voters limiting tax increases without a public vote.  It passed, too.

Mel Hancock was a one-man Tea Party whose tax control efforts landed him in Congress for eight years where he struggled to convince others to adopt his philosophy.  He once voted against a bill containing almost three billion dollars for disaster relief even though some of the money would go to his district.  But it meant the federal deficit would be increased and Hancock wasn’t having any of that.

Thirty years after its passage, the Hancock Amendment is still cursed by those who believe it has forever relegated Missouri to a lower tier of states in terms of services to citizens.  Others are just as passionate in describing Hancock’s amendment as a blessing that forces government to set priorities instead of setting higher tax rates, and protecting local taxpayers from being forced to pay for local services the state has ordered local governments to provide.

Some people take to the streets and shout slogans.

Mel Hancock seldom shouted–although his deep Ozarky voice rose sometimes with passion, often followed by a hearty laugh.

Mel Hancock was one person. And he did make a difference.


We’ve interviewed the new Republican candidate for the United States Senate nomination twice now.  John Brunner is the former head of Vi-Jon, Inc., best known these days for making a hand sanitizer Germ-X.  We told him in our first interview he’s the first political candidate I’ve ever interviewed who truly enters the campaign with clean hands.  We had to explain that.

He’s 59, has a strong “operate government as a business” attitude, and looks—well, senatorial.  He has indicated there will be no shortage of money to fuel his campaign.  He has two veteran Republican campaign operatives working for him–John Hancock and Rich Chrismer.

Our telephone interview with Brunner on the day he announced his candidacy is on our web page with the story we did about him.  If you read the story or if you heard the story, you might get the impression that we couldn’t find much substance in his answers.

Late last week, he was at the state chamber of commerce offices in Jefferson City for a media availability.  All fourteen minutes of it before Hancock stopped reporters’ efforts to get him to say something of substance by announcing he had another appointment.

That interview hasn’t been on the Missourinet air or on the website. I’m still trying to figure out whether he said anything worth reporting.  I told Hancock I felt as if I’d been chewing on a cloud.   “Oh, there was lots of substance there,” he responded.

We have seen people before who seek public office and begin their campaigns in a similar vague, wandering, manner, unable to answer specific questions with answers that specifically state what their opinion is.  These people are not lacking in intelligence. They’re often people who have not been active in politics and have not paid close attention to the broad issues with which  candidates and office-holders have to deal.  They’re not prepared for reporters and others who want to know where they stand on key issues, and they want to know right now.

The news release announcing his candidacy had the standard Republican rhetoric on issues in it.  But Brunner didn’t even touch on those statements. He apparently has not been properly programmed.

He’s running against Congressman Todd Akin and former state treasurer Sarah Steelman, neither of whom is reluctant to blurt out a position, something that can be their greatest strength or their greatest liability depending on the views of the blurtee.

In today’s political climate, a candidate who cannot articulate even the standard line would seem to be at a disadvantage.

But it’s early yet.  John Brunner is a sharp guy.  He’s just getting started.  Maturity has to come quickly for candidates who’ve never entered the arena and now are entering one of the biggest, toughest contests. Some get it.  Some don’t.  Some discover the real fire they have in their bellies.  Some discover this game isn’t their game.

Let’s see how he matures.  Let’s see if some substance develops.

After all, people don’t usually buy lemon meringue pie because they like meringue.

Or put an interview on the air.


In this summer of political discontent, some of the lines from the musical “1776” keep coming to mind as we interview those who represent us in Washington and to a much lesser degree those who represent us in Jefferson City. We pass them along in these times of hard-line political positions and antagonistic attitudes for whatever humor, verbal ammunition, or insight they might offer. Perhaps they offer a tale for our times. Or maybe it’s just a play.

John Adams, played by William Daniels in both the original Broadway production and in the film, is the protagonist, a member of the Continental Congress pushing for “independency.” He is frustrated by a Congress that is unwilling or unable to make a decision, particularly a decision on something as important to him as declaring independence from Great Britain. At the beginning of the play, the intense Mr. Adams, expresses his frustration to the Almighty:

“A second flood, a simple famine, plagues of locusts everywhere, or a cataclysmic earthquake, I’d accept with some despair. But no, You sent us Congress! Good God, Sir, was that fair?”

Adams continues to rant against a Congress that does not see things his way. He is, after all, “obnoxious and disliked,” a condition he recognizes but seems unwilling to correct so that he might have a more fruitful discussion with those who differ with him. Instead of asking what he might do about his own attitude to foster less-confrontational debate that could further his interests, he continues to blame others:

“I have come to the conclusion that one useless man is called a disgrace; that two are called a law firm, and that three or more become a Congress! And by God, I have had this Congress!”

And in a scene with his wife, Abigail, who has stayed in Massachusetts, he proclaims:

“Oh, Abigail, Abigail, I have such a desire to knock heads together!”

But knocking heads together doesn’t work for John Adams. And insulting his colleagues (“Three or more [useless men] become a Congress.”) seems only to antagonize the very people whose support he needs to achieve his goal doesn’t either.

As the production moves on, Adams’s allies, Jefferson, Franklin, and others who are less lightning rods than he is address those reluctant to support what Adams wants. They make political moves, bargains, and compromises that Adams will not make. As the play moves toward the adoption of a Declaration of Independence, Georgia delegate Lyman Hall reveals the conflict many feel in congress. As the vote on the document is called, Hall tells the president of the congress, John Hancock:

“Mr. President, Georgia seems to be split right down the middle on this issue – the people are against it, and I’m for it. [laughter] However, I’m afraid I’m not quite certain whether representing the people means relying on their judgment or on my own. In all fairness, until I can figure that out, I’d better lean a little on their side. Georgia says nay.

The congress is deadlocked. The delegates adjourn and Adams is left in the darkened Pennsylvania State House—we know it today as Independence Hall—asking: “Is anybody there? Does anybody care? Does anybody see….what I see?” Out of the shadows steps Hall.

Hall : Yes, Mr. Adams, I do.
Adams : Dr. Hall, I didn’t know anyone was…
Hall:  I’m sorry if I startled you. I couldn’t sleep. In trying to resolve my dilemma I remembered something I’d once read, “that a representative owes the People not only his industry, but his judgment, and he betrays them if he sacrifices it to their opinion.” (He smiles, mostly to himself, then looks at Adams). It was written by Edmund Burke, a member of the British Parliament.

Hall then walks to the tally board at the front of the chamber and moves Georgia’s “nay” vote into the “yea” column.

Adams fought South Carolina’s demand that language attacking the institution of slavery be removed from the Declaration. In the play’s most decisive moment South Carolina’s Edward Rutledge declares his delegation’s determination to kill the entire movement, if Adams does not back down. When Adams cannot force himself to do so, someone else does it for him.

Rutledge: Well, Mr. Adams?
Adams: Well, Mr. Rutledge.
Rutledge: Mr. Adams, you must believe that I *will* do what I promised to do.
Adams: What is it you want, Rutledge?
Rutledge: Remove the offending passage from your Declaration.
Adams: If we did that, we would be guilty of what we ourselves are rebelling against.
Rutledge: Nevertheless… remove it, or South Carolina will bury, now and forever, your dream of independence.
Franklin: John? I beg you consider what you’re doing.
Adams: Mark me, Franklin… if we give in on this issue, posterity will never forgive us.
Franklin: That’s probably true, but we won’t hear a thing, we’ll be long gone. Besides, what would posterity think we were? Demi-gods? We’re men, no more no less, trying to get a nation started against greater odds than a more generous God would have allowed. First things first, John. Independence; America. If we don’t secure that, what difference will the rest make?
Adams pauses, then turns to Jefferson: Jefferson, say something.
Jefferson: What else is there to do?
Adams: Well, man, you’re the one that wrote it.
Jefferson: : I *wrote* ALL of it, Mr. Adams.

Jefferson goes to the table where the document lays and crosses out the clause. Adams grabs the declaration and takes it to Rutledge.

“There you are, Rutledge, you have your slavery; little good may it do you, now VOTE, damn you!”

Rutledge takes the declaration, and tells Hancock, “Mr. President, the fair colony of South Carolina…(he pauses and looks at the defiant Adams) says yea.”

It’s just a play.
Isn’t it?