Last Tuesday, I got a text from an old friend telling me that John Sweezy had died.
The name John Sweezy won’t be a familiar one to most of the people reading this blog, but for many years, John headed the Republican Party in Marion County, Indianapolis, Indiana. John served as the Republican County Chair for twenty-eight years, and during those years, the local GOP dominated Indianapolis’ political life. Much of that political success was a result of his meticulous attention to grass-roots organization: making sure that each precinct had a committee-person who polled their neighborhoods and used the information to turn out the vote on election day.
Politicians today could learn an important lesson from that grass-roots emphasis, because those regular Republican victories under John’s management were despite the fact that registered Democrats outnumbered registered Republicans 3 to 2. (John used to say he was so grateful that “Democrats don’t vote.”)
But there was another, important reason so many people (even friends of mine who were Democrats) voted Republican. John consistently threw party support to competent, sensible candidates–people who understood municipal governance and wanted to do it well. He had nothing good to say about the then-emerging Christian Taliban, and he welcomed women and minority volunteers and candidates.
I know, because I was one of those women. I had been an active volunteer, working for Dick Lugar and Bill Hudnut, among others, when Hudnut decided to appoint me Corporation Counsel. No woman had previously held that position. John was supportive–in more ways than one. Not only did he approve of Bill’s choice to place a relatively young (33) woman at the head of the city’s legal department, he did something that now, in the wake of serial scandals, seems prescient: in a private conversation, he identified the men I should avoid being alone with! Later, when I ran for Congress, he was incredibly supportive.
I still remember a number of John’s favorite sayings. My own favorite was his mantra–and firm belief– that “Good government is good politics.”
He used to say that every citizen should be required to work for government for two years, and prohibited from staying in government for more than four. It was his way of acknowledging the problems government faces when citizens are ignorant of the operation of their government and the issues involved in managing a city or state–and the sclerosis that sets in when too many people have been in office too long. (John had trained as a mechanical engineer, and had served a stint as Indianapolis’ Director of Public Works, so his attitude was informed by experience.)
Later, when the GOP stopped being the party I had worked for, the party of people like John Sweezy, I became a Democrat, and only rarely saw or spoke to John. It was my loss. (Once, after he read a particularly snarky column I’d written, John called me to say he disagreed with my point, but that he still “appreciated” me. We made vague plans to have lunch “soon,” but somehow that never happened. My fault for letting the minutiae of everyday life interfere with the importance of friendship.) Now he’s gone–and so is the party he served so well.
I miss them both. R.I.P.