Recently, while lamenting the sad state of our Uni-Party system, where Republicans and Democrats often seem to be just two sides of the same Twix bar, my mind flitted back a few years to the halcyon days of the 2014 Idaho primary campaigns. These days the rancor, rampant dishonesty, hypocrisy, and general disregard for the common folk – that’s you and me by the way – has grown from an occasional trickle to a flood tide.
In my age group, we all remember when there were stark differences between the two parties on things that mattered – like fiscal responsibility, limited government, the threat of Communism, the sanctity of life, freedom of speech and religion. We all recognized the huge philosophical differences between Goldwater’s brand of conservatism and Johnson’s “Great Society.”
Even though the parties disagreed on so much, there was also a cordial working relationship between them, and at least an apparent concern about the health of our Republic. That is now extinct amidst the endless talking points generated behind closed doors spent with focus groups and cabals, and carefully orchestrated and coordinated to drown out any substantive discussion about real issues.
Just 9 years ago, things were different here. We had four Republican candidates for Governor, – “A cowboy, a curmudgeon, a biker, and a normal guy.” I was running for Attorney General and campaigned on the same stage with all four. And I can tell you, it was Fun – that’s Fun with a capital F. Why? Because of the biker, Harley Brown. In his TV debate, Harley said, “A big portion of my political campaign is campaigning against political correctness.” And he meant it. When Dan Popkey asked him if he was fit for office since he dissed so many ethnic groups, Harley responded that he allowed his wife to censor the most opprobrious comments before he published them and he treated all groups with equal disrespect, so he ought to get a pass. That seemed truly egalitarian to me.
We all got a huge kick out of Harley and his “Harleyisms.” I bet you all remember, “Hey, diddle, diddle, right up the middle.” Or my favorite, “I’m about as politically correct as your proverbial turd in a punch bowl.” But he also said some things that made a lot of sense, like, “I’m glad we don’t get all the government we pay for,” and “Do you hear that, Feds, it’s BAD not to balance your budget. My kids have to inherit that 17 trillion-dollar deficit.” And his take on the party platform, “The Republican party is not perfect. But I believe in their attack plan. Lower Taxes. Less Government. Individual freedom and responsibility.”
For most of the primary campaign, other candidates and party regulars were laughing at Harley Brown, when, in my humble opinion, they should have been laughing with him. Because beneath the rough edges was the heart of a true patriot, sincere love for God and America, a solid Blue-Collar work ethic, and some genuine common sense. Unfortunately, that message never resonated with people attuned to “talking points” from politicians who have little or no intention of ever making good on their promises.
I recognized the genuine article when I first met him, and he never disappointed. When I was young and foolish, I looked up to Kennedy Democrat Hubert Humphrey, the “Happy Warrior.” He seemed to be a fair-minded guy who actually cared about us. Harley exhibited the same jovial outlook throughout his campaign and it was infectious. I still don’t know if Hubert Humphrey’s campaign style was genuine or just an act. But I have no doubts that Harley spoke only the truth, rising up from his sincerely held convictions. Whether you liked his style, or agreed with his platform, there was no question that he was on a mission that, in his own way, he took very seriously.
I also saw that beneath that rough exterior beat a tender heart. My nephew is disabled and loves motorcycles. He got to meet Harley Brown at one of the parades we were in together. Harley immediately befriended my nephew, and even dropped by his house to give him an extended ride on Harley’s Harley. When Harley Brown auctioned off his “Pig riding a Harley Hog” Cookie Jar at a Lincoln Day banquet, I bought it and gave it to my nephew. It continues to be one of his prized possessions.
A lot of folks were on the receiving end of Harley’s curbside humor and way with words; I wasn’t one of them. We immediately hit it off as friends sharing the same values. Harley gave me a nickname that he repeated throughout the campaign. He called me “J. Noble Daggett.” For those of you not familiar with Western lore, when Mattie Ross went looking for a man with “True Grit” to get revenge for the murder of her father, she warned one-eyed Marshall Rooster J. Cogburn (John Wayne) that he’d better treat her right, because she was represented by Attorney J. Noble Daggett. He was the only man who could go toe to toe with the Duke. I think it was the nicest compliment I have ever received. During the TV debate, when asked how we were going to get Idaho’s lands back from the Federal government, Harley said “We are going to use spiritual warfare to get our land back from the Feds. Bind the evil spirits that are running the federal government; get air superiority and then roll in with the tanks, that’s Troupis’s lawsuits – just Blitzkrieg.”
When asked why he was running for Governor, Harley said when he was living in “Fat Jack’s” cellar, that God spoke to him and told him he was going to be President. He said before he took over that high office, he needed some political practice on a smaller stage. Practical experience in a job where he couldn’t inadvertently bomb innocent civilians and start WWIII. Considering the capacities of the current resident of the Oval Office, I think Harley Brown would have been a distinct improvement, especially without the political experience.
Harley brought genuine color to the Idaho Republican primary and party. He was refreshing, genuine, and honorable. He actually did talk about the issues from his heart, and he was not afraid to be laughed at for it. He had the good sense to know who he was, had a clear vision for the healing of America’s soul, and a purpose derived from the belief that God was directing his steps. That is nothing to laugh at.
In Hebrews 13:2, it says, “Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for thereby some have entertained angels unawares.” I don’t doubt that Harley Brown was visited by an angel and received his promise from Heaven. He may have misinterpreted it, but each of us marches to the beat of a different drummer and we all hear the voice of God a little differently. The point is that Harley pursued his “mission” with sincerity, and a major dose of self-deprecating humor. In all, a very healthy outlook on life. Harley was able to laugh at himself, as well as with others. I myself revel in that pastime. That’s because neither of us takes ourselves too seriously. But we do believe seriously in our core values, and our own common sense about how bad things have gotten and how things need to get fixed by the Working People of America.
For the most part, I agree with Harley on issues. But that isn’t really the point, either. I agree with him because I respect him – as a committed Christian pursuing God’s calling in his life, owner of a very creditable resume of service to God and Country, as well as a hard worker with true Blue-Collar credentials. He was the youngest commander of a company of SeaBees – the Navy Construction Battalion, responsible for building much of the infrastructure at U.S. Military locations around the world. The SeaBees were in every major U.S. war, building roads and bridges on dangerous ground. And since his distinguished military service, careers as a long-haul truck driver and taxi driver in Boise for over 20 years. And in all that time, he has also been an unapologetic evangelist.
Harley is the poster boy of Ronald Reagan’s “Big Tent” model for the resurgence of the Republican Party. We need to be inclusive of everyone who shares our values, ESPECIALLY when their colorful banter gets us out of our comfort zone. Haven’t you heard the saying; “Beauty is only skin deep, but ugly is to the bone?”
Nor was Harley the only one who could coin an original aphorism. One fine morning I was invited to the Kevin Miller show on KIDO Radio, and left the show with my best tag line, “Go ahead, drink your beer, ride your ATV’s and watch sports. We’ll run the country.” Thank you, Harley, you are an inspiration.