Monday, August 4, 2014

BRADY & CALLAHAN: Blasts from political past, or our present loss?

The Illinois political scene lost a pair of individuals who provided a sense of institutional memory in the form of officials who went on to be significant in federal government, while never forgetting just where they came from.

The death of James Brady, the one-time Reagan-era White House press secretary turned into an avid gun control activist after being shot in that 1981 assassination attempt on Ronald Reagan himself, came the same day as the death of Gene Callahan.

FOR THOSE WHOSE memories aren’t quite as deep, he was a one-time advisor to Paul Simon when he was Illinois lieutenant governor, then became an advisor to the recently-departed Alan Dixon when he served in the U.S. Senate.

Callahan, who was 80, had just as active a post-government payroll life. For a time, he was the Washington-based lobbyist for Major League baseball. His political spirit will live on in a sense through Rep. Cheri Bustos, D-Ill., who in addition to being the member of Congress from the Quad Cities is also his daughter.

I remember encountering both Brady and Callahan during my 1990s stint as a reporter-type person at the Statehouse in Springfield when they would return to the capital city to promote their causes and/or keep up their contacts.

What was always clear about both was that although their lives had taken them far from the rural Illinois communities where they were raised (Brady from Centralia, Callahan from Milford), neither had forgotten where they came from and how they got their starts here.

CALLAHAN WAS A columnist with what is now the Springfield-based Journal-Register newspaper when he became a political operative with Simon back when he was our local guy rather than any national figure.

Brady, who was73, had a whole laundry list of political officials he worked for prior to becoming part of the Nixon and Ford administrations in the White House. But the first of them was Everett McKinley Dirksen of Pekin.

While Brady was a life-long Republican and Callahan tended to work for Democrats, what I remember hearing from both of them was the need for a bipartisan cooperation.

I haven’t heard from either man in years, but somehow I suspect they were among the dismayed officials who couldn’t help but wonder where we went wrong in electing officials to government posts who were more determined to create stalemates as their lasting legacy.


Heck, Brady eventually was able to persuade Reagan himself to accept the idea that some legal restrictions on firearms was not a national surrender to the “Commies” – the way some ideologues want to perceive it.

It’s really a shame that both men are now gone. Because I wonder if what our political culture really needs these days is a good healthy dose of more people just like them.


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