Dennis Raphael Garcia Tells His Cousin’s Tales

(article originally appeared in the Socorro Independent School District newsletter)

An author, who spoke to Ernesto Serna School’s eighth-graders about a family member’s rise to the high levels of the U.S. government, wants students to plan for their future and understand there are no barriers that cannot be overcome.

Dennis Garcia wrote “Marine, Public Servant, Kansan: The Life of Ernest Garcia” about his cousin, the grandson of Mexican immigrant field laborers, who went from a being a poor student in elementary and high school to become the first Hispanic sergeant of arms for the United States Senate. Ernest Garcia escorted President Ronald Reagan to the podium to deliver the State of the Union address in 1986.

Ernest Garcia rose to be a lieutenant colonel in the Marines before retiring, traveled around the world, met with Pope John Paul, and worked with many prominent politicians.

“I wanted to relay the inspiring and amazing story of my cousin’s life and his experiences,” Dennis Garcia said. “I am using those experiences to encourage and inspire students to put forth an effort and improve their efforts to concentrate on their studies. Even though they are just in the eighth grade, I wanted to let them know they are just starting and they have to work hard.”

Ernesto Serna School Principal Alejandro Olvera wanted his students to learn from an author with an inspiring story to tell.

“We never had the honor and the privilege of having a published author at our campus, I think, especially for the middle school kids,” Olvera said. “So, I thought this was a good opportunity for them. For them, it really changes the way they think. It’s not just coming from the teacher or principal. It’s coming from somebody that has lived life. Somebody that knows of other people’s struggles and the importance of school.”

Ernesto Serna was the first school on Dennis Garcia’s book tour. He also had a book signing at a Las Cruces Barnes & Noble that same day.

“I chose El Paso because my family’s roots and their ultimate success went through El Paso,” Garcia said. “This was their first step in the United States. My great grandfather is buried in Concordia Cemetery. I thought this would be a good place to begin trying to build inspiration with the book and encouragement with the kids.”

Olvera loved the immigrant story and the struggles Ernie Garcia overcame. How the Kansas-native didn’t prioritize school, disregarded his grades and almost missed his opportunity for success. He wanted students to understand the endless opportunities afforded to them at school.

“His message is very loud and clear,” Olvera said. “He basically told our eighth graders ‘you’re going to be in high school so prioritize your school work because you will open all these opportunities for your life. Start now. You have to work hard. You have to be dedicated and never give up. You need to take advantage, so that you can have those opportunities as you go through high school and college.’ I think it really makes our kids think and process the importance of planning now. How your day of instruction and your goal setting starts today.”

English Language Arts and Reading teacher Monica Elizondo agreed. She wanted her students to learn to value their education and for the story to, especially, reach those youngsters that don’t like school or claimed to not like it.

“At first, the students were shocked,” Elizondo said. “I tried my best to read their faces to no avail. They were very quiet even throughout the day, or so I thought, but my colleagues later informed me that the students enjoyed the presentation and talked about it amongst themselves and to the rest of their eighth-grade class. Mr. Olvera also informed me that Mr. Garcia’s presentation had been the topic of conversation during lunch. I always emphasize to my students the value of an education but hearing it from someone who they have never met and who has published a book made a huge impact.”

Eighth grader, Alan Pinal, who earned a free autographed book from Garcia for answering history questions, got the message. He was fascinated with the lecture and hopes to be either a police officer or lawyer.

“I liked that his cousin was able to meet so many famous people like President Reagan,” Pinal said. “I know I have to work hard to get my dreams. I know I can’t slack off and also have too much fun in high school.”

His classmate, Miguel Montoya, said listening to Garcia tell his cousin’s story was amazing.

“It made me think,” Montoya said. “I really want to be a doctor. I’m going to pass all my grades and keep going. I am never giving up.”

It was because students like those eighth-graders that Dennis Garcia decided to write the book about his cousin, Ernest Garcia.

“As a teacher, I wanted to make a difference and change the situation that many students are in right now,” Garcia said. “I was there, so I wanted them to see first-hand they, too, can be successful. This is one formula for what they want to achieve in life. They can follow it or choose their own.”

The Shape of the 2018 Elections: The Blue Wave in 2018

by Betty O’Shaughnessy and Dick Simpson, authors of Winning Elections in the 21st Century

This year’s elections have revealed the most polarized nation since 1968. With the recent conviction and plea bargains of two of the president’s top aides, Michael Cohen and Paul Manafort, presidential impeachment is now part of political discourse.

In addition, both parties show divisions, Republicans between the old-line moderate Republicans and rabid Trump supporters; Democrats between independent-minded progressives and establishment Democrats.

Money is certainly still a factor in this election — candidates from both parties depend on massive donations which have been unregulated since the Citizens United court decision. Nonetheless, it is likely that turnout rather than money will be the deciding factor in the November general elections.  Marches in the street may presage marches to the polls this year – at least by comparison to other non-presidential elections in the past.

The elephant in the room is the threat of presidential impeachment. Leaders from both parties are reluctant to push for impeachment before the election, preferring first to let Robert Mueller’s investigation run its course. According to The Hill, Democrats feel that focusing on impeachment could be politically unsafe for Senate Democrats, who are defending 10 seats in states won by Trump in 2016. At the same time, the New York Times reports that senior Republican Party leaders are urging their most imperiled incumbents to speak out about the wrongdoing surrounding President Trump, with the fear that “Where there’s smoke, and there’s a lot of smoke, there may well be fire.” This is enlarging the rift between the Trump White House and the Republican-controlled Congress.

Although both parties show divisions, they are more pronounced in the Republican Party. Some Republican leaders are calling on their candidates with tough races to stop defending Trump, but to paraphrase the once-party leader and recent primary loser Tim Pawlenty, the Republican Party has become “the Party of Trump.”

No one faction is winning all the primary elections in either party. Rather, the extent to which candidates’ positions are in harmony with those of their constituents seems to determine the winners In this election, especially “all politics is local.” Both moderates and radicals have won their party’s primaries.

While money is an important factor in any election and this will be the most expensive non-presidential election ever held, turnout will determine election outcome. Generally low during midterm elections, Pew Research reports that U.S. House primary turnout is 84% higher for Democrats and 24% for Republicans than 2014.  It has also been higher in most gubernatorial and senatorial elections. Turnout has increased most among women but also groups who have not voted in recent elections, such as minorities and young voters. Since the Parkland shooting, registration for voters 18-29 has increased by 2.16% nationwide, and among several battleground states like Pennsylvania it has gone up 16%.  The goal for various national organization has been to increase youth voting from a low of 19% four years ago to above 30% and that goal is almost certain to be achieved, with an increase of more than 2 million voters in this category alone.

Post-millennials have a higher sense of political efficacy than slightly older Millennials. And they tend to vote Democratic/progressive. Younger candidates on the ballot may also be more appealing to this generation, who believe they can make a difference.  In 2108 challenging candidates are younger and more have won their primary elections. Governing magazine reports that while the average age of incumbent governors facing election is 62, most candidates running against them are 50 or younger.  The same is true up and down the ballot.

Turnout remains the key. If women, minorities, youth and the LGBT community come out to vote, the Democrats will win in 2018.  But to build a long-term winning coalition, they must also truly listen to the people who felt so ignored that they voted for Donald Trump in the first place.  In a time of polarization in a politics of resentment, it is hard to mobilize the base and bring back alienated voters.

It is impossible at this point to predict whether Republicans can maintain their Congressional majority or the Democrats can take over the House and change U.S. policies. The election will be critical.  If the Democrats win back either House, they will block all future Trump administration policies and legislative efforts.  The election will set the stage for the 2020 election which will determine whether progressives or conservatives guide the future of our country.

Dick Simpson and Betty O’Shaughnessy are authors of Winning Elections in the 21st Century, which provides a guide to understanding the nuts and bolts of current elections.

UPK Announces New Series: Rethinking Careers, Rethinking Academia

The University Press of Kansas is excited to announce a new academic series: Rethinking Careers, Rethinking Academia.

As more and more academics at various career stages are exploring different options for work outside the professoriate, changes to academia are causing a rethinking of both the curricula and the ethics of PhD programs. People considering alternate career paths after academia continue to need resources to guide them. The aim of this new series is to redefine what success means for current and former PhD students.

Rethinking Careers, Rethinking Academia seeks projects that lead to meaningful professional development and create lasting value. Topics should speak to graduate students, recent and experienced PhDs, university faculty and administrators, and the growing alt-ac and post-
ac community. The series will offer affordable books marketed to a wide readership. Projects could be analyses of the academic and alt-ac or post-ac landscapes; how-to guides about dealing with a PhD program or transitioning into various professions; memoirs about different stages of an academic journey; (re)examinations of the purpose, structure, and ethics of graduate education in the twenty-first century; or something else. There’s plenty of room for creative approaches!

“This series is being launched at the perfect time, as there are so many people who are questioning their PhD track or who have PhDs but are thinking about careers outside academia,” explains Joyce Harrison, press editor in chief. “Joe Fruscione and Erin Bartram have their fingers on the pulse of the ‘alt-ac’ world, and I’m looking forward to working with them to produce helpful guides not only for PhDs and PhDs to be, but also for university faculty and administrators.”

About the series editors…

Erin Bartram, PhD, is a freelance writer and historian of women and religion in the United States. After three years on the tenure-track job market, she left full-time academic teaching in 2018. She currently serves as the associate editor of Connecticut History Review, and her writing on history, teaching, higher education, and post-academic life has appeared in the Washington Post, Common-place, the Chronicle of Higher Education, U.S. Catholic Historian, and on the pedagogy blog Teaching US History.

Joseph Fruscione, PhD, is a freelance editor, stay-at-home dad, and communications director for the nonprofit PrecariCorps. After fifteen years in aca¬demia as an adjunct teaching American literature, film, and first-year writing, he left teaching in May 2014 to pursue a freelance career. He’s worked as a post-academic consultant for The Professor Is In, and he occasionally does freelance consulting for new alternative academics or post-academics. He’s written Faulkner and Hemingway: Biography of a Literary Rivalry (Ohio State University Press, 2012) and edited Teaching Hemingway and Modernism (Kent State University Press, 2015), among other scholarly writing projects. He’s also published pieces about adjunct life and higher ed for Chronicle Vitae, Inside Higher Ed, Digital Pedagogy, PBS NewsHour’s Making Sense series, and elsewhere.

Please send inquiries and questions to

UPK Names Bill Allison New Modern War Studies Series Editor

The University Press of Kansas (UPK) is pleased to that announce Bill Allison has been named the new editor of the acclaimed Modern War Studies Series. Allison is an accomplished scholar of American military history, specifically the Vietnam War, and a professor of History at Georgia Southern University.

Initiated in 1986, UPK’s Modern War Studies series publishes several books each year in military history, from the mid eighteenth century to the present. More than 250 titles have been published in the series, and series books have been awarded prizes by the Society for Military History, Marine Corps Heritage Foundation, Naval Historical Foundation, Army Historical Foundation, Air Force Historical Foundation, Organization of American Historians, and American Historical Association, among others.

“Modern War Studies has been the gold standard for the field, still so among a growing number of really solid military history-oriented series from several outstanding presses,” Allison said. “From operational history to the non-combatant war experience to remembrance and commemoration, and a whole slew of areas of study in between, Modern War Studies has both reflected as well as shaped the amazing scale and scope of “military history” for over thirty years. I want to continue the work that Ted Wilson and Mike Briggs did so well for so many years. I have the greatest respect for both Ted and Mike – both have mentored me over the years, taught me a lot about not only the field and ‘doing’ history, but also about how university presses work and how book publishing has changed over the years.”

Allison earned his BA and MA in History at East Texas State University in 1989 and 1991 and completed his PhD in history at Bowling Green State University. His academic work is complemented by his accomplished writing career. He is author of The Gulf War (Palgrave Macmillan, 2012), My Lai: An American Atrocity in the Vietnam War (Johns Hopkins University Press, 2012), Military Justice in Vietnam: The Rule of Law in an American War (University Press of Kansas, 2007), and American Diplomats in Russia: Case Studies in Orphan Diplomacy, 1917-1919 (Praeger, 1997), and is co-author with Janet Valentine and the late Jeffery Grey of American Military History: A Survey from Colonial Times to the Present (Pearson, 2013), among other works.

Allison has presented and lectured at numerous conferences and universities, including Oxford, Cambridge, the University of Zurich, the Australian Defence Force Academy, the US Army Heritage and Education Center, and the USAF Air Command & Staff College. He is a former Trustee and Vice-President of the Society for Military History and has served on the editorial board of the Journal of Military History as well as editor for Routledge’s Critical Moments in American History series. Allison has served as a visiting professor at the United States Air Force Air War College, the University of Utah, the United States Army War College, and other institutions.

“Bill Allison is one of the most highly regarded military historians working today,” said Joyce Harrison, UPK editor in chief. “He has an exciting vision for the series, and all of us at the University Press of Kansas are thrilled that we’ll be working with him in the years ahead.”

Allison plans to hit the ground running.

“I believe continuing an emphasis on operational history is important – operational studies contribute to the field and often stimulate other scholars in turn to pursue projects that place those experiences on other contexts, be it from the perspective of place, time, race, gender, imperialism, institutional, theory, whatever,” he said. “Collectively, this is what is so exciting about military history and this series – obtaining balance among the range and variety of perspectives from scholars both seasoned and new to the discipline, from around the world, to bring this work together in this series to move us forward and get us thinking of more questions to explore.”

Born and raised in Texas, he lives in Spartanburg, South Carolina, with his wife Jennifer (Registrar – Wofford College) and three-year-old black lab Tucker.

The Legacies of Justice Kennedy

By Frank J. Colucci, author of Justice Kennedy’s Jurisprudence: The Full and Necessary Meaning of Liberty

By announcing his retirement last week after 30 years on the U.S. Supreme Court, Justice Anthony M. Kennedy assures two aspects of his legacy:

(1)   His conservative precedents will be more secure than his liberal ones.

(2)   A Senate confirmation process as politically and constitutionally consequential as the one that resulted in his nomination.

As I demonstrate in my book on his jurisprudence, Kennedy exercises a broad conception of judicial power to protect ideals of liberty. By embracing expansive conceptions of human dignity and free speech as well the judicial role to enforce it, he has been the justice most likely to strike state and local laws for violating the Constitution. On a Court divided for most of the past two decades between blocs of four more liberal and four more conservative justices, Kennedy’s assertiveness has held the balance. “The enforcement power of the judiciary,” he said in his 1987 confirmation hearings, “is to ensure that the word liberty is given its full and necessary meaning.”

Nominated to the Court by Republican Ronald W. Reagan, Kennedy has drawn charges of betrayal from conservatives for critical votes on high-profile constitutional issues. He wrote opinions for five-justice majorities reaffirming a woman’s right to abortion in Planned Parenthood v. Casey (1992) and Whole Women’s Health v. Hellerstadt (2016). In other 5-4 decisions he voted to strike official prayer in public schools, limit presidential power to hold suspected terrorists, affirm rights to political dissent, and narrow the classes of defendants eligible for the death penalty. Kennedy also wrote several opinions, culminating in Obergefell v. Hodges (2015) which found a constitutional right to same-sex marriage.

Even with these prominent liberal departures, Kennedy’s essential conception of liberty and his overall record remains predominately conservative. He consistently joined majorities on the Court to limit federal power to regulate commerce and enforce voting rights, to uphold law enforcement, and to expand free speech protections to commercial and corporate speakers such as in Citizens United v. FEC (2010). Kennedy joined opinions advancing claims of religious liberty, upholding displays of the Ten Commandments on government property and prayer at public meetings as well as concurring in Hobby Lobby v. Burwell (2014). And of course Kennedy joined the 5-4 majority in Bush v. Gore that first stayed then ended the Florida recount and effectively concluded the 2000 presidential election.

Kennedy’s votes during the recently concluded term confirm his fundamental conservatism. His majority opinion in the Masterpiece Cakeshop case criticized officials of the Colorado Civil Rights Commission for statements that violated first amendment rights to religious neutrality from government. He explicitly called for greater First Amendment consideration for compelled speech. While “the free speech aspect of this case is difficult,” he writes, it “is an instructive example, however, of the proposition that the application of constitutional freedoms in new contexts can deepen our understanding of their meaning.” Kennedy also dissented in Carpenter v. U.S, where in a 5-4 opinion for the Court Chief Justice John Roberts extended Fourth Amendment protections to records of cell phone locations. Kennedy argued that these location records belong to the cell phone company and not the individual. Had Kennedy’s view prevailed, law enforcement would not be required to obtain a warrant to obtain from a provider 127 days of a person’s cell phone location data.

Kennedy’s last actions on the Court reiterated his fear of government compelling speech and expression contrary to conscience. His last separate opinion in National Institute of Family and Life Advocates v. Becerra—striking California regulations requiring facilities that offer pregnancy –related services to provide women information about obtaining an abortion—focuses on fears of compelled speech. “Governments must not be allowed to force persons to express a message contrary to their deepest convictions,” he writes. California’s law to the contrary “imperils those liberties.” In his final morning on the bench, Kennedy joined the majority in Janus v. AFSCME finding requirements that public employees either join a union or pay agency fees violate individual rights to free speech on matters of political concern.

One jarring late departure, however, can be found in Kennedy’s concurring opinion in Trump v. Hawaii. Kennedy states “it is an urgent necessity that officials adhere to these constitutional guarantees and mandates in all their actions, even in the sphere of foreign affairs” and concludes “an anxious world must know that our Government remains committed always to the liberties the Constitution seeks to preserve and protect, so that freedom extends outward, and lasts.”

Yet Kennedy joined the majority in allowing the president’s ban on entry to travelers from several nations to remain in force. He concedes “the very fact that an official may have broad discretion, discretion free from judicial scrutiny, makes it all the more imperative for him or her to adhere to the Constitution and to its meaning and its promise.” Kennedy’s statement of judicial weakness in the travel ban case contrasts starkly with the confidence about the meaning of liberty and the obligation of courts to enforce it he expressed at his confirmation.

Kennedy’s recent opinions and decision to retire at this time have the effect of securing the conservative aspects of his legacy while leaving unsettled the 5-4 liberal precedents he wrote and joined.  His former clerk, Neil Gorsuch, sits on the Court as Trump’s first appointment. Replacement by a Trump nominee would secure conservative victories of the current Term and provide a likely fifth vote to overturn liberal 5-4 landmarks that Kennedy wrote, joined, or affirmed.

The current judicial nomination process invites comparisons with the confirmation battle over Robert Bork that led to Kennedy’s elevation to the Court. When Lewis Powell announced his retirement in 1987, Senate Democrats led by Edward Kennedy attacked Bork’s nomination for fear his vote on the Court would overturn Roe v. Wade, limit civil rights and labor protections, and roll back the liberal precedents of the Warren Court. These hearings took place following a summer of Iran-Contra hearings and with a presidential job approval rating under 50 percent.

Bork’s nomination was defeated 58-42 with six moderate Republicans (Arlen Spector, John Chaffee, Lowell Weicker, Bob Packwood, Robert Warner and Robert Stafford) joining 52 Democrats voting no.  Only after Bork’s rejection and the withdrawal of Douglas Ginsburg’s nomination was Kennedy tapped as a third choice and eventually confirmed by the Senate in February 1988 by a 97-0 vote.

Democrats argue for delaying confirmation hearings for Trump’s nominee until after the upcoming midterm elections, but one stark political difference exists between the confirmation process that produced Kennedy and the one that will vote on his successor. Democrats won the Senate in the 1986 midterm elections and had enough votes to control the chamber even without Republican defections.  Today Republicans hold a slim majority in the Senate, and in confirming Gorsuch’s last year the majority has eliminated the filibuster for all federal judicial nominations. Democrats need Republican votes to defeat a Trump nominee—just as they needed Republican votes last year to prevent legislation that would have gutted the Affordable Care Act (which they got) and to stop the tax bill (which they did not).

While Justices have life tenure, the timing of Kennedy’s retirement reaffirms that the Supreme Court follows the election returns. In 1987, Democrats alone could stop Bork. Going forward, defeating any Trump nominee and salvaging any of Kennedy’s liberal legacy requires action from Republicans in the Senate or on the current Court.

Frank J. Colucci is associate professor of political science at Purdue University Northwest and author of Justice Kennedy’s Jurisprudence: The Full and Necessary Meaning of Liberty

The Shape of the 2018 Elections: New Volunteers, New Movements?

by Betty O’Shaughnessy and Dick Simpson, authors of Winning Elections in the 21st Century

Results of the primary elections held during April through June begin to paint a picture of an evolving politics in the country. The results of the May and June primaries show that grassroots campaigns with women activists can be successful, although heavy financial support of the national parties’ leadership often gives victory to their endorsed candidates regardless of gender. For instance, in May, the Georgia Democratic primary for governor showed charismatic, heavily endorsed Stacey Abrams crushing Stacey Evans, whose campaign strategy seemed geared toward winning back poor rural voters.  Incumbent and heavily backed Dianne Feinstein easily won the Democratic nomination for California’s Senate seat; a Democratic takeover of the Senate would make her chair of the powerful judiciary committee. Pundits are now predicting that women in Congress will reach at least 25% representation from their current level of 20%.

While grassroots efforts are not always successful, they are effectively harnessing the renewed political awareness spreading – in both parties.  In Kentucky, schoolteachers came out to support one of their own, Travis Benda, to defeat the GOP state House leader, Jonathan Shell.  In the Democratic primary for Kentucky’s 6th Congressional district, former fighter pilot Amy McGrath won over DCCC endorsed Jim Gray. found that in Texas, more than half of the 50 women running for Congress in both parties won their primaries. In California, Katie Hill, a grassroots progressive, won the Democratic primary for the 25th District Congressional seat.

While the “Blue Wave” of winning Democrats likely to turn districts from Red to Blue is continuing through the summer, nonetheless, pundits are commenting that the Republican party is now really the party of Donald Trump, whose tweets are effective in supporting his followers, and that many Republicans in Congress are reluctant to counter him for fear of losing in the November election. While some extreme candidates – such as former coal executive and ex-con Don Blankenship of West Virginia – have been defeated in Republican primaries by more moderate candidates, others are still winning important elections. In June, for instance, longtime incumbent Mark Sanford lost South Carolina’s 1st Congressional District’s Republican primary, to Katy Arrington, a vocal Trump supporter, and white-supremacist-backed Corey Stewart gained the Republican nomination for the Virginia Senate contest.

So although Democrats will clearly make gains in 2018, it is still problematic whether they can take back either house of Congress and probably will remain unpredictable until November. The final primaries will be held in August, after which we will know most party slates for the midterm election in November. It is important to remember that a lot can happen in the five months between now and then.

As we write in our book, Winning Elections in the 21st Century (Kansas University Press, 2016), the theme of the campaign is critical.  In 2016, Donald Trump’s “Make America Great Again” and Bernie Sanders theme of fixing income inequality both resonated with the country.  In 2018, both the women’s movement and disgust with Washington are working for candidates, and is reflected in both the campaign themes and the number of volunteers in especially many grassroots campaigns. This year, 422 women are at this date running for US House seats, and 49 women are running for the Senate.  And they are often winning, especially in close races. In the May 15th Democratic primaries, women won one US Congressional district in Nebraska, two in Pennsylvania as well as two contested state house races, and won one of two highly contested state senate races in Oregon. Many of the women ran in Democratic primaries but more Republican women are running and winning as well. Most women candidates have the help of grassroots local groups, using the strategies described in Winning Elections. These (mostly) women are active mainly in local groups that are similar but not closely connected across the country.

This is not just a case of a reverse Tea Party on the left taking over. As Lara Putnam and Theda Skocpol relate in a recent article, Progressive candidates have clearly won some elections but much of the change – especially the movement from Red to Blue is taking place in the suburban areas and being led by people who are pragmatic about winning. The new activists are not primarily leftist ideologues but retired teachers, librarians, and community leaders who don’t like the way the 2016 elections turned out or the Trump policies since then. Moreover, issues that have sat dormant, such as gerrymandering, ERA, and doing away with the Electoral College, are mobilizing activists. Some activists are addressing the fairness of wealthy candidates — such as the gubernatorial nominees for both parties in Illinois — self-financing their primary campaigns. But these volunteers — whether supporting candidates, issues, or both — as part of the “Me too” movement, the resistance, or just unhappy with the state of the country, are using their skills to do the old fashion precinct work, phone calling, and neighbor-to-neighbor contact that we recommend as essential for winning elections in the 21st century.

Dick Simpson is professor of political science at the University of Illinois at Chicago. He is the co-editor with Dennis Judd of The City, Revisited: Urban Theory from Chicago, Los Angeles, New York.

Betty O’Shaughnessy is a visiting lecturer in political science, University of Illinois at Chicago and coauthor of The Struggle for Power and Influence in Cities and States.

Charles Delgadillo (Crusader for Democracy; The Political Life of William Allen White) Q & A

The editor of the Emporia (Kansas) Gazette and the ‘Sage of Emporia,’ William Allen White is known for his quips, quotations, and a sharply crafted view from Main Street expressed in his 1896 essay, “What’s the Matter with Kansas?” But for all his carefully cultivated small-town sagacity, White (1868–1944) was a public figure and political operator on a grand scale. Writing the first biography in a half-century to look at this side of White’s character and career, Charles Delgadillo brings to life a leading light of a once-widespread liberal Republican movement that has largely become extinct.

  1. 1. When did you first have the idea to work on Crusader for Democracy?

I discovered William Allen White while working on my dissertation. White was one of a group of four liberal reformers I was studying who were coming to terms with America’s rise as a great power between the World Wars. I admired White’s vision of America as the leading champion of democracy at home and abroad, and his willingness to act on his views by writing editorials, by privately lobbying policymakers, and by helping to lead the fight for public opinion. It wasn’t just White’s views that hooked me, though. I was impressed by White’s essential humanity. He was a man who never forgot what it’s like to be a human being: the hopes and disappointments, the victories and the defeats, the times when our path is clear and those when we lose our way. White’s name came up time and time again as I did my research, and the archivists at the Library of Congress told me that his collection is one of their most heavily used. I thought it was a tragedy that no one had written a biography of such a remarkable and important man in almost half a century, and it was a pleasure to take the job myself!

2. Can you describe your process of writing? How long did you spend working on the book?

Writing the book was fun! I was able to use about a third of my dissertation to jump-start the writing process, and it helped a lot that I already knew how to make the best use of the William Allen White papers at the Library of Congress. I started writing this book a few months after finishing my PhD in December 2010 and I worked on it fairly regularly through the summer of 2017. My work process was to accumulate as much raw material as possible during my three or four research trips each year. I spent most of the time reading and taking notes on the documents I had gathered, which I would then use to write up the narrative.

3. What was the most challenging aspect of writing about William Allen White?

One of the most challenging aspects about writing about White is that he knew so many people and was involved in so many things. There were many great little stories that had to be left out of the book simply because I couldn’t talk about everything, and there were many times where I had to devote considerable attention to sorting out White’s intricate web of relationships.

4. In Crusader for Democracy, you write “Throughout his life, White felt the greatest threat to American democracy came from uneducated, backward, shortsighted masses who were easily duped by smooth-talking demagogues.” How do you think he would respond to the election of President Trump?

I have no doubt that White would be appalled by the election of President Trump. White was a dyed-in-the-wool liberal, so he certainly would have opposed Trump on ideological grounds. However, White always displayed the unusual ability to remain personally friends with people who he ideologically opposed. For example, White established close friendships with conservative presidents such as Warren G. Harding and Calvin Coolidge. Ideology alone would not have caused White to reject Trump.

The fact is that White believed in institutions of various kinds. He believed in what he called “neighborliness,” by which he meant that all Americans ought to treat each other with the same care and consideration they would give their small-town next-door neighbor. White believed in civility even in politics. Once, he asked his newspaper editor friends to be gracious towards a duplicitous opponent he had defeated in a bare-knuckles political campaign. Most important of all is the fact that White religiously adhered to a lifelong code of political and personal honor that prized honesty, sincerity, sacrifice, civic-mindedness, integrity, intellectual curiosity, and visionary leadership. Even if White had loved Trump’s policies (and he would have hated them), White would have rejected Trump simply because he would not have been able to stomach Trump’s many moral, intellectual, and personal shortcomings.

I cannot imagine that White would or even could have remained a Republican in the age of Trump. The GOP is now Trump’s party, and at the moment there is no room in it for liberal Republicans like White. White would probably not have joined the Democrats, however. Most likely he would be an independent today, like millions of like-minded moderates who have been forced out of the GOP. I have no doubt that he would have used his gift for mass communication to help lead Americans away from Trumpism and towards the liberal Republicanism he advocated.

5.  You illustrate how William Allen White was an outspoken progressive Republican. Can you speak to the similarities or differences between today’s GOP and the Republican party to which White belonged?

The Republican Party White knew was demographically comprised of middle-class Midwesterners, the Eastern business elite, and aspirational middle-class businessmen. The party was more ideologically diverse as well, consisting of strong liberal and conservative factions that each enjoyed periods of dominance. It’s also important to note that the Republican Party of White’s day was more centralized and institutional, which meant that a man like White who had worked in the party for a half-century could use his personal connections to exercise considerable sway.

Today’s Republican Party is very different. Demographically, the GOP rank and file is dominated by Southerners, the Rust Belt, and lower to middle class individuals who have suffered under globalization and fear America’s demographic trajectory. The wealthy business elite still controls much of party’s policy agenda, but there is always the danger that the populist fervor that drove the Trump campaign could be trained on them someday. The party’s ideology ranges from very conservative to hard-right, and liberal Republicans exist only in the history books. Today’s Republican Party is driven by charismatic personalities such as Trump, who are able to move the grassroots, and by the ultra-wealthy individuals who fund the GOP.

6. White is most well-known for his “What’s the Matter With Kansas?” Considering his ideological shift from the time he wrote that, do you think William Allen White would find something wrong with Kansas in 2018?

Absolutely. White was very proud of the fact that Kansas was a leader in the Progressive movement. During White’s lifetime, the state enacted “direct democracy” reforms, it expanded its support for public higher education, it experimented with reforms designed to ensure that powerful corporations paid their fair share of taxes, it created a state Industrial Court that was arguably pro-worker at a time when other states were crushing workers, it enacted criminal justice reform designed to treat prisoners more humanely, it forced corporations to treat consumers more fairly, and it later embraced the New Deal.

If White were to write “What’s the Matter With Kansas” today, he would have plenty of examples to sustain a fiery critique. To mention only one, White would be appalled at the way that the state government has defunded public education while gutting its own tax base. The state government is presently in the midst of a pitched battle between its judicial branch, which has ruled that the state’s education spending plan has unconstitutionally gutted education, and politicians who reject both the court’s findings and their constitutional duty to provide a quality education. Meanwhile, Kansas was ranked #5 on United Van Lines’ ranking of states that people are fleeing in January 2018. If White were to write his famous editorial today, he would not hesitate to connect the dots between the fight over education and migration patterns, just as he made the connection between populism and Kansas’ stagnation during the 1890s.

7. If you could have any one person read your book, who would it be and why?

I can think of a lot of people who need to read this book and who should, for the sake of the nation, learn to embrace William Allen White’s worldview, starting with Donald Trump. However, I can’t imagine that he or any other powerful political figure would actually change their ways for any reason, because they are all locked into the current political reality. I would want this book to be read by millions of ordinary folks, who I hope would be inspired by White’s concept of democracy and the way he went about making good on his dreams. I would hope they would see that we can have a democracy where everyone has the right to play the game of life, where everyone who works hard and follows the rules is entitled to a decent living, where every person is treated with the same dignity and respect we expect for ourselves, and where government works for all Americans rather than just the rich and powerful.

Is this a pipe dream? I don’t think so. White grew up in a reality where political machines, the wealthy, and corporations controlled American government at every level, from the lofty heights of Washington, DC to the city governments of America’s smallest towns. White and his progressive colleagues were a band of insurgents against that reality, and they eventually succeeded in making America more democratic after decades of fighting and striving and organizing and winning and sometimes losing. William Allen White had faith in change, but he also advised anyone who wanted reform “to persist; to keep vital; and to have faith that in the color of public sentiment no strong stain is lost.”

Charles Delgadillo is a lecturer in history at the California State Polytechnic University, Pomona, and Norco College, in California.

The Perils of a Partisan Farm Bill

by Christopher Bosso, author of Framing the Farm Bill

The House Republican leadership took a gamble. Prompted by outgoing Speaker Paul Ryan, it bet that that it could push through a farm bill without any Democratic votes by emphasizing work requirements in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) aimed at cutting overall program spending. Stricter work rules are popular with most (but not all) Republicans but opposed by most (but not all) Democrats. Ryan bet that getting tougher on SNAP would overcome skepticism among more libertarian “Freedom Caucus” Republicans regarding the costs of commodity programs. And Ryan had at least the Twitter support of President Trump.

That bet failed. The House on May 18 voted down HR 2, the Agriculture and Nutrition Act of 2018, 198-213, with 30 Republicans joining 183 Democrats in opposition. Freedom Caucus Republicans, many upset about inaction on a separate immigration bill, rebuffed Ryan’s overtures – as did a few of their more moderate GOP colleagues, for whom charges that their party was stigmatizing hungry people could prove unpopular going into the 2018 midterms. Prospects for House action by November are modest. Meanwhile, the Senate Agriculture Committee will move on its own, more bipartisan bill, to give senators at least symbolic benefits going into the elections.

The take-away? As we saw with the long saga over passage of the Agricultural Act of 2014, as detailed in Framing the Farm Bill, today’s House is a non-rural body. Only three dozen House members now represent “farming” districts. As such, the 1.7% of Americans who farm — and who depend on USDA farm programs – need the votes of colleagues for whom agricultural policy is a distant priority. To do so, they extended farm bills to include priorities of those colleagues — nutrition programs.

Their political calculation was clear. Since the 1970s a shrinking congressional farm bloc included nutrition programs, SNAP in particular, into farm bills precisely to get the votes of their non-rural colleagues for commodity programs they might otherwise oppose as “welfare” for ever-larger farming operations. In return, rural conservatives would support nutrition program spending despite their antipathy toward “welfare” for poor people. That “farm programs + food stamps” deal, an awkward marriage of convenience at the best of times, became the linchpin holding together the farm bill coalition.

However, the House GOP’s most conservative members, bolstered by their homogenous suburban base, rejects this deal. They despise SNAP and commodity programs. In 2013, after dealing the Agriculture Committee a similar floor defeat, they split the two into separate bills, passing each by party line votes. The Senate, whose members represent broader constituencies, reknit the two. No SNAP, no Farm Bill.

Ryan could put SNAP into a “welfare reform” bill. It won’t pass the Senate, because few senators want to untie the knot that has held together farm bills for decades. More to the point, it won’t pass because the few who farm depend on the good will of the non-farming majority for whom SNAP is important. The House GOP’s partisan farm bill had no hope.

Christopher Bosso is professor of public policy and urban affairs at Northeastern University. His books include Environment, Inc.: From Grassroots to Beltway, also from Kansas, and Pesticides and Politics: The Life Cycle of a Public Issue.

Dwight T. Pitcaithley (The U.S. Constitution and Secession) Q & A

Five months after the election of Abraham Lincoln, which had revealed the fracturing state of the nation, Confederates fired on Fort Sumter and the fight for the Union began in earnest. This documentary reader offers a firsthand look at the constitutional debates that consumed the country in those fraught five months. Day by day, week by week, these documents chart the political path, and the insurmountable differences, that led directly—but not inevitably—to the American Civil War. In The U.S. Constitution and Secession; A Documentary Ahthology of Slavery and White Supremacy, Dwight Pitcaithley has assembled the quintessential public statements that lead to the South’s secession in an effort to maintain slavery and advance white supremacy.


1. When did you first have the idea to work on The U.S. Constitution and Secession?

I began my research on secession upon my retirement from the National Park Service in 2005 simply to satisfy my own curiosity. I knew that slavery was at the core of the secession movement, but I did not understand exactly how. As I started uncovering the dozens of proposed solutions to the “problem” posed by Lincoln’s election in 1860 the idea for a book began taking shape. Once I realized that no one had ever codified or analyzed the sixty-seven suggested constitutional amendments or written about them as a specific category of evidence, I started conceptualizing the book.

2. Can you describe your process of writing? How long did you spend working on the book?

From start to finish the book took about a decade. Locating and analyzing the published proceedings from the various official gatherings over Secession Winter took a fair amount of time. Then I had to determine what the proposed constitutional amendments meant. Were they honest efforts to solve the sectional crisis or were they just designed to stall or prolong the deliberative process. Once I understood their import, I began crafting a monograph, organized by geographic regions, that described and analyzed the amendments. I became dissatisfied with that manuscript because of the repetitive nature of the proposed solutions. I then shifted to a documentary reader format with an extended introduction. Crafting the introduction spanned around three years. During the process of understanding the puzzle of secession, I became intrigued with the symbiotic relationship between slavery and white supremacy and the degree to which southerners assumed and defended that connection. Factoring that relationship into the research and writing process provided new meaning to the proceedings of the elected officials over Secession Winter.

3. What was the most challenging aspect of editing the publication?

The most challenging (and yet, in an interesting way, rewarding) aspect of the editing process was chasing down sources for the un-attributed quotes, allusions to historical and fictional characters, and references to classical literature that were imbedded throughout the official documents. The Witch of Endor and Mazeppa, for example, were not part of my educational background.

4. The U.S. Constitution and Secession is, essentially, the nail in the coffin for those arguing that the Civil War was not about slavery. How do you respond to people who maintain their argument that Southern states seceded for any reason other than the protection of slavery and white supremacy?

People can and do believe what they want to believe. If, after reading The U.S. Constitution and Secession, they still maintain that secession was not about slavery, they need to develop the case that Jefferson Davis, Alexander Stephens, Robert Toombs, John Crittenden (and virtually all elected officials at the time) were prevaricating when they explained to their peers that slavery was the root cause of secession.

5. Do you expect, or have you received any negative feedback from your book and the case you are presenting?

I have received no negative comments as yet although I certainly expect some. And I will welcome challenges to the book and its findings. The resulting conversation will help get us where we need to go.

6. What is your reaction to recent events that have triggered a new debate over the roots of the civil war?

My first reaction is sadness that the notion of white supremacy continues to motivate individuals to violence. The events of Charleston and Charlottesville and other places remind us of how far we have yet to go regarding race relations, how debilitating racism continues to be. This nation can abolish slavery and legislate against segregation, but the solution to white supremacist thinking seems to confound us.

At the same time, the public debate over the proper role Confederate memory plays in our society should be welcomed. Airing the dark aspects of this country’s past will help us understand the relationship between then and now, and how decisions we make about the future should not be based on false histories.

7. If you could have any one person read your book, who would it be and why?

President Trump. It might help him understand the historical (and contemporary) corrosiveness of white supremacy.

8. What are you reading now?

Mitch Landrieu’s In the Shadow of Statues: A White Southerner Confronts History (2018)

Dwight T. Pitcaithley is a college professor of history at New Mexico State University. He is a former Chief Historian of the National Park Service.

Matthew Roth (Magic Bean; The Rise of Soy in America) Q & A

At the turn of the twentieth century, soybeans grew on so little of America’s land that nobody bothered to track the total. By the year 2000, they covered upward of 70 million acres, second only to corn, and had become the nation’s largest cash crop. How this little-known Chinese transplant, initially grown chiefly for forage, turned into a ubiquitous component of American farming, culture, and cuisine is the story Matthew Roth tells in Magic Bean: The Rise of Soy in America.
1. When did you first have the idea to work on Magic Bean; The Rise of Soy in America?
It emerged from a discussion on the New York subway between myself and a colleague.  At that point, I had been a vegetarian for 20 years, so I was familiar enough with using tofu as an ingredient, as well as more newfangled soy foods such as textured vegetable protein (TVP).  I had even helped produce commercial tofu at a commune where my brother lived for a time.  But I had no real firm sense of when tofu had become a “thing” in America. More to the point, I didn’t know how that related to its other role as a key component in the American system for producing meat.  Were these two separate strands of history, or were they causally related?  In any case, this double-identity interested me, and I let my curiosity lead the way.  I must have been pretty excited about the topic from the outset, because a lady on the subway told my friend and me that we were talking too loudly.
2. Can you describe your process of writing? How long did you spend working on the book?
Years and years, both in graduate school and beyond.  I once heard a museum curator of found objects describe the first step of creating a good collection as assembling a “critical mess,” and research can be something like that.  I scouted everywhere for sources: old newspapers, magazines and scientific journals; secondary and primary books; patents; fiction and movies; and eventually a wide array of archives. There was a mother lode at the SoyInfo Center near Berkeley, California, which also provides many primary sources online.  Then there was the task of organizing all of this material into a coherent whole: the most complicated jigsaw puzzle you’d ever want to do, especially as there is no picture on the box to guide you.  My first approach was sprawling and biographical, but as I worked on the material, I was able to find narrative through-lines that made sense of the soybean’s rise, and this allowed me to considerably streamline the final book.
3. What was the most challenging aspect of researching the story of the soybean?
I would say getting beyond the hype.  The soybean has had its boosters for over a century, predicting it would be the next big thing long before it actually became the next big thing.  And given its steep rise, you could find articles from just about any year proclaiming its recent ascent from obscurity – in 1960, as in 1930, it was said to have been a negligible factor in American agriculture five years earlier, but had now arrived.  This made it unclear when the true breakthrough came: the boll weevil infestation of the South in the early 1900s? World War I? World War II?  A large part of my work was identifying the false starts, because though the soybean’s rise was eventually precipitous, it was not exactly a straight line.
4. This year soybeans have become the nation’s most-produced crop, overtaking corn. Can you summarize what led soybeans from being almost a forgotten crop at the turn of the twentieth century to America’s leading cash crop?
My argument in the book is that the adoption of the soybean by American agriculture, and its incorporation into American food, followed the path of many major innovations.  The first phase, from around 1900 to 1930, was one of chance and contingency: it benefitted from broader efforts to bring exotic plants into American farming, and then to find alternatives for both the South and North to what were considered soil-depleting crops.  Though the soybean had its boosters, however, it was pretty touch-and-go.  It found a firm home in the Midwest in the 1920s with the emergence of a soybean-crushing industry, but this as well experienced some false starts early in the decade.  By 1930, however, there was a virtuous cycle of investment not only in processing equipment, but in things like combines to harvest soybeans and in federal efforts to import superior varieties.  The Depression era involved efforts to make good on these investments, exploring all avenues of possible – and more lucrative – uses for soybean oil and meal.  Government support during World War II to insure increased meat production helped the industry leap forward.  As the scale of production increased, and soy became more plentiful, it became a competitive raw material for a wide array of uses, which in turn further promoted its growth.  There were limits, though.  Sterols in soybean oil were used early on as precursors for synthetic hormones, but until the end of the century, soy hormones were sidelined by those derived by wild Mexican barbasco yams.
5. What are the possible negative impacts of China’s proposed soybean tariffs?
Enormous.  On the one hand, one would think this was a case where China needed us more than we need them.  In the push to industrialize, China has relinquished its lead as a soy producer and depends heavily on imports.  On the other hand, however, it has options in the world market.  The rise of competition to US soy growers was spurred by a Nixon-era embargo that briefly barred the export of American soybeans.  This made the American supply look unreliable to overseas buyers, especially in Japan, which then invested in a nascent Brazilian soybean industry.  By the 1980s, competition on the world market was one factor in the farm crisis.  But what globalism took away with one hand, it eventually gave back with another: the rise of China at the end of the 1990s, while putting pressure on American manufacturing, was a major boost to soybeans. Up to this point, it has been one of the bright spots for us in the US-China balance of trade.  Maybe not for long.
6. If you could have any one person read your book, who would it be and why?
I have many different people I’d like to read the book for a variety of reasons. There are my idols in my fields of environmental history and the history of technology, folks like William Cronin and Henry Petroski.  There are soybean farmers and researchers, for whom I’d like to provide an enjoyable way to put their work into perspective.  For my fellow vegetarians, I’d like to perhaps shed some light on the ways that dietary habits do and do not change.  If I had an imagined reader while writing the book, I suppose it would be someone somewhat like myself: curious about the stories behind the current shape of our world, in part as a way of discovering how it might be changed for the better.
8. What are you reading now?
As it happens, I’m preparing to teach a new undergraduate course on global food history.  Right now, I’m reading a pair in books in tandem – Andrew Lawler’s Why Did the Chicken Cross the World? and Mark Essig’s Lesser Beasts (on pigs) – that have some relevance to the soybean, which was a key input in the postwar mass production of poultry products and pork.  More than that, though, they are both fascinating, and often funny, explorations into the deep history of the human domestication of the natural world.