Friday, November 10, 2006

A disappointment

Well, maybe I can get caught up with some of the topics I have noticed and wanted to mention in the past few weeks. The one that's probably been sitting around the longest is Gerry Studds.
Gerry Eastman Studds was the congressman from a district south of Boston from 1972 to 1997. He was the local congressman when I started working in journalism at my hometown newspaper in the 1970s.
Studds was the first congressman I ever had to deal with in a reporting capacity. He was polite, articulate and as it turned out later, gay.
Much has been written and mentioned over the years about how states that were formerly solid Democratic - such as in the Sunbelt - now are Republican. What people tend to forget is that there are a number of northern states that used to be a lot more Republican.
Although the Democratic Party has always been strong there, I think most people would have considered Massachusetts a predominantly Republican state up until the 1950s. Even as it was trending heavily Democratic in the late 1960s and early 1970s, it elected a pair of Republican governors, John Volpe and Frank Sargent (Sargent was ousted from office by Michael Dukakis).
By 1970 probably half the state's congressional delegation was still Republican, but that changed in the 1970 and 1972 elections.
The congressman up until 1972 from our local district was a fellow named Hastings Keith - very honest and well-respected. Studds ran against him in 1970 and nearly beat him, and Keith, being the sensible man he was, realized the long-term trend was against him and retired. Studds won easily in 1972.
(Keith, by the way, in later years, led an effort to reform the congressional pension system, because he thought it was silly that many congressmen had multiple pensions from different sources when they didn't need the money; from what I recall, he had about three different pensions, from the military, congress and some other governmental service. He only passed away last year, from what I recall.)
Studds trotted to re-election in 1974 (a ham sandwich could have won re-election as a Democrat in that Watergate year), and then in 1976 he had a Democratic Primary opponent.
That was the last year I worked at my hometown paper, so that was the last congressional campaign I covered at home.
The Democratic primary opponent, Edmund Dinis, was the DA in Fall River, and he didn't run a good campaign. The main thing that came out was a lot of innuendo that Studds was gay.
We all thought that was mudslinging, and made fun of it, but in 1983 Studds admitted that a decade earlier he had an inappropriate relationship with a male congressional page. He was censured by the House.
I was appalled at the time, especially when I realized that the page had been the same age as myself. If I had been involved in Democratic politics instead of journalism, Studds may have been hitting on me instead.
A month ago Studds suffered a stroke and a week later passed away at the age of 69. A number of reports quoted his "husband" - he had entered into a gay marriage when Massachusetts made it legal in 2004.
Many of the reports noted he was the first openly gay congressman.
I don't know what leads people to be gay, although from my experience and observation one of the causes seems to be inbreeding among WASPy types. Studds came from an old New England family; of course, in retrospect, the surname almost seems like a joke.

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