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“The Sunday Political Brunch” -- February 5, 2017

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(Charleston, West Virginia) – I chuckled the other night when U.S. Supreme Court nominee Neil Gorsuch paid tribute to the Justice for whom he had clerked, the late legal (and football) great, Byron “Whizzer” White. Gorsuch said White was “the only Justice who ever led the NFL in rushing!” It reminded me of the columns I’ve written on Super Bowl Sundays for the past six years, honoring great athletes who went on to stellar careers in the political arena. Let’s “brunch” on that this week:

“Here Comes the Justice” – In college and then in the NFL, he was known as Byron “Whizzer” White and was elected to the College Football Hall of Fame. In Washington, D.C., they called him Justice Byron White, the only NFL player ever to serve on the U.S. Supreme Court (photo above). He was also Deputy Attorney General to Robert F. Kennedy, and administered the Oath of Office to Vice President Al Gore. Like Gorsuch, White was a Colorado native, who - in fact - led the NFL in rushing in 1938 and 1940. White is the only person from Colorado yet to serve on the high court.

“Here Comes the Judge” – Alan Page was one of the greatest defensive lineman in NFL history, and is in the Hall of Fame. A Notre Dame graduate, Page went to the University of Minnesota Law School in the off-seasons and was a member of the Minnesota Supreme Court until he reached the mandatory retirement age of 70 in 2015. Page played in four Super Bowls, and his team lost them all.

“Ford Motors” – Certainly the most athletic of our Presidents was Gerald Ford. He was an All-American in football at the University of Michigan, and was drafted to play in the NFL by both the Detroit Lions and the Green Bay Packers. But Ford chose to go to Yale Law School instead and helped coach the Ivy League football team. He also was an assistant football coach at my alma mater, St. Mary’s College of California, which was a national football powerhouse back in the 1940s and 50s. Like most modern Presidents, Ford was an avid golfer.

“The NFL in Congress” – There have been several NFL players who later turned to politics and won seats in Congress. They include Steve Largent of the Seattle Seahawks, Heath Schuler of the Washington Redskins and New Orleans Saints, and Jon Runyan of the Philadelphia Eagles. Canadian Football star J.C. Watts served eight years in Congress from Oklahoma.

“That’s Quite a Class” – New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick will be coaching his seventh Super Bowl team this year. Belichick is a 1971 graduate of the prestigious Phillips Academy Andover. His classmates included former Governor Jeb Bush (R-FL), a candidate for President in 2016, and former Governor Lincoln Chafee (D-RI), also a candidate for President in 2016. Patriots executive Ernie Adams was also in that class. At one of his White House Super Bowl receptions, Belichick posed with President George W. Bush, who graduated from the same prep school in 1964.

“A Close Second” – Nineteen ninety-six Republican Vice Presidential nominee Jack Kemp was an NFL quarterback for the New York Giants, but did not get to play in the 1957 NFL Championship. He also played with the San Diego Chargers and the Buffalo Bills in the old AFL, playing in five AFL Championships games, winning in 1965 and taking home the MVP trophy. Kemp served 18 years in Congress and was Secretary of Housing and Urban Development under President George H.W. Bush.

“Player; Coach; and Congressman” – Tom Osborne had quite a career. After graduating from Hastings College in Nebraska, he went on to play in the NFL for the San Francisco 49ers and the Washington Redskins. Later he would be one of the most successful coaches in college football history, winning three national championships at the University of Nebraska. While that’s enough of a career for one lifetime, Osborne turned to politics, winning three terms in Congress before retiring in 2007.

Who is your favorite athlete-politician? Just click the comment button at www.MarkCurtisMedia.com.

© 2017, Mark Curtis media, LLC.

Photo courtesy: cbsdenver.com

“The Sunday Political Brunch” -- January 29, 2017

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(Jacksonville, Florida) – I was on the road again this week, and I was thinking about how Florida has swung back and forth between Democrats and Republicans. I also thought more about the House, Senate, and White House being held by the same party. That doesn’t happen often, and it can backfire for the party in power. There is a lot to “brunch” on this week:

“The Great Society” – The 1960s became a dominant era for Democratic politics in the U.S. Republicans had controlled the House and Senate through 1954, but then lost both. When President John Kennedy was elected in 1960 and was succeeded by President Lyndon Johnson, the Democrats had a stranglehold on power in Washington. They passed significant legislation, such as the Civil Right Act and Voting Rights Act, but also increased the nation’s entanglement in the Vietnam War. Still, it was a long era of political dominance in this country; and a lot got done, controversial as some of it was.

“Carter 1976” – In 1976, after eight years of Republicans in the White House - and the Vietnam War and Watergate scandal - Democrats increased their majority in the House and Senate and elected a President in Jimmy Carter (D-GA). It all went downhill from there. Carter never embraced “insider” Washington, and offended such power-brokers as House Speaker Tip O’Neill (D-MA) and Senator Ted Kennedy (D-MA). Intraparty fights ruled the day, and the all-Democratic government produced few – if any – accomplishments. It was so bad that Carter lost in a landslide in 1980 to Ronald Reagan, and the GOP also swept control of the Senate.

“Clinton 1992” – In 1992, Democrat Bill Clinton defeated the incumbent George H.W. Bush and also brought solid majorities to the House and Senate. His signature initiative was health care reform, to be championed by First Lady Hillary Clinton. But many longtime Democrats in the House and Senate who had jurisdiction over health legislation felt their toes were being stepped on. Congress is a series of kingdoms and fiefdoms where committee chairs and sub-committee chairs wield power and loyalty that the Clintons never perceived. Not only was health care reform abandoned (It never even got a vote), but Democrats lost control of both houses of Congress in 1994 for the first time in 40 years.

“Bush 2000” – After the divisive 2000 Presidential election, the U.S. Senate was split 50-50, but Republicans essentially held control, with Vice President Dick Cheney as the tie-breaking vote. The GOP was able to pass – with significant Democratic support – the “No Child Left Behind Act,” education reform legislation. However, in late May, Senator Jim Jeffords (R-VT) left his party to become an independent - after the large Republican tax cut bill – and Democrats took control of the Senate. Normally that might cause legislative gridlock, as the GOP held the House; but the September 11th attacks gave an impetus to national unity. Many Democrats wound up supporting a controversial war in Iraq, for example.

“Obama 2008” – When Senator Barack Obama (D-IL) won the White House in 2008, his party had already taken control of the House and Senate two years prior. Although it took just over a year, Democrats finally had enough votes in both chambers to pass the Affordable Care Act known as Obamacare. It was a triumphant and historic legislative act nearly forty years in the making. It shows what a unified party in complete control of the agenda can do in Washington. Unfortunately for Democrats, the law was – and still is – highly controversial. It prompted the GOP takeover of the House in 2010, the Senate in 2014, and the White House in 2016. The ACA is now poised for repeal.

“Trump 2016” – In many ways the Affordable Care Act created the “perfect storm” for the 2016 election. Republicans now control the White House, the Senate, and the House, with enough votes to undo what the Democrats (without a single GOP vote) had created in 2010. That issue aside, there could be others that sharply divide the Republicans as we go forward. As we’ve seen, unified government can be more of a curse than a blessing.

“Fair Weather Florida” – While I was in Florida this past week, I was struck by how influential the Sunshine State has been in creating the above-mentioned scenarios. In 1980, the strong win by President Ronald Reagan helped bring a relative political unknown named Paula Hawkins (R-FL) into a new U.S. Senate majority for Republicans. In 2001, a close Presidential race in Florida, made the Republican U.S. Senate seat a wild card. Democrat Bill Nelson (D-FL) won, leaving the U.S. Senate in a tie. In 2016, a sudden return to the Senate race by failed White House candidate Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) helped save his party’s Senate majority. Florida remains a big deal for control of the White House and Congress.

“Why All of This Matters” – Many people expect the Republicans to just steamroll legislation through Congress and onto President Trump’s desk for his signature, simply because the GOP holds all three seats at the table. But, as we saw with President Carter in 1976 and President Clinton in 1992, intraparty fights can sink all of that. In fact, Bill Clinton was far more successful in the first three years after Republicans seized control of the House and Senate in 1994. Divided government got a lot of laws passed, until impeachment derailed further bipartisan cooperation.

How long do you think Republican unity will last? Just click the comment button at www.MarkCurtisMedia.com.

© 2017, Mark Curtis Media, LLC.

Photo courtesy: cbsnews.com

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