In 1974, while attending graduate school, I worked at the National Center for Voluntary Action in Washington, D.C. NCVA, as it was called at the time, was founded by former First Lady Pat Nixon.
The Chairman of the Board was the honorable George W. Romney, the former Governor of Michigan, Secretary of Housing and Urban Development, Chairman and CEO of American Motors, candidate for the Republican Party nomination for president in 1968 and father of former Massachusetts Governor and 2008 candidate for the Republican Party nomination for president Mitt Romney.
George Romney was always a class act. I remember being in the board room when a call came from the White House giving him advance notice of President Nixon's decision to resign later that day. He calmly put the phone down, took a deep breath, looked out the window overlooking DuPont Circle and stated that "it was a good day for America." Romney always had an innate ability to rise above partisanship and articulate a more inclusive vision.
Romney had long been the lead spokesperson on behalf of moderate Republicans. He stood up and challenged the conservative views of Barry Goldwater in 1964. He was always a strong proponent of the American civil rights movement. He put into place the first income tax in Michigan coupled with spending reduction initiatives in order to balance the state's budget.
After losing to Nixon in 1968, he was appointed by President Nixon to a Cabinet position as Secretary of Housing and Urban Development where he promoted housing for the poor and an "open housing" policy in order to desegregate the suburbs. After experiencing a great deal of resistance from Nixon on his policy initiatives, Romney resigned as Secretary of HUD in 1973 to focus on volunteerism and his faith.
Believe it or not, there was a time when the Republican Party actually had a "center." In addition to Romney, there were others such as former HEW Secretary and Common Cause founder John Gardner who were members of a group of moderate Republicans called the "Ripon Society."
Their influence began a downward spiral on August 31, 1967, when in a taped interview with talk show host Lou Gordon of WKBD-TV in Detroit, Romney stated: "When I came back from Vietnam, I'd just had the greatest brainwashing that anybody can get." He then shifted to opposing the war: "I no longer believe that it was necessary for us to get involved in South Vietnam to stop Communist aggression in Southeast Asia." Decrying the "tragic" conflict, he urged "a sound peace in South Vietnam at an early time."
Thus Romney disavowed the war and reversed himself from his earlier stated belief that the war was "morally right and necessary." His quest for the Republican nod for president was essentially over.
Fast forward a generation and meet his son, Mitt Romney, who won the election for Governor of Massachusetts in 2002, but did not seek re-election in 2006. During his term, he presided over a series of spending cuts coupled with increases in fees while the state's finances improved. Sound familiar? He signed into law the landmark Massachusetts health care reform legislation, which provided near-universal health insurance access via subsidies and state-level mandates. Mitt Romney ran for the Republican nod for president in the 2008 primaries only to be defeated by Arizona's John McCain.
Once again, in 2011, Mitt Romney appears to be among the front runners for the Republican nod. Will it be "like father like son" all over again or will Mitt be able to break the Romney Curse and gain the party nomination? And what is that curse? No, it's not their Mormon faith. It's their deep roots in the ideological middle. Try as he might to appease the far right of his party, Mitt Romney is, well, a Romney - a successful businessman, a consensus builder, a thinker, a visionary, a moderate. Will his message resonate within the Republican Party or would he make a damn good Democrat?
• Jon Beydler is a 33-year Valley resident and the former mayor of Fountain Hills who now lives in Chandler