Jim Leach

It was just announced that former Republican Senator from Iowa James “Jim” Leach, now serving as the interim Director of the Institute of Politics at the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard is to speak at the Democratic National Convention in Denver, Colorado on opening night (Monday, August 25, 2008).

Trotting out this esteemed thirty-year Republican legislator, who endorsed Barack Obama on August 12th, is a coup for the Democrats akin to the use of Senator Joseph Leiberman, (former Democratic Vice Presidential running mate with John Kerry) at the Republican convention.

Jim Leach is one of the most respected politicians ever to serve. And serve he did…for 30 years, in fact, from 1977 to 2007, when, after being re-elected 14 times, he was upset in the 2nd Congressional District in eastern Iowa by a mere 6,000 votes by former Cornell College Professor David Loebsack.

Leach, a graduate of Princeton, Johns Hopkins and the London School of Economics, and a Davenport, Iowa, native, has been a voice for moderate Republicans ever since he defeated Ed Mezvinsky (who later served time in prison) in 1976.

If all politicians had the integrity, smarts and scruples of James Leach, this country wouldn’t be in the mess it’s in at this time in our history.

Leach was fiscally conservative, socially moderate, but progressive on such issues as stem cell research, which he supported at a time when “W” was banning the use of all but a few strains. Leach also had the integrity to quit during Watergate, in protest over the “Saturday Night Massacre,” when Richard Nixon fired Eliot Richardson and Archibald Cox. (At the time, Leach was serving as a delegate to the Geneva Disarmament Conference and the U.N. General Assembly). He never accepted PAC money, refused out-of-state contributions to his campaigns, and put limits on how much one individual could contributions.

After 9/11, I was standing in a long line at the Baltimore Airport, trying hard to get a plane back from a Sylvan Learning Center convention to the Quad Cities of Ia/Il when I happened to notice that the man 2 people back in line was Jim Leach, schlepping his own suit over his shoulder in a garment bag. The lines that day, snaking through that airport, were the longest lines I’ve ever seen in an airport. Airports in Washington, D.C. had been closed and planes had been grounded for days.

I struck up a conversation with Leach, saying something less-than-intelligent like, “Hey! You’re my Representative!”

Everyone, at that time, felt as though they wished they could do something to help, and I sketched for Leach my goal of hosting a fund-raiser for the children of the victims of that tragic terrorist attack. When I asked his opinion of the idea, just then taking shape in my mind, he responded with amusement, “You’re way ahead of me.” I forgot to ask him if he would participate, were I successful in organizing such a fund-raiser, but belatedly thought of this coup and sprinted the length of two airport concourses to ask him (breathlessly), “If I get something together, would you come and be the keynote speaker?” He looked a bit startled, but acknowledged that he would do so.

Fast forward to an Iowa football game one month later in a pancake house in Iowa City, Iowa. Who should be there but Senator Leach, wearing an orange sweater. I went over to his table and said, “Remember me? The Sylvan lady? I’m still working on the plans for the fund-raiser. Can I still count on you?” He chuckled, probably wondering if I were stalking him, but responded affirmatively.

I worked out the details of this event between 9/11 and 11/11, Veterans’ Day. In frequent conversations with the Senator’s office staff, I received word that, although he had many speaking commitments that day, he would, indeed, travel all the way from Iowa City (106 miles, round trip) to the Pleasant Valley High School, whose auditorium I had rented for an event we dubbed “Celebrate Citizenship.” I was warned, however, that, since he had at least 7 prior speaking engagements, he would arrive late.

When Jim Leach entered the hall about halfway through the performance(s) by the Glenview Band, he gave a thoughtful report to the assembled citizens about what was being discussed in the halls of Congress regarding the dastardly attack on the World Trade Center. He was insightful, thoughtful, inspiring, just as I expect him to be on Monday night at the DNC in Colorado.

He did not let me down in my hour of need, and, through the generosity of the people of the Iowa/Illinois Quad Cities and the forthright goodness of this man of principle, we raised $5,000 for the Scholarship Fund established for the children of the victims of 9/11, (with matching funds from our Sylvan Corporate company.)

This is the James Leach who endorsed Barack Obama on August 12th and who will speak to the nation on Monday, August 25th.

Jim Leach is one of the good ones.  Lord knows we need more like him now. I hope that, when he speaks, the nation listens.