We flew to Sioux Falls and I met with Nils Boe in his office. He understood the seriousness of the problem. He said he had no axe to grind against ratification of an amendment to the U.S. Constitution that would provide the right to vote for millions of Americans who had been systematically denied that privilege by racist laws like the poll tax.
Mr. Boe was, however, concerned that suspension of the rules was a rare thing. Indeed it is a complicated, rare thing, but that’s perhaps a story for another day. Boe asked me, “Where will the Young Republicans be in the primary for Governor next June?” A bitter battle had been shaping up between Mr. Boe and former Governor Sigurd Anderson.
As it happens, I was Statewide Chairman of the Young Republicans, so I ventured to say that we were a powerful group and that as Young Republicans we would probably favor the younger candidate, which just happened to be Mr. Boe. I told him that we also felt that Mr. Anderson had already had two terms in the Governor’s office and it seemed that Anderson was overly concerned with having public power.
With that, Nils pulled out his calendar and said that he would agree to a suspension of the rules at 4 p.m. on the following Thursday, very near the end of the Legislative Session.
I called my friend on the American Jewish Committee and told him that the Constitution of the United States would have a 24th Amendment on 4 p.m. on Thursday, January 23, 1964. And it did.
My State Senator, Ping Murray, was Chairman of the Taxation Committee, and he was sitting on (meaning, not doing anything to advance) a tax bill of great interest to the Homestake Mine, the principal employer in Senator Dunmire’s district. It seems that several senators were trying to teach their colleagues from the Northern Hills about Homestake being too big for its britches in the hallways of the Capitol.
I trudged back to Ping’s apartment and urged him to let the Homestake tax bill out of committee in exchange for moving the ratification of the 24th Amendment forward. He agreed.
Then I trudged back to Dunmire’s apartment to confirm the deal.
“Okay, we are on our way,” he said. But there was a problem. The date for getting committee bills to the floor had passed. To get ratification onto the floor would require a suspension of the rules, and that in turn would require the Lieutenant Governor’s approval as presiding officer of the Senate. The LG was Nils Boe, a Sioux Falls lawyer who’d gone home for the weekend. I called him. He agreed to meet the next morning if I could get to his office in Sioux Falls.
I had flown to Pierre in my private airplane for this mission, so I called my pilot, Bob Higgins, to see whether we could possibly get there. We planned to be “wheels up” out of the Pierre airport by 8 a.m. the following morning.
I’m told I have to keep my blog posts short or fewer people will read them, so stay tuned tomorrow for the conclusion of the story! (And thanks for your patience so far).
Yesterday I wrote that in January of 1964 I encouraged the Governor of South Dakota, Archie Gubbrud, to approve ratification of the 24th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution — the amendment outlawing poll taxes that kept African-Americans from being able to vote in many Southern states.
After riding around Pierre with the Governor in his new Lincoln, he dropped me at the St. Charles Hotel, where I met with Ping Murray, my state senator from Rapid City. While many legislators had gone home for the weekend, many from western SD were still in Pierre because of bitterly cold weather and a lot of snow.
Ping urged me to meet with Joe Dunmire, the Senator from Lead who chaired the State Affairs Committee, which had been blocking the bill.
I trudged a few blocks through the snow to Dunmire’s apartment.
Dunmire was happy to talk with me but said he had no intention of letting the bill get out of committee. “We need to teach that son of a bitch a lesson in Constitutional Law,” he told me. The SOB to whom he was referring was Lyndon Baines Johnson, the President of the United States at that time.
Dunmire said it was not the President’s place to interfere with the rights of individual states. We went back and forth for a long time.
Finally, he agreed that he would let the bill out of committee if I would help him solve a problem he was having with Ping Murray.
Tomorrow I’ll tell you how that worked out.
On January 18, 1964 I received a call form Morris Abram, president of the American Jewish Committee. He told me that final ratification of the 24th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution was dependent upon one more state’s legislature approval of the amendment.
The 24th Amendment was one of the great accomplishments of the Civil Rights movement of the 1960s. It outlawed the use of poll taxes—taxes upon the right of voting. They had been widely used in the South to prevent African Americans from voting.
Morris told me that three states remained possibilities for ratification, and that since the other two were in the South, the best hope was South Dakota.
I agreed to help and the next day met with the Governor, Archie Gubbrud, whose campaign I helped. It was my first major effort in politics.
Governor Gubbrud drove me around Pierre in the brand new Lincoln that the Ford Motor Company had just given to each Governor. As we admired the fancy new automobile, the Governor told me that the legislation approving the 24th Amendment was being blocked by a committee chairman who had no intention of bringing the bill forward.
I told the Governor that South Dakota’s failure to approve the amendment would be seen by the nation as an indication that ours was a racist state and that I felt very strongly that SD should be the state that ended discrimination in voting rights. The Governor told me that he would sign the measure if the Legislature approved it but that he was unwilling to invest his own political capital in the process. He said it was up to me to convince the committee chairman, Joe Dunmire of Lead, to move the bill.
I’ll continue the story tomorrow.