John Y’s Musings from the Middle: Wendell Ford

jyb_musingsA very special evening.I attended the annual Wendell Ford dinner tonight.But someone was missing, the honored guest himself, who is home tonight battling lung cancer courageously and magnanimously. Even cancer, as sinsiter and destructive a force as it is, must be ashamed to find itself hosting someone so beloved and beneficient as Wendell Ford. (And, yes, someone also so ornery and determined.)

Wendell may not have been in attendance but no figure has ever– in my experience– been more present in his absence than Sen Ford was at tonight’s event attended by at least 700 friends and political supporters.

Story after story about the iconic Kentucky politician was told by the various speakers, but none were really about politics. The stories all seemed to hew to the personal instead. They were about Wendell Ford the man, who just happened to be a great political leader at the time these memorable and meaningful personal interactions occurred.

The stories could easily have been about great legislative heroics or profiles in political leadership. But each and every one centered instead around little acts of kindness observed and experienced from Wendell Ford when nobody else was watching. Because, it seems, that is what stands out about Wendell Ford’s legacy most profoundly.

I chose this picture of Wendell to post –an action picture of Wendell with sleeves rolled up engaging with others while smiling broadly and contagiously rather than a blow dryed head shot behind his senate desk. The latter would be a picture Wendell just posed for. And Wendell was never a poser himself–or had patience with those who were.

wendell fordHe was, as a friend of the family would say, “The Real McCoy” and “the genuine article.” He is obviously still with us tonight and hopefully for a good while longer. And that is important to note because we may not see another quite like him again. Politics has changed…yet didn’t change Wendell.

Wendell Ford, it is true, is a Kentuckian who has walked with kings. But he is perhaps best described by the elevator man at our nation’s Capitol who proudly boasts that Wendell Ford is “the kindest human being to ever walk these Capitol floors.”

And that is an awfully fine legacy for 700 friends and supporters to celebrate tonight.


The RP on Rebuilding West Liberty

At the 2014 Clinton Global Initiative America Meeting, Jonathan Miller announced a new CGI Commitment to Action by Rebuilding West Liberty, Kentucky:

Arturr Davis: Falling Off the RP Wagon?


davis_artur-11Let me get the news-making information out of the way:  On Aug. 25, an exact year before the election, I will be setting up a Davis for Mayor exploratory committee. If it reports that the resources and grassroots support are there, I am in.

I don’t underestimate the obstacles. While I was born on McKinney Street; while Dannelly, Montgomery Academy, Cloverdale and Jeff Davis gave me the foundation to make the Ivy League; while I cut my professional teeth trying cases in the old courthouse on Lee Street; and while I spent the first 31 years of my life in Montgomery, and married a Montgomery girl, none of that will spare me the carpetbagger attack. I know I will have to explain to African Americans just what this party switching business was about, and why being a Republican doesn’t mean that I have lost my heart for struggling people who can’t catch a break.

But let me talk for a moment about the city that shaped me.  I have watched Montgomery emerge from its comfortably slow past to become the hub of the largest foreign car manufacturer in America. Downtown is alive again after hours, and not just when the Biscuits play. There is a new vibrancy on the riverfront. East Montgomery is the home of a thriving, and thankfully multiracial, class of professional families.

But only part of the capitol city shares in this progress. West and Southwest Montgomery have more in common with Selma’s entrenched stagnation than Wynlakes’ or Brighton’s manicured lawns. LAMP glimmers as a national model of excellence while virtually every non-magnet public school languishes. One out of five Montgomerians lives at the poverty level; tens of thousands more live on thin ice because their small wages barely keep pace with the cost of raising a family.

And think of this tantalizing detail: had Montgomery gained the same number of residents the last two years that it ended up losing, it would be the largest city in Alabama right now. That is a picture perfect measure of the fine line between advancing and slipping backwards.

It has occurred to me that what will determine Montgomery’s destiny are exactly the themes that motivated me toward political life 15 years ago.  Just how does a community generate affluence and protect its vulnerable at the same time? How do schools build a foundation between 8 am and 3 pm that withstands the wreckage some youngsters face when they get home? How does a city lure jobs that are good enough to transform lives, and then how to prepare its young people to do the work when it comes? How does leadership convince blacks and conservative whites that their interests are really aligned and not at odds with each other?

The familiar left versus right debate is too exhausted, too stale to manage any of these problems. The last thing we need is to import the false choices in Washington into a Montgomery election.

So, my campaign won’t rehash what federal policies have and haven’t worked. Instead, my agenda will be solutions that answer to the test of effectiveness rather than ideological purity. I will explore whether Montgomery needs to design its own city school district in order to take ownership of the best weapon to target high paying jobs, the quality and accountability of its schools. I won’t shy away from the urgent need to draw investment into West Montgomery, or the imperative of saving damaged young offenders before they harden into career criminals. I will talk in concrete terms about the economy Montgomery ought to pursue: there is no reason why Montgomery can’t go the path of Charleston, S.C., a much smaller community that has still found a way to become a top 10 center for high tech jobs; why the home of a gem like Maxwell Air Force Base can’t compete for the defense industries that Huntsville and Mobile win routinely; or why a city 45 minutes from Auburn’s landmark research in alternative energy couldn’t become a national leader in the new energy marketplace.

This focus on issues and details is not the typical Alabama political strategy. But when my hometown is the only metro area in Alabama that is shrinking, when some of its lost children are killing people, when Montgomery is starting to get stuck again, it’s time for an election to focus on what it means to do better. That is what should decide the next mayoral race, and it is why I am ready to take a stand for the city that raised me.

Will Meyerhofer: What You Never Hear

Will MeyerhoferHere’s what you never hear anyone say at a Biglaw firm – followed by a discussion of why you never hear anyone say it.

Here we go…

Let’s work on this together. It’ll be more fun.

People write me all the time, complaining I’m too down on Biglaw. Nothing new there, but one guy, recently, expanded on the topic, adding that he works at a firm where everyone, so far as he knows, is happy – enjoying a rewarding career in a supportive, non-exploitative environment.

Perhaps you can see this coming: It turns out this guy owns the firm – and specializes in oral arguments before federal appellate courts. Prior to becoming managing partner, he attended top Ivy League schools.

By way of a reply, I opined:  “Your experience might be considered atypical.”

In reality, his experience should be considered ridiculously atypical. Redonkulouslyatypical. Yet this presumably brilliant legal mind couldn’t manage to grasp that reality from where he was standing – at the top of the heap.

This man claims, without irony, that every lawyer at his firm is happy. But, that little voice in the back of your head begins to counter, before you’re even aware of having the thought: it’s your firm.

They work for you. Of course they act happy, just as the maid cleaning your hotel room – the one without a green card, with a family to feed, smiles and acts delighted to see you when you pop in to grab your extra iPad mini and she’s on her knees scrubbing the shower.

Presumably, someone else, some possibly unhappy little person at this guy’s law firm, is doing the work he would rather not think about – the work that has to be done. Maybe it’s a junior he’s never met. And I’d bet good money that other guy’s doing it all by himself, probably late at night or on a weekend.

Read the rest of…
Will Meyerhofer: What You Never Hear

A Caged Pol Sings — Former State Rep. Carlton Weddington Reports from Behind Bars on Sex, Violence and Survival

carlton weddington


Our newest contributing RP, former Ohio State Representative Carlton Weddington, is currently serving a three-year sentence at the Allen Correctional Institution in Lima, Ohio for charges of bribery, election falsification and filing a false financial disclosure statement.  

Read his full bio here.

Here’s his report from behind bars:


It is still early yet, but I feel like I can survive at least two years without any major problems or issues. Arguably my biggest challenge to date is that some of the inmates being held in Protective Control (PC) just don’t give a fuck.

This is business as usual for the career inmates, and they are the ones that make the time hard to do. We will see what happens.

The politics of PC is dramatic and intense — inmates continually jockeying for positions of power. Extortion, gambling, drinking, smoking and sexual favors are the strategic norms used without thought or question. On a daily basis, I witness the constant chatter and sidebar conversations that take place about the next play, hustle or shot to be taken. It is an ultra-surreal, action-packed story of mini-tragedies within themselves.

Guys are anxious to find compatible cellmates since they have begun to implement a more “strict” tier system. A few have already asked to cell with me without even asking me, but going directly to the case manager or unit manager. Luckily, both managers are sharing with me who is asking and showing me some respect because of my status and former position as a state legislator. The bold ones just ask me directly; some are cool, but that doesn’t mean I want to cell with them.

I remember one inmate saying: “Yo man, I put in a kite to cell witchu cause I know you ain’t gawn be no trouble.”

I was quick to say: “I don’t think I am going to have a cellmate, but thanks anyway.”

I am having a hard time grasping the fact that many of the inmates are living double lives on the low. Other inmates call them ‘homo thugs.”

I was shocked when I heard a gang member openly tell one of his horrifying tales:  “Yo, I fucked his boy, he ain’t shit! …” was all I can really remember, but that was all I needed to know. Not only was he a gang hit man, but he spoke of his assaults on another inmate as a badge of honor. Big, bad and ready to “fuck or fight”!

For whatever reason, this mentality is a prison norm, with many of these same men having girlfriends, wives, and children on the street. I’m lobbying hard to stay in a cell by myself until I can figure this shit out and get my bearings together.

Read former State Senator Jeff Smith’s powerful story of sex, lies and love behind bars.

Unfortunately, a majority of the inmates in this unit are serving long sentences, and quite a few have life — some have even returned for their 3rd, 4th and 5th times. The mentalities of these men are unbelievable and distorted; their reality is clouded from the lack of outside contact and communication. The world is constantly changing and evolving without them; these men who are stuck in a warped, retarding environment that threatens to further sicken their ill hearts and minds through violence and other vices. Even though I am considered a “short timer” with a foreseeable outdate — back to reality of the chaos of the outside world unscathed, jaded and abused — I still must walk a fine line.

Prison_bars_Wallpaper_4a34tAn inmate from my city calls me “lil Barack o’Drama.” He would say, “You ain’t no politician no more, you’s a criminal.”  It didn’t bother me as much as when another inmate said, “Nigga, you think you betta than us but you in here wit us now!”

It was true that I had a college degree, wrote legislation that impacted 11.9 million people in the State of Ohio, and traveled the world; but the perception that I thought I was better than them was hard for me to handle. I considered myself the staunch advocate for the underdog, less fortunate, and minorities, even amid the inmates being housed in the facility.

To keep safe of any ill feelings someone might have of me, I would tell inmates who asked what I did for a living: “I was a low level analyst.” It worked for awhile, until word got around that I was more than I claimed to be. My name appeared on the letterhead of a response letter from the Correctional Institution Inspection Committee that several inmates had received — not to mention that it was stapled to the information boards in all the housing blocks. I immediately asked that it be removed and updated.

Read the rest of…
A Caged Pol Sings — Former State Rep. Carlton Weddington Reports from Behind Bars on Sex, Violence and Survival

Betsy Powell: Expert advice on how Rob Ford can get his second chance

From Betsy Power of the Toronto Star:

Jonathan Miller

Jonathan Miller

Hi, I’m Rob. And I’m a recovering politician.

When Toronto’s world famous mayor leaves rehab and returns to city hall and the campaign trail Monday, Rob Ford might want to get his hands on The Recovering Politician’s Twelve Step Program to Survive Crisis, a 2013 book edited by Jonathan Miller, a former state treasurer of Kentucky. (His editor’s note opens with that take on the well-known Alcoholics Anonymous’ salutation.)

The book includes contributions from a dozen former American politicians sharing their “war stories” and advice on how to survive and transcend a crisis.

The steps include: Tell the truth. Own your mistakes, take responsibility and sincerely say “I’m sorry.” Make an emotional connection. Be first to frame your narrative in your own voice, with facts and sincerity. Present your fix-it plan.

North Americans, generally speaking, like to give public figures a second chance, Miller says, citing former U.S. president Bill Clinton, “the ultimate survivor,” and Marion Barry, the ex-Washington, D.C., mayor whom the New York Post calls the “original Rob Ford.”

Some comeback attempts don’t work out. Former New York governor Eliot Spitzer’s campaign for comptroller last year acknowledged his hooker scandal with an ad that said he’d “failed, big time,” and then he did. Former congressman Anthony Weiner scuttled his political re-entry by getting caught in a second sexting scandal.

Miller says that in his memory, no other scandal-scarred politician has sought re-election with the kind of “comprehensive baggage” Ford has accumulated.

“You’ve had people who suffered from addiction, others accused of hanging with criminal elements, and ethical impropriety. It’s just unprecedented to think of anybody with all of these accusations,” said Miller, a crisis management attorney and founder

The mayor and Councillor Doug Ford, his older brother and campaign manager, have promised the 45-year-old Rob Ford will be a “new man” after spending the last two months in a Muskoka rehab centre where he received treatment for alcoholism.

Ford went to the facility April 30 after audio recordings of him making racist remarks surfaced as well as another video allegedly showing him smoking crack cocaine, which was viewed by a Star reporter.

Ford’s actions in the coming days will be critical if he has a chance of persuading voters to re-elect him mayor on Oct. 27, Miller said.

His advice to Ford? Address the public and answer any and all questions — similar to New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie’s two-hour news conference after a bridge closing scandal.

“He (Ford) really needs to have a full, free, honest and sincere admission of wrongdoing and to say, ‘Here are the ways I am going to change my behaviour so you’ll never see this happen again.’ ”

Ford has scheduled a city hall news conference at 3:30 p.m. Monday, but he will not take any questions. That’s a mistake, said Miller, who is married to a Mississauga native and has spent a lot of time in Canada.

“Letting his critics come in and take every single question and answer it honestly and sincerely . . . that is the way to survive something like this.”

Miller would also advise Ford to speak to youths about the perils of drug and alcohol abuse, and donate money to addiction treatment facilities.

The key will be his sincerity, “and whether people really believe that what he is doing is sincere or rather just a cover for trying to find political redemption.”

But after months of defiance, name calling and angry denials about substance abuse and a string of embarrassing and outrageous behaviour, Ford will face a doubtful public. Emailing a photo of himself in a swimming pool and proclaiming rehab is “amazing” might play well with his hardcore base but it will do little to sway skeptics.

Down at city hall, for instance, Ford has invited councillors to join him in his office Monday afternoon for an “informal meeting.” None contacted by the Star planned to attend. Some wished him luck and hoped rehab had done him some good.

“I don’t make time to meet with bigots, sexists or homophobes,” Councillor Josh Matlow said, referring to some of the comments Ford has made in his drunken stupors…

Jeff Smith

Jeff Smith

Former Missouri senator Jeff Smith, a Recovering Politician contributor and another co-author of Scandal and Resurgence, said there’s a “reservoir of goodwill” for Ford, the same way there was for Barry, the former Washington mayor.

While both shared the ignominy of being caught on videotape smoking crack, the two men are popular with a similar constituency: people suspicious of government and media, and who view these politicians “as sort of persecuted underdogs,” Smith said.

“If Ford is able to channel peoples’ sympathies in a way that Marion Barry, I don’t think it’s inconceivable that he could be re-elected, but he can’t come back and have another episode, then it’s over,” Smith said.

Just last week, Barry, who is on a book tour promoting his memoir, Mayor for Life, denied he ever smoked crack in a hotel room when he was mayor in 1990. After going to jail, he was re-elected as mayor in 1994 and later won a seat on council that he still occupies.

Voters also respond to personal scandals differently than they do financial transgressions or those involving abuses of power,” Smith noted. In recent American history, financial scandals are more damaging.

“If it’s sex, a lot of voters are like, ‘what does that have to do with me, that’s between him and his wife and his God.’ If it’s public money, voters are like, ‘that’s my tax money,’ so it’s a different reaction.”

Smith was once a rising star in the Democratic Party and subject of the critically acclaimed documentary Can Mr. Smith Get to Washington Anymore? His political career ended after he pleaded guilty to election-related fraud and went to prison in 2010 — punishment even his political enemies believed was wildly excessive.

Now a politics professor, Smith said Ford will have to craft his message aimed at the “fence sitters,” and not direct his message to the people “who identify with the sort of grievance-based politics that fuelled his rise.”

Welcome Canadian Visitors to The Recovering Politician

If you are one of the thousands of new visitors to the site joining us via the Rob Ford profile in the Toronto Star, welcome!

While you are here, we encourage you to surf through The Recovering Politician, a web site dedicated to civil dialogue, led by those who’ve served in the political arena and now are using their experiences to offer lessons to fix our political system.  Here’s a sampling of some of our most popular posts and contributors:

We’ll start with The RP because, well…uh…he paid for that microphone. In his most popular piece, The RP shared his impossible journey to the final table of the World Series of Poker.  Over the course of the past year and a half, The RP has explained Why Kentucky Basketball Matters, he’s made The Liberal Case for Israel, outlined Debt Ceilings and Credit Downgrade for Dummies, and shared his Top Five lists for about everything. (Our favorite -The Top Five Jew-ish Gentiles in Pop Culture).

The Cycle‘s very own Krystal Ball, generated considerable reader interest with her first piece about Why We Need More Women in Politics.  Krystal should know; her first campaign for office was interrupted by a ridiculous media inquiry into pictures taken of her in college; PG-13 pictures that caused a mini-national-sensation only because of Krystal’s gender.

MSNBC’s commentary crew is also represented by Michael Steele  –whom you also know as the former Lt. Governor of Maryland, as well as the Chairman of the Republican National Committee. Michael has shared with RP readers his vision of the new American Dream, and assessed both President Barack Obama and Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas.

Our most popular writer, hands down, has been contributing RP and former Missouri State Senator Jeff Smith.  Jeff’s first piece — the story of his rise into national celebrity, his dramatic fall that resulted in a prison term, and his hopes for redemption — put the RP on the national map, earning recognition from New York magazine’s “Approval Matrix.” Jeff’s followup — about love and sex behind bars – drew in nearly 100,000 readers, literally crashing the Web site.  Every few weeks, Jeff offers a political advice column — “Do As I Say” — and just this week, he shares the ugly fate of convicted pedophile Jerry Sandusky as he enters prison.

Read the rest of…
Welcome Canadian Visitors to The Recovering Politician

John Y’s Musings from the Middle: Self-Help Books

self helpSo let me tell you about what I’ve been reading lately –not!

If you frequently drive around clients in your car, you have to be careful not to leave every self-help book you happen to be reading in plain sight in the back seat.

Clients sitting in the back seat will notice them even if you tell yourself “Oh, they probably didn’t see that.”

And they will either make an unflattering assumption about you or ask to borrow the book from you. Neither of which is desireable.

jyb_musingsIt is much better if I client finds out about the self-help books you are reading by you posting pictures of them on Facebook. That way they won’t ask to borrow them. And if they make a snarky remark to you about what you are reading, you can tease them about still being on Facebook at their age. (Of course, they might find that comeback from you ironic and buy you a few more self-help books.)

And if all else fails you can tell them you bought the books to help you learn better how to cope with them. That is a good line for saving face–and losing clients.

It just makes better business sense to talk about the weather.

Help End the War About Coal: Support Rebuilding West Liberty, Kentucky

jmandclinton14I just returned from the Clinton Global Initiative America summit in Denver, where I saw an old friend (see pictures spanning 20 years), and spoke about an initiative that is already uniting both “Friends of Coal” and passionate environmentalists:

Rebuilding West Liberty, Kentucky

As I discussed in this op-ed in today’s Louisville Courier-Journal, Rebuilding West Liberty, a project announced this week as a Clinton Global Initiative America Commitment to Action,  is a multi-faceted approach to redevelop a small town in coal country — nearly destroyed by a tornado two years ago —  as a national model for sustainability.

Phase One of this private/public partnership involves the construction of state-of-the-art, energy efficient homes that utilize renewable technologies, and the educational promotion of its innovations to school children and similarly-situated rural communities across the country.

The project holds great promise, not simply for West Liberty itself, but perhaps more importantly, as an example for all of coal country.  It’s a chance to stop merely complaining about what’s wrong in the “War About Coal,” and start supporting what’s great about Eastern Kentucky.

Of course there’s a catch:  We need to raise $500,000 to see this exciting local vision realized.  The good news is that you can help:  With your tax-deductible contribution (the project’s fiscal agent is the nationally-estemeed Federation of Appalachian Housing Enterprises, FAHE), you can make a real difference in helping this risilient community, and working towards an end to the War About Coal.

Click here to contribute $5, $10, $50, $100, $1000 — whatever you can afford.

What’s clear is that we can’t afford to give up on coal country.  It’s time to put aside the heated rhetoric and take a step for real progress in the region.

Please join us.

John Y’s Musings from the Middle: Thoughts for the Day

jyb_musingsThought for the day

The more often I say, “I don’t know,” the more likely I will learn something new.

And the more likely I will be right.


I have observed that people who cherish their opinions over their friendships tend to have many more of the former than the latter. 

And I have observed that the reverse seems to be true for those who cherish friendships over their opinions.


I’ve just been informed that my smartphone has “data leakage.”


And I was complaining because I thought it was my credit card that had “AT&T leakage.”

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