Thursday, May 17, 2018

The Maverick and the Machine: Governor Dan Walker Tells His Story Hardcover by Dan Walker (Southern Illinois University Press)

The Maverick and the Machine: Governor Dan Walker Tells His Story by [Walker, Dan]

A friend, knowing of my long-standing interest - and occasional activity -- in politics, sent me this book. It turned out to be a fascinating read!

It is really three stories woven into one. The first is Dan Walker's rise from Navy enlisted man to Annapolis graduate to U.S. Supreme Court clerk to Governor of Illinois. The second is the inside story of how politics and government really worked - and probably still works - in Mayor Richard J. Daley's Chicago and Illinois. And third, an improbable prison memoir, for Governor Walker served 18 months in Federal prison for the failure of his S&L.

Governor Walker, who served one term as the Independent Democratic governor of Illinois from 1973 thru 1977, was a reform-minded, anti-machine, "good government" administrator. He took on the pay-to-play practices of the Chicago machine that are still too-prevalent today - the Jack Abramoff scandal is just one example still making headlines - and paid a huge political price. Challenged by Mayor Daley's hand-picked candidate in his re-election primary, Walker lost. The Democratic candidate then lost to the Republican, "Big Jim" Thompson, and the GOP controlled the Illinois state house for the next 20 years.

It is the story-behind-the-story, however, that is truly fascinating. How politicians - from both parties - controlled jobs and votes is the real story. The real workings of machine politics -- from the ward level up thru the governor's office and into the U.S. Attorney's prosecution for a victimless regulatory error - are conveyed clearly and dramatically. Few political science texts come close to this insider's insight.

The most disturbing parts of the book are Governor Walker's reminiscences about life in the (so-called "minimum" security) prison in Duluth, Minnesota. Every chapter of the book starts with a scene from prison life, and each is more depressing than the previous one. Perhaps what was so surprising for me was that while I never thought of myself as "pro-prison reform," I came away from this book angry about the official abuses and degradations.

"The Maverick and the Machine" should be required reading in every college political science class that even touches on American politics or government. And for the political junkies among us, it is the must-read sleeper of the year!

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