The Maverick and the Machine: Governor Dan Walker Tells His Story

By Channick, Herbert S. | Journal of the Illinois State Historical Society, Summer 2009 | Go to article overview

The Maverick and the Machine: Governor Dan Walker Tells His Story


Channick, Herbert S., Journal of the Illinois State Historical Society


The Maverick and the Machine: Governor Dan Walker Tells His Story. By Dan Walker. (Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press, 2007, Pp 352. Illus., index. Cloth, $29.95).

When Dan Walker was defeated for re-nomination as governor by the regular Democratic organization's Daley-backed candidate, Michael Howlett in 1976, surprisingly little regret was expressed by reform-minded Illinois Democrats and Independents. Walker had alienated many of them by his upset defeat of the widely respected and admired Paul Simon in the 1972 Democratic gubernatorial primary and Walker's subsequent term in office had been characterized by what often seemed unnecessary contentiousness and a stubborn refusal to compromise on legislative issues.

But while there were those, including Simon and Democratic presidential candidate George McGovern, who saw him as intellectually dishonest, his career, to that point, had been free of anything to suggest that he was dishonest in a financial sense. In consequence, his 1987 federal indictment and guilty plea to charges of bank fraud, misapplication of bank funds, and perjury came as a considerable surprise to most observers. There were still further surprises in the revelations of the high life Walker had lived with his second wife after leaving the governor's mansion for he had gone out of his way while governor to insure that the office was free of ostentation and showy trappings.

Now, after prison and decades of living in obscurity, Walker has told his story in his memoir, The Maverick and the Machine. It is in part the classic American tale of a rise to the top from humble beginnings; a hardscrabble childhood in rural San Diego County, service in the navy, a successful legal career accompanied by frequent involvement in politics and civic affairs. This was all capped by a sudden rise to prominence as director of the study group which produced the report on the confrontations between police and demonstrators during the 1968 Democratic National Convention which came to be known as The Walker Report. And while the report was actually rather even-handed, it earned for Walker Mayor Richard J. Daley's undying enmity by labeling the worst police misconduct during the disorders as a "police riot," a label which predictably caught on with the national media and the public.

Some two years later Walker decided to enter the race for the 1972 Democratic gubernatorial nomination, a venture which most observers regarded as quixotic and hopeless. By the summer of 1971 that certainly seemed to be the case and the Walker campaign was ready to resort to desperate measures. Walker remembered that his friend, Lawton Chiles, had walked through portions of Florida during his run for the Senate and Chiles believed that it had helped his campaign. Victor DeGrazia, Walker's closest adviser, described the idea of the candidate walking the entire length of the state to the campaign's public relations experts and was told that it was "the worst idea we've ever heard." "He'll be a laughing stock" one of the experts added. But it worked.

Perhaps it was the image of this determined fellow wearing boots and work clothes, with a red bandanna tied around his neck, trudging along country roads in scorching summer weather that convinced voters that the former LaSalle Street lawyer was a "regular guy," not the usual Illinois pol. Undoubtedly, resentment of Illinois' perennial bumper crop of corrupt politicians, the efforts of a host of anti-machine volunteers, an unusual number of newly-legalized Republican crossovers voters, and a laid back, too passive campaign by an over-confident Paul Simon all played a part. Whatever the reasons, Walker defeated Simon by a narrow margin and in the subsequent general election won another hairbreadth victory, defeating incumbent Richard Ogilvie who had sealed his own fate by courageously insisting on the enactment of a much-needed state income tax.

What sort of administration was it? …

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