Simon, Paul Martin

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Simon, Paul Martin

(b. 29 November 1928 in Eugene, Oregon; d. 9 December 2003 in Springfield, Illinois), newspaper editor and publisher, U.S. senator, and presidential candidate.

Simon was the older of the two sons of the Reverend Martin Simon and Ruth (Troemel) Simon, who until soon before Simon’s birth were Lutheran missionaries in China. When they returned to the United States, Simon’s parents settled in Eugene, where Simon’s father became the pastor of Grace Lutheran Church. Simon’s father was a Progressive Republican who idolized the Progressive presidential candidate Robert M. (“Fighting Bob”) La Follette, championed civil rights causes in the 1930s and 1940s, and supported President Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal. Simon later wrote, “I acquired my mother’s instincts for practicality, my father’s idealism and interest in public life.” Simon attended public schools in Eugene and then Concordia Academy in Portland, Oregon. In 1945, at the age of sixteen, Simon enrolled at the University of Oregon, Eugene, to study journalism. A year later the Simon family relocated to Highland, Illinois, where Simon’s father produced religious publications and later led a congregation in Okawville. Simon continued his education at Dana College in Blair, Nebraska, where he became the student body president and advocated the admittance of African-American students to the all-white college.

At nineteen Simon dropped out of college and purchased a dormant weekly newspaper, which he named the Troy Tribune, in the southwestern Illinois town of Troy. In so doing Simon became the youngest newspaper editor and publisher in the nation. “I wanted to be the Walter Lippmann of my generation,” he explained. From this beginning Simon built a chain of fourteen weekly newspapers. A crusading journalist, he exposed organized crime, prostitution, and gambling rings in Madison County, Illinois, prompting Governor Adlai Stevenson to order state police raids. Simon, nicknamed the “wonder boy of Madison County” by Senator Paul Douglas, who became a mentor, testified before the nationally televised U.S. Senate hearings on organized crime in 1951. Simon sold the chain of newspapers in 1966 to concentrate on politics but continued to write the weekly column “P.S. Washington” for his constituents. In later years Simon contributed to the Chicago Sun-Times and provided commentary for National Public Radio.

Simon served in the U.S. Army from 1951 to 1953, assigned to the Counter Intelligence Corps in Europe. When he left the military, Simon in 1953 announced his Democratic candidacy for a seat in the Illinois State House of Representatives. Considered a long shot, “the candidate with the bow tie,” as one newspaper described Simon, won the nomination and the 1954 general election. He kept the bow tie. “I thought, what the heck, I might as well use it as a trademark,” he later recalled. Simon was reelected in 1956, 1958, and 1960. In 1962 he was elected to the Illinois Senate, where he served two terms (1963–1969). As a state legislator Simon proved energetic and ambitious, sponsoring more than forty pieces of legislation, including controversial civil rights bills. He called for higher taxes on racetracks and outlawing boxing in the state and fought against patronage at all levels. “He took on more causes and more issues than you could shake a stick at,” recalled one colleague, “and he never, never ran out of gas.” Simon also built a reputation for candor and honesty. Long before it was mandatory, Simon disclosed his personal finance report and required his senior staff to do the same.

Simon gained national attention when his article “The Illinois Legislature: A Study in Corruption” was published in the September 1964 issue of Harper’s Magazine. In the article Simon accused some state legislators of corruption and bribery. The piece gained Simon a loyal following among many voters but hindered his path to leadership in the state assembly. Simon hoped the article would lead to reform, but he was ostracized by many of his colleagues. Simon did receive renewed attention from the state Democratic Party, however, which served him well in future campaigns. Simon later noted that he learned from the experience, and in national politics he pursued institutional rather than individual reform.

On 21 April 1960 Simon married Jeanne Hurley of Wilmette, Illinois, one of his colleagues in the Illinois legislature. Hurley served as an Illinois state representative from 1957 to 1961, one of only six women in the body. The couple had two children.

In 1968 Simon defeated the Republican candidate Robert A. Dwyer, who had criticized Simon for his “pie-in-the-sky” philosophy, to become the lieutenant governor of Illinois. It was a surprise victory because Simon was elected as a Democrat to serve under the Republican Governor Richard B. Ogilvie. In 1972, with the backing of Mayor Richard J. Daley’s Democratic political machine in Chicago, Simon campaigned for governor, opposing Ogilvie’s reelection bid. Ogilvie portrayed Simon as a Daley cohort and himself as running against the machine. Simon countered with charges of Ogilvie’s dishonesty and catering to monied interests. To a certain extent, Simon honed his political identity during this campaign. “It is the paradox of Paul Simon,” one observer wrote, “that he least resembles what in fact he is—one of the most skillful and successful politicians currently doing business in the state of Illinois.” Simon surprised opponents with a tough campaign and sharp debates. He lost the election but later said the 1972 campaign taught him to “hit back.” During a short hiatus from political office, Simon taught political science and cofounded a public affairs journalism program at Sangamon State University in Springfield and lectured at the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University.

In 1974 Simon moved his family to Makanda, Illinois, a small community near the college town of Carbondale, Illinois. He was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives from the Twenty-fourth Congressional District of Illinois. A member of the “Watergate class of 1974,” Simon won reelection four times, serving from 3 January 1975 to 3 January 1985. As congressman, he concentrated on education issues and promoted equal opportunity for the disabled. On 6 November 1984, in an upset victory over the Republican Senator Charles Percy, Simon was elected to the U.S. Senate, where he served for two terms (1985–1997). In the Senate, Simon combined his talents for writing with his commitment to public service and political reform. He overhauled student loan programs, promoted adult literacy, crusaded for voluntary restrictions on violence in television and movies, and championed the balanced budget amendment. Simon believed that growing deficits decimated the tools of activist government and undermined programs such a Medicare and Social Security. “Perhaps being born a year before the Great Depression of 1929 made me fiscally conservative,” Simon wrote in his autobiography, “and the misery faced by so many people made me socially liberal.” Simon cosponsored a controversial 1986 immigration law that provided amnesty to thousands of undocumented immigrants. He also sponsored legislation creating the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children. As a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee from 1985 to 1997, Simon proved to be an outspoken opponent of Supreme Court nominees Robert Bork and Clarence Thomas.

Simon sought the Democratic nomination for president in 1988, running on the theme “Isn’t it time to believe again?” He made a strong showing in early polls, running second in the opening Iowa caucus on 8 February and third in the New Hampshire primary on 16 February. Simon won only one primary, however, in his home state of Illinois on 15 March, and suspended his campaign in April. He chose not to release his approximately 170 delegates in the hope of influencing the race if the Democratic convention became deadlocked. Suspending rather than ending the campaign caused controversy, because it denied the delegates to Jesse Jackson, who had placed second in the Illinois primary. Responding to requests to forfeit the delegates, Simon insisted on maintaining his influence, if not his candidacy. Asked if he would run again in 1992, Simon answered, “Running for president is a little like taking an ice-cold shower. It is a great one-time experience, but I have no yearning for a repeat performance.”

In 1994, two years before facing reelection to the Senate, Simon announced he would not run for a third term, explaining that he had grown tired of constant fund-raising and the politicized atmosphere of Capitol Hill. He said he had “an obligation to the people of Illinois, to the Senate and to myself to leave the Senate while I am still eager to serve, not after I tire of serving.” After his retirement from the Senate, Simon founded and directed the Paul Simon Public Policy Institute at Southern Illinois University in Carbondale. He continued to write, producing a total of twenty-two books on his manual typewriter, ranging from his personal favorite, a biography of the abolitionist publisher Elijah Lovejoy, Lovejoy, Martyr to Freedom (1964), to scholarly works on Abraham Lincoln and campaign books such as Let’s Put America Back to Work (1987). His autobiography, P.S. The Autobiography of Paul Simon, was published in 1999. Simon’s writing reflected his long-term commitment to public service. Other titles included The Glass House: Politics and Morality in the Nation’s Capitol (1984), Winners and Losers: The 1988 Race for the Presidency—One Candidate’s Perspective (1989), and Advice and Consent: Clarence Thomas, Robert Bork, and the Intriguing History of the Supreme Court’s Nomination Battles (1992). Simon’s last book, published posthumously, was Fifty-two Simple Ways to Make a Difference (2004).

Simon’s wife died of brain cancer in 2000, and on 20 May 2001 Simon married Patricia Derge and gained two stepchildren. On 9 December 2003, at age seventy-five, Simon died unexpectedly in Saint John’s Hospital, Springfield, of complications of heart surgery. He is buried in a family plot near Makanda.

Simon devoted his life to his political crusades and to his family. He often found it difficult to translate his idealism into practical action. He was erudite and bookish, but opponents found that beneath his mild-mannered image was a fierce competitor and experienced politician. Simon deplored cynicism and strongly believed in the ability of government to improve people’s lives. When asked in the year 2000 what advice he would give to current politicians, Simon replied, “Don’t pay attention to the polls; show some backbone.”

Simon’s papers covering his service in the Illinois state house and the lieutenant governor’s office are deposited in the Illinois State Historical Library in Springfield. The collection also relates to Simon’s career as an author and journalist. His senatorial papers are at Southern Illinois University in Carbondale. A small collection can also be found in the archives of the University of Illinois at Urbana–Champaign. Obituaries are in the Chicago Tribune, Chicago Sun-Times, and Washington Post (all 10 Dec. 2003).

Betty K. Koed