Pumas 4 Palin

Who is Susan Catania? What does she teach us about DNC?

Posted on: July 24, 2008

Susan Catania  made history at Dallas, TX in 1984

At the highly orchestrated, and glittering  Republican convention that year, the party had a chance to make Ronald Reagan a unanimous choice for re-nomination. A veritable coronation was planned. It was all thwarted by Mrs. Catania, who just also happened to live on the south side of Chicago.

As a matter of principle, Catania refused to vote for Reagan, and voted present. Thereby preventing a Vote of Unanimity for the Reagan/Bush slate. In a democracy, felt Susan, there had to be voices of dissent. And what was she dissenting about?  She discovered that in the entire platform of the GOP that year, not a single reference could be found to the problems of the big cities. And she came from one of the biggest!

Susan Catania was a rarity among Illinois politicians, even national politicians, in a number of ways. She was a maverick ahead of her times, and independent amongst party-line cardboard cutouts, a compassionate conservative long before that phrase was concocted, a true-heart family values person with a blue collar background. Above all, she enjoyed being a maverick, a maverick with a heart, a loyal and principled politician.

She was a member of the Illinois State House of Representatives from 1973-1983. She ran as a Republican in a Democratic district filled with public housing projects. She became an instant celebrity when she took her babies to the legislature, so they wouldn’t be deprived of mother’s attention. She breast-fed her infant during sessions.

Catania was a dedicated law maker. She spear-headed the ERA amendment in Illinois legislature (a multi year battle that ended in infamy and prison sentence to a female activist on some lame charges of bribery). She also worked on a number of bills involving civil rights, AIDS victims and ERA. Unfortunately, changes in state law,  voting formulations, the “cutback amendment”,  and gerrymandering made it impossible for her to run on GOP ticket.  In spirit she was a true democrat and, would be an even an greater Democrat politically.  But ever faithful, she honored the Republican voters who trusted her at the outset and never changed parties. Though her political star faded, Susan Catania continues to impact lives positively through her job as an administrator in the Illinois Department of Human Services.
Catania and the Convention:

Even before arriving in Dallas for the convention, Susan Catania knew she was not going to vote for Mr. Reagan as the nominee. She made her intentions known, early and often as they say. She was something of a media celebrity, and was sought after during a convention that Walter Cronkite termed ‘may be the dullest’.

Catania told an interviewer later:

I did feel that I was not philosophically aligned with many people in my party.    [sic]   I was getting a sense that I was saying something that needed to be said, particularly since no one else seemed to be willing to say it.

How then did Catania feel, did she feel besieged?

The phone calls and telegrams helped a lot. The stand became uncomfortable a few times. There were some people in my own delegation who were not happy with me. But I’ve never felt that someone who is elected to an office has any right to take personal discomfort into account when deciding how to vote.

Interview by Judy Haynes
Session 8 / Tape 12 / Side 2 / Page 151 of PDF    Emphasis added above.

This is a fascinating transcript, even after all these years.

(Btw a separate collection of video chats by Catania are available at this excellent site)

While reading the parts where Mrs. Catania talks of her experiences at Dallas in 1984, one almost gains some intimations of what awaits a would-be Hillary delegate at  Denver in 2008 – also a coronation-to-be.

The point is, there was no need in 1984 for the GOP to have held a vote or roll call, other than for reasons of tradition. Ronald Reagan could have simply had the floor chairman receive a voice acclamation and declared a ‘consent without dissent’. It would have mattered little.

Prior to convention, the Reagan White House knew of Susan Catania, her reputation as the most liberal Republican, a maverick, a feminist and her fight for ERA. Yet they went ahead with a roll call. There was no opposition to the Reagan/Bush slate, of course. The team knew of the impending embarrassment or awkwardness of the dissent. As it happened, another delegate from Bucks County, PA, joined Catania. His activism centered around nuclear weapons issues.

Back then, did it not make a difference because it was only just one little lady?  Did the Dallas ’84 GOP convention simply ignore, disregard and dust off the 2 votes as paltry, insignificant?  What if there had been 25 instead of just 2. Or, 205, or 1200. But the fact is a roll call was made. Dissent noted. Catania made history. That’s what conventions, even coronations are for. They are history as lived by actors directly affecting it.

Natural Born Leader

And now, consider this. Would a major star, giving voice to 18 million voters, representing the most winning combination of states in the electoral map, a person who is essential to the future of the party, will such a person get a billing at Denver in 08?

If so what sort of billing, and what kind of recognition? What does this lady deserve at the very least?

Regular readers of this blog know the answer.  That’s why they are fully behind The Denver Group.

And too, is it not ironic, that Susan Catania lived on the south side of Chicago, served in the Illinois legislature, and made her mark on the national scene at a political convention. She became a symbol of all that is ethical and noble about a delegate and a convention.

And now a quarter-century later, another Chicago politician is involved at a convention, full of presumption. Will this be an open, honest and competitive show of hands with dissenting vote recorded or, will it be closed, orchestrated, nominal and acclamatory?

Will the convention at Denver, just muzzle the voices of the millions as represented by Hillary Clinton or will it let reflect a true show of conscience as symbolised by that little lady, so long ago?


Late Update on the Denver show: Contrast the events at Dallas in 1984 and Susan Catania,  with the way the Wisconsin Democrats stripped Debra Bartoshevich of her delegate status (h/t CQueen), even-though she was elected by party activists to represent Hillary Clinton.  There will be a detailed post on Debra later, but this question has to be asked right away. Does this heavy handed approach toward Bartoshevich fore-shadow what Hillary’s role is going to be at Denver, if any?  After all Debra’s error in haste was that ‘she failed to get even before she got mad’ as riverdaughter put it so archly.

ONE YEAR LATER – A Few Follow-up Thoughts:

Recent increase in the viewership of this post suggests renewed interest in the unique characteristic of a certain natural, easy, earthy motherhood that fuels political activism – common to both Catania and Sarah Palin – and, a certain dogged nature of person-hood: pursuit of family values in the face of the obvious hardships, a streak of independence, and a maverick spirit.

Remember, Catania put in long hours in politics without giving up a personal or family life – she and her husband worked for a living all their life –  shw went to church, raised kids, and never compromised on her ideals. And never forgot her roots! All these qualities point to a certain unstated spiritual and philosophical lineage going back in time from Sarah Palin back to Susan Catania. After all isn’t Alaska just Chicago with a lot a more snow?

An obvious difference between Catania and Palin, of course, centers on the issue of career twists and ambition. Catania chose to give up politics when Illinois went into a big Constitutional turmoil (incidentally agitated for by the current ‘incumbent’  governor, Patrick Quinn, he was very much the outsider back then).

Sarah Palin, we hope, remains politically ambitious. We need ambitious people. People driven by ambition and guided by principles do well in leadership position. By itself, ambition is neither good nor bad. It’s the character of the person that makes all the difference. On that count Catania and Palin are both winners. We wish the best to both.

And, oh yes, Sarah Palin in 2012!


5 Responses to "Who is Susan Catania? What does she teach us about DNC?"

She is a true patriot and a rare one for a republican IMO! Great post sharmajee!


Really interesting post! I’m not surprised, as it is the type of Republican I am, too. Open-minded and fair people are in both parties.

I wanted to thank you for visiting my blog and commenting. You bring facts and reason to the posts! I hope you’ll visit often.

Great post– I had forgotten this about this story- thanks for reminding us.

Wow, great post Sharmajee. I had never even heard this story! It’s a sad day indeed when Republicans have a more ethical record than Democrats do.

[…] over at Senator from Punjab has an excellent piece up that taught me a little bit about women’s history that I did not know. You should really […]

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