I make no secret that while I haven’t decided on a presidential candidate, I have generally favorable impressions of Rudy Giuliani and Mitt Romney. I also have issues with both, but one of the things being used against Romney is a bit shallow — and that’s his 1992 contribution to the re-election campaign of former New Hampshire Democratic Congressman Dick Swett. But to explain why it’s no big deal, I have to give a bit of context.
First up, my credentials. I am a lifelong New Hampshire resident who has spent most of his life as a registered independent and voted for Swett three of the four times he was on the ballot. And I’ve been following New Hampshire politics for about half my life.
In 1990, Republican Congressman Chuck Douglas was up for re-election. He was being challenged by an architect with the extremely unlikely name of “Dick Swett.” (I’ll NEVER understand why he didn’t go by Richard, or Rich, or Rick.) Now, Douglas is one of the slimier figures ever to make his mark on New Hampshire politics. (I say “slimy” and not “corrupt” because he has never been charged with any such offenses.) Douglas, a former Attorney General and state Supreme Court justice, is probably the state’s greatest expert on divorce law. Not only is he currently on his fourth marriage (I believe), at least two of which ended acrimoniously, he literally wrote the book on the subject. He got himself elected in 1990, but in 1992 a clean-cut, fresh-faced young guy decided to take him on — and won.
Swett did OK in his first term. I don’t recall anything exceptional either way, and in New Hampshire we have a rather odd tradition. All state offices have two-year terms, but we tend to give elected officials four years to see how they do — but we like having that election halfway through to bounce those we really decide we don’t like. That’s what we did to Douglas in 1990, and to former Governor Craig Benson in 2004. So when 1992 rolled around, Swett was challenged by a nobody named Bill Hatch and (as part of the Clinton landslide) stomped him nearly 2-to-1.
It was to that campaign that Mitt Romney donated $250 to.
It might also be relevant that Swett is married to powerful California Congressman Tom Lantos’ daughter, Katrina, and is also a fellow Mormon. (They’ve also given their seven children some rather unusual names: Chanteclair Esprit, Chelsea Brittania, Sebastian Amadeus, Keaton Parkhurst, Kismet Canterbury, Atticus Omega, and Sunday Phoenix. I’m presuming that “Omega” was to symbolize their last child, and “Phoenix” the rebirth from the ashes of THAT theory. But one should almost expect a man saddled with “Dick Swett” by his parents might pull a “Boy Named Sue” stunt on his own.)
Swett was unseated in the 1994 Republican sweep, as he was seen as too closely tied to Bill Clinton. (That was the one time I didn’t vote for him.) He attempted a comeback in 1996, when he challenged Senator Bob Smith (the nominal head of the “arrogant stupid” faction of the New Hampshire GOP), but lost that race, too — but it was so close that some networks actually proclaimed him the winner. (Smith went on to even greater acts of arrogant stupidity until John E. Sununu knocked him off in the 2002 primary.)
So, yeah, Romney kicked some bucks Swett’s way 15 years ago. Big deal. Swett was still an OK guy by then, one who’d polished off a slimy git and was being challenged by a nobody.
You wanna go after Romney? Go after that atrocity of a “mandatory health insurance” program he so valiantly championed as governor in Massachusetts. Or keep recycling his failed 1994 campaign against Senator Ted Kennedy, when he tried to run as “not really a Republican, honest!”
But let the Swett contribution go. Swett did yeoman’s service for New Hampshire — first by offing Chuck Douglas, then by wounding Bob Smith. He also served as Bill Clinton’s ambassador to Denmark, and we managed to avoid going to war with the Danes during his tenure there. Plus, he’s given us a lot of entertainment with his name and those of his children.