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Alumni Share Tales from the Political Trail

From Knox Academy student Hiram Revels, elected in 1870 as the nation's first black Senator, to Ismat Kittani '51, former Iraqi ambassador to the United Nations and president of the U.N. General Assembly, to John Podesta '71, former White House chief of staff, Knox alumni have made significant political contributions on the local, national, and international stage. Meet a few of Knox's current political movers and shakers.


Caroline Porter '58Caroline Andrews Porter '58
Caroline Andrews Porter has been involved in study and action on government issues for 50 years. She joined the League of Women Voters of Galesburg in 1957 as a junior at Knox and became active in party politics in 1971. She was elected two terms as chair of the Knox County Democratic Party and was a precinct committee person for more than 30 years. In 1973, Porter was the first woman elected to the Knox County Board and is currently completing her third term.

Why did you decide to become active in politics?
"My whole family was involved in politics. My grandfather was mayor of Kewanee for 16 years. My mother was a charter member of the Kewanee League of Women Voters and president of the Illinois League. My father was a lawyer and chairman of the Henry County Democrats. My brother was the first legislative intern in the State of Illinois. My uncle was also mayor of Kewanee. The bug finally hit me when I became old enough to vote (then 21)."

Who is your political hero?
"I admire Harry Truman, who had the guts to talk about civil rights in Missouri in the 1940s. He wasn't afraid of anyone, didn't back down from his beliefs, and was honest."


Dan Martin '61Dan Martin '61
Dan Martin's political involvement began in high school in Iowa and continued with the Young Republicans at Knox. He has also volunteered in campaigns at a variety of levels and has been appointed to serve on state and federal boards and commissions. Inactive since the 1980s, Martin renewed his political activity once Barack Obama emerged as a presidential candidate. An active volunteer for the Obama campaign, Martin has been a convener of one of the campaign's many volunteer policy development groups. He's also done basic canvassing work and participated as a speaker at environmental policy events.

Any memorable, unique, or humorous political moments you would like to share?
"A Knox class in political parties took a field trip to Chicago and met with a long-time stalwart of the Cook County machine. He showed us how a paper ballot could be 'spoiled' if it was marked for the wrong candidate by keeping a piece of graphite under a fingernail of every teller, all of whom, coincidentally, were employees of the city. Creativity of this kind flourished over the years in Chicago."

Who is your political hero?
"James Madison is my hero because of his crucial role in forging the Constitution. Right now, my hero is Barack Obama. He offers a transformative vision of American politics, diminishing the partisan warfare of recent years, and restoring some of the lost standing of the United States with the rest of the world."


Susan Bryant '67Susan Bohlen Bryant '67
Susan Bohlen Bryant began her political career as an active member, and eventual president, of the Knox College Young Republicans. She has spent 41 years committed to Republican causes and is currently director of communications and public liaison in the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, a leadership position in the Bush administration. She is also a volunteer for John McCain's campaign.

If someone wants to become politically active, what's the first step?
"Find your candidate or your party and volunteer. Working in politics should not be a way to get rich. Expect to work hard, long hours for very little financial compensation. Eventually, you may be rewarded with a good salaried public service job, but that should not be the goal of becoming politically active. To have a good government requires the commitment to improve and perfect our political system."

Any memorable, unique, or humorous political moments you would like to share?
"I came back to Knox for a career conference in the early '70s, and Dr. Phil Haring, who taught political science courses, said he always believed one of his fine students would be the one to perfect our system, and he looked forward to congratulating him when he did. I told him that day that he might be correct, but I looked forward to him congratulating HER when she developed the perfect government. He laughed and laughed at his own foible. But I've never forgotten his challenge. I haven't yet developed the perfect government, but there's plenty of room for future Knoxites to do so!"


Ken Johnson '73Ken Johnson '73
Ken Johnson is the senior vice president for communications and public affairs at the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA). Prior to joining PhRMA, he held senior advisory and communications roles for the federal government, playing a key role in developing the strategic communications plan for implementation of the 9/11 Commission recommendations into law. He was also at the forefront of the much-publicized congressional investigations into Enron, Martha Stewart, Ford-Firestone, WorldCom, Global Crossing, Qwest, HealthSouth, Los Alamos Nuclear Laboratory, and human cloning.

If someone wants to become politically active, what's the first step?
"It starts by voting. If you don't take part in the political process, then don't complain about it. Educate yourself about the issues and the candidates."

Who is your political hero?
"Abraham Lincoln. This is the man who once said: 'Malice toward none' and 'charity for all.' As an occasional speechwriter, I only wish I had said that first. How powerful. How unifying. How everlasting. President Lincoln did more than just free the slaves and save the Union, he inspired future generations of Americans to fight -- and die -- to preserve our freedoms and democracy."


Tad Daley '78Tad Daley '78
Tad Daley has worked as a policy advisor to three different progressive Democratic members of Congress -- Senator Alan Cranston and Representatives Diane Watson and Dennis Kucinich. He's spent most of his career in the non-profit political advocacy realm, working for several different organizations that advocate abolishing nuclear weapons, ending genocide, and reinventing the United Nations.

Why did you decide to become active in politics?
"It was my Poli Sci 101 class that set me on that advocacy road. Dr. Phil Haring gave me a C+ on the very first paper I ever wrote in college. I superciliously informed the reader that Plato's Republic was 'too unrealistic' to hold any real philosophical merit. When I got the poor grade, I marched up to Professor Haring's office and demanded an explanation. The professor, in fine Socratic form, readily agreed with my assessment of Plato's direct applicability ... and then asked me to contemplate whether Plato might have had some other, deeper motive for writing such a philosophical fantasy. Eventually, I got it through my thick skull that in writing about an ideal political state, Plato hoped he might perhaps move the real world just a little bit in the direction of his ideal."

Any memorable, unique, or humorous political moments you would like to share?
"In fall 2007, I wrote an article that appeared as an op-ed in the Philadelphia Inquirer. It was called 'Iran, Egypt, and America's Nuclear Hypocrisy.' Sometimes you write and publish stuff, and nobody seems to notice. But this one, for whatever reason, was widely noticed. My byline for this article read, 'Tad Daley is a Writing Fellow with International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War, winner of the 1985 Nobel Peace Prize.' Imagine my surprise when I went to the 'Opinionator' feature at www.nytimes.com and saw: 'Tad Daley, who won the 1985 Nobel peace prize for his advocacy against atomic weapons, is being excoriated this week in the conservative blogosphere.' They've since corrected it. I haven't won a single Nobel Peace Prize. Yet."


Don Harmon '88Don Harmon '88
Don Harmon serves in the Illinois State Senate, representing the 39th Legislative District, which includes portions of the west and northwest sides of Chicago and 12 western and northwestern suburbs. He is also the Democratic committeeman for Oak Park.

Why did you decide to become active in politics? "
I got involved in government and politics while studying law at the University of Chicago. I think government can do great things but needs more good people to get involved to ensure that happens."

If someone wants to become politically active, what's the first step?
"The best advice I got when I was first considering getting involved in politics came from a law school professor, Abner Mikva, who served in the U.S. House for many years. 'Do it,' he told me, 'and don't wait.' So if you want to become politically active, go volunteer for a local campaign or get involved with a local government citizens' committee. Decisions really are made by the people who show up -- so you've got to show up."


Dan Lieberman '05Dan Lieberman '05
Dan Lieberman's political involvement started his senior year, when he and four other Knox alumni ran and won two Minnesota House races. After graduation, he moved back to the San Francisco Bay area and began working for then-Assemblyman Leland Yee, who was running for the state Senate. After winning that race handily, Yee became the first Chinese-American ever elected to that body. Lieberman has been working in his district office ever since.

Who is your political hero?
"Batman's my hero. Our desire to turn our politicians into heroes just leads to expectations they will never meet. That doesn't mean there aren't any I like. Howard Dean and Barack Obama have put forward models for organizing that I think have the potential to reenergize the party, which I find impressive."

If someone wants to become politically active, what's the first step?
"Campaign. Now is a perfect time to get in on the fight of a lifetime. When you're in a campaign environment, you'll meet people, develop contacts, acquire skills and an understanding of the inner workings of the political process. And don't fall into the Washington trap. Every community has a political structure, and it's a lot easier to get your foot in the door there."


Donovan Griffith '07Donovan Griffith '07
Throughout high school and college, Donovan Griffith was very active with the Knox County Republican Party. Eventually, he ran for, and won, a seat as a precinct committeeman in Knox County and twice held the position of county coordinator for candidates running for U.S. Congress. Currently, he works for the Illinois House of Representatives as a legislative analyst for the Republican Party.

Why did you decide to become active in politics?
"The main reason is to help people and to protect the values of what it means to be American. In a way, I believe every person active in the political process has the same passions, with just different means of accomplishing these goals and with different definitions of what those goals actually are."

Any memorable, unique, or humorous political moments you would like to share?

"In 2006, I worked as Knox County coordinator for a man who ran for the U.S. House of Representatives in a very close primary. On the night of the primary election, the results were coming in and all showed the candidate running neck-and-neck with his rival, and my candidate was down by less than 100 votes. It all came down to one last county -- the county that I happened to be coordinator of. I'll never forget when my candidate's wife asked me how I thought the county would go, and I assured her, we would win and the Republican seat was ours. Less than an hour later, my candidate lost the county and the election by less than one percent. "This moment is memorable for me not only because of the pain it caused, but because I learned that you cannot assure people, cannot speculate, and cannot promise results if you are not completely sure you have the ability to do what you promise."