As Kansas City waits to see if it will once again host the Republican National Convention, I vividly remember the 1976 GOP fight at the convention in Kansas City between President Gerald Ford and his challenger, Gov. Ronald Reagan of California.
Reagan used the so-called 11th Commandment created by California Republican Party Chairman Gaylord Parkinson – “Thou shalt not speak ill of any fellow Republican” – as his unifying rallying cry even though he was often caught violating it.
A public relations nightmare almost occurred before the convention even opened when the large Pennsylvania delegation was nearly evicted by irate hotel owner Maury J. Bluhm. Pennsylvania officials publicly complained that they were housed in a corn field at the new Plaza Inn International (now the Hilton) near Kansas City International Airport, far from Kemper Arena, where the convention was held. Fortunately, the situation was defused.
President Ford was housed at the Crown Center Hotel and, like most delegates, including Reagan at the Alameda, had to pay for rooms in advance.
I took my mother, a GOP worker from Pittsburgh, and dad, a Democrat, to the Crown Center Hotel, where my mother got to shake hands with President Ford at a reception in the lobby. The expressions on my parents’ faces were priceless. For the first time in their lives they had personally met a president. It was my third.
I have several collectible souvenirs from that convention, including a 10-inch empty whiskey bottle with a triumphant gray elephant sitting atop a decorated drum minus a missing tricorn hat.
Ford emerged the winner at that convention, with Kansas Senator Bob Dole as his running mate.
The main impediment to winning the 1976 convention over favorite Miami was the lack of hotel and motel space. Local leaders had stretched some 13,000 rooms into 16,000 by reaching out to other communities such as Independence. The day was won, and the convention got under way on Aug. 16.
Room accommodations will again be a factor in determining whether we beat out Dallas, Denver or Cleveland for the 2016 convention, but area leaders are confident that the Sprint Center will be making history in 2016.
I hope it happens for, as with the 2012 Major League Baseball All-Star Game, we will show the country we know how to put on a national show.
I give you President John Adams’ toast: Independence forever.
Jerry Plantz lives in Lee’s Summit. His website is at www.Jerryplantz.com. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.