The Right Stuff
Ducks played key roles on presidential candidate John McCain’s communications team.
Tucker Bounds ’02 has been busy since the national election in early November. There was lunch at the Navy Mess in the White House West Wing, attending President Bush’s arrival from his trip to the Middle East, a visit to the floor of the U.S. House of Representatives, a private tour of Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell’s office, a jaunt to Mount Vernon, a parade of cocktail and Christmas parties.
They were able to bowl some frames “down at the White House, which is kinda cool,” says Bounds, who pulled a few strings to get his out-of-town guests into places, well, a little more interesting than the everyday D.C. tour stops.
“The trip wasn’t too exclusive,” says Bounds with a laugh, something the smooth-spoken thirty-year-old does often. But “having friends around town that I’ve worked with over the years is helpful.”
Bounds has been catching up with friends and relatives whom he hadn’t really been in touch with since early spring, when he began working in the top echelons of Senator John McCain’s presidential campaign, where he teamed with Jill Hazelbaker ’03 to form an integral part of McCain’s communications wing.
As communications director, Hazelbaker developed McCain’s message, and as national spokesman, Bounds delivered it.
And if Bounds’ days are busy now, filled with tours of the Capitol and meals at Beltway restaurants—“I sort of go to lunch now as a job”—they were insane then: Working from six in the morning to late into the night, conference calls with top Republican planners, strategy meetings, near-constant consumption of the news, and an endless gauntlet of interviews and TV spots, fielding questions about McCain, vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin, the Bush administration, the foundering economy, attacks from the Obama camp. “Everything became such a blur when we were working seven days a week, and things seemingly never slowed down.”
There was even a brush with fame.
You might remember: It was September 1, and Bounds was speaking with CNN anchor Campbell Brown, who grilled him on Sarah Palin’s foreign policy experience. Bounds said that Palin’s experience running the Alaska National Guard made her more qualified than Obama to be commander in chief, but Brown didn’t buy it. The combative interview itself made a news cycle or two, became a hot clip on YouTube. Bounds even got ribbed for it on The Daily Show. The McCain campaign cried foul, saying Brown treated Bounds unfairly.
For his part, Bounds says it’s difficult to say if he was abused. “You have to consider the format the interview took place in, the time, that freeze-frame moment in the campaign: Governor Palin was a new candidate not only to the national media, but to our campaign in many respects. And while I think my argument was completely defensible, I think there were probably better arguments to make. But our campaign was making that argument that day, and I did what I could and felt like I was successful.”
The circumstances that led Bounds to daily appearances on television and Hazelbaker to a position of shaping McCain’s campaign messages border on the improbable.
In the beginning of the campaign, months before the caucuses and primaries had even begun, McCain was emerging as the front-runner. But the campaign stalled in the summer of 2007.
“When you say stalled, it means a campaign staff of about 250 people became 30,” Hazelbaker says. “People believed the campaign was over at that point.”
Bounds was out of a job, let go from his post as regional spokesman (representing McCain in the West as well as in the vigorously contested state of Florida) because the campaign was running dangerously low on money. Figuring he was finished with politics for the time, Bounds took a job with the American Insurance Association.
Hazelbaker, twenty-seven, stayed on with McCain as his regional spokeswoman in New Hampshire, where the Arizona senator upset President Bush in the 2000 primaries. In 2008, McCain pulled off an upset there again. Fueled partly by that impressive win, McCain gradually rose past Republican front-runners Rudy Giuliani and Mitt Romney, eventually winning the nomination. With the turnaround, McCain also did some house cleaning, revamping his communications office by putting Hazelbaker in charge.
Falling far behind early in the campaign before shooting back to the fore “is not the way you should run a presidential campaign,” Hazelbaker says, laughing. “But it’s the way we had to do it.”
At the turnaround, Bounds was settled in as the insurance association’s vice president of public affairs when Hazelbaker, who had met Bounds in a University of Oregon political science class, contacted him about returning to the campaign.
“Even before I came back, it was pretty clear that they had a need for someone to be more actively engaged—they needed a national spokesman,” Bounds says. “They needed someone who would end up being someone at the frontline with the message. It was a rare opportunity and something I didn’t hesitate to jump on.”
“Tucker’s very good at what he does,” Hazelbaker says. “And he’s an inexhaustible worker.”
Even though there was no shortage of memorable moments during the charge to the presidential election, it’s the early moments that stick out for Hazelbaker. “I’d fly to New Hampshire from Washington with Senator McCain on Southwest [Airlines], and he’d carry his own bag. We’d have a volunteer pick us up in a minivan,” she recalls. “I don’t think many people would have that opportunity.”
For Bounds, who hails from Hermiston, the road to Washington began in Eugene and made a number of stops in Oregon, and the list of UO graduates who have influenced him reads like roll call at a College Republicans alumni dinner.
His first job in politics was working for Tracy Olsen ’93 on his Eugene City Council race in 2000, while he was still a student. Later that year, Bounds worked for Jon Kvistad in his campaign for Oregon state treasurer. He then interned in Washington for Representative Greg Walden ’81, who hired Bounds for a short-term, entry-level position in what turned out to be a busy 2002. After that, Bounds worked for Dan Lavey ’88, who was a consultant to the Oregon Majority Political Action Committee, before being hired by John Easton ’91 to be Senator Gordon Smith’s deputy press secretary.
While it might seem ironic that two of the GOP’s young stars are products of the UO and what many people feel is a bastion of liberalism, Bounds doesn’t see it that way.
“I think people forget that some of the greatest charm of the University of Oregon is that there are people with all different perspectives, and it’s not just those who are stereotypically U of O grads,” he says. “There are a lot of moderate, mainstream conservatives who have gone on to work in Republican politics. Congressman Walden isn’t someone who is viewed as being out of the mainstream but certainly is a Republican, and he’s a proud University of Oregon grad.”
Hazelbaker, a native of Salem who transferred to the University after a year at Loyola Marymount, says she loved her experience there, even if Republicans were outnumbered.
She remembers going for a run in Eugene one day while wearing a Greg Walden for Congress T-shirt. “I found myself in an antiwar rally,” she says. “I’m pretty sure I was the only Republican there.”
—Matt Tiffany, M.S. ’06
Getting Away with Murderball
Determined Duck excels in international competition.
Pulling the ball in tight against his chest and spinning to survey the court, Seth McBride ’06 of Team USA looks for a clear path through a jumble of players. Pushing his custom-made, lightweight aluminum sport chair forward, the twenty-five-year-old powers through the defense. His teammates throw themselves in harm’s way to set blocks for McBride, and loud cracks from the metal-on-metal contact fill the gym. He lowers his head and sprints down the court with arms working like furious pistons, crosses the goal line, scores a point.
The sport is wheelchair rugby and McBride is playing against China at the 2008 Summer Paralympics in Beijing, the Olympics for athletes with disabilities. Representatives of nearly 150 countries compete in seventeen events. Wheelchair rugby, often called “murderball” for its aggressive nature, combines elements of traditional rugby, ice hockey, and bumper cars. Knocking opposing players to the ground from the force of collision is legal and encouraged.
Raised in Juneau, Alaska, McBride grew up skiing. He ripped expert lines, dropped big cliffs, and could land double backflips and other aerial acrobatics—all before high school graduation. In the summer of 2000, at age seventeen, McBride raced down a slope toward a fifty-foot jump, misjudged the takeoff, over-rotated, and crashed, fracturing the C-6 and C-7 vertebrae in his spinal column. He is now paralyzed from the waist down, with limited mobility in his upper body and trunk.
“I guess [the accident] changed things a bit,” he says in typical understated manner.
His ski dreams dashed, he enrolled at the University of Oregon. One day toward the end of freshman year, while surfing the Internet in his dorm room, he discovered the Portland Pounders, a regional wheelchair rugby club team ranked among the best in the country. He had never seen or heard of the game but was attracted to the hard-hitting physical contact and fast-paced action. McBride called the coach, Ed Hooper, who invited him out for a practice. “I loved it from the get-go, it’s a totally new, more natural feeling in a sport chair,” McBride says. Despite starting the game out of shape, using borrowed equipment, and being surrounded by more experienced players, he never considering quitting.
After his first practice, his competitive spirit was reignited, spurred by the rush of zipping around the court and smashing into other players. Less than two years after the skiing accident, he was again ready to take on a sport, to drive his mind and body to their limits.
“The first few years were pretty slow,” he admits. His schedule only allowed him to make one practice a week, and some of the players with the least mobility could outsprint him. During these seasons, he didn’t attend many tournaments, but used his enthusiasm and what playing time he got to make a positive impression on his teammates.
But after McBride played two seasons, one of the veterans on the Portland team, Will Groulx, told him he had the potential to be a U.S. national player—if he was willing to do the work required to get there. It was a turning point. Now McBride had a goal to strive for. The encouragement from Groulx, who would be playing a few months later on the world stage at the Paralympics in Athens, spurred him to commit to the training and dedication necessary to play at an elite level.
American wheelchair rugby is fiercely competitive. The United States has the most successful program in the world with the largest pool of players to draw from. The sport received international media attention following release of the 2005 documentary Murderball. The film follows the U.S. national team at the 2004 Paralympics in Athens, pulling no punches in its frank portrayal of the combative, sometimes hotheaded, win-or-die mentality of the Team USA players. Team Canada overcame that mentality, however, and took the gold medal in an upset.
Watching the Americans compete in Athens further strengthened McBride’s commitment. To improve his speed, he began pushing his chair around the running track at the UO rec center and riding his hand-powered bike around his south Eugene neighborhood. To work on strength, he lifted weights outside of practice. His improved skills and conditioning combined with driving 300 miles per week to practices (in addition to attending games and tournaments) earned him more playing time. In 2005 he traveled with the U.S. team to compete in—and win—a tournament in Brazil.
At the UO, McBride’s developing interests led him to pursue majors in both international studies and political science. He visited El Salvador his junior year to immerse himself in Spanish and teach English. A career where he could apply his studies seemed to beckon. But after graduation in 2006, he postponed launching that career to train nonstop for the Beijing Paralympics, a decision he has never regretted.
In December 2007 he officially made the U.S. national team along with ten others, including his old teammate and inspiration Groulx. He was now a part of the top-ranked rugby squad in the world and headed to China and the Paralympics (which are held two weeks after the Olympics and use the same venues, medaling system, and organizational structure as the more famous competition).
In Beijing, after winning against China and Japan by large margins, the U.S. wheelchair rugby team took revenge by defeating Canada. They then held off Great Britain and went on to the gold medal round, playing an Australian team led by nineteen-year-old wunderkind Ryley Batt, who outscores, outmaneuvers, and outsmarts virtually every other player in the world. Thousands of rugby devotees packed the venue. McBride was a defensive force and scored three goals to go with his two assists. In the end, Team USA’s depth, experience, and balance proved too strong for Australia’s superstar and the Americans won 53–44. At the final buzzer, players collapsed on each other in a joyous heap, and the usually reserved McBride hollered in exultation.
After the victory, McBride backpacked through four countries in Southeast Asia for two months with a group of friends—keeping his shiny gold medal tucked away tightly in his backpack.
The future? Ideas range from teaching English abroad to working as a Spanish interpreter to going back to grad school to study creative writing. As for rugby, he wants to compete at the London Paralympics in 2012. After that, he’s tentatively planning still another adventure: biking from northern Alaska to southern Chile.
—Dave Zook ’05
Oregon’s Loss, Democracy’s Gain
The little-known story of how Oregon nearly ended up with a governor named Abraham Lincoln
Wondering “what if. . . ” second-guesses life choices and contemplates the role of chance in life. Poet Robert Frost addressed such contemplation in his iconic “The Road Not Taken.” Because history often turns on seemingly small decisions, it especially lends itself to “what if” scenarios. For instance, what if Abraham Lincoln had accepted President Zachary Taylor’s offer to become governor of the Oregon Territory?
There are so many “what if” moments in Lincoln’s life that Fortuna, the ever-fickle Roman goddess of fate, appears to have singled him out for her attention—both good and bad.
Lincoln was a product of the raw Kentucky frontier. There was little in his upbringing to suggest he would eventually win the nation’s highest elective office. Young Lincoln’s chief assets were native intelligence, strong ethics, and ambition, all of which helped him make the most of the uniquely American opportunity to rise in life. By contrast, Mary Todd, who would become his wife and political partner, was born into genteel Kentucky society and expected to marry someone equally positioned. Among her rejected Lexington suitors was Democrat Stephen Douglas, whose success eclipsed Lincoln’s when Mary first met her future husband.
Born into the high society that created the so-called “Athens of the West” in Lexington, Mary Todd epitomized the classic southern belle of the era, with one important distinction—she was highly educated for a woman.
Although both Abe and Mary were born in Kentucky, their lives were worlds apart, divided by money and power, until Fortuna chose to play matchmaker for the unlikely pair.
Mary was visiting her older sister, who had married into a prominent Springfield, Illinois, family, when she was introduced to Abraham Lincoln, an affable and eligible young Springfield attorney, his lack of social pedigree notwithstanding. Each had a southern heritage. But most importantly, they shared a love for politics and relentless political ambition.
Not content with bringing the couple together, Fortuna engineered a second twist of fate. The strong-willed and opinionated Mary Todd ignored the advice of her in-laws and married Lincoln, who was well below her social status, following a rocky courtship that foreshadowed their tempestuous marriage.
As ambitious as her up-and-coming husband, Mary Todd Lincoln drew on her social background and provided a home where he could entertain in a manner prerequisite to political advancement. She worked diligently to transform her rough-hewn husband from frontiersman to gentleman. Mary’s insight into Abraham’s potential was right on target.
Having been encouraged by a Todd relative to read law in the custom of the time, Lincoln began a legal practice, but it wasn’t long before he ran for political office.
He first set his eyes on a seat in the Illinois legislature at age twenty-three while serving in the state’s militia. Though he lost the race, he wasn’t ready to abandon his political aspirations. Running in the next electoral cycle for the same office, he handily won. Lincoln served four terms in the legislature, where he quickly emerged as the leader of the Whigs. He then served a single term in the U.S. House of Representatives.
Immediately after his term ended on March 4, 1849, Fortuna tempted Lincoln with a career offer that had the potential to change his life and history. Lincoln had campaigned loyally for Zachary Taylor, the Whig elected president in 1848, and he had expectations of being rewarded with a political appointment. Taylor in August 1849 offered Lincoln, Illinois’s most active Whig, an appointment as secretary of the new Oregon Territory. Lincoln quickly rejected the offer. The following month, Lincoln was offered the governorship of the Oregon Territory. At the time, Democrats controlled Oregon and after it was admitted to the Union there was little prospect that a Whig governor would be elected. But it was Mary Todd Lincoln whose refusal to move even further West tipped the scale to “no,” and Lincoln turned down the governorship. Mary Todd had traded her birthright of privilege and social prominence for a political future when she married Lincoln, and she had no intention of ending up in such a distant and unpromising outpost.
Mary’s political instincts proved sound. John P. Gaines (1795–1857) took the governorship of the Oregon Territory after Lincoln turned it down. After just two years in the job, he stepped down and later died in obscurity. The state of Oregon’s first elected governor—150 years ago—was indeed a Democrat, John Whiteaker.
Out of the U.S. Congress and having turned down the governorship, Lincoln found himself out of office for the first time in his adult life. During this hiatus, he pondered the dilemma of slavery that was dividing the nation and developed his political solution for that “peculiar institution.” Mary’s former beau, Stephen Douglas, sought to sell voters on his concept of “popular sovereignty” as a compromise solution to slavery. Douglas’s platform did win him reelection to the U.S. Senate. However, the Lincoln-Douglas debates about slavery also served to catapult Lincoln into the national limelight.
Fortuna again intervened in Lincoln’s life through the debates. Had Lincoln “won” the debates and captured the U.S. Senate seat, it seems unlikely that he would have stepped down to run for the presidency in 1860. Even more so than with the Oregon decision, by keeping him from winning the Senate seat, fate conspired with Mary’s political strategy for her husband and left Lincoln available to seek the presidency.
With Lincoln’s election as president of a deeply divided nation, the world soon recognized the leadership traits that Mary Todd had earlier discerned in her seemingly unlikely suitor. In short order, President Lincoln was lauded as the “Great Emancipator” at the same time he earned the moniker of “Great Reconciler,” and served as the modern model for magnanimity in politics. As a result of his enduring contributions, governments at home and abroad have named countless streets, schools, statues, and stamps in honor of America’s sixteenth president—more such tributes than any other American president has ever received.
What if Mary Todd Lincoln had not put her foot down and refused to move to the Oregon Territory? History would have doubtlessly been altered dramatically. But when Lincoln and his wife looked down the Oregon career path, they recognized it would not lead them to their dream of being president and first lady of the United States. In retrospect, Oregon’s loss became the nation’s gain.
Political scientist William D. Pederson ’67, M.A. ’72, Ph.D. ’79, is the founder of the American studies program at Louisiana State University in Shreveport, where he is the first person to hold the American Studies Endowed Chair. He serves on the National Advisory Committee to the Abraham Lincoln Bicentennial Commission to commemorate the two hundredth anniversary of Lincoln’s birthday, February 12, 2009. Coinciding with the bicentennial is publication of his most recent book, Lincoln Lessons (see Book Shelf, page 14). In December, Pederson participated in an academic conference—“the first Lincoln symposium in a Muslim country”—at East West University in Dhaka, Bangladesh.
UO Alumni Calendar
Go to uoalumni.com/events for detailed information
Oregon Alumni Day with the Phoenix Suns
The Arizona UOAA chapter invites all area alumni to participate.
Sheraton San Diego Hotel and Marina
Sixth annual Taste of Oregon
The San Diego chapter invites alumni, family, and friends to enjoy Northwest wines and select hors d’oeuvres.
April 30–May 2
University of Oregon
Class of 1959 Fiftieth Reunion
Attendees will enjoy a weekend of fun, reconnecting, and seeing what’s happening on campus.
San Diego, California
Seventh annual Pac-10 Day at Petco Park
Padres vs. Cincinnati baseball with the San Diego UOAA chapter.
Upcoming UOAA Travel Opportunities
China and the Yangtze River
River Life: Dutch Waterways—Heidelberg
April 24–May 2
Greece: Athens and the island of Poros
The Inspiration of Osprey
My husband and I had already labored two months to remodel our bathroom when osprey began to build a nest in a nearby park. On hikes, we laughed at their messy conglomeration of sticks and shrill communications in a Douglas fir. I never suspected these noisy birds of prey would teach me the value of perseverance.
The previous year, Jonathan and I had delved into home improvement as we waited to adopt a child. Both processes operated on a fickle, seemingly interminable timeline. “Remodeling gives us something constructive to do,” I reasoned as we finished building a fence and moved on to the bathroom.
Demolition comes easy to me. I strap on goggles, shoulder a sledgehammer, and topple walls. It’s putting them back together that’s problematic. I resent hours spent indoors on a hikeable day, breathing paint and adhesive fumes and replacing lumber riddled with termite tunnels.
One afternoon, faced with gutted walls and a dirt floor, I collapsed in a mess of two-by-fours. “We’ll never be finished!” I wailed. “What if we get a child and there’s no bathroom? What if we finish the bathroom but there’s no child?”
Jonathan looked at me, sawdusted and sweating. He assessed his thumb, bruised in the line of duty. “Let’s go for a hike,” he said.
“Buford Park!” I leapt up to exchange my hammer for binoculars.
The Howard Buford Recreation Area outside Eugene boasts 2,300 acres on which visitors can glimpse numerous different species of birds. We spotted red-tailed hawks, vultures, bald eagles, and violet-green swallows before Jonathan pointed to an osprey with something long and stringy clutched in its talons. “What kind of fish is that?” he asked.
I’d read about how osprey hunt, snatching a fish from the river and turning it in midair to ride next to their body, streamlined. I lifted my binoculars. “That’s no fish!” I said. “It’s lichen—old man’s beard.”
The osprey sailed over us and disappeared into a fir. The previous autumn, we’d spotted a nest high up in the limbs of the same tree, but now we glimpsed only a few sticks above which two birds presided, shrieking.
“Their nest must’ve blown down in a storm,” Jonathan said.
Looking at the larger bird, likely the female, I felt a sudden kinship. “Poor bird.” I dropped to the sun-warmed grass. “She’s probably outraged that she’s got to rebuild the nest before she lays eggs.”
Osprey nests are complicated affairs. Approximately three feet deep and four feet wide, they can weigh up to 400 pounds, lined with sticks, bark, leaves, and human detritus. In his book Return of the Osprey, David Gessner monitors a series of osprey nests on Cape Cod. One contains a naked Barbie doll.
Jonathan and I assumed that osprey merely picked up debris and carried it to their nesting site. Not so. As we watched, the smaller bird took off again. Suddenly, he swooped toward a branch, talons outstretched, and broke off a twig. Grasping it in his talons, he carried it to his mate who chirped from her station.
“That’s right,” I chuckled. “The male does the heavy lifting while the female directs.”
“Not so. Look.” Jonathan pointed at the female who flew off and returned with a hunk of old man’s beard. We found, in the hour we watched, that she preferred lichen while her mate gravitated toward sticks.
“We’d better get back to remodeling,” Jonathan said at last.
“The birds’ll have that nest finished by tonight,” I muttered, envious.
But they didn’t. When we returned the next week, muscles strained from lifting drywall, the osprey were still working. The nest wasn’t much larger than it had been; still, they labored, one twig at a time.
I watched the female fly down to an oak, rip off lichen, and transport it to the nest. What compelled her to keep working? Did she trust that eventually, her home would be finished and the babies would come?
Such faith eluded me. We’d already waited so long for a child. Sometimes, as I struggled to screw drywall into studs, I wondered if we’d even need the toddler commode or the little rubber ducky.
Still, if a four-pound bird could devote herself to home remodeling, I could, too. I painted the ceiling and picked out a light fixture, illuminating our newly tiled shower.
The next week at Buford Park, the skies were devoid of osprey. I climbed a hill and peered through my binoculars. “The nest looks finished,” I reported, “but the birds aren’t around.”
Jonathan and I fell silent, listening. “They’re gone,” he concluded.
We drove home glumly. We returned to the park several times, but the osprey had vanished.
It took us six months to complete our bathroom. During that time, I read more about osprey—learned that pairs often return to the same nest for years, remodeling it for the season’s babies. What had compelled our pair to abandon their nest? In the absence of eggs, had they migrated early toward South America, heartbroken?
In July, Jonathan and I planned a cross-country trip, distracting ourselves from another summer without a child. Then the phone call came. “Congratulations,” said our social worker. “You have an eighteen-month-old daughter.”
That August, we took our toddler to Buford Park. “Look!” We pointed to the nest in the fir. “Osprey built that. But then they went away.”
Suddenly, a movement in the sticks caught my eye. I peered through the binoculars and spotted a black-striped head. “It’s the female!” I told Jonathan. “She’s on the nest!”
Our new daughter clapped her tiny hands. And I—in a silly but heartfelt effort to reciprocate for the bird’s inspiration—lifted her into the air, hoping the osprey could see her.
Melissa Hart is the author of the upcoming memoir, Chica (Seal, 2009). She teaches journalism at the University of Oregon.