McClellan: Komen fallout reminds us that politics were once private, personal

McClellan: Komen fallout reminds us that politics were once private, personal

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Lorna Powers was an elementary school teacher. That was partially because education is what young women studied 40 years ago. Also, she had an inspirational teacher in fifth grade, and from fifth grade on, she knew she wanted to be a teacher.

After she graduated from college with a degree in elementary education, she married her high school sweetheart. The Vietnam War was going on at this time, and her husband signed up for a four-year hitch in the Air Force. He did those four years in Albuquerque. He worked in a lab. Lorna taught school.

They had two children.

After the service, they moved to Indiana. Lorna continued teaching but also began going to law school at night. This was in the '70s. Young women were becoming more ambitious. Doors were opening.

Lorna did very well in law school. That was not surprising. She had been salutatorian of her high school class. She graduated Phi Beta Kappa from college. So, of course, she did well in law school.

Somebody in the local political world noticed her. I am not sure how it happened. Maybe it was at a law school function, or maybe when she worked at a law firm during a summer.

She was attractive, smart, thoughtful, a wife and a mother. You could not invent a better candidate.

But candidate for what? I don't know. Maybe a City Council position, or maybe a spot in the state Legislature.

"You will be governor someday," I said when she told me that somebody had suggested she might have a future in politics.

I did not ask which party. I figured she was probably a Republican, but whatever her party, she would have been a moderate, one of those creatures now reviled by the political commentators that are allowed to define our political world.

She was diagnosed with breast cancer. She had the appropriate surgeries, and for a short time, the cancer seemed to be in remission. But then it came back. She called and said she could not bear to tell our parents. I said I would.

I called home and spoke to our mother. I have terrible news, I said, and my mother cut me off. I already know, she said. Your sister is going to die. Her picture fell off the wall last night.

That was Irish magic. My mother believed in it. Sometimes I do, too.

Lorna later spoke with our mother. You have been the light of our life, my mother said. The light is about to go out, Mom, my sister said.

It did. Lorna died the week her class graduated from law school. She was 34.

My mother died not long after that, and my father not long after my mother.

I would never try to channel my sister — she was smarter and better than me — but I have wondered these last few days what she would have made of the tiff between Susan G. Komen for the Cure and Planned Parenthood.

In a way, it was much ado about nothing. When Komen announced it was cutting its funding to Planned Parenthood, the money was hardly an issue. These are multimillion-dollar businesses, and the money in question was $680,000.

Instead, it seemed like just another example of partisan fighting. When you have a chance to take a shot, take it. In this case, it was conservative Komen taking a shot at liberal Planned Parenthood.

Much of the credit — or blame, depending on which side you're on — has been directed at Komen's public policy chief, Karen Handel. Back when Dan Quayle was vice president, Handel worked for his wife, Marilyn. Before getting the job with Komen, she ran unsuccessfully in the Republican gubernatorial primary in Georgia. She was endorsed by Sarah Palin.

So the fight was started by the right, but then the left swung back, and swung hard. People started talking about salaries. I heard a bit of it on the radio as I drove in to work Friday.

As befits the head of a big business, Komen CEO Nancy Brinker makes a big salary. The charity's tax returns from 2010 reported her compensation at $417,171. Six other employees made over $200,000.

Planned Parenthood pays its top brass handsomely, too. Its president reportedly made more than $380,000 last year, and like Komen, six-figure salaries are not uncommon.

By late Friday morning, the fight was over. Komen backed down. Maybe the bosses figured a prolonged fight could put their big salaries at risk. Who can blame them? That kind of money is hard to come by in private industry.

As far as politics is concerned, it's a free country. You're free to be conservative or liberal, Democrat or Republican.

But I liked it better when everybody didn't know everybody else's politics. I still wonder about my sister.

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