Gary Conkling Life Notes

Mostly whimsical reflections on life

Small Moment of Sweet Revenge

Congressional staffers can get pretty puffed up about their status as factotums for their elected bosses. An inflated ego and sense of self-worth can lead someone to overstep his or her place.

In my Capitol Hill days, I tried to keep a healthy perspective of my role and my ultimate “boss” – constituents. At least knowingly, I only abused my temporary position of power once – and I still think it was the right thing to do.

Enola_Gay_12_Aug_2003-4First, a little background. Before he enlisted, my father worked for Glenn L. Martin Company in Omaha, Nebraska. Martin was an early aviation pioneer and when World War II rolled around, Martin built B-29 Superfortresses and B-26 Marauders at his plant at Offutt Field. The Enola Gay and Bockscar, the planes that dropped atomic bombs on Japan, were manufactured at Martin’s Omaha plant.

Inspired by Martin, dad joined the Army Air Corps and served in North Africa, Siciliy and Italy. After the Germans surrendered, he volunteered to serve in the Pacific Theater. He was en route when the Japanese surrendered after the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. His transport ship turned around and dad was mustered out along with thousands of other servicemen. He went back to his hometown, met my mom and got married. I arrived two years later.

While in the service, dad was posted at Fort Logan, near Denver. He resolved to return as a civilian. His ticket was a job working for a company that sold stainless steel cookware door to door.

Eventually, dad landed a job he loved with Martin-Marietta, the result of 1961 merger that moved Martin from aviation to aeronautics. The Martin-Marietta plant in Denver played a critical role in development of the reliable Titan booster rocket that catapulted American astronauts safely into space.

He loved his job working on quality control on a project that was a source of pride and that he viewed as an extension of his service to the country. However, just short of 20 years of service with Glenn L. Martin and its successor Martin-Marietta Corporation, he was let go. Not so coincidentally, he failed to vest in the company retirement plan. His almost 20 years of service were wiped away with a pink slip.

Scroll forward to 1980. I am the chief of staff for Oregon Congressman Les AuCoin. One day, it fell to me to meet with a lobbyist from Martin-Marietta. Maybe I asked for the assignment.

I didn’t pay much attention to what the lobbyist was saying as I seethed underneath my buttoned-down shirt and black pinstripe suit. When the lobbyist finished his spiel, I paused, then told him the story of my father, the Glenn L. Martin plant in Omaha, the work on the Titan missile, the dismissal without a pension.

This isn’t the kind of feedback lobbyists are accustomed to hearing. After a short, awkward pause, the Martin-Marietta lobbyist got up and left. I couldn’t resist one last twist of the knife as he headed out the door. “Hope they don’t do the same to you.”

My impertinent treatment of the Martin-Marietta lobbyist didn’t change anything. And after a flush of adrenalin, I regained my bearings and worried I had colored way outside the lines of my job.

I confessed my transgression to AuCoin. I recall him telling me never to do something like that again, all the while brandishing a broad smile. I went away thinking he admired my one small moment of sweet revenge.

It is a moment I still savor.

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