There was a passion to Rev. Robert Cornell that was the old fashioned Democratic variety that one reads about in books such as “The Glory And The Dream.” When I met Cornell in the early 1980’s he had been elected to Congress for one term, but was back in private life after not being allowed to secure another term in office. The First Congressional District in those days was staunchly Republican, and if you wanted to run for office you better do so as a member of the GOP. But to hear Cornell talk to the young men and women who he mentored in politics there was never a hill too steep for the principles of the Democratic Party not able to climb. He never faltered in believing that right and wrong was not just about religion, but also about the way the nation conducted our affairs.
At the time I met Cornell I was in my early 20’s, and working in radio, but also actively involved in local politics, becoming the Door County Democratic Chairperson in the mid-80’s. It was then that I found a constant source of inspiration and encouragement from Cornell. He urged me to break from the radio business, and find a way to Madison. Given the pay structure of family-owned radio at WDOR I needed not so much encouragement as a few voices in friendly ears to help me on my way. Cornell proved to be such a supporter, helping me to land a job at the Wisconsin State Capitol.
One of the many things I recall about Robert Cornell was his insistence that he was sent to Congress to make the best decisions after gathering all the information he could, and then casting a vote. After all, he told me more than once, the average voter is working a full-time job, raising a family, and not able to amass the information that a member of Congress can. Therefore he felt it proper to vote the merits of the facts, as opposed to the whims of the voter. One can argue if that was smart politics, but I think it shows his principles were sound, and his logic perhaps too clear to be in Congress.
Many young men such as myself were impacted by the kindness and passion for politics, and making a difference in life that Cornell so strongly believed in. It is a sad start to the week to hear of his passing at the the age of 89.
Father Cornell (third person from left) in 1987 at a Door County Democratic Annual Dinner. Former Wisconsin Speaker Tom Loftus on far left, and your blogger, Gregory Humphrey, on the far right.