Paul Simon (born 1928) was a newspaper publisher, state legislator, lieutenant governor, and U.S. representative and senator, serving a total of 22 years in Congress. He was a "self-made" man who rose from being a "boy-wonder" in journalism and politics to a candidate for president of the United States.
Paul Simon was born November 29, 1928, in Eugene, Oregon. His parents, the Rev. Martin Paul and Ruth (Troemel) Simon, had only recently returned to the United States from Lutheran missionary work in China so that their child could be born in America.
Simon grew up in Eugene and entered the University of Oregon at age 16 to study journalism. In 1946 he transferred to Dana College in Blair, Nebraska, after his parents moved to Illinois to publish a religious periodical.
At age 19, Simon became the youngest editor-publisher in America. In 1948 he dropped out of college to purchase the Troy Tribune, a defunct weekly newspaper in a small southern Illinois town. He resurrected the paper and before long he made his reputation as a crusading journalist by exposing vice and syndicate gambling connections with local government officials. Simon eventually built a chain of 14 weekly newspapers. He sold them in 1966 to devote full time to public service, teaching, and writing.
Simon served a two year hitch as an enlisted soldier in the U.S. Army between 1951 and 1953. He was assigned to the Counter Intelligence Corps and spent most of his tour of duty along the former "Iron Curtain" in Europe. (The term, "Iron Curtain" referred to the political and ideological barrier between Western Europe and the Soviet Bloc nations, which continued from the end of World War II in 1945, until 1990).
Returning from service in the armed forces, Simon, a Democrat, was elected to the Illinois House of Representatives in 1954 at the young age of 25. He was reelected in 1956, 1958, and 1960.
On April 21, 1960, he married Jeanne Hurley, an attorney and state legislator. They became the first husband and wife team to serve in the Illinois General Assembly. He and his wife wrote a book, Protestant-Catholic Marriages Can Succeed (1967), to discuss interfaith marriages such as theirs. They had two children, Sheila and Martin.
Simon ran successfully for the Illinois Senate in 1962 and was reelected in 1966. He was respected as a reformer and hard worker, as seen by the record number of awards he garnered. The Independent Voters of Illinois, for example, granted him the "Best Legislator" award during each session he served.
The next stage of public service was reached in 1968. Simon became the lieutenant governor of Illinois. He was the first—and only—lieutenant governor to be elected with a governor of another political party. After his election, the Illinois constitution was changed to provide for the joint election of governor and lieutenant governor, thus assuring that the two office-holders would be members of the same party.
Simon entered the Democratic primary for governor in 1972. He lost by a narrow margin. It was his only loss at the polls. Out of public office, Simon turned to teaching. He taught history and government at Sangamon State University in Springfield, Illinois, and lectured at Harvard University's John F. Kennedy Institute of Politics.
Urged to return to public service, he focused on the national level. Simon ran for the U.S. House of Representatives from a large southern Illinois district. He was first elected in 1974 and then re-elected four times. Serving on the House Education and Labor Committee, he became one of the leading advocates of teacher and educational quality. He was a strong supporter of arms control talks and civil rights.
In 1984 Simon upset three-term Republican incumbent Charles Percy to win a seat in the U.S. Senate. As a senator, he worked on legislation to achieve arms control, to support health care for the elderly, and to promote human rights and a balanced budget. He strove to combat adult illiteracy and wrote about that in one of his many books, The Tongue-Tied American (1980). His legislative priority was a public works program that would guarantee a job to anyone who wanted to work. His eleventh book, Let's Put America Back To Work (1986), outlined his ideas for the locally run, project-oriented public programs.
On May 18, 1987, Simon announced that he would seek the nomination for president in the 1988 elections. At 58, he was the oldest announced candidate in the Democratic Party race and the one with the most electoral experience. Simon was distinguishable from the other announced contenders in both his appearance and issue stands. Dressed in the bow tie and horned-rimmed glasses that are his trademark, Simon sought to get across his image as a modern day Harry S. Truman and standard-bearer for traditional Democratic Party liberal ideas.
On the day he announced his candidacy, Simon declared his unwillingness to bend to any prevailing political winds. He stated: "I stand here as a Democrat, not as a neo-anything, as one who is not running away from the Democratic tradition of caring and daring and dreaming." He emphasized willingness to use the tools of government in programs for employment, education, farmers, housing, and long-term care for senior citizens. But Simon did not fare well in the Democratic caucuses and primaries, winning only his home state of Illinois.
For the next decade, Simon maintained keen interest in the politics of elections and their financing. In 1995, along with former governor William Stratton, a Republican, Simon led the newly-created Illinois Campaign Finance Task Force. Simon retired in early 1997 after serving 22 years in Congress. He intended to return to teaching at Southern Illinois University in Carbondale, Illinois, and to head a public policy institute there.
Further Reading on Paul Simon
No biography has been written about Paul Simon. However, he has authored many works which give an understanding of his interests and positions. Simon was a newspaper columnist for 40 years and the author of 11 books, including: Lincoln's Preparation for Greatness (1965), with which he acquired a reputation as a Lincoln scholar and admirer; The Politics of World Hunger (1973), written with his brother, Arthur Simon, a Lutheran minister, to highlight the problem and press for public aid programs; The Once and Future Democrats: Strategies for Change (1981); and The Glass House: Politics and Morality in the Nation's Capital (1984), in which he explained the institutional and moral problems facing members of Congress. He also wrote: Lovejoy: Martyr to Freedom (1984), a book about Elijah Lovejoy, an abolitionist; A Hungry World (1966); You Want To Change the World? So Change It (1971); and Advice and Consent: Clarence Thomas, Robert Bork, and the Intriguing History of the Supreme Court's Nomination Battles (1992).