When I first interviewed John Heckman back in 1984, he struck me as a bit elderly, at age 76, to be running for Congress in a race he didn't have a lotto player's chance of winning. Twenty-three years later, he was still running — for mayor, senator, governor, you name it — almost until the day he died, two weeks ago, at the tender age of 99.
Heckman was a crank, in the sense that he was a perpetual independent candidate for all sorts of offices and was repeatedly trounced. But he was also a Lakewood businessman with some common-sensical, Reaganish ideas for cutting government spending. He was no dummy — his son James shared in the 2000 Nobel Prize for economics — but he didn't mind looking foolish in order to make a point about the tyranny of America's two-party system and the need for maverick citizens to get involved in the process.
Sometimes he couldn't even get invited to a debate when the incumbent had no other opposition, but he generally managed to show that the other side didn't have much faith in democracy (with a small d, mind you).
Heckman took many of his cues from the Ten Commandments, rather than from some lobbyist, and his aged moralizing never did much for voters. Still, we could do worse. We have done worse. There are folks who want to blame Ralph Nader for the presidential debacle of 2000, but the system needs independents to keep it halfway honest. I don't know where Lakewood's perpetual candidate is headed now, but I hope he gives 'em heck, man. --Alan Prendergast
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