“Frank Church, D.C. & Me” By Bill Hall (Washington State University Press, 233 pages)
The rush of a presidential campaign, even in 1976, wasn’t all high-minded profundity.
Between vicious infighting among the staff, eccentric reporters, bizarre revelations about our government (the CIA once plotted to make Fidel Castro’s beard fall out) and his own tendency to be accident-prone, Bill Hall of Lewiston, Idaho, found a world best described through humor.
“I liked the people of Washington and on Capitol Hill, but I’m not sure they’re grown-ups,” Hall said in a recent interview.
His book, “Frank Church, D.C. and Me,” chronicles the antics of the ‘76 presidential campaign, when Hall served as Church’s press secretary. A lifelong Idahoan, Hall was grateful when the campaign ended in defeat because it meant a return to the sanity of his Idaho vegetable garden.
“I got back from Washington and started telling people in my living room what had happened,” Hall says. “They’d laugh. They were amazed.
“I kept seeing all the humor in these situations, and that’s what I wanted to write about when I got back to the real world.”
In his irreverent and self-deprecating style, Hall tells a story filled with vivid scenes, great characters and laugh-out-loud lines. That these things actually happened, and are part of how our country is run, makes the laughs resounding.
When Hall first arrived in Washington, Church was the chairman of a committee investigating abuses by the Central Intelligence Agency. He was the biggest story in town, and his new press secretary was besieged with requests for interviews.
That led to plenty of ribbing about Hall’s great talent for attracting press attention.
But he notes the talents he lacked: driving in D.C., for one. After getting lost on endless freeways and skidding across packed lanes trying to make (wrong) exits, Hall’s driving prompted the late senator to take the wheel for good.
“I may have been the only aide in Washington regularly chauffeured about the city by a United States senator,” writes Hall.
Big-city etiquette also wasn’t his strongest suit, Hall writes. Like the time he was invited to a “strictly informal” cocktail party, only to discover that those words had a different meaning in Washington than in Lewiston. “I was the only one at the party wearing orange tennis shoes.”
Amid the ties dipped in coffee, red wine spilled on white carpet and embarrassing incidents involving the senator and revolving doors, Hall tells a story that includes a good dose of thoughtful comment on government, political campaigns, the media and his own role. But it’s never heavy.
“We don’t want people to pick this up thinking it’s some sort of important political treatise,” he said, chuckling.
Instead, it’s a rollicking tale of a national campaign that launched a few political stars, made national waves and left one press secretary glad to be back in Idaho.
Hall is back at his old job as editorial page editor of the Lewiston Tribune and also writes a humor column that’s syndicated to 24 newspapers across the country. This is his fourth book.
, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: Photo
MEMO: This sidebar appeared with the story: HALL READING Bill Hall will read from his book Thursday at 7:30 p.m. at Auntie’s Bookstore at the corner of Main and Washington.