Character Map

Mike Turpen

Rodney Ellis

Maggie Lauterer

Brian Doherty

Ralph aRusso


Mike Turpen

A former Oklahoma Democratic Chairman and the state's Attorney General from 1982 to 1986, Mike Turpen is a big, ebullient and unusually chatty man, even for a politician. Now host of a statewide political talk show, Turpen has honed his shtick to new levels: exploding forth in his breakneck drawl with astute, hilarious and always outrageous political punditry. As President Bill Clinton's campaign manager in Oklahoma this year, Turpen singlehandedly chose the state's delegates, antagonizing and entertaining them by turns with his incorrigible banter on how all is not fair in love, war, life and, especially, politics.

Turpen on the Glamour of Politics:
Politics is all about humility, it's all about begging. You gotta beg for votes, you gotta beg for money, you gotta beg for somebody to put a bumper sticker on their car, you gotta beg for somebody to put a yard sign on their yard.You gotta beg for editorial endorsements. It's all about begging, for gosh sakes, there's no glamour in this process.

On Politicians:
Politics is show business for ugly people. I mean that's why a lot of people get into this thing. It's all about ego.

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On the Unique Needs of Politicians:
We got this funny quirk where the only thing that'll satisfy us is group reinforcement. Mass affirmation. That's what's wrong with all politicians. That's probably also what leads to their greatness, I don't know. But Sally Field's up there on that Academy Award, "You like me! You really like me!" You see what I"m saying. These political types, they want that affirmation. They could turn to their wives and families for personal affirmation, but no! That's not enough! They want mass affirmation!

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Rodney Ellis

On the way to his senior prom, in his tux, Rodney Ellis stopped to hang up campaign signs which read, "Bill Hobby will make a good lieutenant governor." You could say that Ellis had an early dedication to politics which was a bit unusual. It still is.

Raised in Houston, the son of a gardener and a housekeeper, Ellis was the first in the family to go to college, and graduate school in public affairs, and law school. His entrance into politics was coincidentally in the office of Lieutenant Governor Bill Hobby where one of the aides told him, "You got the job, Ellis. Now, don't go in there and be your normal, pushy self. Try and show some humility." He didn't but was soon taken under Hobby's wing before moving on to become Representative Mickey Leland's longtime chief of staff.

In 1983, after several years working for Leland, Ellis returned to Houston to run for City Council and won easily. In 1990, he took over Barbara Jordan's former seat in the Texas State Senate and has become one of its leading luminaries, voted one of Texas' "10 Best" legislators in 1995 by Texas Monthly for his parliamentary skill, his toughness and his irrepressible charm. Senator Ellis has authored over 100 bills into law, chairs three committees and serves on two others: all for a salary of $7,200 a year.

On Passing Bills When No One's Looking:
I will admit that some of the better things that I have put in the state law were there because everyone didn't know they were there. See there are two ways you pass a bill: one is when everyone knows what you're doing, the other one is when nobody knows what you're doing, other than a few key people of course.

Ellis On The Importance Of Kissing A Little Ass:
I do my share of back slapping, arm waving, a little hugging and kissing, to try to make people feel comfortable with voting with me on an issue. I try and put people at ease, even if they disagree with something philosophically. I think I have an ability to disarm people even if they don't agree with me on an issue, I don't want them to have a personal disdain for me. And sometimes it works. They give me a vote every now and then.

Ellis On The Importance of Timing:

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On The Intelligent Quotient:
Political skill to me is the ability to get along with people who have differences of opinion. I think in a true democracy, a representative body, as one of my colleagues in the State Senate said years ago, dumb people have a right to be represented as well. If not it wouldn't be a representative body. And everybody on the floor of the Texas Senate can't have the IQ that I have. Some have a higher IQ, some have a lower IQ. Fortunately, there're probably a few more that have a lower IQ than a higher IQ, but it's being able to get along with people even if they don't grasp the issue as quickly as you do.

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Maggie Lauterer

Maggie Lauterer was a TV reporter who ran for Congress in the Asheville mountains of western North Carolina. She had no prior political experience. As the first woman to run for this office, we follow Maggie as she struggles to learn the ropes of effective politicking while attempting to run a "clean campaign...something I can be proud of when I meet my maker." We spend time with her as she trudges through the arduous work of money calls and preparing for her first televised debate. After a difficult year spent building her campaign from scratch, we were close by as she faced defeat. Maggie and her professional campaign manager are both fascinating characters and their travails tell us much about what the political process has become in the 90's.

On Running Her First Campaign:
I'll be the first to say I don't know what I'm doing. But we Americans believe, whether or not we're right or not, in citizens' government. We believe that we have a government developed that anybody who's smart enough can go up there and figure out the system and figure out how to make things happen.

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On Spending Too Much Time Shaking Hands:
They really want you to touch them and care about them and you know, and look in their eyes and be concerned about their concerns and if you do the old, "well nice to meet you" kinda thing it doesn't work. They'll say, "oh just another shallow politician."

Maggie Sings "Amazing Grace":

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On the Polarizing Nature of Running for Office Today:
They either love me or hate me. Before it was just sort of "oh that's Maggie Lauterer on TV." and now its "oh that's Maggie Lauterer she's great," or "Oh, that's Maggie Lauterer, she's a baby killer." There's no in between. There's nobody that says "Ehh, Maggie Lauterer." Everybody has a real strong sense whether they love me or hate me. I've learned to accept that. I never thought I'd be able to cause I was raised to try to make friend of everybody and to know that there are going to be people out there who won't even speak to me now. that's, that's amazing. I mean were talking about politics, folks...not war!

Brian Doherty

Brian Doherty has the distinction of being the only Republican Alderman in the city of Chicago, Illinois. As one of fifty aldermen on the city council, Doherty is king of his ward, and a stellar practitioner of the high art of constituent services. From his headquarters in Northwest Chicago, the former Golden Gloves champion hands out new garbage cans and street signs, liquor licenses and zoning changes throughout his fiefdom of 65,000-odd constituents. And odd may be the operative word more often than not. He shared with us some of his most unique and memorable constituent requests.

Alderman Doherty's Favorite Constituent Requests:
I had one woman call me up and say that a crow was harassing her son on the way home from school. And I said, "A crow?" She says, "Yeah." I said, "Well, can you describe the crow?" She said, "Describe the crow?" I said, "Yeah, we don't want to nab an innocent crow." And she says, "Are you makin fun of me?" I said, "No ma'am, I wouldn't do that."

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Or, one day a woman called to complain about people congregating outside her window in the morning. She lived on a corner building and there was a bus stop outside so people were standin there waiting for the bus and they'd be talking and yakking amongst themselves. But, she was complaining she couldn't get any sleep during the morning and she wanted us to move the bus stop. We couldn't tell her to close the window. That would put her through the ceiling.

Everyday's an adventure, you never know what might happen. You might be on the phone with a CEO from Fortune 500 President and then pick up the other line and it's Mrs. McGill complaining that she didn't get her garbage can that she ordered, you know, two weeks ago.

One guy called to complain that we were sweepin the streets too much, we were wearing out the curb. Then you get the gamma ray people coming in occasionally and the CIA's after them and they're shooting gamma rays into their house and, you know, they seriously believe this. I'm an Alderman. I'm not really a mental health worker so sometimes to appease them, we'll tell them to put aluminum foil on the ceiling and you can't have gamma rays that way.

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Ralph aRusso

Ralph aRusso was the Mayor of Johnston, Rhode Island for 24 years before exhausting his welcome with the voters in 1994. A politician of the old school, aRusso governed over a town in which politics is an all-consuming passion, an addiction for which there is no known cure. And, as they say, "you live by the sword, you die by the sword." In the end, rumors of his imminent indictment for giving out favors caused aRusso to lose key support, and he was defeated by Lou Perotta.

aRusso's Campaign Strategy:

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What's in a name?
Ralph "little a" aRusso used to be just plain Ralph Russo. He added the "a" as described below to get first billing on the ballot at a time when that mattered.

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John Eramian, who paints most of Johnston's thousands of poltical signs, recalls: Ralph was battling a man called Mario Russillo, and the mayor's name was originally Russo, so alphabetically he would come below Russillo. So, I guess the ticket was done alphabetically then and that put him second on the ticket. And that was when the Democrats were battling each other too, you had the insurgent party and you had the regular Democrats. So to get ahead of Mr. Russillo, he put an "a" in front of his name, so what happened next was Mr. Russillo went to court, put an "a" in front of his name. So not to be outdone, the Mayor went back to court, put a second "a" in front of his name, and I guess that's where it ended, either that or he ran out of time, because he became aaRusso, and I think that's when he won. And later he went back to court and dropped one of the "a"s but just to be on the safe side, he never did drop the second "a."

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