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Postman on Politics

Chief political reporter David Postman explores state, regional and national politics.

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December 3, 2007 11:09 AM

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Posted by David Postman

Writer Daniel Bergner has a fascinating and provocative profile of Booth Gardner in yesterday's New York Times Magazine. It is worth reading the whole thing. It's focused on Gardner's campaign for a death with dignity initiative, which the former governor calls his last campaign.

But it's about much more than that. It delves into Gardner's family and intimate details of his life as he struggles with Parkinson's and years of familial strain. Gardner and his son, Doug, talk candidly about their relationship.

Gardner and his son told the same story. "I wasn't a good father," the former governor said to me. "I didn't give him enough support. So he found it in religion." Doug told a longer version: his father's absence; his own "very rebellious" youth that he resisted discussing in detail; his coming under the guidance of a devoutly Christian tennis coach at Pacific Lutheran University, where he had enrolled not for reasons of religion but for the chance to get his undergraduate business degree after his grades failed to qualify him for the business program at the University of Washington. "I was lost," he said about the years before his tennis coach found him. "Dad has done all these things. Success in business. Owning sports teams. State senator. County executive. Governor. How? He cut corners. He lost his wife. He didn't spend enough time with his kids. Kids equate love with time, with being there. Not with, 'Dad bought me a great tennis racket.' My dad missed it. Where was he when I needed help?"

In conversation, Doug often lowered his head, sometimes in forgiveness. Booth Gardner's mother died, along with his sister, in a plane crash when he was 14. When Gardner was in his late 20s, his biological father, a car salesman and alcoholic (whom his mother had divorced years before), jumped or fell to his death from an upper-story hotel room. Sometimes Doug talked about his father's failings with pity, as the product of Booth's own early losses. But sometimes the lowered head " and lowered voice and wincing expression " seemed part of a strenuous attempt to restrain a lancing anger. "We don't need Booth and Dr. Kevorkian pushing death on us," Doug said quietly about his father's campaign. "Dad's lost. He's playing God, trying to usurp God's authority."

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