How Rising Political Stars From 31 Years Ago Fared


TERESA VILMAIN (1987: chief Iowa organizer for Michael Dukakis’s presidential campaign)

As one of eight children, Vilmain realized early the importance of organization, a lesson she took from her family and applied to politics. She worked for Gary Hart’s 1988 presidential campaign and then moved to Dukakis’s, providing the Massachusetts governor with a statewide organization and an army of volunteers. In doing so, she was described by former Representative Bob Edgar of Pennsylvania as “visionary in terms of organization.” Phil Roeder, then an Iowa Democratic Party official, credited her with “infectious energy and commitment.”

Vilmain, who now lives outside Madison, Wisconsin, was for a time the most sought-after Democratic political organizer in the country. “I didn’t have a cult following,” she said. “I just worked for people who did.”

Today, Vilmain is undertaking projects to register people to vote—especially the young, the unmarried, and people of color—and to encourage women to be more engaged in ballot measures, candidates, and issues. She is also involved in the Rockefeller Family Fund, specializing in economic justice for women.

After a bike accident, she decided to train for triathlons. “I’m just trying to stay healthy,” she told me. “I never did that back when you first interviewed me. I’m living more healthily than I did back then.”

JOHN ROWLAND (1987: Republican congressman from Connecticut)

The first Republican state representative from Waterbury in a century, Rowland moved fast, becoming minority whip in the House chamber in Hartford after only two terms, defeating three-term Representative William Ratchford to become the youngest member of the U.S. House, then becoming governor, the first in two centuries to win three terms. Among other things, he implemented a plan to provide health insurance to children and fostered economic development in the state’s cities.

Then things fell apart. He resigned the governorship and went to jail for mail and tax fraud in 2005, was released, and rebuffed an invitation from Colson to join the Prison Fellowship. “I said, ‘No, I had bigger fish to fry,’” he recalled. But Rowland returned to jail a decade later, this time for election fraud. He was released in May, worked for a time booking weddings at the Chippanee Country Club in Bristol, Connecticut—and finally joined the Prison Fellowship, where today he handles the Northeast as development director.

“I learned the wrong lessons in politics,” he said. “Politics is not the real world. Everyone in Washington is so self-important, thinking they are changing the world when they are really running in place.”

He said he would dissuade any young person from running for Congress. “If you want to be in politics,” he said, “be a selectman in your town.”

DONNA BRAZILE (1987: national field director, Richard A. Gephardt’s presidential campaign)


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