Denison’s political past and political present

By Matthew Pennekamp

Forum Editor

Much has been made of the fact that after a two year hiatus, a Denisonian will once more walk the corridors of congressional power.  Indeed, Robert Dold ’91, a former president of DCGA, inheritor of his family’s pest-control business, and one-time congressman (having lost in the slight Democratic wave of two years prior) has reclaimed the mantle of representation in his suburban Chicago North Shore district.  This, in conjunction with the election of Charles Baker, Jr., the father of a recent alum, to the governorship of Massachusetts (see Kristof Oltvai’s article on pg. 1 for more details) might speak to a noticeable pattern: the revival of Denisonians’ interest in the political arena.

With that being said, it would serve us well to examine some of Denison’s past political luminaries.

Tony P. Hall, a Dayton-based alum who served for twenty-four years in the House of Representatives, is one such example.  He came to Denison to play football (his profile can still be viewed alongside the images of legendary Big Red athletes in the front hall of Mitchell).  Elected to Congress as a Democrat in 1978 after a stint in the Peace Corps and state politics, he spent the duration of his career there focusing on issues of food security and starvation, even going so far as to fast for twenty-two days to bring to light issues of hunger when congressional Republicans were determined to scrap the committee he had cofounded to publicize the problem.

Well-respected on both sides of the aisle, Congressman Hall was nominated by President George W. Bush to serve as U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Agencies for Food and Agriculture, a bipartisan selection on the president’s part that spoke to the merits of a man who has been nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize on three separate occasions.

Judson Harmon is another famous (or perhaps not-so-famous) name. He was the only Denisonian to serve in a presidential cabinet and was also Grover Cleveland’s attorney general from 1895 to 1897.  Hailing from a small town near Cincinnati, Harmon had the double misfortune of attending Denison both as an impoverished teacher’s son and as an able-bodied male at the beginning of the Civil War.  Therefore, to help pay for his education at was then still a seminary for would-be Baptist clergymen, Harmon served in a collegiate militia unit designed to help repulse any Confederate raids emerging from Kentucky.

After graduating from Denison and later Cincinnati Law School, Harmon rapidly shimmied up the totem pole of the legal profession, eventually becoming a well-respected judge, attorney general, and later in life, Ohio’s forty-fifth governor.        

With the return of Denisonians to office, it is clear that politics is just one of the many professions that Denisonians have made their mark in throughout history.