Gentleman and Scholar

Former Rep. Jim McNulty's 'Running Uphill' is full of the charming musings of this left-wing, pinko liberal

Jim McNulty: "I love nothing better than to identify myself to an audience as a left-wing, pinko, liberal, Irish Catholic Democrat. And proud of it."

I shouldn't like McNulty. I'm a right-wing, commie-hating, paleo-libertarian Italian Protestant, and I'm proud of it. But for the years I've known him, I've always considered Jim McNulty a class act.

That's partly because we had adjoining seats for a couple of seasons at Arizona Opera. During the height of the Keating scams, I recall leaning over to say, "Hey Jim, there's a modern version of Faust coming out. The devil is Charlie Keating, and Faust is an aging U.S. senator from California who cuts a deal for a date with Morgan Fairchild."

McNulty caught the Alan Cranston reference and cracked up. The Demo pol with him gave a weak smile. And that is the primary difference between Jim McNulty and most of the humorless hacks who hold office from both parties.

Now, after many years of true public service, McNulty has given us a delightful memoir that adds significantly to the history of the events of which he was a part.

It begins with his Irish roots, and his family's arrival in New England in the late 19th century. This is a hunk of living history, as McNulty recalls his grandmother's story of the Providence of more than 100 years ago. (If only we had all paid more attention to our grandmothers when we had the chance.) He describes growing up in a working-class Irish enclave in Boston during the 1930s, and his attendance at Boston Latin School, the oldest public school in America. He enrolled there in 1937 and received a genuine classical education.

He also describes his bouts with asthma and his selection of another sickly child as a role model--the Protestant Republican Theodore Roosevelt. Inspired by TR's determination, young McNulty became a winning sprinter on the school track team and later at Boston College. He recalls the early war years, being turned down by the Army Air Corps for being color blind and his Army service as part of a training cadre in Alabama.

The damp Alabama weather and the cold Massachusetts winters convinced McNulty to take his doctor's advice and, with GI Bill in hand, head west to a place he'd never been--Tucson. The chapter on his experiences at the UA (circa 1946) is worth the price of the book to anybody who was around in that era. The names he rattles off--from Richard Harvill and John Lyons to Bumps Tribolet and C. Zane Lesher--will rekindle some memories, as will his references to many long-gone landmarks like the Varsity Inn. He ran his first campaign on behalf of a kid running for UA student body president, and though his guy got beaten, it was by somebody McNulty would later become close to--Morris King Udall.

McNulty graduated from law school in 1951. He had but one female classmate--the late Mary Ann Reiman, former World War II WASP pilot and federal judge. His first lawyering job was in Bisbee, where he and his new wife and son made their home for some time. He became part of the then-liberal wing of the Democrat Party, and tells us about being part of the group that turned the 1960 delegation from Lyndon Johnson to Jack Kennedy. He goes on to describe his tenure in the Arizona State Senate, and the culmination of his career with his 1982 election to the United States House of Representatives.

The chapter entitled "Life After Congress?" details the 20 years since his defeat by Jim Kolbe in 1984. There are also excerpts from 1983 and '84 diary entries that give us day-by-day observations that are rich with the McNulty color.

McNulty gives us his inside, personal views of numerous political folks from Jack Kennedy and Tip O'Neill to Carl Hayden and Barry Goldwater, with stops along the way for lesser but still relevant people like Burton Barr and Bill Jacquin.

Running Uphill is a necessary document to place on the shelf of anyone interested in Arizona's modern history, but it's much more. McNulty gives us a well-written and charming view of where he was and what he did without overstating his own role, something rare in most pols back to Plutarch. Beyond the historically significant stuff, you ought to read this book just for the pure enjoyment of a well-told story.

I hear the Irish are good at that.

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