Monday, April 21, 2008

The Argus Observes: Ontario’s ‘boy’ Elmo Smith is going places

By Don Lynch

From The Argus-Observer for April 23, 1953

(Editor’s note: At the time this column was published, there was no way for the author to know that Smith would, within a few short years, become governor of Oregon.)

It begins to look like Ontario’s boy is really going places in politics.

Senator Elmo Smith has announced his candidacy for the presidency of the Oregon State Senate, a job that is second only to the governor’s office in prestige in government in Oregon.

Although Smith now resides in John Day, Ontario will always regard him as a product of this city.
It was here that he established himself as a successful newspaper publisher and a leader in local government.

He came to Ontario in the depression years of the mid-thirties as a youngster not long out of college. He worked for the Ontario Argus for a time, and in 1937 began publishing his own newspaper, the Eastern Oregon Observer. Those must have been tough years, but he has told me they were good years that provided a lot of fun.

Whenever they had more money than it took for beans and shoes and ink and paper, they made some little improvement --- added some new type or a better press or spent some money to promote a new idea.

Smith was a great idea man. He tried most any idea he could think of. Many of them paid off. The paper grew and prospered with the net result that in about a decade Smith ran an initial investment of a few hundred dollars into an asset that the sold for about $40,000.

Subsequent investment in the newspapers in John Day and Madras had increased his net worth substantially, and at the same time provided him with an income that has permitted him to take an active part in state politics.

Smith was elected mayor of Ontario in 1940, resigned in 1943 to enter the navy and served again as mayor for two years after he returned to Ontario.

He puts out an unusually good newspaper for his readers in Grant County, but his really outstanding quality as a newspaper publisher is his business ability. I know of no other weekly publisher who has his financial ability, and at the same time gives the readers as good a product as he does.

He has one other unusual ability that he doesn’t get to practice very often. He is the best advertising salesman I have known in the weekly newspaper business and he is as good as the high-powered Hearst men I used to work with on the Examiner in San Francisco.

Although we were once vigorous competitors, Elmo and I are the best of friends personally. But that does not prevent us from disagreeing publicly if necessary, and we both understand that.
We agree on the broad general issues in government, often disagree on specific things. I must confess that time often brings me nearer Smith’s view than I was at the time of disagreement.

Smith is opposed in his race for the Oregon Senate presidency by Senator Phil Hitchcock of Klamath Falls. From this distance, it looks to me like a contest of working ability against personal charm.

Hitchcock is an able man. Smith has told me so himself. And he certainly has as much personal charm as any man in the senate. For these reasons, he might be tougher competition in front of the electorate in a general election than within the senate itself where Smith’s great capacity for productive work is known and understood. And Smith has plenty of personality too.

I think we may expect that Elmo Smith will fare well in the contest, either win or gain substantially in prestige. If he didn’t think so his hat wouldn’t be in the ring and I know of no shrewder judge of his political prospects than the senator himself.

He has appraised his other political fights realistically. I hope he wins this one.

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