Riding the high of a successful acting career that gave him millions of fans as “Gopher” the affable purser for eight years on the hit TV show, “The Love Boat,” Fred Grandy shocked a lot of people when the show ended and he packed his bags, left Hollywood and returned home to his native Sioux City to run for Congress.
But the 1986 move didn’t faze his captain. When Gavin McLeod (aka “Captain Stubing”) learned Fred was leaving town, he whipped out his checkbook and made Grandy’s first campaign contribution.
What followed was another successful eight-year run as a U.S. Congressman for the 6th District that became the 5th district three terms in.
“As I look back on it, I probably didn’t know any better,” Grandy said of his sudden decision to enter the world of politics.
Grandy also learned quickly that there is life after politics. He recently joined the Center for Security Policy, a Washington, D.C., think tank that focuses on national security issues, the latest stop on a post-political career that saw him serve for six years as president and CEO of Goodwill, then return to politics and entertainment as a political commentator on radio and TV in Washington for many years.
He got into politics because he was persuaded to do so by some friends with whom he had grown up. And the more he got into it, the more he liked it. “Had I been forewarned and possibly forearmed, I might have disarmed and never run,” he said in a phone interview.
“Of course, political races are much more bloodsport than they were when I was first running; but nobody who gets into a political contest really understands the first time what a titanic effort this is and the kind of cost it is to you personally – and in some cases, financially and professionally.”
Grandy noted that his first job out of college (Harvard) was working as a staffer for longtime Iowa Rep. Wiley Mayne of Sioux City. It gave him a taste of politics. What he saw was somewhat off-putting. “I spent a year in Washington doing the kind of low-level constituent stuff that junior staff members do and, if anything, that propelled me into show business," he said, noting that he preferred a different kind of acting than than he saw on the floor of the House.
MAKING A DIFFERENCE?
But the second time around, when he decided to make a run for office, Iowa was going through some pretty severe economic contractions. “There was a lot of hurt out there,” Grandy said, “and I kind of beguiled myself into thinking that somehow I could make things better.”
Whether he accomplished any of that is for others to decide, he noted.
The work was not what he imagined it to be.
“I had no idea that the process was so lugubrious and frustrating, and this was before the kind of gridlock that we’re looking at now,” he said. “Nor did I have any idea that it would take the kinds of astronomical sums of money to first get into office and then so stay there."
Pre-election, Grandy always thought the real perks of getting elected to Congress would involve being on the floor of the House, debating and discussing the great issues of the day.
“But for me, the real job satisfaction was coming home and having my town meetings and helping people with the kind of constituent services that could actually make a difference in their lives,” he said “This could be something as mundane as helping somebody get a Social Security check that somehow had been lost in the pipeline to some farmer that was warring with the AFCS over deficiency payments, straightening out those kinds of bureaucratic entanglements.”
And this was the work mostly done by his capable staff, he noted, though he would get feedback while touring the district and speaking at town meetings in such places as Arthur and Odebolt. “That, to me, was the real return investment,” he said.
Several careers down the road, Grandy said he doesn’t miss those days, at least not enough to return to politics.
Could he have survived four terms in today’s toxic Congressional environment?
Considering how well he got along with folks on both sides of the aisle during his Congressional days, especially on the Ag Committee, Grandy said he isn’t sure.
“On the Ag Committee, your politics didn’t break down between right and left or R and D, it was the northern soybean guys versus the southern soybean guys. To get the votes you needed in committee, you had to make some deals. And to me, that was a very valuable experience,” he said.
Today, as a commentator, Grandy admits to being much more partisan than he ever was as a Congressman. As a civilian, he doesn’t have to compromise.
“The level of our problems have gotten to a point where it’s damn difficult to compromise because people on the left and people on the right, in order to reach a compromise, essentially have to sacrifice not just some provisions of a piece of legislation but actual values that underpin their entire ideology,” he said. “And that’s what this election is about. It’s really about what the role of government should be, So it doesn’t surprise me that there is not as much compromise. But what disappoints me is that I don’t think either side really understands the magnitude of the problem. And unless or until they do, they’re not going to get much done.”
One thing Grandy finds lacking in today’s political arena is a sense of humor, something he was always able to plumb during his days as a legislator.
“We took our work seriously, but not always ourselves. Now it seems just the opposite is true. There’s no room for even the slightest offhand remark that is meant as a jest, and yet because they take themselves so seriously, they take the work less so, because it doesn’t get done."
Grandy said he always viewed his time in Congress as a temporary assignment that would end someday. That day came when he challenged then- (and now again) Gov. Terry Branstad in the Republican primary and lost. Rather than insinuate himself again into the good graces of the party, he decided to re-enter civilian life.
“You know, the best politicians are the ones that enter the business and then leave the business with their heads held high,” he said. “And I haven’t regretted that decision once.”
Even in Congress, Grandy considered himself a civilian. His colleagues talked about the perks of office -- travel and the prestige that comes from being a member of Congress. He, however, had had plenty of that as a cast member of "The Love Boat."
“You’re talking to me about prestige and travel? I mean I get more done because I used to be Gopher on ‘The Love Boat’ when I’m talking to an Israeli defense minister or some constituent,” he said. “My life didn’t change that much.”
His six subsequent years as Goodwill’s president and CEO let him accomplish what he wanted to in the way of management and reorganization changes. Having done some teaching at the University of Maryland, he then decided to go back to school and get his master’s degree in Shakespearean studies from George Washington University.
“But once 9/11 happened, I didn’t want to get back into public office. I did want to find some kind of public service or public voice, and that’s when the radio job materialized,” he said.
Grandy occasionally subbed for a radio talk show host on WMAL Radio in Washington, and when the Gulf War started and the station decided to offer 24/7 war coverage, a full time opportunity came up when he took over the morning show, beginning a whole new career that lasted another eight years.
He briefly discussed the circumstances that led to his departure from WMAL in March of 2011 when he took a “very contrary position with my management over the whole question of how much we as a country had to pay attention to the efforts of the Muslim Brotherhood to kind of infiltrate just about every institution in this country.”
Grandy said he and his wife Catherine, who was working with him on this project, ran afoul of management by talking about Radical Islam.
“You never like to give up something you like doing, but the purpose of me being on the radio and having a public voice through the microphone is to be able to tell people what you think is the truth,” he said. "And when I was told there were certain things that I couldn’t say any more and the ways I could say them, I felt my whole purpose was severely compromised. I don’t regret leaving."
So now he works behind the scenes on national security and counter-terrorism issues.
“I don’t really feel the need to get back on the air,” he said. “But if I found the right venue, sure. I’m a great believe in the wisdom of Satchel Paige. He said, ‘Don’t look back ‘cause something might be gaining on you.’”