Schmoozing with Schwartzenneger, and a
Gallery of Other Governators
A Humorous Look Back at Some Behind-the Scenes Government Photo Shoots
and Their Amusing Backstories
While working in various communications roles in Vermont state government, I became someone the governor's office staff or other state agency officials would call upon from time to time to photograph either special in-house events or ceremonies that the regular press might find too trifling to attend. Some of these photo sessions led to anecdotes worth retelling. A few of the shots I include here never saw publication before now. In every case either I received permission to use them or there was an understanding at the time I took them that the photos were meant for public use. This pastiche of recollections is mostly just for grins. But I suppose in some ways it brings some stories into the historical record. Let's begin:
Schmoozing with Schwartzenegger
Actor/Politican Arnold Schwartzeneggar once came to Montpelier, Vermont, to call upon fellow Republican party strategist and then-Governor Richard Snelling. This was shortly before Arnold became California's "Governator" (term was a play on his movie "The Terminator"), and it was decades before his nanny-boffing and other public charges of free-handed groping of women fueled tabloid headlines.
Alerted to Arnold's coming, I had asked Snelling's press secretary if the Governor might be kind enough to squeeze in a personal meeting for a devoted fan of Arnold's whom we both knew. That fan was Ray Besette, a state telecommunications staffer who had an office near mine, and on his wall he kept a poster of Arnold. Ray was also a titled competitive body-builder, and this was what initially drove his admiration for the former Mr. Universe. But I highly suspect their approaches differed. Ray was vocally committed to what he called natural body building. He would sometimes parade his latest healthy superfood concoction around the office, including his famously off-putting "tuna fish smoothie."
Snelling consented and we orchestrated Ray's introduction to his hero Arnold as a complete surprise. At the appointed hour we told Ray he was needed pronto at Snelling's office for a telecommunications strategy meeting, and we traipsed over. I said I had other business there and would tag along. Richard Snelling, a highly successful self-made businessman, was known around government corridors as a no-nonsense taskmaster. You could feel a different charge in the air when he walked into a meeting room. He did not look kindly on fools. Or perceived incompetence. Or disagreement with his positions. But, he was wonderfully accommodating of this bit of foolishness.
When Arnold and his two-man security detail (or whatever they were) got off the elevator on the Fifth Floor, Ray, standing nearby, nearly came out of his skin. I have to say that Arnold looked surprisingly lithe in the flesh. Not nearly as bulked up as he once was. He moved in a sinuous, self-assured way across a room. Tawny and puma-like. Often, celebrities lose some of their on-screen wattage off camera. Arnold seemed to have lost nothing more than some unhealthy excess musculature in recent years. Star quality he had.
Snelling arranged for Ray to have ten minutes or so of idol-worshipping heaven with Arnold. The two of them sat on the Governor's VIP couch like buds. (See pic at left) I overheard them amiably discussing the merits of Ray's tuna fish shakes. So far so good. The Governor wanted in on a handshake shot, and just as the three of them lined up, my expensive, fully-charged flash unit inexplicably began to falter. On and on it whined, slowly, interminably, struggling to gather juice for each burst of light. I was nonetheless bent on getting several shots in this time-consuming way, just for insurance. Arnold grew snappish. "You snuce you luce!" he chastised me in Arnold-speak, in front of all assembled. I was the only photographer there. A little slack please?
Perhaps he could have used a tuna smoothie.
The Last Picture Show
Staff Graffiti Graces the Governor's Corridor
When I took the shots at left , Governor Madeleine Kunin's aides and staffers in adjoining offices had packed up in preparation for a move from the fourth floor of the Pavilion Office Building to the newly renovated fifth floor. They were leaving behind long expanses of bare, white sheetrocked office walls in corridors that previously doubled as a public fine arts exhibit space. Those walls were soon to be torn down. And so, the vacating staffers decided to produce a final exhibit of their own.
They changed out of their power suits, grabbed cans of spray paint and covered the walls with bold images and impromptu murals. Stylistically, I'd put the work somewhere between the folk art of Woody Jackson and the prehistoric cave paintings at Lascaux. It was art never meant for the ages. Just something to mark, for a day or two, the passing of the Governor's old 'hood.
Pushing the Paws Button
At a ceremonial gathering, top left, Governor Madeleine Kunin was presented a new prototype cuddly State Police teddy bear, in approximate uniform. The toy had just been produced in quantities for Vermont's troopers to carry in their cruisers in order to have something comforting to offer a child in crisis or facing a stressful situation. Nice idea. At the press podium, Governor Kunin is noticing that this bear, now a working member of the force, has not been issued pants. This concerns her. Was it a budget thing? It looks as though Commander Robert Horton's bullet points for the press conference did not anticipate this question. He treated it as an active investigation and withheld comment.
Below that, Governor Kunin begins a ceremonial bill signing in her office with the usual phalanx of stakeholders. The dog was not expressly a stakeholder. But Kunin had a gift for making everyone in the room feel important.
Through the Howard Dean and Jim Douglas administrations I had a different kind of agency communications job and wasn't called upon to take many photos. But I do have this one early shot of Gentleman Jim when he was Secretary of State, presenting an award to State Archivist Gregory Sanford (one of many Gregory would receive for his work preserving state documents and crafting enlightened public records policy.) Note Douglas's boyish head of hair. By the time he became Governor, a lot more of it was gone. That's the public image most people have of him, so this offers another. Gregory's facial hair is, if anything, is more impressive today.
Bill Mares Mugs for Modernization
When the state's first electronic legislative bill tracking system came online, they called it LEG.BILL. Clumsy as the first version was compared to today's, it was still a splendid innovation. But in large human organizations, change is never without its fearful doubters and ornery resisters. A good many people must be persuaded to embrace the Next New Thing, even when told to do so. At least some degree of skepticism was warranted. In the realm of ever-morphing information technology, state managers had already produced plenty of novel ways to do things that were not splendid by any means.
As editor of an in-house publication, I needed a cover shot for a story about LEG.BILL. I wondered if then-legislator Bill Mares might pose. He seemed possessed of the right spirit. Bill was/is also an author, teacher, and commentator. Along with political science writer/professor Frank Bryan, Bill had (then) recently co-authored the hilariously droll book, "Real Vermonters Don't Milk Goats." He had name recognition and I thought he could bring some brio to the task of posing for the LEG.BILL story. He certainly did. At left is an outtake of Bill hamming for the piece, "embracing" the new technology. I recently discovered another interesting facet of Bill Mares' past. See related item on my Blurbosphere.
Taking the Plunge
When shooting groups of people for government or organizational uses, it's hard to get them to do something interesting. But now and then something wonderfully offbeat can occur. Here are a couple of instances.
Members of the State Police dive team had recently completely a rigorous new training and certification process. I was instructed to show up at a dock on Lake Champlain, where I was put in a boat and motored off to the area where the graduation would occur: In the middle of the lake, in a gathering rainstorm. There they did their final exercises and received the plastic-clad certifications underwater. When they emerged brandishing their "diplomas" it made for a refreshingly unusual shot. A resulting story (republished) can be found here.
I was assigned to write about impending changes to the state's postal system in a way that would draw the attention of customers, so they wouldn't be caught unaware. The postmaster described to me "the twice-daily tornado," in his words, of mail that came through the central facility. I asked him jokingly, Could we actually make a tornado of mail for me to photograph? "Well, hmm, OK," he replied. The published photo attracted the desired attention.
At left is the postmaster behind the improvised whirlwind of mail we made. It took many tries to get one with his face even partly peaking through. Afterward I helped him pick up and reorganize every piece of mail. We probably broke some federal law or other, but I presume the statute of limitations has run out. Just to be safe I won't reveal who the postmaster was.
All photographs this page by Ricka McNaughton, though originally, in some cases, published under a different surname. All rights reserved.
Below: Governor's staff defacing state property (soon to be demolished.)
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Above: Governor Snelling, "Ray," and Ray's hero Arnold Schwarzeneggar. Below: Ray and Arnold, chatting.