What if I told you the most radical left senator in American history came from the state of Idaho? By one measurement, this is true.
In 1944, Democratic Senator D. Worth Clark of Idaho was having political problems. He was not satisfactory to many of the state’s Democrats as he had been a strong opponent of FDR’s foreign policy before World War II and he was increasingly unreliable in supporting him on domestic issues. That year, a challenger stepped forth against him: Glen H. Taylor (1904-1984).
Taylor was, among other things, a country singer who had twice before tried for the Senate, but both times lost to incumbent Republican John W. Thomas. One thing that harmed him on the campaign trail was his premature baldness, which made him appear significantly older than he was. What convinced him that he needed to wear a toupee was when a man mistook him for his wife’s father. Taylor was also often characterized as a socialist or communist by his detractors. In his 1944 run, Taylor not only wore the toupee but opted to talk about issues that related to the common voter. He beat Clark despite him having a political machine to help him and he narrowly won the Senate election itself. Taylor became known at the beginning of his term for singing on the steps of the Capitol about his difficulties finding lodging giving the housing shortage, “Oh give me a home, near the Capitol dome, with a yard where little children can play / Just one room or two, any old thing will do / Oh we can’t find a pla-a-a-ce to stay!” (Langeveld) This actually worked, and Taylor was contacted with multiple offers.
As he assumed his Senate duties, he quickly gained a reputation as both a disruptor and an eccentric. In 1946, Taylor joined Progressive Citizens of America, an organization which included prominent progressives, socialists, and communists. In 1946, he got into an altercation with Idaho Republican chair Ray McKaig, in which he broke his jaw. McKaig claimed that Taylor had blindsided him and proceeded to kick him in the face when he was down. Taylor denied that he kicked him and claimed that McKaig had insulted him and he had thrown a punch but pulled back before he could harm him but then McKaig bloodied his nose, and then he threw the jaw-breaking punch. The following year, he was prominent in the push to exclude Theodore Bilbo of Mississippi from the Senate for inciting voter intimidation of blacks. He also was arrested in 1948 in Birmingham, Alabama for using the “colored” entrance to a hall in defiance of segregation laws. Taylor was sentenced to pay a $50 fine and had a 180-day suspended jail sentence.
On domestic issues, he had a flawless left-wing record, defending strong price controls and supporting continuing and expanding New Deal measures. Taylor was opposed to anti-communist politicking and in 1950 voted against the McCarran Internal Security Act. Taylor declined to criticize the USSR strongly and rationalized that ninety senators already did so. He became a strong critic, however, of President Truman’s anti-communist foreign policies, voting against the Greek-Turkish Aid Act and the Marshall Plan. Taylor toured the country, part of the way riding his horses Nugget and Chuck, speaking out against Truman’s foreign policies as he thought them too antagonistic to the USSR. This combined with his hard-left stances on domestic policy put him in alliance with the Progressive Party and in 1948 he was nominated for vice president on the ticket. Taylor’s presence in the Senate, it could be argued, was part of the rationale for the creation of Americans for Democratic Action, a lobbying organization which both fought for New Deal liberalism and opposed communism.
In 1950, Clark capitalized on Taylor’s reputation as a radical against him and defeated him for renomination. However, Clark himself would lose the election badly to Republican Herman Welker, who would become one of Joseph McCarthy’s most loyal allies. Taylor was subsequently head of the Coryell Construction Company but in 1952 he was forced to resign as apparently the government didn’t want to make contracts with the company given his political past. Taylor, however, didn’t give up easily on politics and tried twice to regain his seat in the Senate. In 1954, he was trounced by Republican incumbent Henry Dworshak and in 1956 he lost the Democratic nomination to 32-year old Frank Church, who went on to unseat Welker, whose reputation had sunk with McCarthy’s. Taylor quit politics after this and moved to Millbrae, California, where he lived the rest of his life and founded the Taylor Topper Company, the purpose of which was to provide quality toupees. The business still exists today, now known as Taylormade. He died of Alzheimer’s disease in 1984.
Taylor’s MC-Index score is a 5% on account of his votes against the Greek-Turkish Act and the Marshall Plan while his DW-Nominate score is a ludicrously low -0.999, making him the most left-wing senator in American history by that standard.
Collier, P. (April 1977). Remembering Glen Taylor: The Singing Cowboy Who Went to the Senate and Came Home to Sell Toupees… Mother Jones. 42-53.
Flint, P.B. (1984, May 5). Glen H. Taylor of Idaho Dies; Wallace Running Mate in ’48. The New York Times.
Langeveld, D. (2016, December 29). Glen H. Taylor: Civil Rights Cowboy. The Downfall Dictionary.
Simkin, J. (1997). Glen H. Taylor. Spartacus Educational.