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Governor Henry Bellmon Transcript for Web Extras

Written on Tuesday November 18, 2008

Questions from the Outtakes

The College Years

Dick Pryor:  You went to Oklahoma State University, what did you do in college?

Governor Bellmon:  I went to class and went to work, and that’s about all.  I had, I grew up from a large family and my folks didn’t have money to help me in college, so I worked at different jobs and went to class, and that’s about all.

Dick Pryor:  One thing I noticed in reading your book is that you worked for the Daily O’Collegian, the newspaper.  You were in the journalism business.  How did you get started in that?

Governor Bellmon:  Well, I was a reporter for the School of Agriculture. I knew that Dean Wilham (phonetic) he’d let me in to talk to him once in a while, and we talked about things that were going on in the School of Agriculture, and I wrote stories about it for the O’Colly.  I don’t think it was fair to say I was a journalist.  I was just a student learning my way around.

Dick Pryor:  But you used that training later in your career.

Governor Bellmon:  Yes, it was very helpful to me when I was Republican State Chairman and later in the Senate and later in the Governor’s office.  Because I had some sense of what was news and however you put together a news release.

Why Two-Party Tea Parties?

Dick Pryor:  Why did you call them two-party tea parties?

Governor Bellmon:  Because we wanted people from both parties to be included.

Dick Pryor:  Was that part of your campaign strategy or theme?

Governor Bellmon:  Oh, it was the whole strategy and theme.  You’ve got to remember we were running in a state that was five to one Democrat.  We had to get far more Democrat votes than we got Republicans to win.  If we wouldn’t have had that Republican vote we wouldn’t have enough to prevail.

The Wisdom of Raymond Gary

Governor Bellmon:  Republicans run well in urban areas, and the Democrats tend to run well in the rural areas.  But I was a rural person and could communicate well with the farmers and rural people, and got more votes than Republicans normally got from those counties, especially the southern counties.  That was partly due to Raymond Gary’s influence.

Dick Pryor:  What did he tell you?

Governor Bellmon:  I remember one thing he told me was, which I found to be very good advice, he said if you have to choose between brilliance and loyalty, choose loyalty, because if you don’t have your loyal staff around you, you’re very vulnerable to making mistakes and getting into hot water.  But Raymond and I used to make it a practice to talk. I would go see him a couple times a year even after I was in office.  But he was, I counted him as a friend and is someone who wanted to see me succeed.

Are Politicians Born or Made?

Governor Bellmon:  I think they’re born with the essential qualities or characteristics but experience is to decide whether they’ll be able to handle the complexities and the pressures that go with public office.

Lloyd Raider

Dick Pryor:  What would you see as the biggest accomplishments of your first term as Governor?

Governor Bellmon: Well, the biggest accomplishment was proving I could govern, because I saw the state impeach three governors before and I was concerned that I’d be the fourth one.  But we had some good luck along the way.  But when I once came into office and the state had thirteen million dollars in revenue and the Legislature would appropriate what they’d call, against what they’d call an unanticipated surplus, and so we took all the money we had to cover what wrote us these hot checks that were out and the person who saved my neck, this will be hard for you to believe, but it was head of the Welfare Department, Lloyd Raider.  Lloyd let me take thirteen million dollars out of his surpluses and use it to cover up what the state had already obligated itself to pay for.  But Lloyd turned out to be a loyal friend and he was an accomplished politician and probably the most powerful person in the state including the governor.  So he had good relations with both houses of the Legislature and his objective when he wanted a bill passed was not just to pass it, he wanted to pass it with no dissenting votes, and he generally got them passed that way.  His tactics were something else.

Harry Bailey

(discussing Harry Bailey’s letters “dressing down” Engineers who worked for him)
Governor Bellmon: Harry told me he felt like he was doing (the Engineers) a favor because when he kept them on schedule and kept them up to the terms of their contracts he kept them from getting messed up and not able to perform up to the terms of their contracts.  Harry was an interesting fellow also on the side of political philosophy.  He was a very strong Fiscal Conservative.  He disliked government waste, and he used to write, when I was in the Senate, he used to write letters to me about improving the government and he was in favor of the government spending as little as possible, which was the conservative doctrine of that time.

The Importance of a “No Gifts Policy”

Governor Bellmon:  Well, I would say it not only was, I’d make it true in the current and present tense.  These scandals you’re having in Washington now, a lot of them are due to the fact that people are taking free trips and accepted some corporate largesse that they try to pay for by passing legislation that favors the corporations.  So I wanted to be obligated to no one except the voters by avoiding taking favors from special interests I was able to keep from having to pay back the favors in some other way.

Dick Pryor:  And you had an opportunity to do that, to take some favors.  Harry Bailey figured in one of those opportunities.

Governor Bellmon:  Yes, he wanted to furnish the money for me to go to the Republican National Convention in San Francisco, but we didn’t accept it.

Dick Pryor:  It’s hard to be that the Republican governor of Oklahoma might have a difficult time of getting to the Republican Convention, but such was the case then.

Governor Bellmon:  Well, if my memory serves me right and I think it does, we went out in a National Guard airplane, but at least is was government business, or at least I thought it was government business, and it was proper for the government to pay the cost of going for the transportation, not that I was going to stay long.  We went in a C-97.  The Guard counted that as a training exercise, so we managed to get to the convention all right.

 

Richard Nixon

Governor Bellmon: I never will believe he had any knowledge of Watergate prior to its happening, but he made the mistake of trying to cover it up and, of course, that led to what would have been his impeachment if he hadn’t resigned.

Dick Pryor:  And obviously later people learned of the dark side of Richard Nixon.  Did you see that during that time?

Governor Bellmon:  I never did.  I was Nixon’s National Campaign Chairman for several months from August of ’67, to March of ’68.  And I was frequently in his apartment up there off Park Avenue in New York City, and his law office, and I never saw him have anything that I would think was a dark side, that he plainly had weaknesses that maybe would get out of control from time to time.  But Dick Nixon as I knew him was a very honorable man and a very likeable man.

 

Dick Pryor:  And you were there the day he resigned.

Governor Bellmon:  I was there the night before he resigned.  Well, that’s not right.  I was there the night he resigned.  He had a group he called the early birds, the people that had helped him in his campaign before he was nominated, and there were maybe twenty or twenty-five us, people like Strom Thurman and Barbara Conable (phonetic) a Congressman from New York, and myself and the other members of Congress.  And he had us down there right after he was elected and we had a nice dinner and he showed us through the White House, and I remember one thing, we walked by a piano and he said Harry Truman left this piano here.  We came back by it later and Nixon sat down and played the Missouri Waltz with both hands, he could play the piano, and then he said we were the early birds and we were the bird club and that was the first meeting. We’d have other meetings, but we didn’t until the night he resigned.  We didn’t know he was going to resign, but along about four o’clock in the afternoon Rosemary Woods, who was his secretary, called and invited me down to the White House for dinner, and we went down there and we were ushered into the cabinet room, and it was the early birds, the twenty or twenty-five of us, and Nixon came in and didn’t greet anybody or didn’t talk, didn’t say a word to anybody, just went around the table and sat down in the tall chair the president uses, and the rest of us sort of scrambled around and sat down around the table, and after a minute or two he started talking and the words just poured out of him.  He said he’d planned, wanted to be not a good president, but a great president.  And he thought he’d done some great things, and he talked about opening the door to China and about the Cold War and about domestic things he thought he’d accomplished and he talked for quite a while, I’d say at least a half an hour maybe even longer.  And then he sort of dropped his head and sat for a moment looking down and then he looked right at us and said I hope I haven’t let you down and he started to cry.  And he got up from the chair and went around the table and out the door and down the hall.  We were invited to stay on at the White House and have supper, dinner, and I did and some others did, and he went on national television at about eight thirty or so, and announced that he’d be leaving the office at eleven o’clock the next day.

Updated on Thursday April 24, 2014 at 12:51pm