A Conversation With...David Hall

Written by Dick Pryor on Monday June 7, 2010


David Hall seemed destined for greatness. Born in Oklahoma City, he spent his formative years in Sherman, Texas before moving to California, then back to Oklahoma. He drove a delivery truck for his family's Pepsi bottling plant and attended Taft Junior High School in Oklahoma City. He was student body president there and was student body president as a senior at Oklahoma City's Classen High School. There, he played on a state championship basketball team before heading to the University of Oklahoma and later, the Tulsa University Law School.

kvhallresizedHe was a highly-regarded County Attorney in Tulsa and first ran for governor in 1966. After a disappointing showing, he re-doubled his efforts to learn about the state and the issues affecting the people. In 1970, Hall won the Democratic nomination for governor and defeated incumbent Republican Dewey Bartlett in the closest race in state history. Late rural boxes provided Hall with the winning margin. Hall lost 638 votes on the recount (Gov. Bartlett ordered the National Guard to keep a 24-hour watch over the ballot boxes) and won by 2,181 votes.

Oklahoma's governor at the age of 40, Hall appeared to be on the verge of higher office. He focused on improving education, roads, law and order and agriculture in Oklahoma, and dealt with one of the worst prison riots in American history. Although his Freeway 77 bond proposal failed, Hall was successful in pushing new initiatives, including major tax reform. Coping with an $85 million revenue shortfall, Hall and the Oklahoma legislature found a way to craft a balanced budget and stimulate economic growth. In 1974, he helped bring teacher pay to the regional average for the first time since 1957.

Christmas_CardresizedBy 1973, Hall was beginning to be discussed as a possible vice-presidential nominee. However, along the way, Hall became the subject of two grand jury investigations and a call for impeachment. His star began to fade in 1974, when he finished third in the Democratic gubernatorial primary – a major blow for an incumbent governor. U.S. Representative Clem McSpadden and State Representative David Boren finished ahead of him and Boren went on to win.

Hall left office on January 13, 1975, and three days later he was indicted by a U.S. grand jury on charges of bribery and extortion. It was alleged that Hall was part of a plan to receive $50,000 for influencing the investment of state retirement funds. He sought a speedy trial and was convicted on March 14, 1975 on four counts, including extortion and conspiracy to bribe. Then-Secretary of State John Rogers cooperated with law enforcement, wearing a wire as a he acted as a go-between and informant as federal authorities built their case against Hall and co-conspirator Doc Taylor. After losing on appeal at the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals, Hall was sentenced to three years in federal prison. He served 18 months at the minimum security prison in Safford, Arizona before being released.

After leaving prison, Hall and his wife, Jo, moved to southern California, where they created a new life in La Jolla, near San Diego. He has held a variety of jobs over the years and has remained fit and active by playing basketball. Although making frequent trips back to Oklahoma to see friends and relatives, Hall did not speak publicly about his career until he returned to Oklahoma City in February, 2007 for a special event at the Oklahoma History Center featuring all of Oklahoma's living governors. He granted an interview to The Tulsa World and was surprised at the amount of attention he received. Hall told me it was one of the great highlights of his life – more meaningful than a political victory.

Governor Hall called us in early fall, 2009, to tell us he would be in town and would be willing to conduct an in-depth interview for our "A Conversation With..." series. We scheduled the interview for the morning of October 22. As fate would have it, we also received a call from former U.S. Senator Fred Harris, who also was going to be in town that week. Sen. Harris was planning on attending an event at the University of Oklahoma on October 22, but has the afternoon free, so we scheduled him for an interview shortly after our date with Gov. Hall.

As it turns out, Hall and Harris were familiar with each other from their days as two of the top students at the University of Oklahoma, and later in politics. Harris ran for governor in 1962 and two years later defeated Bud Wilkinson to take a seat in the U.S. Senate; Hall ran for governor in 1966, before ultimately winning in 1970. In 1971-72 they both served the state in high political office.

HallHarris_085resizedSenator Harris arrived at the OETA studios in Oklahoma City while I was completing the interview with David Hall. After the interview was over, Governor Hall greeted each member of our production staff. Ever the consummate politician, Hall shook each one's hand and asked them about their hometown and family, as if he were still stumping for votes. We told him he had a special guest waiting to see him in the lobby, and it was quite a sight when he turned from the hallway into the front of the building, and caught his first glimpse of his old friend, Fred Harris, face-to-face for the first time in 35 years. Surprised, they visited for a few minutes and posed for pictures as our staff watched in amazement. It was a special, very human moment.

David Hall told us he is working on a memoir, to be released in fall, 2010. It is bound to be an interesting read, especially for fans of Oklahoma history and politics. In the meantime, we hope you enjoy the program, A Conversation With...David Hall.