Documenting the American South Logo
oral histories of the American South
Excerpt from Oral History Interview with Bert Nettles, July 13, 1974. Interview A-0015. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Honesty essential for a successful political career

Nettles explains his "green stamp theory": voters respect and support someone who openly supports specific issues, even if that means that the candidate and his or her constituency do not agree on all points. He asserts that honesty is more important than just about anything else.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with Bert Nettles, July 13, 1974. Interview A-0015. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) in the Southern Oral History Program Collection, Southern Historical Collection, Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Full Text of the Excerpt

It's an interesting thing that you have a number of green stamps with your supporters. People who elect you. No one expects you, no reasonable person-the rank and file I'm speaking of, the general type voter-doesn't expect you to agree with him 100% of the time. When you try to convince him that you do, he doesn't believe you and he begins to doubt you. You lose credibility with them. But as long as he respects you, you can vote contrary to what he thinks and you can live with it. I doubt that when I voted like I did . . . the local Republican leadership . . . . One's a federal judge, who was county chairman, was my campaign manager for re-election. But he did it heavy hearted, thinking I had beaten myself. And I could not get re-elected. And it was a dirty campaign and we had to put out some, bring out some facts on the other candidate. Previous police record. Many people believe the only reason I got re-elected was because he had a bad record, the other candidate did. But I don't think that was it. But the point is, that people-I found this in my case, certainly true-that if they think that you are trying to be honest, and that even though they disagree with you, they're going to support you as long as you, not on too many issues, don't get too way out. I doubt that a McGovern type could win in Mobile county, where you just on almost every issue take a very liberal position. But this is what I call the green stamp theory. That you've got a member there and you can call on this one and they'll forgive you for that and go on and work for you and vote for you and just put you down as being, you know, well, he's, he just feels strongly on that issue. I'm strongly for ERA. And my district, no question in my mind but it's strongly opposed to it. 60-40 at the minimum. Probably 75-25. But I don't think . . . . I think that's not going to be an issue. If it is, I think I can still win with it, in my particular district. Because . . . as long as people think I'm for, that I've got a solid basis for voting the way I do and I'm being consistent and maintaining that credibility. And this is the problem that Gene McLean had. I suppose he didn't have that basic credibility over the news media from his record in the legislature. He'd been one of Wallace's chief supporters in the '71 session. It's interesting.
JACK BASS:
How would you define your own concept of the role of leadership of someone in political office?
BERT NETTLES:
Maintain credibility. I suppose . . . [unclear] told me when I got elected . . . best advice I've ever had . . . was inform yourself the best you can on every issue, major issue and try to get the best information from both sides. Then vote your conscience. That's the main thing to do. I don't think people elect . . . . These computer read outs types, fellows who try to vote exactly the way their constituents think. They get into a problem then because sometimes you might misread how your constituents . . . . The Edmund Burke theory of people elected to legislature, to public office, to deal with problems in the way they think best, reasonably consistent with the views of the people whom they represent. It's what I've tried to do. I've made a number of mistakes and I'm sure we all do. But the main thing is that you stay in there and keep trying. You're always available for comment. And that you're not afraid to make decisions. I find . . . the hottest places in hell surely are reserved, I think, for those who are afraid to take a stand. I've seen many a legislator defeated, terribly embarrassed, because he didn't vote on an issue. And that makes him unpopular with everybody. Or where he refuses to take a stand right up until the very last and then he has all this pressure continuing to tear at him and people getting madder than if he had come out and declared initially. This is the way I feel and this is how I'm going to vote. I respect your opinions to the contrary. I trust you respect mine.