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Excerpt from Oral History Interview with Nancy Palm, December 16, 1974. Interview A-0194. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Changing political landscape of Texas in the 1960s and 1970s

Palm describes her role as the chairperson of the Republican Party in Harris County, Texas, during the 1960s and 1970s. Having moved to Houston in 1951, Palm explains how her initial political activities came about through her work on the school board campaign. Shortly thereafter, she became involved in working for both Democrats and Republicans in Harris County. Arguing that her political leanings were more liberal earlier in her life, Palm explains her own shift to conservative politics and places her own transition within the broader context of the changing political landscape of Texas. As throughout the rest of the interview, she stresses the importance of political organization at the local and state level and hypothesizes as to why the Republican Party had still largley failed to coalesce in Texas by the mid-1970s.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with Nancy Palm, December 16, 1974. Interview A-0194. 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

ANCY PALM:
My background in politics is very varied and therefore that's one reason I can understand Democrats and independents. I am from Tennessee, which is a southern state but which is also a border state and in many ways is similar to Texas. I have been interested in politics since I was in college at Vanderbilt. And actually had worked in politics in Tennessee and I cast my first vote for Franklin Roosevelt. By '51, when I had moved to Texas with my husband, I had become extremely interested in the Houston independent district school board and ran the 1951 organization for the school board candidates slate that won. And increased the vote from 7,000 to 21,000. So I got a reputation as somewhat of an organizer at that time. I guess I've been active in every campaign since then. Bond issues. And when you ask why I always just have to say it's both congenital and acquired.
WALTER DE VRIES:
the Republican party and then get a reputation as a conservative?
NANCY PALM:
You mean after starting out somewhat as a liberal? Well, I married a Texan. That's one thing that helps. Turned me into a conservative and literally moving to Texas to see how much individual initiative does count. But by 1952 I was a precinct organizer for Taft. So that would tell you where I was in the spectrum of Republican politics. But being what most people are in Texas. I was a Democrat in May and a Republican in November, meaning that you vote a split ticket. I would work for candidates of both parties, up until 1964, when, in my particular precinct, even though it had the national committeeman and a tremendous amount of Republican money in it, they couldn't find anybody to hold an election. So I agreed to hold the election. That was the original Bush-Cox Senate race and the Goldwater race. And we were in a fight as to whether the Texas delegation would be pledged to Goldwater. Since '64 I have worked in the Republican organization as a precinct chairman and an area chairman and as a vice-chairman and then, for about the last seven years, as a county chairman. And I do think I have organizational ability. It is not even my favorite type of, or my main interest in politics. My main interest is philosophical rather than simply getting the people registered and turning out the vote or in the actual campaigning. But strangely enough it has worked itself around to where under Texas law as chairman of the party supporting a ticket, I am technically the campaign manager for all the Republican candidates in Harris county. So I have done an awful lot of strategy work and production of campaign literature. And then I do think also one of my chief values to the party and the reason I have been effective is that I am able to work with the media. Because I have a media background. I worked my way through school as a person in the news release office and then did public relations work for the Harris county medical society. Which, during that period, was the most potent political force in the county. So I had a county-wide basis of contacts before I ever moved into county wide Republican politics.
WALTER DE VRIES:
Why do some people in politics call you napalm?
NANCY PALM:
I think it was simply a natural derivative of my name being Palm and N.A., Nancy. A lot of people think I'm explosive and they judge that image primarily from radio and television. When I think somebody's wrong, it does not bother me at all to stand up in public and say so. I am very rational about it but people are always somewhat surprised when they meet me personally.
JACK BASS:
How do you summarize your political philosophy?
NANCY PALM:
I'm still a very strong individual initiative person. And I still feel that every problem that can be solved should be solved by the individual. If they can't solve it, they go to the next level of government. Meaning your city and county. And this has been one reason I have been so frustrated with the state Republican party. They have not seen the validity of city and county politics. Then you would go to the state level. And the very last resort is going to the federal level. I am simply for fewer laws. I think this country has become so entangled in a mesh of laws that we have lost sight of why we were a country to begin with. Which was to get away from a dictatorship. I cannot see anything in the future of this country except a one party Democrat dictatorship. I think we are so close to a man on a white horse using the Democrat party as a vehicle that it is really very frightening to me.
JACK BASS:
That man. The Democrats are looking for him. Who is he?
NANCY PALM:
There's just not much telling who he may be. I do not believe it's George Wallace. We have not gotten into this third party. And it's interesting that you should not even ask about it since Wallace is so strong in Harris county and actually prevented Nixon from carrying the state in '68. It may be a totally independent person, such as it was in Maine. But the Democrats have got an awful lot of candidates floating around. Whether they're the one on the white horse or not is hard to say. But again I say the Rockefeller-Ford - now I'm putting Rockefeller first already - or the Ford-Rockefeller ticket, to me, is not going to be able to carry the country. And certainly it's not going to be able to carry Texas in '76. The image is too old. The image is too rich. And I have said this publicly to the New York Times. I think I'm one of the few Republican office holders - even party office holders - who opposed the nomination of Rockefeller the day it was made. And did so publicly, on television, radio and the New York Times. I don't know where we're going as a country. It's something that troubles me very, very much. And I said last night at a social function that I was going back to see Gone with the Wind and Doctor Zhivago because I think we are in a period in this country of almost as total turmoil as those two eras in Russia and America were at that time. I think we may be in for an absolute change in the form of government that we have. I think this is particularly true if we see the growth of independent candidates being able to get on the ballot. Or third parties. Now I do think this new federal campaign spending act will make it very difficult for a third party or an independent candidate to secure federal financing. And that the two major parties will have a great advantage there. But when you realize that tremendous money can be raised in small donations by one major, nation-wide television appeal, there's still the possibility of somebody coming out on that white horse.