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Excerpt from Oral History Interview with Margaret Carter, October 25, 1975. Interview A-0309-1. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Outwitting Rayburn and Johnson at the Democratic convention

Carter closes her interview by recalling how she and her husband gained political savvy as the years passed. She shares a story of how they worked to outwit the machinations of Rayburn and Johnson, trying to seat their own committeewoman at the Democratic Committee.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with Margaret Carter, October 25, 1975. Interview A-0309-1. 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

Mr. Rayburn and Lyndon were so high handed, they were utterly out of touch with the realities of the situation. You know, we had two members of the national committee to elect, and they thought that Mr. Rayburn was going to hand-pick one and Mr. Johnson was going to hand-pick the other. Mr. Rayburn was a man of his word. Now, back in the forties, when we had been willing to present contests which we had a good chance to lose, Byron Skelton from Temple had been willing to be our candidate for national committeeman, knowing very well that Mr. Rayburn probably couldn't get the job for him and Byron was a proud man who didn't especially like to be a losing candidate. Mr. Rayburn had promised Byron in the middle forties——I believe that was '48; anyway, when Byron was the spearhead for an unsuccessful contest which Mr. Rayburn wanted to carry to the national convention,-that since Byron didn't get to be national committeeman then, the first time that loyal Democrats could elect a national committeeman, Mr. Rayburn would support Byron Skelton. Well, he remembered that and he didn't have the slightest intention of ever crossing Byron Skelton, and he said to Lyndon, "Byron Skelton is going to be the national committeeman. Now, you can pick the national committeewoman." Neither one of them ever thought to consult the people who had done the work that gave them the chance to have any input, about what we wanted. So, we went to the convention pledged to Mrs. Randolph and we elected her on the floor. You probably know as much about that as I do.
CHANDLER DAVIDSON:
Well, why don't you just tell it.
MARGARET CARTER:
Well, Lyndon and Mr. Rayburn, of course, were able to handpick the committees and the officers of the convention because there were no state party rules until 1972. And the nominations committee kept trying to bring in a winning team. By that time, Kathleen Voight from San Antonio had also become a well known organizer and was very close to Mr. Rayburn. John Connally was trying to get to be the national committeeman and that was probably why he tolerated us in his district at all. He had agreed to work with Raymond and Hunter in keeping us in line to do the work, in the district. He wanted to be the national committeeman. I had suggested that we support Mrs. Randolph for national committeewoman and Mr. Buck for national committeeman. Mr. Buck had wanted to be national committeeman all his life and the national committeeman has to raise a good deal of money and I saw no reason why we couldn't deal with an honest conservative. The Ft. Worth liberals refused to help Mr. Rayburn keep his commitment to Byron Skelton because in the course of their interfactional squabbling, Byron Skelton had helped Mr. Rayburn to cut Creekmore Fath's throat.
CHANDLER DAVIDSON:
Creekmore Fath being an Austin liberal?
MARGARET CARTER:
Yes, and many of us were and still are friends of Creekmore's. So, we didn't feel any obligation to help Mr. Rayburn get the committeeman's seat for Byron. He hadn't been of any effective help to us in some time. We supported Raymond Buck for national committee-man and I had gotten to know Mrs. Randolph rather well by that time.
CHANDLER DAVIDSON:
Mrs. Randolph being a rather wealthy Houston liberal and publisher of the Texas Observer, the liberal weekly.
MARGARET CARTER:
Yes and of course, the founder of the Harris County Democrats.
CHANDLER DAVIDSON:
Yes, the liberal organization in Houston.
MARGARET CARTER:
I proposed to Mrs. Randolph that Houston and Ft. Worth join forces and support Buck and Randolph as a team. She said, "I don't know Raymond Buck." [Laughter] She said, "Of course, you may address the Harris County caucus." So, Mr. Buck found out that he wasn't going to get any liberal support and he knew that he wasn't going to get any conservative support, so he didn't run. [Laughter] They made him the temporary chairman of the state convention then. That was all right, too, because he was fair. When we got to the convention on Sunday, the convention was due to start on Tuesday morning and we went up on Sunday afternoon, having made all our local caucus decisions Sunday afternoon, then a few of us went immediately to Dallas to find out what was going on. The first thing that I had to deal with was to go and tell Byron Skelton that we weren't going to support him, because he thought we were. That wasn't easy to do. But I found him and told him that I was sorry and that he knew why and he said that he did. Then I looked around to see where else I might get some information and on the way up the stairs, I found out that Lyndon was pushing Mrs. Lloyd Bentsen for national committeewoman. So, we got up to Ed Levy's suite, Ed Levy was the state committeeman from Texarkana and my husband had served on the state committee with him and he was a loyal, if not a very liberal, Democrat. I knew some of the people and some I didn't and as soon as I came in, they quit talking to each other. So, as soon as I got a drink in my hand, I said, "Who is going to be the national committeewoman?" They were sure that I was pledged to Frankie Randolph and so nobody would rise to the bait and there was a long pause and somebody said, "Well, who do you think it is going to be?" I said, "Well, I don't know, but it sure isn't going to be Lloyd Bentsen." [Laughter] Poor old Ed realized that there was tension in his party, so he came wandering over with about his fifth drink in his hand and he said, "Lloyd Bentsen can't be the national committeewoman, he's a man." [Laughter] That was the feminist point that we tried to make during a good part of that convention, that whichever woman became the national committeewoman should be someone who had worked hard in the campaign, not someone whose husband was given the committeewoman's seat as a consolation prize. [END OF TAPE 1, SIDE B] [TAPE 2, SIDE A] [START OF TAPE 2, SIDE A]
CHANDLER DAVIDSON:
You sometimes wonder if history would have been different?
MARGARET CARTER:
Had we allowed Mrs. Bentsen to have the committeewoman's seat in '56. She got it later, about three presidential elections later, as I remember. [Laughter] There was a big pre-convention rally that night and when Lyndon Johnson came on the platform to speak about something … I don't remember what … he was booed, largely by Harris County people who were disappointed that he had tried so hard to try to find some other candidate besides Mrs. Randolph for national committeewoman. We discovered his weakness. Up to that point, he hadn't been willing to negotiate with us, but he could not bear the thought of being booed and he came to terms with us. The agreement was that Mrs. Randolph would get a chance, not that he would support her, but that she would get a fair chance to recruit as much support as she could,-support on the floor of the convention, which was necessary when you had no rules and you had to have an agreement with whoever was in charge of the platform if we would guarantee that he would not be booed anytime during the convention.
CHANDLER DAVIDSON:
That's the deal he made?
MARGARET CARTER:
We had great difficulty carrying out our part of the bargain. [Laughter]
CHANDLER DAVIDSON:
That's a very potent power to wield.
MARGARET CARTER:
And still, he would not allow the committee on nominations to consider her name. He tried to get the wife of a doctor from Lake Whitney considered and he tried to get Kathleen Voight considered but Kathleen was so close to Mr. Rayburn that Mr. Rayburn would have had to accept Kathleen as his half of the bill, John Connally was going to be the other one. Well, John Connally didn't have the support of his district - our district. But they almost put that past us and it was Mr. Buck who tipped me off that they were about to put that past us. So, we rushed up and quickly transferred our support from Mr. Buck, who had not formally told us that he would not accept the nomination, to Mr. Skelton and that, among other things, locked Mr. Rayburn into his choice of Mr. Skelton and it knocked Kathleen out of her chance to be considered in competition with Mrs. Randolph. Then, the nominating committee still didn't have a candidate to suggest with Mr. Skelton. They recommended Mr. Skelton for committeeman and they made no recommendation for committeewoman. Then we got a vote on the floor on Mrs. Randolph for committeewoman. Before the convention proceedings got that far, we had some contests decided because Hunter's and John's and Raymond's friends who had joined them in working with us had filed a contest against our delegation. At that stage in the development of convention politics in Texas, it wasn't usual to get contests settled early enough in the convention for the decision to mean very much. We got the contests settled before we took the crucial vote and Mrs. Randolph was elected from the floor. Of course, she worked very well with Paul Butler who became the national chairman. And when Paul Butler was setting up this executive committee of the Democratic National Committee, Mr. Rayburn and Mr. Johnson didn't want it set up at all, whoever made the motion for Butler's proposal in the national commitee was seconded by Mrs. Randolph. You know, she had a deep voice, she sounded like a man when she spoke and some reporter, who was new to all this, went scurrying around in the room where the National Committee met to find Frankie Randolph. Well, for one thing, she turned out to be a woman and for another, she turned out to be from Texas. He said to Mrs. Randolph, "Did you know that Lyndon Johnson would be displeased with your having seconded that motion?" She said, "Young man, Lyndon Johnson was displeased with my having a seat on this committee." [Laughter]
CHANDLER DAVIDSON:
As indeed he was.