Near-decision to leave the Senate and return to the governorship in Georgia
Talmadge describes how he nearly decided to leave the Senate in 1966 in order to run for governor because he believed that his help was needed at the executive level. Despite appeals from state politicians that this would be the best place for him to help the state, Talmadge explains that he ultimately chose to listen to the "rank and file's" public outcry that he needed to continue the work he had begun in the Senate. Here, as elsewhere, he emphasizes how he worked to build a broad political coalition during his political career.
Citing this Excerpt
Oral History Interview with Herman Talmadge, December 18, 1975. Interview A-0331-3. 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
- JACK NELSON:
One thing that we did talk about quite a bit before was when you, in 1966
I believe it was, considered returning to Georgia to run for governor.
I've had some people tell me that that was the one political mistake
that you made, getting involved in that whole exercise of thinking you
were going to run and then deciding that you weren't going to run. Do
you agree with that assessment, that it was a big political mistake?
- HERMAN TALMADGE:
Well, I don't know what you mean by "mistake." I didn't
run. In fact, it would have been a mistake if I had run. Here's what
happened in that regard. Vandiver, who had been governor and was
expected to run again, was an odds on favorite to win overwhelmingly and
he had no great substantial opposition, as a matter of fact. He called
me one day and said, "Senator, I need to see you and I am
coming up to Washington tomorrow morning, arriving at Dulles Airport at
such-and-such a time . . . " It was five or six o'clock in the
morning as I recall. I said, "Well, Ernie, I'll meet you out
there and bring you in for breakfast at the house." So, he told
me coming in that his doctor told him that he had serious heart trouble
and if he ran for governor, he would be taking his life in his hands and
he had some young children that he had to educate and couldn't afford to
sacrifice his family and that he thought I ought to come home and run
for governor. He knew that I had been somewhat unhappy in the Senate.
All former governors are. A governor can make a decision and execute it.
A Senator can make a decision and talk about it. There is a tremendous
difference between the roles of the two. I gave it some thought and
about the next day, I announced the fact that I was considering
coming home and running for governor. I had an
amazing reaction. Telephones in the office, all of them, and in my
residence were ringing constantly twenty-four hours a day and every two
minutes, a stack of telegrams would come in a foot high. Within
forty-eight hours, the mail started arriving and in the course of two or
three days, we recieved something like 10,000 communications from
Georgia. Politicians, black and white, liberal and reactionary and
moderate were of one choice only, "For God's sake, come home
and run for governor and save us." Rank and file of the people,
what we called the "butcher, the baker and the candlestick
maker," had a different reaction. They said, "The real
issues are being fought in Washington now and not in the governor's
office. The governor's office has virtually degenerated to a federal
clerkship. You have just been in the Senate long enough to begin to
render real service there. Senator Russell is not getting any younger
and we don't want two rookies in the Senate at the same time."
Most of them wound up by saying, "Regardless of what you decide
to do, I'll support you." I could see that the politicians
wanted me to run and the people wanted me to stay in the Senate and I
opted for that course.
- JACK NELSON:
Can I go back to one other thing that we talked about, the base of your
support in Georgia? You've had such broad support. How have you managed
to turn people who are opposed to you politically into your allies?
- HERMAN TALMADGE:
I think two things, really. You see, when my father died, people were
pretty much polarized in Georgia with about a third of the state going
to Gene Talmadge when he died, about a third of the state hated him with
a passion and about a third of the state was essentially neutral on him
and voted for him when they thought he was right and
against him when they thought he was wrong. Upon his death, I inherited
most of his enemies and most of his friends. I served as governor down
there for little over six years and I think most people think my
administration was one of the better administrations in the history of
the state. Some of them, of course, recognized that fact and became my
friends instead of my enemies. Then, I was never punitive in my
political career. I tried to make friends out of my enemies and
succeeded to a remarkable degree.