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Excerpt from Oral History Interview with Thomas Jackson White Jr., March 14, 1986. Interview C-0029-2. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Lobbyists help legislators understand their jobs

White describes some of the benefits lobbyists can provide to legislators, the kinds of services that might create a sense of obligation without money changing hands. For example, a lobbyist might help a newly elected member understand the intricacies of committee meetings. He emphasizes the importance of truthfulness in his profession and worries that since his time in the legislature, the value of truth has declined.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with Thomas Jackson White Jr., March 14, 1986. Interview C-0029-2. 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

PAMELA DEAN:
Are there things that you can do for legislators that do create that kind of sense of reciprocity of "I've done something for you. Can you help me with this bill?" Are there some sorts of things that you do?
THOMAS JACKSON WHITE, JR.:
Well, there are many possibilities of action that you know you couldn't even sit here and define. There are things that are helpful to legislators that they don't even ask for that a lobbyist can do. For example, there might be a legislator who has not had any legislative experience before and you realize that, and without making any point of it but just if you have an opportunity, present yourself. You can give him some of your time; you can enlighten him about how committee work is carried on. He may have some questions. I can remember when I first went to the General Assembly. The people who were most helpful to me were the lobbyists because they knew the legislative process, I did not. You don't want to wait until you have some reason to help a fellow, you know. You just help him when you know you can help him. You take advantage of every opportunity that presents itself to honestly give a legislator the facts and the import of legislative questions which arise on bills, and sometimes you can be of invaluable help to them. You may not see him again for a year but he isn't going to forget that, you helped him at a time when he needed a little help. So you try to be helpful without being ostentatious about it. Well, I love to help people anyhow. As a lobbyist you just like to help them and if a representative or a senator has a problem about a bill you are always glad to sit down and discuss it with him, whether you are interested in the bill or not. It's always more pleasant if you are not interested in it. I love to help folks and I guess I just follow the practice of doing that.
PAMELA DEAN:
So you sometimes suggest to a legislator who to talk to about what he's doing, or what procedure to follow to get his bill through, something like that?
THOMAS JACKSON WHITE, JR.:
No, I wouldn't say that. But I would say that if he requests my opinion about something and I'm sure about the facts I'll give him my honest opinion about it. If he wants to know who to talk to, I never pick out any particular person—I say "never," never is a long time—I don't make a practice of saying, "Well, you need to go see Mr. So and So." I'll give him a list of the people whom I knew were interested in that bill and which way they stood. Then he could do his chore whichever way he chose. Because if you told him one way to go and he went that way and it didn't pass he'd think, "Well, you're playing hell with me. You told me to do so and so and I did it and the bill didn't pass." On the other hand, if there was something about the bill that neither he nor you knew about it, and the thing didn't pass, the next time you see him he could not say, "Why in the hell didn't you tell me this?" So you have to be very careful and cautious about how you talk to legislators, but always be honest with them; always tell them the truth. The truth is the most liberating thing there is in the world. It used to be, back in the days before redistricting, that every county sent to the General Assembly the best people they could find who were willing to go. And in those days, I remember back in the house in '53, '5, and '7, the senate in the '60s, if a member of the General Assembly told me something, I could count on it. And the boys tell me nowadays (I don't know because I'm not a member), that if you challenge a man about what he told you he'll say something like, "Well, when we were talking I didn't understand it that way." He'll give you some kind of a dodge like that. That, of course, relates to the character of the person you are talking to. There are people who will give you any kind of talk. I enjoyed my legislative experience and you soon learn the identity of those on whom you can rely and of those on whom you can't rely. And you don't have fights and fusses with them because there might be some things that you've got in your repertoire that that guy is highly in favor of. If you cuss him out for telling you a lie about something he isn't going to vote for it. It's a delicate tightrope to walk.
PAMELA DEAN:
You don't want to make overt enemies out of anybody.
THOMAS JACKSON WHITE, JR.:
No, ma'am. I like to convert my enemies into friends if I can, and I've done some of that in my lifetime. I had a good time doing it. [Laughter] It's been a lot of fun!
PAMELA DEAN:
How do you do that?
THOMAS JACKSON WHITE, JR.:
How do you do it?
PAMELA DEAN:
Yes.
THOMAS JACKSON WHITE, JR.:
I don't know. I guess you kind of luck out. I can remember having savage trials with people who wound up being some of my best clients.