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Excerpt from Oral History Interview with Herman Talmadge, December 18, 1975. Interview A-0331-3. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

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

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?
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.
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?
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.