Interview with John E. Reeves, June 6, 1976

Louie B. Nunn Center for Oral History, University of Kentucky Libraries
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00:00:00 - Disagreements with Happy Chandler over policy

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Partial Transcript: --Kentucky History Department. I'm talking to Mr. J.E. Reeves about, uh, former governor Albert B. Chandler of Kentucky.

Segment Synopsis: Reeves notes that he and Happy Chandler did not agree on politics, which caused tensions between the two men. Reeves relates a story about how after he supported another Democratic candidate for governor in the 1955 primary, one of Chandler's sons harangued him about not supporting his father.

Keywords: 1955 Kentucky Democratic Primary; 1955 gubernatorial race Kentucky; Democratic primaries; Gubernatorial primaries; Gubernatorial races; Kentucky governor's race; Kentucky primaries

Subjects: Chandler, Happy, 1898-1991; Combs, Bert T., 1911-1991; Governors--Kentucky; Kentucky--Politics and government; Law and legislation; Political corruption--Kentucky; Politicians--Kentucky; Politics, Practical; Reeves, H. Clyde (Herman Clyde), 1912-; Reeves, John Estill; Roland, Charles Pierce, 1918-; State governments; State governments--Officials and employees; Taxation--Law and legislation--Kentucky

00:03:07 - Happy Chandler's reaction to Brown v. Board of Education

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Partial Transcript: The Brown decision was on the twentieth, wasn't it?

Segment Synopsis: Reeves discusses Chandler's response to the Brown v. Board of Education decision. He notes his curiosity at how Chandler felt due to Chandler's prior support for segregationist Strom Thurmond in 1955. Reeves says that Chandler announced he would support the decision as governor considering the authority of the Supreme Court determining that integration was now settled law. Roland asks if Chandler could have used opposition to Brown v. Board of Education for political capital, to which Reeves agrees he could have. However, Reeves notes that Chandler also had deep principles, willing to support the decision despite its unpopularity. He compares it to John Sherman Cooper's opposition to the Vietnam War.

Keywords: African Americans; African-Americans; Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka; Civil rights; Civil rights movement; Integration; School desegregation; Thurmond, Strom, 1902-2003.

Subjects: Chandler, Happy, 1898-1991; Combs, Bert T., 1911-1991; Cooper, John Sherman, 1901-1991.; Governors--Kentucky; Kentucky--Politics and government; Law and legislation; Political corruption--Kentucky; Politicians--Kentucky; Politics, Practical; Reeves, H. Clyde (Herman Clyde), 1912-; Reeves, John Estill; Roland, Charles Pierce, 1918-; State governments; State governments--Officials and employees; Taxation--Law and legislation--Kentucky

00:07:09 - Happy Chandler's pressure on the University of Kentucky

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Partial Transcript: Uh, I read an interesting editorial in the New York Times written by Arthur Crock about Governor Chandler.

Segment Synopsis: Reeves considers whether Chandler used his position as governor to put any form of pressure on the University of Kentucky. He notes that Chandler might not have used direct pressure, but would have made off-hand remarks.

Keywords: Intersection of politics and education; New York Times; University of Kentucky

Subjects: Chandler, Happy, 1898-1991; Combs, Bert T., 1911-1991; Donovan, Herman Lee, 1887-1964; Governors--Kentucky; Kentucky--Politics and government; Law and legislation; Political corruption--Kentucky; Politicians--Kentucky; Politics, Practical; Reeves, H. Clyde (Herman Clyde), 1912-; Reeves, John Estill; Roland, Charles Pierce, 1918-; State governments; State governments--Officials and employees; Taxation--Law and legislation--Kentucky

00:09:39 - Dr. Gladys Kammerer's criticism of Happy Chandler during her career as a professor at the University of Kentucky

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Partial Transcript: There was another member of the faculty of the University of Kentucky, uh, political science department--

Segment Synopsis: Reeves discusses the case of a colleague faculty member, political science professor Gladys Kammerer, who used her position as professor to criticize Governor Chandler leading to her removal. Reeves notes that she did not separate her political and professional life, comparing her situation to his own. He notes that she eventually moved to the University of Florida.

Keywords: Political science professors; University of Florida; University of Kentucky

Subjects: Chandler, Happy, 1898-1991; Combs, Bert T., 1911-1991; Governors--Kentucky; Kammerer, Gladys M. (Gladys Marie); Kentucky--Politics and government; Law and legislation; Political corruption--Kentucky; Politicians--Kentucky; Politics, Practical; Reeves, H. Clyde (Herman Clyde), 1912-; Reeves, John Estill; Roland, Charles Pierce, 1918-; State governments; State governments--Officials and employees; Taxation--Law and legislation--Kentucky

00:14:12 - Chandler's loss of Reeves' support in 1955 election

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Partial Transcript: Did I understand you to say that you and other people of your general outlook did not support him in '55?

Segment Synopsis: Reeves discusses why Chandler had lost his support by the time of his running for a second gubernatorial term in 1955. He notes Chandler's changes in philosophy and political ideology that encouraged Reeves to look elsewhere.

Keywords: 1955 Democratic primary; 1955 Governor's race in Kentucky; 1955 Primary; Democratic factions; Democratic primaries; Political campaigns

Subjects: Chandler, Happy, 1898-1991; Combs, Bert T., 1911-1991; Governors--Kentucky; Kentucky--Politics and government; Law and legislation; Political corruption--Kentucky; Politicians--Kentucky; Politics, Practical; Reeves, H. Clyde (Herman Clyde), 1912-; Reeves, John Estill; Roland, Charles Pierce, 1918-; State governments; State governments--Officials and employees; Taxation--Law and legislation--Kentucky

00:17:26 - Chandler's return to Kentucky politics

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Partial Transcript: Well, let me ask you this. How did this man--he had broken with politics.

Segment Synopsis: Reeves discusses how Chandler was able to return to Kentucky politics and be successful after leaving Kentucky to serve as National Commissioner of Baseball, especially considering Earle Clements' political power at the state level in organizing. Reeves attributes Chandler's return to success being based on his support from labor. His support for labor and from labor allowed him to gain liberal support that allowed him to become governor again.

Keywords: Democratic factions; Democratic politics; Kentucky factions; Kentucky liberals; Labor; Labor in politics; Labor support

Subjects: Chandler, Happy, 1898-1991; Clements, Earle C. (Earle Chester), 1896-1985; Combs, Bert T., 1911-1991; Governors--Kentucky; Kentucky--Politics and government; Law and legislation; Political corruption--Kentucky; Politicians--Kentucky; Politics, Practical; Reeves, H. Clyde (Herman Clyde), 1912-; Reeves, John Estill; Roland, Charles Pierce, 1918-; State governments; State governments--Officials and employees; Taxation--Law and legislation--Kentucky

00:20:48 - Happy Chandler's views on labor / Chandler's memory

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Partial Transcript: On this, uh, on this business of labor, uh, now as I understand it, he had traditionally opposed what we would call "right-to-work"--I'm sorry, he had traditionally upheld--

Segment Synopsis: Reeves discusses Chandler's views on labor, especially considering Chandler supported the creation of "right-to-work" laws. Reeves notes that Kentucky did not have these laws through this period [Note: Kentucky's "right-to-work" laws would not enter into effect until 2017]. He describes how Chandler lost the support of the CIO, especially after sending the National Guard to keep the peace in coal mines. Reeves then moves onto the topic of Chandler's memory, noting how impressive Chandler was at remembering supporters and being able to quote poetry.

Keywords: Congress of Industrial Organizations; Labor unions; Political memory; Right to work laws; Right to work legislation; Right-to-work laws; U.S. National Guard

Subjects: AFL-CIO.; Chandler, Happy, 1898-1991; Combs, Bert T., 1911-1991; Governors--Kentucky; Kentucky--Politics and government; Law and legislation; Political corruption--Kentucky; Politicians--Kentucky; Politics, Practical; Reeves, H. Clyde (Herman Clyde), 1912-; Reeves, John Estill; Roland, Charles Pierce, 1918-; State governments; State governments--Officials and employees; Taxation--Law and legislation--Kentucky

00:26:00 - Chandler's unique accomplishments as governor

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Partial Transcript: What, uh, what do you consider to be the, the pluses of Governor Chandler's political career?

Segment Synopsis: Reeves discusses what he considered to be Chandler's greatest accomplishments as a politician. He notes his admiration for Chandler's reorganization of the state government in his first administration, as well as repealing the sales tax in lieu of an income tax. He also credits Chandler for his fiscal responsibility and support for welfare programs in the state. While he applauds Chandler's actions on public education in his first term, he was disappointed in Chandler's lack of support for education in his second term.

Keywords: Fiscal responsibility; Public health; Public schools; Reorganization Act; Sales tax; Social safety nets; Support for public schools; Tax cuts; Tax repeals; Welfare systems

Subjects: Chandler, Happy, 1898-1991; Combs, Bert T., 1911-1991; Governors--Kentucky; Kentucky--Politics and government; Law and legislation; Political corruption--Kentucky; Politicians--Kentucky; Politics, Practical; Reeves, H. Clyde (Herman Clyde), 1912-; Reeves, John Estill; Roland, Charles Pierce, 1918-; State governments; State governments--Officials and employees; Taxation--Law and legislation--Kentucky

00:29:43 - Chandler's opposition to a severance tax on coal

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Partial Transcript: Huey Long, of course, uh, used a severance tax on petroleum products in Louisiana, uh, and Happy opposed the severance tax on coal in Kentucky, as I understand.

Segment Synopsis: Roland brings up the example of Huey Long in issues of severance taxes on extracting oil from Louisiana and asks whether Chandler would support the same principle in regards to Kentucky coal. Reeves suggests not, especially given that academic opinion before the 1960s was in opposition to state severance taxes. He notes that severance taxes would put the state at a political and economic disadvantage to others.

Keywords: Coal industry; Coal taxes; Mining industry; Severance taxes; Taxes

Subjects: Chandler, Happy, 1898-1991; Combs, Bert T., 1911-1991; Governors--Kentucky; Kentucky--Politics and government; Law and legislation; Martin, James Walter, 1893-1990; Political corruption--Kentucky; Politicians--Kentucky; Politics, Practical; Reeves, H. Clyde (Herman Clyde), 1912-; Reeves, John Estill; Roland, Charles Pierce, 1918-; State governments; State governments--Officials and employees; Taxation--Law and legislation--Kentucky

00:33:07 - Allegations of state employee campaign contributions

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Partial Transcript: I've read, um, in some columns, uh, perhaps not explicit accusations, but, uh, hints that, uh, that, uh, the Chandler organization, uh, assessed state employees and so forth, to, uh, make up, uh, campaign funds. Could you, uh, throw any light on that?

Segment Synopsis: Reeves addresses the allegations that Chandler forced state employees to pay two percent of their annual income to his election campaign as campaign contributions. Reeves suggests these actions have occurred at the state level for a century, but that in Chandler's case it was a memo asking for voluntary contribution. He also describes how Chandler did not continue this practice into his second term, changing the system of awarding jobs to a merit based system. He notes the prevalence of questionable fund solicitation that continued despite declining in the past twenty years. The significance of the request at the time was lost on him.

Keywords: Campaign allegations; Campaign contributions; Campaign donations; Campaign finance; Campaign finance scandals; Campaign scandals; Merit system; Political scandals

Subjects: Chandler, Happy, 1898-1991; Combs, Bert T., 1911-1991; Governors--Kentucky; Kentucky--Politics and government; Law and legislation; Political corruption--Kentucky; Politicians--Kentucky; Politics, Practical; Reeves, H. Clyde (Herman Clyde), 1912-; Reeves, John Estill; Roland, Charles Pierce, 1918-; State governments; State governments--Officials and employees; Taxation--Law and legislation--Kentucky

00:39:47 - Firings under the second Chandler administration

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Partial Transcript: I have heard hints of, uh, in, in Governor Chandler's second administration, uh, of some, well I'd suppose you'd call it "vindictive," uh, well, firing of people and so forth.

Segment Synopsis: Reeves discusses whether Chandler fired anyone during his second term for political spite. Reeves is open to the possibility that it happened, but could not recall any specifics. He notes that he did not consider Chandler a vindictive man, saying that Chandler often spoke more harshly than he acted.

Keywords: Chandler second administration; Chandler second term; Firings; Political dismissals; Political firings; Political removals; Removals from office

Subjects: Chandler, Happy, 1898-1991; Combs, Bert T., 1911-1991; Governors--Kentucky; Kentucky--Politics and government; Law and legislation; Political corruption--Kentucky; Politicians--Kentucky; Politics, Practical; Reeves, H. Clyde (Herman Clyde), 1912-; Reeves, John Estill; Roland, Charles Pierce, 1918-; State governments; State governments--Officials and employees; Taxation--Law and legislation--Kentucky

00:41:44 - Chandler sponsoring bills that limited officials' functions during his second governorship

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Partial Transcript: Um, were there any of the so-called "ripper" bills, uh, sponsored by his administration in, uh, in his second governorship?

Segment Synopsis: Reeves discusses whether Chandler supported any bills that stripped power from public officials, known colloquially as "Ripper" bills. He cannot recall, but he notes that Chandler often tried to strip power from the state attorney general, opting to turn to private legal counsel rather than attorneys general.

Keywords: Attorneys general of Kentucky; Chandler second administration; Chandler second term; Ripper bills

Subjects: Chandler, Happy, 1898-1991; Combs, Bert T., 1911-1991; Governors--Kentucky; Kentucky--Politics and government; Law and legislation; Political corruption--Kentucky; Politicians--Kentucky; Politics, Practical; Reeves, H. Clyde (Herman Clyde), 1912-; Reeves, John Estill; Roland, Charles Pierce, 1918-; State governments; State governments--Officials and employees; Taxation--Law and legislation--Kentucky

00:44:37 - Creation of the Chandler Medical Center

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Partial Transcript: I've asked Governor Chandler what he considers the single most noteworthy deed of his whole public career, and he says the medical center.

Segment Synopsis: Reeves discusses the opposition to the Chandler Medical Center, which Chandler described as his most proud accomplishment. Reeves notes how those opposed claimed that Kentucky could not afford an advanced medical school. He placed himself among the opposition, claiming he still is unsure if it was a good idea. However, Reeves says that Chandler manipulated the budget and was able to ultimately get it done.

Keywords: Chandler Medical Center; Chandler accomplishments; Kentucky medical centers; Kentucky public health; Opposition to medical center

Subjects: Chandler, Happy, 1898-1991; Combs, Bert T., 1911-1991; Governors--Kentucky; Kentucky--Politics and government; Law and legislation; Political corruption--Kentucky; Politicians--Kentucky; Politics, Practical; Reeves, H. Clyde (Herman Clyde), 1912-; Reeves, John Estill; Roland, Charles Pierce, 1918-; State governments; State governments--Officials and employees; Taxation--Law and legislation--Kentucky

00:46:42 - Clyde Reeves' appointments under Happy Chandler

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Partial Transcript: --W. Martin, who was the, uh--Chandler's first Commissioner of Revenue, and then he [Clyde Reeves] became Commissioner of Revenue under Chandler.

Segment Synopsis: Reeves discusses the positions his brother, H. Clyde Reeves, had within Chandler's administrations. He discusses his brother taking over the Commission of Revenue from James W. Martin. He hints at the disagreement between him and his brother over Clyde Reeves' support for Chandler.

Keywords: Commissioners of revenue; Kentucky commissioners of revenue; Political appointments

Subjects: Chandler, Happy, 1898-1991; Combs, Bert T., 1911-1991; Governors--Kentucky; Kentucky--Politics and government; Law and legislation; Martin, James Walter, 1893-1990; Political corruption--Kentucky; Politicians--Kentucky; Politics, Practical; Reeves, H. Clyde (Herman Clyde), 1912-; Reeves, John Estill; Roland, Charles Pierce, 1918-; State governments; State governments--Officials and employees; Taxation--Law and legislation--Kentucky

00:47:44 - Divisions with brother during 1955 Democratic primary

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Partial Transcript: You and your brother in 1955, then were--

Segment Synopsis: Reeves discusses the opposing sides he and his brother took during the 1955 Democratic primary for governor. He discusses how his brother continued to support Chandler, while he himself supported Bert Combs.

Keywords: 1955 Democratic primary; 1955 primaries; Democratic Party; Democratic factions; Democratic primaries

Subjects: Chandler, Happy, 1898-1991; Combs, Bert T., 1911-1991; Governors--Kentucky; Kentucky--Politics and government; Law and legislation; Political corruption--Kentucky; Politicians--Kentucky; Politics, Practical; Reeves, H. Clyde (Herman Clyde), 1912-; Reeves, John Estill; Roland, Charles Pierce, 1918-; State governments; State governments--Officials and employees; Taxation--Law and legislation--Kentucky

00:48:50 - Chandler's conservatism and advocacy for the University of Kentucky

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Partial Transcript: I would say that it appears to me now, however conservative he may be or may have become, and he does seem to have become very conservative, that he is now in the role that I think he should've gone into after his second term as governor.

Segment Synopsis: Reeves speaks to Chandler's conservative personality, and notes that Chandler should have stopped running for office following his second term. He suggests that it would have been better for Chandler to have begun working for the University of Kentucky, as he would later in his life. He notes that Chandler is no longer as ambitious as he once was, which he credits as a good thing.

Keywords: Conservatism; Conservative Democrats; Conservatives; Political ambition; Political retirement; University of Kentucky

Subjects: Chandler, Happy, 1898-1991; Combs, Bert T., 1911-1991; Governors--Kentucky; Kentucky--Politics and government; Law and legislation; Political corruption--Kentucky; Politicians--Kentucky; Politics, Practical; Reeves, H. Clyde (Herman Clyde), 1912-; Reeves, John Estill; State governments; State governments--Officials and employees; Taxation--Law and legislation--Kentucky

00:49:45 - Roland's biography

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Partial Transcript: Well, I guess he's--I'm sure he's flattered by the fact that you want to write a biography about him.

Segment Synopsis: Roland discusses his ongoing biography of Chandler. He notes that he thinks he has enough to make the judgement that Chandler's accomplishments were more for the good than the bad. He discusses that he will not submit a draft first to the Chandler family, and that this will act as a long term project.

Keywords: Biographies; Happy Chandler biography; Political biographies; Publication process; Writing process

Subjects: Chandler, Happy, 1898-1991; Combs, Bert T., 1911-1991; Governors--Kentucky; Kentucky--Politics and government; Law and legislation; Political corruption--Kentucky; Politicians--Kentucky; Politics, Practical; Reeves, H. Clyde (Herman Clyde), 1912-; Reeves, John Estill; Roland, Charles Pierce, 1918-; State governments; State governments--Officials and employees; Taxation--Law and legislation--Kentucky

00:51:42 - Poll watchers and election reform

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Partial Transcript: Uh, back in the 1920s, I headed an organization here--uh, I mean, in the 1950s, um, well it began in 1948, that, uh, tried to clean--tried to, of all the impossible tasks, to clean up elections.

Segment Synopsis: Reeves discusses heading an organization dedicated to election reform, which added poll watchers to prevent electoral fraud. However, there are suggestions that these watchers helped push support towards Happy Chandler. Reeves also notes that he was accused of having used his position as a professor to get people to work for the Chandler campaign. He relates an incident where a student worked for the campaign and credited Reeves as the reason.

Keywords: Election reform; Election reform in Kentucky; Kentucky election reform; Poll watchers; Poll watching

Subjects: Chandler, Happy, 1898-1991; Combs, Bert T., 1911-1991; Governors--Kentucky; Kentucky--Politics and government; Law and legislation; Political corruption--Kentucky; Politicians--Kentucky; Politics, Practical; Reeves, H. Clyde (Herman Clyde), 1912-; Reeves, John Estill; Roland, Charles Pierce, 1918-; State governments; State governments--Officials and employees; Taxation--Law and legislation--Kentucky

00:55:46 - Chandler's thoughts on the "common person"

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Partial Transcript: Uh, let me ask you this. Now, of course, obviously, it's good for a politician to do things for the great masses of the people for political reasons, but what is your--you've mentioned, uh, compassion in Happy.

Segment Synopsis: Reeves considers Chandler's reputation as a populist. He describes what he considered to be Chandler's true feelings on the average people, described as "the masses." He notes that Chandler exhibited both clear political understanding of what the people wanted as well as compassion for their situation. He notes Chandler's support of repealing the sales tax as an example of both compassion and calculation.

Keywords: Populism; The common people; compassion

Subjects: Chandler, Happy, 1898-1991; Combs, Bert T., 1911-1991; Governors--Kentucky; Kentucky--Politics and government; Law and legislation; Political corruption--Kentucky; Politicians--Kentucky; Politics, Practical; Reeves, H. Clyde (Herman Clyde), 1912-; Reeves, John Estill; Roland, Charles Pierce, 1918-; State governments; State governments--Officials and employees; Taxation--Law and legislation--Kentucky

00:57:59 - The impact of Chandler's personality on his political success

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Partial Transcript: How much, um--you, you've mentioned his personality. How, how much of his political success is, uh, the result of his rather remarkable oratorical ability, or is any of it a result--

Segment Synopsis: Reeves discusses the impact Chandler's larger-than-life personality had on his political career. He notes that it had a major effect in building rapport and relationships with people. He credits these relationships with Chandler's accomplishments because people liked Chandler. He notes how his brother, Clyde Reeves, broke away from Chandler in 1963, but that the two remained friends. He ends the segment by introducing the notion that his brother broke away from Chandler due to disappointment in Chandler's second administration as governor.

Keywords: Commissioner of revenue; Happy Chandler personality; Impact of personality on politics; Kentucky politicians; Kentucky politics; Personality; Political personalities

Subjects: Chandler, Happy, 1898-1991; Combs, Bert T., 1911-1991; Governors--Kentucky; Kentucky--Politics and government; Law and legislation; Political corruption--Kentucky; Politicians--Kentucky; Politics, Practical; Reeves, H. Clyde (Herman Clyde), 1912-; Reeves, John Estill; Roland, Charles Pierce, 1918-; State governments; State governments--Officials and employees; Taxation--Law and legislation--Kentucky

01:02:52 - Chandler's disappointing second term as governor

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Partial Transcript: Could, could you, uh--I know we've, we've been over this from, uh, from another angle, and I don't want to get tedious about it, but, uh, can you tell me more specifically how that second administration, uh, was disappointing to, uh, people like your brother?

Segment Synopsis: Reeves discusses what had happened in Chandler's second term as governor that would disillusion people such as himself and his brother. He notes how Chandler decided to become more actively political in his use of the office. These moves disillusioned his former liberal support.

Keywords: Chandler second administration; Chandler second term; Kentucky politicians; Liberal disillusionment

Subjects: Chandler, Happy, 1898-1991; Combs, Bert T., 1911-1991; Governors--Kentucky; Kentucky--Politics and government; Law and legislation; Political corruption--Kentucky; Politicians--Kentucky; Politics, Practical; Reeves, H. Clyde (Herman Clyde), 1912-; Reeves, John Estill; Roland, Charles Pierce, 1918-; State governments; State governments--Officials and employees; Taxation--Law and legislation--Kentucky

01:05:38 - John Reeves' career at the University of Kentucky

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Partial Transcript: Mr. Reeves, let me re, review, very quickly, your own, your own career so I'll be able to, to know just what the perspective is here.

Segment Synopsis: Roland and Reeves review the professor's career working as an associate professor of political science at the University of Kentucky. They also discuss his work in and out of state government.

Keywords: Associate professors; Political science professors; University of Kentucky; University of Kentucky faculty; University of Kentucky professors

Subjects: Chandler, Happy, 1898-1991; Combs, Bert T., 1911-1991; Governors--Kentucky; Kentucky--Politics and government; Law and legislation; Political corruption--Kentucky; Politicians--Kentucky; Politics, Practical; Reeves, H. Clyde (Herman Clyde), 1912-; Reeves, John Estill; Roland, Charles Pierce, 1918-; State governments; State governments--Officials and employees; Taxation--Law and legislation--Kentucky