Louie B. Nunn Center for Oral History

Interview with Lawrence W. Wetherby, June 26, 1980

Louie B. Nunn Center for Oral History, University of Kentucky Libraries
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 KLEBER: The following is a spontaneous and unrehearsed interview with former governor Lawrence W. Wetherby. The interview was made in Governor Wetherby's home in Frankfort, Kentucky on Thursday, June 26, 1980 by John Kleber of Morehead State University. Governor Wetherby, a question that comes to my mind is how do you feel when you see a succeeding governor take credit for some of your accomplishments? For example, in your case, the Kentucky State Fair, the University of Kentucky Medical Center, the turnpike. How do you feel when another governor takes credit for that?

WETHERBY: Well, as long as they contributed to it, why, it's all right. I resented, however, the way that Chandler handled the situation, both at the Kentucky State Fair & Exposition Center and at the toll road. They were not completely finished when I left office in December of '55. They were completed 00:01:00and dedicated in the spring of '56, and Chandler--the Fair Board had put up a plaque on the Kentucky Fair and Exposition Center, a bronze plaque with Clements's name, my name, and the members of the Fair Board, and the members also of the Kentucky Building Commission. Chandler had that plaque torn down and put up one with his name on it as the sponsor of the Kentucky Fair and Exposition Center, even after he had criticized me all through the campaign of '55 for building the fairground. He called it "Wetherby's Folly" at that time. But when it was dedicated, he put his name on it as the man who built it. Also, on the toll road, he had criticized me and criticized Combs in the '55 campaign. Said I built a toll road that started nowhere and went nowhere, would never pay 00:02:00for itself. That the only way it could--you could pay off the bonds would be to "erect, uh, seats along the side of it and have bicycle races." 'Course it was proven that, uh, it was a feasible project and paid off twenty years in advance. So those two things I resented very much. And he did not even invite me to the dedication or the ribbon-cutting of either one of those projects. Subsequent to his administration, Governor Nunn dedicated a plaque on the Kentucky Turnpike to me as the originator of that turnpike. 'Course it was just funneling money into the highway department just like turning out a mint. And Nunn, recognizing how valuable it was to our highway funds, put up a plaque and it's still there on 00:03:00the, uh, recreational area and the, uh, rest area between Louisville and Elizabethtown.

KLEBER: Has it been your impression that most governors do recognize their predecessors' accomplishments?

WETHERBY: Most of 'em do. Most of 'em do. For instance, Nunn, who was a Republican, recognized Breathitt's jobs that he had performed, and he also went back and recognized Combs for building the Mountain Parkway and put up a plaque on--about Combs on the Mountain Parkway. Put up a plaque on the Kentucky turnpike about me. Uh, and most governors have given recognition to their predecessors for what they had accomplished.

KLEBER: Let me ask you a question on this, uh, integration decision, Brown vs. Topeka Board of Education. Did you welcome that decision when it came in 1954?


WETHERBY: Yes I did--(clears throat)--because we had had conflicts beginning all over the state. But we had taken a position, under Clements's administration, both Clements and me, and passed amendments to the Day Law which allowed colored students to attend the University at the graduate level. We had further amended it in 1954 so that anyone could go to those schools, whether they were graduates or otherwise. And as a result of that, we were getting into a conflict in various areas of the state. So I welcomed the decision of the Supreme Court. I thought it was just and I thought it was fair.

KLEBER: Now of course from that school integration, we have full social integration all at the same time--

WETHERBY: --that's right.

KLEBER: Did you see that coming? Did you favor--

WETHERBY: I saw it coming and as a matter of fact, I participated in the last 00:05:00legislation in Kentucky, when I was a member of the state senate in passing an open housing law. And that broke down the last bars to integration in Kentucky, in my opinion.

KLEBER: Can you tell me about pushing that through the, uh, General Assembly?

WETHERBY: Well, it was right rough, and the senator from Louisville, the black senator from Louisville, introduced a bill to require open housing throughout Kentucky. And it was touch and go about getting it out of the committee. Finally I talked to her with our committee chairman, uh, Tom Garrett from Paducah, and both of us agreed with her that we would go before the committee 00:06:00and try to get the bill out. If we got it out, both of us would support it. We did finally get the bill out of the committee and the senate, and both Tom Garrett and I voted for it, and as a result of our support, along with her, we were able to pass it in the senate.

KLEBER: Was that in 1966?

WETHERBY: Nineteen sixty-six. Under Breathitt.

KLEBER: Under Breathitt.

WETHERBY: Breathitt was very much for it, and both Garrett and I were working with Breathitt's administration and we worked hard to pass the bill.

KLEBER: Back, let's say before 1954, when you saw these obvious examples of segregation in the state--separate restaurants--


KLEBER: --waiting rooms in bus stations, uh, uh, did that kind of thing--did you ever think about whether or not that ought to be broken down or was that just accepted as part of life in Kentucky?


WETHERBY: No, I, I thought it should be broken down. So much as, as I say, I went on the floor of the house as lieutenant governor and helped to pass, and secure votes to pass, the first amendment to the Day Law which had prohibited blacks and whites from going to school together or associating. And we passed that amendment over the protests of some vigorous legislators. That was under Clements's administration. That was in '52, we passed the first amendment. Clements was chairman of the board at the University of Kentucky and he, with the help of some of the members of the board, authorized the university to take in graduate students when we passed that bill. Then, seeing the conflict and the troubles in '54, we added an amendment to do away with the Day Law, and we 00:08:00finally passed it by the hardest. So those two things happened before the Brown decision.

KLEBER: Let me ask you about, uh, political parties and, uh, if I were to ask you what was the significance of being a Democrat as opposed to being a Republican, would you have any ideas on that?

WETHERBY: Yes, I think the Democrat--Democratic Party is more liberal and more tuned to the needs of the majority of the people than the Republican. The Republican Party, in my opinion, through the years, has rep--has represented a conservative, big business group, and that's who they've catered to, that's who they're catering to today. Whereas the Democratic Party has represented all of the people in trying to do what was right for the majority of the people.


KLEBER: In Kentucky, did you see the Republican Party linked up with the big business elements?

WETHERBY: Yes, very much so. And actually, uh, what little fight they were able to give in the legislative sessions that I participated in, they were always anti-progress.

KLEBER: Harry Truman says something like he "never met a Republican he really liked." Did you ever go that far--

WETHERBY: No, I wouldn't go that far. There were several of 'em I really liked. I mean, one, uh, Thruston Morton, for instance. I really liked Thruston. Uh, Simeon Willis, I really liked him. Uh, Simeon Willis--after I was elected governor, one of the first visitors I had was Governor Willis, and he came up and said, "I don't want a thing; I just wanna congratulate you on being elected governor. I was governor once and I wanna offer my services if at any time, I can help you make a good governor."


KLEBER: Do you feel that, uh, today, the distinction between Democrat and Republican has dimmed? There doesn't seem--

WETHERBY: I think it has. I think it has a whole lot because, uh, of various and sundry things. For instance, the Democrats have always relied upon labor and they've always felt that big business was against them, but now, some of the big businesses are getting closer to the Democratic Party, so I think they have changed to some extent.

KLEBER: You think this is good?

WETHERBY: I think it's good. Uh, I think we're rapidly approaching a period in our history where we will have a Liberal and a Conservative party. Instead of Democrats and Republicans, it'll be the Liberals against the Conservatives.

KLEBER: So this is how you see the future of political parties. I wondered about that. What's the future of the Democratic Party in this country?


WETHERBY: I think it will become the Liberal party and the Republicans will become the Conservative party.

KLEBER: Even though Carter seems to be more conservative today, you think that--

WETHERBY: That's right. That's right. I don't know, since Carter's gotten so conservative whether or not he can beat Reagan or not, 'cause Reagan is trying to get more liberal, so I don't know what'll happen this year.

KLEBER: But then in the long run, you see them differentiating--

WETHERBY: That's right.

KLEBER: --to a greater extent than they do now?

WETHERBY: That's my opinion.

KLEBER: A lot of young people don't see any reason to join political parties. If someone want, wanted to ask you, why should I join a political party, what would you say?

WETHERBY: Well, I would tell 'em that, in Kentucky particularly, if you don't join the party, you have no right to participate in the primaries of either party. If you're an independent, you cannot participate in the selection of the 00:12:00candidate of either party. So therefore you ought to register in either the Republican Party or the Democratic Party so that you get two chances to select the leader in the next election.

KLEBER: Suppose they were to say, well, that really doesn't interest me. Can you give me another reason why I should join?

WETHERBY: Well, I can give you another one, in that you cannot participate in the conventions of the Democratic or the Republican Party. You cannot participate in the grass roots organization of those parties. And I think that's important. I think it's important to have a two-party system that we have in America, instead of five, six, or seven parties like they have in some of the European countries.

KLEBER: Now, Kentucky has tra--for a long time been a one-party state, I guess since the Civil War. Has, uh, has that hurt Kentucky, do you think? Not having a strong two-party system?


WETHERBY: I don't think so because, uh, we have had a two-factional group within the Democratic Party and then we've had the Republicans on the outside and every time we got into a vigorous scrap that tore up the Democratic Party in the primary, the Republicans have stepped in, about once every twenty years. And I think that's been a healthy situation. You have a lot of dead wood in state government, and once in a while, it's good for the opposition party to gain control because they weed out the dead wood and put in some of their people, and as a result, you have a transition every so often. And I think that's healthy for our government.

KLEBER: How would you characterize this factionalism within the Democratic Party?

WETHERBY: Well, it started many, many years ago between the wets and the drys. 00:14:00Then the--between the racehorse people and the anti-gamblers; between the church groups and the people who're sponsoring racing. Then it developed into a battle over the sales tax between the Chandler and Rhea factions, and that one has continued right down to the present time.

KLEBER: What's--

WETHERBY: It's been the Chandler faction and the old Rhea faction which became the Clements faction, then became the Wetherby-Combs faction and it still continues today.

KLEBER: And this is the, uh,the sales tax faction?

WETHERBY: That's right.

KLEBER: Where does it stand on racehorses?

WETHERBY: What did you say?

KLEBER: Where does it stand on racing?

WETHERBY: Well, , uh, the Supreme Court finally--or the Court of Appeals as it was then, finally held that you could have racing and could have betting on 00:15:00racing under a pari-mutuel system, and the court upheld that. So we have had very little fights about that since.

KLEBER: Do you still think there's a lot of opportunity for a young person to come into a political party and work himself or herself right on up to the--

WETHERBY: Absolutely. If they register, and that's what I meant, getting in at the grass roots. Only way they can get into the grass roots is register and participate. Go to the county convention or to the precinct convention and start participating. Then they go right up through the party. That's the way I went into the party. I was a precinct captain, then I was a, uh, legislative district chairman. Then I was the party chairman, the party secretary, and went right up through the party.

KLEBER: How much opportunity does a person like that have in, in, in making 00:16:00his or her ideas influence what the party believes? Or is it the other way around?

WETHERBY: No, they have, uh, I think they have a right good opportunity, if they started at the precinct level. 'Course some young people wanna jump in at the top. They immediately destroy their effectiveness and they put the powers-that-be against 'em because they're trying to step over people who have worked in the party and in the organization through the years. And the powers-that-be resent that. But if you start at the bottom and go up, they'll take you up. That's the way they did me. I didn't wanna start at the top. I started at the bottom.

KLEBER: All right, now let's, let's take your example. That, that means they, they took you and they moved you right on up.

WETHERBY: That's right.

KLEBER: Uh, in doing that, do you think you influenced them, or did they influence you in your thinking and your actions.

WETHERBY: Well, I think I influenced them by my activities, and, uh, for 00:17:00instance, uh, when I went into county government, some of the powers-that-be suggested that I start at the top of the juvenile court. I said, I'm not interested in going to the top of the juvenile court. I'd rather go in here as the attorney for the juvenile court, and work with those in there to build a better juvenile court. Well, as a result of that, I influenced them that they then, when they created a judge of the juvenile court, they asked me to assume that position. Then, as a result of my activity in the juvenile court, the powers-that-be came and asked me to run for lieutenant governor, which I did.

KLEBER: So the moral to this is, don't jump in too high?

WETHERBY: Don't jump in too high.

KLEBER: Start--

WETHERBY: Start and work your way up through the ranks.

KLEBER: Were there any third party movements in Kentucky during your administration?


WETHERBY: Yes. (clears throat) Mr. Chandler attempted to use a third party, uh, to defeat the Democratic Party. He entertained Strom Thurmond, who was running for president, and he spoke for him and took him throughout Kentucky in that campaign, in the '48 race.

KLEBER: What was your opinion of Strom Thurmond and the Dixiecrats in '48?

WETHERBY: Well, I, I was in the Governors' Conference with him when he was governor of Carolina, and he was, uh, a very able fellow in state government. I did not like his attitude in trying to destroy the Democratic Party in his 00:19:00efforts on the integration question. And that's the reason he jumped in there as an independent.

KLEBER: Did you ever tell his this?

WETHERBY: Yes, I told him that, because he and Chandler called me when they came to Kentucky, when he came to Kentucky campaigning. Wanted me to attend one of his rallies, and I said I would not, I disapprove of what you're doing.

KLEBER: And Governor Clements, did he feel the same way?

WETHERBY: Yes, uh-huh.

KLEBER: So, uh, there, there was some Dixiecrat sentiment in Kentucky, but not much?

WETHERBY: Not much. But there was some. Chandler led it.

KLEBER: Let me ask you a question now about--you became governor on November 27--


KLEBER: On December 1, 1950, two men by the name of Ben Kilgore and Joe Bates said that there was evidence that you would not have Clements's support for a 00:20:00full term as governor and this would have been in 1951. Why do you think Kilgore and Bates said that?

WETHERBY: 'Cause Kilgore was running himself, and Bates had been defeated by Clements in the primary that year in 1950 for the Senate. Bates was Chandler's candidate against Clements. Kilgore hoped to run for governor against me and wanted to discourage people from lining up for me for governor. And I wasn't even thinking about running for governor at that time. And in the early spring of 1951, I called all of our group together and I said, "We have to decide who we're gonna run for governor." They said there wasn't any question about it: I was gonna run. I said, "I have not decided I was gonna run, and I have several reasons that I do not think I ought to run, but that's up to you all to pick the 00:21:00candidate." Well, they came back in a few days, the group, and said, "Well, you have to run." I said, "Well, if that's the way you all feel, and if you're willing to go out united for me, why, I will run."

KLEBER: Do you recall any of those reason why you were reluctant?

WETHERBY: Yes, I do. First, I was from Jefferson County, and they said Louisville. Secondly, I was not a veteran. Thirdly, I was married to a Catholic, and I gave the crowd those three reasons, and I said, "In view of that, I have not thought about running for governor. 'Course I've thought about it, but I have not decided to run, and I want you all to decide whether you think you could win with me or if you want someone else to run."

KLEBER: So you left it completely up to them to decide?

WETHERBY: Left it up to our group, the leaders of the party.


KLEBER: Who was this Ben Kilgore? What was his background? Was he in a faction?

WETHERBY: He was, uh, a leader of the Farm Bureau in Kentucky. He had been, he had published a newspaper for them, and he had been president of the Farm Bureau of Kentucky for several years. And he, uh, was very active in the farm groups and had that as a nucleus. He was also a strong supporter of Harry Lee Waterfield against Clements in 1947.

KLEBER: So he definitely was not with your faction of--

WETHERBY: That's right.

KLEBER: Uh, in 1951, there was some talk of John Sherman Cooper or Thruston Morton running for governor.

WETHERBY: That's right.

KLEBER: Neither one did, of course.

WETHERBY: That's right.

KLEBER: What happened to them?

WETHERBY: Well, actually, Morton, coming from Louisville, had found out the strength I had in Louisville, and I think that influenced him more than anything 00:23:00else because he, uh, debated, uh, for several weeks and months whether or not to run. They had, the party group had put lots of pressure on Thruston to run, and I think his main reason at that time was the fact that both of us were from Jefferson County. I was in office and had made a terrific showing in Jefferson County when I ran for lieutenant governor. I think that, more than anything else, discouraged him from running, and further, the fact that he had not toured the state; he did not know people outside of the Third Congressional District.

KLEBER: And John Sherman Cooper?

WETHERBY: I don't think he ever considered it. I don't think he was interested in running for governor at that time.

KLEBER: Do you think there were people who tried to push him into it perhaps?


WETHERBY: Yes, oh, yeah. Yeah.

KLEBER: I know that his name was linked to it a few times.

WETHERBY: Oh, yeah, they, they tried to get him to run when Morton turned it down.

KLEBER: I found some indication--I may be wrong--that "Doc" Beauchamp was touted as early as December of 1950 for the governorship. You think Doc Beauchamp wanted to be governor at that time?

WETHERBY: I think Doc wanted to be governor. (coughs) I think Doc always wanted to be governor because he had started out as a page, and, uh, he had gone up through the ranks and I think when the group decided, and he was present, that I should run, Doc forgot all about running and decided he would run with me as lieutenant governor.

KLEBER: Now I found the date, and this is a very early date, that on January 17, 1951, Doc Beauchamp supported you for governor.



KLEBER: That's very early.

WETHERBY: That's right.

KLEBER: In other words, this would have been before the party itself would have said go on and, and we'll support you.

WETHERBY: That's right. Well, that was about the same time.

KLEBER: About the same?

WETHERBY: In other words, right after New Year's, you start the governor's race and that's when I called the group together, the early part of January. And Beauchamp was in that meeting, and he was insistent that I run, and, uh, he felt that we could win, and then subsequent to that, he came out for me first, before the group announced their support of me. And when he did, I said to Beauchamp, "Well, what are you gonna do?" And he said, "I'm gonna run for lieutenant governor with you." Now he did not announce at that time that he was going to, but we subsequently picked a whole ticket and ran as a group.

KLEBER: Was this a kind of agreement you two had, that if he supported you for governor, you would support him for lieutenant governor?

WETHERBY: Well, that was a mutual consideration, and we picked a whole slate of 00:26:00candidates. He wanted Buckman as attorney general candidate. We had Butler as the superintendent of public instruction. We had Tinsley for auditor. We had the whole slate, and we ran as a group right through November. We appeared together, we travelled together, we spoke together.

KLEBER: I wonder if this, back here in January of 1951 was an agreement that you two made, sitting down and saying, well, let's do this?


KLEBER: You help support me--

WETHERBY: Beauchamp and Clements and I met, during the Christmas holidays and we agreed that, uh, if the group wanted me to run, that I would run. We never mentioned the lieutenant governor's race at all. But subsequent to that 00:27:00meeting, and about the time that the group said I should run, they also said to Beauchamp, "You should run for lieutenant governor." And of course Beauchamp was anxious to run.

KLEBER: And you had no objections to Beauchamp?

WETHERBY: I had no objection to Beauchamp.

KLEBER: Thought he could help you in your--

WETHERBY: I thought he could help me and I could help him.

KLEBER: Now we come to another interesting development.


KLEBER: On January 21, 1951 Beauchamp--it was revealed that Beauchamp was supposed to have seen a six thousand dollar pay-off in the highway department.

WETHERBY: That's right.

KLEBER: You recall that, I'm sure, very well.

WETHERBY: Very much.

KLEBER: Was this a great shock to you when this, uh, was revealed?

WETHERBY: No, it was not because of the fact that that charge had been made by Judge Dawson against Clements when Clements was running against Dawson for the Senate in November 1970. And Dawson had Meredith, a former attorney general, to 00:28:00file a suit against Clements in which they said that there were bids in the highway department had been rigged by Beauchamp, Keck, and others in the department. And that suit was filed the day Kentucky was playing a football game at Lexington. When we found out about the suit, we met at the mansion and started preparing the defense of that suit, and we won the suit. But then, when Beauchamp gets in the lieutenant governor--they rehash the six thousand dollar contribution.

KLEBER: Was this done to hurt you, do you feel?

WETHERBY: I think it was done to hurt both of us.

KLEBER: Both of you. Now, who was doing it?

WETHERBY: The Republican group: Dawson, uh, and Siler and their supporters. Dawson was bitter over losing the race, and, uh, while--when I was practicing 00:29:00law before taking over the lieutenant governor job, Dawson was one of the leading lawyers in Louisville, and he had called me on numerous occasions to represent him in real estate transactions because he knew nothing about 'em. And he and I were, as lawyers in Jefferson County, were pretty friendly. So when I be--took over as governor, Dawson came to see me, and asked me if I was satisfied about Beauchamp and I said I was, and he said, "Well, what about Keck?" I said, "Well, I'm not satisfied about Keck and if I do not resolve it in my own mind, I will get a new highway commissioner." Which I did.


KLEBER: Now you supported an open investigation of this charge.

WETHERBY: That's right.

KLEBER: You even were going to appoint Republicans to--

WETHERBY: That's right.

KLEBER: --sit in it and they refused to accept this.

WETHERBY: That's right. They refused to join in it.

KLEBER: Now in March of 1951, you authorized the Department of Finance to make all future purchases for the Department of Highways.

WETHERBY: That's right.

KLEBER: Was a--this was a reform, then--

WETHERBY: That's right. In other words, that all of the purchases had to go through the finance department on a bidding basis, so as to remove any question of rigging of bids in the highway department.

KLEBER: Did all of this charge give you much concern or not?

WETHERBY: It did at the time, and that's the reason I made the moves that I did. I appointed a new highway commissioner who I had confidence in, and I removed the purchasing from the highway department, put it over in the finance department.

KLEBER: Did you ever think you may have to withdraw your support of Doc 00:31:00Beauchamp during this?

WETHERBY: Never did because I was convinced, after taking all of the testimony which we took, we did not use it all, but we took affidavits from everyone concerned in the highway scandal. (coughs) And I was convinced that Beauchamp never had anything to do with the bid rigging over there. I knew that Beauchamp had received a contribution, but it was purely a contribution for Clements's campaign.

KLEBER: And you feel Clements was innocent in all of this too?

WETHERBY: That's right.

KLEBER: When Virgil Chapman was killed in an automobile accident in 1951, did you think about taking the Senate seat that he left?

WETHERBY: Only for one afternoon, I thought of it. (laughs) And I went home and talked to my wife and she said, "We're not gonna do that. We're not gonna do it because we've got three children and we do not want to take them to Washington." I said, "Well, we'll forget about it."


KLEBER: Yet there was quite a time there before any decision was made about what was going to happen.

WETHERBY: Well, my decision was made, but my strong supporters were still trying to get me to take the Senate seat so as to avoid a fight in the Democratic Party. And, uh, I finally told 'em I had not--that I had decided not to go to Washington. I would not appoint them--I--myself, and that was the end of it.

KLEBER: The Courier-Journal said something like that, uh, that you were an ambitious young man and that this was obviously a very tough decision for you to make. Were they right in that, do you think?

WETHERBY: It was kind of tough, but, uh, 'course the wife made--put her foot down right quick and that influenced me to forget about it.

KLEBER: You had--

WETHERBY: And I just toyed with the idea because of all of the people coming in and saying, "Well, look, you've been lieutenant governor and governor and 00:33:00senator within a year, and that, that ought to be appealing to you." And they were putting pressure on me to do it.

KLEBER: Did some people tell you not to do it?

WETHERBY: No. The only person that told me not to do it was my wife.

KLEBER: If you had gone to the Senate at that time, who would have become the governor?

WETHERBY: Louis Cox. He was the president pro tem in the senate, see, and we had no lieutenant governor 'cause I had moved up to the governorship. He moved up as acting lieutenant governor.

KLEBER: The Courier-Journal seemed, in 1951 to be pushing Tom Underwood for that Senate seat. Why would they have done that?

WETHERBY: Well, they were great supporters of Tom through the years. Uh, when, uh, Virgil left--con--congressional seat, they endorsed Tom for that seat. Then, they were great supporters of Tom because Tom was the former editor and 00:34:00publisher of the Herald-Leader in Lexington. He was also the secretary of the racing commission. So they were very friendly, the Courier-Journal crowd and Underwood. And they were pushing Underwood to be United States Senator.

KLEBER: Now did that have an influence on you, or why did you decide to choose Underwood?

WETHERBY: Well, I decided to appoint Underwood because Clements, Beauchamp, and our group all agreed that he was the fellow that we should appoint, and that he would have the best chance of winning the seat in the fall, because he was following right in the footsteps of Virgil Chapman in the tobacco, uh, markets and all, and that he was from the same district and we thought he would run real strong in the Sixth Congressional District.

KLEBER: So it was good politics, then?


WETHERBY: That's right.

KLEBER: For Tom Underwood--did you think of naming anyone else that you--

WETHERBY: No one else.

KLEBER: No one else.

WETHERBY: He was the only one I thought about naming.

KLEBER: Now what--Chapman did not win when he ran again for the full term, did he?


KLEBER: Chapman did not--I mean, excuse me, Tom Underwood did not--


KLEBER: --win.

WETHERBY: They brought Cooper out again, and he beat Underwood. Underwood made a pitiful candidate. We thought he'd make a great one because he was a good speaker. He had managed Clements's campaign in 1947, and he was well-known and thought of by the political leaders throughout the state, and he was a good speaker. But he went on the defense in that campaign and Cooper came to Lexington to speak and that's all Underwood talked about from them on. Why, he came into my hometown and campaigned, and he was running against Cooper and that's all he would do. He was on the defense about Cooper.

KLEBER: Did Alben Barkley favor Tom Underwood's appointment to the Senate 00:36:00that year, do you remember?

WETHERBY: Did he--

KLEBER: Did Alben Barkley want to see Tom Underwood in the senate?

WETHERBY: Oh, yeah. Yeah, he was delighted to see Tom appointed. Matter of fact, I talked to him before I appointed, uh, Tom.

KLEBER: Now, there was some talk at this time that Chandler wanted the Senate seat. In fact, I think he asked you for it.


KLEBER: You never, I'm sure, considered giving it to him.

WETHERBY: Well, I'll tell you how it came about. He, he was in Florida when Virgil died, and he was with, with a mutual friend of ours, a man by the name of Collings who had built him the swimming pool that had become a political issue in Chandler's last race for the Senate, and Collings called me at the governor's office, and he said, "I've got a friend of yours here," and said, "they are about to fire him as baseball commissioner. Now he doesn't wanna go to the 00:37:00Senate, but Governor, if you'll offer him the appointment, he can go before the baseball owners and say, `Well, look, I don't need your job, I can go back to the Senate. The governor's offered me that.'" And said, "Now he won't accept it, but he'll use it to retain his baseball commissionership." I said, "Mr. Collings, I'd love to do a favor for you, but I'm not fixing to offer that to Chandler because he might want to take it. And I know he would take it if they fire him down there at that meeting. He would--"

KLEBER: They had fired him, hadn't they?


KLEBER: They weren't gonna renew his contract, right?

WETHERBY: They weren't--he got wind that they were not gonna renew it, and they were meeting in Florida--(coughs)--and he came up with the idea that if I'd offer him the Senate seat, he could go before the owners and talk himself out of being fired. And I refused to do it, so then Collings said, "Well, he says if 00:38:00you don't do it, he's coming back there if he's fired, and run against you for governor." I said, tell him to come on; the water's fine. He came back and got ready to announce. Had a big meeting up at his home and when he found out how well-organized we were, he said, "Well, I don't think I'll run. I'll support Wetherby."

KLEBER: I knew that there was speculation he was going to run in 1951.

WETHERBY: Oh, yeah. (coughs)

KLEBER: He saw the handwriting on the wall?

WETHERBY: Oh, yeah. And that's the reason, because he was fired as baseball commissioner.

KLEBER: So you think Chandler was serious about running in '51?

WETHERBY: Oh, yeah, he was serious until he came back here and found out how well-organized we were and even the fella--fellow I told you about earlier today, Bob Humphreys, who was chairman of the party then, and was always a supporter of Chandler, he told Chandler, he said, "I can't be for you this 00:39:00time, Happy. I'm already committed to Wetherby and I'm gonna support Wetherby."

KLEBER: Now in 1951, you ran against Eugene Siler in the, uh--(Wetherby coughs)--November election. Eugene Siler was something of a religious fundamentalist. He was against liquor and he was against gambling and so on. Now in August of 1951, you ordered gambling raids at Newport and at Henderson.

WETHERBY: That's right.

KLEBER: Uh, there was some speculation that this was done to cut Eugene Siler's strength. Uh, any--

WETHERBY: It was not. It had been planned for--(coughs)--months--(clears throat)--months, by our then commissioner of state police, Guthrie Crowe. Guthrie had talked to me about it and he said that there was a group in northern Kentucky that were begging him to come up there and break up the gambling, which was open gambling. 'Course I had had calls from Henderson about the same thing. 00:40:00 So--

KLEBER: A lot of letters, too, came to you.

WETHERBY: Lots of 'em. So we decided, Crowe and I decided that, at the proper time, unannounced, he was gonna move into Campbell County and break up the gambling, and he did and he did it in a big way. Then the Henderson situation had gotten so out of hand, I asked him to go in there and they did.

KLEBER: This was a smart political move, too, wasn't it, to do?

WETHERBY: Well, in a way it was, but Henderson was a strong Democratic, uh, territory and, uh, we didn't know how strong the anti-gamblers were, and how strong the other people. As a matter of fact, it hurt me in Henderson in the, in the primary. It hurt me in the fall. Why, Siler had no more business 00:41:00getting any votes in Henderson than the man in the moon, but he did because the gamblers went out and went to work and the do-gooders who I was representing didn't even go out to work for me.

KLEBER: What about in Newport? Do you think it helped you up there?

WETHERBY: I don't think it helped me, and don't think it hurt me. I went there afterwards and spoke, and one person in the crowd got up and said, "What are you gonna do about the gambling?" I said, "It's closed and it's gonna stay closed long as I'm governor." I didn't get many cheers when I said that.

KLEBER: No. And you know, I noticed that after that, it seemed like through--across the state, and particularly in Louisville too, they began to attack--to crack down on gambling. Is that right?

WETHERBY: That's right.

KLEBER: It's almost like a crime busters--

WETHERBY: Well, they--they found out and then when I took the oath in November of '51 I said that we had broken up gambling. We were gonna continue to stay on 00:42:00top of it. We were gonna authorize the ABC Board to suspend the license of any alcohol beverage control person who permitted gambling within his establishment. So, throughout the state, the license holders started helping us police the gambling.

[Tape 1, side 1 ends; tape 1, side 2 begins.]

KLEBER: How do you explain Siler's statement, when the election was over, that the whiskey and gambling interest had helped you?

WETHERBY: I can't explain anything that Siler said.

KLEBER: He did say that, though.

WETHERBY: Yeah, he said that. And he said, uh, 'course the first thing he said when the count came in, looked like I was winning pretty good, he said, "Well, it was the weather." Then he said, as an afterthought, that the gamblers and all of those kind of people supported me and cost him the election.

KLEBER: Doesn't make any sense, does it?


WETHERBY: I have a cartoon down there with a donkey and Wetherby over here and says, "It wasn't the weather, it was the Wetherby record." The old, uh, the cartoon is from the Courier-Journal--put in the paper in a day or two.

KLEBER: Uh, you know, something that surprised me was Siler's call for a sales tax in 1951.


KLEBER: What was your response to that? Were you surprised that he did that?

WETHERBY: I was surprised that he did it, but, uh, I knew why he was doing it. He was trying to divide the party further. He was trying to get the Chandlerites to support him instead of me. Uh, he figured that that would stir up trouble and that we had our good organization and he would try to split the Democratic Party.

KLEBER: It seems like that would have hurt him, to call for a sales tax in '51. What was your position on the sales tax in '51? I--


WETHERBY: In '51, I, I told the legislature that we needed new revenue but I gave 'em several points to pick up the revenue that we needed. John Young Brown, though, was in the house at that time-- Senior--and he introduced a sales tax bill and came rushing down to me and wanted my support. I said, "John, I will not support it. It is dynamite politically, but if you wanna run it, go on and run it. I will not oppose it," and he almost passed it.

KLEBER: Do you think that sales tax position of Siler hurt him in 1951?

WETHERBY: I don't think it hurt him. I think the thing that hurt him most was his, uh, bigotry and his trying to alienate people from me because I was married 00:45:00to a Catholic. He started the worst whispering campaign you ever saw, and in the Bible Belt, it was working.

KLEBER: That, that's a question that I wanted to, to bring up with you. Were you surprised at the results of that election in 1951? In other words, the closeness of it, really? I suspect one could say it was--

WETHERBY: Well, I wasn't surprised because I thought we had a rough race. I had told our group that if I was a candidate it would be a rough race and Siler's group and his supporters used every bit of that against us, and in, uh, areas that--in the Bible Belt, it worked tremendously. He got Democrats as well as Republicans to support him on the basis of that whispering campaign. So much so, that in the two strong Catholic areas of Kentucky I went into, and he went to see the priests and even they were against me. They were against me because 00:46:00I was married to a Catholic and I was not a Catholic. I mean that was the excuse they gave me, but I know it was a result of all of that, uh, whispering campaign that was going on throughout Siler's organization.

KLEBER: What about the support you got in Jefferson County in 1951? Did you think it was--would it have been bigger than it was?

WETHERBY: Yes, I would, I would have thought so.

KLEBER: Can you explain why, uh, perhaps, it--

WETHERBY: Well, same thing: that whispering campaign was going on there.

KLEBER: Even worked in Louisville with its large Catholic--

WETHERBY: Worked in Louisville a whole lot.

KLEBER: Uh, this--one question that, that emerged at that time, and I, I probably gave you some, some concern was this question of using, uh, school buses to transport, uh, Catholic students to Catholic schools.


KLEBER: Um, did that affect this election in 1951? What was your position on that?

WETHERBY: I think it did because I, I thought that it was contrary to the 00:47:00constitution, and I had so stated it some--sometime, and, uh, I think that hurt us some.

KLEBER: In other words, you were against the use of public school buses to transport Catholic students?

WETHERBY: That's right.

KLEBER: And you said this in '51?

WETHERBY: That's right.

KLEBER: But did Siler try to make an issue of this somewhat?

WETHERBY: Yes he did, um-hm.

KLEBER: What did he say?

WETHERBY: Well, he, he said that, that was my position. He was against my position.

KLEBER: He was, so he was in favor of it?

WETHERBY: That's right.

KLEBER: That doesn't make any sense.

WETHERBY: It doesn't. He was--as I say, if you ask me what I thought about Siler, I can't tell you what I think about him because he would be on one side of the fence one day and one side the other, just trying to create an image of getting the votes of that group of people.

KLEBER: It, it's all very confusing.

WETHERBY: You would--well, that's right. You talk about confusing. The day we spoke before the League of Women Voters, he made me more votes than I could have 00:48:00made myself by his attitude. Uh, and the League of Women Voters were all-out for what I was doing. So I had no difficulty in talking to them, and he could not even talk--address himself to any of the issues they were interested in.

KLEBER: Did Siler get to be the candidate through a Republican primary or was he pretty much appointed to it?

WETHERBY: Well, he was more or less selected by their committee. They did not have a primary. As I recall. Uh, he more or less was just agreed on as their candidate.

KLEBER: Okay. Thank you, Governor.

[End of interview.]