Louie B. Nunn Center for Oral History

Interview with Walter D. Huddleston, September 20, 1988

Louie B. Nunn Center for Oral History, University of Kentucky Libraries
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BREAUX: Let me begin by thanking Senator Huddleston for being here today, talk with us about his experiences in the Kentucky General Assembly. Maybe the best place to start is just by having you recount your tenure in the Assembly. In other words, when you were first elected, what leadership positions you held, and so forth.

HUDDLESTON: Fine. I made my first race in nineteen hundred and sixty-five. That was my first race for public office and I ran for the Tenth Senatorial District of the state of Kentucky which included Meade County and my home county of Hardin County. I was elected and began serving in the first General Assembly of nineteen hundred and sixty-six. I later and, in subsequent sessions, became first the caucus chairman for the Democratic Party and then the majority leader, the floor leader for the 00:01:00Democrats in the State Senate. Of course, served on numerous committees: Appropriations Committee, chairman of the Government Operations Committee in my first session in 1966. The biggest issue that we dealt with that year was the question of pinball machines and those that paid off and the use of them by college students around the state. And in fact, the pinball machine law was passed and put into effect that prevented the paying off in, in money for gains that were won on pinball machines. So, I served through the 1972 year as majority leader. That's the year that I ran for the United States Senate and began my race then, was successful, and then resigned from the State 00:02:00Senate and-in December of that year.

BREAUX: Fine. Let's talk about leadership a little bit more.


BREAUX: In 1968, I believe, is when you became caucus chairman, is that correct?

HUDDLESTON: That is correct. Uh-huh.

BREAUX: Typically, in the good old days, Democratic governors more or less handpicked the individuals they wanted to see in the various leadership positions, or at least that's what we've come to believe.


BREAUX: In '68 though there wasn't a Democratic governor there to do any of the handpicking (laughs). What do you remember about leadership selection within the Democratic Party under a Republican governor, Louie Nunn?

HUDDLESTON: Well, it was certainly somewhat different than, than it would be under normal situations (laughs) in Kentucky which would be a situation where you had a 00:03:00Democratic governor. But Wendell Ford had been elected as lieutenant governor. That made him the titular head at least of the Democratic Party in the state. So those of us who had already been in leadership positions, working with Lieutenant Governor Ford pretty well worked out the leadership positions and presented ourselves to the full caucus and, and were elected.

BREAUX: So, it was sort of a process by which consensus was built within the party itself, with-


BREAUX: Lieutenant Governor Ford playing a very active role?

HUDDLESTON: Yes, that, that's essentially the case. But even, even in later times-as a matter of fact in my race for lieuten--, for the Majority Leader of the Senate, the governor, in this case the lieutenant governor for Democrats, did not take that strong 00:04:00a part. There was a, there was a contest involved-

BREAUX: In 1970?

HUDDLESTON: Yes. Uh-huh.

BREAUX: Was Gibson Downing (unintelligible)-

HUDDLESTON: I was challenged by Senator Gibson Downing of Lexington in the race for majority leader and it was a fairly close contest.

BREAUX: So you had to campaign for votes-


BREAUX: is that how the process worked?

HUDDLESTON: Sure. You worked, you worked with the other members and of course, there's no question Senator Ford, then Lieutenant Governor Ford, was supporting me in the contest and, and he had considerable influence.

BREAUX: In 1972 Wendell Ford was governor then-


BREAUX: you retained that leadership position I believe?

HUDDLESTON: Yes, I did. I was Senator Ford's campaign chairman, state chairman when he ran for governor in 1971 and I determined at the end of that campaign 00:05:00that, even though I was interested then in running for the United States Senate, that I would continue in the, in the State Senate up through-at least up through the General Assembly that was to meet the following January. And that if the governor desired that I would continue in my role as majority leader and that's what happened. It made it a little more difficult to serve in that capacity with a-after having already announced that I was going to be a candidate for the United States Senate.

BREAUX: So when we had the return of normalcy, when we had a Democratic governor back in office with Wendell Ford, did things more or less then revert back to normal with the governor taking a position on who he wanted to see in those various 00:06:00leadership positions?

HUDDLESTON: I thing certainly Governor Ford did take a position on my leadership positions and if I recall correctly he was successful in each, each position in having his choice elected.

BREAUX: I'd like to ask you, I guess, a few questions about serving under Governor Nunn. What do you remember about his working relationship with the legislature? Was he very involved with planning legislative detail and tactics?

HUDDLESTON: Yeah. Well, Governor Nunn was a, a very savvy individual as far as knowing how the political processes worked and knowing that him being a Republican that he was in a distinct minority in the, in the legislative process and throughout the state 00:07:00as far as parties were concerned. I think he, I think he worked very well with the legislature and with some exceptions. There were some things that the General Assembly did to assert itself as a Democratic controlled General Assembly. I remember we had substantial battles over some provisions of the budget and, and did in fact rewrite the budget document which is almost-which virtually would never be done under a, under a Democratic governor or a Republican governor if he had the majority in the, in the two houses. And, and there were other things in which there were some, some disagreements and some pretty tough legislative battles. But Governor Nunn took the position, I think 00:08:00he indicated to the leadership of the General Assembly, "look we can, we can try to get along and try to do something for the state or we can be in a constant battle for the four years that I am in office." And he reminded us that as governor he had access to the state media and he could call a press conference any time and on very short notice and be assured of coverage around the state for his particular point of view, and that he wouldn't hesitate to do that if, if the General Assembly got too far astray of trying to develop at least some positive programs for Kentucky. And, you know, given the situation and the fact that Governor Nunn is a person who is somewhat combative when challenged in the political field, I think that era-we came through it pretty good.

BREAUX: So he did actively, in one way or another, court the Democratic vote?


HUDDLESTON: Oh, no doubt about it-

BREAUX: He had to-

HUDDLESTON: No doubt about it. Yes, he did and used the authority of his office and the other things that the governor's office has to deal with to, to secure votes and did and get a number of, of Democrats to support his line virtually on every issue.

BREAUX: How did you view your role being in the leadership at that time? Did you view your role as an adversarial one with the administration? Because wasn't it your job to sort of keep the Democrats united?

HUDDLESTON: Right. My, my role principally was to try to develop and help develop plans that the Democrats could solidly support. Even though we were in the majority in, in the House and in the Senate both, you had to have something that really 00:10:00attracted and appealed to Democrats and gave them a reason to support it, to overcome the power of the governor's office. And so I worked with the Lieutenant Governor, Ford, and Senator, former, the late Senator Tom Garrett from down at Paducah, Senator Bill Sullivan from over at Henderson and others in trying to develop either alternatives to what the governor was proposing or new initiatives that we as a party could get behind. I did not see myself as an antagonist of the governor or one that was just supposed to be against for the sake of being against and, and we didn't do a whole lot of that.

BREAUX: One of the major pieces of legislation I'd like to talk about under the Nunn administration was the change in sales tax. How did that played itself out?


HUDDLESTON: Well, we-Governor Nunn, in order to secure revenue for the state, increased the sales tax from three cents to a nickel, five cents, five percent. And we saw that as an issue in which the public was not much in favor of, plus even though we knew that the state had to have some revenue so we hit upon the idea of, of still providing essentially the revenue but easing the bite of the tax by eliminating it from food items. And that did become quite a political issue and was, and was an issue in my campaign for the Senate later that year. We were successful in that. I think we also took it 00:12:00off of farm machinery, some other items that had been covered by the tax that, we got exempted, although the rate stayed at the five percent. So, without doing a lot of violence to the revenue needs of the state we were able to give some, at least some political gain, by helping those who were least able to pay.

BREAUX: Democrats who did go along with the-didn't get reelected from what I've been, been hearing from other individuals I've talked to. Why do you think that's the case? Couldn't they make the argument to their voters back home that, you know, they had to do this for the survival of their district?

HUDDLESTON: I think that's just a strange thing about Kentuckians and maybe, maybe about the whole country and that is a reluctance to favor anybody who, who 00:13:00favors a tax. Even though, I think, in their own minds I think the citizens of Kentucky, certainly those who thought about it, had to realize that additional revenue was needed and a lot of people who-a lot of people believed that the sales tax is really the fairest way. Others of us don't believe it's necessarily the fairest way. But for some reason there seems to be a, a very strong desire on the part of many citizens in Kentucky to extract at least one measure of revenge for anybody who votes a tax on them. And the first opportunity they had, of course, was right after that session, still fresh in their minds and so they did make it tough on a lot of fellows who voted for the sales tax.

BREAUX: How effective in your opinion was something like the Rules Committee back in '68 and '70? Was that a fairly effective mechanism for delaying, or maybe in fact 00:14:00killing, legislation?

HUDDLESTON: Well, it was, it was in my time in the General Assembly it was just about a hundred percent effective. The Rules Committee could virtually delay and kill any legislation almost if it said its mine to do it and, and even without a majority of the Rules Committee. We had a number of items where the committee was split but the majority, maybe a three to two vote, a small committee, a three to two vote would, would keep a piece of legislation bottled up for nearly the whole session. And, you know, there are legislative maneuvers that you can take to, could get around it but they usually require a two-thirds vote or, or some-a special requirement that's awfully hard to meet. And the 00:15:00Rules Committee-and then toward the end of the session when they form the larger committee and to deal with everything and that just virtually had virtual total control over legislation.

BREAUX: So it was very effective in your opinion?

HUDDLESTON: Very effective.

BREAUX: Let's talk a little bit about your tenure under Governor Ford. How would you compare his leadership style to Governor Nunn's? Was he also very involved with shaping legislative decisions and tactics?

HUDDLESTON: Senator Ford and Senator Nunn, or Governor Nunn and Governor Ford when he was governor, were not that dissimilar in a sense in that they both felt that the office of governor should be a very strong office, should exert a considerable influence on the legislature and throughout the entire government. They 00:16:00were sticklers for detail and wanted to know what was happening not only at the General Assembly but happening in every cabinet, every office of the, of the government. And Senator Ford was one who, who liked to eliminate opposition by finding a way to accommodate opposition and when he, if he could not do that then, of course, he would not hesitate to use the strength that he had to carry the day in his favor. He was a very good legislative tactician and had good people working for him. And consequently, I think, virtually everything he sought in the General Assembly was passed.

BREAUX: Did the nature of your leadership position change when that transition 00:17:00was made?

HUDDLESTON: Well, considerably, of course. I was very close to Wendell Ford for years before we even got into politics and we had entered public office at the same time. We ran for the State Senate at the same time and he went to the executive branch when I went to the legislative branch in Washington so our careers were somewhat parallel and we not only had a kinship of party, both of us sort of from Western Kentucky and both of us Democrats, both of us having worked at the local level of politics and, and then coming into the Senate at the same time we had a, a very close relationship, so my position changed some to the extent that I was trying then to support the governor's program rather than support a lieutenant governor's program and be selective about what 00:18:00Governor Nunn was offering.

BREAUX: Governor Ford was very detailed then in specifying what he wanted to-the legislature to do?

HUDDLESTON: Very detailed, absolutely.

BREAUX: Worked closely with the leadership or-

HUDDLESTON: Yes, he worked very closely with the leadership and-was willing to listen to leadership that had suggested changes but once he had his program outlined in what he intended to accomplish and then he was very forceful in seeing that that was accomplished.

BREAUX: To what extent did Governor Ford have to rely on courting Republican votes in the legislature to your (Huddleston coughs) (unintelligible)? Were there any circumstances where, you know, compromises had been made for Republicans to go along with certain programs that the governor wanted?

HUDDLESTON: Well, I'm sure those occasions arose. I don't remember any 00:19:00specific right now. We did have pretty good majorities in both the Senate and the House but I'm certain there were times when special efforts had to be made to get some Republican votes. And even, even at normal times a governor likes to get all the support that he can for his program and, and certainly Ford did not and I doubt if any governor just totally ignores the Republicans, or if he's a Republican, the Democrats in trying to get support for his programs and so I'm sure he was dealing with them all the time. In fact, I know that he was and attempting to get, get their views. Now, we had some very difficult things to deal with-redistricting which hadn't been such a big problem in the past but when the Supreme Court came along and, and began to throw out redistricting 00:20:00programs that did not provide the right balance or indicated there was any gerrymandering or did not treat minorities fair then, then it became a much more difficult job. And we, we had to redistrict and then redistrict again. And, of course-

BREAUX: Was that viewed basically a partisan issue?

HUDDLESTON: Well, it certainly was in the beginning because the Democratic majority, and every individual members of the Senate, or in the House, wanted to protect his district and his turf and, and it was a very difficult thing even though whether a person was a Republican or a Democrat. And the Democrats certainly were not above, if they could find an area whereby shifting a line some they could keep the population the same but put-overloaded district with Democrats where it had been Republican they'd be glad to do that, of course, and, but-I don't think there were very many cases where 00:21:00that really-where it really wound up that way because it was so difficult. Every time you move a line one way you're affecting not just one district but several others and, and you had Democrats in there trying to protect their turf and Republicans trying to protect theirs and I think it was pretty hard to-the final analysis I think what we really tried to do was leave the status pretty much quo, not, not trying to just deliberately eliminate even a Republican. And that suited the Democrats alright because they were already in such a majority that they didn't have a lot to worry about as far as having control of the General Assembly (laughs).

BREAUX: They could live with the situation as it was?

HUDDLESTON: Yeah. Right. Right.

BREAUX: Another topic that I'm interested in getting your opinions about concerns the idea of legislative reorganization. It seems just about the time when you 00:22:00were coming into the legislature there was some big pushes being made to make the legislature more independent from the governor's office. Now we can talk about whether or not that was, you know, a direct consequence of having a Republican governor in-


BREAUX: that moment or if it was sort of a general mood of reform, you know. Had time come in Kentucky to whether legislature was gonna take a stand on its own? What's your opinion? Do you think-

HUDDLESTON: Well, I think-

BREAUX: that was just because of a Republican winning the governor's race?

HUDDLESTON: The Republican winning the governor's race might have, might have sped it up a little bit, give it a little more intensity. When I first went there in '66, Governor Breathitt was governor, things were working as they had in the past. The governor had control, the big fights then were between Democrats and not, not between 00:23:00Democrats and Republicans. Following that after, after the legislature was one party and the governor the other party in the case of when Governor Nunn was in, that kind of thrust upon the legislature a responsibility to develop some programs of its own and to depart from what the governor was offering. Normal situations prior to that it was unthinkable that the legislature would rewrite a governor's budget. In the first place, the legislature in those days didn't have the resources. It would've been very difficult for them to have the necessary information to write an intelligent, intelligent budget. When Ford was lieutenant governor and under Governor Nunn we, we approached that job with 00:24:00a lot of trepidation. We were worried that we would make some, yes, some tremendous mistake, that we didn't have enough figures and enough information and know precisely where to put the dollars and, and that was a major concern. It was, we were, we were fortunate in having a fellow like Gib Downing for instance, I believe who was chairman of the Appropriations Committee and who understood budgets and did a tremendous job in making sure that we did not make any great big, big error. But I think the movement of an independent legislature was just kind of boiling in the background during my time. It never did really surface. I thought it sooner or later might happen. There was question about the-having the, the tools to really do it, you know. In those days we met every 00:25:00two years. We did not have an interim committee. There was a Legislative Research Commission. The first push was toward trying to get annual sessions and then that seemed to be unpopular enough that it was not going to happen and then, I guess, either about the time I left or right after I left, they initiated the interim committee system which, I think, works pretty well and really eliminates the need for annual sessions. So I think along in there with the LRC getting beefed up to handle the interim committees so that they could have the kind of information that'd be necessary, they became real serious about legislative independence. But then you had Governor Carroll come along who was of the old school and felt that the governor's office should be strong and in control and so that kind of kept it on the back burner until Governor Brown came along and he didn't 00:26:00particularly care to get involved and spend all his time in the nitty-gritty of, of getting all this-or being in control totally of the legislature. And I think that's where the, the independence for the legislature really began to take hold.

BREAUX: So you see the legislature in the position it is today which is, I think, definitely more independent from the executive office than it was twenty years ago-

HUDDLESTON: Yeah, no question about that.

BREAUX: more the result of the hands-off approach taken by governors like Brown and Collins rather than a major push by the legislature itself? Were they sort of-


BREAUX: forced into the position becoming independent?

HUDDLESTON: I think, I think they were more or less forced into it by the Brown administration. There may have been some tendencies and some inclinations in that direction but they would've been much, much slower coming if there hadn't been a 00:27:00governor at that particular time who did not particularly care to be controlling the General Assembly. And once the genie was out of the bottle even though Governor Collins, I think, would be more of the old-school too because she came up politically under myself and Governor Ford and Governor Carroll, you couldn't put the genie back in the bottle after they once began some legislative independence and saw that they could, could be independent.

BREAUX: Back in the late '60s, early '70s when this was more or less boiling in the background as you're saying, was there much resistance? Was there any vocal opposition to legislative independence, you know, besides coming from the governor's office?

HUDDLESTON: I don't recall of any, any vocal opposition to it, certainly no 00:28:00organized-I think, most people in those days didn't take it very seriously. They didn't think it was going to happen. As I say again, if you go back to those days, even before the Legislative Research Commission became what it, what it eventually became, there were simply no tools for the legislature. They were there sixty days every two years and the day they adjourned there were committees existing, no nothing. They, they-

BREAUX: Why push for independence if you can't do anything with it?

HUDDLESTON: Yeah. Yeah. How could you, how could you possibly form any kind of a program or a cohesive effort? So, I don't think it was taken too seriously until- really until Governor Brown came along. And there were a lot of talk about it. Guys in the legislature would say, you know, "this is not right we're just being dictated to by the 00:29:00first floor and, and we ought to assert our own independence and we ought to do this and that," but it didn't happen very often.

BREAUX: One of the things you brought up a few moments ago was the creation of the interim committees system.


BREAUX: Were those committees taken fairly serious early on?

HUDDLESTON: Well that happened about the time I left and I'm not, I'm not too certain. I assume that it took a while for them to realize what the potential was and maybe they haven't reach that potential yet but the idea that you can continue to explore you can oversee of what's going on in government by having hearings before those committees, that you can develop legislation and have it at least publicized and all sides are begin to comment on it long before you get into the General Assembly meeting, has got to be a 00:30:00tremendous, it seems to me, a tremendous step forward in the, in the legislative process. And I think it has worked well from what I can hear.

BREAUX: Why the focus on changing committee system. That seems to where the initial steps were taken.

HUDDLESTON: Well, I think because you, you can just do more with a smaller group of people and if you got one person as the chairman of the committee who has a specific responsibility, he's likely to carry out that responsibility rather than having to depend on three or four fellows who might be in the leadership positions, the majority leader and the president pro tem and that, that sort of thing. It just opens up so many different avenues of exploration of legislative needs for the state.

BREAUX: What was the role of the, (coughs) excuse me, the Legislative Research 00:31:00Commission in all of this?

HUDDLESTON: Well, I'm not certain what-as far as them being an advocate or whatever but-as a supplier of information they have played a very important and very prominent role since the time I went into the General Assembly in 1966 and I'm sure prior to that also. It's been one of the better, I think, organizations in state government.

BREAUX: What do you think is the most important long-term consequence of all this? You know, we're talking about trends that started in 1968-


BREAUX: early '70s. Where do you think it has gotten us in terms of state government itself?

HUDDLESTON: Well, I think most of it is beneficial to the state and progressive. You have governors who come in who have vision and who can develop a program very 00:32:00quickly as they have to do and get it passed and get it implemented and be of great benefit to the state. But that's a difficult thing to do and it's almost too much to expect that a person elected in the month of December or in November, sworn in in December, taking office the first of January, with a General Assembly that's gonna be there for sixty days, now it's ninety or whatever it is, then go on and only back regularly for one more session during his four-year term. It's just too much to expect that in the complicated times that we live in now, in the complex times, that they can develop a comprehensive and adequate program for the advancement of Kentucky. And I think by having a legislature that functions throughout the year through the interim committee system and-that you have a lot better change of developing programs with some depth to them 00:33:00and, and some understanding that will be beneficial.

BREAUX: Better policy making.

HUDDLESTON: I think you'll have a much better policy making decision making process through the system as it's developing now than we did back in the old days. I think this-I think the, the caliber from the standpoint of education and training and awareness of the total state, members of the General Assembly has continued to increase through the years.

BREAUX: Something else that sort of changed over time with members of the General Assembly seems to be the degree to which people serve in the General Assembly as a career. There seems to be more people today running for the Assembly and then deciding to make a career out of the staying there than fifteen or twenty years ago when 00:34:00one, two, maybe three terms was the sort of norm.


BREAUX: What do you think about that trend toward careerism? Do you see that as a positive or a negative aspect?

HUDDLESTON: I think generally it's a, it's positive. But all of them who seek a career, of course, won't be able to achieve it. The general public, the voters still have a have the last word in it but just the mere fact that they are interested enough to want to make it a career and want to devote, the time and effort that's necessary, I think generally is healthy. I think that a number of things have happened that make it more attractive. The pay is considerably better and they have a pretty good retirement fund and so it's not something that, that-as quite as, as bland as far as remuneration is concerned as it was 00:35:00some years ago. It used to, you know, they only got paid for the sixty days they were in session and that was it, period. Every two years, a grand total of about eighteen hundred dollars, maybe three thousand dollars, for a session. So that wasn't a lot of a (laughs)-

BREAUX: (unintelligible)

HUDDLESTON: an incentive monetarily to make a career, you couldn't do it all. And, and even most of them now, I'm sure, have other jobs there. But I don't see any wrong with that. I think it could very well be beneficial.

BREAUX: Another change that's taken place relatively recently is the change in election schedule where as now we have legislators running independently-


BREAUX: of having the governor on the ballot. Again, do you think that's a positive move or should we have left things alone?


HUDDLESTON: (Laughs), well, I think they were rightly concerned about the requirement that we had to have a major election in Kentucky every year and by reducing the number of elections, I think it's probably beneficial. It's been my experience in any time you think you have created some sort of an advantage for any particular party or person by making a change in the election process-over a period of time it'll even itself out. It's not gonna be a-so, I don't think whether anybody was favored by the changes or not, but I think the public would be favored if there were fewer elections.

BREAUX: Do you think then that the legislature, given this trend toward careerism, people going to Frankfort and then desiring to stay there, the change in elections we're 00:37:00talking about, do you think that that all adds up to a continuing push toward independence or do you see the possibility of maybe the legislature ever slipping back on that or, what do you see if you (unintelligible)-

HUDDLESTON: Well, I would think-I would think with members of the legislature staying in longer, beginning, getting more involved in the legislative process and more knowledgeable would tend to increase the amount of legislative independence, make it more difficult for a governor just to come in and say, "look, forget everything you've been doing and everything you've been thinking, this is the way we're going to do the next four years." It's less likely to happen that way, I think. I think we've got to bear in mind that the public, the voting public, still has to assume the responsibility of making sure that nobody stays in there (laughs) too long if they're not, in fact, serving the people 00:38:00and doing a good job.

BREAUX: I think we've talked about a lot of different issues here today.


BREAUX: Is there anything else concerning the legislature, the evolvement of the legislature to where it is today, that you'd like to talk about or have we more or less summed it up?

HUDDLESTON: Well, I think we, I think we've covered most of it and I think it's, it's laid out. And you can pretty well summarize with the statement that politics, like nature, abhors a vacuum. And when a governor came in and created a vacuum as far as, as dictation to the General Assembly, then the General Assembly quickly moved in to fill that vacuum and, and probably will never give it up again to the extent that it has before 00:39:00and-

BREAUX: Okay. I want again thank you for-


BREAUX: taking the time to come in and-

HUDDLESTON: My pleasure.

BREAUX: talk to us.

HUDDLESTON: It's been a long time ago. A lot of new happened since then (laughs), a lot of things.

BREAUX: Thanks a lot.

HUDDLESTON: Thank you, Dave.

[End of interview]