Interview with Edward "Ned" T. Breathitt, Jr., February 5, 1996

Louie B. Nunn Center for Oral History, University of Kentucky Libraries
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BREATHITT: --a little different from me, plus I grew up in the Depression years. My father's company went out of business 'cause it bought tobacco for the Italian government, and the--Mussolini nationalized. So they didn't buy any more tobacco from 'em, and he raised his own tobacco and--and--and bought it from Turkey and Sardinia. And so my father came home and I recall when I came home from the first grade, I looked--he was looking in the closet and he was crying, and just checking to see if he had enough warm clothes for a family, his wife and me and his--And we lived in a modest home in Hopkinsville. His father was a lawyer, and his brother was a lawyer, and people couldn't pay their legal bills. It's hard to believe that 00:01:00during those times they'd bring in--

BIRDWHISTELL: ----------(??)

BREATHITT: --food. They would bring in a ham or the--if it was a big case, or bring in a chicken or eggs, or--or a gallon of milk. They would--they would bring those sort of things in to pay, or just wouldn't pay. But my mother who had--who was well educated, she had gone to Brenau for four years, and had studied creative writing, and was a English major. And then her mother, who'd grown up on a farm--my mother did, had seen to it that she was educated. Sent her to Hopkinsville. Stayed with the Latin teacher for twelve years. Lived with 'em, then would go home on the weekends on the Illinois Central to Cerulean Springs. Her mother determined that--that she was not gonna just be a person with limited horizons. I--of course, really 00:02:00appre- --She also--My mother went to a school in--in Washington that only spoke French, called Morette. And--and they only--they could only speak French at the--I mean English in their rooms. They had to speak French at the dining room table and in class. So she was there for a year. So my mother, during the Depression, had an outlet, she gave book reports over the radio. And she was in the Philomathean Society, which was a book club and literary club. And they would give, you know, book reports and discuss them. And so she started me reading. And then we had a little library, and then she'd get books from the 00:03:00Carnegie Library at home for me. And--and she saw to it that I had an opportunity to read. And the thing that really interested me were histories. That was something that really fascinated me. And--and histories of figures. I remember my--I--Charlemagne interested me greatly and--and then my Scottish forbearers from my family. My mother was a Wallace, so she got me books on William Wallace, who was drawn and quartered when the English finally got him. And Robert Bruce and others. I studied the Scottish heroes and I liked them. And then I--of course, I liked James Fenimore Cooper and his stories. And--and then I had--for light reading I'd read Tom Swift and just boys' books. And--But I just would get into the library and read a lot of history 00:04:00books. And--and--and that was true when I was in the third and fourth grade, I would read 'em. Th- --and there were a lot of books, you know, about Daniel Boone, and--and James Fenimore Cooper, and other books that were easy to read but had a historical background to them that I read more in early years. Then when I got further along in high school I read more serious books. Plus I had a wonderful English teacher. She started me in oratorical declamation. So as a single child, I got a lot of attention from my parents. Now, my father's attention was different. He took me bird hunting every Saturday. He had dogs out at the tobacco factory after he got his regular job, and this was in the middle thirties and late thirties. And we went bird 00:05:00hunting every Saturday, and then in the summer time they didn't have anything to do in the tobacco factory except get a shipment out once a month, we rented a little cottage down at the water company lake, lived down there, my father raised a garden, and we went fishing every day. So I spent a lot of time with him, and he did not like politics and constantly talked to me about the problems of it. He saw it break his brother's heart when he ran for governor and lost at the last convention at the Woodland Auditorium when he ran--when Ruby Laffoon and Happy Chandler teamed up and beat him. And he saw his father's quest in politics, which was a financial burden on his family, 'cause he sold his practice when he was elected Attorney General, went to Frankfort, and then came back and had to start over. Always wanted to be a--a federal judge, but it never worked out, and--Well, my father 00:06:00says, don't fool with politics, son. It's (Laugh--Birdwhistell)--it- -it'll break your heart. Well, I did fool with it; it didn't break my heart (Laugh). But--So I guess what you have to say, being an only child and during the Depression time, the Depression really in a sense was good for me. I didn't have the distractions that young people have today, television and cars. We didn't even own a car. And my father walked to the tobacco factory. I walked to school, never thought anything about it. I mean, I got a bicycle, and that was a big deal. And I rode my bicycle everywhere. And--But school, and the library and my mother's direction helped me greatly, because she knew what 00:07:00her mother ha- --influence had been on her for an education. And so my mother really stressed reading and an education. And--and then when I'd read a book, we'd discuss it. And you know, that--like give a little oral book report, except it was informal. And--Now we had plenty to eat. My mother was a marvelous cook, but it--it w- --it was simple food, but we had plenty to eat. And I never s- --felt any being deprived at all as a child. We had good medical care. Dr. Bell lived right up the street from us. Dr. Bell would come down if you had anything. But we wouldn't call the doctor unless we were really sick. People didn't do that in those days.

BIRDWHISTELL: I suppose with being an only child it was--the 00:08:00expectations then were all on you. That--that's part of where that--


BIRDWHISTELL: --only child--


BIRDWHISTELL: --business(??) comes. The other thing about being an only child is I don't think that people think this as much today because there's more--there sm- --there are smaller families, but the issue of being able to--to get along and n- --you know, negotiate with others and--and--and get things worked out among your friends, and obviously you were successful in that as a--as a politician, and as a attorney, as a legislator. Where do you think you developed those skills as an only child?

BREATHITT: I think first of all, my mother saw to it that I got into the Cub Scouts, which was a group experience. And then I became a Cub Scout leader. And that was--was a experience. And I--then Boy Scouts. I became an Eagle Scout, and I was a counselor at camp, and 00:09:00I was a life guard at the Boy Scout camp, and I think that--that was an experience. And then when I got to high school, I got active as a debater on the debating team. I got active in oratorical declamation and had the influence of Miss Florence Krauter(??), who is Bob Babbage's grand- --great aunt. And--and-- But being active in extracurricular stuff in high school I think really did it. I was very active there in organizations, was class president. And I wasn't on the paper or the- -or the annual staff, but I was active in that way. And I think that 00:10:00probably was as much a--a training ground. But I'd say Scouting and extracurricular activities in school were the main things that helped me because I loved going to Scout camp. I went to Scout camps right on up--I was a counselor my first year, summer in college. I came back as a senior counselor at the Scout camp. And after--after I went in the service, I--that was as big a camping as I wanted (Laugh).

BIRDWHISTELL: That took all the fun out of scouting (Laugh).

BREATHITT: Yeah, that's right. That's right.

KLOTTER: Well, you've been talking about your family situation. During the Combs Administration, what was his family situation in Frankfort at the time, his marriage, and children, and so forth?

BREATHITT: Well, of course, he had a very bright and attractive daughter that he loved, Lois, who's--later headed the Prichard Committee and now 00:11:00heads the Hindman School, which is a school for dyslectics, which he founded, because her children were dyslectic and they had no school for 'em up the mountains then--where she was.

BIRDWHISTELL: I didn't know that.

BREATHITT: And so she's founded it. And teaches there, and helps run it, and raises the money for it, and children are doing extremely well. Her boys are just fine. And--and then she had a--a brother who was retarded, Tommy. And Combs devoted a great deal of time to both children. And he--w- --wherever he went, he'd take Tommy with him and--and Tommy lived at the mansion with he and Mabel. I thin- --Mabel didn't like politics, and didn't like the public life, and the demands on a person in public life, which she was a very sweet lady. And I liked her very much. She was from a great mountain family and had a 00:12:00lot of--of kinfolks and a lot of influence in Knott County and--and throughout that part of the--of Eastern Kentucky. So, Bert I think is a--was a better father than he was a husband, because he went off on his trail and Mabel retreated to saying, "I've got to take care of T- --Tommy and Lois." And that was her way to avoid having to participate fully in politics.

BIRDWHISTELL: Things have changed so much in thirty to forty years in terms of how families deal with children with disabilities and so you're--you're saying that Governor Combs handled that extremely well 00:13:00for that period of--of time.

BREATHITT: Never any sense of embarrassment or never any sense of--of trying to keep Tommy out of the way. He'd have a dinner party, and Tommy'd come in. He'd introduce him and they'd--he'd kid with Tommy. And, you know, he just--Tommy was a part of the family in the front row. And he never had that problem. And then he would have tales about Tommy. And he would tell 'em, you know. And then when he left the governor's office, where he had a lot of help, he--he enrolled Tommy at the Stewart Home, for years. And then Tommy--Mabel's sister, Hazel, Bert subsidized her an- --and she took care of Tommy. Still is taking care of Tommy.

BIRDWHISTELL: She lives here in Lexington, doesn't she(??)?

BREATHITT: Uh-huh. Yes. Hazel Savage was--and Mabel Savage, and Hazel Savage, yes. And--and Bert worked hard to set up a trust-fund so 00:14:00that Tommy would be cared for all his life. And the other thing I've noticed is how devoted Lois is to Tommy, and the time she spends with Tommy. She'll take him to a basketball game at U.K. with her two trustee seats. Quite often she'll take Tommy.

BIRDWHISTELL: Is that right?

BREATHITT: And she--she says Tommy's taught her lot. And it's interesting how mountain people deal with children who are handicapped mentally or in some way or--but--but I think Bert never really had a--a fulfilled marriage until he married Sara 'cause she was his intellectual equal. And--and they had stimulating conversations and she was a very active person. And Bert kind of needed a keeper, and she--(Laugh)--she 00:15:00looked after him. And he was very happy those years with Sara. And I don't think in his previous two marriages, they worked out. If Bert had remained in Prestonsburg practicing m- --law there, I think he and Mabel would have made it fine. But she--she just wasn't e- --didn't like and didn't really participate in the--in the campaigns except when she had to, or in being a positive force like Libby Jones was.

BIRDWHISTELL: Was Tommy's disability ever--Did you know what the diagnosis was on that?

BREATHITT: He--he--he just retarded.

BIRDWHISTELL: Just retarded?

BREATHITT: Yes, uh-huh. And I don't know the specific diagnosis, but he was retarded. Now he knows people, you know, and he--he's a functional person. He dresses himself, he goes to the bathroom himself, and he'll--he'll carry on a conversa- --He really is--is appealing in a lot 00:16:00of ways, like so many retarded children or--they get to--get to you. And parents sometimes are more devoted to retarded children that-- that--mainly because they have to devote so much time to--


BREATHITT: --them.

BIRDWHISTELL: That's right.


BIRDWHISTELL: Did--did his son's disability have an impact on policy decisions that he made as governor(??)?

BREATHITT: Oh, yes. He was strong for mental health. And he was strong to try to improve the lot of the retarded people. And--although the greatest contribution that was made was Governor Nunn, when he built that wonderful facility down at Somerset. But Bert worked hard to improve the conditions. And he was shocked when he went up to the Kentucky Training Home in Frankfort, at--at the condition of the retarded children and greatly improved it, and urged me to go up 00:17:00there, took me up there to see it when I was gonna run for governor. So I--he knew that I knew what the conditions were, and it shocked me. I--I had been on the governor's Mental Health Board--Commission when I was in the legislature, and that, of course, was a big issue in those days. And-- But I had never been to the training home. I guess people sort of shied away from it, and--but anybody in a--with a public responsibility sure needed to go.

BIRDWHISTELL: Nothing like--


BIRDWHISTELL: --a first hand look.

BREATHITT: Oh, boy. And it made such a impression on you. And I think it's one of the finest things, other than--than--that Governor Nunn did other than his increasing the sales tax to five cents to fund education. They were the two things that I think stand out in his administration.


KLOTTER: We talked last time, I think, about the relationship between Governor Combs and John Ed Pearce. What was it about them that caused that friendship to develop?

BREATHITT: They both had a sense of humor. They were both from the mountains. John Ed's family were from the mountains of Virginia and then moved to Pineville. Bert was from Clay County. I think first of all Bert constantly worked at having a good relationship with editorial boards of newspapers (Laugh--Birdwhistell). Instead of taking the adversarial role of Wilkinson and Jones, he worked hard at cultivating 'em. He had the support of the "Courier-Journal" when he ran, because they had not backed Governor Chandler in his last two campaigns, although they backed him the first time, you remember(??), against Tom Rhea.


BREATHITT: And h- --But it developed into a great friendship. An- --and 00:19:00Combs was useful to John Ed, John Ed was useful to Combs as sources. And then when Combs wanted to get something out--And John Ed wrote his speeches, his addresses to the legislature, and his--his, you know, speeches for state occasions. Although Combs is a--you know, a good legal scholar. But John Ed had a flair and--but they had an intellectual communication that Combs found stimulating. And--and then they loved to be with each other. I mean, they would just enjoy each other's company. In the last years of Combs' life, when he was up at Fern Hill, Pearce would spend the weekends with him. And he was--When Barry Bingham died, he was Pearce's daddy and mentor. He shifted to 00:20:00Combs. And--although it w- --he--he was--had that great relationship always with him. In fact, it got him in trouble--got Pearce in trouble because the Binghams di- --wanted an arm's length relationship with people on the editorial board. Which ultimately resulted in his being made a columnist rather than an edi- --editorial writer, because they said he would write Combs' speech and then--Happy said he'd write Combs' speech to the legislature and then critique it in the editorial (Laugh).

KLOTTER: There's a saying that Kentucky has always been too proud to whitewash and too poor to paint. Do you know who coined that phrase?


KLOTTER: Would you know if John Ed was involved in that or if that was an earlier one or--

BREATHITT: I don't know. I've heard Happy use it, but I don't know who coined it.


BREATHITT: I've heard it all my life.

BIRDWHISTELL: In--in one of the biographical essays on--on Governor 00:21:00Combs, the historian uses that, and I didn't know if that was connected with Governor Combs or--

BREATHITT: No, he used it. I've heard--Happy used it, Combs used it--I don't know the--where it came from.

BIRDWHISTELL: Yeah. It would be kind of interesting to trace that one--

BREATHITT: Yeah, sure would.

BIRDWHISTELL: --Figure it out(??) sometime. You know, you were talking about Governor Combs and mental health, and we talked or will talk about some of the other initiatives that he did as governor. And a--a historian in writing about him said he had an innate progressivism. W- --would you agree with that? And--


BIRDWHISTELL: --and if so where do you think--where does that come from and--

BREATHITT: From the Depression and the New Deal and Roosevelt--


BREATHITT: --giving hope to the people. I think that he was a great part of that. Plus his mother was a school teacher in the mountains 00:22:00and he knew that Eastern Kentucky and rural Kentuckians needed so much help to--to make it in this world, and he saw that government was the only way that they were gonna really get it. They had to have education, they had to have roads, they had to have good water systems, and they had to have good hospitals. And all of those things in rural Kentucky, and particularly in mountainous Kentucky, could not be furnished by the private initiative and--and so he felt that government had a major role to play. And that--that did it. But I think that his progressivism really was honed during the years of Roosevelt.

BIRDWHISTELL: So it's a learned progressivism.


BREATHITT: Oh, yeah.

BIRDWHISTELL: And that's in- --


BIRDWHISTELL: And what's so interesting about it, and I think we've touched upon that in these interviews--


BIRDWHISTELL: --before, you know, your--your father had economic hard times, Wendell Ford's father had economic hard times, John Sherman Cooper ran the county judge's office during the Depression, Earle Clements had been down that road, Bert Combs sees--


BIRDWHISTELL: --the problems in the mountains, and you-all all learned this first hand. And yet in today's politics we kept thinking that these baby-boomers, these liberals of the--who--who grew up in this kind of liberal politics were gonna extend this, but yet it's the--it's sort of the conservatives who have no personal encounter with economic failure and hard times, that have taken the--taken the lead in trying to cut back on government--

BREATHITT: Yeah, but--

BIRDWHISTELL: --programs(??).

BREATHITT: --the liberal issues are so different now. It's gay rights; it's choice; it's--it was Vietnam War. It was civil rights. They're-- they're--they're totally different kinds of issues. Our's were survival.



KLOTTER: Economics.

BREATHITT: Economics. It was based on economics and--and having an opportunity in life, which was not contrary to the old work ethic.


BREATHITT: But we just felt that--that people that would work--(Laugh- -Birdwhistell)--need some help because if th- --if they didn't have any work, they couldn't work.

BIRDWHISTELL: And they need education.

BREATHITT: And they have--had to have education, they had to have good health.


BREATHITT: And they had to have good roads, and they had to have airports, and they had to have vocational schools. And--and--and he was that way. Now, he was also--and I was. Both of us read a lot. And that study of early leaders--I'm--Andrew Jackson was a--was an interesting figure to me because my family'd been allied with him, and 00:25:00so I was interested in knowing more about him. And you know he was-- had both pluses and minuses (Laugh). But he was a very strong figure.


BREATHITT: And Henry Clay was the aristocrat, and Jackson was a soldier and a populist, really, in many ways.

BIRDWHISTELL: That's right(??).

BREATHITT: And so they were different, so different. But I think that politicians who have grown up without having it made too easy for them have a different perspective. I mean, if you've been comfortable all your life and never been really denied anything all your life, it's hard for you to realize that there are a whole lot of people out there, even today in different sort of circumstances, are denied opportunity. And--but I think that the liberals, by latching onto these other 00:26:00issues which are very controversial, have driven an awful lot of people out of liberalism and out of the Democratic Party which embraced liberalism. And it think it's been a--a reason for the counter movement within the Democratic Party. The Democratic Party is so split now between the--the Democratic Leadership Council and the people that are--that are--now the term is "blue-dog Democrats".

BIRDWHISTELL: That's right(??). That's right.

BREATHITT: It's a different--


BREATHITT: --sort of situation. I don't know how--who will prevail or what history will show, but for the time being the only Democrats that seem to be surviving, except in--in inner-city politics or--or in Massachusetts or around--

KLOTTER: Yeah. Yeah(??).

BREATHITT: --educational instit- --the liberal educational institutions,--


BREATHITT: --they're the only places that nurture present l- --day 00:27:00liberalism.

BIRDWHISTELL: Well, Paul Patton's trying to get back to old-time progressivism, isn't he, with--


BIRDWHISTELL: --with education and changing the(??)--

BREATHITT: Paul Patton is a--

BIRDWHISTELL: ------------(??)?

BREATHITT: --Paul Patton really--And he had hard times.


BREATHITT: He had hard times. And he grew up in an area--And what--But he had help. And he saw what help give him. So--through education. He--he graduated from the University of Kentucky in--in engineering. He had a father-in-law who staked him the first time, gave him a chance, but he was smart enough that he took it on his own and did well with it. And I think that helped him. I think that helped him. And one reason many of us underrated him, as--as far as his chances. And then the way he's governing is so different from any Democrat that I have seen, really. Wallace Wilkinson to some degree, but--followed 00:28:00that tact, but--

BIRDWHISTELL: In looking at the program that Combs put in place, and just for the time being, we--we can link his program and--and--and your program, too, in terms of this progressive--the progressive movement that you all brought to the--to the table. When you look at Kentucky's problems in the late fifties and early sixties--and I just read Jim's manuscript, you know, where he's talking about Kentucky in the twentieth century, and the--the--sort of the false starts, and the wrong paths, and the--the--the failures. Did you all as governor and policy makers see the problems that Kentucky faced at mid-century as a failure of policy, or was there something else going on in Kentucky? Was it government failed, had the people failed, or was it a--a--a kind of a composite of--of problems that you all had to bring government to--to bear on?


BREATHITT: Well, I think both of us felt--And Combs, I think--and this was the central part of his--his whole public career, felt that the real basis for moving this state ahead was education. And I think that came from his mountain school teacher, plus what education did for him.


BREATHITT: Got him right out of Clay County, let him go to the heights of the court system, and--and then to be governor, and really concentrated on it, and he wanted--he was such a firm believer in public education as the only way that it would reach the people. And he knew that the rich and well-born didn't have a problem, 'cause they could go to private schools. So he was such a firm believer in that. And then he wanted to see that it was adequately funded. And he figured out a way to pass the sales tax to fund it. And--and that was 00:30:00very central--I think was the thing that all through his life, and--and up to the date of his death,--

BIRDWHISTELL: That's right.

BREATHITT: --he was working on Kentucky Education Reform Act. He was the lawyer that represented the people. Had two lawyers right here in this office where I'm doing this tape were--participated in that with him and I think that was fundamental. Now, he was also for beautification. He did not go strong for strip mine regulation. He--he improved it, but it was a modest improvement because he wanted to go in that direction, plus the Binghams were--were putting the heat on him all the time--(Laugh--Birdwhistell)--, and John Ed. And--But he felt, as a product of the mountains, that the coal industry still was very vital to the mountains and--and he didn't want to do anything that, one, undercut that political base he had, or would hurt the coal 00:31:00industry in a competitive standpoint. And he'd been a lawyer that represented a lot of those interests up in the mountains.

BIRDWHISTELL: That's right.

[End of Tape #1, Side #1]

[Begin Tape #1, Side #2]

[Side #2 begins with portions of a radio program not erased from tape and a partial repeat of Side #1]

BIRDWHISTELL: I was--just want to pursue this a little bit more, like--So--so Governor Combs saw education, he saw some aspects of the environment, and you--you saw those issues, too, but what--In terms of looking at Kentucky in the twentieth century do you--was it a failure of the public education system or was there--that--that caused Kentucky's dismal rankings in so many areas?

BREATHITT: Well, I think also the politicians were captives of the coal industry, they're captives of the railroads,--

BIRDWHISTELL: Special interests.

BREATHITT: --captives of the special interests, the utilities. They were the three big special interests in the state. And were a captive of theirs. And--and then we went through the '20s where there was a 00:32:00general conservatism in the country. And the Republican Party, which in many ways was the progressive party, was not in power in Kentucky, because they were for civil rights, they were for empowering the blacks, and--and the Democrats-- as Combs often said, we fought on both sides during the Civil War and then joined the losers after the war (Laugh). And i- --a c- --the Confederate veterans and those that professed their loyalty to the Confederacy, did pretty well politically in many areas. Whereas during the war the Union forces were very strong, except in southeast Kentucky which remained pretty strong Republican and Unionist. But Combs--Combs saw that--the failure of progressive government. Now, we had some glimmers of progressive government. 00:33:00Chandler came in and--and Dr. James Martin from the University of Kentucky brought in a group of trained public administrators and i- --that period greatly improved the ability of state government to deliver services to the people, but they didn't have enough money to do much. Plus, he had made a big issue out of repealing the sales tax, so he was hampered financially. And then following Chandler we had--Clements, of course, was a very strong governor and he did a lot of things. He stuck--He--he saw the importance of building a tourist industry and--with a state park system. He started it and got Henry Ward. And then he w- --he really worked hard to get the farmers out of the mud, to get rural roads. They were mainly gravel roads, but 00:34:00get 'em real graded good rural roads and rural bridges, and growing out of his experience as a county judge, the problem of the farmer getting their stuff to market. And he worked on that, plus he instituted the strong program to build airports, little--little airports all over the state of Kentucky. And then he passed that two percent gas tax which funded the rural road program. And of course Clements, I think a- --made a very pragmatic decision when he was not gonna spend a lot of money on--on professional education at Kentucky State University. He saw to it that they opened up the University of Kentucky against Judge Stoll and the board that opposed it. And he--he just forced 'em--


BREATHITT: --to--to pr- --provide a graduate program from education. And then following him, you really had a basic urban social liberal 00:35:00in--in Lawrence Wetherby. That's when we made our first major push forward in mental health, and child welfare,--

KLOTTER: ----------(??).

BREATHITT: --those social agencies. And he had been a juvenile court judge and he understood the problems, particularly in the cities. And then the Binghams were red-hot on this, and there was a group in Louisville that were big supporters of his, like Dr. Arthur Kasey, and Spafford A- --Ackerley, and Cornelia Serpell(??) and all those people that he worked closely with, and that was an area of interest. Of course, he did some structural improvement in education through the foundation program for education and that referendum that made that possible he supported. And-- but we really were hampered by a lack of 00:36:00money to really extend it beyond that and particularly to really fund education adequately. We didn't fund the foundation program, we just put it in place.

BIRDWHISTELL: Do you think that--when you look back on it, you and Governor Combs, young, progressive governors, you got the sales tax, you got money to--to initiate these programs, things were moving quickly. As you look back, are you--are you somewhat surprised that there's still so many problems that have to be faced? Did you all think you were going to solve more of the problems than you did? Or did you see it as just an on-going battle now that you're in a position to look back on this? I mean, did you have more optimism that there'd be less problems in the 1990s?

BREATHITT: Well, economically we--we were much more hopeful.


BREATHITT: It h- --We haven't had the big pay-off in jobs in rural Kentucky or particularly in eastern Kentucky.

BIRDWHISTELL: That's where--


BREATHITT: Used to be the Winchester Wall and now it's the Mount Sterling--(Laugh--Birdwhistell)--Wall.

BIRDWHISTELL: You put your--

BREATHITT: Mount Sterling--(Laugh--Birdwhistell)--Of course, they got in under this program,--


BREATHITT: --this creative program,--

KLOTTER: --they did.

BREATHITT: --and they're right on I-64, and it's--it's out of bluegrass and it's--(Laugh--Birdwhistell)--it is--They've had outstanding leadership there in that community. And it is the most booming per-- community per capita in the state right now, in 1996. I think that we have never-- We have failed in eastern Kentucky to provide the real opportunities for economic growth that North Carolina has done in their mountains.


BREATHITT: Just--just across the line. As Terry Sanford said to me, "We're lucky we didn't have coal. We had to develop other things." (Laugh--Birdwhistell) And coal was not a dominant economic force. And we didn't have the union organizing wars in--that the UMW and--and 00:38:00the ma- --the mine owners had, like the battle at Black Mountain. And maybe to a degree that's true. But it's--We didn't--We di- --We have failed to this day in really providing adequate job opportunities with- -within the mountains. There's a lot of service jobs up there. Now, we've made tremendous progress when we look back on what I saw when I first started in the legislature. We've got community colleges, we've got good health programs, we've got libraries,--


BREATHITT: --roads, parks, vocational schools, airports. It's a much cleaner area. The environmental damage has been lessened by--And we're 00:39:00not dumping everything down the sides of the hillsides like we used, and there not a lot of old cars on the side of the road. Combs worked hard on beautification. He made 'em screen junk yards and haul off those old junked cars and things like that. He--he wanted to--so that the impression of people going to the mountains was good and not bad. And insta- --and install a sense of pride in it--in the people.

BIRDWHISTELL: So it's--so the(??)--the--the Appalachian area that really has been the hardest nut to crack, isn't it?

BREATHITT: That's right.

BIRDWHISTELL: And we haven't got there yet (Laugh).

BREATHITT: No. And it's recognized but--by Governor Jones when he appointed the task force and now has the Kentucky Appalachian Commission.

BIRDWHISTELL: That's right.

BREATHITT: And has appointed people that are really interested in that and I hope that will continue to have impact. And--and eastern 00:40:00Kentucky educational institutions are forming the institute for that along with the University of Kentucky. And I'm very hopeful that--that we'll be able to move ahead.

BIRDWHISTELL: But part of--part of public policy and--and government is the continual battle against these problems. You know, it's like internationally we thought if we'd just get rid of the Cold War everything would be fine, and--(Laugh)--sure enough there's--there's plenty of problems to go around still. (Laugh)

BREATHITT: That's right. Well, the Cold War was in some--one sense a unifying factor.

KLOTTER: That's right. Yeah.

BIRDWHISTELL: Yeah. (Laugh--Breathitt) So these problems that we face in Kentucky a- --when you're in a--a position as governor, your--your charge is to push it down the road as far as you can while you c- --while you can understanding that there's always going to be future issues of course(??).

BREATHITT: Well, and there are new problems. For example, one of the big problems now is a very old problem and that's what are we gonna do with our timber resources?


BREATHITT: Are we just gonna be a third world country that cuts our 00:41:00trees and--and sells 'em for a pittance and let's the other people take 'em and--and process them into very valuable products?

KLOTTER: Right. ----------(??).

BREATHITT: And shipping 'em to--to the Far East. That's a big issue now. The environmentalists brought it to the forefront, because they want to keep the trees there for environmental reasons. But it also is an economic challenge.

KLOTTER: Oh, yeah.

BREATHITT: It is a resource--If it is a resource, let's maximize that resource in eastern Kentucky with woodworking industries like Truss Joyce McMillian(??) is one. Now they don't get it to the final product--

KLOTTER: Right, it's--

BREATHITT: --but they--tha- --but the- --they do take the wood and process the wood, and it furnishes jobs. But there are not many jobs to a logger. And when he cuts his trees, then he's out of business 00:42:00when the--(Laugh--Birdwhistell)--trees are gone. And--and the person who sells their trees, it's two generations before you've got any hardwoods worthy of harvesting.

BIRDWHISTELL: That's right.

KLOTTER: It's a renewable resource, but it takes long time to renew it and Kentucky sold itself out in about 1920s and it's just now starting to get back into that(??)--

BREATHITT: That's correct. Plus--plus with the--the environmental problems of the timber industry in the Northwest, they're looking other places now to make up--where--where they can get some wood. And so they'll clean us out in a very short time, if we don't make full use of it. I'm for using those resources, but I'm for using 'em in a way that provides long term jobs in Kentucky and--and builds an industry in Kentucky.

KLOTTER: Secondary support, yeah(??).

BREATHITT: That's right.


BREATHITT: Now, that's a challenge that--th- --that this governor--who might be there eight years--and this legislature, and this state has to 00:43:00face that I never faced. I mean, that wasn't the issue. I think that coal and environmental issue is pretty well--it--under control.

BIRDWHISTELL: Well, you had plenty of issues. (Laugh)

BREATHITT: Oh, I had plenty of issues, I sure did. I had some--

BIRDWHISTELL: You had a plateful.

BREATHITT: Oh, I sure did.

BIRDWHISTELL: And we'll get to those, too.

KLOTTER: Back to some of the specific things in the Comb Administration, one of the--one of the issues that--was the Frank Peterson question here at the--at UK and his Chandler connections. What--what--what occurred in that?

BREATHITT: Well of course, I didn't know much about it. That happened during the latter part of the Combs administration. Of course, he was such a close friend of Governor Chandler's, had been in the Chandler administration. Governor Chandler had been instrumental in getting him his position at the University of Kentucky and he became a very strong figure at the University of Kentucky. And I'm sure that played 00:44:00a part in Governor Combs' attitude, because Combs did not have strong- -(Laugh)--sup- --didn't have any support from Frank Peterson when he ran for governor. (Laugh--Birdwhistell)

BIRDWHISTELL: ----------(??)

BREATHITT: And then--and then--And secondly, when he ha- --he was such a dominant force. He was a part of the local oligarchy in--in Lexington that ran things, or Fred Wachs with the paper, and Ed Dabney with the bank, Frank Peterson with the University of Kentucky. He was really in a sense more powerful and could get things done that suited the--the-- the controlling leadership of this community than the president. And so Combs was strong for changing leadership at the University of Kentucky, 00:45:00the president of the university and Peterson. And then when they got Oswald, who was a--certainly a force for change. Oswald wanted Peterson out because he was entrenched and he had all these deans, and all these chairmen, and all these people obligated to him. A number of them who were, I think, very fine, because I went to school with 'em, like Dean Carpenter(??) in the commerce college in those days, and Tom Clark, and--and so Combs--

KLOTTER: Lyman Ginger.


BREATHITT: Lyman Ginger. There were a whole bunch of 'em. And then--But they then did an investigation of Peterson and they found that because of his very strong power, that he was buying land that Peterson, I--I'm sure in his--his supporters say was in the interest 00:46:00of the university, although he made some profit on some of 'em, that he got it awful cheap and preserved it for the university, and it would have cost 'em more if hadn't. But the fact--mere fact that he made a profit on it set up a conflict of interest situation that the press latched onto and Combs took(??) full advantage of that. And then when he--his vending machine business--

KLOTTER: ----------(??)

BREATHITT: --shutting other people out, which made him a lot of money. Peterson benefited very much from that. But you get a lot of people that are--that were department chairs and deans that to this day felt that he was treated shabbily.

BIRDWHISTELL: It was actually before the Oswald years. I think this happened during the Dickey administration, because Oswald comes in--in '63 and this would have been at the end of--

BREATHITT: No, Osw- --Yeah, Oswald call in--came in '63, but it may have 00:47:00been at the last of the Dickey a- --

BIRDWHISTELL: I think it--

BREATHITT: Maybe it was, because it was just before I--


BREATHITT: --I got into office. He was gone. I remember it, because Clifford Smith was on the board and Clifford Smith--


BREATHITT: --Sam Ezelle. Clifford Smith, you see, had been a big Chandler man. But Clifford didn't come out for me until the summer of '62, so it was in the fall of '62 that this happened,--


BREATHITT: --and early '63 during the race. Well, I was not about to jump in the middle of a controversy and (Laugh--Birdwhistell)--and particularly I was such a devoted admirer of Dean Carpenter and Tom Clark. And of course when Oswald came in, then Oswald put in this rotation system and rotated 'em all out. Well, you know, I'm sure there was some needed rotating out, but then when you get a man like Tom Clark and, you know, that--that really stirred an awful lot of 00:48:00reaction among the people that thought of--the world of Tom Clark on that campus. He was one of our stars, still is. And--but--

BIRDWHISTELL: But Governor, if--if--if Frank Peterson's own(??) -------- --(??) none of this happened, right? I mean, he didn't--they--they never really proved in court anything that was--I mean, or--or criminal. It was just a--

BREATHITT: It was a conflict of interest.

BIRDWHISTELL: It was a conflict of interest,--

BREATHITT: But it was not a criminal indictable offense.

BIRDWHISTELL: Right. And it was the--You know, you--In the context of the times, it was not an out--it wasn't anything outrageous in the context. It was just, if you want to get somebody, he was in far enough to be gotten, right(??)?

BREATHITT: Yeah, I think that's probably accurate.

KLOTTER: He knew it was political.

BREATHITT: Oh yeah, he knew it was political. And now, you couldn't get away with what Peterson did today.


BIRDWHISTELL: Oh no. No,--(Laugh)--

BREATHITT: All ri- --That's(??)--

BIRDWHISTELL: --you couldn't even get into it today (Laughs).

BREATHITT: --right. Because the press would eat you up. But they ate him up, too,--



BREATHITT: --at that time.

BIRDWHISTELL: UK can hardly buy the land when the library owns there(??)--


BIRDWHISTELL: --(Laugh)-- ----------(??).

BREATHITT: --right. That's right. That's right, but--

BIRDWHISTELL: And Frank Peterson bought some of that land.

BREATHITT: Oh yeah, he sure did.

BIRDWHISTELL: That's what's--

BREATHITT: That's right. No. And--and Frank, you know, lived until his death just the other day with many people still feeling very grateful t- --for his leadership at--at the University of Kentucky. And--and Happy Chandler revered him to the days of Happy's death, and--

BIRDWHISTELL: I--I guess--You know, when I interviewed Frank Peterson about twenty years ago, and--


BIRDWHISTELL: --we went through this blow-by-blow and--and, you know, he brought out(??) the materials for his defense and he was very concerned about, you know, his reputation. And I guess the--You know, the 00:50:00interesting thing to me always was that, you know, Combs' involvement in this--I mean, Combs had, you know, a progressive, good governor type but when--when he had to, he could play hardball just like--


BIRDWHISTELL: --anyone else(??)

BREATHITT: --he was--

BIRDWHISTELL: And if they wanted to get Frank Peterson, they could do it. But(??)--

BREATHITT: Well, a governor can do it.


BREATHITT: And, of course, he was chairman of the board at that time.

BIRDWHISTELL: That's--(Laugh)--right.

BREATHITT: By--by law, he was chairman of the board.


BREATHITT: And appointed all the other board members. (Laugh- -Birdwhistell)

KLOTTER: That's right(??).

BREATHITT: And Peterson served at the pleasure of the board. So he was gone once Combs said--(Laugh--Birdwhistell)--


BREATHITT: --"He's gone." But Combs didn't want to just fire him, get him fired.



BREATHITT: He wanted to have a--a justification for firing him, which stood up with the media. The media all supported it.


BREATHITT: And--Which stood up with the anti-Peterson peop- --On every campus, you know, there are the--the people that have done well and the chair defend the administration (Laugh). And those that thought 00:51:00they should have gotten it or are disgruntled, they like it. And--and of course Oswald came in. He had a--a bunch in the faculty that loved him, but anybody that was in a position of authority, they hated his guts. (Laugh) I mean, that just happened.

KLOTTER: That's right. Yeah.

BREATHITT: And--Now, history says he was great for the university. He probably was, except I'll never forgive him for what he did to Tom Clark and Dean Carpenter and--and--and people like that.

BIRDWHISTELL: You know, I interviewed him and he said--


BIRDWHISTELL: That's right. And he said that--I asked him, I--I think I asked it this way(??), I said, "If you could do one thing differently as president, what would it be?" And he said, "I wouldn't rotate Tom Clark." (Laughs)

BREATHITT: That hurt him more than anything. And Carpenter hurt him, too.

BIRDWHISTELL: And Lyman Ginger hurt him, too.

BREATHITT: And Lyman Ginger hurt him,--



BIRDWHISTELL: --Ginger may have hurt him more politically--


BIRDWHISTELL: --than(??) ----------(??)--

BREATHITT: Oh yeah, because he had such strength all out--


BREATHITT: --with the school people,--




BREATHITT: --K through 12.


BREATHITT: And partic- --oh, yeah, and a- --head of U. High.

BIRDWHISTELL: That's right.

BREATHITT: And of course when they dumped U. High--when was that done?

BIRDWHISTELL: It was like(??)--

BREATHITT: Wasn't that--

BIRDWHISTELL: --'65, '63.

BREATHITT: Yeah. Yeah. Yeah.

KLOTTER: I was(??) on campus then.

BREATHITT: Yeah, umhmm. Well,--

BIRDWHISTELL: Well and Lyman Ginger, I interviewed him and he was saying that first time he ever met Oswald, that they were coming through this line and Oswald said, "College of Education, we need to get rid of that." (Laugh) It didn't ha- --just--

KLOTTER: That's not even(??)--

BIRDWHISTELL: --his tact--his tact(??) (Laugh)--

BREATHITT: Yeah, uh-huh.

BIRDWHISTELL: Well any rate, that's--But that--that whole Peterson thing is--


BIRDWHISTELL: --fascinating, fascinating.

BREATHITT: It's a--it's a fascinating part, but it--it was basically political. Yes, I agree with that.

KLOTTER: Speaking of political things, what was the role of Bill May in the Combs' administration?

BREATHITT: Bill May and Combs were both from Floyd County. Bill May had backed Combs in '55 when Combs lost because of those ties, those Floyd 00:53:00County ties. Bill May, under Lawrence Wetherby, had been the favored engineer--consulting engineer and engineer in Kentucky on highway contracts. He--he did real well during that--under the Lawrence Wetherby administration.

BIRDWHISTELL: How did he get in that position? How did--

BREATHITT: Well, he was a--an engineer, although he didn't graduate, and he had been--totally unrelated to Kentucky business, Bill had a--that little horse farm over in Frankfort and Mr. Clint Murchison of the Texas Murchisons wanted some place to put his horses, his mares. And somebody suggested Bill May and of course Bill was smart enough to latch onto that. So Bill then got into a Tecon Construction Company, Texas Construction I think is what--and it was shorted to Tecon--and 00:54:00worked very closely with Mr. Clint Murchison in building dams and overseas things. It was a major construction thing. And--and of course--now of course they built some roads, too. And Bill saw the money that could be made in engineering and construction. And--But he saw that you didn't lose any money on engineering. You could lose your shirt in construction (Laugh--Birdwhistell). And so Bill May w- --with his mountain savvy and his great personality decided the way to go was in engineering. So under Lawrence Wetherby he established Brighton Engineering, and--and engineered a lot of roads and I think the Kentucky Turnpike, which is the first of our turnpikes. I think he--

KLOTTER: Right. Right. Yeah. Yeah(??).

BREATHITT: --engineered that if I remember correctly. And--and then through Lawrence Wetherby's contacts after he went out as governor, 00:55:00May hired him, and he went around to the governors that he knew to get him work.

BIRDWHISTELL: Wetherby went around.

BREATHITT: Wetherby did. And--and May had such a tremendous persona- --Plus, he was a great fund raiser. He would raise money from the other engineers and road contractors for a candidate of his choice, which gave him political power. Well, when Combs got into the three man race, nobody thought he could win against Waterfield. So the only person who could really raise any money was Bill May. And Bill May went out on a limb and raised him money because of his friendship and loyalty to Combs, which then made a bond that Combs never severed because he stuck his neck way out. And--and Louis Cox, and Bill May, and Bert Combs, and--and Louis' wife, and Bill May's wife, and Bert, 00:56:00and in the early days they tried to help Mabel, Betsy May and--and Louis' wife tried to help Mabel, you know, and would help her pick out her clothes for events and governor's conferences, and they socialized a lot. And Lawrence Wetherby and Helen. The--the--the four of them and their wives socialized a lot. And so it became a--a very close relationship, those four people. At that time I was just a--you know, a legislator and had served on--on the judicial council with Combs and knew him, but I was certainly not on that inner circle (Laugh-- Birdwhistell). And then when he ran after losing they were in Siberia for four years under Chandler--

KLOTTER: All --(??) yeah.

BREATHITT: --and all of 'em.


BIRDWHISTELL: Literally (Laugh).

BREATHITT: Yeah (Laugh).

BIRDWHISTELL: ----------(??) here ----------(??).

BREATHITT: Yeah. (Laughter) Yeah. And--But then they came back strong in that three man race and--and they worked very hard for him, those people, all of 'em did, except that--that Wetherby was for Wilson Wyatt, the old "Louisville Courier-Journal" ties. We- --We- --Wetherby was for Wilson Wyatt. Of course May was not unaware. He wasn't gonna be for Chandler, so he wasn't un- --unaware of the advantage of having--

BIRDWHISTELL: I was gonna say, that--

BREATHITT: --having one--

BIRDWHISTELL: --works pretty good for(??) ----------(??) (Laugh).

BREATHITT: --guy for Wyatt and he was for Combs.

KLOTTER: Yeah. That's ----------(??)--

BREATHITT: And--Which is an old political--(Laugh--Birdwhistell)-- Kentucky maneuver. And then after the merger, then they saw their real opportunities and they went all out. And May I--was the principle fund raiser for Combs in the three man race and the two man race, and--and then, after the primary, May, thinking Combs was gonna win, 00:58:00took a heck of a risk, started engineering the Mountain Parkway. If John Robison had won, he would have lost his shirt on the money that he spent on engineering the Mountain Parkway because they wanted it built during that administration. And they--they just of course used it politically, but it was also ingrained in them. They wanted to get a road to Lexington from Prestonsburg. And so he engineered it. And--and then in the last days of--of May's life, he built a little old bridge and built a little road went up to Combs' house and did some grading out there,--

BIRDWHISTELL: ----------(??).

BREATHITT: --for Combs out at Fern Hill. And he was a sick man, he had cancer but(??)--And I r- --And then--and then when Frank Metz(??) tried 00:59:00to get Bill May, the en- --

KLOTTER: Oh yeah, the ----------(??)--

BREATHITT: --secretary of transportation, he taped him.


BREATHITT: Combs was the lawyer that represented Bill May--

[End of Tape #1, Side #2]

[Begin Tape #2, Side #1]

BIRDWHISTELL: Let me follow up on the Bill May thing. We talked about Frank Peterson, how that's so different today than it was when Frank Peterson was doing that and put that in the context of Bill May. You know, Bill May was a friend of governors, a--a--a person who engineered some of the major projects in Kentucky, political operative of the--at the highest level, and then, you know, in the last stages of his life he's--you know, he's attacked as a--as a--what's wrong with Kentucky politics and, you know, the problems of influence and all of this. Is 01:00:00that just the times have changed so that a person like Bill May can't--


BIRDWHISTELL: --can't operate the same way?

BREATHITT: Well, what--Bill May--the reason why he was never indicted, he never did anything illegal, because the--the--the percent that you made as an engineer's the same. It's who gets it,--(Laugh-- Birdwhistell)--who gets the engineering work. And--and the architects of this state, the consulting end- --engineers of this state, the contractors that built government buildings and school buildings of this state, and the engineers who designed projects, all would pick a side and would make contributions in--in order to get favorable--That was a part of the patronage system of Kentucky.

BIRDWHISTELL: ----------(??)--

BREATHITT: It was hard to finance a campaign. And--and you see they 01:01:00didn't have to do competitive bids. Now, the road contractors had to do competitive bids. And--

BIRDWHISTELL: So when--so when Bill May did the engineering for the Mountain Parkway, that hadn't--that didn't--that wasn't competitive bidding?

BREATHITT: There is no com- --competitive bidding for engineering in--


BREATHITT: --Kentucky.

BIRDWHISTELL: I didn't know that.

BREATHITT: Uh-huh. No.

KLOTTER: There wasn't.

BREATHITT: No, there wasn't. I mean, i- --y- --there was a standard fee set by the professional engineering society and the state of Kentucky for architectural work, engineering work. Now construction work, where--which is so variable, was. And of course, we--the big issue today is the people that are eliminating competition, is the big issue there. But--but then, that then became a big issue and the press jumped on that and said that there ought to be some method where--it was a corrupting influence that they could finance these campaigns that 01:02:00way. And that's the way campaigns were financed, by a- --both parties and all sides. And--and if you lost, then--Louie Nunn made 'em pay double to get back in,--(Laugh--Klotter)--in the fall--(Laugh)--and-- (Laughter)--

BIRDWHISTELL: Double or nothing. (Laughter)

BREATHITT: That's right. That's right. And tha- --But--but in the whole reform effort of--

KLOTTER: The legislature(??)--

BREATHITT: --trying to keep the special interests from financing and getting into public financing, it--it didn't ap- --fect--I didn't--I didn't feel that that was the problem that public policy issues, that people that were trying to influence public policy, that affected people's lives ,would try to buy a position on public policy like strip mining control.

BIRDWHISTELL: Right. That's right.

BREATHITT: Or pollution of our waterways. Those sort of things I 01:03:00thought were--were really bad. And I didn't see that problem 'cause I didn't know how to finance a campaign for governor against Chandler when nobody thought I could win. And Bert Combs financed it for me. And--and when we had those two big fund raisers, the architects, and the engineers, and all these people, and the vendors. Now, the vendors wanted to get on a preferred list. There's--there's more criticism, I think justifiably, on vendors, because you could rig bids and you can rig specifications in favor of people. And that's--that's--that's clearly, I think, corrupt. But they sold those tickets. They--th- --they--they--And--and then the state employees, they'd shake down the state employees. (Laugh--Birdwhistell) State employees had so many 01:04:00tickets to buy. Well, we're seeing that now in the National Guard.

BIRDWHISTELL: That's right.


BREATHITT: When in the old days that was just the way they did business. (Laugh--Birdwhistell) And--but it's--it's a whole different climate today. Including the climate on architects and engineers and I really don't know the exact method that they have to try to--

KLOTTER: Remarket it(??).

BREATHITT: --clean that up. Yeah. That's--

BIRDWHISTELL: In fact(??)--

BREATHITT: --right.

BIRDWHISTELL: --I'm glad you mentioned the architects, because that's a--like Hugh(??)--Hugh Mer- --Meriwether would have been a Chandler architect, is that right?

BREATHITT: Umhmm. Yeah.

BIRDWHISTELL: And so that's a--that's a nice ending(??) to--to point out, too.

BREATHITT: He was the Chandler architect. And one of the problems about architects as opposed to engineers on--on sewer and water and road contracting, an architect--Where we had problem in Kentucky was they were copying and just adapting old plans--(Laugh--Birdwhistell)--to build buildings. And we had--I mean, the buildings were okay, but, 01:05:00you know, they didn't spend a whole lot of money on it. And that was one of the criticism about Hugh Meriwether, was that he built Happy Chandler's home over in Versailles, and--and--and that was a big issue. And then another fellow, wasn't it Collings that built the swimming pool? That was a big issue that--that was used in political campaigns against Chandler. In the '59 race, they were used in that, and it was used when Chandler and Brown ran against each other for the Senate. But that--times have certainly changed. Of course, they weren't indictable offenses.

BIRDWHISTELL: You want to(??)--

KLOTTER: Oh, go ahead.

BIRDWHISTELL: I just wanted to follow up on the--on the Bill May one--

KLOTTER: I did, too, so--(Laugh)--


BIRDWHISTELL: --one more time and that--I never met Bill May. You know, I got to meet a lot of people from this era, but I hadn't--I never met Bill May. And you talked about his personality. How would you--You know, for a person who'd never met him, just read about his name in the Courier--you know, read his name in the Courier, know what he did, tell me what he--he was like?

BREATHITT: He was a very warm person. He was a big man. He had a captivating personality. He loved to laugh. He had a story that he told that personifies him, about "Doc" Beauchamp. "Doc" had never been for him. Said, "I went to see Beauchamp at his home in Russellville. And I was sitting on the front porch and Mrs. Beauchamp had brought me out some lemonade. And I said, '"Doc", I'm gonna run for lieutenant governor.' And 'Doc' said, 'That's fine.'" And he said, "'Doc', you've never been for me, but I'd like for you to be for me this time." And he says, "Well, Billy boy, I'll be for you except I'm go- --gonna be for 01:07:00any son-of-a-bitch that runs against you." (Laughter) And he'd laugh. No, he said, "I'm gonna be for you second."

KLOTTER: Second. (Laugh)

BREATHITT: He said, "Who are you gonna be for first?" He says, "Any son- of-a-bitch that runs against you." (Laugh) And he just roared. He--you know, he--he--he would laugh about these sort of things. He had a--a tremendous sense of humor, and a great story-teller, and--and he's bright as heck. You know, he built that Western Kentucky turnpike, which was the second big project during the--the Combs Administration. I mean, he just built it t- --fast as it--I mean, it's amazing how fast he could get those things done as the overall consulting engineer and the plans. And he would hire the people and give--gear up, and- -and then when the bureaucrats over in the highway department would 01:08:00slow, he'd get the governor and the highway commissioner and wham, those things moved! And I often thought that if he could have been a robber baron in the west, he'd have built railroads there quicker than anybody. And--But--And of course, you know, as you look back on it, he built 'em for a fraction of what those roads would have cost today, at the cost per mile. And now most of 'em are free, the ones that he had anything to do with. And the cost for road construction in the early sixties and during the sixties was just a fraction of what it is today.

BIRDWHISTELL: So you would say on balance Bill May was a positive--


BIRDWHISTELL: --positive influence?

BREATHITT: Well, he had a lot of interests. He very interested in Frankfort, very interested in his hometown. He--he could--He and Combs decided they had to build Jenny Wiley Park up there. And they named it for old Andrew Jack May who went to prison. He was chairman of the 01:09:00Armed Services Committee in the House. But they named it for him, who was the most famous public figure from Floyd County, but he was Bill May's uncle.

KLOTTER: ----------(??)--


KLOTTER: ------------(??).

BREATHITT: Oh, yes. And they named it for him. And--and then of course the roa- --the Mountain Parkway. But in Frankfort, he and Louis Cox came to me with that delegation that wanted to do something about the Craw down there, which now is, of course, the convention center, and the state office building, and that whole Capital Plaza project. They were very close to John Watts. And John agreed to build 'em a floo- --get 'em the money to build a flood wall, 'cause he was a very powerful fellow in Congress. And then they got the mayor and--and--and the paper, and--and Farnham Dudgeon ,who was a great leader then came 01:10:00to see me, and May and Cox. Says, they're fixing to build a--I mean, "We want to build a state office building down here, you're gonna build 'em," and says, "Right now they're renting from these little old shoddy places all over town. We need to build a YMCA for this town." And Cox took on the responsibility of raising the money for the YMCA. He was the leader of that. And May helped him. And--and we were fixing to build a gymnasium out at Kentucky State University; they needed it. And I convinced Dr. Hill--that was my input into that, "you ought to build that convention center, because right now you're isolated. Frankfort--this--this--this little school out there, not a part of Frankfort. You need to be a part of Frankfort. Play your games down there, but make it a convention center that can serve the area, and state government, and Kentucky State University." Well, the alumni wanted it out there, you know, but we built it there. We 01:11:00built the YMCA there, built the state office building, and then we got Edward Durrell Stone to design the whole project. And you know, he designed those towers out there, and designed [Phone Rings] the municipal building in Paducah, and also designed some other buildings in Kentucky. But I--I was wanting to break up the architects designing buildings and copying plans. And I wanted to get a world-class guy. I'd seen what he had done with the National Geographic Building, and what he'd done with the Kennedy Center, and--and so we got him here. We used a local architect in--with him. Lee Potter Smith from Paducah collaborated with him and did the finals, but he did all the conceptuals and all that stuff. And--But Bill May was a positive 01:12:00influence in Frankfort. He s- --thought that they ought to have an eighteen hole golf course and a really top country club in Frankfort. So he swapped this big farm that he was able to buy right outside of Frankfort, where the country club is now, for--

KLOTTER: Juniper Hills, yeah. (??)

BREATHITT: --for--No, not Juniper--

BIRDWHISTELL: No, no. ----------(??)--

BREATHITT: --Hills, the present country club.

KLOTTER: Oh. Oh, yeah. The other one.

BREATHITT: That's right.

KLOTTER: The(??) country club, yeah.

BREATHITT: That's right. And--and--and then the country club gave him his la- --their--their land. He swapped it. And then he built the country club. I mean, built the holes and built the buil- --the club house and the whole works to give 'em a top flight country club in the capital city. He wanted that project. And--

BIRDWHISTELL: Well, Lawrence Wetherby built that house out there, right? Is that--


BIRDWHISTELL: --that's not it?

BREATHITT: Lawrence Wetherby's house is out there on Weehawken Lane, 01:13:00where May's house is, and where--That's not on the country--it's right adjacent to the country club.

BIRDWHISTELL: Adjacent(??).

BREATHITT: It's where Perry(??) who owned the paper has a house, and Dr. Bothman,--


BREATHITT: --and Lawrence Wetherby, and May all lived out there on Weehawken Lane. And--

BIRDWHISTELL: ----------(??) that was all part of the--

BREATHITT: No, it wasn't a part of that deal. That was a development that was before that. And--but he--he was a delightful guy. He really was. And Pierce loved him. And even "Black Death", Dick Harwood, the great investigative reporter,--(Laugh--Birdwhistell)--who really nailed him. The only time he really got him nailed with a severely embarrassing thing was May was--had an income tax problem. He was trying to deduct money that he had given in campaign contributions. And under oath, he told exactly what he did in Indiana to get to work. 01:14:00Well, Harwood was just stumbling through some papers up in Washington, by that time he was head of The Louisville Times Bureau. We used to call him "Black Death" here, because he's the one that broke that story and quoted Combs against Clements that caused that rift.


BIRDWHISTELL: Yeah, he's a tough guy.

BREATHITT: Oh, he was tough as he could be. And--but at any rate, he used to swim out there. He would bring his girlfriends out and swim in May's pool. May did everything he could to, you know, cultivate him and keep from having him on him. (Laugh--Birdwhistell) And May said, "Well, the SOB used to bring his girlfriends out and swim in my swimming pool at night, and then he does that story on me--" (Laugh)--


BREATHITT: Because Harwood was first, and first of all, a great investigative reporter. And of course, that was very embarrassing. 01:15:00And then, of course, the federal government disallowed it as not a justified expense. And of course, it--May was trying to show it was the cost of doing business.


BREATHITT: And it was a governor of Indiana.

BIRDWHISTELL: Which it was.

BREATHITT: Which it was.

KLOTTER: Right(??).

BIRDWHISTELL: Technically speaking, it was the cost of doing business.

BREATHITT: Actually speedin- --speaking. (Laugh)

KLOTTER: ----------(??)

BIRDWHISTELL: ----------(??).

BREATHITT: But he had his detractors. The thing that you might criticize him the most for was the--he had a continuing consulting contract to be sure that the state was maintaining the toll roads, and people--which gave him a continuing retainer, in effect, and that was attacked. As Judge Meggs(??) one time says, "Well, they pay him $300,000 a year, and all he does is go out there and look at the turnpike and said, 'Yep, it's still there.'"


KLOTTER: (Laugh)

BREATHITT: Well that was the very simple thing. There was a whole 01:16:00lot more to it than that. But that was the thing that I think he was criticized the most for in the latter part of his life. And--but even that was legal.


BREATHITT: I mean, it's a public policy decision that was questionable. And--but he couldn't operate today.

BIRDWHISTELL: Yeah, he sort of--Bill May and some of these other people sort of transcend this change in government, and--and ethics laws, and all this kind of stuff, and so by the end of their lives and careers, they're perceived much different by the general public than they would have been--

BREATHITT: In those days. The only people that attacked them in those days were their--people that were on the other side politically from them.

BIRDWHISTELL: Who wanted the contract. (Laugh)

BREATHITT: Oh, they'd get very self-righteous about 'em (Laughter)!


BREATHITT: (Laughter) If they couldn't get them.

KLOTTER: Can't believe these are ----------(??). (Laugh)

BREATHITT: But there were some very interesting people in those days that were great citizens. "Ace"(??) Dawson, who was a great bridge 01:17:00builder, and a marvelous supporter of the engineering school at the University of Kentucky, was one, and Easy Walker was a big contractor, and Buck Hinkle, who's still alive, whose sons--the great constructions lawyer here with Stites and Harbison in our building. But they were good citizens in their communities, in the state, and gave a lot of support to--they were all great supporters of the University of Kentucky, both their colleges, mainly the engineering school, and also athletics. They were big contributors to the blue and white front fund. And those people had a real influence. It's--that'd be an interesting sort of a chapter in some sort of book. The influence of those personalities, whereas a lot of the coal operators were out of the state. These people identified with the University of Kentucky with its athletic programs. They supported Rupp, they supported--they 01:18:00supported Bear Bryant, they supported the athletic programs, they hired the players in the summertime, and they contributed money. So--now they all did well because of their favored position and the favoritism as shown to them by the,--but they're all colorful people.

BIRDWHISTELL: Well, see that's what the--that's what I find intriguing, you know. First of all, you know, the--the chapter in that book, we need to learn more about these people, because other than in this--in a very--


BIRDWHISTELL: --not a small circle, but a limited circle, you know, former governors and--

BREATHITT: They all knew them.

BIRDWHISTELL: And high ro- --you know, and these influential people, they weren't well-known. You know, out in the general--

BREATHITT: No they weren't well-known at all. They didn't want to be well-known.

BIRDWHISTELL: (Laugh) Right. But what's amazing about them is that, as you pointed out in your story, is that, you know, they were talented, 01:19:00and they had to be smart, or how could you survive in that--

BREATHITT: That's right.

BIRDWHISTELL: --in that kind of shark infested water, where--


BIRDWHISTELL: --you know, if your guy doesn't win, you've got to make sure--

BREATHITT: Well, you paid double to get on board unless they hated you so much they--they broke you.


BREATHITT: And some of them just--a few of them lived awful hard times--

KLOTTER: For four years.

BREATHITT: --for four years, that's right, but with--they figured they could survive and they'd do private municipal work, and other sort of stuff, private driveways, and you know, they could keep going.

BIRDWHISTELL: So their talent has to be--

BREATHITT: Jimmy Allen was another one. Allen Construction.

BIRDWHISTELL: Who was that?

BREATHITT: Jimmy Allen.


BREATHITT: Yeah. He's still alive. He's had a very bad stroke. But Buck Hinkle is still alive. "Ace" Dawson's son is there. "Ace" Dawson won't even--he--he won't even bid on state work. And they tried to shake him down during a recent administration, not the immediate past one, but I won't say which one. He told me and said, "I'm just staying 01:20:00out of it."

BIRDWHISTELL: You think how different it is, like with the--you know, the major construction that's going on at U. K. now, how differently that's all handled than it was even thirty years ago--


BIRDWHISTELL: --with architects--

BREATHITT: The--every architect, every overall consulting engineer, or- -or construction--or out of state--and--and John Gaines and W. T. Young insisted that they be world class.

BIRDWHISTELL: Of course, what we wanted--

BREATHITT: And the local people raised Cain about it.


BREATHITT: And one of them that came to see me as Chairman of the Board says, "We didn't even make the list to be considered."


BREATHITT: "And we contribute to the University and do all these things," and I said, "I'm not getting into that."


BREATHITT: "I don't try to micromanage what goes on at the University of Kentucky." And Charles won't touch it. I mean, he won't--because he can remember that with Peterson, and so Charles is very correct.


BIRDWHISTELL: Oh. It's a good time to be correct, isn't it? (Laugh)

BREATHITT: Yeah, it is. It sure is. It sure is.

KLOTTER: Well, the next time we get together, we'll talk about--I'd like to talk about the Wyatt race in '62, and then your race in '63, but before we finish up this time I'd like to ask a couple of questions about--

BREATHITT: All right.

KLOTTER: Did these people we've been talking about, the architects and so forth, did they ever go to the "varmint dinners?"


KLOTTER: Or did you? And what--what happened there?

BREATHITT: Oh, I would have them at the "varmint dinners." We'd have them out at--out at the distillery in Frankfort, and--where they make Ancient Age, and some other--they had a clubhouse out there. And we'd have "varmint dinners" out there. And we'd collect up game from all the hunters, our political buddies, but they all--they were part of it. And they would go to the "varmint" dinners. Sometimes we'd have them out at Pete Flynn's when he used to have the lighthouse, if it was 01:22:00a smaller event. And Pete Flynn's had a continuing influence and of course, he was mayor of Frankfort, and he was my veteran's chairman, he was big in the VFW, or the American Legion, I've forgotten which. But yes, they were there. We took them to governor's conferences. They were a part of the official delegation. They--they benefited--they were invited to social events at the mansion. So they were really a part of the--of the official--I mean, unofficial administration.

BIRDWHISTELL: Where'd those "varmint" dinners idea come from?

BREATHITT: Wetherby started them, as far as I know.


BREATHITT: Wetherby was a great hunter and fisherman. And he, and May, and Louis Cox starts in, "We want to have some 'varmint dinners'." And of course, Wetherby, when he had them, would have chitlins, and he-- 01:23:00that was a test of manhood. And he says, "Now, we're not talking about fried crisp chitlins with a lot of tomato ketchup. We're talking about boiled chitlins with--vinegar is all you can put on them." And he'd bring out a big thing of that and he'd test you.


KLOTTER: (Laugh)

BREATHITT: And then they would have--

BIRDWHISTELL: A rite of passage.

BREATHITT: Yeah, they'd have hominy. I mean, big, round hominy, that was one of the things they had. And they would have slaw, and hominy, and then whatever people got--clean out their frozen food lockers of game. And they would get raccoons--


BREATHITT: And groundhogs--


BREATHITT: And--and to cook a raccoon, or a groundhog, or a possum, Wetherby had a fellow named Mack Sisk that was the expert that was in his administration from Dawson Springs, and Mack headed tourist information and that sort of stuff. And told me, he says, "There's 01:24:00only one way to cook a possum or a groundhog, or a raccoon." And says, "You've got to have four waters." And with a possum, you've got to have five waters. You boil them, pour the water off, that gets rid of grease. Boil them again, pour the water off, boil them again, pour the water off, boil them the fourth time, and with a possum the fifth time, and then you --then you marinate the heck out of them and roast them.


BREATHITT: And--well, you know, these fellows would have three or four bourbons, and by that time, the varmint tastes good. You didn't know what you were eating. (Laugh)


KLOTTER: (Laugh)

BREATHITT: And they would get up and tell tales--stories. It was a--and all-male. And you--it's--now, the last fellow to have them, to my knowledge, was--was Julian Carroll. And Bill Cox put them on. Bill Cox heard about all these tales from his daddy who had been the 01:25:00lobbyist for the farm bureau, and a great friend of Clements's, and had been in the legislature too. And so Julian had them, and he had them out at the National Guard Armory, and--and I wasn't in with Julian, and so I didn't--and I was in Washington, so I never did attend but one. I did attend one of them, and it was very similar, but it had lost its--its flavor. And--

BIRDWHISTELL: I doubt they were having any roast possum at Carroll's--

BREATHITT: Yeah, he--he would have everything, but--


BREATHITT: Yeah. Well, I think they knocked possum out, because that-- it's awful hard to make possum fit to eat.



KLOTTER: (Laugh)

BREATHITT: So greasy--so greasy.

BIRDWHISTELL: I'd have to be awful hungry, no matter ----------(??).

BREATHITT: But they'd have a lot of deer meat and squirrels--Wetherby used to have squirrel suppers, and he loved the squirrel heads. He'd crack them and eat the brains. But Wetherby was such a man, you know.

KLOTTER: (Laugh)

BREATHITT: And he--those were tests.



BREATHITT: And oh, he said, "They're wonderful." You know, and I'd--ugh. (Laugh) That--but--

BIRDWHISTELL: That's funny. That's funny.

BREATHITT: Yeah. You had another question.

KLOTTER: One other question I was going to ask you, that was--during your race, "Happy Chandler" would talk about the floral clock, and he'd say it was two petunias past the jimson weed, and things like that. How did all the flor- --floral clock come about?

BREATHITT: Combs went to a governor's conference and went by Niagara Falls, and they had a floral clock up there, and he just said, "That'd be a great thing to have. It'd be a tourist attraction." And when he announced he was going to do it, I was--I was planning to run for governor and I said, "Oh my gosh." And he--the day he finished it, or while it was under construction, Happy would go out two or three times a week, and look at it, and the press would gather, and he would--and he would--and I said, "That--I'm going to meet that thing during the campaign." And I did. And Happy just made fun of it. And you know, 01:27:00he was at his best with ridicule. And it became a real issue, which in--later in the campaign didn't, because it started--Happy made--gave it such publicity everybody wanted to see the floral clock. Combs and my enemies wanted to see it, to laugh about it, and then other people did, and so it became a tourist attraction.

BIRDWHISTELL: I--I remember, I couldn't wait to go see it.

BREATHITT: And I couldn't believe it. I thought that it was going to beat me, and I had enough trouble as it was. (Laugh)

BIRDWHISTELL: (Laugh) It's like handing Governor Chandler a club to beat you.

BREATHITT: Oh yeah, and he took full advantage of it.


BREATHITT: He was a master. And it was funny. You know, that's an element of politics that's gone today. I mean, they used ridicule and funny things. Now, it's very personal. They want to put you in jail. They want to kill you and--and it's vicious. And--and the kind of advertising vicious. But, you know, Combs' side had the crippled 01:28:00goose, and I had the Cheshire cat, and--

KLOTTER: And had the rug ear- --

BREATHITT: And the rug, Happy had the rug, and--with Wetherby, and Wetherby hated his guts from that time on, but it was funny. You know, Happy wasn't really trying to tell people it cost 20,000 dollars. He just made a great story, and he used it all over the state to illustrate a point.

BIRDWHISTELL: That's funny.

BREATHITT: And that kind of thing, I find, is missing in politics today, is ridicule, and funny stories like that, that masters like Barkley had. You know, Chandler said one time he got sick, you know, in his race against Barkley, and said they poisoned his water?

KLOTTER: His ice water, yeah.

BREATHITT: Ice water. And Barkley would pour him out a glass of water and say, "Well, it doesn't look poisonous to me," and took a swallow, 01:29:00and they'd just roar! (Laugh) And--but that sort of thing--of course, nobody did it as well as Chandler. Chandler was the best on that.

KLOTTER: Well, next time we'll get you elected.

BREATHITT: Okay. All right.

[End of interview]