Interviewer's Name: Jeff Bremer
Interview Date and Location: The interview was conducted on March 25, 2011, at Stephen F. Austin State University.
Context Notes: Interview and transcription completed in conjunction with the Charlie Wilson Oral History Project at Stephen F. Austin State University, Nacogdoches, Texas.'
Throughout the interview Foley and Bremer laugh at the stories Foley shares. There is also noise on the audio near the beginning, but Bremer repositions it, which can be heard. Near the end the interview pauses so that video tape can be changed. The listener can hear the changing of the tape in the background. At the end of the interview the recorder was left on and there is silence for the next four to five minutes.
Tapes and Interview Record: The original recordings of the interview and a full transcript are held by the East Texas Research Center, R. W. Steen Library, Stephen F. Austin State University, Nacogdoches, Texas.
Transcription Notes: The policy of the Charlie Wilson Oral History Project has been to eliminate false starts and crutch words from transcriptions when determined not to affect the meaning and flow of the spoken word. Obviously, and admittedly, this is a subjective endeavor and all care was taken to maintain the integrity of the interview.
The interviewer Jeff Bremer is identified as BREMER. Ian Foley is identified as FOLEY.
BREMER: Okay, hello this is Jeff Bremer. It's Friday March 25, 2011 and I am interviewing Ian Foley for the Charlie Wilson Oral History Project sponsored by and held at Stephen F. Austin State University in Nacogdoches, Texas. The Charlie Wilson Oral History Project seeks to both honor and bolster the legacy of Charlie Wilson through oral history interviews with those who knew him and worked with him to add and diversify the official collection already held at the university's archives [East Texas Research Center, located in the R. W. Steen Library on campus] and to deepen an understanding of Charlie Wilson's many years of service, strength, and complexity of character, and his impact on Texas, American and World History. So, Ian had worked on, with Charlie when he was in the state legislature and also on his first congressional campaign and can you maybe start off by telling us how you met Charlie.
FOLEY: Yeah, I met him as a delegate to the state democratic convention in 1968. And . . . I was kind of a radical back in those days and I guess Charlie always likes to get radical under his tent so I guess he decided he better get me under his tent and he offered me a job. I worked for the legislative session of 1969. Well that turned into a six year deal, and he knew he wanted to run for congress but he thought he needed an issue and he thought that regulating utilities in Texas would be one issue he could use. And so he had me doing the research on the need for that in Texas. And when he did that he decided he would get on television; Dallas television, Houston television, Beaumont television, and of course all of those TV stations covered the districts that he wanted to run for in congress. It just turns out that everybody was interested in that issue among other issues but that's the one that he decided to use. He got a lot of coverage out of it and then ran [for US Congress] in '72 and he won as I can recall about sixty-four percent of the vote the first time out.
BREMER: So he had a pretty serious victory.
FOLEY: Yeah, yeah he had like five opponents and he won. Back in those days if you won the democratic primary, you won, there was nobody in East Texas, there was no Republican [who] was going to win. He won the democratic primary. He had four opponents with sixty-four percent of the vote. And one of the things that Charlie was very real serious about was taking care of what he called, oh I forget what they call it before you take care of your constituents; case work, call it case work, where you field the telephone calls with someone who needed help with the welfare office or the Veterans Affairs or just no matter what it was and he told me he got a lot of telephone calls from people on eight, ten, twelve, party telephone lines. [Noise on audio, sounds like the recorder being repositioned.] And out at the countryside they couldn't get a single line, even if they paid for it. There was nobody deciding but the telephone companies, they were go do that. They there was nobody, no regulatory agency of any kind . . . and of course the power companies were doing the same thing. They would run power lines wherever they wanted to. So he was real serious about taking care of his case work. And I think that benefited his constituents because he was real serious about it. But he ended up turning a lot of it over to me and, so I became serious about it. But he taught me how to do it and how to listen. He, one of the things he, when he served in the [Texas] Senate, I would watch him and there's thirty-one members of the Texas Senate, and I would watch him pace the floor and he'd go to [Texas Senator and later US Representative] Barber Jordan's desk. She was the only black woman on the, in the Senate [the first African American elected to the Texas Senate since Reconstruction]. Then I'd see him leave her and go over and talk to the only Republican there. And he was just a master at working with other politicians as well as lobbyist or whoever.
BREMER: So that's part of the secret to his success; is his coalition building?
FOLEY: Absolutely, yeah, he was a master at it.
BREMER: Well definitely helped with the money for Afghanistan in the Eighties.
FOLEY: Yeah, good or bad.
BREMER: Well, I'm not going to quiz you about the Eighties. You weren't working with him there. What can you tell us about him as a state legislator above and beyond the regulation of utilities and coalition [unintelligible]?
FOLEY: Well, he happened to be the bill sponsor of the sales tax in Texas and that was when he was a freshmen member of the legislature and he told me about that and that was in 1961. He was a freshmen member of the House of Representatives and he said there was a bill that was gonna be introduced for the first sales tax in Texas and the liberals had got together and decided that if they didn't introduce the bill, the conservatives would do it and tax food and medicine. And so the liberals, he said, got together over at Scholz Garten [restaurant in Austin] over drinking beer and they drew straws by who was going to introduce the legislation. Charlie drew the short straw and introduced the bill. And they got over to Scholz Garten drinking beer and they kept throwing all kinds of crazy things into the bill hoping it wouldn't pass. For example, five doughnuts are taxable but six are not. And a fudgesicle is not taxable because it's a dairy product but a popsicle is taxable. That kind of crazy stuff they put in the bill hoping it would not pass but it did pass. That's why we have such crazy law in Texas.
BREMER: So what other legislation did he work on in the Sixties that you can tell us about?
FOLEY: Oh he was very instrumental in the Trent River Authority legislation that built damn, and you may say that was good or bad but there was a lot of flooding in East Texas and those lakes got built and it turned out to be good for his constituents because of the tourism and he was the sponsor or those too.
BREMER: You worked on his first congressional campaign. What, why was he successful in that campaign?
FOLEY: Well he just outworked everybody. He got up early, which it wasn't usual for Charlie, he liked to stay up late. He was disciplined enough to know what he needed to do and he worked night and day during that campaign. I was at the headquarters taking requests of where he could go speak and we would try to determine where he would go and how many constituents might be there or how many people might be there at a fire station or wherever. And he was just good at working crowds, particularly with women. But he was just a tireless campaigner. And if he come to an intersection, he'd get out the car and start shaking hands. You know if somebody drove him he was this, he was tireless. Plus he had the issues, he had the issues. He wanted to regulate utilities, everybody wanted to do that. He promoted tourism in East Texas, we all needed that. Those were the two main issues I guess that he pushed; regulating utilities and tourism. Economic development, I guess is the way you put it. Not tourism, but economic development.
BREMER: Economic development included?
FOLEY: It included the Trent River Authority building those damns . . .
BREMER: Dams used for electricity or just used for water storage?
FOLEY: For water.
BREMER: Okay, so that . . .
FOLEY: And plus it formed the reservoirs too. You know we had, of course, a lot of droughts back in those days and if you could reservoir that water that was good too.
BREMER: What was his opposition like in '72? It was all Democrats that he beat.
FOLEY: Yeah the incumbent congressman had been indicted, his name was John Dowdy,* and his wife was running more/less the incumbent, and he had, oh, I think two or three lesser candidates. But she was the main one, and everybody thought she might win, but in the end Charlie won by sixty-four percent. [*John Dowdy served as a Democratic member of Texas's House of Representatives from 1953 to 1967, then as a US Representative from Texas's 2nd District from 1967-1973, when he retired under indictment of bribery (Wilson subsequently won that seat in a special election).]
BREMER: So he just out worked her.
BREMER: Had the issues on his side.
BREMER: Okay, Did the district back then. Was it from Beaumont to Nacogdoches?
FOLEY: Yes it did. It included Orange County to the south, which is just east of Beaumont and came up the Sabine River up through Sabine County and Newton County and all over St. Augustine, Sabine County, St. Augustine, all over to Nacogdoches. He had thirteen, thirteen of those counties in his senatorial district, and his senate, his congressional district ended up with seventeen counties.
BREMER: So they already knew him?
FOLEY: Yeah, except for Montgomery County, which was Conroe, and that was the bad county, it was a Republican county and he even managed to get that county.
BREMER: So, how did he win the Republican county?
FOLEY: He kept going back and back to Montgomery County. Every time we got a telephone call it said, you know, can he come to cut and shoot Texas and attend the fire station opening, well he went. And you just give him the lead and from there he was gone.
BREMER: And so he enjoyed campaigning?
FOLEY: Yeah, he did.
BREMER: He enjoyed meeting constituents . . .
BREMER: Talking with them. Do you have any stories from that first campaign that might of not made it into the records so far?
FOLEY: Well I was in the headquarters taking telephone calls, so I wasn't with him. We had a man that traveled with him, so I didn't. No I can't share those with you. [Bremer and Foley laugh.] I know some of those, but I can't share those with you.
BREMER: Well down the road if you want to, feel free to send us, typed up in a letter or something. What were the issues that he wanted to work with when he became a congressman? Were they the same issues at the state level?
FOLEY: Oh yeah, I would think so. He, you know, got sidetracked by that Afghanistan thing I think. But, no the issues were the same when he went to congress.
BREMER: His support here in East Texas included a majority of the African American vote . . .
FOLEY: That's right.
BREMER: How did he go about trying to get their support?
FOLEY: Well he was good on the issues. I mean you hate to say their issues, but he was a good liberal and he believed in civil rights, he got that from his mother and he was good on labor issues. He was just a good liberal. And, well, I guess cause I'm liberal I say good liberal. He, but he also courted the gun nuts too. I hate to use that term, derogatory manner, but I slur my words sometimes, but anyway, he did, he did okay with the gun nuts, the NRA [National Rifle Association]. He just had a way of making everyone think that he was their champion. He went to all Ducks Unlimited banquets [an international non-profit organization dedicated to the conservation of wetlands and associated upland habitats for waterfowl, other wildlife, and people]. And you know the duck hunters liked that. Oh he talked, I came up with him one time in Nacogdoches County to a dog hunters deal where they used dogs to run deer, and there was a bill in the legislature that was going to outlaw using dogs to run deer. And Charlie said always go with the dog men [Foley and Bremer laugh]. So those guys were always on his side. And those, I shared the same gun, [unintelligible] outdoors men.
BREMER: Well he was a strong supporter of gun rights.
FOLEY: Well, yeah, I guess. Who knows why Charlie, what he really thought about that. I know his mother didn't care for them to much . . . guns I'm talking about. He, I guess he always figured that if he wasn't right on that issue he was going to get beat.
BREMER: Over here in East Texas.
FOLEY: Yeah, yeah that's right.
BREMER: Definitely gun supporters.
FOLEY: Yeah that's right.
BREMER: So he pulls together an interesting coalition of African American and laborers and people who are more conservative.
FOLEY: Right, we didn't have any Mexicans in our district, none that I can speak of. Hispanic or whatever, but we didn't have any. So as I recall, the district was like twelve, thirteen, twelve or thirteen per cent African American and . . . but he was always right on civil rights, always.
BREMER: Did that provide him, give him any difficulty with the white people.
FOLEY: Of course it did, but he, you know, he didn't care. He felt like that was the right thing to do.
BREMER: What was, were a lot of his beliefs based on his mom's influence?
FOLEY: I don't know about that. I just know his mom had a lot of influence on him and she was an educated woman and she would call. He'd be on the television in Lufkin and she would, she'd call him and he wouldn't take her call and she'd call me and she, "Ian you got to get him to quit saying 'got to,'" and I would say, "Well Mrs. Wilson, [what's] he supposed to say," and she'd say, "Have to." And I say, "I didn't know that."
BREMER: Well I use "got to." Before I mentioned he had an interest in higher office, did he, was he, did he have an interest in Senate or something above?
FOLEY: Oh I think he did. He had, he got a DWI [Driving While Intoxicated] in 1969 that I think, I think he rethought what he might could do. I think he was headed for higher office prior to that time. That was 1969 and he, let's see 1970, he ran, he ran for the senate in '68 [actually, 1966] and he drew a two-year term and he always said that. In '66 he drew a two term, and he had to run again in '68 so he got he had a four year term but he got a DWI in '69 so he, if he hadn't drew that two year term he would be running in 1970. But I think after that he decided he might be limited to congress. I don't know that, I just think he thought that.
BREMER: So the last man that I talked to said he had really thought Charlie was interested in trying to get into a senate seat, but that, that his, you could maybe, ethical lapses had kept him from doing that. The idea of Good Time Charlie, had a hard time of being separate
FOLEY: Well, I don't know if you can call them ethical lapses, that, you know, personal fault or whatever. I don't think it was a, I don't say you can say it was an ethical lapses, I think that's kind of strong. DWI, is that an ethical lapse?
BREMER: It's tricking to it. Ethical lapse might be overstated. So, what, what stories might you have from his '72 congressional campaign. Anything we haven't talked about yet that might be of use in explaining his character or his politics?
FOLEY: Well there was a guy, there was a guy from St. Augustine that was a retired military guy that wanted to run that did run, he filed to run. And he claimed that he had some pictures of Charlie in an unflattering whatever. And . . . L. G. Moore* and I went over to St. Augustine County to see if we could handle that situation. And I guess we were somewhat successful. I guess I probably shouldn't say more about that. But that was a way of forcing that guy out of the campaign. He would have been the gun-nut candidate if he would have been stayed in the race. [*L. G. Moore, son of L. L. Moore, was born about 1936. He attended Central Heights High School and Harvard Labor Management School and married Jerry Box of Nacogdoches, Texas. In 1972, while serving as a legislative representative for the International Union of Operating Engineers, he was chosen for the Texas Constitutional Revision Commission. The purpose of the commission was to study the need for constitutional change and to report recommendations to the Constitutional Convention (63rd Legislature). L. G. Moore became chairman of the Education Committee and was regional director of the International Union of Operating Engineers, an affiliate of the AFL-CIO. Among other things, Moore was Charlie's labor contact and supporter. Moore's archival collection is also housed at the East Texas Research Center at Stephen F. Austin State University.]
BREMER: So Charlie's personal life sometimes made his political life [unintelligible] . . .
FOLEY: Oh yeah, no question about it, no question about it. I'm convinced he could have been governor if he would have stayed out of that bottle. Yeah!
BREMER: So he drank late, late in his life?
FOLEY: Yes, yes.
BREMER: Now what, did his family drink or did he just love to drink or what?
FOLEY: He just liked to drink. He liked to party. He liked women. Nothing wrong with that.
BREMER: Only if you run for governor.
FOLEY: I guess. If it's not your wife I guess.
BREMER: What, so he was married twice. What, what was he married, I forget when he was running for congress?
FOLEY: Yes he was? He, great lady, Jerry. My friend still. They had, she was his sister's college roommate. I'm trying to think . . . I think they got married in '65. I think that's right. And got divorced while they were in Washington [D. C.]. She's a great lady.
BREMER: Was, was the divorce tied into his work, his drinking?
FOLEY: Probably all of it.
FOLEY: Yeah probably all of it.
BREMER: Fairly stressful job in Washington D.C. Did she not like the move?
FOLEY: Oh no, I think she was okay with the move. You know, Charlie always had these beautiful women around the office and I think Jerry didn't like that all that well and I think she tolerated it for a while. I shouldn't tell all that. I shouldn't tell that.
BREMER: That's okay. So what, did he have trouble through his political career as the country changed and became more conservative? Did he have trouble getting reelected? And did his campaigns become harder?
FOLEY: Well, when Reagan was elected president and I, here I'm from, I was in Austin by then and so I talked to him about it. When Reagan had his tax bill, I don't know if you remember that, that was in the eighties as I recall . . . it was unpopular with laborers and he did it and he had, he was go have problems with laborers the next election and they had a labor convention in Austin and they, you know what COPE is; Committee on Political Education. Texas labor had their COPE convention and they endorsed the ticket for the Democratic Party mainly and they had a list of congressman that they were going to endorse and Charlie's was, name wasn't on it. And I and L. G. got it, got his name put back in, but it was gonna be difficult because the council in Lufkin refused to endorse him because of that vote, because of the Reagan tax deal.
BREMER: So he voted for Reagan's tax.
FOLEY: Yes he did, and, yep. And I don't know why he did that but he was very uncomfortable with labor. But anyway we did manage to get him the endorsement and so he got over that election cycle and he seemed, seemed to mend his fences after that.
BREMER: Why, what did they not like about the tax bill?
FOLEY: Well because, because it was taking money from working class folks and giving it to the rich Republicans. That's what it was about.
BREMER: Sounds familiar.
FOLEY: Yeah. Oh absolutely, very familiar.
BREMER: Any other kind of legislation from Washington, D. C. that got him in trouble. Any events nationally impacted him here?
FOLEY: Well, you remember the Contras [label given to the various rebel groups opposing Nicaragua's Sandinista National Liberation Front following the July 1979 overthrow of Anastasio Somoza Debayle's dictatorship]?
FOLEY: I asked Charlie about that one time. Why in the hell would a congressman from East Texas support Somoza [Anastasio "Tachito" Somoza Debayle, Nicaragua's dictator from 1967 to 1979]? He said that, all the former mayor of New York, Cox? What was his . . .
BREMER: Ed Koch [served as a Democratic Congressman in the United States House of Representatives from New York from 1969 to 1977 and three terms as mayor of New York City from 1978 to 1989].
FOLEY: Ed Koch. Said that he and Charlie were sitting on a committee of foreign affairs, I guess that's what it was, and they, they had, according to Charlie, they had all these priests coming before the committee talking about how bad the Americans were and all that kind of stuff and said that he and Koch had an agreement that the next deal that came down they decided they were going to go the other way. And that was Somoza. And that was hard for some of us to, you know.
BREMER: So he did not support the Contras, he supported Somoza.
BREMER: Yeah that seems a little contrary to what the Democrats . . .
FOLEY: Ahh, yeah, yeah. That was a, yeah.
BREMER: Was he at odds with his party much or was he mostly party aligned.
FOLEY: No he was pretty much a party guy. He and, He and [Speaker of the House] Tip O'Neal were whiskey drinking buddies.
BREMER: Doesn't surprise me. Is that part of his success? His ability to sit down . . .
FOLEY: Oh yeah absolutely.
BREMER: And talk with you and drink with you.
FOLEY: Absolutely, yeah. In fact, Tip O'Neal came to Lufkin to, for one of, one of his fundraisers, which is unusual. It turned out a heck of a crowd.
BREMER: Did he sit down much with Republican opponents and drink whiskey with them?
FOLEY: Oh hell yeah.
FOLEY: Oh hell yes. Hell yes. One of his supporters in Lufkin was the top gun nut in the area. He has a way of convincing them he was on their side. I'm not sure he ever believed that. That's just me.
BREMER: Did he have trouble winning political campaigns?
FOLEY: No, No he had that tough campaign after the, after the Reagan tax cut and after that he was okay. But I think after that he said it wasn't fun anymore when all of the rancor that happened, you know, in Washington where they started fighting each other all the time you know.
BREMER: Later in the nineties?
FOLEY: I hate to say, you know, but it wasn't any fun so he decided to just call it a career.
BREMER: Was that after the '94 elections when the Republicans had a big wave [i.e., the Republican or Gingrich Revolution]?
FOLEY: Yeah, Yeah.
BREMER: So he wouldn't have done, wouldn't have enjoyed congress now?
FOLEY: No, no, no, he couldn't have operated on that system today. When he served in the State Senate, for him to be able to have Barbara Jordan as his best friend and then to be able to go over and hug Hank Grover* at the same time, who Hank Grover was the only republican in it, that was very unusual to the point that Hank Grover, when he ran for governor in 1972, told Charlie he say, "Wilson you the only guy to ever talk to me in the Senate." And he say when it comes time for redistricting, if they fool with your district I'll veto it. [*Grover served as a Democratic congressman for the Texas House of Representatives from 1960-65. In 1966, he switched parties and went on to the Texas State Senate till he lost the 1972 Texas gubernatorial race as the Republican candidate.]
BREMER: Did the Republican candidate win?
FOLEY: No, he didn't win [Democrat Dolph Briscoe, Jr. won].
BREMER: Oh okay.
FOLEY: But Charlie, he was covered either way.
BREMER: So Charlie got along very well with people in both parties.
FOLEY: Yeah, yeah.
BREMER: That could help account for how long he survived in the . . .
FOLEY: Oh absolutely. And was able to do what he did with the Afghan deal, you know. The fact that he totally ran our country's foreign affairs for a while.
BREMER: Did he talk to you much about that?
FOLEY: I never talked to him about that too much. I sure didn't. I didn't want to know [Bremer laughs]. But I didn't agree with him. And when I didn't agree with him I just didn't talk to him about it because I knew it didn't serve any purpose.
BREMER: So were you more liberal that he was on some issues.
BREMER: Okay, so what things did you.
FOLEY: I was a bomb thrower.
BREMER: Yeah you said you were a radical in the sixties.
FOLEY: Yeah, I was a bomb thrower. Yeah, not anymore.
BREMER: Okay . . . so . . . he knew you were more radical and more liberal than him, how did that work out when you worked for him?
FOLEY: Well I don't, he only meant for me to work for him for one session. And that way he thought he would get me out of Lufkin, and I ended up working for him for six years. So, but I, he and I would have arguments. Just one example, when he got ready to do his regulatory bill, we were riding up to Corsicana one night and he said, "Foley, I'm, I think we need to just concentrate on telephone companies and forget about the power company." And I said, "Why?" And he says, "Well, the telephone companies are raping the people more." I said, "Bullshit." Oh, pardon my language.
BREMER: No that's great.
FOLEY: I said, "Bullshit." He said "What do you mean?" I said, "Well, I been looking at the book, and I said they been raping the public much more than the damn telephone companies." I said, "But," I said "if that's what you gonna do you tell me." I said, "But don't tell me, don't try to tell me, don't try to blow smoke up my ass you know. Just tell me if that's what you decide to do. If you already took money from the power company in Dallas, just tell me." He kind of grinned and so we just went on . . . he had some of his biggest contributors; in 1972 was the power company.
FOLEY: Yeah, yep.
BREMER: Even though he went after the telephone companies.
FOLEY: Yeah, oh hell yeah, they, you know, mean old Alamo.
BREMER: So would they make contributions to him hoping he would not regulate them?
FOLEY: Oh hell yes, that's the way it works.
BREMER: So who were his big supporters in the district? Was it corporations, or laborers?
FOLEY: Charlie, Charlie liked to raise his money outside the district, his main money. He knew that most people in East Texas didn't have a whole lot of money and so he didn't asked them to contribute much to his campaign, so he raised his main money outside the district. He was a big supporter of Israel, the Israelis. And of course he got a lot of his money from the Jewish community, even though we had, as he said, "No Jews in my district." I'm sure there was a handful probably more than that. Good people but anyway. He got a lot of money from wealthy Jews.
BREMER: Was that raised on the East Coast.
FOLEY: It was raised from all over.
FOLEY: Yeah, you know he, he went to West Point with a guy in Dallas who worked for Ross Perot and he got some money out of those people just because of his personal relationship.
BREMER: So he got support of the Israeli lobby, did he[get] support of the gun lobby and the labor lobby?
FOLEY: Yeah, he got the gun nuts. Can I use that term?
BREMER: You sure can. This is your interview and you can state it the way that you want. So he had a very diverse . . .
FOLEY: He didn't call them gun nuts, I did.
BREMER: Well I was thinking, he probably had to be careful in what he say.
FOLEY: Yeah that's right.
BREMER: So, did he? Was there much of an, environmental movement out here? I know that was . . .
FOLEY: Well there was the Ducks Unlimited. You know who they are? That's was the environmental movement in East Texas and the dog hunters. People like that. They wanted clean woods, streams. The duck hunters did too. And I mean, you know, there was as he called "the fern freaks" and "the creek crazies." There was some of those. Not many.
BREMER: Did he have much opposition here in the district. Did it become more of, it became more of Republican over time?
FOLEY: Yeah, but he already decided to give it up after all of that. I can't remember when the last time he faced a Republican. I guess it was probably after that Reagan vote when, no that wouldn't have been when, it must have been after that I guess. I just don't remember.
FOLEY: I had already gone to Austin and was working for Bob Bullock back in those days [Bullock, a Democrat, served in Texas politics for nearly forty years, beginning with a stint as the Secretary of State of Texas (1971-1972) and culminating as Lieutenant Governor of Texas (1991 to 1999). In between he served as Texas Comptroller from 1975-1991].
BREMER: What did the people in state government think of Charlie over in Austin?
FOLEY: Respect, yeah. He was very respected all throughout the capital. Whenever he wanted legislation to pass, it passed over in the House when he was in the Senate over in the House. You had to take, you had to have someone in the house to pass a companion piece. He had an old guy he served with over there named Snake, I forget Snake's last name now, but all I had to do is take a sheet of paper over and say Charlie wants this passed and the next day it would come out on the calendar and that's just how it worked.
BREMER: So he was influential even when he was a [Texas State] congressman.
FOLEY: Over there.
BREMER: Influential in Austin.
FOLEY: Oh yeah, yeah, that for redistricting and that kind of stuff. Yes he maintained his contacts.
BREMER: So he never got hurt in redistricting?
FOLEY: No, he got his district like he wanted. In 1971 they had a special session in June of 1971 on redistricting and he and Barbara Jordan both wanted to run for congress and Ben Barnes was Lieutenant Governor and he saw to it that both of them had district that they could run in. There was a guy named Clyde Hanes the state represented from Orange that wanted to run and his district, well his idea for a district would take Orange County and come up and take Nacogdoches County but somehow avoid Lufkin and, you know, kind of like a horseshoe district.
BREMER: So that would have left Charlie out.
FOLEY: Put him in a district with Brian.
BREMER: Was that, was that an incumbent?
FOLEY: Yes, it was Tiger Teague, there was a guy named Tiger Teague who was about a thirty year incumbent yeah.
BREMER: So trying to leave Charlie out of a chance to get a congressional.
FOLEY: Yeah yeah.
BREMER: So did he know he wanted to run for congress?
FOLEY: Oh yes. Oh yeah.
BREMER: Even back when he was a state senator or state . . .
FOLEY: He was always looking to run for something.
BREMER: Okay, looking to make his way up the hierarchy.
FOLEY: Yeah. [Graduate Student Laura Blackburn who is videotaping the interview indicates tape is running out, "Dr. Bremer."]
BREMER: Oh, I'm sorry. Ran out, ran out of tape, we will have to wait a minute while we get everything ready here. [Background noise of new tape being inserted, a long pause to change tape for recording.] You said he stopped wanting to be congressman when it wasn't fun anymore.
FOLEY: Yeah I think so. You know, whenever they started that, as he use to say, pissing at each other up there, it wasn't any fun anymore. And I guess it's like you said, after, you said, in '94.
BREMER: Was he retired, what in '96 or '98?
FOLEY: I think that's right.
BREMER: Okay '96.
FOLEY: But I'm not positive about that. I just, the dates . . .
BREMER: No we're not quizzing you on dates. I obviously don't know it and I should. We got about, ten, twelve minutes left. Well, we have actually as much time as you might want. What about Charlie do you think is important to understand that we might not know?
FOLEY: Well he was, he certainly, coming from Trinity, Texas, you know, a little town of 3,000 people, to rise to the heights that he did is pretty amazing when you look at it. He tried to get in Annapolis but he didn't weigh enough so he had to eat bananas and milk until he got up to about 130 pounds, I think he was six five. And just to think of somebody like that coming from a little old town like Trinity Texas and all that he did, all that he did for East Texas, and I'm not talking about Afghanistan. I'm talking about all the things he did for all of the constituents of East Texas. And that's what I like to say is that there is more to Charlie than just Afghanistan.
BREMER: Well, tell us about that. What did he do for East Texas?
FOLEY: Well, just one good example, there's a Veterans Affairs clinic in Lufkin, Texas and I don't know of a town that size that has one. And they run a bus from Lufkin into Houston taking veterans to the Veterans Hospital down there. Just, that's the kind of thing that people benefit from and he was able to, he always said that his district didn't ask him to bring much but he brought that defense plant over there in Lufkin at the end of his career, Lockheed, not that what they called that missile company shoot people down?
BREMER: Raytheon, Lockheed?
FOLEY: Yeah, yeah that's it. Lockheed.
BREMER: So, how did he help economically develop East Texas?
FOLEY: Well like I, like I said the Trinity River, the Trinity River was a lobbying group that pushed damming up of the Trinity River. And the Trinity River starts just west of Dallas up around Fort Worth and, and the Trinity had grand plans, they were go build a reservoir all the way down to where it empties into the gulf and they built three dams I think and Charlie pushed every bit of that and it created a lot of economic development for East Texas and I think there's a lot of jobs came from it and still today and that's probably the main thing.
BREMER: Did he get money for roads or schools or . . . ?
FOLEY: Oh yeah. Yeah, the road from here to Lufkin was four lanes when I was going to school over here forty-two years ago. That doesn't happen often when you have a four lane road between two towns the size of Lufkin and Nacogdoches. Right?
BREMER: Yeah, as it seems.
FOLEY: It was like a freeway.
BREMER: And is that why the freeway is good all the way to Houston. Was he responsible for getting money for that?
FOLEY: Yeah, yeah. He had Liberty County too, which is just North of the Houston Airport there. Had it all the way up the Highway 59. All those counties.
BREMER: So, V.A. clinics, dams . . .
FOLEY: Economic development yeah. And plus, taking care of his constituents. Customer service . . . no matter what they were inquiring about whether it be a veteran's loan, my mom is on food stamps, or my mom needs Medicaid, Medicare. He'd give me a list of people who to call when the telephone calls came about, and he knew exactly who you wanted to talk to, personally he knew them. Said just tell them I said call.
BREMER: So when he left office, do you do you think he left East Texas a bit transformed?
FOLEY: Oh yeah, no question about it. I moved to East Texas in 1948 and Highway 59 was just a two-lane road and it was dirty and dusty and now its four lanes all the way to Houston or six lanes in some places. It not all that not because of him, but a lot of it is. It's not all, but, you know, there's other people too. But, I would think that if Charlie's was not here we wouldn't have half of what we have.
BREMER: So how else is East Texas different from when you first got here? Is there more electricity? Is there . . .
FOLEY: Better schools.
BREMER: Better schools.
FOLEY: Yeah better schools. Better universities. I don't know about the public schools, I don't. I don't know whether the public schools or not, but certainly the universities are. He had, he went to Sam Houston [State University] some as a, before he went to the Naval Academy, and he always liked this school [Stephen F. Austin State University] and Dr. [Ralph W. Steen [the President] was very effective when he came over there in 1969. Y'all tell me, how has SFA worked out to have its own board of regents? How has that worked out? You know what's good or bad?
BREMER: Actually I can't comment on it.
FOLEY: Do you know?
BREMER: I don't know how that came about. Was it, did Charlie help with that?
FOLEY: Oh yeah, Dr. Steen brought his legislation and passed it. And it's the only, it's the only college of this size that has its own board of regents. Sam Houston, Texas State, all those other ones in that class, they all are governed by the College Coordinating Board, and I don't know, I don't know if that's good or bad.
BREMER: Did he do that because he wanted more local control?
FOLEY: I guess that's what Dr. Steen had in mind. Has it worked out that way?
BREMER: It's worked out well. I'm employed here and I'm pretty happy.
BREMER: So if . . . how would you summarize Wilson's career and its' importance for East Texas or for the nation.
FOLEY: Well I just think East Texas is a much better place because he was here and thank God he was.
BREMER: So no one else could have done what he . . .
FOLEY: Oh I'm sure somebody could had, but not as well.
BREMER: Not as well.
FOLEY: No, not as well.
BREMER: And he was able to get help for East Texas because he was able to build coalitions, work with people, cut deals, get better roads, better hospitals . . .
FOLEY: Drink whisky with more people, whatever. Yeah all those things. BREMRE: Do you think he, what, did more for East Texas than any other Texas politician?
FOLEY: Oh yeah, I you know, because he represented us and when you represent people you are more interested and he was interested. And you might say he was interested because he wanted to move up and that's true too but while he was here he performed.
BREMER: Is there anything else we haven't hit on yet that you think is important for the record. Any stories or . . .
FOLEY: Oh some of it I can't tell, but I shouldn't . . .
BREMER: You don't have too.
FOLEY: Probably talk too much. Sorry.
BREMER: Well that's what we get you here for, hoping you talk, talk and tell as much as you can.
FOLEY: You met L. G. Moore?
BREMER: No, not yet.
FOLEY: L. G. Moore is unusual character that he was, he was raised up here in Central Heights. You know where Central Heights is?
FOLEY: He was raised in Central Heights and moved to Houston as a young man and went to work in the Operating Engineers, a union, and became the master at courting politicians. And his career and Charlie's career are intertwined I guess you can say. He is somebody you need to talk to.
BREMER: He's actually being interviewed today.
FOLEY: Oh has he? BREMRE: Oh I'm pretty sure.
BREMER: Well I think we have taken up our time. Is there anything I have not quizzed you on that you think is . . .
FOLEY: I'm sorry. I'm such a, for a dull interview [Bremer laughs].
BREMER: No, not at all. I have a whole page of stuff from you. Well Ian thank you so much for your time and we appreciate it and I think that's it. I can walk you back to . . .
FOLEY: I can get back.
BREMER: You got it. Okay.
FOLEY: You want to stay? You want to stay here?
BREMER: Good to meet you. Good to meet you too [speaking to Laura Blackburn] . . .