Interviewers' Names: Paul J. P. Sandul, M. Scott Sosebee, and Laura Blackburn
Interview Date and Location: The interview was conducted on March 15, 2012, at the Russell Senate Building in Washington, D.C.
Context Notes: Interview and transcription completed in conjunction with the Charlie Wilson Oral History Project at Stephen F. Austin State University, Nacogdoches, Texas.
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 interviewers M. Scott Sosebee, Paul J. P. Sandul, and Laura Blackburn are identified as SOSEBEE, SANDUL, and BLACKBURN respectively. Candice Shy Hooper is identified as HOOPER.
SANDUL: Hello. This is Paul Sandul, assistant professor of history at Stephen F. Austin State University and director of the Charlie Wilson Oral History Project. We are in Washington D.C. at the Russell Senate Building in Senator Hutchison's Conference Room. And I am in the room with Scott Sosebee, professor at SFA, and Laura Blackburn, a graduate student. And today we are here interviewing Candice Hooper. Candice, welcome.
HOOPER: Thank you.
SANDUL: I first was hoping to maybe get a little background information about you and then maybe share a little bit about yourself and maybe take us up to the point of when you first met Charlie.
HOOPER: Okay. I come from a military family, a navy family. I was born on Guam. My father retired as a Master Chief Hospital corpsman, but he was a navy hospital corpsman through most of his military career. Moved a lot of places. Finally ended up at the University of Illinois where I took a degree in journalism. My last semester there, or actually before my last semester, one of my professors suggested that I apply for something called the Sears journalism internship. At that time [Sears, Roebuck] would bring 30 journalism students, either juniors or seniors, to Washington and place them in congressional offices. Sears interns were eagerly sought above, apparently above all other interns because they, theoretically, we knew how to write. And so that was the one thing that they needed. And so I actually got chosen as an intern and when they went to place me with somebody, I don't know how they did it, they said they did it based on common interests or something, but I ended up in the office of Congressman J.J Pickle, Jake Pickle. And we figured out later, he and I, that the only reason I ended up there was because he had an unusual name and my maiden name is Shy, so I was Candy Shy and he was Jake Pickle [Sosebee and Sandul laugh] and we think that was probably it. So that was my last semester of college. That would've been the spring of 1973 and I came out here. At that time the Texas delegation, I believe, had only two Republican members. It was all Democratic. The two Republican members, and there might've been three, but the two I remember were Alan Steelman and Bill Archer. So, but when people spoke about the Texas delegation or when the Democrats, they talked about the delegation, it was just the Democrats. Every Wednesday, the Texas delegation had lunch in the Rayburn Room of the Capitol, which is right across from the member's dining room. And every other Wednesday, the members were encouraged to bring a guest or a constituent or somebody as, you know, a guest to the luncheon. And so on one of the alternate Wednesdays, Mr. Pickle decided that I should be the guest. At the time, his administrative assistant was a man named Tony Proffitt who was later pretty famous in Texas political circles, as you all well know. And Mr. Pickle . . . [was] on the floor doing some business. So Tony walked me over, and, as it happened, Charlie Wilson had just come in and sat down. And so Tony placed me next to Charlie and said, "Charlie, you take care of her." And that was, you know, at that point, speaking sort of objectively, that was really fine with Charlie. [Sosebee laughs.] You know, I was much better looking. I was younger. I had long blonde hair. [Sandul laughs.] You know, I had, I was named Candy Shy [Sosebee and Sandul laugh], which is, you know, going to get his attention anyway.
SOSEBEE: I bet he had a lot of fun with that. [Laughs.]
HOOPER: Well, right. And so, we just sort of met each other at that lunch. This is a long story, but shortening that up, I think that was probably in March. And then in late April, I was to go back to the University of Illinois for my graduation. And literally the day that I was leaving, I had taken a job with Congressman Bob Steele of Connecticut. He had advertised for a press secretary. I decided to take that job at the magnificent annual salary of $8,000, which I thought was amazing. [Sandul laughs.] And as, but I was still in Mr. Pickle's office my last day. There was a call for a vote. As Charlie, as Mr. Pickle walked across the street to vote here at the Capitol, he ran into Charlie. He mentioned, "Oh, do you remember Candy Shy? She just took a job with Bob Steele." Charlie went back to his office, called down and talked to me and said, you know, "Come up and talk to me. I want you to work for me. If you wanted a job you should've called me." So I went up. I talked to him. He offered me $9,000, which was unbelievable. [Sandul laughs.] And I decided also, well I already knew everything that you'd need to know about Texas [Sosebee chuckles] because I had worked for Mr. Pickle for three months, [Sandul chuckles] and so it was going to be an easier transition. And I then went down to Bob Steele's office and said, "I'm very sorry but I've taken a better offer." So, and then the next day I was back to Illinois for my graduation and didn't come back until about July 23rd of that year to start as Charlie's assistant press assistant, that's what I was hired at. At that point Charlie did not have a press assistant, but he knew that I wasn't really qualified to be the press assistant for the most junior member of the Texas delegation. I think he was thinking of, you know, Johnny Apple or William Safire or somebody like that [Sosebee laughs] to be his press assistant. But, [Sosebee laughs] 'cause he'd had a man there as a press assistant who had left who was a local radio commentator. But, by the time I arrived, I was assistant, I was really assistant to nobody. But he had actually hired, in the interim, Al Reinert, and I don't know you know him. Great, great writer. Total character. Complete iconoclast. And Al finally did show up. But by the time he showed up, he had been trying to patch together, really start his writing career. And he had been, he had a hundred proposals out to a hundred magazines for articles [he proposed to write that he would] to try to [get them to pay for], and nobody had said yes to him or anything. And so he had accepted this job from Charlie. But by the time he got here he had lots of interest because, I can't remember, it was either Playboy or Penthouse or one of those that had published his article about the madam in the whorehouse in Texas, that later Larry King took that story and made the . . .
SOSEBEE: Larry King . . . It was a Penthouse story.
SOSEBEE: I'm sorry, not Penthouse, it was Playboy.
HOOPER: It was Playboy, yeah.
SOSEBEE: Playboy did that, yeah.
HOOPER: Yeah. And when that hit then, everybody wanted Al Reinert to write [for them]. And so, he was generally too busy to deal with Charlie's stuff. Charlie at that time, well I can stop there and let you ask questions, but Charlie at the time was a, his office was on the second floor of the Longworth building.
HOOPER: Room 1214. But often people had annexes. And his annex was two floors up.
HOOPER: I think like 1416. It was a small little room and it was just going to be Al and me. And Al lived in a basement apartment on New Jersey Avenue not far across from where Charlie lived. And if nobody's told you about the apartment that Charlie had when he first came, the one that was designed for Gene McCarthy . . .
HOOPER: . . . you should get that story. But what would happen would be that Charlie would call up to the annex, say, you know, "I need Al down here. We're going to do something." Al would not be there. It might be eleven o'clock, it might be one in the afternoon. He never had his phone on in the apartment and, of course, no cell phone. So then I would race down the stairs, run the two blocks, wake him up, [Sandul chuckles] and get him into Charlie's office. I would always say, "Oh, he's on the phone with the Dallas Morning News or the Houston Chronicle or [Sandul and Sosebee laugh], you know, he'll get right back to you." But, so it was great fun. And then finally Al, I think, got pulled into the real sustainable infrastructure of Texas Monthly, which was a startup back then, and went back to Texas. And then . . .
SOSEBEE: I've worked for them for a number of years.
HOOPER: Yeah. And then . . .
SANDUL: And then so you took over as . . .
HOOPER: Yeah. I mean there was this gap where I think Charlie was still hoping to find somebody much more qualified. And it would've been great to have worked with somebody else who was a great writer. But in the meantime, the press releases were being churned out, the radio shows were being done, you know and finally he says, "Okay, you know." But, from that point on, Charlie really was the best boss I ever had because he really focused on what you did. And, you know, and it was a real meritocracy in that office.
SANDUL: Well, can you describe a little bit of his management style as a boss?
HOOPER: As a boss. He had certain things that he was extremely rigid about. And you, you probably have heard some of this already. Some of it stemmed from this incident that he always talked about when his mother came to Washington at some point and went to, I believe it was Senator [Ralph] Yarborough's office [it was more likely Senator Lyndon Johnson's office], and stood in the anteroom as the people in the anteroom talked to each other and talked on the phone and didn't greet his mother properly. Which is sort of like, you know . . .
SANDUL: Yeah, yeah.
HOOPER: . . . walked in, nobody's paying attention.
HOOPER: Wilmuth [Wilson's mother] did not put up with that sort of thing and came back and told that story to Charlie. And so the focus on the greeting, the focus on the appearance of the office, the focus on the tone of that front room, and I think that's in part why when he moved to the, he was much more comfortable to, when he moved to the Rayburn building because you had a smaller front office, much more easily controlled then in Longworth, you know, there were probably five or six desks in that main room, and no partitions at the time or anything, the offices look very different now. But so, that, there was a setting that was, that he was very particular about for constituents, for people to come in to be really, the focus was on them, and that was an important part of it. As both an adjunct to that and I think as part of his own nature, came all of the emphasis on appearance. Now, of course, Charlie liked to have good looking women around him. And I often really make the point that I was one of the back office people. The front office girls were really gorgeous. [Sosebee laughs.] That, and he was very particular about your appearances. I mean, you know, you had to look nice, you had to dress nice. But it was really part of the ambiance that he wanted the visitor to see and feel and, you know, understand. So that would seem superficial, but not in a sense of constituent service.
SOSEBEE: Does that fall into his extreme detail to constituent service?
HOOPER: Oh. Yeah.
SOSEBEE: Which, and I'm sure you can add to much about how he felt about serving . . .
HOOPER: Oh, yeah.
SOSEBEE: . . . constituents and what was important.
HOOPER: Yeah. Well, of course, if you talk with Peggy then you get that.
HOOPER: But in the back office, too, I mean the woman that sat next to me for most of the time was the woman who did the VA social security stuff. You know, it's just, it was just stunning, you know, the problems that she dealt with and how rigorously, you know, every, every inquiry that came in had to have an answer or at least an answer that work was in progress within 24 hours. The person had to know that something was being done about their problem. And that was, you know, there was no shirking on that. There were no excuses allowed about that. But, yes I think so much of it was detail. And what it all fed into was this notion that you had this, you know, really good-looking, really warm greeting, you know, atmosphere. And it fed into one of Charlie's greatest strengths as a legislator, which was that he was very willing to be, even he strategically encouraged people to underestimate him.
SOSEBEE: Can you expound on that some? 'Cause we've asked that question to people and they seem a little reluctant to give us an answer. I think they know that that's the case.
HOOPER: Oh, no, I think it's absolutely, it's absolutely true. I don't think there's any other way to explain, well, I mean there are other ways. He had great strengths in terms of his personality, his character, and his negotiating abilities. But his greatest secret weapon was the fact that his eye was always on the prize, and if it would help that people underestimated him, then that was not a problem [for his ego]. And you could see that in many, many, you know, I saw that in a lot of different contexts. The fight that he went through to get on the appropriations committee, 'cause he had to fight the entire Texas delegation to get on appropriations. And he had to go around them and put his name forward, get his name put forward. In the speakers committee, the Democratic [Steering Committee] . . . that chose who was going to be on committees when that, when the "Texas appropriations chair" came up and he was fighting Richard White.
HOOPER: The delegation had always chosen on the basis of seniority. And at that point, you know, that, that delegation was probably the strongest delegation that ever existed . . .
SOSEBEE: It probably was.
HOOPER: . . . because everybody was either chairman of a major committee or chairman of a major subcommittee, except when you got down really to like Charlie, I mean you got down to the junior people. And part of that, you can go back and look at when they forced Jake Pickle to go on to ways and means, he didn't want to go on to ways and means.
SOSEBEE: Uh huh. That's right.
HOOPER: He was really happy at interstate commerce and science and technology. And they said, "No, because if you don't go, the next senior member is Bob Eckhardt." They did not want Bob Eckhardt [Sosebee and Sandul laugh] on Ways and Means. And so they forced Jake Pickle to take ways and means.
HOOPER: So that was how rigid, that was how controlling the delegation was. But Charlie was willing to stand up to them and say, you know, "We can't have Richard White on appropriations. That can't be our guy on appropriations."
SOSEBEE: That was quite the plucky move on his part to do.
HOOPER: Oh, my, oh, it did [was]. I mean, he was ostracized by most of the delegation I think really, except Mr. Pickle who, of course, was smart enough to see that you didn't want to piss off the newest . . .
HOOPER: . . . Texas member to the appropriations committee. But yeah, no, it was, I mean there was this sort of radio silence from the whole delegation. He was persona non grata at the delegation lunches for quite a while.
SOSEBEE: And I knew that he, for example, he and George Mahon had a, basically . . . they didn't speak to each other anymore. And, but I didn't know the genesis of it after hearing . . .
HOOPER: But it wasn't just Mahon. I mean it was . . .
HOOPER: . . . You know, it, it, that, that was something that, it was more institutional than personal.
SOSEBEE: Uh huh.
HOOPER: They just felt that, that Charlie had, had, you know, screwed with the delegation and that, he wasn't supposed to do that. And they, and they also, I think, really felt that he wasn't worthy of it yet. I mean, he was too much the playboy image, too much this or that. But, by that time he had already taken on most of the delegation to its fight on the depletion allowance. And that was his first big legislative effort and legislative . . .
SOSEBEE: For our purposes, can you explain that more?
SOSEBEE: That's his big legislation.
HOOPER: It was really huge at the time. And in fact, it was so huge that later Charlie said, you know, "Candy, if we'd known what we were taking on we never would've done it." [Hooper, Sosebee, and Sandul laugh] But as we were, sort of, hurtling toward the oil embargo, the disparity in the prices of natural gas in Texas versus nationally became huge. And, I mean, there were gas lines in Texas long before there were any gas lines in the rest of the country . . . [at] all. And that was because it was sort of this little island controlled by, where the prices were controlled by the Texas Railroad Commission. And so they had a whole separate pricing structure, then, . . . [from] the rest of the country. And so it became, all of the shortages began showing up in Texas early. So, responding to some of those variations and beginning to see the concern that could spread elsewhere, [a] Congressman named Bill Green from Pennsylvania, from Philadelphia I think, proposed to eliminate the percentage depletion. The focus there was on the major oil companies, the seven sisters, there were still seven of them back then. And the arguments were, you know, let's, they're getting, they're making huge amounts of money and they've got this enormous tax loophole that's not rooted in reality and so let's get rid of it. And what happened as a result of that, because they could see steam building up on that and, you know, the tensions against the oil companies were rising very rapidly. So a group of Texas independent oil producers and a couple from Kansas began to think about the possibility of ditching the majors and just going for a save for themselves. Okay, let's try to distinguish between the major oil companies who are, you know, who, well let's distinguish between the independent oil producers, who were the guys that were going out and finding the oil and then a lot of their properties would be sold to the majors, and the majors who were not really finding new sources of oil but were then finding and, you know, producing and refining it and selling it. This had never been contemplated within the oil industry. Everybody was supposed to be, you know, locked in arms together. But they could see that they were going to lose the depletion allowance and they knew they had a good story to tell. So they started and apparently, I think within the course of one or two days, and they had some representation here in town, including Harry McPherson, who recently died, was the representative for the Kansas oil producers. He came to them, or they came to him and hired him. And then the Texas producers hired a man named Dick Kline, who was actually from California but was here and was a liberal Democrat. So they were savvy enough to know, they were, they hired these two Democrats, a Texas Democrat and, and they made the rounds. And they started with the most senior person in the Texas delegation, I think would have still been George Mahon at that time. And they had appointments set up in descending order of seniority. And the answer, the question was, "Will you help us save the percentage depletion allowance for independents? When Bill Green's bill comes to the floor, will you add an amendment that excludes the independent producers from the removal of the depletion allowance?" No, no, no, no, no, no, no, no. They get to Charlie. And I remember 'cause I was in that meeting. This was when he started the practice of [turning to his press secretary for legislative work]. Okay, this is a subject that I'm not on any committee on, at that point he was still on Veterans' Affairs [Committee] and Post Office and Civil Service [Committee], and so [he asked himself] who do I ask to come and [sort] . . . through on the legislative side [and he decided it would be] . . . the press secretary. And so that's, that's why you see, even in the movie, the press secretary, which was not me at that time, but had such a dominant role because whenever something came up that he didn't feel either fell neatly into a category or that he felt needed some additional attention, you know, within the office and not just from later the appropriations staff person, who was always, you know, I mean they were rocket scientists, he would go to the press secretary. So anyway, [he] went in the meeting and they said, "Here's what we want to do. Fair notice, everybody else in the delegation has said 'No' and, in fact, said they would oppose it." They did not, I don't think they went to Bob Eckhardt, though, because I think they felt that he was a nonstarter as a proponent of this legislation. His politics and, you know, also his sort of personal style was not aggressive enough, I think they felt. But I think they felt that he was just not a good choice. So, again, they get to Charlie and Charlie says, you know, "Here, hell, I've been fighting big companies all my life. If the majors don't like this that's too bad." You know, he talked to them about his fight on the telephone, against the telephone company down in Texas. And so he took it on. He said yes he'd do it. And then that just started this huge, colossal fight.
SOSEBEE: And that is all an interesting concept of, I'm from west Texas and so [Hooper laughs.] we think independent producers should get everything and the majors, we should get rid of them anyway. [Laughs.] But it is interesting that the whole delegation, I mean because later there were . . . depletion and particularly with the independent producers becomes a big issue in Texas.
HOOPER: Oh yeah, but, but that . . .
SOSEBEE: You know, and that becomes a big issue. But that the whole delegation would . . .
HOOPER: But, but at the point in time, at this point in time where you had to stand down the major oil companies, they were not prepared to do that. And it's understandable at that point in time because of the whole, sort of economic and political and everything, history of Texas, why would you necessarily easily stand up and say to the major oil companies, "No, you're toast," and, . . . "I'm not going to just go into the joust with, you know, with a lance and fight for you, you know, to the bitter end." I'm not even sure that it wasn't that they didn't see that the end was there. Maybe some of them did. But I think that they had this sense of loyalty. Well, Charlie had never, you know, he had no experience of the major oil companies being loyal to him. In fact, he had had very little experience with the independent producers. I mean, he knew the difference, which most people in Congress didn't know. And then that was the really launching, and to go back to this whole point of people underestimating Charlie and him using that, he did this masterful job of deploying these independent oil producers on their own to tell their stories. And the way that he ran this operation was both, sort of, like a model of military efficiency and Machiavellian strategy.
HOOPER: Because he would call up members of congress, and at that time, I mean already he knew so many of them. That was just his chemistry. He just, he got to know people. But even members he didn't know, he called them. He'd say, you know, "Did you know that there are guys, there are these little oil folks that are fighting the major oil companies every day," and you know, "Would you let one of them come and talk to you?" Well, it's hard to say no to a colleague. And then, so he'd set up a whole range of meetings and they would bring in more of their people. And every morning, probably for, I don't know, not straight, but at least a month, 7:30 in the morning they were to show up in his office and Charlie would be there. Now who would think Charlie would be in his office at 7:30? [Sandul chuckles.] He would be there. He would first do an inspection. And he would make them take off their gold cufflinks, their gold tie bars. He would, you know, just literally [inspect them], and then he would talk to them about how to talk to Yankees . . . [Sosebee and Sandul laugh]. And, not telling them to change anything, but, you know, just to, to, how to be succinct, how to get to the point, the points that he felt needed to be made, their points, their story, about how to tell their story. And he would get to know each one of them and if they had a special story, you know, that would be great. And so all the cufflinks would go into his safe in his office and we'd run downstairs to the House [of Representatives] store when they came up and get little congressional cufflinks for them all. And then, they would go out on these meetings. And then at the end of the day, so this would be like maybe 6 o'clock or so, they all had to come back in and they had to tell him, you know, what to, who did they see, what did they say, and Charlie would look at that for what kind of follow-up needed to be done. One day, one of the oil men came in . . . Ernie Cockrell . . . I don't know if you know him, but Cockrell Petroleum [was an important independent producer in Texas]. Now he was a very young man. He came in. He had his arm in a sling. And when he walked in the door Charlie said, "That's great." [Everyone laughs.]
HOOPER: Yeah. Yeah. And then he said, "How did that happen?" And he said, "Well, I broke it skiing in Vail." He said, "Oh, don't tell them that. Say you fell down the stairs or something, you know, nothing like that." [Sandul laughs.] But it's just the sort of seizing on, you know, let's have somebody that you can get some sympathy with right away. [Sandul laughs.] And so, we did that, I mean he did that just, it was almost an exhaustive schedule. And he was sort of sitting there behind the scenes and then he would be calling and following up. But, then beyond that, he could see that the one person that he needed, the one person they needed to support this amendment was the person that they had bypassed, and that was Bob Eckhardt. He knew that if his amendment went to the floor and Bob Eckhardt didn't support it, it would lose a lot of Democratic votes because Bob was such a liberal but he was a Texan. He would be, he would've been the one that would've been expected to support this. So he told them, he said, "We've got to let Bob, we've got to give this amendment to Bob and we've got to get him on board." Well it was a three-page amendment and Eckhardt was just known for his wordsmithing, for his tireless noodling with language. And so they gave it, Charlie gave it to Eckhardt and said, you know, "Look this over and make whatever changes you need to be comfortable with it." 'Cause Eckhardt was comfortable with the idea but he wanted it to be ironclad-type. It was a three-page amendment when it got to him. It came back as an eleven-page amendment.
HOOPER: And so that, you know, that's going to complicate things on the floor because the more words there are the more people are going to think that there are actually [more] loopholes rather than [fewer] . . .
HOOPER: Closing. And so, so it, then it became a point of, you know, legislative importance that Eckhardt had crafted this amendment to make sure that, you know, the majors weren't going to get a benefit back or a benefit from it and that it was, you know, going to do what it would do. And then when Bill Green's amendment went to the floor, this was Charlie's first time to really offer an amendment on the floor and he did something that, at least as far as we were told then, and I don't know 'cause I've not looked back in the history, but that nobody had ever done before. He had had these big charts prepared.
HOOPER: Without thinking, you know, I mean you need some visual aids, Okay. Well, they said, you know, at least the sergeant at arms there or whatever at the time said, "No, no, no. You can't do this." And he said, "I can't do this?" He said, "Why not?" Well then they couldn't find any reason he couldn't do it. But nobody, they never had that before. So Charlie had these big charts on the floor. That was, it was huge. It was really amazing because then they would see, nowadays they do it . . .
HOOPER: . . . all the time.
HOOPER: But at least at that time, at least what we were told, that hadn't been done in the history of that particular congress. So, he fought, he fought, he fought. We lost that amendment, I'm going to say, on the floor of the House, by about seventeen votes. Every Republican voted against it. Not just Texas Republicans, but all the Republicans voted against it, and a few Democrats and we lost it. So then he went over to the Senate side and sat down with Senator Bentsen. And then Bentsen and Long introduced it and they passed it on the Senate floor.
SOSEBEE: Which is, yeah, see, I didn't know. I knew the Bentsen-Long passing . . . I didn't know Charlie's involvement on the floor.
HOOPER: Yeah. I think it would be really interesting to even go back and look at the, read the congressional record for that time. 'Cause I was sitting up in the gallery at that time and, you know, it was just fascinating.
HOOPER: But the point was that when he, you know, when he took the floor, I think the other members, they knew that he was going to offer the amendment. But they had no idea how, how well he had, you know, the kind of campaign he had mounted to support this. Because by the time it got to the floor, all the leading Democrats really supported him. And it was the conservative Democrats and the Republicans that defeated it.
SANDUL: Now when you say, this is, then, a part of an example of he's being extremely successful, or it results in a success. But you're saying he strategically set about to play on people underestimating him.
SANDUL: And is this is an example where he would sort of, not play dumb, but let them underestimate how sharp I really am, and then go for the kill, go for the kill?
HOOPER: Right. I think that was a good example because . . . he sort of worked behind the scenes and then it really was a tremendous victory, even though it was a defeat. Nobody could imagine you could come that close at that time. But Charlie didn't go crowing about it. He just said, "Okay. Now let's work on the next thing. Let's go get it done. Let's go over to the Senate." In terms of being underestimated, you know, he, I think it was more the fact that he put together these campaigns, the campaign to get on the appropriations committee. I mean, he lobbied very quietly. . . . I don't even remember what year this was, but, I mean Charlie was a relatively new member. Richard White had been there for twenty years or more. We did a poll how many members of Congress knew Richard White, and there were some members that didn't even know there was a member named Richard White. It was stunning how few members said, "Yes, I know him" or "I've had a conversation with him." Charlie fed that into the mix . . . not just the delegation, he didn't feed it to the delegation necessarily, but to the steering committee. . . . You know, you want the Appropriations Committee. They want it to be a strong committee-that they want the Democrats on that committee to be strong and be able to get things done. And then to see that, here was this member, been there twenty years, and a lot of people didn't even know he was there. What kind of an, you know, advocate would that be? But it was not a campaign that broke out into the open, you know, that made the press, I don't think even in Texas. It was just, he kept it very quiet. Even when the vote was taken I gave him a little cup that was inscribed after the vote because he stood outside and every member that come out of that steering committee, I think there were twenty-five Members, [and they all] said they voted for him and the vote was 14-, or it was like 13-12. [Sosebee laughs.] So . . .
SOSEBEE: Well we know who that was.
HOOPER: Yeah. Yeah. Yeah.
SANDUL: Yeah. Yeah.
SOSEBEE: Same thing in academia. [Laughs.]
HOOPER: But, you know, all of sudden people woke up and Charlie was on the appropriations committee and was like, whoa, you know, how did this happen?
SANDUL: Mhmm. Mhmm.
HOOPER: And then they thought, "Well," you know, "what's he going to do on the appropriations committee?" I mean, some of them may have thought it was a worse choice than Richard White because, you know, this was a guy that, I mean he used to stand at the cafeteria at Longworth, I remember one time Ron Dellums was one of his great friends, and on one day they were standing there, you know, sort of back-to-back measuring whether who was taller and whether Dellums could use his afro as part of his height. [Sandul and Sosebee laugh.] You know, it just, and everybody's there watching him, you know, goof around, so.
SANDUL: Mhmm. Mhmm.
SOSEBEE: You think that the, that's part of the, do you think he intentionally cultivated, then, the good-time Charlie image for that particular purpose?
HOOPER: I think that he realized how effective it could be. And I, you know, I've never looked at it closely, but I imagine that that was part of the, that was the secret of his success in the Texas legislature, too.
HOOPER: You know, now, certainly you have to look at the notion of moving ahead to the time when I was not in the office and the whole Afghanistan operation.
SANDUL: When did you leave the office, by the way?
HOOPER: I left in '78.
HOOPER: In July of '78. You have to look at that and say, anybody else who had done that would've been out touting it, you know, all the time.
HOOPER: He never did. He never did. I mean, I don't think until George Crile's book came out that even all of us on his staff with, maybe with the exception of, you know, maybe Peyton [Walters], maybe Elaine [Cornett], really knew all the pieces in there. Charlie was the only one. And as close as he was to lots of his friends, as often as he talked about bits and pieces, I mean I didn't bring, you know, he would bring war rugs back, he would bring, you know, Pakistani . . . [mementos] he would bring back things and tell these tales. I don't know any of us, I know we did not really appreciate all the pieces because he didn't talk about them . . .
HOOPER: . . . like, I think a lot of people who had done that.
SOSEBEE: That is, actually, amazing. I mean, nobody knew.
HOOPER: Right. Yeah.
HOOPER: And why would you know, you would know if the member of congress who had done that talked about it. And I think the tendency would be to think that most people would, you know. If they had basically brought down the Soviet Union, wouldn't you think you'd have a party or two to celebrate it and, you know, a book deal or something like that?
SOSEBEE: Since you had worked with Pickle and Charlie, and they were friends, they were good friends. But kind of compare them as congressmen, style and how they were and how they thought. Do you think Charlie modeled himself on Pickle some?
HOOPER: No. I think Charlie was sui genesis, is that the word? I think he was, you know, himself incarnate. I think, you know, certainly he had heroes and in his office were, you know, Lincoln, FDR, [and in the movie you saw] the George Washington print [on his wall]. I think he had strong heroes and, you know, a sense of a, not only a public duty but a sense of, you know, public leadership. But, and I think he probably . . . shamelessly borrowed any good idea that he ever saw. But he made up things that were just astonishing. You know, you've seen and heard of dear colleague letters. [You have a letter, but] . . . mostly the deal was you had pages and pages of signatures [of Members supporting it], you know. But the letter is first and it goes into, you know, detail about what kind of legislation it's going to be. Charlie's the first person I ever saw who sent out a dear colleague letter, and everybody thought it was a mistake but it was not, where the signature page was the first page because he had these extreme liberals and these extreme conservatives, you know. And, you know, it was one that we filed later, and I'm trying to remember, . . . he probably did that first in the percentage depletion where, you know, he would have, he, you know, he would get a couple of conservatives. But I know that in our lobbying firm days, when Charlie was a lobbying partner of ours, we used that and it was absolutely modeled on something I remembered from Charlie's office, and Charlie did, too. We used that on a letter that we encouraged to be put together about the sale of IMF gold . . . [signed by] Jesse Helms and Jesse Jackson, Jr. . . . That was the first page of the letter. And so . . .
SANDUL: Oh, okay.
HOOPER: . . . you know, you were going to read that letter.
SOSEBEE: Was it his force of personality that allowed him to bridge extreme liberals and extreme conservatives, for example, or did he really fall in the middle of those two groups?
HOOPER: Well, I think, you know, it, well generally, he probably did. But his force of personality, I think, made it easier for him to, you know, attract them. And the thing that, the one line that I remember when Dick Kline, who was the lobbyist for the Texas independents, died, there was a line that actually Harry McPherson, who spoke at his service, said, was that Dick had this ability to make his agenda your agenda. And . . . when he said that I was thinking, "Well, that was Charlie, too." Because Charlie would always find a way, whatever he wanted, he would find a way to make sure that there something in it for you too, you also. The particular instance was, I think, when he wanted to get more tanks for Israel. And, which the, you know, there's a big northeastern contingent that was very intent on Israel. But what Charlie also really wanted was to get more tanks for the United States Army. And so, you know, here he's working and they're not so crazy about, so he packages the two. Okay, you get your tanks, we get our tanks. Let's do this deal. That was the kind of thing, and, that begins to sound more like just sort of a trade-off, but it really wasn't. It was more a strategic thinking, you know. And so, or I was trying to figure out, again going back to Alan Steelman and the channelization of the Sabine River, would that have been a big issue? Or maybe it wasn't the Sabine River but there was a, part of a river near Dallas and the issue was . . .
SOSEBEE: The Trinity River.
HOOPER: . . . the Trinity River, right. And the issue was, you know, whether you're going to channelize it. And so this whole, again this same northeastern contingent is, they're all environmentalists. Steelman thought he had them locked up. He . . . was anti-the channelization. Charlie was pro-the business interest. Steelman didn't work it. Charlie [worked it, but not obviously] . . . . He went back around to all of his friends whom he had dealt with on issues of Israeli national security and . . . and when that vote took place, I mean Steelman, he just looked like he had been hit on the head when he saw all those [lights go on, on the vote] . . . that went against him from the members that he really thought that he had.
SOSEBEE: So, what do you, and I know Laura's [Laura Blackburn] itching to ask this question. I should ask her, let her ask it because she's . . .
SANDUL: Well, yeah.
SOSEBEE: . . . in the political philosophy, so.
BLACKBURN: How would you describe Charlie's political philosophy?
HOOPER: Well, you know that's really hard because I didn't have much of a political background here. So I didn't, mostly what I learned was from Charlie. But, my favorite line from Charlie was, when he got here, his closest friends right away were Barbara Jordan, Mickey Leland, and then later, when Bob Carr came into Congress, this young liberal congressman from Michigan who had subscribed to the Texas Observer for years, you know, was dying to meet Charlie who had been sort of, you know, this . . . [idol]. But, Charlie came to Washington labeled as a . . . "Texas liberal." And what he said was . . . "I thought I was a liberal until I came to Washington and met some real ones."
SOSEBEE: That's pretty interesting.
HOOPER: And so, but the difference was that, in the Texas legislature you're not dealing with national security issues. And that's where he was a hawk. So you get this sort of, I don't know, populist split, but, you know, on domestic concerns he was very, you know, he was very, he would be put in the moderate to liberal camp. On foreign policy, national security, he was very much a conservative. Now, I have to back up. You all know this story better than I do. And actually most of it took place really before I got there. But, his first big legislative victory was the Big Thicket. And that was astonishing, you know, as far as I know. So, I mean that's how I always viewed him was liberal domestic, more conservative on national/international issues.
SANDUL: As working as assistant press assistant and then press assistant, [Hooper laughs] what was it, can you take us a little bit, share a little bit about your job, particularly also dealing with "good-time Charlie" and sort of dealing with that as someone in charge of the press.
HOOPER: Well, on the one hand, you know, being Charlie's press assistant was really easy because all you needed to do, the call would come in from the office and it would come to you from the press. But first of all, with most of the major Texas journalists, and you know all the famous ones, they already had a relationship with Charlie, so the calls would go to him. And sometimes I would find out what he said before it was in the paper and sometimes I wouldn't. [Sandul chuckles] But then for more of the national media, they would come in through me. But the best thing I could do was hook them up with Charlie. That's what he wanted. He wanted to talk to them and he was the best to do that. There were things, though, that, you know, that I would do, like write a weekly news column. His wife, when he first came to Washington, Jerry Wilson, she was very, very popular. She had a weekly news column in the papers that she had done while he was in the Texas legislature. And so she was really well-known. Well, came, Charlie needed a weekly news column. My adventures learning about the Texas weeklies is a whole other issue but it was, you know, just an amazing, amazing process and such interesting people. And then we would do a weekly radio show where basically we'd go over to the recording studio and I, as we walked over, I'd say, "Okay, this week I'm thinking we're going to do this" and I'd have a few questions written out. But, he could, you know, just the way he talked, he could do things. He could say things that were memorable sound bites. He was like a master of sound bites. And, of course, the most interesting ones, when you get to the good-time Charlie part, are the tale, and I don't remember her name, of the woman that he decided to hire to work in the front office. I don't know how he had met her, and, but she might've been a constituent. In any event, her husband had been a pilot killed in Vietnam and so he was giving her a job in the office. And she created a great deal of furor in the office because she didn't really carry her weight and she was not as qualified as she had claimed to have been to do any of the office duties. And so the tensions out in the front office were, got pretty high and finally she had to be let go. And, I mean, I think Charles [Simpson] is the one that let her go, but I'm not sure. And she immediately went to the papers, the local papers here, and . . . [claimed] sexual harassment, that she had been fired because she hadn't given in to Charlie's advances. And so this is the famous line where then the first call comes in, I give it to Charlie, I go sit in the room, and the reporter's telling him, this is the first he's heard, that she's claiming that she was sexually harassed. And Charlie said, "Are you kidding?" Said, "She couldn't get laid on a troop train." Now, so . . . [Everyone laughs.]
HOOPER: Well, everything pretty much dissolved after that. I mean, there was no story and it never happened. But, would that have been how I'd handle this? No, but it was extraordinarily effective. There was another time, though, that Charlie was very unfairly blamed for something that created enormous furor, and it was that to, for members of Congress to get a raise during their length of service, which can't happen anymore. It was changed. . . . [Someone] has to introduce a [unanimous consent] resolution to deny a raise, basically. And so, yeah, and so, I mean, it all comes down to one person. If one person votes [against] . . . it, then it all falls apart because it has to go by unanimous consent. Well, this motion comes to the floor and Charles Wilson of California [objected to it] . . . . And so everybody got a raise and Walter Cronkite reported that it was Charles Wilson of Texas. Oh, every little old lady, you know, on a fixed income in East Texas called the office, just howling. And I, you know, so I'm running . . . [into his office], I'm saying, you know, "We got to put out press releases. We got to do this or that, you know, we got to, we've got to make sure everybody knows, you know, we're just over-the-top on this." And Charlie said, "Candy," said, "Just settle down." He said, "This'll get sorted out." He said, "And anyway," you know, "I get away with so much that it's probably just in the cards for me to actually take a hit now and then." [Hooper and Sandul laugh]
HOOPER: And I thought, "Oh." [Sandul laughs.] But, then the next night Walter Cronkite corrected it, you know, which was too late for all the people who'd spent long distance money on the phone calls.
SANDUL: Yeah. [Laughs.]
HOOPER: But, you know, his attitude was just so very different. [Sosebee chuckles.]
HOOPER: I also got another call as relation, I mean, to give you this notion, and this was when Charlie and Jerry were still married, and I got this call that said, "We just heard that Charlie Wilson got a divorce," and, "What can you say on that?" Well, instead of denying it, which, you know, I thought I knew well enough to deny it, but maybe I thought I didn't know well enough. I said I'd get back them. Well it turned out it was the other Charles Wilson again. So, but just the notion that I couldn't say definitely "No," you know, probably spoke to something. [Sandul and Sosebee laugh.]
SANDUL: Okay. [Laughs.] Well, can you share a little bit more. Now, obviously the office is famous for, as you said, strategically so, for the appearance of some of the women. But also this moniker of "Charlie's Angels." Now, obviously, you know, I have pictures of Farah Fawcett and Kate Jackson in my room. But, how did that name, sort of, come up? How was it embraced in the office and how have you felt about the moniker? It's a, speaking to y'all, it's very clear you've appropriated it as a, this is a wonderful [Hooper laughs.] bonding moniker.
HOOPER: Well and as we get older we like it more. [Everybody laughs.]
SANDUL: Fair enough.
HOOPER: But, then that article that Kathleen [Murphy] wrote. I mean, you can see that the thing, again I go back to this notion of being underestimated and, you know, if you look at any of the people and, you know, I'll exclude myself, but Noel and Elaine and Peggy and, you know, all of these beautiful women, they could just, you know, whip anybody. And not whip, but they were the peer, if not, the superior of any of their opposite numbers. I mean, especially on that appropriations committee. Now, I really didn't work for him while he was on the appropriations committee. But, there's no question that that is its own world. And they're the appropriations staffers because those are people who are, sort of, independently funded . . . as I think I understood it, not out of the regular budget allowance but with the understanding that you have to have really good people in there. So these are, these are all just superior intellects. And, you know, just tough as nails folks. All of his appropriations staffers, I mean, just his staff in general, I think, was . . . And it was, I wouldn't say it's a Darwinian office, but if people didn't measure up they didn't stay.
HOOPER: And yet I don't remember that happening too often that people left. And when I left, Charlie, at my going away party . . . said, "She's the first staff person I ever had with a parking space that voluntarily left." [Sandul and Sosebee laugh.] So, you know, it's, it was just a very, I mean it was a meritocracy.
HOOPER: And, but then in terms of the Charlie's Angels and all of that, you know I think from the outside, you know, I've been, people would ask us. I've been asked, "Did you date Charlie?" Said, "No. no." That was, that was just not really . . .
HOOPER: . . . going to happen. And I think there may have been one woman in the office he dated but she didn't work there after that. I mean, not that they stopped, they kept dating, but that was, she was segued out of the office. That was not going to be an issue. The thing that Charlie always said was, you know, when you hire some-, and this goes back, again, to the constituents in part, but where you hire somebody from the district, you know, you make one person happy and you make a lot of people unhappy, you know, if they were as other applicants. But then the same goes with the firing. So, he was not all that intent on hiring from the district like a lot of people were. And that, but that mindset freed him up to really just try to find the best people. So, for example, Noel had been Pete du Pont's appropriations person. And he had first encountered her there, which was, again, one of the great sound bites in the world. Charlie, they were on appropriations, on foreign aid appropriations and somebody brought up an appropriation for some, a road for some place in, I don't know, Africa or somewhere, and Pete du Pont was saying, you know, "We need this money. We need this money in Delaware," you know, "We have roads in Delaware that have problems. We would like this money in Delaware." And Charlie says, you know, "I can certainly sympathize with my friend from Delaware. I've got some counties in my district as big as his state." [Sosebee and Hooper laugh.]
SANDUL: Nice. [Laughs.]
SANDUL: Yeah. Yeah.
HOOPER: But, you know, again the moniker is . . . especially those of us, you know, now that Charlie's not, not, that wasn't, I don't think, a moniker when I was there.
HOOPER: I mean, it was known. Bella Abzug had an office one over from us. She would come along, she would poke her head in, and she would say that phrase that was on that picture of Golda Meier in Charlie's office. . . . "But can you type?" I mean, she would shout out into the, you know, entry area. And then she would walk on. And, you know, it just, but I don't think we really were called Charlie's Angels, not when I worked there.
SANDUL: Not when you were there. Well, the show came out a little . . .
HOOPER: Yeah. Yeah.
SANDUL: . . . late seventies, early eighties.
SOSEBEE: Yeah. About the time you left's when the show came out.
HOOPER: Mhmm. Yeah.
SOSEBEE: So I'm sure that the, yeah, that the nickname came later.
SANDUL: Now can you speak to us about, did Charlie have any aspirations beyond the office he occupied?
HOOPER: Oh. You know, when Senator Tower's seat came up . . .
HOOPER: . . . and I'm not, I don't remember the years, I don't remember many of the circumstances, but his seat was going to be vacant, people came out of the woodwork to get Charlie to run for that seat. This was relatively early on.
HOOPER: But they wanted him to run for that seat. And they said, you know, "You'd make a great senator. You'd be terrific. Of course, you'd have to stop drinking, you'd have to stop partying, you'd have to stop doing this stuff." And Charlie said, "No." He said, you know, "If I were to run for that seat, I'd run like me. And if you're saying I can't get that seat like that then I don't want that seat." He said, "I feel like I can get a lot done here." So he affirmatively put aside those kinds of aspirations, or that notion. And there were a lot of folks lined up to support him for that.
SANDUL: Mhmm. Mhmm. Do you have a favorite memory, or memories, of Charlie that you're willing to share on record? [Sandul and Hooper laugh.] A fond memory, just no matter how marginal or, it may seem?
HOOPER: Well, I do. It always sort of brings tears to my eyes.
SANDUL: Mhmm. Mhmm.
HOOPER: But Charlie became a great friend of my family, as you can see from that one letter.
SANDUL: Mhmm. Mhmm.
HOOPER: He loved my parents. My dad, as I said, was in the navy like him and that was very important. He always called my dad "chief." He loved my mom even up to maybe a month before he died, he called her, talked to her, time to time. She has more pictures, signed pictures of Charlie on her wall then she has of us kids. [Sosebee and Sandul laugh.] Okay. So she's got this whole wall. And it has played prominently in a few things, you know, when people come in to try to [Sosebee laughs.] do things and they see, you know . . .
SANDUL: Yeah, yeah, yeah.
HOOPER: . . . he was a very good friend of my family. He gave the eulogy at my dad's funeral in Arlington which is referenced in that letter [to my mom], which, as I said, I hadn't even seen until she sent it to me. But, one of the, when I was still working for him, my parents came to Washington. And we, Charlie took us all to lunch at the members' dining room. And so, when we got over there, as the dining room's all busy and all, we got this table. And my parents pulled out, they brought him a gift. And it was Carl Sandburg's two-volume of Abraham Lincoln.
HOOPER: Charlie immediately opens it up, knows exactly where to go to the second inaugural address and says, "This is my favorite thing," and he starts to read it. He starts in this, for him, you know his voice, I mean they always said Barbara Jordan had the voice of God. Well, you know, he's got . . . you know, the apostle's voice or whatever.
HOOPER: But, anyway, but he started reading it quietly. But it just, you know, the room disappeared for him and he starts getting into it. And first I noticed that the people at the next table are sort of looking, they sort of put down their [forks and knives], and they're listening. And pretty soon, the whole place is quiet and Charlie is coming, you know, "with malice toward none, with charity toward all." At the end of it, literally, a standing ovation. [Sosebee chuckles.]
HOOPER: The entire, you know, dining room, they all stand up and they're applauding. Charlie is just shocked. He had no idea that anybody was even hearing him. [Sandul chuckles.] I love that. It just, to me it says so much about him.
SANDUL: Yeah. Is there anything else that, you know, we haven't asked you, or is there something you want to share and we haven't quite asked you the question?
HOOPER: Hmm. Well, as I said, I made notes. I think you probably, I probably told you more about me than about him. But . . .
SOSEBEE: No. You've told us plenty. [Hooper laughs.] It's been great. [Sandul chuckles.]
HOOPER: Well, the one thing, let's see . . . Well, I probably don't need to tell you how close he was to the Temples, to Arthur, called him "the eagle." That was his nickname before . . .
SOSEBEE: . . . Yeah, share it with us.
HOOPER: Well he just, along with Lincoln and FDR and George Washington he had this photograph of Arthur Temple always in his office. And he just really, just thought the world of him. He had given him his first real job, and, you know, right out of the navy and just always supported him. And then, of course, Buddy, he and Buddy were just like brothers.
SANDUL: Mhmm. Mhmm.
HOOPER: Literally till the end. But, you know, I might just say that after he left Congress, when he decided to leave, every law firm and lobbying firm in town went after him. They wanted him with them because they just, they knew how effective he was. And this was before the book, before the movie, all of that. And so he turned for advice, really, to my husband who has been in several lobbying firms, started several, we had started ours, but who's very good at, sort of, negotiating, very good at negotiating. And really understood, because these law firms here have very arcane ways of figuring out, you know, if you bring in this client how much of it do you get to keep or how are we going to pay you. And everyone is different. Everyone has their ways of doing it. And to somebody who's never been in that world, it's just, it's impossible to really figure out what your best options are. So Charlie would call Lindsay and he and Lindsay would talk quite a bit about this or that. We never approached him. We had this tiny little lobbying firm, there were like four of us.
HOOPER: We thought, you know, he's going to make a lot more money someplace else. We want to help him do that. That's our, you know, fondest hope. But one day he called me and he said, "Candy," he said, you know, "Would y'all think about letting me come in? You wouldn't [have] to change your name or anything like that." He says, "It's just, I don't understand this stuff." He said, "And you're family so I know you won't fuck me." [Everyone laughs.]
SOSEBEE: Sounds like his colorful language. [Sandul laughs.]
HOOPER: And, so I went into Lindsay and our friend, Daryl. We were called H2O, Hooper, Hooper, and Owen. So Lindsay [Hooper] and Daryl Owen. And, of course, all they could think of were all the beautiful women that would come trailing in [Sosebee laughs] with him. They didn't care about the [Sandul laughs] business side of it. They knew he'd be fine. But, yeah, that was, it was done, that was done. And there is one other story that I'd love to tell you and that is that when Lindsay and I got married, which, as I said, Charlie was so despairing of me ever marrying. But . . .
SANDUL: And what year was this, I'm sorry?
HOOPER: So this was 1984.
HOOPER: Let's see, is that right? No, no, no. Yeah, 1984. Coming up on, yeah. And we didn't tell anybody where we were going for our honeymoon except my secretary because my family was going to be in town still and we wanted somebody who could deal with, you know, get in touch with us if my parents didn't make it out of town right or . . . Anyway, she was sworn to absolute secrecy. And so we go, so Lindsay and I take off, we got married here, and we drove over to the eastern shore to this little inn called the Robert Morris Inn. And we drive up and we said, you know, "We're the Hoopers." And the two elderly women behind the counter get this big smile and we say, "Well," you know, "maybe, did we mention that we had just gotten married when we were making the reservation out?" Anyway, we go up to the room. Twelve dozen yellow roses, [Sosebee chuckles] on the floor, every place in this room. I mean, you couldn't even walk, you couldn't, I mean you were just knocked over by this stuff. So he had weaseled it out of my secretary and they were all from Charlie. [Sosebee and Sandul chuckle.] So then when he married Barbara we did the same thing to him. [Sosebee and Sandul chuckle.] We got him back. But, you know, it was just the sweetest thing.
HOOPER: It was really sweet.
SANDUL: Well thank you so much.
HOOPER: You're welcome.
SOSEBEE: You've been great.
SANDUL: This has been a very, very informative interview. Thank you very much. I'm going to turn this off here.
HOOPER: I'd like to get . . .