Interviewers' Names: M. Scott Sosebee, Paul J. P. Sandul, and Laura Blackburn
Interview Date and Location: The interview was conducted on March 15, 2012 at the Russell Office Building in Washington D.C.
Context Notes: Some speaking can be heard in the background as well as the sound of elevators, doors, footsteps, etc. 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. Charles Simpson is identified as SIMPSON.
SOSEBEE: Hi I'm Scott Sosebee and we are here with Charles Simpson, I'm also here with Paul Sandul and Laura Blackburn, we're in the Russell Office Building in Washington. Mr. Simpson was Charlie Wilson's first Chief of Staff here when he was in Congress. Welcome Charles, we're glad you're here.
SIMPSON: Good to be here.
SOSEBEE: And this is part of the Charlie Wilson Oral History Project. We'll go ahead, now you can just continue, you were, you were, when you, you left Charlie's staff tell us about the grand jury, I mean you were already going with that story…
SIMPSON: I was still on his staff when …
SIMPSON: …when the grand jury. There were two in the office that had to testify [pauses] and [pauses] I'll let the other one tell you who she was.
SOSEBEE: Okay [chuckles].
SIMPSON: But it was Carol Simon and her name was Simons then and she is, was his secretary so we both did testify, it was not a grueling experience, it was one of those things that should never have happened and yet it did.
SIMPSON: So that was it.
SOSEBEE: How did, and about that and that investigation, how that came about, was Charlie concerned?
SOSEBEE: …About that, I mean was he genuinely concerned or was he…
SIMPSON: About what?
SOSEBEE: About being indicted to perhaps having charges brought maybe having to leave Congress? Was it a concern?
SIMPSON: He never thought he would have to leave Congress. Of course he was concerned because it was a, as he would say, it was a bullshit deal and so, that there was, I say real quick and right up front I never, ever saw him use any kind of controlled substance. Charlie had fun and he did, if he couldn't have fun doing it he wasn't going to do it. And yet he had the best mind of anyone around and was way ahead of everybody. Doesn't get that credit, never did but he could take any issue [people speaking and echoing in the background] and cut away all the chaff, go right to the heart of it and that's all he needed.
SOSEBEE: And was this his, probably, his special gift as a law maker?
SIMPSON: I'd say it's probably one of the key things about Charlie Wilson. I think it was honed a bit in the Navy and some of that honing in the Navy, if you talk to some of his old Navy buddies as I had the opportunity to do a little bit, it, he had reasoning at the Naval Academy to hone those skills [laughter].
SOSEBEE: That's correct.
SIMPSON: When you graduate in the bottom ten it's really something. And the best example of that and I don't know whether y'all are going to have any of the papers that they gave you or not for their, in the libraries, the, when he came back from the Med [Mediterranean] and being over there for his tour on a destroyer, his Captain wrote up his, his, all of these officers, he wrote up about Charlie and Charlie had that in his trunk and his mother had in Trinity, his letter was, that Charlie was undoubtedly the best officer, that he was the best officer he'd ever had at sea. He was a gunnery officer and he won every, his team won, his ship won ever challenge that they met against them, the American, the other ships out there when they were practicing. But he was undoubtedly the worst he'd ever had at, under his command when they were in shore, had shore [laughter]. And so…
SOSEBEE: A sailor in every respect.
SOSEBEE: Well good. Let me…
SIMPSON: [Begins to speak]
SOSEBEE: I'm sorry.
SIMPSON: Go ahead. I'll tell too many stories you need to…
SOSEBEE: Well we want to hear those stories.
SIMPSON: You need to guide me back.
SOSEBEE: Well I was going to go back to you and probably you first meeting, when was the first time you met Charlie?
SIMPSON: First time I met Charlie was, I had, was teaching a night, Political Science, Political Parties course. I had a graduate student, history graduate student in that course who wanted to write a paper on some local politician. He was from Longview and so there was a great competition and there was a great competition for state Senate between Bob Murphy, who was a District Judge or County Judge, it's in those papers, or this one [shuffling] and Charlie. Two counties divided by the Angelina River and the people were just as divided as if that river or wall because when it came to Charlie Wilson because unfairly they did not like want anyone representing them who tried to improve the racial problems that were prevalent in East Texas at the time and they resented, I think the success that Diboll had had because if you study Diboll, Texas you'll see that that was a great success with its libraries, with its education for everybody. Even though some of the people lived, the workers in the mills over there lived in houses or apartments that were built by Arthur Temple. They all had great educations and they all ate well and they all made enough money to go to Houston every now and then and in Nacogdoches it wasn't that way.
SOSEBEE: Is that what soured Charlie to Nacogdoches?
SIMPSON: Well I, Archie [McDonald, Professor of History at SFA] asked me to tell you, and I don't know exactly what Archie was talking about.
SOSEBEE: We've heard, well we've heard from a number of people that Charlie didn't like Nacogdoches, that he thought that Nacogdoches didn't support him enough, that he would just as soon that they weren't in his district.
SIMPSON: If I had not been his Chief of Staff, if, and I will, and I'm from Nacogdoches, I mean, Wichita Falls is a long ways off and it was very different. My wife and I had never walked into an area like Nacogdoches, which we loved, we loved the city and we loved the people there but we didn't agree with a lot of them and Charlie [pause] that was pretty much, they would not, no one over there would support him. If I hadn't gotten some people together and if Arthur Temple hadn't come over and set up a meeting to raise a little money for him, they wouldn't have done anything. I met Charlie, getting back to that, was I sent this graduate student, I said, he said well how do I get in touch with Charlie? I said just pick up a phone and call him. And I had not met him. He picked up the phone and called him and then he called me and [speaking in the background] or came back to class on Monday, that must have been on Friday, and said 'Well I spent all day Sunday with Charlie and Jerry,' his first wife, they lived on Crooked Creek in Lufkin and he said, 'I have two gallons of Elmer's Glue in my trunk and a whole stack of Charlie Wilson posters.' [Laughter] 'And I'm chairman now,' he was four counties in East Texas and they mapped out all of the empty storefronts with glass on the front of them that those placards belonged on.
SOSEBEE: Is that right? [Laughter].
SIMPSON: And so I'm supposed to go, oh and they gave me a big paintbrush too' and [laughter] so he said 'I want you to go over and meet him with me sometime.' [laughs] So I did and got acquainted with Charlie and Jerry. Charlie is one that includes everybody. He doesn't exclude people, whether that's staff or whoever it happens to be. I mean he can look at you and tell whether he wants you around or wants to associate with you, but he includes people and makes them feel good about themselves. And he did that when he came to Washington to this chagrin of the Texas delegation and others who, you know, they didn't want to associate with all the wild eyed liberals and that's what they labeled him in Nacogdoches. He's not a liberal but he, he is a progressive and he started from nothing and came up but he had a mother who pushed him and father that let him have a little drink of whiskey once in a while [laughter] that his mother wouldn't
SANDUL: What was, this is a, you're a great person to ask this too, we've asked this question a lot, what was Charlie's political philosophy? I mean he has the moniker "The Liberal from Lufkin" but what was Charlie's political philosophy? How would you describe it?
SIMPSON: Umm for East Texas, yeah, he was Liberal. I think that's why I like the word inclusive. He didn't want anybody to be outside the loop, he wanted everybody to have the same opportunities he'd had and that's really shown through, I think, in a lot of the appointments to the Naval Academies that he was able to make, I mean the [unintelligible] Academies. Charlie felt like people were people and that we could learn something from all of them. He was a moderate, he didn't vote with Arthur Temple all the time, and I use Arthur's name because the two of them go somewhat together… BLACKBURN: [Unintelligible]
SIMPSON: …some of that falsely and some of it correctly. Did I give you a little example at, that I hadn't talked about, said anything about was that Charlie and, we got acquainted but we didn't get real acquainted and I'm a little bit, you may not think that from today but I, I don't just fall all over myself getting to know somebody. [Laughter.] And [pause] I don't, don't, I'm not that outgoing at times.
SIMPSON: But things I know about I can talk about. Charlie's much that way to.
SOSEBEE: Is that right?
SIMPSON: He, he gives people responsibility immediately, watches how they perform and the people that work with him and for him and that's true of staff as well. Staffs were, staff members were his friends or they weren't his staff members. We did not have to let many go. I've diverted myself now, I started telling you about some example now, I'll pick it up.
SOSEBEE: Well you were about Arthur Temple to we can do with this, you can do an example with Arthur, you can expound on what Charlie's relationship with Arthur was.
SIMPSON: Okay. Arthur was someone who gave him a job and expected as much of him as he expected of anybody and more than most, more than most. Charlie was one that was eager to do it. And the example that I was going to give you is that Charlie's salary, I happen to know because I did, he trusted me, I mean I don't know why, I don't know [laughter]. But we became not buddy buddy type friends but there was nothing that he wouldn't, he didn't keep me advised on and I went my way and he went his way, he wanted me, Arth…lemme go back to this story before I get away from it, I had no idea what Charlie was going to have me do because, I came up here twice with him after the Democratic primary and he'd won it so big. He knew he was going to be a Congressman, he did not tell me that I was going to be his A.A. but he had asked me if I'd be interested. And I said that I would like to look at it and see and talk to the family and that sort so, I'd never been to Washington. But we came, we flew up here in July of sixty-six, no July, I got to get my dates, that's the Senate race, July of seventy-two. And when we got here, and it only cost thirteen dollars to come in from Dallas in a cab [laughter]. But…
SANDUL: Times have changed.
SIMPSON: It's the first time I'd been on a jet airplane too but it, it was a new world and it was just the two of us and, but I want to go back and pick up on this [unintelligible] about Arthur. Eventually, I mean the first paycheck he got or when he got paid, Arthur owed him money after we came up here in December. He got that paycheck and he gave it to me and he says 'go get this broken down into two, get it deposited into the bank,' he'd set up an account I took it over 'and tell them you want twenty-five percent of it to, in a form that we can send to my workers at the Big Tin Barn in Diboll,' so that was his final check. He made twelve thousand a year but he got a bonus for whatever they grossed and his his check that year was a forty-nine thousand dollars bonus. He took twenty-five percent of that and he sent it back to his foreman or his assistant manager at the Big Tin Barn to divide among the employees…
SOSEBEE: Is that right?
SIMPSON: …of the Big Tin Barn.
SOSEBEE: That says a lot about him.
SIMPSON: It does and it said an awful lot to me about him at that time. It was just unreal. So that's the kind of guy he was. He didn't care about race, I mean he cared about race but he didn't care about his employees or anyone else, they weren't hired on that basis, Arthur Temple didn't hire them that way. They were his friends and they, that is a great, I think, story for Charlie Wilson because he did emulate Arthur to that extent. Now the thing Charlie didn't do was ever get rich until people started paying him so much to represent them after he got out of Congress…
SIMPSON: …and or to give a speech. He called me, I called him and ask him, someone has asked me if he wanted to give a speech, one of the last ones he gave, and he says, 'well Simpson, that's pretty good money now [laughter]. Can you imagine anybody ever paying me twenty-five thousand dollars for a speech?' Anyway.
SOSEBEE: But that, and well what about Arthur? He and Charlie's relationship was, it was obviously close.
SIMPSON: It was.
SOSEBEE: They respected each other, there was an affection there for sure but you said he didn't vote with Arthur all the time.
SIMPSON: That's right.
SOSEBEE: So what did Arthur, did Arthur expect him to?
SIMPSON: No. Course not. Arthur didn't put pressure on him. They fought over the Big Thicket, they were Arthur's trees and he wanted to keep them.
SIMPSON: Charlie says, 'he knows and I know they're not any good for timber, the people deserve part of all of this that he has accumulated down there for posterity, we need to have some of it they can walk around in and some of it that they can camp in, and it ought to be available to everybody.' And he an Arthur went back and forth about a lot of that because it was the nicest hardwood timberland in East Texas that Arthur had taken care of, had built up and it was old and it was that kind of relationship, we know also and that in the Senate that any, when you have huge forests, heavy trucks, and equipment working in a specific area it is really nice to have good roads and everybody accused him of that. But farm to market roads were growing all over the state of Texas and the State Senators and State Representatives were the ones that were helping to guide where that went and Charlie was pretty good at guiding it. So they agreed on those kinds of things because they went to Sam Rayburn, which was a brand new lake at that time, Toledo Bend was getting built, you got to have access to it, you want it to have multiple use and if you can't get your boat down there it's not as nice as it is if you can get your boat down there [echoing footsteps]. You've to have a road to get down there. And the state bore some of that responsibility so, but Arthur was good to everybody, he wasn't, he was a good business man, he was a hardnosed business man, he ran a check every Saturday on every job he had down there and that Cadillac would come in to the Big Tin Barn and Arthur had his clipboard and his pen and he drove slowly around it and then made notes and he wanted it to be clean, he wanted the lumber to be stacked, he wanted everything to be in order, and he wanted it to be stacked shorter than when he was there last Saturday [laughter]. And he saw to that and he reported to everybody.
SANDUL: Now how did Charlie get Arthur to agree or maybe agree is the wrong word but get Arthur around the Big Thicket?
SIMPSON: It just became inevitable.
SIMPSON: And most people don't want to give up something totally freely and if you hold out a little bit you get a little bit more credit sometimes than if you just say 'okay, here it is, y'all have it.' Arthur wasn't dumb, he was, and like I said, he took care of his people. So Charlie just told him he was going to do it. It was just one of those things that Charlie wanted to be independent of everybody.
SOSEBEE: Now, but it 's amazing to me, Charlie was just a freshman Congressman, just elected, Ralph Yarborough's been working on the Big Thicket for years, a Senator who can't get anything done.
SOSEBEE: One term Charlie gets the Big Thicket done.
SIMPSON: Right .
SOSEBEE: How did he do that?
SIMPSON: He made that his major piece of legislation the first one he was going to pass, he campaigned on it down there.
SIMPSON: And said that 'it's going to be done' and he persuaded Arthur that it needed to be done and be beneficial to it.
SOSEBEE: Is that what is was? Because Yarborough just couldn't ever convince Arthur Temple?
SIMPSON: Yeah. Yarborough was, there was a different relationship. I mean, you know, Yarborough's older than Arthur was and it just, he didn't live in the Big Thicket, he may have fished in some of the rivers down there but he didn't live there and Yarborough was coming down with a hammer, Charlie had a little velvet on it, you know, I mean, because there's no doubt that Arthur could have dealt him a lot of misery [background noise] but that wasn't going to happen. There'd been a relationship, he was a good businessman sold more lumber, finished lumber, than anybody else in East Texas, that is, Charlie did at the Big Tin Barn with his truckload of chicky babes at every parade and fair [laughter] that they had down there. You've seen pictures maybe…
SIMPSON: …of sitting in the swings and swing, dressed like birds and East Texans liked that [laughter]. And Arthur liked the revenue.
SOSEBEE: Yeah. So he was not as some people suggested, you know, that he was, particularly in the Texas Senate, that he was Arthur Temple's Senator, that was really not the case.
SIMPSON: No. Not at all.
SOSEBEE: Well so we have to ask you about maybe whether, you may not have knowledge to this, maybe it was a [unintelligible, sounds like "apocryphal"] story, I don't know. When he was in the Senate and he first goes to the Senate and he's first elected to the Senate there's this coterie of young Turk liberals that were going to change things, he, Joe Christi, Barbara Jordan, among them, the story we heard was from one of them in that group that they had, going to pass this bill too actually institute a corporate income tax in Texas. We're going to start making corporations have, and it was going to be close, but they had gotten together and they'd counted the votes [elevator ping] and it'd looked like it was going to be real close but they were going to make it because, you know [a roll call?] about medical order, it was probably going to be just about time but Charlie Wilson was going to cast the vote that was going to make that happen but when time came for that vote to be casted, Charlie voted no. Person who told us this said 'I knew that we were in trouble 'cause the day before, Arthur's Cadillac showed up [laughter] and I know he was going to Charlie's office and I knew that was going to cause Charlie's vote against it.' You know, I know, I haven't heard anybody can verify that story [laughter].
SIMPSON: Ar…I don't know the story, so I have no idea. Arthur had more influence on him probably than anyone else and so I'm sure that that…
SOSEBEE: Does that sound like something Temple would have done?
SOSEBEE: Because it doesn't to me.
SIMPSON: Yeah, I think it would've. He would have let him know that, that it would not be good for the economy down there across the state and that they would have problems with it. But I would say that Arthur, and I don't, I never, I have no idea, I never sat in on a conversation between the two or Charlie didn't talk about Arthur but he was always available for advice or whatever when Charlie needed some advice.
SANDUL: And a question I have, you're with him then in seventy-two seventy-three, obviously had followed a little bit of his career prior to that, how was the reaction to Charlie, because he is winning in East Texas and he is voting pro-civil rights issues and pro-women's rights issues that, shall we say are not the most popular of things at the time in East Texas. Is he getting a lot of pushback for that? I mean obviously, how is he still able to get elected?
SIMPSON: Lot of different ways. The biggest one was that in Charlie's mind people are people. Keep in mind, he had been here in the Naval Academy for four years over here in Annapolis, [sniffing] his duty then at the Pentagon during the Cuban Missile Crisis he was the young lieutenant running in from information back and forth, the pictures that we were getting of the missile sites and what have you for the officers, Admirals, Generals. He saw living conditions in other places instead of East Texas. He was a real humanitarian and it wasn't a matter of getting away with it, it was a matter of persuading people.
SIMPSON: That it would be better for them as well as East Texas and he focused on East Texas, that was number one when he came up here, when he was in the Senate and he had six, he had twelve years in the Legislature. So he had learned some skills and he did run with that leadership group, he was very close to Ben Barnes, who was the Lt. Governor in the Senate, although he and Ben were not necessarily always together on things, there was a mutual respect that they all had. Everybody had their committee, everybody had their own territory, everybody became the expert on those things, and everybody had something they had to do, and that they had told their people back home they were going to do, and they did it. And Charlie [echoed footsteps] if, he had no children, he and Jerry never had children but he had cats [laughter] and Jerry had a little dog and they lived with me for a month when we came to Washington, they didn't have an apartment, [laughter] well they did and they got a, the let, got an apartment from a economics professor who was going back to the University of Texas for a semester and Charlie and Jerry rented it from him in one of the big apartment complexes here. And they stayed there one week and he called me on Saturday morning after we had shut down and says, 'Simpson' my wife wasn't up here she and the kids, Kyle wanted, he kept her in Texas because he was an athlete and he wanted to finish track season.
SOSEBEE: I can understand that.
SIMPSON: And so she and Terry stayed, they stayed there until he finished track season, no not quite but almost. So I was living alone. I had, Wade pulled a trailer up here, one room, furniture, and a spoon and a knife, [laughter] a few things, and Charlie called me and says, 'Simpson, come get us. Jerry and I are sitting out here on the curb and we need a place to spend the night so we're going to move in with you' [laughter]. I had a four bedroom house out there that we had been able to get and I said, 'Well you'll have to buy a bed' he said, 'Okay [unintelligible, door slamming].' Because they, they'd brought Ernest the cat that Charlie had picked up between Lufkin and Diboll along the highway [laughter] when he was a little bitty kitten and he just could not pass up an animal like that, he could not, he had feelings for people, animals and that was just him, that was why he could get along with everybody was he had those feelings. And so Ernest came out and tore, they lived with me a month until they got an apartment and Ernest tore all the drapes down in the house and the others he'd kind of shredded because he had claws [laughter].
SANDUL: Oh no.
SIMPSON: And that was the reason that this professor and his wife did not want him living in the Watergates where they were.
SOSEBEE: Is that right?
SIMPSON: And subletting his apartment. They came, kept a key to that apartment and came in and saw Ernest sharpening his claws on their couch [laughter] and so Charlie just, I can't imagine what it told him, they left.
SIMPSON: But, but Wilson in the meetings when had when I was working with him on the cam, Congressional campaign, we met with sixty black ministers in East Texas in the basement of one of the churches in Lufkin. There was Charlie, Buddy Temple, who was, Arthur wanted to take, and Buddy wanted to take Charlie's place in the Senate, there was Buddy, Charlie, one, one other person and me. There were four white people, there were those sixty black ministers in the basement. And he was just, it was like a spiritual meeting almost with those ministers. They needed help, they wanted some rights, they wanted to be treated fairly, and Charlie wanted them to, and there was no difference of opinion whatsoever at that point. They, we had other meetings but they then went out, and Charlie was appealing to them, to support him that their voting rights would be protected, that their, they would not be intimidated in the counties by the Sheriff and the Sheriff's Deputies, standing at there when they went in the courthouse to do something, with their guns on, when they wanted to register to vote, pay their poll tax, whatever they had to do. He said, 'we will get rid of the poll tax and do everything we can,' which was done just before he left the Senate. At, you still had to register…
SIMPSON: But you didn't have to pay anything and that's what Carl Davis, a number of us got together and helped with, to process those to get them down to the courthouse and get them processed properly. They didn't have to have pictures taken, we didn't have to take pictures taken nothing, I mean that was the system that was set up by the legislature to do it. And those animals, his basset hound went with him [laughter] and he went into the East Texas woods to visit with these people, he didn't wear a tie, but he didn't like to wear a tie, he wore a tie, he dressed, I started to say impeccably, my wife would say grotesquely [laughter].
SOSEBEE: He was very colorful [laughter].
SIMPSON: But I won't speak of her, but he was sharp [snaps], always was, and he, but he treated everybody alike.
SOSEBEE: But he was still able, I mean that's all you, and that's, his quality was fantastic but he was still able to convince his, his white constituents to keep getting him back into office, despite those positions. Nobody else, I mean other candidates couldn't do that.
SIMPSON: Other candidates tended to get, would get elected and disappear. Charlie, through those twelve years, from the time he left, he took a thirty day leave of absence, which is probably illegal…
SIMPSON: …and ran for State Rep. and won against an incumbent. He, he was, he's a believable guy and then he would follow through and he built relationships. I started to tell you about relationships up here. He, when we came to Washington, he'd [fell? Build?] up the relationship with the most unlikely people that you could think of, [unintelligible], the California brothers Phil and [can hear echoed speaking in the background] that were destined for leadership at some point, goodness, one was from San Francisco and one was from somewhere else in it, it was a long time ago.
SOSEBEE: It's not the Cohinos is it?
SOSEBEE: Cojilos? Is that…
SIMPSON: No, no.
SOSEBEE: I think?
SOSEBEE: Juelo. It's not them.
SIMPSON: No, no. I'll think of it. Anyway, he developed a relationship with them. They were a group of progressives.
SIMPSON: That other people would call Liberals.
SIMPSON: And, and he also got acquainted with people in the New York delegation. He made a point of getting acquainted with people. He did not like to sit around with people who weren't doing anything except saying, 'no' today we would say, and he was no part of that. He wanted to be out there and the Texas delegation who was the, was the best delegation in the country for years and years and years. Sam Rayburn had set up, when he was here a luncheon at noon on a Wednesday right across from the cafeteria, y'all probably know all about this but then stop me but anyway that was open every, every Wednesday and the delegation could bring eight guests with them to three of those but the four one was closed and that was when they discussed what we're going to do as a delegation. And Charlie participated in that but when you have, when you come to Washington and there are five committee chairmen sitting there around that table already, how are you going to get to do anything as a freshman or sophomore? When are they going to die [laughter] or get beat? And there were five of them and so he developed relationships with other people out here as well and also if you look at East Texas, go through it and break down the industries that it had that were huge main industries, there wasn't a defense plan, there was some old rickety ship building plants down in Orange and Vidor and Port Arthur, which is not in the district and Beaumont [talking in background] but there were, there's nothing and there were a lot of chicken plants, poultry plants, and that paper mill, some very strong ones and good ones but there was not national groups so he could do what he wanted to as long as he took care of Lufkin Industries, that's the only oil industry they really had, they built the best pumping unit in the world and still do.
SOSEBEE: Still do.
SIMPSON: They, they were strong and the paper mills were strong but he knew that industry, he'd been there, he'd live amongst them. So anyway, that helped him when he sat down with all of those people, strong members of Congress, Democrats who were in power, they had chairmanships that were extremely important including appropriations and then you had, and Tiger Teague who had been one of those who had scaled the heights in World War II going into France as a Colonel leading his battalion was the chairman of the delegation, so they had strength. He paid attention to them, he watched them operate, he learned, he didn't say anything much until [speaking in background] the first election after he was up here and then there was one West Texas congressman that was keep, Charlie had made friends with all of this various sort individuals, he voted for their issues in New York, he voted for their issues in San Francisco or Chicago or wherever it was. He earned some payback, if you want to look at it that way or swapping from these young Turks that were coming in. He'd practiced it in the Senate in Texas. And these old heads just didn't realize that, by that time there were five out of that Senate that he had worked with that were now up here as Congressmen and there were some wise old men up here too, Jack Brooks was his chairman.
SOSEBEE: Brooks was [unintelligible] let me see, Mahon was around and O. C. Fisher still around then?
SIMPSON: Yes. And [Poke? Pogue?]
SIMPSON: And [Rad?] Packman and Jim Wright. I mean it was a strong delegation and Charlie paid attention to it and when White, White, is that his name? I believe he was from El Paso, who was not a strong member but was moving up in seniority because everything was based on seniority and you got your job by seniority and the Democrats gained some seats and Charlie's colleagues were coming in and he told them that we wanted to get on appropriations. And I wasn't in the room, nobody was in the room, no staffer, but things leak out and he'd tell you what he wanted you to know but Barbara Jordan was there and he and Barbara Jordan were as close as anybody ever was. And Mickey Leeland was too, although they didn't always agree, Mickey was a little more aggressive for black issues but Barbara Jordan was extremely wise. Jack Hightower came in later and several others they. Charlie knew that he would have a few votes if he challenged them on anything so he said that he wanted to, Dick White, that's who it was from El Paso. And he said, 'I'd like to have that seat because there's a vacancy,' there was a Texas…
SIMPSON: Seat there, vacancy. And Mr. Mahon [George] looked at him and says, 'Charlie, that's not the way we do things in here, we have seniority, you have to wait a while, as good as you are and it'll come to you.' Charlie says, 'Well I think that I've got the votes to do it.' 'No you just, that just won't, you can't do that.' Jack Brooks sitting over there says, 'Like Hell he can't' [laughter]. So I got the word and we had planes waiting, they would decide, this would then go to the committees [unintelligible] when you organize the new Congress and the votes would be taken [speaking in the background]. A lot of members would be out of town and so their votes would get cast by other folks. So we had, we had private planes hired if we needed to fly down to pick somebody up that would be a key vote we'd do it because they had obligations in their own district so they could come in and vote. We were ready and he won it. And he broke that Sam Rayburn tradition that had been in place for thirty years [laughter] simply because he wanted to have a say instead of sitting here forever and ever and ever.
SOSEBEE: Just waiting for somebody to move on. So would you call him a powerful Congressman in his time?
SIMPSON: I would call him, if you ask any other, if you ask Martin Frost in the Texas delegation he'd say yes, if you ask Jim Wright he'd say yes, if you ask others in the delegation, maybe, but he was influential. It was not power.
SIMPSON: It was influence. He did things for you that you ultimately owed him [elevator sounds] he could do anything for the Navy that he wanted to do, or for the military, and not be criticized for it because he didn't have any plants in his district. Not one had that, did major work for defense in the district that…
SOSEBEE: Well would you…
SIMPSON: And he wanted it that way.
SOSEBEE: What would you call his style? You know, it's probably not as aggressive as the Johnson treatment, as people used to call it, I mean was it a subtle form of …
SIMPSON: It was friendly. You knew if you were quote "K-Bay" [Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison] with Charlie Wilson. Joe Christie knew. And Charlie had the shrewdest mind for who to put the finger on, that is of the elected officials, to get something done of anybody that I have ever met.
SIMPSON: And so they knew that he could work with people that if they worked with those same people openly, they'd be voted out of office.
SOSEBEE: But he got away with it.
SIMPSON: He got away with it [laughter]. The people loved him because he went down there with his 30 30 and his hound dog and visited them, sat there on their front porch and talked to them. How much influence he had with other people, businessmen, I think, I don't know, but I think there was tremendous respect for Arthur Temple in East Texas and if Arthur Temple would quote "put up with him" there must be something good about him and they all would do that. Nacogdoches wasn't all that excited about Arthur Temple, I mean Arthur supported the university or the college as it was back then and did other things for them and helped make East Texas run but he was concerned about Lufkin and Diboll more than he was up there but they did respect him and I told Archie, I hadn't told you all, I think I might have told you Paul, I can't remember, the night that Dr. Chamberlain ran for county Democratic chairman, Gillette Tilford, who by the ways picture I discovered was in one of my books in there somewhere [laughter] that I have to remember, but the night of the election for county chairman he went down to J.C. Stallings's radio station, which was the only one in town, and about ten o'clock that night to give his concession speech and he said, 'I don't want to concede anything but I just want all of my friends in East Texas to know that I was, that we were defeated tonight by that dastardly coalition of the SFA History Department and the Nigger Voter League.'
SOSEBEE: And what year was this?
SIMPSON: This was sixty-six.
SIMPSON: And that went out all over the airwaves, [background noise] I've never forgotten it because coming from West Texas it wasn't the same.
SOSEBEE: Well I was trying to tell these people that didn't happen in West Texas
SIMPSON: No it didn't.
SOSEBEE: Those things didn't happen like that.
SIMPSON: It did not.
SOSEBEE: And it was a shock.
SOSEBEE: When you get, and this is kind of off subject, while we have you, did you know Arthur Weaver?
SIMPSON: I met Arthur Weaver for the first time when we integrated, my wife was a den mother for our son in the Cub Scouts and it was a segregated Boy Scouts operation there and we felt like it was time that we get it, that it should be integrated and so we asked Arthur Weaver and Max Ripley, Lanky Williams, seems like there was one or two other, there were five of the local businessmen to come visit with us about it and see if this one time that we could do something about that and so they did, they met in our living room and they agreed to get together then and discuss it and they decided that it would be fine because I knew that if we, if the college professors tried to do it, it probably wouldn't happen and it needed to be done with everybody that [unintelligible].
SIMPSON: And that, that happened, it was integrated and it began to grow then from that.
SOSEBEE: Did Charlie and Arthur know each other?
SIMPSON: Did who?
SOSEBEE: Charlie and Arthur Weaver, did they know each other?
SIMPSON: Oh yeah.
SIMPSON: Charlie knew all about the community.
SIMPSON: Black ministers were a power in East Texas so yeah, Charlie and he knew each other as well. Charlie was not invited to come to Nacogdoches, no money raised for him except what little dab that I, Arthur, well Arthur called about thirty of them up and said, 'I want his much money for you guys, from you guys.' He got part of it.
SIMPSON: He said, 'I want to come talk to you.' And, but it was, they weren't going to support Charlie at all.
SIMPSON: Because Charlie was too liberal.
SANDUL: Okay, Okay.
SIMPSON: And he was from Angelina County, not Nacogdoches County.
SANDUL: As you said, that river might as well be a wall.
SOSEBEE: Which one was more important? [background noise] [laughter].
SOSEBEE: You know.
SIMPSON: Yeah. And so, anyway, it, and when, if you talk to Kyle, he's taking too long.
SANDUL: Oh no.
SOSEBEE: We're just, we're…
SANDUL: We'll just bring him in [laughter].
SIMPSON: He, story about him, we'd come out of Austin and he, they'd been integrated there and there wasn't any problems. We lived right off the University on West twenty-second street and I was in Graduate School and he went to an integrated first, or first two grades there and, but he was, he actually, like all boys, wanted to play little league ball and we got there just in time for him to enroll and we went out to where they were enrolling them and all of the white boys were out on the diamond and they were hitting and being tested for [music in the background- phone ringing?] picking up grounders, catching flies and all this, all the black boys were scattered around the field on their own wishing they could play.
SOSEBEE: This was almost twenty years after Jackie Robinson.
SIMPSON: Yeah, yeah [laughter]. And one of those, they'd hit a grounder to one of the white boys and he'd miss it, the little black boy'd be down there and scoop that sucker up [laughter] and fire it back to them, out of bounds or they had run down a fly, they would do this and that, coaches standing around, white coaches, some you know, were beginning, it was getting to them a little so it didn't take but two or three years, actually it was the next I think that…
SOSEBEE: The desire to win can overcome some of that sometime.
SIMPSON: Yeah it did [laughter] and so they were integrated and they played. These schools were not integrated until Kyle was a seventh grader and they'd, they were required to come up with a plan and they did and they started integrating them at seventh grade, then the next year it'd be seventh and eighth, the next year it's be seventh, eighth, and ninth, until that would give E.J. Campbell students that were freshman, sophomores, juniors and seniors a chance to finish their school and graduate from E.J. Campbell…
SIMPSON: Which was the black school. And they, I think wanted to do well with that too
SIMPSON: So it was Kyle's class then that was the first graduating class…
SIMPSON: …that was integrated.
SIMPSON: And, but he didn't graduate from there. But he, he was thrown with them because he participated in all four sports, he was the only white boy that lettered in four sports his sophomore year.
SIMPSON: And he did very well, I think it was blood lines [laughter] but [unintelligible over laughter].
SOSEBEE: His mother's a great athlete.
SOSEBEE: You know you're in a unique position to kind of give us some perspective too, we talk about politics and philosophy because you worked for Charlie and then you went to work for Lloyd Bentsen.
SOSEBEE: How would you compare them in ideas and philosophy and style? [Door slams.]
SIMPSON: The easiest way to compare them is, is that Charlie Wilson is the brightest person I ever worked with.
SIMPSON: In that he could see and issue, make a decision, cut away all the B.S., go to the heart of it, and then come up with five ways to make it happen. Lloyd Bentsen was the wisest person that I ever worked with. He could also take those issues and break them down but he took a much more orderly way to get there and he wanted to know everything there was about the way you make a nail before he would support it, he wanted to know what metal it was made out of [laugher], just everything about it. And so they, and they both had hearts that you couldn't hold in your hand. Bentsen had made his fortune, Charlie, I don't know whether he was even looking for his [laughter] but he needed money. And, but Charlie was fun. Bentsen was okay too but, that way but I know that a number of his staff, he did not even mingle with his staff as much as, well he didn't mingle with his staff much. But that's a difference of the House and Senate.
SIMPSON: So you're trying to compare…
SOSEBEE: Politically were they pretty close to each other?
SIMPSON: Absolutely. If Charlie Wilson called Bentsen and needed something Bentsen wouldn't say, 'I'll do it,' he might ask him who, what Arthur thought, he might ask him who other people thought that he knew in East Texas because he represented East Texas too
SIMPSON: So there were, and he had his people.
SIMPSON: And he had to, he wanted to be sure that it was the right thing to do.
SIMPSON: Toughest vote I ever saw Bentsen made, was one also dealing with minorities and it had to do with whether they, you going to do away with the program that allowed the Mexicans to come across the border and work in American lands and then go back home at night and there was a lot of that you know, along the border. And some wanted to do away with it and not let them come across at all and I sat over in his hideaway, not in the capital, every Senator has a…
SOSEBEE: Little place they can go.
SIMPSON: And some of them aren't so little [laughter] and so they were there for votes and debates and they can do business and you can go and bring their secretary or somebody or their L.A.s over and work there as well as over here. And he wanted me to go with him that day and I went over and sat there and we talked about it talked about it talked about it, that he should protect the rights of some people to be able to come across and legitimately work in jobs that were excess in effect. And he voted to continue to allow it. Now Bentsen's family owned the largest farm or ranch properties in Texas except for the King Ranch. They developed the Ruby Red Grapefruit.
SIMPSON: They did, Mr. Bentsen was a, he's something.
SOSEBEE: Yeah he was, that's just, and something like this would be great for him too.
SOSEBEE: But I mean, there was no, Bentsen beat Yarborough who's the Liberal's darling in seventy but that Charlie didn't, where'd Charlie fall on that?
SIMPSON: On that race?
SIMPSON: He was gung-ho, well Bentsen, he was gung-ho for Yarborough. I was Yarborough's Nacogdoches…
SOSEBEE: Is that right?
SIMPSON: County Campaign Manager [laughter].
SANDUL: Was that right?
SIMPSON: It, so you've got differences of opinion with people that way. But Charlie and Lloyd Bentsen, they would not vote against each other. They wanted, Charlie more than Bentsen, I mean Charlie wanted to know what Bentsen was going to do before he'd vote on most issues because he had to have his vote too to make things happen a lot of the times.
SOSEBEE: This is the perfect, where was Bentsen's office in here, in this building?
SIMPSON: I don't know where his, it wasn't in this building when I was with him.
SOSEBEE: He was in the other building?
SIMPSON: Yeah, he was in the Hart building.
SOSEBEE: Okay, so…
SIMPSON: The new building.
SIMPSON: And, he was here in this building when he first came up here I think.
SIMPSON: But it was, he was at several…
SOSEBEE: Your office was in the other building.
SANDUL: Now reading through Crile's book and to give you a chance to respond to some of it, one of his contentions in the book was that, why you left Charlie and said something to the effect that you were tired of the Good Time Charlie stuff. I was wondering if you could answer, if you want, about why you had left working for Charlie?
SIMPSON: Two reasons. One major reason is I came with him, I set up the office, I interviewed two hundred people before we hired anybody.
SIMPSON: And had an agreement with, well anyway, I did. And salaries were not that great, they were a little bit better than you've been pleading in your emails that professors make [laughter] but I understand exactly what you're saying. And, and I had two kids. Kyle decided that he would not go to the University of Virginia, instead he'd go Ivy League on me and he was offered a scholarship at Texas but he'd decided he'd wanted to go to Brown, and you can ask him about that. It's a straightforward thing. He did well here, he made all district football in the metropolitan area and was the, was a very very good punter and safety and there's an, no I didn't bring it, he didn't talk about it much. Anyway he did well here and it kept him from wanting to go back to Nacogdoches. The radio station by the way, blasted his father the last game he played in for taking him away [laughter].
SOSEBEE: Is that right?
SOSEBEE: Oh man. Don't mess with football.
SANDUL: So those, the two reasons were to…
SIMPSON: One was that I needed to make some more money.
SIMPSON: In order for both kids to go to school.
SANDUL: Yeah .
SIMPSON: They were three years apart but, and that was big bucks.
SIMPSON: I had to take out a second mortgage on my house and …
SIMPSON: And yet I made good money. I'm not complaining about that…
SIMPSON: I made the max that could be made by a staffer but, and he couldn't get a scholarship to Brown because I made more, I make 29,000 that year and 25,000, if you made more than 25,000 they wouldn't give him a scholarship.
SANDUL: Oh wow.
SIMPSON: So we had to do something. Anyway, our daughter went to the University of Virginia and that was a lot easier [laughter] until she went to Graduate School in Boston too [laughter].
SOSEBEE: Oh, well.
SIMPSON: But, anyway, I had been there a long time and I had to get out and find some work that would pay more money.
SIMPSON: I did, Charlie's shenanigans, they were a problem but they weren't that serious and I was always one that had to help him get them resolved. Now he already had them figured out how he'd resolved them.
SOSEBEE: But you had to make it happen.
SIMPSON: He made part, a lot of it, I don't want to take any credit from him [laughter] because he could do that too but the last thing that happened though was, was like that, was the August recess and he ran into the car on the bridge over here
SANDUL: On the Key Street Bridge.
SIMPSON: Yeah Key Bridge, yeah. And he called me and I had my notes, I didn't know I still had them, that I took standing on, talking on the telephone to him at 6:45 that morning when he called and said, 'Simpson, the Navy is here to pick me up and we're going to be gone for a month,' I knew he was leaving, that wasn't a surprise and he said that, 'there's a young man that's had a wreck on the bridge and thinks that I hit him, take care of it.' And he says, 'call this guy, this guy, this guy.' Well one of them was the staff director of the, this is another shrewd thing Charlie did, Staff Director of the District of Colombia Appropriations Sub-Committee. The Texas Delegation had asked Charlie if he would serve as chairman of that sub-committee for a year because it was considered a no value committee, the sub-committee on the District of Columbia. Every, nobody wanted it but there were three mem- Texans that had, were senior and they were ones that were expected to take it and so they persuaded him to take it and like a fox he did. And this helped [laughter].
SOSEBEE: I imagine so.
SIMPSON: Because he made sure he was the guy that appropriated the money for the District of Columbia. This happened in the District of Columbia but it was the Arlington Police that came and got his car, illegally, out of his garage. He did leave the scene but he says, 'I hit the bridge railing, I'm sure that's what it was. But if there's damage on the boy's car will you fix, get it fixed while I'm gone?' Well he had a new Mazda whatever the number was of Mazda's sports cars. He had just come to town. [whispering in the background] And so Charlie, I picked up the phone and called Charlie's lawyer because this was happening at the same time the drug investigation was going on [door slams] and I said to the lawyer, 'are you still on Charlie's payroll?' and he said, 'yeah,' and I said, 'well Charlie's got a job for you, his car was confiscated by the Arlington Police last night, he wants you to go get it out of the pound, wherever they have put it. I don't know where it is. And put it back in his garage.' It was a Continental Mark, whatever the latest Mark was at the time. And the hood … [Kyle Simpson, Charles's son, enters the room, identified as KYLE]
KYLE: Hi there.
SIMPSON: …was bent up in the middle of it [speaking how are you? I'm good how are you?] …
SOSEBEE: We're going to take a break and go to the bathroom and Kyle will come …
SANDUL: Yeah we'll…
SOSEBEE: And Kyle and you continue and maybe we'll just do this together, is that okay?
KYLE: Fine with me.
SOSEBEE: Scott Sosebee nice to meet you.
KYLE: Nice to meet you.
[The interview with Kyle in attendance continues with Charles Simpson under the Kyle and Charles Simpson audio and transcription]
[To continue reading, check Kyle Simpson's interview in the Charlie Wilson Oral Histories section.]