Interviewer's Name: M. Scott Sosebee
Interview Date and Location: The interview was conducted on March 25, 2001, in the office of the East Texas Historical Association at Stephen F. Austin State University.
Context Notes: Interview and transcription completed in conjunction with the Charlie Wilson Oral History Project at Stephen F. Austin State University, Nacogdoches, Texas (Spring 2011).
At the beginning of the interview there is an unidentified beeping in the background. Also during the interview there are noises in the background audio of usual office noises such as a phone ringing and the secretary answering the phone.
Tapes and Interview Record: The original recordings of the interview and a full transcript are held by the East Texas Research Center, R. W. Steen Library, Stephen F. Austin State University, Nacogdoches, Texas.
Transcription Notes: The policy of the Charlie Wilson Oral History Project has been to eliminate false starts and crutch words from transcriptions when determined not to affect the meaning and flow of the spoken word. Obviously, and admittedly, this is a subjective endeavor and all care was taken to maintain the integrity of the interview.
The interviewer M. Scott Sosebee is identified as SOSEBEE. Peyton Walters is identified as WALTERS.
SOSEBEE: I'm Scott Sosebee and this is an oral history interview for the Charlie Wilson Oral History Project, an endeavor coordinated by the Stephen F. Austin State University, College of Liberal and Applied Arts and the Department of History in conjunction with the East Texas Research Center and the Center for Regional Heritage [Research]. I am conducting this interview with Mr. Peyton Walters, former Chief of Staff for Congressman Wilson. It is March 25, 2011 and we are in the office of the East Texas Historical Association. Peyton welcome, we're glad you're here and I'm glad that you can share your experiences with the Congressman with us. Let me begin and just let you tell us some about you, your background, education, where you grew up, how you got involved in politics.
WALTERS: I grew up on a farm in East Texas, Polk County to be exact on the bank of the Trinity River. I attended Sam Houston [State University] then went to work for Shell Oil Company on a survey crew, later got my surveying license and went into private business in Livingston in 1964. From there I ran for [Polk] County Judge and I thought at the time that it was a two year term, I didn't realize they had changed the length, so anyway, I spent eight years as County Judge from [Sosebee laughs] '67 through '72. And during that time, that's when I got to know Charlie Wilson because in '66 he ran for [Texas] State Senate and his district included Polk County. We became friends, and course I've known his family, his mom and dad at, through the Indian reservation [the Alabama-Coushatta Indian Reservation is in Eastern Polk County]. We, course I knew Charlie through the Indian reservation because every politician gravitated to the Indian reservation back in those days but we became friends and later went into the real-estate surveying business and then in 1978 he called me and his A. A. [Administrative Assistant] called and said, "Charlie wants to hire you." And I said, "I don't think so, I don't want anymore politics, I'm done with it, I've had eight years of it, that's enough"[Sosebee laughs]. So anyway, he called again and he says, "Well, Charlie wants to meet with you, he's coming back from somewhere and wants to meet with you at the Houston airport." We met and he described his program and it sounded pretty good, he wanted to do a mobile office [recreational vehicle] and go around and I thought that was very unique and challenging and he, I said, "Well, Charlie exactly what would you expect of me?" and he says; did you [to Sosebee] know Charlie?
SOSEBEE: No I never had the opportunity to meet him.
WALTERS: Well, he'd kind of rear back when he wanted to make a point. He said, "Well judge, all I want you to do is keep some son-of-a-bitch from slipping up behind me and biting me in the ass" [Sosebee laughs]. That was my job description [laughter].
SOSEBEE: A mobile office, that's interesting. Now a lot of Congressmen have something like that now but that was, was Charlie one of the first ones to come up with an idea like that or . . .
WALTERS: Oh yeah, yeah. His district covered nineteen counties and it was larger than five, five of the smaller states, so there was no way in the world he could cover it himself. We needed a lot of volunteers. Delores Thomas [also interviewed] at that time was running the retired senior volunteer program and she had the best program in the nation, she was cited for that so we got together and I made my pitch and, for volunteers, she selected the volunteers, screened them out and it was just a wonderful union there.
SOSEBEE: So, how did you operate that? A mobile office, I mean did y'all have a certain type of vehicle that you went in or . . .
WALTERS: Oh yeah, it was an RV from Foretravel.
WALTERS: They sent out cards from D.C. telling the time and we'd cover three or four towns a day and it, we'd stop for a certain amount of time and then move on and take all the information. Orange was one of our biggest ones, when we drove up to Orange we had a decision to make, we saw at least fifty people out there waiting for us, whether to stop or keep going [Sosebee laughs] but it worked out really well.
SOSEBEE: Sounds like it, sounds . . .
WALTERS: Charlie had, he had the highest case load of any member of the U.S. Congress.
SOSEBEE: . . . himself?
WALTERS: including the Senate . . .
SOSEBEE: Why do you think that is?
WALTERS: He loved people.
SOSEBEE: And that's just what it was . . .
SOSEBEE: It turned out for him.
WALTERS: He would come down from D.C., he'd be wiped out, I'd pick him up at the airport and as he got around the people you'd see him just filling up and energized, then you couldn't get him to quit [laughter].
SOSEBEE: How often did he come to the district?
WALTERS: It just varied, it depended on what he was doing but August was the month that they historically came to the district, which was the worst month in the world for us but, it's cause it's so hot, but that's why way back in the early times of Congress they all shut down in August because it was so hot and muggy out there.
SOSEBEE: You became Charlie's Chief of Staff [Administrative Assistant] in 1991, correct?
SOSEBEE: And moved to Washington [D. C.] to work for him.
WALTERS: Yeah, previously I ran his district office for twelve years.
SOSEBEE: Well, tell me about that, that's right, I kind of . . .
WALTERS: Well the mobile office and then we had, we consolidated. He had two offices we consolidated into one and had all of the staff and it worked really well and we had each caseworker had their own expertise, areas of expertise. Norma Butler was the veterans caseworker and when Norma retired, she's probably the only black lady that's ever been honored by the D.A.V. [Disabled American Veterans] with a big dinner.
SOSEBEE: Is that right?
WALTERS: Yes sir [Sosebee laughs] and she had, she's got more courage than anybody I've ever known because part of Charlie's district was Vidor, and yeah that's tough [Vidor is in Orange, Southeast Texas and has a reputation of being a sundown town where African Americans were excluded from being present after dark; Vidor is also known for its large Ku Klux Klan presence].
SOSEBEE: You know, that brings another question I've been wanting to ask, I was going to ask it later but let me go ahead and take it up then. I mean, Charlie's district did, I mean this is Deep East Texas and his career in the state, of course in the legislature began, you know, in the sixties and then he goes to Congress in the seventies and that's a time of great conflict and tension going on in Texas and East Texas was not known as completely favorable towards civil rights, lets say this, and Charlie though was a great supporter of civil rights. How did he handle that with his district, I mean, if you can give us of his district being, you know, of a certain ideological bent. He, to some extent being another on this question of civil rights, how did he balance that? Because, I mean, it didn't give him, he continued to have electoral success.
WALTERS: The way he balanced it was with candid and he was candid and honest about everything. If you didn't want to know something, don't ask Charlie [laughter]. For instance, a lot of his Afghanistan involvement, that's something I had no need to know so I didn't ask him but he would tell you but that's the way he did it and he was never bashful about his position, he didn't him-haw and the people appreciated it.
SOSEBEE: And did he get [woman talking in background], I mean, was there conflict in some constituents' question, "Why do you support such things?"
WALTERS: Oh absolutely
SOSEBEE: But he was very honest with them about it.
WALTERS: In a town meeting in Livingston they jumped on him about "Good Time Charlie," going out with the women. He says, "Well, I'm single, I love women, what do you want me to do? Take out little boys?" [Laughter.]
SOSEBEE: I guess that shut them up real fast didn't it?
WALTERS: Yes, well, and he says, "I didn't go to Congress to act like a constipated hound dog." "Oh God Charlie, what are you . . . ?"
SOSEBEE: So he was very earthy, wasn't he?
SOSEBEE: And that . . . and he, of course, I'm sure he got a lot of support from the African-American community. They were some, one of his biggest supporting constituencies. But to me it's just always been, it's intriguing that someone like Congressman Wilson, in the district that he was in, could take such a stance and, for lack of a better term, during the period, get away with it [Walters laughs]. I'm thinking lesser politicians couldn't do that. Would you agree with that statement or . . . ?
WALTERS: I agree. He balanced it with this same guy that's against what his stance is on civil rights or whatever may need some help and he got it. If he called Charlie Wilson's office he got help because Charlie did not have a staff that wasn't responsive, they didn't work for him, they may stay there for a few months but they moved on.
SOSEBEE: Is that right? So he was sort of this, I mean, you hear the stories for example of [former congressman and President] Lyndon Johnson's staff and the way they worked, you know. He was another one that when he was in Congress was being responsive to the constituents was a huge thing. Is that, would you say that's exactly the kind of Charlie's motto also? PEYTON: Absolutely, absolutely.
SOSEBEE: And does that, I mean, I guess to go over to kind of the same type of question, he got the moniker "the Liberal from Lufkin." You know, that's what a lot of people have called him
WALTERS: Oh yeah.
SOSEBEE: And again, his district is not exactly a liberal district. Wasn't then and it's not now, even less so. But he was able to keep this electoral success and he was able to push an agenda that he, that would identify with that label. So liberal is a term, as we all know, can encompass a lot of different parts of ideology. Peyton, give us what you think was Charlie's core political philosophy.
WALTERS: Taking care of the home folks. That's it.
SOSEBEE: And whatever that took, I mean it didn't . . .
WALTERS: Whatever it took.
SOSEBEE: Ideology didn't enter into any of this?
WALTERS: Absolutely not.
SOSEBEE: Partisan divide?
WALTERS: And he didn't slack off on his private life. Those who didn't agree, that was their problem, not his and the newspaper reporters they'd all drag up everything. Archer Fullington, he's the one, he was the editor over at Kountze [Texas, just north of Beaumont]. He put the moniker of "Timber Charlie" on him, and he also, on Ben Barnes [Speaker of the House in Texas (1965-68) and Texas Lt. Governor (1969-1972)], he called him the fastest zipper west of the Mississippi [laughter].
SOSEBEE: Small town newspaper editors [laughter].
WALTERS: But, there was two Charlies, one was Charlie in the district among the people, there was one in D.C., and I had no clue how powerful Charlie was in Congress of the United States before I went to D.C.
SOSEBEE: Let's expand on that a little bit. Two Charlies, Charlie in D.C. What was Charlie in D.C.? How did he operate? What did he believe? How did he identify with the leadership of the party?
WALTERS: He was a compromiser. He knew how to, he was a background dealer. He knew how to get down, sit down on a log and spit and whittle and get the job done. And before he died, he said he couldn't function in the Congress like it is now.
SOSEBEE: What do you think, what would Charlie think about our partisan divide that we've got going on in this country right now?
WALTERS: He didn't like it. He didn't like it at all.
SOSEBEE: Did he comment on that, before he died, quite a bit?
WALTERS: Well I didn't, I just heard the one thing. He was focused on the business of the country in D.C., he'd come home, he had a photographic memory for people, and he'd call them by their name and he was interested in people.
SOSEBEE: Do you think that's why, I mean Charlie, you said he had a lot of power in Washington . . .
SOSEBEE: . . . he could wield power and a lot of that comes with the seniority but also great relationship within the party.
SOSEBEE: And everything. I think we can safely say, if he had wanted to, Charlie could have had higher ambitions, perhaps? But he never seemed to, you know, push that way. Is that because he so enjoyed being a Congressman?
WALTERS: I think you got it right on the head. He was on the [House] appropriations committee and he was on the sub committee, the defense sub committee of the appropriation. All the defense money was channeled through the defense sub committee, and three of those guys, Charlie and two more, they controlled those billions of dollars in the defense. And that's about, pretty powerful.
SOSEBEE: Did he, now this district and his district, now that a defense appropriation. We know how others have, what's the word? I don't want to actually use the word "used' the appropriations committee to enhance their districts and career, but that's what Congressmen do.
SOSEBEE: How did he use this for the district's advantage, quite a bit?
WALTERS: He used it as a bargaining chip, but he didn't have any defense installations. The only one was toward the end of his time up in D.C. He, Lockheed Martin [defense contracting company], he went to them and says, "I want a plant in Lufkin." And of course, when a trial member of the defense committee, sub committee asked for a plant, they're gonna get it. And it's doing very well. They recently added another two hundred employees, which as long as we're shooting those missiles they're going to be okay.
SOSEBEE: That's right. They're going to have to keep making those aren't we? [Sosebee laughs.]
SOSEBEE: I think that's [unintelligible] so he used is, because I mean the district's largely rural.
SOSEBEE: But I always found that interesting, that's another thing, that this is someone who had to learn to balance interests that he seemed to do so well. It's a largely rural, again very conservative district, but also includes urban areas. Lufkin's an urban area for example. That is not exactly always tuned to the rural interest. How did he balance those real well?
WALTERS: He was a master politician, and he looked at the district by the numbers. Okay, in Orange, this is largely laborer, big Democratic stronghold, the big population center. That's where he spent a lot of time. He didn't do many trips to Newton or Sabine county because, or San Augustine, there's not many people over there. He didn't neglect them . . .
WALTERS: We covered it with the mobile office, nobody was neglected. But personally he chose the places that were, that he could make the greatest impact.
SOSEBEE: So would you say that he would go again, I guess to harken to the Lyndon Johnson philosophy, of "you can't get anything done if you're not in office?"
SOSEBEE: Being elected is the most important thing if you actually have something that you want to get done.
SOSEBEE: I guess we've all heard the political phrase "some people run for office to be something and some people run or are in office to do something," which one of those do you think he fell into . . .
WALTERS: Oh, do something.
SOSEBEE: Do something category.
WALTERS: Do something, absolutely.
SOSEBEE: What . . . were the issues that were nearest and dearest to his heart? Do you think that he would, something he would definitely go to the wall for?
WALTERS: Well Afghanistan was one and taking care of the people was the other. He was big time, got a VA [Veterans Affairs] clinic in Lufkin as a result of that. And that didn't just happen because the VA, the Washington VA sent out a flyer saying we're going to locate a clinic in East Texas. Well, they had already made the decision that it would be in Tyler. So when the appropriation came through the subcommittee, Charlie scratched out Tyler and put Lufkin.
SOSEBEE: Did he really?
WALTERS: He really did.
SOSEBEE: And was it something nobody caught? Or just nobody questioned it? Charlie wanted this and he was going to get it.
WALTERS: They caught it later [laughter].
SOSEBEE: After it was all done.
WALTERS: The Dallas VA was just really uptight about it but . . .
SOSEBEE: Now of course . . .
WALTERS: . . . it was a done deal.
SOSEBEE: Tyler had a Congressman. How did that go over with the Congressman from Tyler?
WALTERS: Well, it really didn't matter to Charlie. He was taking care of his people and he felt that Tyler had more access to Dallas and they had more facilities and we have this long, big void here that our people had to go to Houston, to the other side of Houston, and it's doing very well. They run about two hundred people a day through that clinic.
SOSEBEE: Yeah, it's an amazing clinic over there, it is really, it his legacies. Now we know about the Afghanistan and what he's done for that, I think that's what publicized. For you, Peyton, tell me, other than the Afghanistan, what do you think his greatest legacy is?
WALTERS: First, taking care of the people. You always see people have been, the impact of Charlie's largess is not the word because he was doing his job. Second, is the Big Thicket and, course, to me, Afghanistan is the third.
SOSEBEE: Yeah, oh yeah. The Big Thicket, he was, I don't think many people realize how instrumental he was in making that a preserve. Give us, tell us a little bit about how that came about.
WALTERS: When Charlie took office in '73, [US] Senator Ralph Yarborough [from Texas] had, he was one of the movers and shakers, but the Senator, he insisted on a three hundred thousand acre preserve and, of course, that was just not practical. Charlie goes in and he calls, he compromises with the timber companies and passed the bill his first year in Congress. And later, just before he got out, two or three years before he got out of office, he must have fallen off the bed or something on his head [Sosebee laughs] because he came up one day and said, "Boys we gonna get the Village Creek taken in" [laughter]. God Charlie. That was a controversial issue. Big Thicket was a controversial issue.
SOSEBEE: Why was it so controversial?
WALTERS: Well it, that's part of the county's tax base and lot of people, timber companies, they didn't want to give up the land or the timber.
SOSEBEE: Do you think Charlie's relationship with the Temple family [of Temple Industries, a large timber conglomerate in East Texas] helped him . . .
WALTERS: Oh yes.
SOSEBEE: . . . understanding the companies and making the compromises?
WALTERS: Absolutely. Absolutely.
SOSEBEE: What was, you know, there're also some of Charlie's detractors have, sometimes, you know, you've heard the whispers of that he was too close to the Temples, that he carried their water too much sometimes. And, so just for edification purposes, what was his relationship with the Temple family?
WALTERS: Arthur Temple [Jr.]* was his mentor. He never asked Charlie to do anything out of line that I know of. And Arthur recognized Charlie's ability. Charlie, when he was in the legislature, had to have some way to make a living. You know, at that time, those guys made a big salary of four hundred bucks a month. [*Arthur Temple, Jr., b. 1920, d. 2006, often called "Big Pop" by Wilson and others, especially as Charlie was close friends with Arthur's son Buddy, was a businessman and philanthropist. He was born in Texarkana, Arkansas, the son of Arthur Temple, Sr. and Katherine Robson (Sage) Temple. His grandfather, T. L. L. Temple, founded the Southern Pine Lumber Company, and Arthur Jr. grew up in the lumber business. After leaving the University of Texas in 1938 he worked as a bookkeeper at a company lumber yard at Paris and in 1941 became manager of another company lumber yard at Lufkin, making it one of the company's most profitable. He eventually became executive vice president and general manager of Southern Pine Lumber Company in 1948, and in 1951, following the death of his father, president. Following Time Inc.'s 1973 acquisition of Temple Industries, Temple became vice chairman of the media conglomerate, and after Time Inc. spun off Temple-Inland in 1984, Temple served as board chairman of that company until 1991 and emeritus board chairman until his retirement in 1994. For more on Temple, see Austin American-Statesman, April 13, 2006; Lufkin Daily News, April 12 and 13, 2006; The Pine Bough, December 2006, pp. 10-18; Vertical Files, The History Center, Diboll, TX; and Who's Who in America, 1988-89.]
SOSEBEE: Oh yeah.
WALTERS: They make six now.
SOSEBEE: Oh [Sosebee laughs].
WALTERS: As you know, it's a Constitutional issue to get a raise they have to go . . .
WALTERS: . . . to the Constitution to amend it. But Arthur recognized that Charlie was a rising star and he had the ability to do things. And he, Charlie talked him into setting up a retail outlet for his products and that's where the Big Tin Barn* came into . . . [*The Big Tin Barn began as a retail lumber yard belonging to Temple Lumber Company in 1951 and supplied building materials to Diboll and surrounding East Texan area customers interested in building homes and businesses. In May 1963 the name of the retail lumberyard was changed to Great Texas Lumber Company. In 1965 construction began on a new building located on Highway 59 north of Diboll and was completely operational by 1966. At that time, the lumberyard became known as Great Texas Lumber's Big Tin Barn. Charlie Wilson served as general manager of the yard in the 1960s. (Source: Lois Cooper, "Big Tin Barn: The Early Years," Diboll Free Press, January 24, 2007, available online at the Diboll Free Press website: http://www.dibollfreepress.com/news/2007-01-24/news/news02.html).]
SOSEBEE: Is that right.
WALTERS: Yeah, that's Charlie Wilson.
SOSEBEE: I knew he was involved, that Mr. Temple helped him set that up. But again, to counter that, I think that if you actually look into the people that have, into Charlie's career, you can't find where he did favors, if you will, for the Temple companies. When he did something that might be construed, which you think towards any sort of favoritism towards timber companies, it was for all, not one.
WALTERS: Yeah. There's a reality there, you have to balance, he had to balance the timber companies' needs with the reality, the political reality too.
SOSEBEE: Well they were part of his district too.
WALTERS: Yeah, but others, he got a little exercise one day. He found out that these Big Tin Barn people over in Conroe were trading materials for some of the cat houses [brothels] in Houston [laughter].
SOSEBEE: That probably didn't set to well with him.
WALTERS: Arthur could be pretty tough.
SOSEBEE: To go back to the Big Thicket, just, that, of course, that there had been a question of a preserve of some kind, you know, originated as an idea of a state park to preserving something. And then, of course, when Charlie was, if you can speak of when he was in the state legislature and in the [Texas] Senate, did he work on the Big Thicket then and try to do something at the state level?
WALTERS: I don't know. I just don't.
SOSEBEE: For what you know, it became an issue when he went to Congress . . .
SOSEBEE: . . . and could that have been because this is where it needs to go and I can do something about it here?
WALTERS: Well it was an issue that needed to be resolved. And Charlie just got the people to agree to what they were going to do, it was less acreage than what the environmentalist would wish but that should be expected.
SOSEBEE: And that's also, that's something, I guess, and this might lead us to another something I wanted to discuss, but we know that the Big Thicket was Ralph Yarborough's somewhat idea first. And he was the one who was working on it in the beginning.
SOSEBEE: Do you know, extend on what he did with Guadalupe and what he did and get some of that East Texas.
WALTERS: Right absolutely.
SOSEBEE: But Yarborough could never make it happen. But Charlie, I mean here was this freshman Congressman who's able to make that happen. Why do you think he was successful when Yarborough was not as successful?
WALTERS: Yarborough wasn't willing to compromise. It was three hundred thousand or none. So it was none. And Charlie was willing to compromise and it's worked out. They got the original acreage around eighty thousand, I don't remember the numbers, but seventy or eighty, but, and then they've added on. They're over one hundred thousand now. It takes one hundred thousand to make a big national park designation, under that time it's a national monument or whatever they want to call it.
SOSEBEE: Did he and Yarborough work together on this [unintelligible] or did, was Yarborough upset with him about and of his . . .
WALTERS: Oh absolutely he was upset.
SOSEBEE: Is that right?
SOSEBEE: How did that come about? How did that work itself out?
WALTERS: Years, yeah. When they started to make the office, the Big Thicket visitors' center, Charlie wanted to name it the Ralph Yarborough Center and he asked me to call him and see if that would be okay and Ralph was, he was fine [Sosebee laughs]. I'm not sure if, I don't even know what it's named.
SOSEBEE: I don't either. What it is . . .
SOSEBEE: Yarborough has the reputation of being a little irascible, a little prickly [Walters laughs]. Is that how you found him?
WALTERS: He was a, I found him to be very, a great guy. He travelled by himself, old age he'd just be in a car and he'd show up one day.
SOSEBEE: When did [US Senator Lloyd] Bentsen win that seat? In 1970? [Bentsen won Senate seat in 1970 and served from January 1971 through January 1993]. Was that . . . ?
WALTERS: That's probably right.
SOSEBEE: So I mean, once the Thicket was actually preserved he'd, he was already out of office?
WALTERS: Well, yeah.
SOSEBEE: So . . .
SOSEBEE: But still he worked on it for so long and Charlie was able [Sosebee chuckles] to come in and get it done. Which I found that is a very, go ahead I'm sorry.
WALTERS: No his problem was the lesser acreage. So, and I can see that, he worked on something and know that's exactly how it should be and here comes this new guy on the block and he trims it way down.
SOSEBEE: Well yeah, but that leads, I guess something else and we're talking about ideological divide, that, Texas, and during his time too, Texas was a, there was a lot of division within the Democratic party in Texas. You know, there were factions in the Democratic party, there were factions of liberal-conservative factions that didn't always seem to get along. That was one if Yarborough didn't get along with other people of the party and you know all the infighting that went on. Charlie at least seemingly and always was aligned with this more liberal faction, this more progressive faction. But how did he bridge that divide in the party? Because he was obviously very successful and was able to bring the, in many cases, the Texas Congressional delegation together. Did he work the same way he did at home with these . . .
WALTERS: Charlie rose above that he didn't get involved in all that infighting. He would deal with the Republicans as quick as he'd deal with the Democrats particularly in D.C. You don't see that anymore. But it's all about the country, it's not about the party and he just had a knack for it.
SOSEBEE: But back home the Democratic party was always fighting every time you come back home, you, every state convention they're always having a fight, is it, did he also just adopt the same philosophy, I'm not gonna get involved in this?
WALTERS: Well he just let them fight like they wanted to and he went ahead and did what he needed to do.
SOSEBEE: Was that part of this, as you said there's the Charlie back in the district and Charlie in Washington D.C.?
WALTERS: Absolutely. He's totally focused on what, one thing about Charlie the liberal tag is kind of misleading, he was liberal in civil rights, he was conservative in fiscal matters, so he balanced that. He and Barbara Jordan co-authored the E.R.A. [Equal Rights Amendment] in . . .
SOSEBEE: Yes. Yes.
WALTERS: . . . the Texas Senate. And he was, now he always supported the rise in the minimum wage and the things to help people. He was liberal in the people area.
SOSEBEE: Speaking of the E.R.A. I think that's interesting, that's something we can speak about. Texas was one of the first states to actually ratify the equal rights amendment when it first was introduced . . .
SOSEBEE: . . . and that would have been, I think when Charlie was still in the Senate when Texas ratified . . .
WALTERS: Probably so [yes, the bill was ratified in 1972].
SOSEBEE: . . . the E.R.A. amendment, so he would have been part of that fight
WALTERS: Charlie and Barbara Jordan led it.
SOSEBEE: And then of course there was . . . you know, it stalled and Phyllis Schlafly [campaigned against the E.R.A.] and her organization [Eagle Forum, a conservative interest group], there was this movement of rescission, to rescind some of these stats, and Texas never, you know, there was pressure always, but Texas never did.
SOSEBEE: Was he involved in that, I mean, it was a legislative fight back home but did he get involved in that that you know of? To make sure that rescission didn't happen?
WALTERS: I don't know.
SOSEBEE: Okay. Because I think that's, you know, I knew that he was the author of first Texas equal rights amendment, which . . .
SOSEBEE: . . . was some extent broader than the one that was actually a constitutional amendment. It was a very simple; we're not going to discriminate.
WALTERS: Well he led a filibuster on the floor of the Senate against taxing food; Texas sales tax and won. So that . . .
SOSEBEE: That's another legacy that we can add.
WALTERS: [Speaking over each other] . . . yeah that's one reason there's no tax on food.
SOSEBEE: [Speaking over each other] . . . that's something Texas still has. They still don't have that well, let's cross our fingers yet, with some of these guys up there now [Sosebee laughs] we don't know what we're [unintelligible] with the crisis going on now, that goes on. Now, we've talked a lot about this [unintelligible] this home thing, I think we probably need to get into some of his foreign policy achievements and we've talked about the Afghanistan, but before that, of course Charlie was a veteran.
SOSEBEE: He was in the Navy. Do you think that shaped his philosophy . . .
SOSEBEE: . . . on the Cold War and everything more than anything else?
SOSEBEE: How did, I mean, was he just a, could you just, his philosophy on foreign policy and the core. Could you just really describe it as, just, he's a deep Cold War hero, a deep anti-Communist?
WALTERS: Oh yes. And I think he's just a, people inherit a gene, I think he was just one of those people who was just a born warrior because he saved Trinity, kept them from being bombed [unintelligible] by the Germans in World War II. He was about eight [laughter] he had his own look out post.
SOSEBEE: So that whole, if we want to call it warrior mentality, I mean that was part of him from way back.
WALTERS: He had unlimited courage.
SOSEBEE: Did he talk about his military career a lot?
SOSEBEE: Not that much?
SOSEBEE: But it was part of him . . .
SOSEBEE: . . . and it was part of his philosophy definitely.
WALTERS: He was a gunnery officer on a carrier when he was in the Navy.
SOSEBEE: Now veterans affairs were obviously with the VA Clinic . . .
SOSEBEE: . . . was a big issue with Charlie. What others, what other initiatives did he take for veterans?
WALTERS: Oh Scott I don't really know.
SOSEBEE: Okay, but he was always supportive of anything that came up . . .
SOSEBEE: I mean that was one of those "I won't turn my back on this at anytime."
WALTERS: No way.
SOSEBEE: Okay. And that, and then when we get to the, you know, the foreign policy, Afghanistan ideas. Just, I know you said that it was secret so you didn't ask a lot and you didn't want to know, but you could probably at least speak to how do you think, I mean, a lot of times I think popular perception is and particularly if you watch the movie, which is enjoyable but probably not exactly true.
WALTERS: [Walters laughs] No.
SOSEBEE: It's almost like the Charlie just, the movie as he's portrayed fell into this, that's not the case.
SOSEBEE: So, this was, so maybe just what you know of how he came to become involved in this initiative.
WALTERS: Well the movie's correct in mostly about the Afghanistan war. Charlie fought with the writer all the time, I mean, they had a big brou-ha to keep that movie as factual in the Afghanistan involvement as possible because that's what it was all about. All the other fluff, Charlie never had a female chief of staff [Walters laughs; Walters, Charles Simpson, and Charles Schnabel were Wilson's Administrative Assistants]. When Charlie went overseas or somewhere, he went with Charlie [Schnabel]. He didn't carry along an entourage and he might just wonder into the, go down, sit down with the people ask them what was going on. But, although I had a top secret security clearance, I just felt like it's a need to know on those clearances. I did not need to know all that stuff.
SOSEBEE: And was so secret. But around the office did most people know what was going on?
SOSEBEE: No. So it was that secretive?
WALTERS: He disappeared one day, one time, not one day, disappeared for about thirty days and about twenty-five, on twenty-fifth day I called his secretary, I said, "Should we be worried about Charlie?" And she says "No." "Okay."
SOSEBEE: And that was . . .
WALTERS: That's it.
SOSEBEE: Did you have a notion that it probably involved this . . .
WALTERS: Oh I knew he was in Afghanistan.
WALTERS: Course you could get killed real quickly over there.
SOSEBEE: Sure. Sure.
WALTERS: One thing he did share, he said he taught them how to dig a foxhole [laughter].
WALTERS: Russian plane came over and he went down off the top and started digging him a foxhole [laughter]. And they were up there laughing at him.
SOSEBEE: So, I mean again, to go back I guess to his Cold War attitude, he's famous for the quote I won't say it exactly, probably about Afghanistan how, to the effect to paraphrase that, you know, we got rid of the Soviets and kicked them out and then we lost the peace, if you will, after that. [Phrase: "These things happened. They were glorious and they changed the world . . . and then we fucked up the endgame."]
WALTERS: Yeah. Yeah.
SOSEBEE: Did he really feel the sense that we had really messed this up?
WALTERS: Oh absolutely, absolutely. We could have followed up. I don't know if you've ever read Greg Mortenson's Three Cups of Tea?
SOSEBEE: I started it but I didn't finish it, but I intend to.
WALTERS: Well the sequel is even better but had we done what Mortenson did, build schools, the Taliban came in and the Saudis got billions of dollars and they set up those camps that trained those terrorists and that's what happened. Had we done that, they would have never had gotten a toehold.
SOSEBEE: You know he was, he advocated, he was passionate about that . . .
SOSEBEE: He did make speeches and went before the Congress to advocate that would have never happened. Do you think that's because the Cold War was ending and the leaders and the powers that be thought, "Well, we don't need to do this," or "We're going to forget about this" at this time?
WALTERS: Oh, once it's over, it's over. It's called beating a dead horse. He could have screamed and hollered all he wanted to and Congress wouldn't have listened.
SOSEBEE: Did he get to go back to Afghanistan after the Soviets were out very many times and see at all was happening?
WALTERS: I don't remember him going back but that doesn't mean he didn't. Schnabel can tell you all about Afghanistan.
SOSEBEE: He knows the war.
WALTERS: He was very much involved.
SOSEBEE: We look, of course, what's happening now . . .
SOSEBEE: . . . and what's going on now and although Charlie, you know, hasn't passed that long, but he was a private citizen when such things like this in the Middle East became a problem again. And you talked to him a couple of times, what did he, did he have comments about what's going on now? Did he have a passion about what we should do?
WALTERS: Oh yeah, but he realized that it's not much that we could do or he could do.
SOSEBEE: What did he think when war broke out? When we went over to get rid of the Taliban? Was he supportive . . .
SOSEBEE: . . . of that action?
SOSEBEE: Do you think it was one of the same things that we've got this done, we get rid of the Taliban, and then we don't know what to do [laughter]?
WALTERS: Yeah, we sometimes don't know when to go in and when to get out.
SOSEBEE: We seem to have that problem sometimes . . .
SOSEBEE: . . . knowing what exactly to do once we accomplish military objectives don't we?
SOSEBEE: On that, Charlie left the Congress in '96 correct?
SOSEBEE: Was his last term. Why did he decide to retire?
WALTERS: The Congress was over, they adjourned , and he was, that was done and he wanted to go into private business and he had to wait a year before he could do lobbying so he resigned on October the 8th and he stayed long enough to where the governor could not appoint somebody, where it would give people a chance to run.
SOSEBEE: Do you think, he was not, I mean, he had some challenging elections before but he'd always won elections fairly handily, was there any sense that he thought that, maybe, it was called, I don't like this name, "Gingrich Revolution" in '94 of course.* Do you think that there was a sense that he thought that holding on to that seat would become more difficult? [*The Republican Revolution of 1994, sometimes referred to as the Gingrich Revolution, refers to Republican Party success in the 1994 midterm elections. Republicans gained 54 new seats in the House and 8 in the Senate. Gingrich, who became Speaker of the House at this point, was considered the leader of the so-called revolution. Large Republican gains were made in state houses too as Republicans also won 12 gubernatorial seats and 472 legislative seats, taking control of 20 state legislatures away from Democrats. Prior to this, Republicans had not held the majority of governorships since 1972 and, more impressively, this was the first time in 50 years that Republicans controlled a majority of state legislatures. Republicans would hold their majority control of the House till the midterm elections in 2006. Their minority status did not last long, however, as the GOP regained the House majority in the 2010 midterm elections.]
WALTERS: I don't know, he had four opponents; Jerry Johnson was one from Nacogdoches, and there was one from Polk county, one from Hardin county, there was another one. Charlie, his opponents were, they always would come to us because they knew us no matter where we were, Charlie never got upset with anybody running against him, they weren't the enemy. It was all "Okay, give it your best shot, I'll give it my best shot." But, that was one race he felt like he may lose. But he beat them all four without a runoff.
WALTERS: But again it was when the Orange county, when the southern part of the district came in with the numbers, that's when, before it looked like a runoff.
SOSEBEE: Uh-huh. Had there been attempts as they do now, as we all know, to redistrict Charlie out of a seat as they do now? Had that ever been approached by any one of the powers that be?
WALTERS: Well back in those days, Charlie was strong enough and Democrats were strong enough where that wasn't going to happen. They pretty well . . .
SOSEBEE: Did he think there was the possibility as we moved on, Republicans gaining more electoral success?
WALTERS: Well nobody could foresee the Tom Delay* . . . [*Tom Delay (born 1947) served in the US House of Representatives, as a Republican, from 1984 to 2006, including a stint as House Majority Leader from 2003 to 2005, before he resigned because of criminal money laundering charges in connection to his campaign financing. Pending a verdict, Delay even went on to participate in the highly popular reality TV show Dancing With The Stars in 2009. He was found guilty in January 2011 and sentenced to three years in jail but remains free on bail.]
SOSEBEE: Mm-hm that's true.
WALTERS: . . . situation [i.e., the 2003 Texas redistricting, led by Delay, was a controversial mid-decade congressional redistricting plan appealed to the United States Supreme Court in League of United Latin American Citizens v. Perry; on June 28, 2006, the US Supreme Court upheld the statewide redistricting as Constitutional].
WALTERS: That's when we lost it all. We got Tyler as a, well Tyler controls, they got the votes, that's just the way it works.
SOSEBEE: So his leaving in '96, he just felt like, "What I set out to do and what I wanted to do in my career," it's, you know, "I've done what I need to do, it's time for me to get on."
WALTERS: Sure. It was done. There was no point in hanging around there just to say, "Okay, I'm here." In fact, most of the staff, after they closed that down, they start moving around people and offices and the staff moves on, it's not a real office anymore. I stayed until the end of it, I told him I would stay.
SOSEBEE: You worked from 1975 until the very end of his Congressional career.
WALTERS: [interrupts] Seventy-nine.
SOSEBEE: Of '79, that's a long time. And is that, that's a long time to be a staffer for a Congressman. Did you do that out of a sense of loyalty? Is that something that motivated you more than anything else?
WALTERS: Oh, loyalty I guess is a good word. But I did it because he was the man. He was the one that I felt like he had a mission in life and I wanted to be part of it. But he never in those eighteen years, he never said an unkind word to me.
SOSEBEE: Is that right? That was what I was going to ask was, you know, what kind of a person was he to work for?
WALTERS: He was the most un-judgmental person in the world.
SOSEBEE: Is that right?
WALTERS: Yeah. Just whatever, "Just get the job done, I don't care what you do on the side" [laughter].
SOSEBEE: But it was not, I mean is, you know, some particularly, for lack of a better term, "Type A personalities," which he definitely was, can be, you know, they can be overbearing, and probably drive people to almost unattainable lengths, he never, you never felt that with Charlie?
WALTERS: Oh no, no not with his staff. He had his moments when he would be pretty tough, but not with the staff.
SOSEBEE: Was it a delegation type thing? For example, if you're the chief of staff was it sort of like, you know, "You run the rest the staff and then you and I will make an agenda," or . . .
WALTERS: "This is what I want you to do." That's it.
SOSEBEE: "And I don't' care how you get it done."
WALTERS: Just get it done.
SOSEBEE: So you never felt there was any unreasonableness?
WALTERS: No, no. I thought that my problem was living up to what he needed done.
SOSEBEE: Is that right?
WALTERS: Because I didn't have anybody telling me day by day what to do.
SOSEBEE: That's, you know, yeah that's something else we see, we gather with these people for this project, and other people you interview, and you hear people. I remember I was at the statue unveiling and it was interesting to me because the reverence and the almost admiration that people speak of him. I mean there are politicians where they will speak glowingly of someone but I thought it unusual that this was, honestly, "genuine admiration" is the word. Why do you think he inspired that in people so much?
WALTERS: He took care of them. They knew Charlie was there and they knew if they needed help, they could get it. And a lot of the issues they could care less about, the issues and a lot of his personal brou-has, lot of people lived vicariously through his escapades [laughter].
SOSEBEE: You think so?
WALTERS: Specially some of the uptight people.
SOSEBEE: Do you ever get a sense that, and I don't want this to be taken the wrong way, that Charlie got away with some things that . . .
WALTERS: Of course he did.
SOSEBEE: . . . other people wouldn't have?
WALTERS: Of course.
SOSEBEE: Because of his personality?
SOSEBEE: Was it because he was so genuine?
WALTERS: That's it. He didn't, they ask him a question, "Did you do this?" "I did it" and, they ,"I apologize. All the greatest people in the world will put up with me" and all of that and he didn't try to hide it, he didn't sneak around.
SOSEBEE: This may be something that, it's a little esoteric, you know, we saw in the last year, we are one year of the Affordable Patient Care Act [the health insurance reform legislation President Barrack Obama signed into law on March 23. 2010] being passed and we saw last year around this time these town hall meetings that got contentious . . .
WALTERS: Oh yeah.
SOSEBEE: . . . on something like that. How would Charlie have handled something like that?
WALTERS: Several years ago, the Congress, they were going to pass a catastrophic health act, and it would help the people that couldn't afford it. Well, you know how the propaganda gets out and insurance companies or whatever, and they convinced these older people that this was going to be the worst thing that could ever happen. Well, we were around the district and that always clued Charlie in on what's going on. So he came down for a town meeting, we called, and says "Charlie you need to bring some graphs and charts where you can explain this because it is not going to be a happy time like you envision." Well sure enough boy it wasn't. Boy they were up in arms and he handled them perfectly, but one day on the front page of the paper was a big article, picture of [sounds like Frank McCloskey; the Representative from Indiana] being treed in his car, people with signs [Walters laughs] . . .
SOSEBEE: I remember that.
WALTERS: And Charlie, you know, that big laugh, he just hoo-hahed.
SOSEBEE: So, he would just, do you think he'd have just, if he had gone to a town meeting and there had been some of that, he'd, just said, "Look." And been very honest with them?
WALTERS: Oh yes, he always . . .
SOSEBEE: And that would have been, probably been the end of it?
WALTERS: Not necessarily the end of it . . .
SOSEBEE: Well he would not have had to face some of the angry accusations.
WALTERS: He wouldn't have gotten treed in his car [laughter], that's true.
SOSEBEE: They probably would have been afraid to do something like that. Someone who is, what? Six foot seven [inches] you don't want to mess with them too much.
WALTERS: But he on the other hand, he, the gals in the office were kind of tear jerking type when it comes to animals. They conned him into supporting a live trap bill for trappers to go out and trap coons or whatever. Well, we go over to Palestine one morning and it is freezing cold and we go to this museum up on the hill that is an old school house to meet the curator. Charlie gets out of the bus and here is this mountain man waiting for him and man he jumped on him about the live trap business [laughter] and Charlie said, "Yeah I did, I cosponsored it." And then he just ranted and raved and Charlie just walked off and he said "Wait a minute Congressman, I'm not through talking to you." And he said, "Well I'm done talking to you." And he just kept walking [laughter].
SOSEBEE: They don't handle that like that anymore. Charlie also was during the time when Texas was changed a lot . . .
WALTERS: Oh yeah.
SOSEBEE: . . . from the time he entered Congress until he left and even afterwards. Did he comment any on the changes that were going on in the state, what he thought?
WALTERS: He was aware of it because when you get decentralization from the north you get a different type of culture coming in here and that's what happened to Texas. And course now we're filling up from the south.
SOSEBEE: It is a difference, becoming a different place. Well Peyton this has been illuminating, it's been great, we've reached our time limit at this point as I talked to you earlier, we were probably going to want to, I'm going to want to come back and talk to you and Dr. [Paul] Sandul [Director of the Charlie Wilson Oral History Project] and I will call you in Lufkin and do this again, it's been fun.
WALTERS: Oh any time.
SOSEBEE: I think this is been great thank you so much.
WALTERS: And thank you for . . .