The Houston Oral History Project is a repository for the stories, accounts, and memories of those who have chosen to share their experiences. The viewpoints expressed in the Houston Oral History Project do not necessarily represent the viewpoints of the City of Houston, the Houston Public Library or any of its officers, agents, employees, or volunteers. The City of Houston and the Houston Public Library make no warranty as to the accuracy or completeness of any information contained in the interviews and expressly disclaim any liability therefore.
The Houston Oral History Project provides unedited versions of all interviews. Some parents may find material objectionable for minors. Parents are encouraged to interact with their children as they use the Houston Oral History Project Web site to complete research and homework activities.
The Houston Public Library retains the literary and publishing rights of its oral histories. No part of the interviews or transcripts may be published without the written permission of the Houston Oral History Project.
Requests for permission to quote for publication should be addressed to:
The Houston Oral History Project.
Houston Public Library
Houston, Texas 77002
The Houston Oral History Project reserves the right, in its sole discretion, to decline to post any account received herein and specifically disclaims any liability for the failure to post an account or for errors or omissions that may occur in posting accounts to the Virtual Archive.
For more information email the Houston Oral History Project at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Interview with: James Addison Baker, III
Interviewed by: Bill Barnett
Date: November 20, 2007
BB:Good morning. This is Tuesday, November 20, 2007. We are at the offices of Baker Botts, for the purpose of conducting an interview of James Addison Baker, III. This interview is pursuant to the Houston Oral History Project initiated by the mayor's office to preserve the recollections of people who have had a significant role in the development of Houston. In the case of Secretary Baker, we will also be conducting some history of his family which has had deep roots in Houston and significant impact on this history. My name is Bill Barnett and I will be involved in this. We will conduct it somewhat like a deposition but more as a discussion as we move forward, as we go through one subject after another. I would first like to, and I will put these things in the record, several publications and the reason for doing that is that the Baker family, particularly Secretary Baker's great-grandfather and grandfather and father, for that matter, their activities here have been preserved in several books and I would like to reference these books: The People of Baker Botts, by J.H. Freeman, 1992. Baker and Botts in the Development of Modern Houston. Leportito and Pratt, 1991. A History of Rice University: The Institute Years, 1907 to 1963. Frederica Minors, 1982. The Death of Old Man Rice. Martin L. Friedland, 1994. Work Hard, Study and Keep out of Politics by James A. Baker, III, 2006. And then, I would add even though we are not concentrating on Secretary Baker's years in the federal government, the politics of diplomacy, Revolution War and peace 1989, which was published in 1995 because it covers his years as Secretary of State. And I will also finally reference the Iraq study group report cochaired by James A. Baker, III and Lee Hamilton published in 2006. Against that background, Secretary Baker, how many James Addison Bakers have there been that lived and worked in Houston, Texas?
JAB: Well, there have been 5. I am actually the 4th James A. Baker, James Addison Baker, not the third, although I have always gone by the third, except to further confuse you, Bill, I went by the name James A. Baker, Jr. when I was in the Marine Corps because I thought James A. Baker, III, sounded too sissified so . . .
BB:Not real marine.
JAB: Not real marine, so I dropped the third and went by Jr. But I am actually the fourth James A. Baker in a row and the fourth to practice law at Baker Botts. My son, Jamie Baker, is, of course, James A. Baker - actually, he is James A. Baker, V, but he goes by James A. Baker, IV, and he is now a partner at Baker Botts and has been since before the time I joined the firm.
BB:So, there had been 5 James Addison Bakers who have been partners in the Baker Botts Law Firm?
JAB: That is correct.
BB:I might add, the firm goes back to 1840, at least, and the Baker history with the firm begins in . . .
BB:And who was that?
JAB: Well, that was Judge James A. Baker, who migrated from Florence, Alabama, northwestern Alabama - actually, Gravely Springs, Alabama - to Huntsville, Texas. He came in about 1852. He had been practicing law . . . in those days, you did not go to law school, you studied law in the office of a lawyer. He had been practicing law in Northwest Alabama and he came to . . . he had lost his wife and, a year or two after that, moved to Huntsville, Alabama where he met my great-grandmother and they started a family there and he practiced law there for a while, went on the bench for a few years as a Confederate States of America judge. After the end of the Civil War, they kicked him off the bench like they kicked everybody - all the Confederate judges - off the bench.
BB:Jim, let me interrupt you. He was a judge for Grimes County?
JAB: He was the judge of the district court of Grimes County. I think at that time, it was the 7th Judicial District of the state and I think, I am pretty sure about this, encompassed Harris County Houston as well.
BB:You know, I will just add - and I had not thought of this earlier. That court has a successor court down here and a good bit has been written about his role in that, I know.
JAB: Yes, it does have and an interesting feature of that - his picture is on the wall, as I understand it, in that district courtroom and the district judge occupying that bench now is a cousin of mine named Caroline Baker. She is a generation younger than I am but she is now the district judge of that court. But Judge Baker, after they kicked him off the bench because he had been a Confederate States of America . . . I mean, you know, he was in the Confederacy, and after the Civil War, he practiced law for a little while in Huntsville, and then he moved to Houston in 1872 and that was the first Baker affiliation. He joined the firm of Grey, Botts and Baker. It became Grey and Botts.
BB:Grey and Botts and Grey, Botts and Baker. That is interesting.
JAB: That is correct. 1872.
BB:Do you have any idea what the population of Houston was when he arrived?
JAB: Under 10,000 people. As a matter of fact, I looked it up for the purpose of this interview.
BB:For the record, I might reference the Pratt book, pages 2 and 3 and the Freeman book, pages 19 through 23 which is a pretty full discussion of some of this background. Where is he buried?
JAB: Judge Baker is buried in the Oakwood Cemetery in Huntsville, Texas, not far from his good friend, Sam Houston. They were friends and I believe both of them were masons. I am not sure about that. But we have done a little restoration work up there on is grave site and I have worked with some of the trustees of the Oakwood Cemetery in Huntsville. And not long ago, the State of Texas erected a historical marker at Judge Baker's grave. It contains a lot of his history.
BB:O.K. Let's move on now to your grandfather, Captain Baker, and just for the record, I would reference the Pratt book, pages 49 through 63, and the Freeman book, pages 33 through 43. What are some of your recollections of Captain Baker growing up?
JAB: Well, I remember Grandfather Baker very well. I was 11 years old when he died. I was off at camp in the Hill Country when he died at the age of 86. We used to go over to his home which was not far from where we sit today in One Shell Plaza, right over here on Bagby and Bremond, in that area. It was called The Oaks - those oak trees that were on his lawn. It was a 7 acre estate that, by the way, he had purchased from Edwin B. Parker, who had been a named partner in Baker Botts with Captain Baker. We used to go over there a lot of time for lunches in the summer and dinners in the evening. I remember Grandfather Baker playing hide and seek with his grandchildren. He used to offer us a nickel if we had the courage to walk around this big dining room in the dark after dinner. It was spooky. If we did it, he would give us a nickel. Those are my first recollections of him.
I should add that of all the Bakers at Baker Botts, I think my grandfather, Captain Baker, was the one who really did more to build this firm into the major league law firm that it became. He was a remarkable man. I might tell you a little bit about the moniker of Captain. It was an honorific title. He was a captain in something called the Houston Light Guards which was really a social organization, but he had that name. That was the tradition back in those days and he had that name for the rest of his life but what I think is an interesting irony is that my father, his son, was a captain in the Infantry in World War I, had to fight in the trenches - a really, really dirty war. He went over there and was decorated for bravery for action in the trenches. He was a captain in the Infantry. Nobody ever called him captain. I was a captain in the United States Marine Corps during the Korean War - I did not have to fight but I was a captain. Nobody ever called me captain. But Captain Baker, my grandfather, this larger than life figure, and he was larger than life, was a captain in the Houston Light Guards and he had the honorific title of captain all the rest of his life.
BB:I remember, and I know you have read this but in the J.H. Freeman book, he dedicates it to Captain Baker as the most significant figure in the history of the law firm and, of course, in the history of Rice University. Grandfather Baker was William Marsh Rice's lawyer and when William Marsh Rice moved back to New York and was ultimately murdered by an unscrupulous New York lawyer named Albert Patrick with the assistance of a man named Jones who happened to be his valet, his butler, it was a murder mystery where the butler did it. Captain Baker, when he got word of Mr. Rice's death under suspicious circumstances, he cabled up there to New York. He said, "Do not dispose of the body. I will be up there in 2 days." Well, in those days, it took the train 2 days to get to New York. He went up. To make a long story short, he solved the mystery of Mr. Rice's death. These people were prosecuted and convicted. They had forged a will, leaving everything to themselves that Mr. Rice had left in a will that my grandfather had drawn for him for the establishment of Rice Institute.
BB:So, there would have been no Rice?
JAB: There would have been no Rice University. And then, he subsequently served as the first chairman of the board for some 50 years.
BB:Having served for a few years as chairman, I cannot imagine anybody serving 50 years. It is a long time.
BB:One of the most significant figures in the history of the law firm was a man named Clarence Wharton, a trial lawyer who wrote history books and things. I know you and I have looked at a letter that he wrote Captain Baker and I would like to hand it to you. You might want to read just a sentence or few out of that. I think it captures the way that people around Captain Baker viewed him. It says, "Dear Captain. All day yesterday, I planned a letter to you and there were so many things I wanted to say. If I had written them down as they occurred to me, they would have been more or less incoherent. It was 35 years ago this holiday season when I was employed by Baker Botts. You were 45. Parker was a young man. Mr. Lovett was only 42. I think that was the Lovett whose son subsequently became Secretary of Defense.
BB:Well, and that Lovett became CEO and Chairman of the Board of the largest corporation in the United States - the Northern Pacific Railroad.
JAB: That is correct. But his son became one of the first . . . second Secretary of Defense, I think. There is an interesting anecdote - when I was at basics school in _______ getting . . . as a brand new marine second lieutenant undergoing my training, I went to Washington on leave and on a lark, I said, I think maybe I will go by and see if I can make a courtesy call on the Secretary of Defense, thinking all the while he would never see me. That was Mr. Lovett, the son of this man. He let me in and that is the first time I had ever been inside the Pentagon. But to continue the letter . . . "You were 45. Parker was a young man. Mr. Lovett was only 42. Garwood had an office in" such and such and such. "The long sweep of these 50 and 30 years seem an eternity. They have brought for all of us grief and despondency, pleasure and pain, but through all these changing years, you have been the same, Captain. With a calm dignity, you have carried on. If a census could be taken of all the men and women who have worked with the firm during these more than one-third of a century, every one would say you were the finest gentleman he had ever known. While others have fretted and blustered, you have moved from day to day and year to year with a dignity that none of us can counterfeit. Around your high character and great name, we have built our firm and today, as 30 years ago, you are the essential head of the institution. Already, I catch the glimpse of my own sunset and I crave no higher privilege than walking hand in hand with you down into life's twilight. I love you with the veneration rarely found between men." That is a lovely letter.
BB:Jim, your grandfather, as I recall, who was famous for advice he gave every lawyer, do you remember what that advice was?"
JAB: Well, he used to tell the young lawyers that came to work at Baker Botts, "If you want to be a good lawyer, work hard, study and keep out of politics." Well, that was his advice. And that is why I entitled my most recent book, "Work Hard, Study, and Keep Out of Politics," a facetious title but it was a playoff of my grandfather's mantra to young lawyers. And, of course, I followed that advice for the first 40 years of my life, but we will get to that later.
BB:Let's go to your father.
JAB: Captain Baker, I cannot remember exactly how many years he was with the firm. You may have a better recollection of that, Bill, than I do but he was with this firm for a long time.
BB:Well, he died in 1941 and he came to the law firm shortly after they moved to Houston in 1872. He was here a long time.
JAB: A long time, yes.
BB:Just as he was at Rice University. And I think it is fair to say that this law firm would not be the same without him at all and that Rice University would not exist.
JAB: Would not exist. That is correct.
BB:It is a significant . . . now, you mentioned that your father had been in World War I and the trench warfare. He was in the infantry?
JAB: He was in the infantry. He was in the 90th Division. Back there when World War I broke, we did not have a very large standing army. A lot of people volunteered. My dad was one. He went to the First Officers Training Camp at Leon Springs out here not too far from San Antonio. They were only given, I think, a few weeks, maybe maximum 6 or 8 weeks of training and then boom, they were over there in France. He served over there with great distinction and was a true American war hero. But I read your sentence out of the Warden letter about how considerate and kind . . . how Mr. Warden thought Captain Baker was so considerate and kind. My dad was probably the kindest, most considerate person I have ever known. He was a wonderful father to me but after I began practicing law here in Houston, I would run into people all over the city who would come up to me and said, "Your father was so considerate of me and thoughtful of me." Elevator operators in the Esperson Building or whatever it might be. And he and my mom, they built a home . . . another digression for a minute. They built a home on Bissonnet Avenue in 1927. In those days, it was called the Poor Farm Road but it is Bissonnet. Captain Baker, his father said, "Jim, why are you building so far away from town here?" Well now, it is right down here, you know, it is not very far at all. When I moved back to Houston from law school in 1957 and bought a house in Memorial, my dad said, "Jimmy, why are you buying a house so far from town?" So, it just proves that what goes around comes around. But my dad and mother used to, and I am sure you remember this, Bill, because you joined the firm back at a time when this was happening, used to take the young lawyers and their brides to the Rice football games on Saturday afternoons.
BB:I can tell you, he did that with me more than once or twice and also to lunches. They were so thoughtful.
JAB: They would have a lunch at their home. Have a lunch and then they would all get in the cars and go to the Rice football game.
BB:But Jim, I know you know about the most single remarkable thing I remember about your father which most people do not know about because he insisted on strict confidentiality, was his helping young lawyers buy their first home.
JAB: That is right. He did. He used to make loans to the young lawyers at the firm who needed money to buy their first home provided they would never tell anybody. The loans did not bear interest and they were to pay them back as and when they could. I remember my father telling me in the later years of his life that of all of those loans, only one of them was never paid back.
BB:And I will tell you, he never told anybody else that.
JAB: No, he did not. That is right.
BB:O.K. I remember him well. I remember his heavy involvement in both banking and real estate as well as law.
JAB: That is right.
BB:He was very involved in a lot of institutions.
JAB: My dad sort of wanted to be a trial lawyer but Captain Baker at that time was the lead dog in the firm as you would say and he really wanted my dad to become a business lawyer, take care of, for one thing, a lot of family investments in real estate and banking, and he became a very fine banking and real estate lawyer.
BB:Let's go on to James A. Baker, IV who is really the fifth. That is your son. I do not have the day he joined this firm. It would have been in the 1980s but he became a partner in 1991. What did he do immediately before joining Baker Botts?
JAB: Jamie had worked for Senator Howard Baker as assistant minority counsel to the Senate, at that time, I guess minority leader or maybe he worked for Howard when he was majority leader. I cannot remember which. He then came to work for the firm. When I came out of government the last time in 1993, and you talked to me about joining Baker Botts and I decided to do so, that was the first time there had ever been any exception made to the nepotism rule at Baker Botts. People used to ask Jamie, they would go up to him and say, "Jamie, how can your dad join the firm when you are already a partner here?" Jamie said, "Well, don't you understand, nepotism works down. It does not work up."
BB:If that would have raised a nepotism issue, I can tell you that not one single voice was raised to suggest that.
JAB: That is right. And Jamie, of course, is not the administrator, the managing partner, I guess you would put it of the Washington office of the firm, an office that has in excess of 100 lawyers. And it has been a real pleasure, you know. I just assumed that I would never have the opportunity to practice law with a son, even though I have 2 sons who are lawyers, because I think a nepotism rule is a very fine thing, and law firms have really nothing to sell except their ability. It is not like a family business although I was somewhat really disappointed when Baker Botts elected not to make an exception to its nepotism rule when I came along even though I had the Greys having worked with you and others on the Texas Law Interview and everything, but it was the best thing that could ever happen to me.
BB:You know, in regard to Jamie, we have talked about the 5 James A. Bakers that have worked at this law firm and contributed to the city of Houston. Jamie has how many children?
JAB: Jamie had 5 girls. He lost one in a tragic drowning accident about 3-4 years ago now. He has 4 girls. No boys. So, there are no other James Addison Bakers in a direct line. But his brother, Doug Baker, who is now a special assistant to the president for Homeland Security in Washington, he and his wife have a son who is now 2 years old and they named him James A. Baker because there were not any other James A. Bakers. But the way it works, he has to be James Addison Baker, II, because he is not in a direct line. People come to me all the time and say, "How can you have a grandson named James A. Baker, II, when you are James A. Baker, III?" So, it is very convoluted and complex.
BB:It is interesting though, I can remember asking your wife, Susan, "Wasn't it a shame that Jamie did not have a son named James A. Baker?" And I thought her answer was really appropriate, that it was a good thing he did not, that it would be too much of a monkey on the back of the kid.
JAB: I think that is right, for the same reason that I would not go into the Marine Corps with the roman numeral III behind my name. I purloined my father's name, James A. Baker, Jr., and all of my military records to this day up in the Pentagon are James A. Baker, Jr.
BB:That is interesting. Let's go to your background. You were born in Houston . . .
JAB: In 1930, at St. Joseph's Hospital right down here in downtown Houston.
BB:And Houston at that time was, what, a little under 300,000?
JAB: Probably, yes. Something in that neighborhood.
BB:Incidentally, for the record, there is a chart of populations by Texas cities that was published by the Texas Almanac and it covers at least through 1980, and that is a good reference if anybody wants to get into that.
JAB: You know, Bill, we mentioned what the population of Houston was when Judge Baker moved here. We did not mention the fact that my mother's family moved to Houston in 1902 from Gatesville, Texas. And, at that time, Houston had about 47,000 people, I think, something like that. I remember Mom telling me stories about that. She and my dad lived in the Rossonian Apartments right down here. It is that building still standing down here, I think it is on Main Street.
BB:Was it easy to get around as a kid in Houston?
JAB: Well, it was quite easy back in those days. Houston was not the metropolis it is today. In fact, the western boundary of Houston as I remember it growing up was pretty much Kirby Drive. I remember, I had a little Cushman motor scooter that I would ride in the afternoons after school, I would ride out to River Oaks Country Club so I could play tennis in the afternoon, and I would ride down Kirby Drive which was a shell road. That was pretty much the western boundary of Houston.
BB:Why don't you outline your chronology and education and where you were . . .
JAB: Well, I went to Poe School in kindergarten here in Houston for my kindergarten year. Then, my family moved me to Kincaid School where I went to school for 10 years. I left after my sophomore year and went to the Hill School in Pottstown, Pennsylvania, where my dad had graduated from and so had two others of Captain Baker's children - Malcolm and Graham. I think two others. Certainly, one other. In fact, my dad's older brother, Graham Baker, died at the Hill School while he was there of some sort of a sinus infection. Then, after the Hill School, I went to Princeton for 4 years. I graduated in 1952 and then joined the Marine Corps. In those days, they were drafting us out of college because of the Korean War, and I joined the Marine Corps platoon leaders program. I really wanted to join the Navy or the Air Force but I had an inner ear problem and I would get air sick with acrobatics and seasick if I was on the water too much. So, I joined the Marine Corps platoon leaders program, became a second lieutenant. The first thing the Marines did was put me on a ship for 7 months and send me to the Mediterranean, and I was sick for a good part of that time. But, as I tell people, I had a very tough duty assignment during the Korean War. My home port was Cannes on the French Riviera and I fought the Korean War on the French Riviera not because I had any pull or anything but because that is just where they happened to need a naval gunfire spotter, which was my military speciality.
BB:And after the Marine Corps?
JAB: After the Marine Corps, I came back to Texas and went to Texas law school. I really sort of wanted to go to Harvard Law School. I had been to Princeton. My dad said, "No, if you are going to practice law in Texas, you really need to go to law school in Texas." I did and I am forever grateful to him for that advice. It was very good advice because I found out, particularly during the time I was at Andrews Kurth practicing law, that I knew lawyers all over the state. After law school, I gave some thought to clerking for Judge St. John Garwood on the Texas Supreme Court. He wanted me to do that. But, by that time, I was 27 years old and I thought, well, you had better start your legal career. I joined Andrews Kurth.
BB:Why didn't you join Baker Botts?
JAB: There being a nepotism rule here at Baker Botts. Now, as you know and as I know, the firm gave serious thought to waiving that rule because I had good grades and my name was James Addison Baker. And they took a vote on it. And I will never forget the day my dad came home and told me, he said, "Well, the firm voted on this today and they decided not to waive the nepotism rule." I was just really disappointed, deeply disappointed, because all I had ever known was Baker Botts. But I have since told people many times and I have written in my books that the best thing that ever happened: There were 2 great things that happened to me that, at the time, were disappointments. The first and most important was that Baker Botts did not wave its anti-nepotism rule because if I had come to work at Baker Botts and done well, people would have said, well, what do you expect? It is because his father is a partner. If I had done poorly, they would say, well, what do you expect, he is only here because of his father? The second big disappointment was losing my only race for elective office when, in 1978, I ran for attorney general of Texas and I lost. Ran a pretty good race but lost. But it turned out the silver lining in that cloud was I immediately thereafter started working on George Bush's campaign, the first George Bush's campaign, for president. And we did not win but we got the number two spot on the ticket and everything that happened thereafter flowed from that. So, it was a good thing I did not win that race for Attorney general.
BB:You ran against . . .
JAB: I ran against Mark White. I filed to run against Price Daniel, Jr., who was the Speaker of the House, a very liberal Democrat. In those days, Republicans had not won a statewide election in Texas since reconstruction in 1978. That was the year Bill Clemons won the governorship, the first time any Texan except for John Tower in a special election where he was running against 3 Democrats to fill Lyndon Johnson's senate seat when Johnson went on the ticket with Kennedy. So, it was pretty much an uphill struggle. But Texas in those days was as totally Democratic as it is pretty much Republican today.
BB:Jim, I remember over the years when you were practicing law at Andrews Kurth, you were a corporate lawyer, represented a lot of different corporations.
JAB: Right. I did mergers and acquisitions. Towards the end of my practice there, most of what I did were B reorganizations and mergers acquisitions, and that worked at some length with a number of your then partners here at Baker Botts. And I practiced with Andrews Kurth for maybe 16 or 17 years. I would have to count it up exactly. I took a leave of absence - not a leave of absence - I resigned from the firm to go to Washington in August of 1975 to be the Deputy Secretary of Commerce for President Ford. That is where I got involved with the Ford campaign in 1976, first against Reagan for the nomination and then against Carter for the general election. Then, I came back to Houston in 1976 after we lost and rejoined Andrews Kurth, took a big reduction in my percentage to run for Attorney General, did the same thing to run George Bush's campaign for president but after Reagan/Bush won in 1980, in January of 1981, I left Andrews Kurth and went into the government and I was there, of course, until January of 1993.
BB:At least one dozen years.
JAB: Yes, a dozen years. Now, in 1976, after I had run the Ford campaign, gotten quite a bit of national attention and exposure, your predecessor at Baker Botts, as managing partner, Bill Harvin, said, "You know, you really need to come to the family firm, get your ticket punched at the family firm, and join us. We want to talk to you about coming over." I said, "You know, Bill, I am honored and I would love to think about maybe doing that someday but I have too many friends at Andrews Kurth now who have been too good to me and really loyal and stuck by me in my loss of my first wife and my efforts to want to get involved in politics, so I just do not think I should do that now." And I did not. And then, as you know better than anybody because you are the person that talked to me in 1993 about coming to Baker Botts, I did so then because by that time, all of my contemporaries at Andrews Kurth had pretty much retired and moved on.
BB:Jim, let's go back. You mentioned the loss of your wife. That was, what?
JAB: ______ died in 1970. She was diagnosed in October of 1968 with breast cancer. It was a very aggressive, virulent type of cancer and she was dead 16 months later. She left me with 4 small sons and in a rather distraught condition, I must say. In those days, they really did not have the same kind of handle on treatment for that illness that they do today.
BB:Let's go now, tie it in to about that time . . . your friendship with George H.W. Bush.
JAB: My first wife, Mary Stewart, was from Dayton, Ohio, and she was a lifelong Republican. I tell the story about moving down here after law school in 1957. 1958 was an election year, and Mary Stewart held the Republican precinct convention in 1958 in my living room. One 1 person showed up. There weren't any Republicans. There still weren't any Republicans. One man showed up. I served him drinks. I was the Republican precinct meeting and that now and has been since George Bush won the race for Congress, the most Republican congressional district in the country. It is the one Bill Archer represented for many years. But anyway, Mary Stewart was from Dayton, Ohio and she was a good friend of some people up there named Bush. They happened to be George H.W. Bush's first cousins. So, she knew the Bush’s. They knew each other. Not the George Bush’s but these other Bush’s. I moved back here from law school in 1957 when I graduated, went to work for Andrews Kurth. George Bush moved back here I think in 1958 from Midland where he had been running Zapata Offshore.
JAB: He and Hugh Lidtke were partners.
BB:He and the Lidtke brothers were partners.
JAB: Neither George nor I had a tennis doubles partner out at the Houston Country Club for the members annual tennis tournament. They put us together. They put us together and we became tennis doubles partners and we made a pretty good team. We won the tournament a couple of times. George was a Republican. I was a conservative Democrat here. When Mary Stewart died, George and Barbara were very close to us. They were the last people to see Mary Stewart other than her kids and me before she died. After she died, he came to me and he said, "You need to take your mind off your grief. How about helping me run for the Senate here in Texas?" I said, "Well, George, that is a great idea but there are two problems: number one, I do not know anything about politics and number two, I am a Democrat." And he said, "Well, we can handle that. We can handle the problem of party," and we did and I helped. That is how I really got started in politics.
BB:Now, when did you and Susan get married?
JAB: I married Susan in August of 1973. Mary Stewart died in February of 1970. Susan and I got married in August of 1973. Put those 7 kids together. Susan had 3 children - 2 boys and a girl - and I had 4 boys. We put those 2 families together and as I have written and said any number of times, that was one heck of an undertaking that she took on. There was one time there when we had 3 seventh graders at one time.
BB:Well, I often have remembered when you were in Washington so long, Susan would make these long trips with the kids. Very difficult.
JAB: Very tough. I'll tell you, people do not understand but public service is usually toughest on the spouses. It really is. We got married in 1973 and then I was on my way to Washington in 1975, maybe 20 months later. With all these kids we were trying to put together and I was getting involved in big public service jobs and big political jobs running campaigns and things, it was very tough.
BB:I want to skip pretty much your government years but just quickly do the chronology.
JAB: The chronology is after I came back here and ran for attorney general and lost, that was after I had been Deputy Secretary of Commerce, then I ran George H.W. Bush's campaign for president in 1980. He lost to Reagan which we always anticipated we probably would but he got put on the ticket. He was the only man standing with Reagan by the time the convention rolled around in 1980. So, he was vice-president. And then, Ronald Reagan did something unheard of. He turned to me after he became president elect, he said, "I want you to be my White House Chief of Staff." I had run 2 campaigns against Reagan. I had run the foreign effort for the nomination, successful effort to deny Reagan the nomination in 1976. Then, I had run George H.W. Bush's campaign against him for the nomination in 1980.
BB:I think you had also used a funny term about his economics.
JAB: Oh, yes. Well, it was not me but our campaign referred to his economic program as "voodoo economics." Well, it turned out to be a very successful formula for generating economic growth and did so to the great benefit of this country for a long time. So then, after that, I was 4 years and 2 weeks and a couple of days as White House Chief of Staff. I used to tell the story that I was the longest serving White House Chief of Staff except for 2 people, both of whom went to jail. And it is a tough job and there is a lot of . . . you know, you are right at the heart of the political centrifuge. But I did it for 4 years plus. Then, I went over to become Treasury Secretary and I served there for almost 4 years when I resigned in 1988 at the request of the vice-president, Vice-President Bush to run his campaign against Dukakis in 1978. We won that campaign rather substantially and President Elect Bush asked me to be Secretary of State which I did for almost 4 years. And then, he asked me in August of 1992 to again take over his campaign for reelection and that is when I left the State Department, moved back to the White House as White House Chief of Staff. You could not run it from the outside then because of some ethics in government laws that had been passed in the interim which would have prevented me from talking to people I had served with in his Cabinet, so I had to go over and be the White House Chief of Staff which I did and we lost that campaign in 1992, and that is when I left government for the last time.
BB:Jim, your book, "The Politics of Diplomacy," which covers your State Department years and your new book, "Work Hard, Study and Stay Out of Politics," summarizes a good bit of all of . . .
JAB: Oh, yes, it has all of that in. Well, particularly, the State years are covered in great detail in "The Politics of Diplomacy," and the second book is really a political memoir. It is about all of the political things that I ended up doing which was really rather remarkable given the fact that I never intended to get into politics and public service. I followed Captain Baker's advice for the first 40 years of my life. And but for the tragic death of my wife, Mary Stewart, I might never have gotten into politics.
BB:Well, you batted at least 2 out of 3.
JAB: That is what I say. It is not all bad if you can bat 666.
BB:Yes, that is right. Jim, let's go to 1992. What were your options when you were leaving in 1993 after the 1992 election? What were your things you were considering? What would have been . . .
JAB: Well, a lot of law firms had talked to me, did talk to me, and I really was only in serious conversation with 2 or 3. Andrews Kurth wanted me to come back, understandably. You were generously talking to me about coming to Baker Botts. I talked to Vinson Elkins. I talked to Fulbright, I think. I talked to Jones Day. I talked to some New York law firms. But I never really . . . I always sort of knew in the back of my mind I wanted to come to Baker Botts and get my ticket punched at the family law firm.
BB:What was your understanding and what did you define, insist your role be at the law firm? [end of side 1]
JAB: Well, one thing that I was determined I would never do is practice law the way I had before where you had to keep time and keep your time in increments of tenths of an hour. I just said I am never going to do that again. That was, of course, the arrangement that you and I agreed to as far as my joining Baker Botts was concerned. But I never will forget, the first day I showed up for work in the Washington office was one day in March of 1993 and there on my desk in the middle of the desk was a time book with a note from my son who was, at that time, a partner in the Washington office, saying, "Dad, here is your time book. Please turn your time sheets in to so and so and so." So, I put a little entry in the first page and I put "9:01, arrived for work at Baker Botts. 9:02, found time book from J.A.B. Ford. 9:04, resigned from Baker Botts," and gave it back to him.
BB:Did you commit yourself to do lobbying work in Washington?
JAB: No, I said that I would not lobby and I never have lobbied. I joined a merchant banking firm as a partner as well, the Carlisle Group, which has been extraordinarily successful. It was, at the time, a small merchant bank in Washington, D.C. It has grown tremendously. But they, too, were told I would not lobby and I had never lobbied. I will not do that. I just do not think it is seemly for a former secretary of state to lobby either the legislative or executive branch of the federal government.
BB:But your time, your division between Baker Botts and the Carlisle was substantially more towards Baker Botts?
JAB: Absolutely, and I officed with Baker Botts. I did a lot of things for the Carlisle Group but most of my time was spent on Baker Botts.
BB:Let's move on to Rice University. There is now, I think everyone knows, at Rice University, a well-established Baker Institute. James A. Baker, III Institute for Public Policy.
JAB: That's right.
BB:What was the origin of that?
JAB: Well, after we lost in 1992, I got a call from George Rupp who, at the time, was president of Rice, and Charles Duncan who was chairman of the board, saying they wanted to come up and talk to me about something, and I said, "Sure." And I met with them in the office of the Chief of Staff at the West Wing office there of the Chief of Staff at the White House. And they said that Professor Rick Stole at Rice University had, even back in 1976, proposed the idea maybe of a James A. Baker, III Institute for Public Policy. This was after I had done the Ford campaign and come back to Houston. But the idea did not take hold evidently with the board at that time but they said they wanted to know if I would be willing to participate in that. I said I would be very honored by that. It was only subject to 2 conditions: number one, that I would not be expected to raise all the money for it. I have raised some of the money but I was not required to do it. Rice had been very good about . . .
BB:You raised quite a bit of the money.
JAB: We raised quite a bit of the money. Secondly, that it not be a degree granting facility because it had been my experience that public policy institutes, taking, for example, what happened to Hoover Institution at Stanford, Woodrow Wilson School at Princeton, Kennedy School at Harvard - these institutions have gotten crossways with the faculties at the host institutions where if they were a degree granting facility. So, I said, "Well, I am happy to do this but I would suggest that it not be a degree granting facility," and I do not think there was any impetus on the part of people at Rice that it would be that. It is just that those were the only 2 caveats I threw out there. The Baker Institute for Public Policy has succeeded really far beyond our wildest dreams and expectations. It has been extraordinarily successful. We have a very good reputation out there in the public policy echo chamber for good scholarship, for bipartisan approach to issues. We want to make sure that we really believe in academic freedom at that institute. We want to make sure that all sides of every issue are heard.
BB:Jim, I remember thinking at the time that you were just articulating what it was going to be, that there was no building, there was no track record, there was no director, there was no money.
JAB: There was nothing.
BB:There was really nothing . . .
JAB: It was an idea. That is all. It was you and Rice University.
BB:It was an idea.
JAB: It has come a long way. One of your colleagues from State and Treasury came down and helped get that going.
JAB: Yes, John Rogers is a wonderful human being. He worked for me. He was a young man that worked for me in the transition in the first Reagan/Bush administration in late 1980. I was introduced to him. I think David Gergen brought him to my attention. I hired him and he worked for me in the Reagan White House. He worked for me in the Baker Treasury Department. He worked for me in the Baker State Department. He came down here and was really helpful in helping us put together the Baker Institute.
BB:Where is he now?
JAB: He is now a partner at Goldman Sachs in New York.
BB:The first director was Edward P. Jurigian.
BB:You had known him in government.
JAB: Well, Ed had worked for me as the Assistant Secretary of State for Near East when I was Secretary of State, and then he was our ambassador to Syria when I was Secretary of State as well. Subsequently, he became our ambassador to Israel appointed by President Clinton. He is the only American to ever serve as ambassador to both Syria and Israel. I happen to remember that during the search, he was late a little bit . . . he had come by to tell you good-bye or something and you said, "Maybe you would like to try this?" He and his wife came down on a cold Sunday morning and the movers were coming to their home in Washington the next morning to get them moving towards Israel.
BB:Yes, that is right. So, it was a brief window.
JAB: That is correct but, you know, he resigned as our ambassador to Israel to take the job as the founding director of the Baker Institute which was quite a complement to us, I think, and to Rice.
BB:And to you.
JAB: To us and to Rice.
BB:I have in my hand . . . I think the Baker Institute is fairly well known. I have 2 pieces of paper, one is entitled Baker institute admission and history; the other Baker Institute highlighted speakers. I will put these in the record but you might comment on some of the . . .
JAB: Well, Bill, there is a lot here. My general comment would be that public policy institutes are known for the quality of their scholarship, not so much for how many prominent people you can attract but because the Good Lord has given me the years he has given me, I have been able to get some very, very prominent people here like Nelson Mandela and Mickhail Gorbachev, all of our former presidents in one capacity or another, whether it is video conference or in person. Most of them in person. Other foreign leaders and presidents, the kings, the King of Jordan. I do not know whether I mentioned Vladimir Putin, the president of Russia.
JAB: I mentioned Gorbachev. The president of Algeria. The president of Kazakhstan.
BB:Several secretaries of state?
JAB: Oh well, yes, of course. We have had the vice-president of the United States, Chancellor Cole of Germany, Rudy Giuliani who, of course, is now running as one of the primary Republican candidates for president, Prince Saud Al-Faisal of Saudi Arabia, Simone Perez, the president of Israel. We just had a number. And so, in our 15 year history, we really exceeded far beyond our wildest expectations and I hope and believe that we brought a quality of international debate and expertise to Rice and to Houston. I know this - that there is a real hunger in this 4th largest city in the nation for substantive policy debate. That is why we have not tried to restrict the Baker Institute to any particular little niche. We talk about foreign policy issues and domestic policy issues, whether it is urban crime and violence, tax reform, Middle East peace, nuclear nonproliferation - whatever it is - we deal with all of them.
BB:Energy. Health care.
JAB: We have big, big energy . . . we are probably the premier think tank today in the United States on energy issues because we are right here in the energy capital of the United States.
BB:Since you have gotten back to Houston, in addition to the Baker Institute and a lot of other things, I would like to ask you just about a few of these other activities you have had just to round it out. First of all, I recall several years ago, you got involved helping the United Nations.
JAB: Well, for 7 years, I was a personal envoy of the Secretary General Kofi Annan and Secretary General of the United Nations on the issue of Western Sahara, a very, very difficult issue where you have 2 different peoples claiming one piece of ground. It is the last issue on self-determination that the UN is dealing with. When the Spanish moved out of western Sahara, a number of countries claimed it and the indigenous people of the country claimed it. I was never able to resolve it although I did make some progress, got the parties together. I did that for 7 years. Then, I co-chaired a commission with former president Jimmy Carter on federal election reform which came up with some very good suggestions. I have been, as you know, the co-chairman - you mentioned earlier - co-chairman with former Congressman Lee Hamilton of the Iraq study group at the request of President Bush 43. I co-chaired that. I am now co-chairing with Warren Christopher a commission on looking into the respective war powers of the president and Congress. I have done a number of other things. Larry Faulkner, when he was president of the University of Texas asked me if I would chair a group to look at the LBJ School and come up with some recommendations given our successful experience at the Baker Institute and come up with some suggestions about what they might do to sort of revitalize the LBJ School, and we did that and they are implementing some of those recommendations. And then, we had, as you know, a panel here, a panel of process safety experts to look into the very tragic explosion at the BP refinery in Texas City.
BB:You and the War Powers Commission, you and Warren Christopher are working on that. You all crossed swords earlier during the 2000 election in Florida, did you not?
JAB: Well, he was a close advisor to President Clinton in the 1992 election where Governor Clinton beat President Bush in 1992. Chris was a close advisor to Clinton.
BB:And then, in 2000, he was working with . . .
JAB: In 2000, he worked for Clinton and the Florida recount . . .
JAB: I am sorry, for Gore, when I was working for George W. Bush.
BB:Yes, that is right. One other item I wanted to ask you about. The president of the United States asked you, as I recall, to help them get the Iraqi debts reduced.
JAB: Well, that is right. I was, for a period of a few months, on the White House staff at the request of . . . well, President George W. Bush asked me if I would undertake a mission to get a reduction in Iraq's official debt, the debt that Iraq owed other countries, and I went to about 12 or 14 other countries, all the major countries in the world. And we got an 80% reduction across the board. But I had to do it. I had to join the White House staff. They paid me 1 dollar. So, if you look at a listing of the White House staff members during that period, I am the lowest paid member of the staff. I was paid 1 dollar. And, as I told people facetiously, I had to take a drug test, too, in order to qualify for the position.
BB:So, since you left government, you have not been totally removed from various activities related to government . . .
JAB: No, I have done a lot of things and it is frankly rewarding and almost fun to do them when you have the freedom of movement and freedom of operation that you do as a private citizen, as opposed to the constraints that are on you when you are up there full-time government service.
BB:O.K. I think that pretty well covers, unless you can think of other areas that might round this out.
JAB: No, I cannot thing of . . . now, we have some very interesting memorabilia here in the event that he could film it, if it would be of any interest. Right behind you is a picture of every member of the Houston Bar Association in 1896.
JAB: Which includes both Judge Baker and Captain Baker, but others like Frank Andrews and Mr. Lovett. I found that picture in my mother's attic. In my office, I have an interview with Captain Baker on the front page of the old Houston Press. The caption at the top is "Work Hard, Study and Keep Out of Politics" says James A. Baker. And then, I also have in there, written in a quill pen, a writ of habeas corpus directed to my great-grandfather, Judge Baker, in 1862 by a man who had been drafted but refused to serve. He had been in prison. He said, "I don't have to serve because I am a legislator and exempt from the draft." And I found that quill pen writ of habeas corpus in my mother's attic after she died in 1991 at a time when I was in the Office of the Prime Minister of Israel trying to negotiate Arab Israeli peace. Mom lived here from 1902 until 1991. That is quite a period. And lived to be 97 years old.
BB:Well, actually, I might add to the memorabilia the pictures around this wall are also interesting of so many world leaders you functioned with.
JAB: Thank you very much. Thank you, Bill.