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Interview with: Mary Jane Blackburn
Interviewed by: Louis Marchiafava
Date: November 5, 1976
Archive Number: OH 208
LM: This is an interview with Mary Jane Blackburn on November 5, 1976. (break in tape) –information on you concerning your selection as campaign manager. How were you selected as campaign manager?
MB: Dr. Paul asked me, about this time last year—matter of fact, just about this time last year—if I would serve as campaign manager. In the first election in 1974—
(Break in tape)
MB: —to a minimal degree, really, but I had lots of political experience in Harris County. I had worked with a branch of the democratic organization—Harris County Conservative Democrats—for a while—not the official organization, but about 3 years with them, then about 3½ years with the Harris County Republican Party. When I left the Republican Party, I went with the Frank (s/l Bruscoe) campaign, just for 2 months-2½ months, and then with Ron’s campaign. But I had known him personally. We were friends. I had worked on his first campaign. I think it was just based on that that he asked me to, and I accepted.
LM: Was that the campaign against Casey?
MB: Yes, the ’74 campaign.
LM: One of the questions I wanted to ask you was how does Ron Paul fit into the Republican Party in this area?
MB: Harris County or the whole district?
LM: The whole district.
MB: In 1974—a very funny situation—Ron Paul and his wife went to a meeting—a dinner party, I believe—of the Harris County Medical Society. Of course, he’s an MD. And just very coincidentally, Bob Casey was there, and I think he was the keynote speaker. And Ron had been toying with the idea of running against him for Congress. They just happened to be seated next to each other, and they chitchatted throughout the whole evening. Ron never told Casey that he was thinking about running against him. That night he also met Nancy Palm whose husband is also an MD. They were there at the function also. He chatted with her and did tell her that he was thinking about running. Now, I can remember the next morning she came in the office and told me she had met this MD from Lake Jackson who was thinking about running against Casey. And within a day or two—I don’t know how long it was—he called back up to talk to Nancy Palm. And she encouraged him to come run. He came before the Harris County Republican Party’s Candidate Recruitment Committee, one of their regular party’s standing committees, and was interviewed by them. And they were delighted to have him—a man of his caliber, profession, integrity, just a real top-notch candidate material. And they just tremendously encouraged him to run as a Republican and promised him all sorts of support if he did. And he went and filed on the Republican ticket. Of course, he filed in Austin at the secretary of state’s office. And that’s how it started.
LM: 03:47.3 Did he have any political experience before?
MB: No, he had had none. That was his first try.
LM: Curious question to have now—was he a registered democrat or a republican when this occurred?
MB: Neither. In Texas you don’t register by party affiliation. It’s a very, very common misconception that I’m a registered democrat/I’m a registered Republican. You are neither; you’re just a registered voter. By statute, the fact that you vote in either party’s primary affiliates you with that party for two years, but does not wed you to voting for that ticket in November; although, he said that he always voted for the more conservative candidates.
LM: Could he strictly be classified as a republican? In going through his literature, it didn’t really seem that he exactly fit the republican platform.
MB: The national platform?
LM: His views on government. Let’s specify it.
MB: 05:55.8 Let’s say this: I can answer that two ways. Number one, he does run on the republican ticket, but Ron is very much an independent—and independent worker, an independent thinker, and independent doer. He’s his own man completely. And there a lot of things—once he got up to Congress—where the party had a stand, he didn’t always vote with them and oftentimes found himself voting with the liberal democrats. So he’s not wedded strongly to the party ties, but he does run on the republican ticket. Now as far as the national platform goes, we were up in Kansas City at the convention—he was a delegate to the national convention—when the national platform was adopted, and there were some things in it—I remember he was telling me—one in particular that we kind of joked about—he did not care for. But by and large, he supports the platform of the national party. The one thing was the ERA. He joked about that.
LM: I noted that he did not get the support of the NOW organization.
MB: No—no. Those issues which they would support, by and large, he’s—again—the abortion issue. He, in theory—in philosophy—supports the concept of equality between the sexes, but it’s like lots of pieces of legislation. How do the courts interpret it? How is it going to be interpreted? He was just against that.
LM: Has his independent views on government—? I should say how do his independent views on government affect republican support for his candidacy?
MB: Oh, they loved it—they loved it. The party here—the Harris County Republican Party—and the two other—well, three other county’s republican parties— And keep in mind, the rural counties are by and large democratic counties, but the republican party organizations in each of those three counties and this great big county just ate it up. They are conservative parties. They’re very conservative parties, and he stood— They’re issue oriented parties, not personality oriented parties. Ron Paul is strong, strong on the issues, and they just loved it and just took to him right away.
LM: I would have thought that it might have had an adverse effect on him because of his voting record for the short time that he was in Washington, but it didn’t.
LM: He voted against many of the republicans, as a matter of fact.
MB: Well, lots of republicans here, myself included—you know—I would have done the same thing. You have independent thinkers down here in Harris County. They are not going to be led by—and I’m talking about the party people here—they’re not going to be—just go along with it just because it’s a republican party issue—function. They are wedded to issues; that’s it.
LM: 08:14.6 I know many times in campaigns, rhetoric seems to—one doesn’t know how to evaluate the real positions of the campaign because of the rhetoric. When Ron Paul and some of his supporters speak about the dangers actually presented to the nation by ultra liberals, is this serious? Is this really—?
MB: Ron Paul and his supporters really speak more about the dangers of big government. And unfortunately, the promoters of big government, by and large—not all the time, but by and large—tend to be the liberals, because they want more government controls, more regulation, more money to spend to promulgate all these different programs and issues that they want going. And in turn, all they do—two bad things. Number one, they take your money, they spend your money, they go in debt, and they regulate your lives more. They more laws they pass, the more regulation is on your life, your business, your educational institutions, just more, more, more. It takes away the individual’s freedom and puts it more in the hands of government. That’s what Dr. Paul is fighting and trying to change.
LM: When he classified Gammage as an ultraliberal, what exactly does he mean by that? When he says ultra as opposed to—?
LM: Liberal, yeah.
MB: What he meant is that in Mr. Gammages record in the Texas Senate and the Texas House, Mr. Gammage was not over there with just the libs; he was there with the real libs—the ultra liberals, and the legislation that he proposed—legislation that was not in the mainstream thinking of the district here that he represented— A man’s not going to change his colors just because he leaves one legislative body and goes to another. He’s going to be the same way. And if he went to Washington, if he went to the governor’s mansion—you know—wherever he went—that’s what he meant.
LM: Okay. One other clarification I’d like to make: When the term ultraliberal is used, is that in any way associated with socialism?
MB: 10:53.4 Oh, well, you get into— That’s hard to answer. You get into finer terms of definition when you say that. I wouldn’t be the right person to ask that question because when you look— Mr. Gammage’s service has been, right at the moment, strictly in Texas state government. It’s hard to translate from the national level of socialism what it would be at the state level of government. I would say it’s basically the same. The same theory applies, but it’s just hard translating it from one level of government to another.
LM: Okay. How do you feel your candidate projected himself?
MB: I think Ron—well, I know Ron came across as a fresh breath. He was not a politician. People saw him as a country doctor, nice wholesome appearance, the all-American young man, the guy next door, casual, informal, a very decent sort of fellow. The man who you take your kids to when they’re sick or your wife goes to, the guy you see in church on Sunday. Not a professional politician, just against Washington. Congressman Paul’s headquarters.
(Conversation in background)
LM: Was this part of the overall campaign strategy—to present a particular image?
MB: Well, yeah. I’d say, yeah. When you have money to go on television and to advertise, whether it be printed material or media, yeah, naturally you want to present an image. This was Ron the way he was.
LM: In political terms, what was the strategy of the campaign? How did you structure it?
MB: Now, are you talking about the special election, or are you talking about this one?
LM: This past election.
MB: This current one?
LM: And I would like to contrast that later with the special election to see if there were any differences.
MB: Okay. How did we structure this election? This election was different from the special in that it was a general election. He ran on the ticket with a number— There were a number of other candidates running also. It was basically—this time Ron had a record to run on. He ran on that record, and then from my standpoint, what I did was the organizational work of the campaign. We decided very early in the game what we wanted to do, how many votes we had to get to win, and just coordinating all of that. You build a little ladder, building up, building up, building up, and at certain rungs of the ladder you start certain projects, you stop certain projects, you begin here, you do this, you do that. This pertains to your radio, your television, your literature, press releases, everything. It’s all structured as to what you want, how you see it. And quite often you have to be prepared at any stage of the game just to stop and change gears, depending on what’s happening.
LM: 14:49.8 Did you have to do that at all in this last campaign?
MB: Nothing major—I wouldn’t say anything major. There were minor things, yeah, we thought—well, I’ll give you an example. Early in the game when we laid out our calendar— (speaks to someone in background)
(Break in tape)
MB: You recall this was a— Up until the last two weeks—not just our election, but the whole election process—candidates here in Texas and Harris County—was really boring. It was a real dud year up through about two or three weeks ago. And yet we had started certain areas of our campaign—certain things we wanted to start—a month ago, 21 days ago, things like this. And when the time came to do those, we saw the calendar wasn’t right because the momentum hadn’t—it wasn’t at the stage we wanted it. The public’s interest wasn’t there. We would be wasting our time, our money, and it could possibly be detrimental. So based on that, you just change the calendar; we adjust.
LM: Was this with regard to particular advertisements?
MB: Yeah—yeah. For instance, there was a piece of literature we wanted going door to door. I don’t recall right now the time frame during which we wanted it out, but when that time came we had to stop it and just hold back until the public’s interest got a little bit more with us. Not just with us, it wasn’t our campaign that showed— Actually, I think our campaign probably—the Gammage/Paul fight—probably had more interest earlier than the—well, I know it did early in the presidential race and earlier than any of the other local races.
LM: Were there any major differences in the strategy in the campaign between this one and the special election?
MB: Oh, very definitely—very definitely. Ron Paul was virtually unknown in the special election—unknown. This time he was the incumbent congressman. Ron Paul had zero money starting out in that last campaign. We used to laugh; at that time the federal election law limited a candidate’s funding to a ceiling of 75,000 dollars. We laughed. There was no way on God’s green earth we were going to raise that kind of money. (Coughs) This time, fortunately, we did not have financial problems like we did early in the first election. Fortunately, in the special election—towards the end of it—we started getting money in—quite handsome amounts of money. But the biggest thing we had to do—the main difference between this and last time was last time Ron Paul was unknown. We had to get his name known. We had to just get Ron Paul out, particularly up here in Harris County which is 65 percent of the district. They didn’t know him. He was absolutely unknown. So the first thing was to build up his name. And you’ll recall that very first election—February 28th---there were seven men running, and Ron and Gammage came out—Gammage number one, Ron number two. I think they were separated by something like 800 votes. (Coughing) Excuse me. So we apparently got it done, if we were able to get him—a little Lake Jackson country doctor—into second place in a seven-man race. And then after that it was just—we just went at it full gear after that. I was frankly very surprised we did as well as we did that first time around.
LM: 18:38 That leads me to the question I was going to ask you. What do you think were the conditions that allowed him to win that special election—besides the effort, obviously?
MB: Yeah, the effort certainly, and let’s face it, you’ve got to have money. You have to have money to run a campaign. Fortunately, at the tail end of the first election and through the run-out election, the good Lord smiled on us and we got the contributions in. We were able to present Ron as—as I said earlier—a good, wholesome man next door, not the type of politician that everyone’s used to. He was not an attorney. He was not the run of the mill. He was a doctor. The polls still showed people trusted doctors, they liked doctors, they had confidence in them, and it was a conservative district. Ron Paul was the conservative candidate. Simultaneous to that, Gammage was the lib. Gammage was the professional politician. Gammage needed that job. Ron did not need that job. Ron took a tremendous cut in pay going to Washington. So it was just a contrast—three distinct different contrasts between the men—the images they portrayed, their political philosophies were totally different, and the campaigns were totally different. I don’t believe— It’s my honest opinion that the first election—February 28th—Mr. Gammage, in his campaigning for that first election, he honestly believed that seat was his. He had been campaigning for it for 2 years. He’d been to Washington. He had met with Casey’s staff. He’d been to the Houston office. The Federal Building—he met with the staff there, hired them all. He was going to take care of them when he got to Washington. He had made plans. I know a girlfriend that I just met in the past 6-7 months who went over there prior to my knowing her and applied for a job there. She’d worked in politics before. She was new in Houston, and she just needed a job. She went over there to apply to his law office—or his state senate office—for a job. They weren’t hiring at the time, but they said, “Give us your name and number because the man’s going to Congress in a few months, and we’ll need some people up there if you’re interested in going to Washington. So they just really thought it was theirs. There was an arrogance to it—a tremendous arrogance to it. And come election night, February 28th, I don’t know if it really dawned—well, it did dawn on him—it hit him, but I think he was so dumbfounded that it took him a while to—well, he never quite recouped. He never really got over it. And we were so jubilant over how well we had done, that it was quite easy to charge forward and just keep charging. And come April 3rd, the runoff election night, we won with 56.2 percent of the vote. I don’t think he ever knew what hit him. Well, after it was over he did—after it was all over he did. Two days later, Ron went to Washington with Carol and their five kids, and I went up the following day. I was up there for about 2 weeks, and I was calling back home regularly. People were telling me, “You wouldn’t believe how Gammage is badmouthing you all in the newspaper—belly-aching crybaby. But the point I’m trying to make is he never—from that first election—he never knew what hit him, which a lot of this goes to—you know—I say the necessity of having funding in a campaign can’t put—you can’t tell how valuable it is. But also there’s another aspect; that’s good organization. You can’t see it. If you know what it is, you can see it happening. You know it’s working. You can’t put a price tag on it; it’s free. It’s just a lot of blood, sweat, and tears.
LM: 22:57.6 How did you build up the organization in such a short time? Apparently it was a short time.
MB: Well, not really. See, we used the— We had, to a degree, a built-in organization with the republican party. You had the Republican Party precinct chairman. In those precinct areas that we wanted to work that were not necessarily republican areas where there was not a republican precinct chairman, we’d get a person there. We’d have meetings. We’d sit down and we’d say, “Friends, we haven’t got time to chit chat. We’ve just got a short amount of time. This is what we want done.” And we gave them a calendar—actually, a physical calendar that said do this between this and this, this, this, and we will do this, this, and this. And so-and-so is going to do this, this, and this. And if you lay them all over the top of each other you see a campaign, and it worked. You’ve got to know who the people are who are doing it and have good people. You can’t listen to every Tom, Dick, and Harry that comes in and promises you heaven and earth. You’ve just got to— And if they promise you heaven and earth and after a week they haven’t done it, take the work back from them and give it to someone else. You’ve got to have someone there that will execute—that will get it done. Then you’ve got to have someone there that will just crack the whip on them and make sure it gets done.
LM: 24:19.7 It sounds like you had a tough job. Did you have to crack the whip often?
MB: Oh, yeah. You’ve got to. You have to. A lot of it is knowing the people. See, the Republican Precinct Organization, it’s the same folks year after year. They come and go and what have you, but you get to know them, and I knew a lot of them. I knew a lot of them very well, so I knew who the workers were, who the big mouths were that don’t work. You could say to Ron or to whoever else was working the party, “Joe’s a good old guy, and everybody likes Joe, but don’t leave him in charge of that excellent precinct. He ain’t going to walk it. He ain’t going to talk to those voters. He’ll promise you he will. But in the past five elections you’ve been in there with Joe, he ain’t done it.” So just pat him on the back and say, “Joe, the stakes are too high. Take a vacation. We’re going to get someone else to do it.”
LM: Was Dr. Paul a good candidate to direct?
MB: Excellent. Dr. Paul is, without a doubt, the best candidate I have ever worked with. Number one—the most important thing—I completely believe in him and everything he says. I just have total respect for his views. There are some that I disagree with, and I’ll tell him I do. But by and large, 97 percent of everything he says I’m with him all the way. So because you believe in the man, it’s much easier to work with him. Plus, Ron would say, “Shoot, I don’t know about campaigning. I don’t know about organization. I don’t know about a campaign.” He said, “You just tell me what you’re doing and you do it.” And unlike lots of candidates I’ve worked for or worked with— They want to be there directing it. They want to be there running the campaign. Worst possible thing you can have—worst possible thing. But Ron was not like that. He admitted he didn’t know what to do about it. It’s the sign of a wise man. He would just butt out of it. But we always kept him informed in what was going on. Major decisions, major expenditures of money, sure, Ron always had a say in how it was spent, what quantity, how a particular thing was attacked or looked at. But the actual nuts and bolts of the campaign, he said, “It’s your baby.” Which is ideal. You don’t have someone over you that doesn’t know what they’re talking about, telling you what to do, so can’t complain. He is just, by and large, superb to work with. Plus, another factor, he’s just bound with energy. He never stops—never stops. So you could say, “Ron, you’ve got to be here at 7:00 AM, then at 8:00 here, then at noon here, then at 2:00, 3:00, 5:00,” and keep him going until midnight. But after a week of a schedule like that he’d say, “Give me an afternoon off. May I have an afternoon off?” You can say, yeah, but then something comes up that after noon and you say, “Hey, Ron, why don’t you just shoot over there,” and he’d go. He was just really a delight to work with, just a real delight.
LM: I know some campaign managers complain that the family sometimes gets in the way or they try to interfere. Did you have any problems with this?
MB: 27:42.0 No, Ron Paul’s family were just superb. His wife, Carol, is the—(clears throat). She handles lots of the bookkeeping in the campaign and has bookkeeping experience and is just a complete delight. She is a charming lady and very, very dedicated to her husband and to her children—her family life. And with five kids and a little 4-year-old and two in college—two that went away to college this year—she was pretty wrapped up with family responsibilities; although, she did certainly participate in the campaign and is a tremendous asset to him campaign wise and congressional wise. Ron’s brother, Wayne Paul, is a CPA in Lake Jackson and is the campaign treasurer. He’s the guy that is legally responsible for reporting our expenditures and our income and just really— I’ll tell you, these laws—these federal laws—they are asinine; they are ridiculous. Many a time, he just wanted to pull his hair out just trying to keep up with them. The Pauls have five kids that are just good, clean, decent, nice, wholesome kids. They are a very close, very religious oriented family. They came across just as this—the nice, clean-cut, American family, which is a definite asset for any candidate. We didn’t try to— We didn’t really have to portray this. This is how they are.
LM: 29:32.0 What do you feel were the weaknesses in your campaign?
MB: This one or the special one?
LM: Both of them. Let’s start with the special election.
MB: In the special, the biggest weakness—number one—was Ron Paul was unknown. With 65 percent of the vote in Harris County, this is where the election was won—up here in Harris County. Ron Paul was just unknown. That was the biggest thing we had to overcome. In this election, I would say it was two things. Number one, Ron was an incumbent. He had a record to run on and also a record that could be attacked. This is what Gammage did. That’s one thing. The second thing is Mr. Gammage—one of the few smart things I ever saw him do—he, in this general election, copied us almost identical what we did in the special election. You could see it happening. His mailings, the type of mailings, just the way—the thrust of the mailings, the literature—the way it was laid out—his organization—it was almost identical to what we had done in the special election.
LM: 30:58.2 Can you be a little more specific? I know generally what you mean, but I—?
MB: Okay. In our special election we played, to the hilt, the media, television/radio, a moderate amount of newspaper advertising, lots of direct mail, lots of organization going door to door, talking to voters, telephone canvassing. This time— Another factor—in the special election we exposed Mr. Gammage for the liberal that he was. We made him George McGovern. As he says it—as Mr. Gammage puts it—we made him cancer and Ron Paul was Marcus Welby. This time around, he came back and did it to us. He made Ron Attila the Hun. Ron Paul was so conservative, was so negative. In his direct mail it was all very similar to ours. It was the same techniques, the same very down-home, folksy, family oriented— He made himself the conservative. He made both of us the conservative, except he was the moderate conservative. Ron Paul was Attila the Hun. So it was just a reverse of everything. He also saw how you’d have to have organization, plus he had COPE helping him—COPE—Committee on Political Education (unintelligible). They are pros. They know where it’s at. They know how to do it, and they came in and did it and very similar to what we did in the special, with their direct mail, with their series of orchestrated attacks. After about two or three of them, I could see that they had had a poll taken, and I could tell just what the poll said, where we were vulnerable, what have you. I could see it happening.
LM: Were you able to combat this? How did you do it?
MB: Well, I’ll give you an example. Ellington Air Force Base was—Gammage made it an issue. We went around and took a little poll in the precincts surrounding it and found it was not an issue to those people who are employed there, were employed there—or it was not, to a sufficient degree, really an issue from what our polls showed. Therefore, why answer his charges on Ellington? And sure enough, it kind of died down. He kept—
(Break in tape)
MB: This was an attempt by Gammage to completely bring up an issue. And at first, this was the—as we saw—this was the only issue he had. And we went and took a little poll around there—precincts surrounding it—and found that it really was not—according to our poll—was not much of an issue. But he kept coming out attacking, hammering, hammering, hammering, and quite often twisting the facts—well, completely twisting the facts. The decision to close Ellington was made by the Air Force a long time ago when Ron Paul was delivering babies and Bob Gammage was a state senator and could have had some say in the outcome of Ellington. The Air Force vacated the premises before the special election. Ellington was never going to be closed. No one had ever proposed this, but Gammage twisted the facts. Ron Paul did nothing to help Ellington stay open. Ron Paul was down there as an obstetrician when Ellington was all over and done with. But Gammage—you know—most folks don’t look in depth into the issues. They’ll see just surface things—what they hear. He kept hammering away at it, hammering, hammering, and hammering. Then he moved on to another issue—down into NASA. Then he changed it to another NASA issue, and then a third NASA-related issue. And he kept hammering, hammering, and hammering. And he kept pulling in all three NASA issues and Ellington. Then he moved into—the last week of the campaign—flood insurance. And he hammered away, hammered away, hammered away at that. What I think—what we think happened was he had had a poll taken that showed that in that area is where Ron Paul might be the most vulnerable; let’s find the issues. Or maybe he looked at how Ron had voted or just things that existed over in that part of the world and saw these are the things I can make an issue out of, and that’s what he did. Now, you get into those precincts, and we carried them very nicely. We won all those precincts, but we didn’t win them quite enough to overcome two things. Number one, the massive black turnout in the black precincts that always traditionally go democrat. And number two, the effort he was successful at in turning out his supporters, union people, in Brazoria County. And in Brazoria County, he very, very much hooked in with the Carter/Mondale team. Carter/Mondale carried that county very nicely—Brazoria County. It’s a union county. Dow is the biggest employer down there. And he was able just to really capitalize and get on their coattails. We carried the county by about—gosh—maybe 3500—I’m not sure—3500 votes, but it was nothing like we should have. So three things—the Brazoria County thing, the big, big, black turnout, and his well-orchestrated attacks over in the southeastern part of the district. We still won those precincts, and in most cases we won them two to one, but we should have won them better than that.
LM: 37:50.0 Did Dr. Paul make any effort to go into the black community to combat Gammage’s influence there?
MB: He made some effort, yes; however, you go where your strength is, and a republican’s strength is not within the black community. Just traditionally, you can look at— I can show you election returns where Gammage got 1700 votes and Ron got 50. Sometimes I laugh; I’m surprised he got 50 votes. They are lever pullers.
LM: Excuse me.
(End of interview 38:35.4)