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Interview with: Patricia Gandy
Interviewed by: Louis J. Marchiafava
Date: May 13, 1975
Archive Number: OH 058
LM: Gandy, can you be kind enough to give me some background information, your activities prior to your position with the Harris County Democrats?
PG: Well, you want to start when I was born?
LM: No, let’s skip a few years, for the sake of time.
PG: My activities, as far as the Harris County Democrats, our organization of its like kind began in 1952, the first year I voted. My father and I managed to carry our precinct convention in Waller County, where I’d resided since 1940. We, by one means or the other, managed to get 3 resolutions past the county convention at that time. Number 1, to support the nominees of the Democratic party and Adlai Stevenson and John Sparkman, and support the platform of the Democratic party and to send a delegation from Waller County bound by the union rule, which was how the political game was played in those days.
All of this was done over the objections of the county chairman at that time, and still the county chairman and a problem with a lawyer in town who had been used to railroading everything through. I assume the fact that a 21-year-old girl was doing all this questioning of his integrity got me a lot of votes in this endeavor from the farmer types around in the rural areas that were in for the convention. They thought it was hilarious that this little ‘ol girl was running circles around the town lawyer. I attributed more to that, their humor and their approval, because there’s nothing a farmer dislikes more than the town lawyer. They need them in rural areas. They need them, but they always think that they’re cheating them somehow.
02:18 I was elected a delegate to the September governor’s convention in 1952, along with the county chairman who chose not to attend due to his abject humiliation over this fact. The issue at that convention was whether or not the Democratic party would place the names of the Democratic nominees on the ballot. I mean—it was that simple. Roll call vote was taken on that issue alone, and up until that time Governor Allan Shivers had been threatening to just take the whole Democratic party over to the Republican party, which he eventually became chairman of the Democrats for Eisenhower. A law suit here in Houston was filed that was threatening him.
When the convention came along, he did take the lead in his forces and the people that he had control over to actually get the names on the ballot. The issue was settled by a roll call vote in Amarillo in September of 1952. I don’t know whether it was to my good fortune or to bad fortune. The issue was settled before they got to the W’s, and I did not get to cast my 2 votes for putting their names on the ballot. At that time I met Mrs. Lillian Collier, Mrs. Judge Collier Mumford who was a friend of my mother’s and who was active in all sorts of activities, women’s activities, particularly throughout the state of Texas.
There was a caucus in Austin previous to this convention, and I met her and Mrs. Minnie Fisher Cunningham who was a suffragist from the days of getting women the right to vote in Texas. Through their efforts, I was to meet Mrs. Collier in Amarillo, and she told me she would take me under her wing so the baddies wouldn’t get me, so to speak, and show me how the political scene operated. Boy, did I learn a lot. After that I then moved my residence to Seabrook, and from then on I was a delegate to—I think—every convention. I lived in Seabrook 5 years, and then I married and moved to Deer Park and became—I had a Stevenson bumper sticker on my car and was in the post office about 2 weeks after I moved in, and the Democratic precinct committeeman approached me when he saw that and said, “You’re one of us.”
[laughing] I got involved in local politics there on the precinct level and worked in city races and did run for the city council in Deer Park. I managed to get 603 votes to my opponent’s 610. It was an incumbent, a Baptist and a Mason, which I thought was rather a victory of sorts. The blame for that was I just didn’t get enough votes by conventional. With 4 more people to vote for me instead of the opponent, why I would’ve won. Then after that I became even more active and became chairperson of the precinct club. Then I became the elected Democratic precinct committee member for precinct 84 at Deer Park.
06:32 From that point, in the meantime, Paul and I lost working locally in Deer Park. I became a member of the Harris County Democrats in the early ’50s—oh well, the middle ‘50s—I guess. However, I was under some suspicion at first because of the fact that I’d been to the Amarillo convention. Warren County was the only county in this end of the state, east Texas gulf coast, that had a liberal delegation. Everyone just assumed that if I had gone—I mean—even down the coast—that if I had gone, I was either Sugarcrat or an ultra conservative, and either way, you were a Republican or worse, was the terminology.
I had to really more or less get Mrs. Collier to call in to Houston here and say, “Hey, she’s okay.” Then I got involved with the then functioning Harris County Democrats under the leadership of Mrs. Frankie Randolph, and that’s when I first met, now national committee woman Billie Carr, and Chris Dixie who now worked under persons involved in the scene. I worked on various committees with the Harris County Democrats, principally in my area, the Deer Park, Pasadena area.
LM: What are your present duties? What are you responsible for in this position?
PG: The chair of the Harris County Democrats is more or less like any organization. It’s responsible for leadership and direction of the officers and particularly the standing committees or special committees that are appointed. We have a number of special committees. We have a committee on precinct organization, on membership, on women’s rights, a speaker’s bureau, a committee on education and research, voter registration. Then we have a special committee, computer data, and research. We’ve modernized.
LM: Yeah, I’ve noticed. I was speaking to your secretary out there.
PG: Yes, she is the co-chair of that committee over Joe Swygart, and she’s done a great job in working with that. Giving direction and you’re recruiting people who will work on that. I think this year we have some really fine people who are really going to get with the program. The program is primarily, number 1, to make an impact in Harris County, as far as the liberal philosophy of the Democratic party is concerned. Then to gear up for the ultimate which is the election of a president who we hope will always be a person, if not a liberal, then a person who has tendencies in that direction. I recognize the word liberal has many meanings to different peoples.
LM: That’s one of the things I intended to pop on you, yes.
PG: 10:22 It has many meanings to different people, and to me, it’s not the definition of a classical liberal nor the classical conservative. The name was more or less put on us by the—what we call—the Dixiecrats and the Sugarcrats in the early ‘50s, as anybody that opposed them was a liberal or a Pinko which they used interchangeably. We all very much dislike because it’s a known historical fact that in any country that has a totalitarian type of government that the liberals are the first ones that are exterminated. No totalitarian government likes liberals because we like to express our opinions too much.
In fact, we find that problem upon ourselves. We all have so much to say that sometimes we seem so disorganized, and sometimes we are, but we’re organized really behind that cause, the liberal cause which I feel is the humanitarian cause, the cause that involves the support of the Constitution and the Bill of Rights, and particularly the First Amendment. Of course, not that the others are not important, but I believe it is the most important. If all the others were erased, we’d have to have that one in order to get the others back.
LM: How badly split is the Democratic party that’s coming? There seems to be actually a line between the factions.
PG: Well, there’s a group that called moderate Democrats, and that seems to be people who genuinely do vote Democratic in the general election. It is made up of people from all walks of life who are fairly well-to-do people and some labor people. I would characterize principally members of the building trades. I noticed on one of the liberal brochures Pee Wee Graham was on some sort of steering committee for them, along with several very prominent conservatives. Then the people who call themselves conservative Democrats, which we have contended and still contend, are nothing but Republicans. As evidence for the fact that we continually told everybody in the state of Texas that John Connolly was a Republican, and he finally made our predictions come true.
There’s that much of division, but those who are sincerely interested in electing a Democratic candidate, we all do get together in November to work for that cause. There has been no case in the past where there has been complete and absolute uncooperation. I guess—the closest that it probably came was the last election in ’72, because many, many conservatives just couldn’t take George McGovern for whatever reason it was, and even some what I call so-called liberals. In other cases, we’ve always come together.
LM: What about the case of Ralph Yarborough?
PG: Oh, well, Ralph Yarborough has a broad following among the electorate. I regard his defeat as due to the fact that—I think—he stayed in Washington too long taking care of the business of the state of Texas and his duties as senator, rather than coming back and fighting the demigods that were out after him.
LM: Didn’t his coalitions collapse here? Wasn’t it a kind of labor—?
PG: 15:07 Yes, it collapsed to the extent that—I think—on the outward side it didn’t but—I think—it did inward. I think some of the labor people kind of flaked away.
LM: Why? Do you have any idea?
PG: Yes, I can. I can give you one example. I know someone in my own family who had always been strongly for Yarborough and strongly labor oriented. This person had retired and became the owner of a small store. During the years preceding that, the stories of the burnings and the riots, all of that, this person tended to listen to what President Nixon was saying that these people were a threat to everyone, that it was going to happen right in your own neighborhood if you didn’t watch out. This particular neighborhood it wasn’t about to happen. It was a rural area, very safe, as far as anything like that was concerned. I think this person that came identified with the little business people who were being, let’s say, burned out in some big riots in the cities, particularly on the black issues.
Then when Yarborough did not vote for the two appointments to the Supreme Court that Nixon made, and then Nixon used that as a reason for saying that well, no Southerner could be chosen to the Supreme Court, then this sort—I don’t know—there was some sort of psychological process going on in their mind, “Well, let’s riot. We can’t have a Southerner up there, a Southerner conservative,” which Yarborough was coming out saying, “Well, you certainly could.” He was naming them off—you know—U.S. Circuit judges who had impeccable credentials, Judge Ben Connolly here in Houston, for one, and others that were men of integrity and had good reputations, instead of these perfect idiots that Nixon had nominated, knowing good and well they’d be defeated, and then he would use them as a political tool.
17:53 He used it, and he used it successfully, except for one of them got the big head and tried to run for the Republican nomination from Florida, and was sadly defeated by the Republicans themselves. I think that sort of proves that it wasn’t voted in correctly. I reminded this person of that fact after years later, and I don’t know whether it made any impact on their thinking or not, but I think that was sort of it. Wallace people made inroads into labor.
LM: How serious was the threat now to the Democrats in Harris County?
PG: Oh, well, he’s a tremendous threat to any faction. I don’t think the conservative types care for him any more than the liberal do.
LM: Why is that?
PG: They regard him as we do, as a demigod. I have a conservative friend from Alabama who says that her father was a county chairman for years around the Mobile area, and that he’d just roll over in his grave if he thought George Wallace was governor of Alabama, but that’s not the type—that Alabama was used to producing statesmen, not demigods. I think that Wallace is a demigod. I like former Governor Jimmy Carter’s way of talking about that. He says, “All Wallace wants to do is send Washington a message, ‘I want to go to Washington,’” which I think is pretty good counter to that.
LM: What is your group doing to combat Wallace’s influence on the Democrats?
PG: Per se, there’s very little we can do other than coming to a one-to-one basis at the present, but hopefully, as time develops we have, for example, this education and research the committee setup. There are a lot of statistics available that would show that he hasn’t done Alabama any good, so why are so many of them coming to Texas for jobs and such? I mean—they’re just not in the same league. The educational level is tremendously low. Another relative of mine—there’s a small plant outside of Mobile by one of the large oil companies, and everybody around there thinks it’s a great big huge plant.
Well, it’s a nice large working models at some of the plants around here like Sinclair and Shell and Humble or Exxon—I’m from years back. It’s still Humble to me—built just as working models before they build the regular plant. They looked forward to something real great. I know this from personal experience. If that’s the kind of thinking that George Wallace has, then I don’t know how he can deal with—and business has to be—something has to be gotten out, and hopefully our education research committee will.
21:54 Then you get back to the emotional issue again. I think that Wallace is going to have to attract people on a different thing than racial issues, because I think people are more worried about the economic things. That is where he will beat you up.
I think the issues will be economic. We intend to press those economic issues, because they are basic to survival of any group of people, whether conservative or what not, for that matter. Any candidate for the presidency must, of course, address themselves to that matter.
LM: Before we get completely off the subject of factualism, I’d like to ask you a question concerning the view LBJ had in 1964 with the organization. Are you familiar with it?
PG: I’m not as familiar with it as other people. I just know that in the ‘60s—well, of course, since 1960—Lyndon Johnson was fighting for the presidency. He ended up the second on the ticket. Of course, everyone and me—here’s a candidate request—worked very hard for the Kennedy-Johnson ticket. Then when Johnson became President, there was the matter of—well at that time, he wasn’t really—they were saying, “Well, maybe he’s not so bad after all. He’s changed a little bit.” I’m saying from my own personal experience.
Then comes the escalation of the war, which was the direct opposite to what he had campaigned for, and the disenchantment increased by large proportions as each year went by, and leading up to his decision not to run in ’68. That was basically it because most of the people attached to this organization were anti-war except for a large group of labor people who tended to feel, as could be expected—there were a lot of them World War II veterans, and they were equating the Vietnam situation with World War II, in my opinion that is, and that anybody that was against it, was against the country or was a traitor or that sort of thing. We liberals get very tired of being called traitors.
It’s an easy thing to call us Pinkos and traitors because we disagree with policies of the power structure, the President or the governor or what have you, but it’s simply not true. There may be some people, but mostly those on the far out or belong to the Socialist Workers party or the Communist party or what have you. We find it very obnoxious. As I said, we full well know that we would be the first persons shot in any kind of a totalitarian regime.
Then that caused a split with a lot of labor people who had ordinarily supported and gone along with our program. We were all before that time—there was a working coalition of labor in the Harris County Democrats, the PASO Harris County council of organizations. That was the main 4 legs of the—
LM: That’s great.
PG: They just sort of disintegrated as far as labor was concerned. However, there are the certain labor unions who have maintained friendship, if not outwardly, inwardly.
LM: Which ones are those?
PG: 27:31 You find the leadership, for example, locally, at one local labor union, the workers union 4367, which in 1964 was headed with the Secretary of Treasury Roy Barns, who was the only labor leader in this area coming out for McCarthy. This became sort of a pride among the labor people because of his stand. Of course he ended up eventually separating [unintelligible] most of the rest of the family. There were some that were real good, completely disenchanted and did not—mainly, a lot of young people.
You couldn’t see that the choice between Nixon and Humphrey was not the choice between the war and peace, but it was between the choice at least of a man of some integrity and a man of absolutely no integrity, and that means Nixon. I’ve been student of Richard Nixon for years, and I would’ve have ever voted for him for dog catcher, because for fear that he would’ve mistreated my dog. I know that much about his past political history, his first race for Congress, his absolutely awful treatment and campaign tactics against Helen Gahagan Douglas, which those of us that are somewhat cognizant of the history of his political life find intolerable.
LM: Have the wounds been healed from the Johnson years?
PG: I think partially. I think that some of those wounds have been healed, because—I think—now a lot of people are beginning to realize that the war in Vietnam was an awful mistake, and that the intense emotionalism of ’68 and ’72 has been toned down to some extent. I think that when a Democratic nominee is chosen, I think he’ll be one that liberals and most of labor anyway can get behind, as well as a larger number of the American people.
I think the problem is that a lot of people are looking for a knight on a shining horse to come in and save the country, a Franklin Roosevelt or a John Kennedy. There just isn’t one on the horizon. We have to attune ourselves to that fact. That continually pops up in conversations that I get into, “Well, who?” Well, gee I can think of a lot of very viable and what I think excellent candidates for the presidency, Senator Musky, for one. Representative Mark Udall whom I’m very impressed with, by the way.
31:40 I had the privilege of meeting and talking with him in a small group in Washington a month or so ago, about 12 of us in the room. I was tremendously impressed with his grasp of the responsibilities, and that he does desire the office, but yet he impresses me as the sort of man who—it will not go to his head. I’ve read enough of his background. I was trying to judge him sort of in the basis of a book that I’m very familiar with—I do have a master’s degree from the University of Houston in political science—a book that I’m familiar with called The Presidential Character by James Barber in which he says it’s not just the voting records we need to look at.
We need to look back into the entire life history of people who aspire to the presidency to see what their character and their values and their behavior has been in the past in regards to various matters. He has come up with a rather astounding theory with certain principles by which you can judge persons, and he has categorized presidents from Taft on down. I guess—more of less—I don’t know if he started with Theodore Roosevelt or not. I’m unsure at the moment, but at least Taft, on down to Lyndon Johnson.
Then he went into a little bit about ex-president Nixon in the sense of his background, and he made the comment—and by the way, this book was published in ’72. It was before the Watergate thing really got going—and his prediction was that Nixon belonged to this type of person. He categorizes the candidates into four categories—that Nixon belonged to this certain category. That if he didn’t change his modus operandi that he would end up the same way that Lyndon Johnson did, a person that would not and could not change his tactics or his line of direction because of all of these things in his background that had led him this far. It turned out to me to be very prophetic, so I found that.
Then there’s the former governor Jimmy Carter of Georgia that I find a very attractive candidate, and there are numerous others. I met a woman from the national committee from Wisconsin, who is insisting that Senator Gaylord Nelson would be the best president, and he probably would but he’s not campaigning for it. I think there’s lot of talent, but there’s not any knights on shining horses, and that worries a lot of people to the extent that they fear that some demigod type such as Wallace or Reagan will attempt to grab a large chunk of the electorate, one way or the other.
LM: Will this organization consider any possible Texas candidates that are known now? Are they satisfactory? Do they need to—?
PG: Well, none that are running. I don’t see how in the world that this organization, speaking unofficially at present, but I personally would find it extremely difficult to support Lloyd Benson. I’m not now, and frankly, I think the country’s sick of Texans for awhile.
I think Senator Benson made a very huge tactical mistake trying to push this bill through the legislature which has been tabbed the Benson bill. It was introduced by Representative Tom Schafer of Fort Worth, and because of this absolutely horrid in terms of—I mean—it can be torn to shreds at the compliance review commission of Democratic national committee and which it will be—I’m sure—by Miss Carr, one of the national committee women from Texas. It’s just awful, and for him to try to perpetuate this sort of thing—it has a self-destruct clause in it. It’s no longer operative after ’76. It’s obviously for his benefit, and I think people are really kind of irritated over that sort of thing.
37:10 Lyndon Johnson got away with it back in that time, but I really think people are a little more sophisticated than that. As a matter of fact, that’s one thing the Wallace people and the liberals agree on. I was in Austin to testify against the bill. Our members got a chance, but I ran into a number of Wallace people and they were very much opposed to this. Anybody else that had any other particular candidates were, because it’s setup to where Benson will get every delegate, and why Governor Briscoe allowed that is more than I can understand. I don’t see the Harris County Democrats backing. I know they’re not at this point.
In the first place, because of the fact that he beat Ralph Yarborough, and Ralph Yarborough is the darling of the Harris County Democrats. He’s also, Ralph Yarborough, as a Senator I said, had a wide base of support. A lot of the Wallace people like him. In fact, one of the Wallace people told me in several different places—once in Corpus and another time in Austin—that they wanted Yarborough to run for the Senate. If Benson got this bill through and was going to run for president, let Yarborough run for the Senate at the same time and say, “I want to be Senator, not President,” which shows you some of the nuances of Texas politics. It’s rather strange at times.
If Benson should get the nomination, I’m sure we would go on and work for him, but I don’t even think that he’ll get to first base. I really don’t.
LM: Let me ask you a few more questions about the composition of the organization. Do you have many blacks involved in the organization?
PG: Yes, we have a large number, mostly out in their own precincts and who vote with us on issues on the Democratic executive committee, and who find that their interests are our interests, which is mostly humanitarian, as opposed to liberal and so forth and so on. Again, you get into definition of a liberal. I think we’re basically looking for fairness and human rights, thus we tend to get associated with those organizations who are oriented in that manner. We have a number on our—we have the treasurer of our organization—I mean—beg your pardon, the secretary is a black man. We have several blacks on the at large executive committee membership. We do have a large number of precinct judges who have their own groups working out in their areas, and we work together very well.
LM: You mentioned earlier the political association of Spanish-speaking associations?
PG: 40:56 Political association, PASO?
LM: Yes. Now they were a strong part of the coalition?
PG: Uh-hunh (affirmative).
LM: Are they now?
PG: Well, that’s hard to answer, as it would be to say whether the Harris County council is still a strong part of the coalition. The coalition was set up mainly back in the years when we had at large delegates from the entire Harris County. The only way that we could work together to get anybody elected—and I think the first time we swept Harris County was in 1958, if I’m not mistaken. Maybe it was ’56, but ’58—we elected 6 or 8 liberals to the legislature. We did it by cooperation with of all these legs of these 4 main legs of teamsters here were in on it, but they’re rather small in comparison to the other groups. The teamsters here are more oriented toward Democratic politics than they are in some other areas, quite different in many ways.
We had to work together in order to get people elected. Okay, then when we had the multi-member districts come along that created a different problem. Now I have not been involved in the screening process. In fact, I never was, although I was before a screening committee one time. I had a desire to run for the state legislature at one time. The position was open, and I did not get enough support. Mostly it was labor that didn’t support me and a few other people who had a fair-haired boy that they wanted who served 2 terms and left them in the lurch.
43:28 With the multi-member districts you have the problem then of—candidates tend to build up their own little political basis. We do give endorsements that I know. Those that are endorsed we help with whatever way that we can help them, but that tends to sort of decentralize any overall cooperation in terms of running for office. When a statewide or a national election occurs, there is cooperation.
LM: Some critics of PASO have said that their primary goal is to capture the state Democratic association for Chicanos. Do you see it as that? Is that part of a problem in dealing with it?
PG: No, I don’t think so. There are, of course, a number of very ambitious Chicanos, but the ones I know that are, are highly capable, Leonel Castillo for one. I was a delegate to the state convention in this last year for my senatorial district, and I voted for Leonel. I think he would’ve made a great state chairman if that’s gaining control, then had he won, he would’ve had a lot of people who helped him other than Chicanos or PASO people. I don’t really look upon it that way any more than I would look upon it as if, say, if a liberal gets elected. That they’re going to turn a white liberal, say, Anglo-liberal. I shouldn’t use the word white, because I don’t care for it myself and it’s not anthropologically correct. Neither is Anglo really.
This polyglot of white-faced or semi white-faced who call themselves Anglos, because I am German and Scotch and English heritage, so I can hardly be called a solid Anglo anymore than if one of them—I think it’s a matter of their views on who they’re going to help. I don’t consider Doc Briscoe a representative of the Anglo structure. I consider him a representative of a narrow, very small group of people as far as what he intends to do—for lack of a better word—the establishment, although I hate to use that word. It sounds like you want to teardown something if it’s not.
I think too little has been offered the common people of the state. I don’t mind being called one of the common people, although I’m sort of an uncommon common person. I’m certainly not among the rich, but I do feel that people I know and my relatives and others, my friends deserve a decent education and a chance to get ahead. To me, that’s what it’s all about, and if Chicanos can do it, more power to them.
LM: Do you see that the state Democratic leadership is representing a more or less narrow interests of—?
PG: Yes, I do definitely, the governor and the state chairman, very narrow, the money, the large landed interests. I don’t oppose that. I’d like to be a millionaire myself, but we have some very wealthy people who are liberals. I think sometimes the wealthy get hung up on the idea of what—and that’s really how I designate Republicans from Democrats. Republicans believe in the trickle down theory still. They’re still Hoover-ing—you know—or whatever. I just don’t believe in that. I believe that in order to have prosperity, you have to have people making money and people being able to spend. Gosh, that’s what Ford is pumping his money back in.
49:17 As I was saying before the telephone so rudely interrupted—even Ford’s policy now is too—tax rebates and all that—putting money back into the economy to cause people to buy. Studies previous to or immediately after his suggestion said that people weren’t going to do that. They were going to pay off bills, or they were going to put it in savings and things like that. As I read some articles in the paper, that’s exactly what they’re doing. Even he his has tacitly admitted that in order to keep the economy going, you’ve got to have money in the hands of people. When you don’t, nobody is going to prosper. General Motors isn’t going to prosper.
What’s good for General Motors is not good for the country. What’s good for General Motors is good for the masses of people. Even Henry Ford recognized that, that you built cars cheap enough where everybody can buy it, where all your workers can buy it and everybody else. It will build and build and build. Hell, he had the market sold out for years on that principle alone. So many people in business just cut off their nose to spite their faces, like the lumber barons who were cutting the trees left and right until all of a sudden they found out—environmentalists such as Gifford Pinchot were saying you can’t do this. You won’t have any trees, and conservation, conversation. They weren’t listening. He was some radical liberal, I suppose, probably pinpointed as a Socialist.
It finally dawned on them. Their own experts probably said, “Hey, look we’re cutting our business out from under us,” and in a few years they would’ve. They practically had anyway—I mean—lumber is expensive now, and with our tremendous growth. You can’t plant trees as fast as you can cut them down and grow them. I see that attitude in business. That’s why when I say the establishment—I mean—they establish that rules tends to be those of the selfish kind who are not forward-thinking. I can even admire a person like—who was the foreign minister in Germany that started the social security programs back in the 1800’s?
LM: I might have been Otto von Bismarck?
PG: Bismarck, yes, that this was the way to provide some security and to any inroads that the Communist party might gain. If the powers that be in this country seem to have never understood that concept—I mean—social security and Medicare and things like that were accepted in Europe years before they were ever accepted here. Sometimes 50 years, and that’s absolutely ridiculous. Of course, there are certain historical reasons for that I suppose. The fact that we had the frontier psychology and the psychology that hey, you know, you can pull yourself up by your own bootstraps. Everybody can become a millionaire, which is a bunch of bologna. What would we do with a country with all millionaires? Who would work?
LM: Just listening to you talk now about some of your views on the economy, leads me to the question as to your financial support for the organization. Do you get financial support from large concerns business operations here?
PG: 53:27 Definitely not.
LM: Where do you get your support?
PG: Individuals. Our base support, I would say, comes in the form of what we call our $12 memberships, $12 a year. Then we have scads of $1 or $2, $5, depending on what people say, “Oh, well, $1, I ought to give $2. I ought to give $5, but not $12.” The $1 to $12 is the bulk of it. We have probably no more than 150 or 200 people who give over $12 a year, a few people who give something like $25 a month. This is more or less like their—I mean—to them because they don’t miss it. They’d spend it in Acapulco or someplace.
Nobody gives enough to control the organization. We operate on a shoestring, and our basis—this is a small amount of what it takes to operate. We operate mostly on volunteer help. I’m completely volunteer, and even before I became chair of the organization, I came down here every Tuesday. I volunteered because of a plea at a meeting that one of the volunteers needed a day off, that she was working too hard and her health was not such that that was good for her, so I volunteered to come in and ended up coming in more than one day.
LM: I can see that.
PG: When we would have mail-outs, and we have volunteers that come in for things.
LM: How do you use the funds? What are they used for particularly, to support candidates or other activities?
PG: Not primarily to support candidates, primarily to—well I’ll say, in the sense, the only support—like we give endorsements, and then we send out a mailing to our members. It is only to our members. If we’re going to make a mass mailing to what we call a friendly file—it’s for people that have supported various candidates that we’d think, well—you know—they would friendly to our aims.
56:06 For example, in the last general election, our Governor Briscoe and a number of other state officials threw in a little money, and we got out a mailing of 15,000, 20,000, 30,000—I’ve forgotten exactly—to the friendly file that we call it. We simply can’t afford that. Most of our money goes towards, as you see around here, buying equipment of various sorts. Some of it has been donated in the past. Some of it leftover from the days from Miss Frankie Randolph, but some of that equipment is rather old.
We have a Gestetner machine, which is a fancy mimeograph, I found out, and it is fancy and expensive that we’re buying and paying for by the month. Our paper, envelopes, index cards, things like, that’s mainly what we spend our money on. We do have to have fundraisers in order to keep from being insolvent. We’ve had a very successful one last fall out at Representative Bob Eckhart’s house. I would like to say this that Representative Eckhart was once the chairperson of the Harris County Democrats. I think—before he was elected to state legislature, or maybe it was while he was—I’m not sure—and then he went on to congress.
Of course, he is one of the people that we feel we can look to for leadership and help and one we can listen to. He knows what it’s all about, a very stalwart person in the organization and offered his home for a fundraiser. He has a very lovely home, and it’s a drawing card. I used to go out there, quite unusual and very much in tune with him as a person. He’s an intriguing man.
LM: Who makes the policy decisions in the organization?
PG: The executive committee.
LM: Who composes that?
PG: That’s the officers and the at large members of the executive committee and the chair or co-chair—and this year we have co-chairs—of the various standing committees. Then we have a steering committee which is made up of all the friendly precinct judges. We have a number of those, a large number, as a matter of fact. We liked to have larger, of course. They get a membership, and then if you have a “liberal” or a friendly, as you would call it, precinct judge, then if they have an organized club in their precinct then their club president or whomever they designate is also a member of the steering committee. In every precinct that has an organized club, they can send a member to the steering committee, but they’ll only have 1. If you have a precinct judge you get 2. If you just have a club you get 1. That meets just an hour prior to the quarterly caucus. The steering committee meets just an hour prior to the quarterly caucus, and that’s held, of course, on a quarterly basis.
LM: Are there any areas that we haven’t talked about that you think should be mentioned?
PG: 60:25 Not right off hand, except that I’d just like to emphasize that this organization, when it was first started in ’53, per se, as the Harris County Democrats, and to my knowledge it was a shoot off of the Democrats of Texas, which was organized on a statewide basis—or possibly the same time. I don’t know the exact dates. I’d have to look back through some notes—that this office has always been open since that time. It has never closed.
We get many calls from people who think we’re the official wing of the Democratic party, because there is an unfriendly county chairman there is no office of the Democratic party. There is no organizing done. The conservatives have always kind of done things on an ad hoc basis, so we are an ongoing organization. We get calls about where can you find various people. Like we have a list up here, as you notice, on the bulletin board. Here are addresses and Democrats who have announced to be candidate for President of the United States in ’76, Jimmy Carter, Fred Harris, and Lloyd Benson. We even tell them where they can get a hold of Lloyd Benson.
When we do have a friendly county chair person—I think legally it’s called chairman, but I could get that changed because when I file for committeeman for my precinct, and I would’ve served 2 terms the 4 years—I asked a friend, I said, “Well, look, this says committeeman. Why shouldn’t I say committeewoman?” They said, “I’m afraid you can’t. It’s the law. The law says you have to be a committeeman,” so there I was stuck with that. I had to do it up legal, so I became a committeeman for the 4 years.
We do operate. We have been open. We’ve been continually open. It’s never been closed, and our people consist entirely of volunteers of the Harris County Democrat. The office is open every day from 9:00 to 3:30.
LM: On behalf of the Houston Metropolitan Archives and Research Center, I want to thank you for giving freely of your time this morning, and we do appreciate it.
PG: Well, I don’t mind doing it at all, and I appreciate your concern and interest.
LM: Thank you.