Divide and Dissent

Divide and Dissent: Kentucky Politics, 1930-1963

Copyright Date: 1987
Edition: 1
Pages: 256
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  • Book Info
    Divide and Dissent
    Book Description:

    Few men have been more important to the life of Kentucky than three of those who governed it between 1930 and 1963 -- Albert B. Chandler, Earle C. Clements, and Bert T. Combs. While reams of newspaper copy have been written about them, the historical record offers little to mark their roles in the drama of Kentucky and the nation. In this authoritative and sometimes intimate view of Bluegrass State politics and government at ground level, John Ed Pearce -- one of Kentucky's favorite writers -- helps fill this gap.

    In half a century as a close observer of Kentucky politics -- as reporter, editorial writer, and columnist for theLouisville Courier-Journal-- Pearce has seen the full spectacle. He watched "Happy" Chandler vault into national prominence with his flamboyant campaign style. He was shaken by Earle Clements for asking an awkward question. He joined in the laughter when a striptease artist was commissioned a Kentucky Colonel during the Combs administration. And he watched as the successive governors struggled to move the state forward, each in his own way.

    Yet this is more than a newsman's account of events. Pearce probes for the roots of the troubles that have slowed Kentucky's progress. He traces the divisions that have plagued the state for almost two centuries, divisions springing from the nature of Kentucky's beginnings. He studies the lack of leadership that has hampered the always dominant Democratic party and the bitter factionalism that has kept the party from developing a cohesive philosophy. When the candidate of one faction has taken office, he shows, the losing faction has usually made political hay by bolting to the opposition party or torpedoing the governor's efforts in the legislature instead of uniting behind a progressive party program. The outcome of such long-term factionalism is a state that must now run fast to catch up.

    eISBN: 978-0-8131-4844-1
    Subjects: History, Political Science

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
    (pp. vii-viii)
    (pp. 1-4)

    The governors of Kentucky have not been an exceptional lot. While there have been few outright rogues or scoundrels among them, there also have been relatively few outstanding performers, partly because of the nature of the job. It has never paid much. The state constitution won’t let governors succeed themselves (though they may run again after a term has elapsed), and in the four years’ term they do not have much chance to design or carry out long-range programs. For the past century Kentucky has been one of the poorer states, and poverty tends to feed on poverty, limiting what...

  5. 1 Dividing the Bloody Ground
    (pp. 5-23)

    The history of Kentucky is the story of missed opportunity. In colonial days explorers, hunters, and surveyors who pushed westward took back to the colonies along the eastern seaboard glowing tales of an Eden beyond the mysterious mountains, and people along the seaboard soon believed that if a man could acquire a few acres of Kentucky land he would be rich. The place had—indeed, it still has—natural advantages that made their exaggerated expectations understandable: fertile soil, a mild climate, a varied terrain offering heavily forested mountains, numerous navigable rivers, rich and rolling land for farming, and a favorable...

  6. 2 Happy Days Begin
    (pp. 24-40)

    Despite the pleas of New Departure progressives such as Marse Henry Watterson, editor of theCourier-Journal,that they forget their differences and help create a new industrial South, Kentuckians remained divided, backward, poor, and largely resentful of culture as the state entered the twentieth century. It is remarkable how enduring these traits proved to be. The factions, the isolation of eastern Kentucky, the sectional differences, the dislike of urban Louisville, the state’s failure to provide sufficient tax money to develop modem roads and schools, and the relative poverty that made the state consistently susceptible to opposition to taxes—these handicaps...

  7. Photographs
    (pp. None)
  8. 3 Strong Man from Morganfield
    (pp. 41-54)

    Before Chandler’s 1935 race, Kentucky campaigns had been marked by marathon oratory and practiced pomposity, designed more to impress than inform or entertain. Happy gave them something new. Introducing the sound truck, he tore through Kentucky with flags flying and loud-speakers blaring in a nonstop whirlwind of a campaign, name-calling, ridiculing, promising, sweating, hugging, kissing, speaking anywhere at any time, sweeping the crowds along with him, breaking into a rendition of “Sonny Boy” at any or no provocation. Alongside him, the staid, traditional King Swope was an aging carriage horse facing Man O’ War.

    It was not all hoopla, by...

  9. 4 Not a Great First Act
    (pp. 55-65)

    Bert Thomas Combs didn’t become governor of Kentucky easily. Indeed, it’s a wonder he made it at all. In a state accustomed to the flamboyant tactics and histrionics of a Happy Chandler, he was a sincere and likable but rather colorless judge of the Court of Appeals. At the same time, he was considered a liberal, hard-working jurist, had been praised in the press for the moral courage of his votes on the court, and had acquired a reputation for almost painful integrity. Doc Beauchamp once said that Combs had an “affidavit face.” He was a handsome man, especially when...

  10. 5 Brawls in the House of Factions
    (pp. 66-85)

    After the hurly-burly of campaigning, life in Prestonsburg was tame for Bert Combs but not entirely nonpolitical. Officeholders, politicians, and reporters continued to call on him. He was frequently asked to address civic and political clubs, and he accepted enough of the invitations to indicate that he had not completely lost interest in public life. When a Kentucky politician turns down invitations to speakings or free meals, he has either made a lot of money or lost interest in politics. Combs continued to eat and speak.

    And events in Frankfort gave him plenty to talk about. It early became evident...

  11. 6 Sounds of a Different Drum
    (pp. 86-99)

    So now the race began. Combs and Wyatt waged a tough campaign. So did Waterfield, and he gave notice early on that he was going to be no pushover. His opening at Murray on February 25, 1959, drew an enthusiastic crowd that overflowed the local auditorium. Knowing that Combs and Wyatt were going to tie him to Chandler, Waterfield sought to blunt their attack by tying them to Clements, whom he painted as a scheming dictator, seeking to regain power through his puppet, Combs. He depicted Combs as a man without qualification or experience, spurred on by hatred and resentment...

  12. 7 The Ducks Line Up
    (pp. 100-112)

    The inauguration of Bert Thomas Combs and Wilson Watkins Wyatt on a cold, cloudy December afternoon was more a demonstration of the raucous, rowdy nature of Kentucky’s Democratic party than a display of governmental dignity and pageantry. Frankfort, with its twisting, steep streets, is not an ideal place for a parade, but no inauguration is complete without one, and Combs’s was no exception. Democrats, an estimated 40,000 of them—representing a wide range of philosophic persuasions, all parts of the Commonwealth, and varying degrees of sobriety—shivered, shuffled, and shouted their way along the line of march. An open car...

  13. 8 Tax Money Makes the Mare Go
    (pp. 113-121)

    A.B. Chandler did not wait for the Combs administration to get underway to begin denouncing it. In this, he was typical of the factional divisions that have made Kentucky politics so harmful. After presidential primaries, a losing candidate who attacked his party’s nominee would be considered an apostate or worse. Indeed, candidates losing the race for the presidency traditionally temper their criticism of the winner and his programs, even if he is of the opposing party, at least until another campaign arrives. But Chandler attacked Combs even before the new governor took office, and once the Combs program was announced,...

  14. Photographs
    (pp. None)
  15. 9 The Calm Revolutionaries
    (pp. 122-133)

    Even before Combs delivered his budget message, reporter Richard Harwood had warned, in theLouisville Times,that a “calm revolution” was brewing.

    “The first 100 days of the new administration in Frankfort may be an epochal period in the modern governmental history of Kentucky,” he wrote. “There is a whisper of revolution in the wind—revolution in the political structure of the state, revolution in the public service at Frankfort, revolution in the status of Kentucky’s cities, revolution in basic relationships between the state government and the people in critical areas of life.”

    And, as in most times of revolution,...

  16. 10 Of Trucks, Clocks, and Varmints
    (pp. 134-145)

    As the legislators packed to go home, Combs was hailed by the press as a master politician, a man in cool control of his office. TheLouisville Timescalled him “a Kentucky Truman, surprisingly tough when necessary, courageous, humorous, willing to take responsibility, and with a firm grasp of the historic and political realities of the governorship.” This view was not, of course, unanimous. Happy Chandler announced that Kentuckians were ready to revolt against the sales tax and declared that the Combs administration had a “bad moral tone.” A spokesman for the Associated Industries of Kentucky called Combs a “labor...

  17. 11 The Shackles of Tradition
    (pp. 146-161)

    It is curious to note how the “Three C’s” of Kentucky—Chandler, Clements, and Combs—dominated the politics of the postwar period, and how frequently they seemed to share the stage. Possibly because he was following a Chandler administration that had left considerable political debris in its wake, Combs seemed to encounter the shadow of Chandler at every turn. For example, in the fall of 1960 he raised another small dust storm by stopping payments to the architectural firm of Meriwether, Marye and Associates, which was supervising the construction of the University of Kentucky medical center, after a state audit...

  18. 12 Win Some, Lose Some
    (pp. 162-178)

    A conventional man on the surface, Bert Combs seemed at times to take an adverse pleasure in being unconventional in his attitude toward the legislature, patronage, the state payroll. Sometimes it appeared that he was purposely encouraging an image, creating a character. At a “taking government to the people” day in Louisville, he heard that some boys were having an air rifle contest nearby; leaving his official party straggling behind, he strode over to the gathering of boys and borrowed an air rifle from one of them. “I used to be a pretty good shot with one of these,” he...

  19. 13 The Delicate Balance
    (pp. 179-188)

    Ideology tends to be a vague commodity at the state level. The terms liberal and conservative, radical and reactionary, have less distinct meaning in the governor’s office than in the president’s—though since the days of Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal, liberalism at the state level, as at the federal, has indicated a willingness to tax and to spend for social purposes; conservatism, the restriction of governmental social activity and thus less need to impose taxes. But it is risky to attach these tags to Kentucky parties at any particular time, partly because factions are most often to be built...

  20. 14 The Kingmakers and the Candidates
    (pp. 189-199)

    A governor must always govern with an eye out for politics, like a pioneer plowing with one eye peeled for Indians; in 1962, gubernatorial politics were not about to wait for the legislature to finish its business. Chandler had his “ABC in ’63” race well underway, and his activities were beginning to concern “kingmakers” of the Combs wing (Bill May, Louis Cox, Lawrence Wetherby, Doc Beauchamp, Smith Broadbent), who felt that they should get a horse on the track before the unopposed Chandler made too much political headway. On January 21, 1962, newspaper stories in Louisville and Lexington reported that...

  21. 15 A Party Divided Once More
    (pp. 200-212)

    Wyatt won an easy victory in the primary (Harry King Lowman, his only serious opponent, became ill and withdrew) and prepared to face U.S. Senator Thruston Morton in the fall election. He knew he was in for a fight. Chandler was against him, though he continued to say that he would support the ticket in spite of all the slings and arrows he had suffered at the hands of Combs. Clements had never been warm toward Wyatt, and now was reported to be making common cause with his old enemy Chandler. As Wyatt wrote in his autobiography,Whistle Stops:“Since...

  22. 16 Tale of a Fate Foretold
    (pp. 213-217)

    Oswald was able to take over as president of the University of Kentucky on September 1, 1963, for perhaps the most exciting and expansive period in UK history, without the embarrassment the Peterson case might have caused. He also avoided fallout from the May 28 primary, which was just as well, because the primary got rough. So rough that Happy Chandler lost his composure when Breathitt charged that Chandler had voted to declare World War II and then had resigned his reserve army commission. Happy blew up. “I hate to hear a dirty, stinking little liar impugn my patriotism,” he...

  23. 17 Hard Times Now Are Gone
    (pp. 218-226)

    As far as crises were concerned, the hard days were past for Combs. Not that he could rest on his accomplishments. June 16 found the legislature in special session for the second time in 1963, and for an unusual reason.

    In 1956 the Welfare and Retirement Fund of the United Mine Workers of America opened ten hospitals, five of them in Kentucky, financed by the royalty of 40 cents collected by the union for each ton of coal mined. The hospitals, big and modem in a region desperate for modem hospital facilities, cost about $27,000,000. These hospitals, spread across the...

  24. EPILOGUE. How It Can Be Done
    (pp. 227-232)

    Three men—Combs, Clements, and Chandler—have dominated this brief survey of Kentucky gubernatorial politics in the middle years of this century. They were, or are, interesting men, men of personal strength, intellect, and ambition. Each left an impression on his state. There was for each of them a measure of glory; there was also a degree of pathos.

    It is symbolic that A.B. Chandler, who epitomized his state in so many ways, wrote a record which, like that of Kentucky, was less than it should have been because of missed opportunity. Yet he remained true to his own ideal...

    (pp. 233-236)
  26. INDEX
    (pp. 237-246)