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1988-08-09 Interview with William Sullivan, August 9, 1988 Leg001:1988OH135LEG03 00:41:36 Kentucky Legislature Oral History Project Louie B. Nunn Center for Oral History, University of Kentucky Libraries Legislators -- Kentucky -- Interviews. Kentucky. General Assembly -- Reform. Kentucky. General Assembly. Legislative Research Commission. Kentucky. Governor (1955-1959 : Chandler) Kentucky. Governor (1967-1971 : Nunn) Kentucky. Governor (1971-1974 : Ford) Ford, Wendell Nunn, Louie B. Carroll, Julian Chandler, A.B. (Happy) Legislative Research Commission (LRC) legislative independence interim committees gubernatorial control sales tax legislation rules committee Waterfield, Harry Lee Term/District: Senate (1954-1956, 1966-1980), 4th district Leadership Position(s):Senate Majority Floor Leader, 1956 --Senate President Pro Tem, 1968-1974 Counties in District: Henderson County (Ky.) -- Union County (Ky.) -- Webster County (Ky.) -- Crittenden County (Ky.) -- Livingston County (Ky.) -- Daviess County (Ky.) William Sullivan; interviewee David Breaux; interviewer 1988OH135_LEG003_Sullivan 1:|10(18)|24(8)|39(4)|54(15)|75(6)|84(12)|96(2)|105(12)|119(7)|133(8)|148(15)|164(9)|188(11)|204(1)|219(10)|238(5)|255(2)|264(9)|273(14)|285(4)|296(7)|309(11)|317(3)|328(2)|338(12)|356(4)|366(4)|374(6)|384(6)|396(14)|405(9)|420(6)|430(14)|446(10)|454(8)|465(5)|475(12)|488(8)|496(3)|504(9)|514(10) audiotrans Legit interview BREAUX: First of all, let me thank Mr. Sullivan for taking the time to be with us today and to share his experiences while serving in Frankfort in the General Assembly. Maybe the place to start is by asking you for a general account of your legislative career. For example, what years did you serve, what leadership positions you've held, and so forth? SULLIVAN: I was first elected to the Senate from the 4th Senatorial District, which included Henderson, Union, and Webster counties, in 1953, and my first session then was in 1954. Lawrence Wetherby was governor at that time. Then Chandler was elected and came in in `56, and I served as majority leader of the Senate in 1956. I then, after that four-year term, did not come back to the Senate until 1966, and I served from `66 on through until 1982. So I was in the Senate a total of five terms or twenty years. In that period of time, as I say, I was majority leader in 1956, for that session, and then I was president pro tem of the Senate for eight years, from, as I recall, about 1968 through `76. BREAUX: Okay. So you were at a point where you took a break from being in the legislature for eight years or so. SULLIVAN: Yes. BREAUX: How did that come about? SULLIVAN: Well, I was defeated for re-election in 1957, and in the interim I served as Kentucky's Commissioner of Aeronautics and as Commonwealth Attorney here. And then in `65, I defeated the man who had defeated me, and came back and stayed for some sixteen straight years. BREAUX: Now, you were majority leader under Governor Chandler. SULLIVAN: Yes, I was. I believe that I was probably the youngest majority leader that had ever served in the position. BREAUX: How did the leadership selection process take place under Governor Chandler? How did you become majority leader? SULLIVAN: In those days, leadership in the legislature was almost totally dominated by the governor's office. It was just an accepted fact that the governor had the majority leader, and if you had his support, you were going to be majority leader. Other leadership was fairly well left to the respective bodies, but I suspect that the administration or the governor's office also played some hand in that. BREAUX: So there wasn't a contest for majority leader? SULLIVAN: Not for majority leader there wasn't. BREAUX: The governor simply hand-picked who he wanted to see in that office and the legislature more or less rubber-stamped that decision. SULLIVAN: That's precisely right. That was the way it was when I first went to the Senate, and continued through my first period of service. BREAUX: What do you remember about Governor Chandler's leadership style? Was he very involved in planning legislative details and tactics? Did he work very closely with the legislature? Did he work closely with you as majority leader? SULLIVAN: Worked somewhat closely. The details he pretty well left to the people who were acting, he left it up to them for results. But he would confer with you from time to time on goals and how it was going and that sort of thing. BREAUX: So he was fairly involved in the legislative process? SULLIVAN: Fairly involved. BREAUX: Well let's, I guess, continue talking about leadership, but take a jump to 1968. At that time you became president pro tem in the Senate. SULLIVAN: Yes. BREAUX: There was not, however, a Democratic governor to handpick leadership of any kind. SULLIVAN: This is true. BREAUX: What do you remember about that leadership selection process under the Nunn years? SULLIVAN: Well, the Democrats had fairly well organized. The Democrats in the legislature were very active in seeking to recover the governorship after Nunn had been elected. And we had an active program and platform, and we implemented it in the legislature, positions on sales tax and a program of our own. We developed leadership among ourselves, those that were most active in trying to win again the governor's office. BREAUX: Did Lieutenant Governor Ford play a major role in leadership selection? SULLIVAN: He played a role in leadership selection, yes. He played a heavy role in the program of the Democratic Party, which ultimately brought it back into power. BREAUX: In reading about this time period in the press records, the press describes leadership selection as the putting together of this sort of compromised slate of candidates that represented different factions of the Democratic Party. Is that how you remember it coming about? If so, what were the factions, what type of faction were you particularly involved with? SULLIVAN: Well, I never thought of myself as being a part of a faction. It could be true. Certainly, there is a balancing of interests and a balancing of regionality in all of this. Someone from eastern Kentucky belongs in leadership, someone from the metropolitan areas, someone from western Kentucky. So those things, plus the fact of choosing articulate people who can represent leadership and authority, finally gelled down into the ultimate decisions. BREAUX: Was there a contest for your leadership spot in `68? Or were you the only person interested in becoming president pro tem? SULLIVAN: There may have been early interest in it, but I think that it was fairly well agreed upon by the time any vote came up. BREAUX: You interacted with Governor Nunn, then, for a while as president pro tem? SULLIVAN: Yes. BREAUX: What are your impressions of Louie Nunn's style as governor? Was he very involved in working with the legislature and getting his administration bills passed? SULLIVAN: He attempted to be. I got along well with him. He was opposed right sharply on a number of issues, and of course, the heaviest one was the increase in the sales tax. For good or bad, the Democrats made a heavy issue of that. He worked the Democratic membership pretty hard, and secured several important votes for the increase in sales tax from the Democratic members. It's interesting that, without fail, every one of those people who went with him on that issue were ultimately defeated. Certainly in the Senate, and I believe in the House. I wouldn't be too certain about that. BREAUX: These are people who went, these are Democrats, excuse me, who went- SULLIVAN: Democrats who crossed over and supported his program for sales tax increase. BREAUX: Do you remember what type of tactics were used to convince these people to abandon their party and to go along with the Republican governor's program? I mean we're talking about a Republican governor getting an increase in sales tax and his overall budget passed by an overwhelmingly Democratic majority in the legislature. SULLIVAN: Heavy-handed tactics. Promises of roads and other public improvements in their district, or promises to kill such proposals if they did not go along. At least one member of the house publicly confessed that to his district, to his people. He said, "I didn't want to do it, but I had to, to save a project for my area." So it was raw politics and heavy-handed. BREAUX: So there were a lot of promises, a lot of give and take, "If you want roads blacktopped in your district, you'll, by God, you'll go along with me on these issues." SULLIVAN: Precisely. Precisely. BREAUX: But it doesn't seem that constituents were very open to that. Because we just mentioned, at least you just mentioned that as far as you can recall, none of those Democrats who went along with Governor Nunn's proposals for the good of their district wound up getting re-elected. SULLIVAN: It was, their action was poorly received by their voters. BREAUX: What was your role under the Nunn administration? You were president pro tem of the Senate. SULLIVAN: I was president pro tem. I served as acting governor while he was absent. He and the lieutenant governor were absent from the state on a good many occasions, and I never attempted on any of those occasions to try to gut him because he was out of the state. I think he felt free to leave without knowing that I was not going to try to call the legislature into session or what have you. BREAUX: Yet it was your job, correct me if I'm wrong, but I think it was your job to keep some of those Democratic legislators from supporting things like his increase in the sales tax. SULLIVAN: It was that, but you have an overall duty, in my judgment, to cooperate to the extent that you reasonably can with an administration for the good of Kentucky. And I did try to do that, and I think he would tell you that. BREAUX: How effective was something like the Rules Committee? SULLIVAN: Rules- BREAUX: Was that very effective as far as delaying and even killing legislation that the leadership did not want to see passed? SULLIVAN: Extremely effective. More so in the old days. BREAUX: The old days, pre-Nunn? Or- SULLIVAN: Well, let's talk about when I first- BREAUX: Okay, under the Chandler administration. SULLIVAN: went in under, even under the Wetherby administration, the Chandler administration. And I mean it was just as clear as night and day that rules controlled what was passed. If they wanted it passed, it would be; if they didn't, it would not be. In later years, as legislative independence began to develop, there were ways devised to take things away from the Rules Committee. It was still highly effective, but not 100 percent effective as it used to be. BREAUX: So there were some pretty major changes then, from when you left the legislature after the Chandler years to when you came back? SULLIVAN: Yes. BREAUX: I mean you did notice there were some changes. It wasn't just simply business as usual. SULLIVAN: Yes, it commenced to develop. Harry Lee Waterfield, who was lieutenant governor when I was president, majority leader, of the Senate in `56, was a strong champion of the legislature developing its own expertise, of it being an independent body, and the building of the Legislative Research Commission, the building of staff, where they could get into the issues and not be totally dominated by the governor's office. He had served as a member of the House prior to being elected lieutenant governor, and that developed rather steadily toward independence of the legislature from that point, as I viewed it. BREAUX: Now in 1972, you retained your leadership position, this was when Wendell Ford became governor. SULLIVAN: Yes. BREAUX: What were the circumstances involved there? Did it simply revert back to the Democratic governor handpicking people he wanted to see in the leadership? SULLIVAN: Well, I think it's a little more than that. At that stage, the governor would want, not say, "I want this one, this one, this one, and this one." It's a matter to be worked out among those who are active in the legislature, who've been there a while. A matter to be worked out with the party, the people who are interested. This is not to say that the governor still at that point did not have a strong voice in the selection of leadership. BREAUX: Did you work fairly closely with Governor Ford when he was lieutenant governor and you were in the Senate? SULLIVAN: Yes, I'd say that we worked fairly closely. We had been a member of the same team that sort of brought around his election, the return of the Democrats. BREAUX: And then when he became governor, I assume that working relationship continued. SULLIVAN: Yes, it did. BREAUX: I assume you worked fairly closely- SULLIVAN: Yes, it did. BREAUX: with Governor Ford. SULLIVAN: Yes, I did. BREAUX: What was his overall leadership style like? Was he very involved in legislative decision-making? SULLIVAN: I would say that he would, but he gave indication that he thought it would be best for the legislature to develop some independence. It's interesting that, how many of the governors have come from the legislature. And with a legislative background, I think that they're more willing to accept an equal branch of government. BREAUX: Did the manner in which you performed your duties as president pro tem change from the Nunn administration to the Ford administration? Did you see yourself as performing any different type of roles there? Or was it basically the same job, just different bosses? SULLIVAN: Well, it's basically the same job but the setting was different, where we had an adversarial position with the governor's office, belonging to the other party. So there was more consideration to the effect, the public reaction, to what we did than in the later years when we had both a majority of the legislature and the governor's office. BREAUX: Now, let's talk about legislative reorganization for a moment. A trend toward a more independent legislature appears to have begun around 1968, if we have to pick a year, I guess. The committee system was reorganized somewhat, the Rules Committee was changed, there was the creation of the interim committee system. What are your general impressions of that time period? Was that a time in which the legislature was just buzzing with this orientation for change? Were there a lot of legislators that wanted to see this change come about? Or was this more or less the ideas and projects of a few key members? SULLIVAN: I think that there was a general feeling among the legislators that that body ought to be strengthened, ought to be able to stand on its own feet a little better, ought to have the resources to really improve itself. And it came about through a sort of gradual history of evolution and the interest of most of the members. BREAUX: Do you think we would have had that push for legislative independence if Louie Nunn had not been governor? SULLIVAN: You know, I'd rather think that was a launching point, or a factor, which gave it some impetus. And the creation of the interim committees was tremendously effective in increasing the understanding of the legislature and helping it build itself toward becoming an independent body. BREAUX: Why the emphasis, in your opinion, on committees? It seems like most of this early effort toward reorganization was aimed at the committee system. Why committees? SULLIVAN: Well, that's the way the legislature operates. They operate through committees. In my early days there, you were in Frankfort during the session and that was just about it. The committee system, the interim committee system, gave the members reasons to be in Frankfort and taking a look at the problems throughout the year, throughout each year. And the knowledge that they gained through this helped build the independence which has been achieved. BREAUX: Again, it seems like one of the more important early steps toward independence was the creation of the interim committee system. Were you involved in this process? SULLIVAN: Yes, I was. I was involved in it. With it comes funding, with it comes staff. And these things enabled the legislature to learn enough about what was going on that they could be somewhat effective as an independent body. Formerly, they knew what the governor's office wanted to tell them and nothing more. BREAUX: Maybe for the benefit of people that are going to be listening to this tape, you could just take a few minutes and explain what the interim committee system is and how it worked. How does it carry on its duties? What's the purpose of an interim committee? SULLIVAN: Well, you have your standing committees during the legislature, and the numbers changed from time to time, and they differed in the House. But these committees then did not die when the legislature adjourned, as formerly, but continued and investigated issues which were before them, perhaps issues which had failed a passage at the last session, and were thought to be worthy of proposal at a future session. The interim filing of bills came about somewhere in that project, where you could pre-file a bill, and a committee would have a chance to study it and have hearings on it prior to the next session of the legislature. So they met, these committees, on an interim basis in Frankfort, perhaps once a month. And a legislator would be on, maybe, two or three of those committees. So at the same time you had staff with the Legislative Research Commission, which was looking up the facts for you. You didn't have to depend on the governor's office telling you what it wanted to tell you. It used to be, on the budget, the first time the legislature had any idea about it was when a very thick volume was laid on their desks during the session. Impossible for them to understand the intricacies and ramifications of a budget bill in the time afforded. They now, I understand, and some of this has occurred since I've left of course, have developed the ability to be a part of the budget-making process. BREAUX: Do you remember what other legislators were involved in creating the interim committee system? SULLIVAN: Well, I have a little trouble with exact years and times and personalities. Norb Blume in the House may have been involved. Julian Carroll may have been involved as far as the House goes. Those of us in leadership in the Senate were most definitely involved in it. BREAUX: What about the role of the Legislative Research Commission? SULLIVAN: It's been upgraded, of course, very substantially: increases in number of staff, increases in budget, increases in the duties of exploring these various issues during the interim. I was trying to think of how long the legislative, pre-legislative conferences have gone on. And I think that's probably been since the days of Harry Lee Waterfield. Perhaps the first was held about then, to try to give the legislature some idea of what was coming up in the session. BREAUX: Were the interim committees taken fairly seriously at first? SULLIVAN: I believe- BREAUX: I know the people who created them took them very seriously. SULLIVAN: Took them seriously, uh-huh. BREAUX: I'm talking about the legislature on the whole. Did the legislature see the benefits of the interim committee system in these first early years? Or do you think it's just taken time for it to play itself out? SULLIVAN: Well, it was a growing thing, I'm sure. I always took them seriously from the start. But when you came down, for example, to implementing the judicial, constitutional amendment for the judiciary, I chaired the joint committee, House-Senate, for the restructuring of the courts and the implementing of that constitutional amendment. You could not have done that during a session. If we had not had an interim committee proposition, it would have been a horrible mess. As it was, I guess it's the work of which I was most proud during the legislature. We had time to do it. We had effective help from the Legislative Research Commission. BREAUX: Let's talk about a few more, I guess, recent trends in the legislature. It seems as though the last couple of governors, I guess starting with John Y. Brown, and we can include Martha Layne Collins, have taken a more hands-off approach in dealing with the legislature. Not only in choosing leadership, but in getting involved in legislative detail. What are your impressions of that trend? SULLIVAN: Well, it's my impression that the legislative movement toward independence had grown far enough at the time, say, John Y. Brown was elected, that it had to be respected by governors. And those two, I think, did respect that independence, certainly paid lip service to it. BREAUX: Do you think that's a good thing for Kentucky? SULLIVAN: I'm still debating that in my mind. Somebody has to run it. Somebody has to run the state. And I don't think in my lifetime you will ever see a successful tax proposal, for example, emanating from the legislature, which will be carried out. Somebody up ahead has to take the bit in their teeth and push it. And from that standpoint, certainly, the elected governor, and his principles and programs on which he ran, deserve a voice. And a voice is needed from him. But at the same time, I don't think it's right that the legislature should be kept in the dark about all the affairs of state government. And I think that their enlightenment through education, through activity, has been useful in that respect. BREAUX: So what we really need are co-equal branches. SULLIVAN: You need a balance. That's the way the founders, fathers of the Constitution meant to set it up and, but it's switched from time to time. BREAUX: How do you envision these trends continuing? We're talking about trends that started twenty or so years ago, trends toward legislative independence, for example. Do you see the legislature as continuing to gain independence at the cost of the governor's office? Or do you think we will arrive at a point at which there will be a well- balanced system with a strong governor, but yet a strong, independent legislature. Realistically, where do you see this going? SULLIVAN: I rather imagine that at this time we've arrived at as near a balance as is good for the state. I don't think the legislature can take state government and run with it, I really don't. You don't have the full-time direction, you have too many ideas which do not agree among the various members of the legislature, and it's not centrally enough focused. However, I don't look for any great retreat from the legislative independence that has been achieved to date. And I would hazard a guess that it will settle and continue in this posture, hopefully on an amicable basis for the predictable future. BREAUX: Given the trend of having a strong governor in the state, do you see any possibility of the legislature giving up some of its independence if the right type of personality, let's say, came along and became governor of the state? Do you ever see us going back to those good old days? SULLIVAN: No, I don't. I do see a possibility for a greater degree of cooperation between the governor and the legislature presently than existed at the first term. BREAUX: Okay, so we're talking about current administration? SULLIVAN: Yes. BREAUX: Is that what you're referring to? The Wallace Wilkinson administration? SULLIVAN: Yes. Yes, I am. Uh-huh. Yes, I am. BREAUX: Another trend that seems to be playing itself out is that legislators appear to be spending more of their careers in Frankfort. There appears to be a trend toward careerism. I guess you're an exception to the rule here, but a lot of people who were elected initially to the legislature in the `50s and `60s did not make serving in the legislature a career. We seem to have made a transition from a part-time legislature to a sort of full-time professionalized legislature. What do you see as the consequences of that? That more members tend to run, win, and then run for re-election? There seems to be that desire there to stay in the legislature. SULLIVAN: Yes. Well, I don't think we have yet arrived at the point of a full-time legislature, but certainly the activity and the requirements have gotten heavier and heavier. It's difficult to see how a person can sustain himself on what is paid by the legislature. And I'm not ready for a full-time legislature. BREAUX: So you think that would be a mistake? SULLIVAN: I do. BREAUX: Why? SULLIVAN: Well, I personally think that that sort of thing breeds more and more legislation, and I expect we've got about all we need. As a matter of fact, I wish they would hold a session where they would do nothing but repeal a bunch of bills. It's hard to, for lawyers, of which I am one, to follow or know what to count on in the law where it's continuously being changed. And if we had a full-time legislature, I suspect that it would be changed at an even more rapid rate. BREAUX: Something else that has taken place rather recently is a change in election schedules. We now have legislators being re-elected apart from the governor, so you have, for example, leadership being selected before, or at the beginning of, the election year in which the governors run. What do you think about the consequences of that? Do you think we should have governors and legislators elected separately, or should they be elected at the same time? SULLIVAN: Well, I rather think it tends more toward legislative independence to elect them at separate times. I do regret that they are having to run for office virtually at the same time that the legislature is in session. This is not good. No way they can keep their mind on business when their opponent at home is running around campaigning. I think that situation has to be rectified in some way. BREAUX: What would you consider to be sort of the overall impact, I guess, of all these trends we've talked about? Do you think that, as a state government, we're better off today because of all these trends? Or have they had, you know, a negative effect? Or did it make a difference? SULLIVAN: I would guess we're in somewhat better shape now, with more legislative independence, than we were before. I do think it can be carried to an extreme. But as it presently exists, you have an adequate check on the administrative, or the governor's office, activity programs of the administration. And I think this was what the framers of the Constitution had in mind, certainly the Federal Constitution. BREAUX: There doesn't seem to be much resistance to legislative independence. At least, leaving the governor's office out of the question, there doesn't seem to be any internal resistance to independence. SULLIVAN: I think it has developed to the point where it has to be respected. BREAUX: Well, we've talked about a lot of trends today. We've talked about leadership, your experiences under three different governors. We've talked about legislative reorganization, and that move toward independence that started twenty years ago is still carrying itself out today. Is there any other topic that you would like to comment upon? Or any other comments you would like to make concerning the development of the legislature? SULLIVAN: Well, I suppose not. The development of the Legislative Research Commission into a very effective, functioning body has been a very necessary concomitant to legislative independence. And, of course, it has developed to where we have one of the most active and, in some quarters they would admit, the most effective Legislative Research Commissions in the nation. A.Y. Lloyd, Dr. A.Y. Lloyd, who came in, I guess, at the same time Chandler and Waterfield, was very interested in upgrading Legislative Research Commission, and it has grown from that point on. BREAUX: Let me ask you a couple of questions about one final topic, and that's the role of interest groups in the state of Kentucky. Has that role changed much, you think, over time with the changes in the legislature? SULLIVAN: I think not. People tend to regard the legislature as an arena of morals, which it isn't, rather than an arena of interests, which it is. There have always been groups and people and factions interested in legislation, and they're going to do what they can in order to influence legislation, develop it along lines which please them. That factor has been ever present throughout my knowledge of the legislature. It's somewhat more in the open now, with your financial disclosure legislation, which is good. In the old days, there was, you know, no disclosure, and that interest was still there and still operating. The interest is still there now, but you know a little bit more about what they're doing. BREAUX: Do you think with the legislature gaining greater independence, that it has made itself more open to the whims of interest groups? In other words, has it become more of an access point for interest groups? SULLIVAN: Yes, I would say that it has, because people who are interested in legislation are going to appeal to those who control it. When the governor controlled it, the appeal was to the governor. Now that they control themselves to some degree, the appeal is to the legislature itself. BREAUX: Fine. Well, that's, I think, all the topics I had in mind to cover today. SULLIVAN: Well, David, I enjoyed it very much. BREAUX: I want to thank you again for taking the time out of your busy schedule to talk to us about things that went on in Frankfort and impressions you have about the General Assembly. SULLIVAN: Well, I'm honored to be called on. BREAUX: Thank you. [End of Interview] 1 Sullivan (Senate 1954-1956; 1966-1980, 4th district; Democrat) discusses the gubernatorial styles of Nunn, Ford and Chandler. He describes Nunn's successful passage of the sales tax legislation, the power of the rules committee, He explains the impact of legislative reform, interim committees and the Legislative Research Commission on Kentucky politics. Kentucky Legislature