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1992-02-21 Interview with Livingston Taylor, February 21, 1992 Leg001:1992OH053 Leg 043 01:27:14 Kentucky Legislature Oral History Project Louie B. Nunn Center for Oral History, University of Kentucky Libraries Journalists -- Kentucky -- Louisville -- Interviews. Legislative reporting -- Kentucky. Mass media -- Influence -- Kentucky. Kentucky. Legislative branch. Kentucky. Legislative branch. Discrimination -- Law and legislation -- Kentucky. Bingham, Barry, 1906-1988. Louisville Courier-Journal Kentucky. Governor (1959-1963 : Combs) Kentucky. Governor (1963-1967 : Breathitt) Kentucky. Governor (1967-1971 : Nunn) Charleston (Ill.) Journalists. Combs, Bert T., 1911-1991. Morris, Emery Hugh, 1914- Breathitt, Edward T., 1924- Civil rights. Coal mines and mining. Nunn, Louie B., 1924- Bingham, Barry, Jr. Trout, Allen Bailey, Clay Wade role of legislators role of governors legislative independence role of media bank interest rates journalistic ethics Kentucky Commission on Human Rights Kentucky Civil Rights Act Brighton Engineering Company (Frankfort, Ky.) May, Bill kickbacks Frankfort State Hospital Term/District: Journalist, Louisville Courier Journal Livingston Taylor; interviewee Jeffrey Suchanek; interviewer 1992OH053_LEG043_Taylor 1:|11(9)|35(6)|48(4)|65(8)|77(1)|97(3)|114(7)|130(8)|148(9)|159(6)|178(3)|192(7)|215(7)|235(6)|253(3)|277(2)|286(1)|311(7)|320(1)|329(13)|345(9)|358(7)|373(4)|391(2)|413(4)|429(7)|445(11)|454(6)|476(4)|490(7)|503(1)|511(9)|528(3)|547(3)|554(9)|567(7)|584(1)|599(6)|610(1)|624(2)|639(8)|647(5)|660(1)|667(1)|674(11)|690(11)|699(9)|709(13)|727(6)|739(8)|747(1)|758(2)|772(4)|784(7)|799(6)|814(9)|822(10)|831(2)|838(2)|853(6)|864(1)|871(2)|885(10)|892(10)|903(2)|911(1)|924(11)|943(6)|954(8)|972(11)|986(6)|997(1)|1006(1)|1021(5)|1034(3)|1044(11)|1054(11)|1064(8)|1074(3)|1089(2)|1096(4)|1110(9)|1121(11)|1136(10)|1151(8)|1159(11)|1170(13) audiotrans Legit interview SUCHANEK: The following is an unrehearsed interview with Mr. Livingston Taylor for the University of Kentucky Library, Kentucky Legislature Oral History Project. Mr. Taylor was a reporter for the Louisville Courier-Journal newspaper, working out of the Frankfort Bureau for many years. The interview was conducted by Jeffrey Suchanek, on February 21, 1992 at the home of Mr. Taylor, in Franklin County, Kentucky, at approximately 2:15 PM. Okay, this afternoon I'm speaking with Mr. Livingston Taylor at his home out here in Franklin County off Ninevah Road. Mr. Taylor, I thought we could begin this afternoon by getting some biographical information about you. First of all, what is your full name, and where and when were you born? TAYLOR: Livingston V. Taylor, and I was born in Charleston, Illinois, on July 25, 1930. SUCHANEK: What were your parents' names? TAYLOR: Edison-- SUCHANEK: --and what did they do for a living? TAYLOR: Edison H. Taylor and Meryl (??) English Taylor. They were teachers. My father was a mathematics professor at what is now Eastern Illinois University for forty-five years. SUCHANEK: Okay. Do you remember your grandparents at all? TAYLOR: I only saw one of my grandparents, when my maternal grandmother, when she was an elderly person. My father was fifty-six when I was born, and my mother was forty-two. So, I kind of skipped a generation there, and I didn't really know my grandparents. SUCHANEK: Okay. TAYLOR: Of course, my grandfather Taylor was a farmer and really kind of a pioneer. Came to Southern Illinois right after the Civil War near Robinson, Illinois and farmed. My maternal grandfather was Presbyterian minister in Michigan. SUCHANEK: I see. With both of your parents being schoolteachers, I guess you would describe your own economic situation as you were growing up then as middle-class. TAYLOR: Yes. Of course, I grew up in the Depression. When I talk with other people of my age, I realize I was pretty fortunate because--oh, I've talked to others, since I've lived in Kentucky, people, you know, who really had it rough. My father had a steady job and a steady income throughout that period. So, I certainly had a middle class background. SUCHANEK: Where did you go to school? TAYLOR: I went to grade school and high school at the Laboratory School, which--or now, I guess, is not in existence at what was then Eastern Illinois State Teachers College. They had a grade school and a high school, which served as a laboratory for the student teachers. Then I went to college at Northwestern University and got a degree in journalism there in 1952. SUCHANEK: Why did you go into journalism? Why did you major in journalism? TAYLOR: Originally, I wanted to be a sports writer and I was very interested in sports. After a year or two in college, I realized that that was kind of--oh, kind of a repetitive existence that wouldn't have too much challenge, but I was already into journalism school far enough that I didn't want to change. In retrospect, I'm very glad I didn't. But, that was my original interest, to be a sports writer. SUCHANEK: How did you wind up going to Northwestern? TAYLOR: Of course, my folks were very interested in education and wanted--bless their hearts--they wanted me to have the best education that I wanted. They gave me pretty much free choice of where I wanted to go. I think the three best journalism schools at that time were considered to be Missouri, and Columbia, and Northwestern. I guess I chose Northwestern maybe because it was nearby, or relatively nearby. But, actually, I don't remember whether I applied to those others or not. I just seemed to kind of settle on Northwestern. SUCHANEK: Um-hm. So, your parents then encouraged you to pursue your degree in journalism. They didn't try to persuade you to go into something else. TAYLOR: No, no, they were very much--gave me free rein to study what I wanted. SUCHANEK: Um-hm. Did you play sports yourself in high school? Is that how you got into-- TAYLOR: I took up tennis at age fourteen and have played competitive tennis ever since and played on the varsity team at Northwestern. SUCHANEK: So that's why you got interested in sports writing? TAYLOR: Well, I was interested in other sports really, but I guess, because there was very little tennis played in Charleston, Illinois at that time. Tennis wasn't nearly as popular as it is now. SUCHANEK: What was your favorite sport? TAYLOR: You mean to watch, or? Oh, gosh, I guess I was interested in all of them. Baseball, basketball, and football and track, I used to go to all, a lot of the college events there when Eastern, as they said, would play other teams. I would usually be there if I could. SUCHANEK: Did you have a favorite professional team? TAYLOR: Somehow, I think when we were five or six years old, we all, several of us chose up baseball teams and for some reason I chose the Boston Red Sox. I've always been a Red Sox fan and that kind of rubbed off on the Celtics. I'm a Celtics fan, too. SUCHANEK: When you were in junior high school and high school, did you have a course in government or civics or anything of that nature do you recall? TAYLOR: Yes. I can remember Ms. Ellington who taught history. She was a southern lady and kind of a character. She taught history, and I had courses in political science and government in high school also. SUCHANEK: When you were growing up, did you have a favorite book that you liked to read? TAYLOR: Well, I really don't remember-- SUCHANEK: Or, a favorite author? TAYLOR: My father's great favorites and I guess that rubbed off on me, my father was a great fan of Mark Twain and Rudyard Kipling. So, I read particularly Mark Twain; I read his books and liked them. SUCHANEK: Okay. You think Tom Sawyer or Huck Finn were kindred spirit? (both laugh) TAYLOR: Well, yeah. Or, with myself, you mean? SUCHANEK: Right. Um-hm. TAYLOR: Oh, I think they're kind of universal in a way kindred spirits with people. SUCHANEK: Okay. But when you studied history under Ms. Ellington, did you have a favorite historical character or a favorite period of history? TAYLOR: Nothing particular really stands out in my memory in that regard. I suppose, like most people, I was interested in the Civil War but not--not to the exclusion of other things really. SUCHANEK: Okay. What did you do after you graduated then in '52 from Northwestern? TAYLOR: Okay, I went in the Air Force as a student aviation cadet, as they called it. At Waco, Texas, and was trained to be a radar observer in the back seat of a night and all-weather fighters. I took that training for seven months. Got my wings and my second lieutenant's commission. As the fates of the service would have it--of course, that was during the Korean War--they decided after we graduated that only those who were 5 feet 10 inches or under could fit into the back seats of these planes. The rest of us, there were a lot of the others of us, went on to navigation school in Ellington Air Force Base in Houston. So I went there. For about a year's training to be a navigator and at the end of that period, they chose some of us out of that class and asked us if they wanted to be instructors. I accepted that offer and so was what I called the training command wonder; I was a student one day and an instructor the next. I spent two more years as an instructor in navigation at Ellington, in Houston. SUCHANEK: But did you say you were drafted, or-- TAYLOR: No, no. SUCHANEK: --enlisted? TAYLOR: I enlisted, of course with the knowledge that if I didn't, well, I would probably be drafted. SUCHANEK: Um-hm. Um-hm. So, when did you begin working then for the Courier-Journal? Was that immediately after your service? TAYLOR: No, I worked for about nine months for Shell Oil Company in Houston as the editor of a house organ, and then I got my first newspaper job at Muncie, Indiana, for the Muncie Star which is a Pulliam paper, one of the same family that Vice-President Quayle comes out of and-- SUCHANEK: What year was that? TAYLOR: That was 1956, and I worked there for four years. Then I was looking around for, what I hoped would be a better job. I applied to the Courier-Journal and was fortunate enough to be hired in their New Albany, Indiana bureau in--that would have been early 1961. SUCHANEK: Um-hm. What were your assignments for the Muncie newspaper (??)? TAYLOR: Most of the time I was the city hall reporter, and covered city government. SUCHANEK: Okay. So, that was your first introduction really to covering politics then. TAYLOR: That's right. SUCHANEK: Did that experience prove valuable to you later on? TAYLOR: I think so, yes. I covered kind of a broad, you know, about anything that city government was involved in, I covered. Yeah, that was valuable experience. SUCHANEK: Okay. Then what kind of reporting then did you do in New Albany? TAYLOR: Pretty much general reporting. Again, concentrating a good deal of my time on local government, city and county government in New Albany, in Floyd County, Indiana. SUCHANEK: Well, it sounds like you got a real grounding early in your career. Then, on local government, and how things worked at the local level. Is that how you would characterize it? TAYLOR: Yes, I think that's right. SUCHANEK: Um-hm. I'm sure that that proved valuable to you, later on when you went and covered more state government things? TAYLOR: Yes. SUCHANEK: Okay. Well how did you eventually get assigned to the Frankfort bureau then for the Courier? TAYLOR: Okay, I realized that the Indiana edition of the Courier-Journal was not the mainstream of the Courier-Journal. Of course, we were primarily a Kentucky paper. Even though they did and do a good job of covering Southern Indiana, but still their main thrust is Kentucky. So, I was very interested in getting either in the Frankfort bureau or the Washington bureau. There, a vacancy came up in Frankfort, and I was lucky enough to get that assignment. SUCHANEK: Who did you replace? TAYLOR: Kyle Vance. SUCHANEK: Okay. TAYLOR: He was a--Kyle was an investigative reporter and kind of a controversial figure. He had broken the truck deal story, I don't know if you've heard of that under Combs. SUCHANEK: Sure, Earle Clements. Sure. TAYLOR: Of course, Clements was highway commissioner. I heard later--I can't document this--perhaps--(laughs)--Governor Combs's extreme displeasure with some of the stories that Kyle wrote might have had some influence on the Courier transferring him to East Kentucky. But anyway, Kyle went to-- SUCHANEK: I don't know if Bert would have wanted him in East Kentucky. (both laugh) TAYLOR: Well, I think while Bert was Governor, he might have. But again, I can't, I don't know the-- SUCHANEK: Well, apparently that was a rumor. TAYLOR: That's right. I would classify that as a rumor. SUCHANEK: Okay. How well did you get to know Barry Bingham? TAYLOR: Barry Senior was rather a remote figure with me, but I got to know Barry Junior fairly well. SUCHANEK: Um-hm. How would you describe him? TAYLOR: Barry Junior? SUCHANEK: Um-hm. TAYLOR: Well, I thought--I thought Barry had high ethical standards, I thought the really strong part of his administration of the Courier- Journal. He tried to live in his own life, I thought, the principles and opinions that the paper stood for. For instance, there was the incident where a black friend of his was not accepted at the Pendennis Club, and Barry Junior and a bunch of them, as I understand it, were upset by that. They went off and formed a new club where everyone was welcome, the Jefferson Club. You know, he drove a five- or six-year old car and had his number in the phone book where irate subscribers could call him up if they wanted to and I just-- SUCHANEK: Is that right? I didn't know that. TAYLOR: Yeah. SUCHANEK: That's interesting. TAYLOR: You know, I felt he made some real serious mistakes. [telephone rings] SUCHANEK: Go ahead. TAYLOR: Um-hm. [Pause in recording.] SUCHANEK: You said he made some serious mistakes. TAYLOR: Yes. But, of course, towards the end, during the period when the family kind of broke up over the division of the empire, so to speak. But, in many ways, I admired him. He had a custom of inviting all the bureau reporters, a so-called state staff, into his home at Christmas- time. We'd have an annual staff meeting in his home. He and his wife would feed us a good meal, and then we'd kind of have a meeting going over the year's progress or what was new in the organization and so on. You know, I don't think there are very many publishers that would kind of rub elbows with the staff like that. You know, he didn't need to. SUCHANEK: Would you describe his ownership of the paper as kind of paternalistic, or? TAYLOR: Well, as a whole, yes. Maybe, that might apply to his father a little more than it did to him. The Binghams' had a reputation of taking care of their employees, and generous pay, and benefits. I think in the early years it really, maybe before I got there, they had a reputation of, you know, nobody ever got fired. Later on, when economic times got tough and the circulation began to drop off, why, you know, I think there were maybe a few people who were let go. But, yes, if by paternalistic you mean they looked out for and took good care of their employees, yes. SUCHANEK: Um-hm. Um-hm. Courier-Journal employees, was there a special esprit de corps amongst you? You know, Courier has always been, at least under the Bingham's; it had this reputation as being really a top-flight newspaper. Did that filter down to the staff? TAYLOR: Yes, I think so, I mean, we felt good about working for the Courier and felt that it had some real impact for progress in the state. That it was a good newspaper and had generally high standards. We were, I would say, most people were proud to work for the Courier. SUCHANEK: When you first started working for the Courier, what did the Courier-Journal mean to you? What did it stand for? TAYLOR: I wasn't too familiar with it. You know, I didn't see it on any regular basis when I was in Muncie. It didn't circulate in that area. So, I would say it only meant to me a general reputation for excellent journalism. I didn't know about any of its particular stands on issues, or anything like that. SUCHANEK: Who hired you? TAYLOR: Ben Reeves, primarily. He was the assistant managing editor at that time. He's the one that interviewed me and who I corresponded with, and when I was called in for the interview, he interviewed me. Then, Jimmy Pope, who was the managing editor, kind of blew into the room for about thirty seconds and turned to Ben, and said, "Well, do you want him?" and Ben said, "Yes." So I was hired. Pope had a reputation of kind of a gruff exterior. SUCHANEK: Um-hm. Now, when Kyle Vance was transferred to Eastern Kentucky, were you approached at all, by anyone about going to Frankfort? Or, was that your idea to apply for it? TAYLOR: Um. (pause) SUCHANEK: Did they see a fit for you? TAYLOR: I'm going by memory here, and I don't have a really clear memory of the chronology of it, but as I recall, I had expressed an interest to Ben Reeves to be a--that I wanted to go to either Frankfort or Washington. I think perhaps that was before Kyle was transferred. No, I didn't hear about Kyle being transferred and applied for that particular position. I don't think it happened that way. I think I had previously expressed my interest. You know, one day I got a call. SUCHANEK: Who would the call have been from? TAYLOR: Well, I would assume, maybe, it was from Ben Reeves, but I don't remember specifically. But it might have come through my immediate boss was Cliff Robinson, who was the bureau chief; it might even have come through him. Anyway, I got the word that, you know, there was an opening in Frankfort that I could have, if I wanted it. SUCHANEK: Well, you know, they must have been pleased with your work in New Albany because you know the Frankfort position would have been a plum, so to speak, you know, covering the General Assembly. TAYLOR: Well, I assume they were pleased, yeah. SUCHANEK: Okay. I didn't mean to put you on the spot for that. TAYLOR: Well, I assume they were, and of course, I was happy to get the assignment. SUCHANEK: Yeah. Well, you know, I'm just speculating, but it just crossed my mind that if Kyle Vance was indeed transferred because Bert Combs was unhappy about the articles he had written, perhaps they felt that putting you there would have been safe. (both laugh) TAYLOR: I don't know. I don't know whether that was it. You know it's possible, but I just don't know. SUCHANEK: Of course, by the time you got there, Ned Breathitt was Governor, wasn't he? TAYLOR: That's right. I came in January of '64, just shortly after Breathitt had been inaugurated. SUCHANEK: Okay. All right. TAYLOR: Maybe I shouldn't have even mentioned to you the Kyle Vance transfer cause don't want to put too much emphasis on that. SUCHANEK: Sure. TAYLOR: Cause I really don't know whether that was the case or not but I did hear that rumor as you say. SUCHANEK: What was expected of you as the Courier-Journal report for the Frankfort bureau? What exactly were you told to do? What was your assignment? That kind of thing. TAYLOR: I had a lot of freedom. Hugh Morris--of course, Allen Trout, originally, was bureau chief and then later Allen remained in the bureau, but Hugh Morris became the bureau chief, and he was the bureau chief when I got there. Hugh gave me a lot of freedom. Of course, from time to time, I would have assignments to cover certain meetings, or press conferences, or certain issues, but I had a lot of freedom to just kind of roam around and write, pick out something that I thought was news, and write about it. SUCHANEK: Um-hm. TAYLOR: Of course, when the legislature was in session, we all were very busy covering the events of the legislature. SUCHANEK: Okay. Who were some of your newspaper colleagues in Frankfort, not only in the Courier-Journal bureau but with other newspapers? Do you recall who those were? TAYLOR: Yes. You know, I guess I'll maybe just try and pick out a few but--of course, Sy Ramsey was kind of an institution, a long time AP, Associated Press bureau chief in Frankfort and a real character and fun to be around. Bill Neikirk was his assistant, and he's gone on to--oh, I saw him on "Washington Week" [PBS] a few years ago, and I think he was with the Chicago Tribune, and I don't know just where Bill is now. Howard Feinman, you see him on "Washington Week." He worked in the Louisville office of the Courier, but he covered certain issues in Frankfort. Like, he covered the public service commission for a while. Howard was a very good and aggressive reporter. Of course, Hugh Morris, who I loved dearly, was my bureau chief and a wonderful person to work for. And Allen Trout, of course, Allen was the Courier-Journal to many of the rural readers of the Courier. He wrote that column "Greetings," which appeared on the comic page every day. Was just a real institution of the Courier-Journal. SUCHANEK: Um-hm. TAYLOR: You want to cut that off for a minute? SUCHANEK: Sure. [Pause in recording.] SUCHANEK: Okay, go ahead. TAYLOR: Of course, Allen and Hugh had wonderful sources throughout the government. As a kind of a new kid on the block in Frankfort, it was fascinating to hear them get in the corner up of the Courier bureau, which at that time was on the third floor of the capitol in room 316 of the capitol building. Get over there in the corner, and Allen would puff on his corncob pipe and, they'd discuss what was really going on in the state government. That was fun. Bill Greider was there for the Times, who is now, I think, with the Village Voice and has been on PBS and PBS specials, and a fine, fine reporter. SUCHANEK: Yeah, we interviewed him for the Cooper project that we did. TAYLOR: He covered the legislature at least once, maybe twice, or more for the Louisville Times. SUCHANEK: Um-hm. TAYLOR: Dick Kirsten (??), he and Kirsten (??) were kind of sidekicks for the Times. SUCHANEK: How about for the State Journal? TAYLOR: Of course, they operated out of their headquarters in their main office there in Frankfort. I was never, or I usually wasn't too closely in touch with them. In the beginning, there was a pretty small full- time Frankfort press corps, and we were all in room 316 of the capitol. SUCHANEK: Um-hm. TAYLOR: Then, I think in the early seventies, perhaps it was when Norbert Blume was House speaker. Got into a big flap with. And I think one of the things that set it off was Gurley (??) --what was his first name? I can't think of, but he was just kind of an outrageously audacious reporter for the Kentucky Post, and he had purloined a LRC [Legislative Research Commission] report out of the print shop in the basement and broken a story on it ahead of its scheduled release. As I recall, that and some other stories got the legislature very upset with the press. There was a great hue and cry to kick the press out of their free quarters at the capitol. I think about that time the Courier-Journal began to submit rent checks to the state. I believe, maybe, they were rejected. But, anyway, the Courier along about that time decided to move out. So we took out or rented separate quarters on Shelby Street, first right opposite the Capitol, and then down the street a little where we are now. SUCHANEK: (??) TAYLOR: After that happened, we weren't really as kind of as close-knit group with the other reporters there. Of course, there were a number of others who I've worked alongside of. Of course, Dick Wilson, who's still there, is a fine, fine reporter, who in the early days specialized in higher education, and I'm sure you know of Dick. SUCHANEK: Um-hm. TAYLOR: Of course, he's still with the Courier in the Lexington bureau. You know, those are some of the ones that come to mind. SUCHANEK: Sure. Speaking of Allen Trout-- TAYLOR: Let me mention one other fellow-- SUCHANEK: Go ahead. TAYLOR: --who is a real character and just a wonderful character. Clay Wade Bailey. I don't know if you've heard of Clay Wade or not, but-- SUCHANEK: Unh-uh. TAYLOR: In fact, maybe the favorite story I ever wrote was a profile of Clay Wade Bailey. He was a little short fellow who had come to the capitol, I believe, in 1927. He worked mostly a correspondent for the Kentucky Post based in Covington. He was just an institution around the capitol. The legend was that he could read upside down--(Suchanek laughs)--that he would go into the state offices, and people in later years would--I never could get him to say whether he really could or not--but they thought he could read upside down. They'd cover things up when Clay Wade came around. Oh, Clay Wade had nicknames for politicians and wonderful nicknames. He called Chandler, "His Happiness," and John Breckinridge, the attorney general, who was kind of an unfocused person sometimes, and also he got very interested in some kind of agency to get in on early on space, aeronautics and space. So, Clay Wade nicknamed him, "Outer-Space." And Clay Wade had a photographic memory, truly. Could just remember the most, the greatest number of minute details about people and politicians. Clay Wade was an orphan, and he was always very interested in people's family connections. He always knew who was the Governor's cousin and all these family connections that people had. Just a treasure of information, which he shared very freely with us. So, he was another. Oh, and one other fellow that he had a great nickname for was John Isler, who was a representative from-- SUCHANEK: Covington; interviewed him TAYLOR: --Covington and Isler would bring Clay Wade an apple every day when the legislature was in session. Isler once introduced a Grandmother's Day resolution in the legislature. So, Clay Wade nicknamed him, "Grandmother." (both laugh) And Isler was kind of a kindly old fellow anyway, and so the nickname, "Grandmother" kind of stuck with Isler. (both laugh) SUCHANEK: Was there anyone else--well, what kind of comradery was there amongst the reporters, or the older hands when you went to Frankfort? Did they offer advice to you? Or, you know, did anyone kind of show you the ropes as far as how state government worked? Were you kind of on your own? TAYLOR: Well, Hugh Morris, probably more than anyone, kind of showed me the ropes. SUCHANEK: Um-hm. TAYLOR: But it wasn't in any, you know, structured way, but. Just as things came up, why, he was a ready source of information on the background of things, and how this agency worked and so on. SUCHANEK: I see. Um-hm. For whom to go see and-- TAYLOR: Yes. Yes. SUCHANEK: Okay. When you first arrived in Frankfort, what did you think the role of a legislator was? What was a legislator in your mind at that time? What was a legislator supposed to do? TAYLOR: Vote for laws that would serve the public interest. SUCHANEK: Okay. TAYLOR: Of course, I think legislators always have a secondary role of advancing the interests of their constituents in their dealings with government. You know, that can be a very valuable role, and it can also, you know, can get out-of-hand. They can, on occasion, put the interests of their constituents above the public interest. SUCHANEK: Um-hm. Well, that was gonna be one of my questions to you. Is a legislators first priority, you know, the common wheel, or the Commonwealth as a whole, or do they get elected to vote the way their constituents want them to? TAYLOR: Oh, that's the eternal tension of, I guess, that a legislature operates under. Trying to balance those two things: the public interest versus the special interests of his constituents. SUCHANEK: Um-hm. TAYLOR: Of course, they have to listen to their constituents, if they expect to be reelected. Within bounds, they have to advance the interests of their constituents, but hopefully on the really important things that they'll vote the public interest, the general good. SUCHANEK: Okay. So, in your mind then, their highest priority then would be the state of Kentucky as a whole and secondary then would be their constituents? TAYLOR: Yes. You couldn't put the general interests far above the other, but I would hope that when push came to shove that they would put the broad interest of the state ahead of their parochial interests. SUCHANEK: There's so many issues that come up, you know, in any particular legislative session. You could point to where that conflict or that tension is real evident. I often think of the one with the Union Underwear plant in Jamestown. You know, they want to put that waste into the lake, which, of course, could affect tourism for the state as a whole. You know, it's interesting to see how that plays out in, you know, the representatives and state senator from that area, and see which way they vote-- TAYLOR: Um-hm. SUCHANEK: --on certain issues like that, you know. Well, then when you first went to Frankfort, what did you think the role the Governor was? Not any particular Governor but just a Governor. TAYLOR: The Governor was very much in control of the legislature at that time. The Governor dominated the legislature. The Governor had a legislative agenda. At least on the important bills, I'd say almost always exerted a strong influence. To my knowledge, that reached its zenith under Julian Carroll, when the legislators would say that every day they would get a list of bills with the Governor's position on. I took it to be virtually every bill that was up, or at least a great portion of them. SUCHANEK: Did you actually see those lists? TAYLOR: As I recall, I have seen a list such that on occasion. Now, I don't ever remember ever having obtained a copy of it, I mean to keep. Yes, I think those lists have kind of been flashed in front of me. SUCHANEK: Sure. Sure. Um-hm. Now as a reporter and a professional journalist, what did you see your role as when you covered the General Assembly? TAYLOR: Report the news. (pause) Well, of course, that raises the eternal question what is news? News is something--and there are various criteria. News often is something that's unusual, out of the ordinary. It's something that affects a lot of people. I think, particularly working for the Courier-Journal, I think we saw our role and I saw my role--(pause)--as trying to expose things that were not in the public interest. Promote would be the wrong word but, at least-- SUCHANEK: Advocate? TAYLOR: No, a reporter should not be an advocate. I mean, that's the job of the columnist or the editorial writer. We get accused of that a whole lot--but, explain or lay out the facts of things that people need to know to make decisions that are in the public interest. SUCHANEK: Um-hm. Let me just pause a minute and turn this tape over. [Tape 1, side 1 ends; side 2 begins.] SUCHANEK: Okay. TAYLOR: You know, after Watergate I guess particularly, oh, a kind of a strain of journalism called advocacy journalism cropped up. I think that was kind of a buzzword for a few years. You know, I think that can be dangerous. In your choice of what to write about you, you are perhaps, indirectly, an advocate. But, in your writing, it's very important, I think especially over the long haul, if you're gonna be in one place for a while, and build up credibility among your readers and among your sources and among the people that you interview, it's very important that you be fair and present both sides of a story. So, I tried not to be an advocate but surely, I would readily acknowledge that in my choice of what to write about, I suppose, I--you know, for instance one thing I wrote about for years was the terribly low interest rate that the state charged the banks on their temporary deposit of state money. It was just a subsidy for the banks when I first started writing about it. Of course, interest rates, I was gonna say were lower than; they're getting back to where they were then. But, when I first started writing about it, the state charged the banks a half-percent interest on these deposits, and, you know, it was just welfare for the banks. I wrote for years about that issue. Gradually over the years, finally, I mean, the treasurer would be brought kicking and screaming into charging. The treasurer and the Governor both had--I think the treasurer by law set the interest rate and both, and then the Governor had the majority control of the three- member commission that decided where the money was to be put. So they both had a role in that. Finally, they upped it to 1 percent and then 2 percent, and finally then, under Governor Brown, they got it where the banks just bid like everyone else. Then, of course, you could--I mean that was the way it should have been all along. It gradually wasn't news anymore because, in my mind, the accepted, financially good policy was in effect. SUCHANEK: When you saw things going on that you didn't agree with personally, how hard was it to remain objective? TAYLOR: Hm. SUCHANEK: I mean didn't-- TAYLOR: Sure. SUCHANEK: Didn't, just sometimes that you'd just write what you felt? TAYLOR: Sure, I guess as you older and more experienced, you realize more and more that the value of keeping your own opinions in check, and keeping them out of your writing. As a result, what you do write then has more impact and more credibility because after reading you for a while, the reader will get the idea that you really are trying to be fair and objective. As a result, in the long run, you have more impact, writing that way than you would trying to inject your opinions and write your opinions into your stories. SUCHANEK: You mentioned that you had sought to build up your credibility. So I'm assuming that you had planned to stay in Frankfort for a while? TAYLOR: Yes. At one time, I was interested in going to Washington, but. You know, Frankfort, just as we said earlier, it's a small town, and I grew up in a small town. I was never enchanted with living in the big city, and here was a place where there was a real challenge in your work and yet you could live. Actually, I've lived in the country ever since I've been here. You could live in the country and be just a short time away from your work. So, yes, not long after I arrived, I decided that I would like to stay here. Perhaps that had--well, I could see the value of building credibility as an objective reporter. SUCHANEK: Well, you know, I've never taken any journalism classes, but I'm sure there's courses on law and ethics and, you know, objectivity that's taught to you in journalism school. So, you know, I didn't mean to imply that you just became objective just to (??). (Taylor laughs) Okay. What did you think the role of the newspaper was or any newspaper is today in society? You know, what was or should be the role of a newspaper in reporting the news? TAYLOR: Well, in the news columns, it should be just what I've already said. In the opinion columns, like such as columnists or on the editorial page, of course, I think it should advocate what the owners of the newspapers think, or the governmental policies that would be in the public interest. SUCHANEK: Um-hm. TAYLOR: I mean I think the role of the editorial page is, of course, advocacy. SUCHANEK: Did you ever personally feel differently than what the editors of the Courier-Journal were advocating? TAYLOR: Many times. (both laugh) Occasionally that would give us reporters some problems because if you go out and interview somebody who's just been lambasted in the editorial columns, they associate you with that paper that's just been highly critical of them, and it can sometimes cut off your access, your sources. SUCHANEK: Um-hm. Can you ever remember getting scorched by a legislator for something like that? TAYLOR: Oh, just about every session, in the last maybe fifteen days or twenty days, when things get really tense, and people are tired and under a lot of pressure, somebody will get up on the floor and just scorch the Courier-Journal. I mean it's just like clockwork. (Suchanek laughs) Of course, I think increasingly the Herald, too, as they've gotten more into Frankfort news. But, you know, running- -and, of course, candidates almost inevitably do it, too. Before the campaign's over, they'll be roasted in the paper, and they'll start running against the Courier-Journal. SUCHANEK: Sure. TAYLOR: Oh, somebody in the legislature will do it, I'd say almost every session. Although I don't remember personally--it may have happened, but I don't remember personally being attacked on the floor of the legislature. I mean verbally attacked, but. SUCHANEK: But how about in private? TAYLOR: Well, I'm sure it's happened. But no one incident sticks out in my mind really. But, the Courier-Journal's an institution that is regularly lambasted on the floor of the legislature. SUCHANEK: Happy Chandler made a career out of running against the Courier-Journal. TAYLOR: That's right. "The Great Wind Tunnel at 6th and Broadway," he called us. (both laugh) SUCHANEK: Okay. Well, in your opinion, what is news? You know, what do you think of the current investigations by reporters into politicians' personal lives, such as their love affairs, or financial investments, and the like? TAYLOR: (pause) I think their finances are fair game because over the years there have been so many cases where public officials used the power of their office to enrich themselves. So, I think to know whether or not that has happened, you've almost got to know what their finances are. You know, I'm for pretty full disclosure of the personal finances of public officials. I guess that maybe is the price they need to pay for being in public office because otherwise, you know, there's just been so many cases of that. You don't know their finances; you don't know whether or not they're doing it. Their love lives are a much stickier question, I think. SUCHANEK: Could you-- TAYLOR: I suppose the test is basically, whether it affects their performance as a public official. For example, if a public official is cheating on his wife, again, I think at least, at the level where I report it. You know, if a county commissioner is doing it, I don't know that much news. But, if a Governor is, a Governor, you know, particularly in Kentucky, has vast powers. It says something about his or her character, and his or her character can have a big impact on people's lives. So, I think it has really something to do with the power of the office whether it's worth the media taking the time and trouble to get into it. Of course, those kinds of stories are terribly hard to document and take a lot of investigative work and time. I would say that would be worth it maybe only in maybe the highest officials of the state or local government. SUCHANEK: Could you ever written a story like that? TAYLOR: Well, I could have, about a Governor, if I was presented with the solid proof of it but I never--that occasion never arose. SUCHANEK: Um-hm. TAYLOR: I don't-- SUCHANEK: Just hypothetically, would you have? TAYLOR: Yeah, I think so. If it were really by generally accepted public standards, if it were outrageous behavior, and I was presented with solid proof of it, yes. SUCHANEK: Okay. "The power of the press" is a term that is often used regarding the ability of newspapers to help shape or mold public opinion. Were you always conscious of that power when you wrote your stories? Did you ever think about it? TAYLOR: Yes. I think you become more conscious about it, as the years go by, really. I think one effect that had on me is that--maybe the people I write about wouldn't agree with this--but made me a little more compassionate or discriminate about what I wrote. In other words, if it was something that was gonna make somebody look bad; was it really important for the public to know about that? If it were, I wrote it. Or, at least that was the policy I tried to follow. You know, if it were some kind of minor peccadillo that really didn't have much of any effect on government, why, maybe you could pass that by. SUCHANEK: I've been reading Mark Chellgren's column recently. It's either in the Courier or the State Journal. Do you know? TAYLOR: Yes, I know Mark. SUCHANEK: He has been taking rather opinionated positions on certain issues of late, such as stricter accountability for higher education. What do you think of this type of reporting, or this type of soapbox reporting? TAYLOR: I suspect you're referring to what I used to call the AP writer's Monday morning column that regularly appears on Monday, which I think he's taking the license of a columnist there. I think that's all right as long as it's clearly labeled as opinion or analysis. And I'm not sure the AP always does that or the papers that run the AP always do that, and if they don't, then I think that's not a good policy. That is a real problem for organizations that don't have the manpower to have a separate columnist and a separate reporting staff. The same thing happens when you appear on these talk shows, and I always had trouble, although I did appear, but I always was careful not to voice an opinion that I couldn't back up, readily document. Because you have real trouble when you try to wear the hat of a columnist, or of an opinion column on one day, and then wear the hat of an objective reporter the next. The casual reader will get those things mixed up. He'll think, Well, I read on Monday that, that fellow doesn't like this. So when he's taking off on it here on Thursday in what's supposed to be a news column, I mean, it rubs off. He's gonna say, 'Oh well, I don't believe that because he's just writing his opinion.' So, there's real danger in that, in trying to perform both functions unless they're both clearly labeled, one as news that's written as objectively as possible, and the other as opinion. SUCHANEK: Um-hm. When you first went to Frankfort, what was your initial impressions of the General Assembly? (pause) Did anything surprise you? TAYLOR: Oh, the general disorganization of the place. Of course, I think, at least on the part of Governors that was by design. They had- -and I wish I'd taken the time to get the figures on this--but they had just an inordinate number of committees. Some of the committees would have maybe thirty or forty members. Then you had Judiciary A, B, and C. Of course, they knew the Judiciary C was the graveyard committee, and it never met. It might go the whole session and maybe have one or two meetings. So when the leadership put a bill in that committee that was the same as killing it. They had no regular schedule of committee meetings. They just met at the call of the chairman. As you got down in the frantic final days, it became increasingly hard to get quorums because committees would be meeting, and committee meetings would be called at the same time, and committee members couldn't be in both places. It just chaos. SUCHANEK: Of course, the last fifteen days, it was just a Rules Committee anyway. TAYLOR: Yeah, a Rules Committee had even great, had even more power in the last fifteen days. SUCHANEK: Um-hm. So your initial impressions were one of chaos, disorganization? TAYLOR: Yes. SUCHANEK: Okay. TAYLOR: Of course, they kind of let themselves in for some of the criticism. They would call a recess and have some country music performer from their home district get up and play for a while. (laughs) Or, I remember Senator Tom Mobley played the guitar. He'd give a little concert usually at least once a session. They would just stop business and do kind of silly things like that. SUCHANEK: Um-hm. Did the Governor's power surprise you? TAYLOR: Yeah. (pause) You kind of wondered, Well, why don't these men mostly and women stand up on their hind legs on, you know, some of the outrageous bills that would come through the Governor's office that were to pay back some campaign debt? Or, you know, I remember in the early days the industrial--what was it? The loan company bills. Anyway, industrial loan company bills would come through, and they'd raise maximum interest rate that these small loan companies could charge to these people who were the poorest of the poor and couldn't get loans anywhere else. Here'd come one of these outrageous bills come roaring through the legislature, and the Governor said, you know, he'd collected a lot of money in his campaign and committed himself to do it, and it would get rammed through the legislature. As a reporter, I would think, Well, why don't they stand up and vote against this? But, the Governor had such control that he'd--well, of course, there was one; Martha Layne came along. Martha Layne Collins came along kind of toward the end of the era. I'll use the word 'he' because when the Governor really controlled the legislature, they were male Governors then. SUCHANEK: Um-hm. Um-hm. Well, when you all met up in your third floor press office, did you talk amongst yourselves about this kind of thing? TAYLOR: Sometimes. SUCHANEK: About the power of the Governor and how dominating he was, or was it just evident to everyone and it was known? TAYLOR: Oh, on occasion we would discuss it. SUCHANEK: What was the general consensus? That it was wrong, or? TAYLOR: Yeah, when it was used. (laughs) When the power was used for things that obviously weren't in the public interest, yeah, we would get pretty exercised about it. SUCHANEK: I mean, as for instance, would someone just say out, 'Yeah I'm gonna write a column about that,' or, you know, did that ever happen? TAYLOR: Oh, not just like that, but. From time to time, there would be stories written about the Governor's influence on the legislature, and maybe calling in certain legislators, and telling them they had to vote for this, or whatever. There might be stories written to that effect. SUCHANEK: Okay. What were your impressions of the different Governors that you covered there? What were their administrative styles like, if you can kind of compare those? You were there under Breathitt, Nunn, Ford, Carroll, Brown, Martha Layne? TAYLOR: Well, starting chronologically. Breathitt, I had a lot of respect for Breathitt in that he had a clean administration--or, let me put it this way; he, personally, I felt was clean. (laughs) He did not seem to be in it to feather his own nest at all. In fact, one of his aides told me that toward the end of his administration, he had to go down and borrow money from the bank just to have enough money to live on. He was a clean Governor from the standpoint of personal finances and ethics. He was pretty issue-oriented. Maybe as a result, or the flip side of that was that he didn't take care of the political side of things maybe as much as he should have. But, you know, he fought for civil rights legislation. Maybe his biggest achievement was getting the strip mine control bill through. In '64, his first session, he tried, as I recall, a pretty weak bill got through then. Then, in '66, he decided that he was gonna put the full force of his office behind it, and he did. He even came on the floor of the legislature, which I think today would be resented, and was a little bit back then even. But, he came on the floor of the legislature and lobbied the legislators for it. Perhaps that was his biggest achievement in terms of legislation. SUCHANEK: Um-hm. TAYLOR: You know, he was a really nice, likeable guy. I remember complaints that, you know, he wasn't forceful enough and couldn't say no to people. I remember there was some grumbling towards the end of his administration about that. SUCHANEK: How much of a fight was there with the civil rights bill? TAYLOR: There was quite a fight, and I would have to review the record to say with great authority about that. SUCHANEK: A lot of (??)-- TAYLOR: But my recollection is that not a whole lot of state legislation got through, until the federal bill got through and then people were, 'Oh well, let's quick. Get a state human rights commission and let's get state laws that will be governed under, so we won't be under the thumb of the federal authorities.' So my recollection is that Breathitt was not very successful in actually achieving legislation, but he stood up for it and tried. And I remember Norbert Blume, of course, who was--there was a certain amount of self-interest there because he had a district in Louisville that was becoming increasingly black, and he was white. But, he showed a lot of courage. He stood up when it was very unpopular among his fellow legislators. He stood up day after day and spoke for civil rights legislation, when it was not popular at all. So I thought that was an admirable thing that Breathitt stood up for. SUCHANEK: How about Louie Nunn? TAYLOR: Nunn was a powerful figure. Of course, after going all over the state promising no new taxes, he came within a couple of months with what was then the biggest tax increase in state history. He broke his word to the people. The job he did in ramming that tax increase through, he done it (??)--he was a Republican, of course--and ramming that tax increase through a Democratic legislature was the single most greatest exhibition of raw political power that I ever saw. He knew the weakness of every Democratic legislator almost, and he worked on them. On the teachers, of course, the teachers and educators who were in the legislature, he leaned on them, from the fact that education was gonna get a lot of new money. From the people who represented the regional universities, as I recall, he got almost all of those Democratic representatives to vote for it, which, of course, universities were gonna get a lot of money. If it took the promise of a job to the guy's brother or his cousin, he got several representatives, Democrats that way. One of the most controversial things was he suspended the engineering, the non-bid engineering contract to Brighton Engineering Company, which headed by Bill May here in Frankfort. They had been--Bill May's Brighton Engineering had been the favored consulting engineer, starting out under Combs. Bill May and Combs were close political allies and friends, and continued under Breathitt. They had a big contract to design a couple of toll roads, and so Nunn suspended that contract. It so happened that former Governor Lawrence Wetherby, then the chairman of the State Democratic Party was a vice-president of Brighton. Lo and behold after--and I always thought that Bill May also had an influence. He was from the Prestonsburg area and the senator from Prestonsburg, a Democrat. Those two ended up voting for Nunn's sales tax increase, and I mean the circumstantial evidence was that Bill May had delivered at least those two and maybe some more votes. And lo and behold, after the bill passed, the contract was renewed. Bill May's Brighton Engineering got more engineering business. Of course, inflation had taken its toll, but they got more business under Nunn than they had gotten under either Breathitt or Combs. Bill May had a way of doing what needed to be done to continue his engineering firm in favor. SUCHANEK: Did you ever talk to Bill May about that? TAYLOR: Not at the time. Well, I don't know that I ever had--I must say that Wetherby denied, has always denied that his connection with Brighton was the reason he voted for the tax, but the circumstantial evidence was very strong, and it was perceived generally by the public that that was a quid pro quo and-- SUCHANEK: It at least had some influence on his decision. TAYLOR: --and that, in fact, Wetherby was booed at a subsequent Democratic convention shortly after he had voted for the Republican Governor's sales tax increase. So that's how it was perceived by the public. (laughs) Then the really mysterious one and just outrageous one, I guess, was the fact that the Democratic floor leader in the House, Fred Morgan of Paducah, ended up voting for Nunn's sales tax. Years later, I was told what happened; I can't prove it, but it was pretty outrageous if it were true. So Nunn used whatever it took. As I recall, I think in the House maybe he had seven or eight extra votes, and in the Senate, he had a couple of extras, too. I mean he had done such a job on those Democratic representatives. SUCHANEK: He had more than he needed. TAYLOR: And there were only one or two I think there were--Gene Huff in the House voted against it; he was the only Republican who voted against it. Nunn went out after him in the next election, and Huff survived, and, of course, is still in the Senate. Then there was an old man from down in southeastern Kentucky--I can't think of his name right off--he abstained, I believe. He kind of copped out. I can't remember what happened to him in the next election. I don't know if he ran even. But, of course, there was a good bit of fallout about those votes, and the people who voted for it were really on the pan the next election. Several of them got beat, but. That was just a masterful show of raw political power by a Governor. Showed how a Governor, even of the opposite party, could dominate the legislature. SUCHANEK: Did that surprise you? TAYLOR: Yes. Yes, it did. SUCHANEK: Um-hm. TAYLOR: Of course, Nunn--I was trying to find it here in the clips. I guess I can't. (pause) Well, here's a story about--should I just read a little about? SUCHANEK: Sure. TAYLOR: About his getting that sales tax through the legislature. "Of course, when he came out and broke his promise he said to the legislature, 'I've done what the times, circumstances, and conditions demand that I do.' The state was in financial trouble. The revenue had fallen short of the estimates and there would have been severe cutbacks if I hadn't. Nunn stacked his from (??) persuasion to raw political bargaining." Talks about the legislators who were schoolteachers and the ones who in the university towns. "Within a mile of the capitol the mentally retarded were housed at the aging Frankfort State Hospital and School criticized for years for grand juries (??) and others. Nunn arranged tours so that legislators could see the heart-rending conditions at the institution. His budget included nine million dollars for a new building," which they eventually, of course, built the facility at Somerset for the retarded to replace the Frankfort hospital school. "There were jobs, roads, contracts and other favors to be traded for legislators' votes. For example, the brother of Democratic Senator Pearl Strong of Perry County was appointed as special administrative assistant to the alcoholic beverage control commissioner. Senator Strong was one of eight Democratic senators who voted for Nunn's tax bill." So, that's just further examples of the tactics that he used to get that through. SUCHANEK: Is that still possible today, do you think? That type of raw political power by a Governor? TAYLOR: Probably not, at least to that extent. I say that because I can't think of an instance in recent years where a Governor has tried that. That's not to say they, of course, don't have vigorously support their own legislative agenda, but. I think they haven't tried it because they realize that such an all out effort would backfire on them and that a lot of the legislators wouldn't stand for it. Now, that isn't to say that a lot of horse-trading doesn't go on. That, of course, still goes on, and probably always will. But, you know, 'Governor, perhaps I could be for your bill, if this road gets built.' or something like that, but I just don't think the Governor is in a position to call them in and tell them, 'By golly, they better vote for this, or else,' the way they used to. SUCHANEK: It's a different breed of legislator these days is it not? TAYLOR: That correct. The legislators, as a group, are--during the approximately twenty-three years that I was in Frankfort, there was a noticeable improvement in the education and the political sophistication of the legislators. They were much better informed and capable now, I believe, as a group again, with a lot of individual exceptions to that, but as a group, they are much better educated and informed now than they were. SUCHANEK: Um-hm. Well, listen-- [Tape 1, side 2 ends.] [End of interview.] Taylor, a reporter for the Louisville Courier-Journal newspaper out of the Frankfort Bureau from 1964-1987, discusses growing up in Eastern Illinois, his educational background and experiences as a journalist. Observations and opinions on Barry Bingham Sr., several Kentucky governors, the role of reporters and newspapers, the role of the legislative and executive branches of state government, and camaraderie and competition between reporters. Part 1 of 2. Kentucky Legislature