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2006-06-23 Interview with Charles D. Wheeler, June 23, 2006 Leg001:2006OH78 Leg 100 01:29:35 Kentucky Legislature Oral History Project Louie B. Nunn Center for Oral History, University of Kentucky Legislators -- Kentucky -- Interviews. Ashland (Ky.) -- Officials and employees. Political campaigns -- Kentucky. Discrimination -- Law and legislation -- Kentucky. Parks -- Kentucky -- Management. Kentucky. Governor (1963-1967 : Breathitt) Kentucky. Governor (1967-1971 : Nunn) Kentucky. Education Reform Act (1990) Stuart, Jesse, 1906-1984 Nixon, Richard M. (Richard Milhous), 1913-1994 Legislative Research Commission Industrialization Medical laws and legislation King, Martin Luther, Jr., 1929-1968 Parks Church and state Freedom of speech Ashland (Ky.) Greenbow Lake State Park Breathitt, Edward T., 1924- Nunn, Louie B., 1924- Hazelrig, Bill Morehead State University Kentucky Education Reform Act (KERA) public service Republican Party campaigning technology services health care legislation Civil rights open housing legislation Coal mines and mining Education testing (teachers) school consolidation state parks legislative independence separation of church and state Committees Kentucky Civil Rights Act House (1964-1972), 100th district House Minority Caucus Chair, 1968 Boyd County (Ky.) Charles D. Wheeler; interviewee Roy Salmons; interviewer 2006OH078_LEG100_Wheeler 1:|21(1)|35(6)|49(8)|62(10)|75(2)|87(8)|99(3)|115(12)|130(6)|140(7)|158(9)|174(4)|187(2)|208(10)|224(7)|238(9)|255(11)|270(4)|280(12)|298(11)|325(2)|344(3)|352(11)|366(5)|377(13)|393(4)|401(4)|413(10)|427(1)|438(10)|451(5)|464(1)|481(2)|493(12)|509(2)|527(8)|548(12)|569(6)|599(7)|620(6)|630(9)|642(9)|665(8)|693(4)|706(6)|723(9)|740(10)|750(7)|767(7)|781(6)|794(6)|815(1)|828(12)|836(8)|848(14)|866(8)|879(5)|893(10)|904(11)|916(5)|945(11)|964(3)|972(7)|1006(3)|1022(12)|1041(3)|1051(9)|1061(8)|1071(1)|1079(3)|1093(7)|1107(11)|1133(12)|1152(4)|1165(11)|1178(6)|1187(9)|1197(11)|1209(8)|1226(2)|1243(4)|1264(5)|1272(4)|1283(5)|1301(1)|1315(2)|1327(12)|1340(11)|1352(9) audiotrans Legit interview SALMONS: The following is an unrehearsed interview with former State House Representative Charles D. Wheeler who represented Boyd County in the 100th District from 1964 to 1972. The interview was conducted by Roy Salmons for the University of Kentucky Library, Kentucky Legislative Oral History Project, on June 23, 2006 in the office of Charles D. Wheeler, in Ashland, Kentucky, at ten o'clock AM. I am talking with Charles D. Wheeler. I would like to start out by saying, thank you for agreeing to this interview with us. WHEELER: You're very welcome. SALMONS: I would need to--I wanted to ask you one question to start out is, could you please tell me where and when you were born? WHEELER: I was born in Paintsville, Johnson County, Kentucky. April 24, 1929. SALMONS: Did you grow up there, or did you leave there soon after? WHEELER: The family left shortly thereafter, probably, I think within three or four years, they moved to this area. SALMONS: Okay, so you've basically been an Ashland native your whole life? WHEELER: That's right. SALMONS: Okay, what type of background did your parents have? WHEELER: Let's see, my parents--I don't think either one of them graduated from Paintsville High School. My mother's family, her grandfather had been the judge of Johnson County, Kentucky. She had an uncle that was secretary of state of Kentucky in the early twenties. She had another cousin who became superintendent of public instruction in the state of Kentucky under the Simeon Willis administration. She had other relatives that served in the legislature. She was a Vaughan, V-a-u-g-h-a-n; that was her maiden name. So, they were--her family, not her father, but her family was active in politics. My father's family, they weren't active in politics. My father's family had a wholesale grocery chain called the Sandy Valley Grocery Company. They had a series of wholesale groceries up and down the Big Sandy River and the Ohio Valley, and so forth. SALMONS: Okay, so one side of your family had a really deep political background and the other was mostly building of their business? WHEELER: Yeah, that's true. I think that's a good way to put it. SALMONS: What led you to decide to go into politics, at such a young age? WHEELER: That's a good question and I can't really give you a good answer. My first venture into politics was in, here in the city of Ashland, when I ran for city commissioner in 1957, I believe it was. I served one term. I mean that was my first actual venture into elective office, and so forth. Then I made some other attempts. As a matter of fact, in 1962, I ran for the Republican nomination for Congress for the old Seventh Congressional District, but I was beaten by a fellow name of--a fellow from Maysville, and actually-- MARY WHEELER: --Alex Parker. WHEELER: Alex Parker, yeah, he beat me. He went on--he lost the election. [telephone rings] Then, let's see. I ran in 1963 for the legislature and I won four successive terms. SALMONS: Yes. And did you feel that your tenure in the legislator affected your life from then on? Like, I noticed you've had a life of public service. Do you feel that was, as a duty to continue public service after being an elected office? Or, was it just something you felt you needed to do? WHEELER: Well, it's something that I felt that I needed to do, and I liked to do. I enjoyed it. I enjoy it. I've been--my wife and I both have been involved in politics and or government since the late- fifties. So, and actually we continued on. My wife is the current Boyd County Republican chair. I've been very active in, as she has, in all the campaigns, Republican campaigns since the sixties. SALMONS: Your involvement in the Republican Party brings up an interesting question that I would like to ask. How do you feel that the Republican Party has grown since the time of Governor Nunn? Because lately, the state almost has a majority in both houses of the Republican Party. What has caused that change do you think in the last thirty years? WHEELER: Kentucky, Kentuckians are basically conservative people. And the Democrat Party seems to have left the conservative Democrats. And they don't feel like that they have a party or a home they can call their own. Now they don't like to change their registration here in Kentucky. If they're registered Democrat, they sort of like to stay that way. Basically that's because of local politics, your local county politics, your sheriff, your judges, your jailers, and things of that nature. But when it moves on out of the county towards the state and national elections, there has been this tendency to--a very strong tendency to support and vote for the Republican Party because of their principles and their stand on national and international ideas. SALMONS: Okay. From your long-term involvement with the Republican Party, how would you say that the current administration is living up to the ideas of the older Republican Party that you started out with? WHEELER: Well, I really do believe that, that they are adding to it. That they are really living up to the ideals and principles of the Republican Party and that they're doing really a good job. SALMONS: Okay. Speaking of the time that you were elected into the House, during that time, it was known as a time of the party machine in the regions. Do you feel that this region had a party machine, as per se, or was it more of a local-- WHEELER: Now, are you talking about a Republican Party machine, or just a Democrat Party machine, or what do you mean? SALMONS: Oh, I'm sorry. Basically, as a group of older individuals who been involved in their respective party for a while and they basically had a lot of control over their nominations, state nominations. WHEELER: Well, at that time lots of the nominations were by convention and not by direct voting. So in a sense, you might say some of the older generations did have some direct impact in selecting of the nominees for the party. SALMONS: Okay. I was looking over your legislative record and I noticed as a freshman member of the House, you seem--compared to what I know of moderate (??), you seem to introduce a lot of legislation. Was it easier, you think, as a freshman with the backing of the older party members to get legislation in? Or, was it just--what would you say enabled you to get so much legislation introduced? WHEELER: It was easy to introduce legislation, now. I mean, that is not hard to do. You can have your legislation drawn up and submit it but getting it passed is something else all together. Now when I was in the legislature, it was controlled--when I went to the legislature in 1963, that was, at that time, the high watermark for the Republicans in the House. We had--I believe we had forty-three or forty-five members out of a hundred. So the Democrats didn't have the majority, you know, that they normally do have, or had, had. We had some pretty strong legislative leaders in the House, and we were able to get our--here's another important thing: we forced the Democrats to give us a proportional representation on the committees, whereas before, they had just moved you around anyplace that they wanted to, but we insisted that we had our proportion. Therefore, we were able to get legislation out of the committee onto the floor for a full vote. [Pause in recording.] SALMONS: I was looking through some of the legislation you helped pass. One of the ones that fascinated me the most was introducing of a person to help write bills. You were instrumental--do you remember that legislation? It's set up a salary and someone who'd help proof and write properly developed bills for the House. WHEELER: Well, we had the LRC at that particular time. It was who that we basically worked with, now, in trying to get our legislation promulgated and developed, and so forth. If we had an idea, or if I had an idea, I would go to a member of the LRC, and discuss it with them and they would put my ideas into the proper format for--to present as a bill. Of course, we talked--we worked with our caucus, too, you understand. Our caucus, the Republican caucus would come up with ideas and we would all submit our ideas and work together on these things. SALMONS: Speaking of the caucus, you were caucus chairman in 1968. WHEELER: Yes, I was. I was the Republican caucus chairman, minority caucus chairman. That's right, um-hm. SALMONS: What type of experience was that, going from being a legislature, a legislator to basically being a chair, who's responsible for getting all of the stuff through? WHEELER: Well, that was the exciting and very interesting. We were so enthused and so thrilled that we had elected a Governor in '67 that when we started the session in 1968. Then, I was elected as minority caucus chairman and I was responsible for rounding up votes for bills, and things of that nature. It was--it was a different--and also I was a member of the leadership of the LRC at that particular time. There were--the leadership of the House Republicans and the House Democrats made up the--I'm not sure what they call it--but the controlling body of the LRC. In other words, we directed the LRC. SALMONS: During your time as caucus chair, do you have any piece of legislation that you consider your proudest moment of passing during, or getting passed, during that time? WHEELER: Well, no I don't. I can't think of any particular thing I've got. (laughs) Sorry about that. SALMONS: That's fine, I mean. I noticed your children were of a middle, a younger-to-middle age, in the early twenties during your time, if I'm thinking right, in the-- WHEELER: Well, they were teenagers in the late sixties and early seventies. MARY WHEELER: Well, we had some children-- SALMONS: That's why I was trying to think of a way to get the age out because--how were they involved in your runs for office? Did they campaign for you? Did they work? WHEELER: Yeah, they sure did. They--I'll have to say this. My children, my wife, my mother-in-law, the whole family, everybody was very, very active. I mean, they worked the polls. They passed out literature. They did anything they could to further the campaign and to help me. SALMONS: So would you feel that you have a grassroots campaign, basically? Working family, friends up to get you-- WHEELER: Oh, yeah, that's the way it was. It wasn't the top-down; it was the bottom-up. Yeah, that's exactly the way it was. SALMONS: So you didn't have the big, massive advertising budgets they do now, and the--(laughs) WHEELER: (laughs) Hardly anything. You just had to--had to actually use your own money and then you would try to get campaign contributions but nothing in the scope of the way it is now. Of course, advertising was not nearly as expensive then, too. We did an awful lot of handouts of combs, and little notebooks, and pencils, and pens, and nail files, and other things of that nature which really wasn't expensive. We did a lot of that. And I did, when I first started out, I did a tremendous amount--and I mean that literally--of door-to-door campaign. I mean, I would start at one end of the town, and work every street, knock on every door. And, you know, to get to be known and to get my views across, and asked for the support of the people. SALMONS: How do you feel--because you came from that type of background to modern campaigns, where they just pour money into it, and spend more on one campaign than it would take to pay a legislator for four years-- what do you feel about the change in the way it's ran? WHEELER: Well, I don't like it as much. It has become so highly expensive right now that it somewhat precludes maybe good people from getting in. Somehow or another, good people may not have the opportunity to break in because of the high costs of running a campaign. Also, not only the high cost but the length. You've got to start out much earlier, if you're seeking an office than you did before, and you have to have big organizations, big staff, and lots of contacts. SALMONS: So, you're the belief, that's common among a lot of people that it's out of the small man's hands. It's getting to the point where you either have to have money or have a major backer to become into politics now. WHEELER: Well, it's not exactly like that. But it seems to me moving in that direction. The small man can do it. Now he can do it; he's not precluded from it. But it is more difficult now unless you've got some serious backing to help you get started in a campaign. SALMONS: You came from a very interesting time period in this district because--if I remember right--this was a time period when CSX and Ashland Oil were both starting to get big in this area. How do you feel that, that changed the area because you were a member during basically the growth period of both of those? WHEELER: Well, you also left out one, too. Armco Steel. Of course, that was a major employer here, too. Ashland Oil was such a vital concern here and C&O Railway. And we also had a tannery up here. Just lots of industries, lots of heavy industry going on around here. It has changed the city and the town, now. Ashland is pretty much a retired citizen's town now, and a great place to live, though. Really is, it's a wonderful place. SALMONS: What do you think happened to the businesses? What led to them leaving, and? WHEELER: Well, C&O, of course, is still a big thing but they don't have the offices here, or they don't have the rail yards that they used to have, or the repair shop that they used to have. They have some down here at Russell but not nearly like they used to. The oil company, some of the leadership of the oil company felt like that Ashland was sort of removed from the mainstream, and they thought that we didn't have the communication or the transportation, particularly air transportation, that they felt that they needed. So they, I guess, decided that they would relocate the headquarters. Then, they ultimately spun off. As you know, they're not in the petroleum business now. Armco Steel was acquired by a Japanese company. And I don't remember actually the name of the company but it goes by the name of AK Steel at the present time. SALMONS: So, you feel that what's led to Ashland becoming a little bit more, less heavy industry, and more--I know there's a lot of technological firms now, like credit card companies having call centers? WHEELER: Um-hm. SALMONS: Do you think that's affected the way that Ashland is developing now? WHEELER: Well, of course, it's the affected the way we're developing. Unfortunately, a lot of our young people are leaving. They're going other places for opportunities that we don't have here. Now, there is one change here that's really significant and that's the health industry here. We have a hospital here that is the largest employer between Lexington and Charleston, West Virginia. And they're growing by leaps and bounds. So, it's good for the medical industry, and certainly, it's good for the citizens to have that kind of aid and assistance and help here. SALMONS: For those who don't know the area, which hospital is that, sir? WHEELER: That's the King' Daughters Hospital. SALMONS: (??) WHEELER: Of course, now, we do have Our Lady of Bellefonte hospital, too, which is a fine hospital. It's in the adjacent city of Russell. SALMONS: You said your children were teenagers during the late sixties, early seventies period. Well, were they not eligible for the Vietnam era draft, or were they? WHEELER: No, they weren't. I take that back; our oldest son was eligible, but he wasn't drafted. MARY WHEELER: ___________(??) SALMONS: That leads me to a question that I would like to ask. Since you were a member of the House during that time period and there's a lot of people drawing parallels between the Vietnam era conflicts and the current Middle East conflict. What would be your views on that? Do you see any comparisons, or? WHEELER: No, I really don't. I don't see a comparison. There was two different conflicts. In my view, in my opinion, we have a more clear- cut reason for being at war at the present time in Iraq than we did in Vietnam. SALMONS: I'm going to--we're going to pause for one second. WHEELER: Okay. [Pause in recording.] SALMONS: Okay. Mr. Wheeler, during the 1960's was a time of a lot of unrest in America. There was the civil rights movement and basically a lot of race relation trouble. What do you remember from your tenure in the House about Kentucky's involvement with race relations and how the people reacted? Specifically to the Martin Luther King march. WHEELER: Well, I was in the legislature, and I do remember the day that the Martin Luther King march took place. I do remember that there were a lot of people lining the boulevard leading up to the Capitol. I remember that Martin Luther King spoke, there on the steps of the Capitol. It was a very orderly march. There was not, in my recollection, a lot of negative demonstrations. It was a peaceful march; let's put it that way. It was pretty well received. Now, the General Assembly, it was pretty well mixed. What happened in the General Assembly, many of the marchers came up into the gallery, and looked down, and observed the legislature in session, and so forth. But there is one particular piece of legislation that I do remember that was passed, and I'll give Governor Ned Breathitt the credit. He was the Governor because he pushed for this, he pushed for an open housing legislation, which was passed, and I was proud to say that I was a supporter and voted for open housing legislation. Now it wasn't very popular up here in Ashland. And when I came home, I did take some--people had some remarks to make about that, but it became the law of the state, as it is the law of the land now. SALMONS: So, how would you say, overall, in the state of Kentucky, the reaction was to the civil rights movement? WHEELER: Well, it was about like it was nationally. Now, there was--in my remembrance, there was not a lot of demonstrations or activities that went on. Now, there were some marches and demonstrations in Louisville and in Lexington but I don't remember any violence. Now, I'm sure there was some, but I don't remember very much. Up here in Ashland, there was no reaction of any kind--to the civil rights movement I'm talking about in general--up here. People, I guess, had private discussions but there was nothing of, really bad. I mean, it was received pretty well. SALMONS: You were talking about the open house legislation. So was Ashland a segregated city before this time, or was it more open than the deep South? WHEELER: Well, it certainly wasn't like the deep South now. Far from it. Ashland has always been a rather progressive city. They respected the citizens regardless of their race, origin, or creed. Ashland had, had segregated schools, as you perhaps well know, and I'd really forgot the time when they were desegregated. But, shortly I guess, it was probably in the late fifties, I believe when it was. But it went smoothly here. SALMONS: Your tenure covered Governor Breathitt and Governor Nunn and we were talking before the interview about your experiences with Governor Nunn. Would you please tell me about how you served in his election campaign and some of his gubernatorial work that you did? WHEELER: Well, in his election campaign--this could be long and very involved. It really could be because I was elected in '63 to the House. Governor Nunn had run that particular time but he had lost by a small amount to Governor Breathitt. Then, in 1967, when Governor, when Louie Nunn was running for the governorship, why I was in charge of twelve counties in the Seventh District. I worked with his state organization. I was the--I feel like I was the one that was responsible for him selecting his running mate and that was Bill Hazelrigg from Paintsville, Kentucky. There was a bitter primary at that particular time between Louie Nunn and Judge Marlow Cook of Louisville. Eastern Kentucky was pretty well torn and Tom Ratliff from the Pikeville was the running mate for Judge--the judge-- MARY WHEELER: Marlow Cook. WHEELER: Marlow Cook, yeah. And they were making real inroads up here in all of Eastern Kentucky because of the connection of Ratliff up here. So, I persuaded Louie Nunn to meet with Bill Hazelrigg from Paintsville to get him and interview him for a potential Lieutenant governorship on his ticket. And he did interview him, and they did meet, and he selected him. And that, in my opinion, gave the primary election to Louie Nunn because it staved off the hemorrhage that he was having here in Eastern Kentucky because of the party people were going for Tom Ratliff. Because he was from Eastern Kentucky, so I knew we had to have a counterbalance. And we did have. So we won the--I say, "we"--we won the primary for Governor Nunn. SALMONS: Once Governor Nunn was in office, he was the first Republican Governor in-- WHEELER: Since 1947. Simeon Willis was the last Republican Governor who was elected, from Ashland, of course, and he was elected in 1943 and served for four years. And that was--we didn't have any Republican Governor until then. But, in the interlude between that, we were fortunate to have two Republican United States Senators, John Sherman Cooper and Thurston Morton. SALMONS: Once Governor Nunn was elected, were you involved in a lot of his parties, and how did you know him personally inside of the government offices and outside? WHEELER: Well, as I say, I have known Governor Nunn since the sixties. Since 1960, in the Nixon campaign, he came up here and was the speaker for a dinner--or, not a dinner--but a speaking engagement that my wife and I had arranged for him here in Central Park, which it was very successful, too. Then I knew him in the '63 campaign when he was running for Governor and I was running for the legislature. I won, but unfortunately, he didn't. But then we kept up our acquaintanceship and contacts all along. And then when he ran in '67, why I was right there with him in that campaign. We were active in all of his campaigns. Of course, he ran for United States Senate. Later on, he ran for the governorship, later on. We were always, we've always been friends and had a lot of respect for one another. SALMONS: You were saying you have a lot of respect for Governor Nunn. What about his beliefs and views most impressed you that you'd work so hard for him? WHEELER: Well, I felt like that he was the man of the hour, the man for the times. I felt like that, he was the leader that the Republican Party needed to move us forward, and that he had the ideas and the principle. He stood for the principles of the Republican Party. So, he was just a natural for that. And he was a great campaigner, too. He really could get out, and meet people, on a one-on-one basis, or on a crowd; he was a good stump speaker. SALMONS: You said that you were active in his campaign; were you involved in any of his stump speeches, or how would you say--when you observed his speeches, how would you describe him? WHEELER: Well, he had a speaking ability. He had a very good voice. And he had the ability to speak to people on their level, whatever level of the people he was speaking. If he was speaking to just your farmers, just your average workaday person, why he was, why he could communicate with them real well. If he was speaking with the business people, or college professors, or people of that nature, why, he could communicate on that level as well. He was a well-rounded speaker and he always used a lot of the humor in his speeches. SALMONS: So he had the rare ability to basically just judge of crowd quickly and go from there. WHEELER: Yeah, he could get right to the crowd. SALMONS: If you had to describe one incident or a story that you were involved in during the Nunn administration that best sums him up, what would be your memory of that? WHEELER: Well gosh. I really can't think of a particular incident. There are so many that one just doesn't pop out right now. SALMONS: Okay. Do you have any legislation that Governor Nunn passed that you think was the most important or the best achievement of his campaign? WHEELER: Well, one thing that he was particularly interested in was trying to help the hospitals in Kentucky, particularly the mental retardation hospital. He was the--he felt that they were at about the bottom of the barrel and that they needed a lot of help. He also wanted to help in the coal mining industry and assist that, and not only the miners, but the operators as well. I mean, he wanted to help them all. He was--and another thing, yeah, he was very interested in education. He really pushed for legislation and he saw to it that in his budget, that the education in the universities got the lion's share of his budget. SALMONS: That reminds me of a piece of legislation that you worked on--I don't know if you remember it--putting free textbooks in the schools for underprivileged children. That was a very important because I know a lot of children went to the schools I went to were low-income and that enabled them to get an education much easier. WHEELER: Yeah, I remember that. If I'm not mistaken, that was one of the very first pieces of legislation that I introduced. I wanted to ease the burden on the schoolbooks. I know they're horribly expensive now, but in that time frame of that period, they were expensive as well. So, yes, I wanted to do something along that line. SALMONS: And as a cause, too, I know they're extremely expensive right now, too. It's great to know that someone was thinking of children at that time in educating because as you know, as people may not know, these two districts--when you're in Ashland and Greenup County, Carter County, and the surrounding districts, there's a lot poverty in those areas. A lot of subsistence farming, a lot of coal miners who are in and out of work, and you were speaking of the coal mining legislation during that time period. During this period, I believe, there was several mining disasters, one of which was the Buffalo Creek disaster, which was in the mid-seventies. How do you feel that the legislation that started passing in Kentucky was related to all of the mining accidents that happened during this time period? WHEELER: Rephrase that again, would you? SALMONS: I'm sorry. How do you feel that Kentucky responded to the many accidents that were happening in the mining industry at the time- -because a lot of the operators were going under the premise of, you didn't get paid for your safety installations and stuff like that. WHEELER: Well let's see now, the Buffalo Creek incident was West Virginia, now, wasn't it? SALMONS: Yes, yes. WHEELER: Right, right. Yeah, right. SALMONS: It was a big national event that kind of shocked the nation into looking at coal mining and the dangers. WHEELER: Um-hm. You know, I cannot tell you any specific legislation that Governor Nunn introduced, but I do know that he was very, very concerned. And particularly because he was very interested in people of a lower echelon. He wanted to help the people who needed help, the poor people in the state of Kentucky. SALMONS: As we were saying, in the question before, Ashland is close to Greenup and Boyd--I mean, Greenup and Carter, and all the counties are close. WHEELER: Um-hm. SALMONS: Carter and Greenup are heavy tobacco counties. How do you feel that--did the three counties work together? Did like Greenup and Carter worked together with Boyd in order to get legislation passed, to help avoid a trade-off, to help get both? WHEELER: Well, you're speaking at the time when I was in the legislature, you know. SALMONS: Right. WHEELER: At that particular time, Greenup County--I can't think of his name right now but he was a nice guy. His sons became county judges down there. I don't mean that, I mean judge executives, but they were judges and attorneys, and James Adair Davis was the representative from Carter County. We worked together well. We didn't have any problems. Occasionally, there would be what you call "party issues" that would come up that the party would establish. You know, 'You've got to support this,' or, 'You've got to fight against that.' Other than that, we collaborated in most of all the legislation. SALMONS: Like you said, Governor Nunn was really big into education spending, and other avenues, like mental retardation hospitals. WHEELER: Um-hm. Um-hm. SALMONS: Do you feel that he was responsible for the current HMOs and the home healthcare system and the clinics for mentally handicapped child, people that are in Kentucky? WHEELER: Well, I--look, I can't say that he--I can't give him credit for that but he may've have laid the groundwork for some of that has started now. SALMONS: That's what I was asking. WHEELER: Yeah, um-hm. SALMONS: Because I know that Kentucky has one of the better set-ups for that in our area--region. WHEELER: Um-hm. SALMONS: Because if you look at Kentucky, Ohio, Tennessee. WHEELER: Um-hm. SALMONS: That's interesting that it would start with Governor Nunn. WHEELER: Yeah, I--those certainly were some of his concerns. MARY WHEELER: What about KET? Did (??) about that (??) WHEELER: Yes, he did. SALMONS: Oh, thank you, ma'am. WHEELER: Yeah, matter of fact, KET was authorized under the Breathitt administration, the way I remember it correctly. But, it was funded; the initial funding was under the Nunn administration. SALMONS: You said that after the gubernatorial periods of Governor Nunn, he ran for the Senate. How was that? You said you worked in that campaign? WHEELER: Well, yeah. Yeah, I worked in the campaign as I always did. I liked to call him 'Louie.' Louie and I, we were--we were friends. Now he appointed me--just for your information now--to the board of regents at Morehead State University for a four-year term in 1968. And I served that term, and then, when my term was over, I got a letter from the newly elected Governor Wendell Ford. He thanked me for my service but he had some other plans. (both laugh) So then, later on, there were some problems, in '86 I believe, at Morehead University, and the Governor appointed me again. I served for--I take that back--he recommended me to Martha Layne Collins. And the Governor and myself and a local man, Bill Seaton and some others were appointed to the board at Morehead. And we served there for six years. SALMONS: From our conversation, I can tell that education and the furthering of education has been very important in your career. How do you feel about the current legislature cutting the budgets of like the University of Kentucky and other state-run universities, which has led to massive tuition increases over the last four years? WHEELER: Frankly, look, I'm not aware that they have actually cut. Now, they may have reduced the rate of increase now, but I don't think there's been actually budget cuts now. Now, I stand--I'm not sure about that. But I hate to see all of these massive, like 12 percent increases in tuition at the University of Kentucky, and so forth. Look, I want to get back to that. I think that there needs to be some waste elimination, and abuse, and belt-tightening, and cutbacks at some of these universities. I think that they need to get a control of their expenditures themselves. Now, it's not just the money coming in. They've got to learn to manage their monies better. SALMONS: Well, what do you think are some of their waste programs that you've seen? WHEELER: Well, I can't--really, I'm not going to be--I can't be specific. I just feel in general that some of their programs, that some of them are too ostentatious, and they have attempted to jump too far, too fast, perhaps. SALMONS: I know the UK's, their drive to be a Top 20 public university-- WHEELER: Right. SALMONS: --in so many years, I know. Would that be one of the things you can see as being? WHEELER: Well, I think that's a good thing and I think it's attainable and I hope they can achieve that. SALMONS: Another form of education was the KERA, Kentucky Education Reform Act-- WHEELER: Um-hm. SALMONS: --that passed in the early nineties. WHEELER: Um-hm. SALMONS: Do you feel that that's been good for the public education system, or? WHEELER: Well, at the beginning I wasn't sure. I really had my doubts about it. But subsequently, it seems to have, has worked out. It seems to have--it seems to have been okay. I believe, if I'm not mistaken, that the learning curve here in the state, our testing scores have been inching up, moving up. So, that's what we need, so that's what we want. So, yeah, I think it's all right. SALMONS: I'm sorry I'm asking you so many education questions but I think it's something that would be very important to you from your record. WHEELER: Um-hm. SALMONS: I've noticed in the newspapers and the call for teachers competency testing. Do you believe in that, or do you think? WHEELER: Yes, I do. I mean--(laughs)--I think, I don't see anything--I do not think there's anything wrong in that. Teachers need to be as competent as the curricula they're teaching. They need to know what they're teaching and they need to be on top of it, so they should be tested. I think they should attempt to learn more. SALMONS: Because I know from my personal experience in the public school system in Kentucky that a lot of my teachers were elderly at the time I was going. So could you see the possibility of forced retirement on those teachers, if the testing--or do something else with it? WHEELER: Well, look, I think it can be used as a guide. I mean, it can be used to point out some things. As far as forced retirement, I don't think I would be in favor of that. But it could point out to people their deficiencies, and suggestion that to their principals or their superintendents to say, 'You need to bone up on this particular field, and get more conversant with it,' or, 'Things have changed,' or, 'Things are more modern. So you need to get with the program.' SALMONS: So, if you were going to rate, overall Kentucky's secondary education program, right now compared to when you started working with it, how would you say has it changed? WHEELER: Well, I'm not sure exactly how it's changed but I think it's better. I think we have progressively moved ahead. And that it is, it's definitely better than it was. SALMONS: Were you ever in the armed services? WHEELER: No. SALMONS: After you've finished your term in the legislature, and you did other public service, did you go over to the private sector also, or is the majority of your career in public service? WHEELER: No. I've--public service has--I won't say it's been secondary because, you know, when you're in the legislature you're a part-time legislator. I've been in the wholesale hardware business since the late forties. Also in the real estate development and other things. SALMONS: How do you feel-- [Tape 1, side 1 ends; side 2 begins.] SALMONS: We were speaking about the school system. Before we stopped the tape. How do you feel about the way that the schools are growing in Kentucky and they are going to the trend of consolidation? They are getting rid of a lot of the earlier elementary schools in doing these massive, large schools where they bus the children into. What do you think that means for the current education system? WHEELER: Well, now, this isn't anything new now. The way I understand it, we've been having a consolidation of county schools for many, many years. Some people don't like it because it eliminates their local schools. But, however, I think that your students get a better education when you consolidate the schools because then the schools have the opportunity to use their resources to provide the adequate instruction and adequate learning and teaching, and they also have facilities that they didn't have. Now, if you're talking--if you're going back to the old one-room schools, or something of that nature now, but maybe you're not going back that but-- SALMONS: No, I'm not going back that far. ___ (??) The last twenty years. WHEELER: The last twenty years? Well, still, I think the consolidation is a good thing. I think it's helpful because I do think it leads to better education. SALMONS: We were talking earlier about the state of the current Republican Party. How do you feel that--with the growth in the House, do you think the leadership of the party will be able to maintain the gains they are making and hopefully increase? Or, do you think we're at a peak with the Republican Party's power? WHEELER: No, we're definitely not at a peak. Now, we have certainly done well in the Senate with David Williams. He has done a masterful job. We have the control majority there, and we'll continue to have it in this next session, and this upcoming election, I look forward to us picking up some additional House seats. We have some, we have some real good candidates out there, and Jeff Hoover, our leader in the House, is a great fellow, and he's an excellent leader. And yeah, we're the upswing in Kentucky. We definitely are. SALMONS: Do you believe in the next election that they will be able to completely control both House and Senate and gubernatorial? WHEELER: Well, now. See, the next election doesn't have all three of those, now. SALMONS: True, but I mean by the end of the next election. WHEELER: But this year, I don't believe we'll be able to get the control of the House this time. I mean we lack a few seats. But I don't think--it will be very, very close, I'm sure. As I said earlier, I'm confident we'll maintain the Senate. The governorship in '07, yeah, I believe Governor Fletcher will be reelected. I really do. I think, he will has a great record now, as far as administration, as far as his new business program to cut tax on business to create industry and jobs here in the state of Kentucky. He certainly is very interested in education, and--in our system of parks, so. And he's working very hard to bring industry into the state. MARY WHEELER: Medical (??) WHEELER: Oh, yeah, medical. MARY WHEELER: __________(??) WHEELER: Yeah, that's right. He really does. It's recognized now. His program for senior citizens is recognized, nationally. SALMONS: Speaking of parks, while we were changing over the tape, your wife reminded me something about Governor Nunn's involvement in state parks. Can you tell me about his involvement with the Greenup County's Greenbo Lake and the creation of it? WHEELER: Um-hm. Well, Greenbo Lake, it started _________________(??) got together and raised some money and bought some land and were able to dam up, I think, it was Smith Creek; I'm not sure. But down in Greenup County and they created a lake. Then, during the Nunn Administration--matter of fact, I've got some pictures in there, of where we broke ground, the state, the Governor agreed and the legislature all agreed to take over the Greenbo Park, the Greenbo Lake and to make a state park out of it. And, that's been one of the jewels here of the Kentucky State Park system and it's a very important tourist attraction for Eastern Kentucky. SALMONS: You was talking about tourism. How do you think tourism as an industry works in this region? The Boyd County, Greenup, Carter County, is it a major source of income? WHEELER: I think, it not only is a major but it has the potential to become even greater. Now, as you know, we have the US 23, the "Music Highway," and that's very important here. We have a lot of local stars from Boyd County, Greenup County, Carter County, Elliott County, Lawrence County, Johnson County, all up and down, Pike County. We also have the Paramount Theater here, which is a terrific venue for all of these stars to appear. It is drawing people. They bring busloads, now--bus tours come now to Ashland to take in the Paramount Theatre, and what's going on there, the programs, and so forth. And Winchester Avenue is being converted into an art, and library, and museum-type thing for people to view. So yeah, Ashland really has a lot to offer, as far as tourism is concerned. SALMONS: What do you think it's going to take to elevate Ashland to that next level, to where it's, you know--I know it is already attracting people, but to get to the point where it's--I don't want to say a Mecca, but maybe a strong destination, a steady destination? WHEELER: Well, I really believe and have felt for some time that Ashland is a center, is a hub here. That it's hasn't been exploited like it should be. At one time, Ashland was the business commerce center of all of, you might say, Eastern Kentucky. That is east of Lexington. But now, we have a college here that is growing by leaps and bounds. The hospital is growing by leaps and bounds in attracting a lot of people. We also have the colleges in Huntington, the colleges in Ironton, which are just across the river. This is a tri-state area and we all are working together for the common good. And I believe that we need to, as they say, toot our own horn and get this message out that Ashland is a great and growing place and a good place to live, and that you can get your culture here, and your education, and your recreation, and the enjoyment of life here. MARY WHEELER: I think the proposed riverfront development-- WHEELER: Oh, yeah. MARY WHEELER: Senator McConnell has brought in ten million dollars-- WHEELER: Ten million. MARY WHEELER: --for the development of the riverfront. We have a beautiful river out there that just pleads to be seen and developed. SALMONS: Right, riverfront development. Can you go more into that? Personally, I have not heard of that. I'm not sure if very many people outside of Ashland. That would that be the Ohio River? WHEELER: Yeah, the Ohio River. The city of Ashland, just outside the floodwall, between the twin bridges across the Ohio River, up towards 20th Street, there is riverfront. Now, at the current time, we do have a small park over there, plus there's the boat landing dock over there. And then there is an Amtrak railroad station over there, too. But, as my wife said, in the offing--it's in the planning stages--actually, it's in the developmental stages right now of a riverfront park, for hotel, restaurant, other type of amenities to attract people to Ashland. Tourism is going to be one of the growth engines here in the city of Ashland. And they're talking about building a walkway across the railroad tracks so people can get over there, you know, without worrying about the trains. SALMONS: With this growth, do you know if Ashland plans on embracing its Appalachian heritage? Like bringing--it's kind of a central location where it can branch off into West Virginia, Eastern Kentucky, all of that. Are they planning on doing anything about like a Highlands Museum? WHEELER: Well, I don't exactly what you mean by--but the Highlands Museum, of course, is a very active, ongoing organization, and they're trying to further and develop Ashland's heritage and what has gone on. Matter of fact, the Boyd County Historical Society meets there every month. And then, just across the street is that Jesse Stewart Library and they have a fountain of information of Jesse Stewart's memorabilia and history and also they sell his books and other books there, too. SALMONS: For those who might be listening to this and who would not know who Jesse Stewart is, would you mind telling who he is? WHEELER: Well Jesse Stewart, is--was one of the most famous authors in the state of Kentucky and he is known nationally and internationally. He taught college in Egypt. I think he taught college in maybe Syria and Lavount (??). He wrote numerous books about his upbringing his life in rural Greenup County, Kentucky. And I have several of his books and they are a joy to read. And he has received numerous awards for his writing ability. I know Morehead State University gave him some honorary degrees for his writings. So, yeah, he's well known. MARY WHEELER: His most famous book was Taps for Private Tussie. WHEELER: Private Tussie, yeah. MARY WHEELER: Wasn't he also Poet Laureate for Kentucky? WHEELER: Yeah, for Kentucky? I think so, I think so. Um-hm. MARY WHEELER: Wonderful poet. SALMONS: His daughter also writes. WHEELER: Does she? SALMONS: She writes short stories. WHEELER: I forget her name. I know it but I can't think of it right now. SALMONS: I can't either, to be honest. WHEELER: He was a schoolteacher, too. This is important. He started out at a one-room school, teaching, and that's where he got a lot of his background. SALMONS: Do you know anything about his political affiliation? WHEELER: Oh, yeah, he was a--(laughs)--he was a strong, rock-red Republican. Very, very good. SALMONS: Was he active in the state party, or mostly just? WHEELER: No, his activity would be mostly in Greenup County. Now, as far as him taking a leadership role, I am not aware of it, but he would attend meetings and conferences and dinners, and that type of a thing. SALMONS: Earlier on, we talked about your election to the House. How-- in your first campaign, who'd you run against? WHEELER: Well, the first campaign in 1963, I ran against the sitting Speaker of the House Harry King Lowman. We had a real, real active campaign. SALMONS: And you won? WHEELER: Yeah, I won. Yeah, I won. I've won the next three elections, too. I won four in all. SALMONS: How did defeating him, do you think advance your career and help put you on the map in the political spectrum? WHEELER: Well, I'm not so sure that put me on the map; I don't know about that. But, it was a pretty big--for him, I guess, a pretty big blow because he was the speaker of the House and he had--the state of, or the House had redistricted the state. Boyd County was divided into two districts, the 99th and the 100th district. He decided he would stay with the 100th district. That's where we ran. That's what the name of this district is, is the 100th, or the number of it. After the election was over, the Governor, Bert Combs called a special session. So, he had to go back in late November or early December, after the election was over and preside over the--because as speaker, he had to preside over the House, immediately after the election, after his defeat. SALMONS: Did he run again, or was that the? WHEELER: No, he never ran again. No. MARY WHEELER: He ran for Lieutenant Governor, didn't he? WHEELER: I don't know whether he ran for it, or he talked about it. But I don't know whether he actually ran for it. MARY WHEELER: (??) WHEELER: Did he? Whom with? MARY WHEELER: (??) WHEELER: Well, okay. SALMONS: One of the things-- MARY WHEELER: You'll have to research that. SALMONS: (laughs) Okay. SALMONS: One of the things that interest me is when somebody was elected to the legislature and they're from Eastern Kentucky, where did you live when you went to serve your term? WHEELER: I lived in the--the first term, the first one, or two terms, I stayed at the Holiday Inn in Frankfort, up on top of the hill. Now, I don't--I'm not sure that it's exactly still there or not, the same one, but there was a Holiday Inn overlooking the capital there. Later on, I roomed with Judge Homer Neikirk (??) from--I believe he was from Somerset, Kentucky. He and I--he had, I guess, a house, and he and I lived there. Other than that, it was the hotels and this one house, and that's it. SALMONS: Did they provide a living allowance or anything like that? WHEELER: We were allowed--I'm trying to remember now, a per diem, and I believe it was sixty dollars a day, at that particular time, for our food, lodging, and transportation costs, and so forth. SALMONS: Were you able--I know you have a younger family at the time- -were you able to have your family with you, or was it pretty much you by yourself? WHEELER: Oh, I was by myself. But, I invited my wife to come down frequently when we had various events either over at the mansion or political goings-on, or. Actually, I don't remember what all we did do, but she would come down. MARY WHEELER: Anything special going on. WHEELER: Yeah, special affairs, conventions, or. MARY WHEELER: Like parties, meetings, or Republican (??). WHEELER: Yeah, um-hm. SALMONS: Um-hm. During your time in office, as we know now, lobbyists are very active in getting legislation in the House. How were lobbyists during your time? WHEELER: Well, there were still--they had lobbyists, of course. But, however, we weren't--the Republicans weren't bothered much by lobbyists now. Because the Democrats controlled both the Senate and the House, and they controlled the committees, too. So, they controlled what legislation actually went to the floor. So, we--I say we--I never had many lobbyists approach me about many issues. But from what I read now, it's much worse, or much more prevalent now then it was then. SALMONS: After your last term, were you ever tempted to run again and go back in, or were you just glad to be away for a while? WHEELER: Well, I never did seek reelection. Now, I lost my last attempt. I ran for--in 1971, I ran for the Senate, the Twenty-fifth District here. I lost it to a man named Roy Ross in Johnson County, Kentucky. But after that, I never sought elective office. I did--I was appointed, reappointed to Morehead University Board, and also I served for twenty-five years on the--I was appointed to the Emergency Ambulance Board here in Ashland, Kentucky, and I served on it for twenty-five years. But I never sought elective office, although I have worked very hard and very diligently, along with my wife, for other Republican candidates. SALMONS: You worked with two very distinct Governors, Governor Breathitt and Governor Nunn. How would you characterize each of their relationships with the General Assembly? Did they have different approaches, or were they? WHEELER: During the Breathitt administration, there was quite a bit of turmoil in the legislature. Literally, turmoil. Harry Lee Waterfield was the Lieutenant Governor. And in my estimation now, there was not very good feelings between the two. Harry Lee wanted to be Governor later on. But the speaker of the House, when I first went in, didn't have very good control of the floor. There was a lot of shouting and ruckus activity that went on in the House chambers. Now that's not-- and Breathitt at first term, his first session with legislature, he was a little bit slow about getting his program out, and so forth. Now, on the second biennium election, when he was the Governor, and he had a better program out, and he got better control of legislature and was able to get his programs through. Governor Nunn was pretty dogmatic, and he had a real good control. Now he was able to work with the Democrats to get his programs across. Now there was not a great deal of--in other words (??), the Democrats didn't have that big a majority in there, and the Governor Nunn, he always said that he could get his things across. Basically, he said, "I know where the candy bars are." (both laugh) So, he knew how to work the legislators to get his programs through. He didn't have a tremendous program, which is good; he had a short program, which was dynamic. It fulfilled the programs that he wanted to get done, and then he let the legislature do the things that they wanted to do, after he got his programs through. SALMONS: It was during--I believe, if I'm remembering right--his time as Governor that the legislature started getting a little bit more power? WHEELER: Yeah. Um-hm. SALMONS: It went from being basically told, 'You pass this, to actually putting forth stuff they wanted more. Am I remembering correctly? WHEELER: Yeah. Well, the legislature started to regain some of their prerogatives and started to become equal, you might say--I won't say equal but try to become coequal branches of government. You know, we have the legislative, judicial, and executive, and so forth. So, during Nunn's administration, the legislature tried to and did reassert itself. It didn't become just a complete rubber stamp. SALMONS: What do you think enabled it to do that? WHEELER: Just good leadership is one thing. The Governors just didn't have the complete control that they had, had previously and historically. And I'll say this to you; I really feel about it. That they were a better educated--some people take issue with this, I know--but I think they were better qualified group of legislators that went into office that were elected, and they weren't--there again, some people will take issue with this--but they weren't just old party hacks. I mean, they were people who had agendas who wanted to get things done. SALMONS: This was a generation of people mostly born either during, or after World War II. WHEELER: Well, they were born prior to World War II now. SALMONS: Yeah, I'm thinking late forties, so they were growing up late forties, and so early forties, mid-forties, a lot. WHEELER: Well, they were born during the twenties and thirties now, most of these people that I served with. SALMONS: So the ages were usually in the forties when they got into the legislature. MARY WHEELER: You were thirty-four. WHEELER: Yeah, um-hm. SALMONS: Okay and you think--so you're saying this was a generation that obtained, worked hard, obtained their education, and now were going into a life of public service, a lot of 'em? WHEELER: A lot of them, right. SALMONS: I've noticed that reading your biography from the Legislature Research Commission that one thing you talked about was your faith. You are a Baptist? WHEELER: Yes, um-hm. SALMONS: How do you feel that your faith either influenced, or did not influence your votes and approaches to government? WHEELER: Well, obviously, I believe in the Baptist faith and I believe that we have a right of free will, of free choice. I would consider that in making decisions, if it warranted it; now, every decision wasn't based on faith, of course. Those that did, I guess, I would consider that, but. Actually, I didn't vote along religious lines. There were very few things that came up that had to do directly with religion. SALMONS: How do you feel about the separation of church and state? Do you feel that the school systems have went too far, in like outlawing Ten Commandments, no prayers before Assembly or do you think it's something? WHEELER: Yeah, I sure do. I'm definitely old school. I can remember going to school. In the first thing, in the morning said the pledge to the flag, and said a prayer. I don't think that hurt anybody. I think it was good for everybody. You know, if a person didn't want to pray, they didn't have to, you know. It wasn't said, 'You had to,' but we did. We all wanted to. Yeah, I think, in this respect, that's one reason that the Republican Party is stronger statewide and nationally because some people view the other party as maybe not as religious as perhaps the Republicans are. Maybe that's a broad statement but people do feel that way. SALMONS: With the advent of President Bush, the current George W. Bush, we've had a lot more of almost a going back to the faith-based initiatives of the early eighties. Do you think that's one of the reasons helping him to maintain his path and--he's had a lot of hard decisions--do you think that is either helping, or hurting the Republican Party nationally, not just in the state of Kentucky? WHEELER: Well, it certainly isn't hurting. It would help the Republican Party, his faith-based initiatives. And it's--frankly, I think, that's put the other people down because they don't--they're just too liberal. And the core of the Republican Party is standing with the President. SALMONS: While you were in office--this is a very broad question--did you have any political heroes that you looked up to and tried to model your legislative career? WHEELER: Well, I had a fellow that I really worked very hard for and I liked very much. And he is, unfortunately, was the only President that ever had to resign. But Richard Nixon was a man that I felt was a man of the hour in the sixties and the seventies. I think that he's the one that brought the Vietnam War to a close. Yeah, I did look up to him. I thought and still feel like he was a great man. SALMONS: Did you ever get the opportunity to meet him? WHEELER: Yes, I met Richard Nixon in nineteen--well, I met him more than once. When Governor Nunn, he had him at the Kentucky Derby Breakfast, and I met--he wasn't President then. I met Richard Nixon then. And in 1968, at the Republican National Convention in Miami, Florida, I had the chance to meet Richard Nixon and his wife Pat, I met them at the airport there at Miami. Yeah, we had him--he was here at Ashland, Kentucky in, I believe, it was 1972. They had a huge rally for him at the high school. Yeah, it was a tremendous event. SALMONS: Were you one of the sponsors of the rally? WHEELER: Well, we were the--my wife was, I think she was chairman of that event there. We worked with the Republican Party, and the Secret Service, and everybody else in organizing this event. SALMONS: Would you say it was one of the heights of your political career? Getting to meet him, or what would you say was one of the--if you had to pick the high point of what you felt was the height of your career political career? What would you choose as that event? WHEELER: The highest event was when I won my first election to the Kentucky House; that was my high watermark, right there. (laughs) SALMONS: What would you say was your biggest surprise in the legislature, once you got there and got involved? WHEELER: I guess the biggest surprise, to me, was the committee system and the fact how the opposition party controlled all the committees, and they controlled the legislation, and they only let out on the floor for votes only those measures that they deemed that they wanted to support. And somebody might have a pretty good piece of legislation, but if he didn't have the somehow or another get the support of the majority party, he couldn't even get it out of the committee to be voted on. So that was a shock to me. I didn't realize that the committee system worked that strong or that they had such a control over the legislation. SALMONS: As we were talking earlier, you were speaking of a resolution that you got past about proportional representation? How did you ever get that through with the--was it when with the Republican Party came to power, was able to get that through, or? [Pause in recording.] SALMONS: While you were in the Kentucky legislature, what would you consider was the biggest issue that you dealt with? WHEELER: Education. SALMONS: Education? WHEELER: Education was the paramount issue that we dealt with. The funding, seeing that there was adequate monies for education. There never was enough, but we just had to stretch it and do as best we could to see that it was adequately funded to the best of our ability. SALMONS: How were you able to--I know that during this time period, the funding did increase--how were you able to find the money to increase it? WHEELER: Now, which particular era of time are you talking about? SALMONS: Throughout your career, starting with Breathitt and moving forward. WHEELER: Well, under the Breathitt administration, of course, he would submit his budget to the legislature, and it would have certain monies, funds earmarked for education. Now, education, as a rule, received at least 60 percent of the budget, of the total budget. Now, in the Nunn Administration, the way I remember it, we did have to increase taxes. We did have to increase the sales tax from three-cents to five-cents and one of the reasons was because that we found out after the election in 1967 that there was a shortfall. That Governor Breathitt announced that there weren't enough funds. That we were--that the government was short of funds. So when Governor Nunn came in, why he, in some respects, in order to maintain the current level of government, and then to do the things that we needed to do, we had to increase the sales tax. So, we increased it by an additional two-cents. And with those monies, we were able to do a lot of things for education, particularly for the universities. We were able to--I can't think of anything specific but we did do a lot for higher education. And we did a lot for mental hospitals, and for the state park systems, and so forth. So, the money was very wisely used. SALMONS: Was there a backlash--on the next election, was there a backlash to this tax increase? Was a lot of current members-- WHEELER: Yes, there was. Yes, there was. There definitely was a backlash. People in Kentucky are conservative and they don't like- -they prefer not to pay taxes and we all feel that way about it. But taxes, I guess, are sort of the corner of the realm; you have to have something to operate the government on. In the next election, why, unfortunately some of the people who voted for the tax increase, they lost. But, you notice they never rescinded it, and they have increased it since then, too. [Pause in recording.] SALMONS: Since you've had several years to reflect about what you did in the legislature, is there anything that you wish you could change, or anything that you think about now you would do differently now than you did then? WHEELER: (pause) No, I don't. I don't think of anything. I can't think of anything. I tried to do it, I tried to do the right thing at the time. I tried to cast the votes that I thought were in the best interest of the Commonwealth, in the best interest of the citizens of Ashland and Boyd County. No, I can't think of anything--I can't think of any votes I would change. SALMONS: Did you ever have any conflicts between your personal convictions and what your constituents would want you to vote with? WHEELER: Not, not really, anything--now, I mentioned to you earlier that the voting for the civil rights act of the open housing, I did have some backlash on that. But it wasn't a serious backlash because I went on to win the next election. It wasn't an issue in the next election for me. SALMONS: If you were to compare politics in Frankfort now as to when you were in office, what do you think the greatest changes are and what's still the same? WHEELER: Well, I think some of the greatest changes are the independence of the legislature. I really do believe the legislature has asserted itself and that they have--that now they are more of a coequal branch of government. When I was in the legislature, particularly in the early part, why, it was--I won't call it rubberstamped; that would be an inappropriate thing. But lots of times, the legislation, because the other party had such a majority, they could just call all the shots, and they got their legislation through. SALMONS: If you had to start over and you are young man again running for public office in current times, would you still do it? WHEELER: Yeah, I'd do it. Sure, I surely would. It was a good experience and I enjoyed it. Now it was a hardship on my wife and on the family. I regret that part. I was away from my children when they were in their early formative years, I regret that. But thank goodness, it wasn't a full-time thing. We only met for sixty days every other year. We did have committee meetings perhaps every other month but that would be the biggest thing. SALMONS: If you had advice to give someone who is considering a career in politics right now, what advice would you give them? WHEELER: Well, let's see. What advice would you give someone? I think that one of the things that I would do is tell them to get as much education as they can get. And to study history, and to study English, and to know your constituents, to know your state, to find out what the problems are that are in your area and in the state, and then try to help resolve those. SALMONS: Well, I want to thank you for your time today because I noticed our time is almost up, regretfully. I really appreciate all the time you gave me and the questions you've answered. Hopefully we can, after digesting this, we can do this again if you'd like. WHEELER: I'd be happy to. SALMONS: Thank you, sir. WHEELER: Thank you. [Tape 1, side two ends.] [End of interview.] Wheeler (House 1964-1972, 100th district; Republican) discusses his background of public service in Ashland, the growing popularity of the Republican Party in Kentucky, changes in campaign funding, industrial development and pullout in Ashland, civil rights legislation, his impressions of the Breathitt and Nunn administrations, and his work campaigning for party members. Key legislation in education funding and reform, and state parks is included. insert here