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2006-08-18 Interview with Frederic "Fred" J. Cowan, August 18, 2006 Leg001:2006OH150 Leg 140 1:29:52 Kentucky Legislature Oral History Project Louie B. Nunn Center for Oral History, University of Kentucky Libraries Legislators -- Kentucky -- Interviews. Political campaigns -- Kentucky. Capital punishment -- Kentucky. Child abuse -- Law and legislation -- Kentucky. Kentucky. Governor (1987-1991 : Wilkinson) Kentucky. Governor (1991-1995 : Jones) Kentucky. Governor (1995-2003 : Patton) Wilkinson, Wallace G. Jones, Brereton Patton, Paul E., 1937- Practice of law Gore, Albert, 1948- Clinton, Bill, 1946- Kerry, John, 1943- Sloane, Harvey I. Namibia Bosnia and Hercegovina Child Support Enforcement Project Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe Elections -- Corrupt practices Voter registration -- Corrupt practices Campaign funds -- Law and legislation Child support -- Law and legislation Child abuse Youth Juvenile delinquents Capital punishment Governors -- Transition periods Louisville (Ky.) Hollenback, Todd Axelrod, David Child Support Enforcement Commission Lynch, Cox, Gilman and Mahan, LLC campaigning State Attorney General candidacy County Judge Executive candidacy U.S. Senator candidacy Lieutenant Governor candidacy Circuit Judge candidacy voter fraud campaign finance reform role of the media gubernatorial succession University of Kentucky Board of Trustees Wilkinson, Martha Term/District: House (1982-1987), 32nd district Counties in District: Jefferson County (Ky.) Frederic "Fred" J. Cowan; interviewee Christy Bohl; interviewer 2006OH150_LEG140_Cowan 1:|17(6)|28(11)|40(5)|51(7)|64(4)|76(9)|91(3)|102(13)|119(2)|134(12)|145(4)|158(3)|172(11)|184(2)|196(8)|211(4)|222(16)|236(2)|247(2)|260(2)|271(7)|286(12)|304(2)|316(14)|326(10)|338(2)|348(6)|357(9)|375(6)|388(6)|402(10)|413(8)|433(2)|446(3)|457(8)|468(2)|480(8)|493(9)|507(11)|521(7)|533(8)|546(5)|559(11)|570(12)|581(7)|595(12)|620(1)|634(12)|652(12)|667(2)|680(8)|691(13)|710(11)|723(9)|737(6)|753(11)|766(2)|778(2)|791(2)|806(1)|820(8)|831(9)|844(9)|857(12)|870(4)|883(12)|897(12)|915(8)|927(10)|942(10)|956(7)|971(11)|981(5)|1002(3)|1015(4)|1023(9)|1036(1)|1050(7)|1063(12)|1074(2)|1094(8)|1109(11)|1126(10)|1141(10)|1154(4)|1175(7)|1189(5)|1200(11)|1213(2)|1230(4) audiotrans Legit interview COWAN: The following is an unrehearsed interview with former State Representative Frederick J. "Fred" Cowan, who represented Jefferson County in the Thirty-Second District from 1982 to 1987. The interview was conducted by Christy Bohl, the University of Kentucky Library, Kentucky Legislative Oral History Project, on Friday, August 18, 2006 in the office of Fred Cowan, in Louisville, Kentucky, at 1:30 PM. Testing one, two, three, four. BOHL: We're good. COWAN: Okay; where were we? BOHL: Okay. This afternoon I'm talking with Fred Cowan again. Last time we wrapped up by discussing your decision to run for state attorney general, and you wanted to talk about that campaign. COWAN: Okay. The campaign was a pretty interesting campaign, in that I was in the legislature, of course. I had been lining up support, and I kept hearing rumors about this fellow named Todd Hollenbach, who was the former county judge executive in Jefferson County and who had, at one point, run for Governor against Julian Carroll. He'd been sort of a boy wonder in Jefferson County and had been elected county judge executive when he was twenty-nine or thirty-one, or something like that, and then he got beat by Mitch McConnell in a very famous campaign where McConnell used an effective commercial against him. Hollenbeck later came back and got elected commonwealth's attorney. So he was in a position to run for attorney general theoretically, I heard these rumors, and he finally announced that he was going to run. I felt that I was more qualified than he and had more support. However, he had a lot more name recognition than I did because he had, in fact, been county judge executive for two terms. He had run statewide against Julian Carroll. So, we did a poll after I got in the race--or after he got in the race--and in the first poll, I think he was ahead of me like 42 percent to 9 percent or something like that. Of course, I didn't tell anybody about that because if I'd told anybody about that, I wouldn't have been able to raise any money. We effectively raised a lot of money. Then as we got close to the May primary, we realized that we would have to attack him; so we ran some very effective series of ads attacking him because when he was county judge executive, he had been subject to a couple of grand jury investigations, and we used that effectively against him. Then in the middle of the campaign, there was an issue that came up about whether he had been involved in a hit-and- run accident. He basically said, that he hadn't done anything wrong, and, you know, they left the scene of the accident. They hadn't done anything wrong. I raised this issue against him in the debate we had on KET and had a press conference the next day because he denied he'd done nothing wrong, and I had a press conference that showed the law that says that if you're involved in an accident where somebody may be seriously injured, you have an obligation, ordered by statute, to stop, and he had not stopped. So, basically, we said, "Either you are lying now, Mr. Hollenbach, or you were lying back then when you said that you did nothing wrong when you left the scene of the accident." So that was used pretty effectively against him. We put that in a radio ad and got tremendous support from the editorial pages of the newspapers, and the result was that I won the election 51 percent to 40, I think, and there was a third person in the race that got 8 percent or 9. So that was a dramatic win. It was really my pollster--or not my pollster--my media person, David Axelrod, who subsequently went on to handle a lot of well-known campaigns, including Barack Obama and John Edwards in his Presidential campaign and some other ones. David Axelrod told me at that time. He said, "Well, this election is really about, going to be referendum on Todd Hollenbach. It's not about Fred Cowan; it's about Todd Hollenbach." So, that was kind of my first lesson in real politics, so to speak. In how you get elected, I mean. You know, I got elected because people didn't like Todd Hollenbeck. I mean they liked me. I was fine, but it wasn't a simple question of who, you know, if they liked me better or whatever. The fall election had really token Republican opposition. At that time, there was really a one-party state for the most part, certainly in the lower offices below the level of Governor. There was hardly ever any serious opposition in statewide elections from Republicans; so it was pretty much an easy campaign. In the primary, I wound up raising more money at the time than anybody had ever raised in an attorney general's race, and I think may still be the record to today. It was about a half million dollars, which doesn't sound like a lot of money, but for an attorney general's race at that time, it was. Anyway, so I became attorney general and started--actually, even before I became attorney general, I started doing some stuff. So, I could go into that if you'd like or whatever. BOHL: If you'd like, go on. COWAN: Okay. Sure. Yeah. The first issue we really tackled--I'd like to think of my tenure as attorney general as being a very active one in which we addressed some serious issues that the commonwealth had. There had been a lengthy series of articles in the Courier-Journal about election fraud in Kentucky and very extensive, thorough research. So I announced the formation, even before I was sworn into office, of a task force to address this problem, come up with legislative solutions. We did that. It was an effective group of people. Later on, the Legislature Research Commission also set up its own task force, as I recall. We had a whole series of legislation, a legislative package for that upcoming session in the General Assembly, and passed a substantial amount of it, including things like limitations on election ring around the polls, allowing for audits, random audits of elections, allowing the attorney general to observe elections around the state, setting up statewide complaint bases, et cetera. Some of that was recently, within the last couple of years, struck down by the United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit. When they held, that some of it was unconstitutional and was restriction on free speech, which always kind of bothered me because I knew how prevalent election fraud was in certain parts of the state where people would be paid to vote certain ways. Anyway. That was a good battle, and we were largely successful, and so we got the campaign off, I mean, we got my term as attorney general off to a good start. BOHL: How did you come to election fraud as something that you were really going to target? COWAN: Well, kind of accidentally. I mean, it was really, it became obvious that the newspapers had kind of made it a major public issue, in the Courier, particularly. But, you know, the Herald had been--it had been an issue in Kentucky for years and years. Every now and then, there were prosecutions. You know. It was well known that there was some serious problems, particularly Eastern Kentucky, in some other parts of the states but particularly Eastern Kentucky in the mountains. It was just obvious that the attorney general had to address these questions. I mean the legislature could have done it, could have taken the bull by the horns, but you know, legislature is a little slower to act, and it was appropriate for somebody in an executive branch to do it. It wasn't the type of issue that the Governor would necessary take on. So I sort of jumped in the vacuum there and made some things happen. So I was proud of the results we got. BOHL: Similarly, campaign finance seems to be something that has been an issue for you throughout most of your career, both in the legislature and as attorney general. How did these-- COWAN: Yeah, I was always concerned about that because--that really dated back to my days when I worked for Harvey Sloane, he ran for Governor and when John Y. Brown came in there at the very end and put a million dollars of his own money into the race and kind of blew Harvey away. It became obvious to me, then, that money played such an essential role in elections, that I always wanted to kind of deal with it in some way. When I was in a legislature, I'd proposed some legislation to limit pack contributions, et cetera. It never went anywhere. I didn't deal with campaign finance reform as attorney general until a couple years later. We had a bill in the--I drafted a bill with the help of staff to try to institute some type of public financing of gubernatorial campaigns. We made some progress in a legislature that didn't get very far. The speaker of the House, at that time Don Blandford, was opposed to it. So we didn't really make a lot of progress, but I like to think that it kind of laid the groundwork for what later became Kentucky's public financing law, which, of course, has now been repealed, but was in effect for, I guess, the 1990--which election am I in--1995 election. I think there was public financing in the 1999 election. Then there was that big budget fight in, whatever two or three years ago, and it was when the House wanted to keep it in place, and the Senate wanted to repeal it, and eventually the House gave in. So that was an issue. I mean, I think money continues to be a problem in politics. I am one of the more effective fundraisers in Kentucky politics. I think, I have been shown to be one of the more effective ones, but I think it takes too much time for candidates. They spend all their time worrying about raising money. I think it tends to make you listen to people who have money more than people who don't have money, which is a logical outcome. You know, in my case, there was never any quid pro quo for anything, but that temptation is there, and there are some people who have tried that. I mean I have had a couple of instances where people, in essence, offered me bribes if I would agree to write an opinion a certain way or do something a certain way. I remember one case when I was running for Lieutenant Governor, at the end of my term as attorney general, and some folks came over to talk to me about an opinion they wanted out of the attorney general's office, and they were telling me about this problem, et cetera., and I said, "Okay, well, we'll look into and we'll do our best to come up with an opinion." Because it was in the middle of the campaign, and I was actually meeting with them in the campaign office, they got out their checkbooks, and they said, "Okay, who do I make this check payable to?" I said, "No, no, no, no- -(both laugh)--you don't understand." So, they never, they didn't write the checks, and we didn't accept them, but again, that kind of thing, that kind of influence with money in politics can make a difference. You know, there has been a tremendous amount written about that and the supreme court's position on that, as represented in the Buckley case has always troubled me. Recently, I'm a little bit more--I tend to be a little bit more supportive of that decision than I was, but I still don't like that. It still seems to me that the first amendment should not be read in such a way as to prevent restrictions on types of campaign financing that have been struck down by the courts. But, anyway, be that as it may. Yeah, that has always been an interest of mine, but we were interested in a lot of other things. As attorney general, I ran a platform of trying to improve the collection of child support, which was a major emphasis of mine. We got some changes in the legislature and legislation on that. We set up something called a Child Support Enforcement Commission that involved the attorney general in it. The reason the attorney general is involved in child support at all is that the county attorneys around the state are on the front line of collecting child support, and the attorney general is a chief prosecutor of the state and head of the unified prosecutorial system. In a way, oversees that, although the attorney general's office itself has no direct statutory role in the collection of child support. But we were involved in that the whole four years and helped improve that collection system quite a bit. There were some opposition to our efforts to improve that from some legislatures, who frankly, I think, probably took the position that, you know, men were abused by the system, and that, you know, lots of--well, it could be women, but mostly men since they are mostly the noncustodial parents and mostly the people who pay the child support--that they were, you know, being manipulated by women, or that women were not spending the money on the children, or that the women weren't letting the men see the children, et cetera. I'm sure there are elements of truth to all that. The huge scandal of failure to pay child continues to this day. It's a terrible crime when a father or a mother won't support their children. We were able to address those issues and hopefully do something. I won an award for that from the National Child Support Enforcement Association. I felt like we did something effective there. That was another one. So do you want me to talk about another issue or what--? BOHL: Um-hm. COWAN: --I mean I can talk about a lot of things I did as an attorney general that were--I guess one thing that kind of stands out that I thought was important was my arguing a case before the United States Supreme Court on the upholding Kentucky's right to impose the death penalty for juveniles. That has now been overturned by the US Supreme Court, but we argued, I argued that case. I worked very hard in the preparation for it and spend about a month preparing it, even though I didn't have a background, per se, in criminal law. I have certainly argued cases before appellate courts and felt that I could do that. It was quite an experience, a thrilling experience to get to argue before the US Supreme Court, and we won that case. I think we won it five to four, as I recall. It was kind of ironic for me as a Democrat to have the support of all the Republican appointees in the Supreme Court, but we did win that. One little footnote to that was, I was kind of disturbed because the newspaper wrote an article at one point implying somehow that I shouldn't have been arguing this case. I should've let my staff argue this case rather than me argue this case. So I had some friends in Washington, who knew what the score was, to write the newspaper and say, "Look, you know, the Supreme Court likes it when attorney generals argue cases. They like when the chief law enforcement person actually can argue the case." So, that was kind of a retort to that, but that always kinda upset me that somehow picked on me for--I mean I'm a lawyer. I'm the head of the attorney general's office. Why shouldn't I argue the case before the US Supreme Court if I am capable of doing it? Anyway, that was just a minor thing. But that was something, that was certainly something I remember a lot as part of the office as my four years as attorney general. COWAN: Your people, who might listen to this, might be interested in my relationship with Wallace Wilkinson, who is Governor. Wilkinson was a very controversial Governor. He was a confrontational Governor, a very personable man, a very intense man, a very successful businessman. But, he was not a traditional politician. He was not used to smooth talk to the press or anything like that. He was constantly getting in trouble with them for what apparently were ethical violations and so forth. As it turned out, Wilkinson, in my opinion, was one of the more old-style Governors who appointed only his friends, punished his enemies, appointed people in positions that they were incompetent to hold, just because they were his friends and then got in a lot of trouble--which I will talk about a little bit later with--in terms of his fundraising practices. But when we initially went in there, the Governor needs the attorney general, and the attorney general needs the Governor. It's sort of a symbiotic relationship, or can be. So he kept doing these things, and they would wind up somehow in my lap with people requesting opinions about certain things he was doing or certain things that some of the members of his cabinet wanted to do. I didn't seem to be going along with him very well. One time, early on, even before this happened, he came to me because his major interests, or one of his major interests early in administration was to get a constitutional amendment put on the ballot that would allow him to run to succeed himself. So I had just been elected attorney general and hadn't been in office two months, I don't think, and had just come out--this was 1988, and the 1990 Senate election was not as far away as you might think because the primary at that point was eighteen months away, and Harvey Sloane, my old mentor, was planning on running for United States Senate, for the Democratic nomination and run against Mitch McConnell. Well, he'd had a falling out with Wilkinson because, even though Wilkinson had been his fundraising chairman when Sloane had run for Governor, the second time and lost. Sloane had wound up, and when Wilkinson ran for Governor four years later or eight years later, whenever it was, wound up endorsing or quietly being for Steve Beshear, one of Wilkinson's opponents. So Wilkinson was really upset with Sloane and wanted to get somebody in a race against Sloane, desperately. Here I'd been in office two months as attorney general and I was walking down the hall, or actually, I was leaving a meeting on child support, which was on the first floor of the capitol in one of the conference rooms there, and Wilkinson kind of grabs me and says, "Fred, can I see you for a second." He walks down a hall and he was always--he's a big hugger, and he puts his arm through my arm or whatever, and he says, "Now, Fred, you know, all these people have come to me and want to run for the United States Senate. There is Bobby Richardson. There is Jody Richards." I can't remember who else he said. He said, "None of those people can win, but you can win. If you will go along with me and support the things I support, I will support you for Senate. You know, we'll get you elected senator." And I said to him, "Well, you know"--I mean hadn't even really been thinking about it. I mean, here, as I said, I had just been attorney general two months-- BOHL: Um-hm. COWAN: --and he was already talking to me about running for the United States Senate. I said, "Well, I'll think about it, Governor. Let me know, or you know, let's think about it, whatever." Well, between that time and the time where an opportunity came where I had actually had thought, was seriously thinking about running for the Senate, it became clear that Wilkinson and I were not going to see eye-to-eye. I was in a position where I did not really respect him, and he kind of knew I was kind of a thorn in his side. I was kind of in the way with some issues that he was dealing with and so forth. So, a long story short, he never supported me for the United States Senate, and I never ran for the United States Senate, at that time. But history might have turned out differently if I had gone along with him, and, you know, been a good lapdog for him and done what he wanted to do and written opinions that he liked. Because the Governor can be very powerful, in terms of, you know, raising money and helping you as a candidate. He ultimately got a guy named John Brock, who was a superintendent of public instruction in the race, and Brock never had enough money to beat Sloane. Sloane won at Democratic primary and then went on to lose to McConnell in the fall. So, anyway, that was a little interesting side note to that. Wilkinson was very good with people. I saw him--a state trooper named Johnny Edrington--I think was his name--was shot and killed on Highway 80 outside of Somerset, I think, one night with his own pistol. They never found who shot and killed him. I went with the Governor to his funeral. I think it was in Campbellsville, in one of those cities down there; I'm pretty sure Campbellsville. I saw him console the widow and talk to the widow, and I was very impressed with the way he was dealing with those people on an individual basis. But again, he was a very controversial Governor. Later on, when I ran for Lieutenant Governor, he played a role in my defeat as running for Lieutenant Governor. But, back to the attorney general's job, I think we did a lot of good things. We were very much involved in dealing with child sexual abuse. We wrote a whole series of new protocols through our victim's advocacy division on dealing with child sexual abuse. Then we turned around and did this similar thing for domestic violence, and we helped highlight domestic violence as an issue and got a lot of changes in the system. An extensive task force that dealt with these things, and effectively kind of redid a lot of the system for domestic violence in the state, and helped coordinate all the different parties that had to work to go to the social side, the state police side, the local folks, et cetera. I was proud to be involved in that. That may have been the best thing I did, as attorney general was help to put that task force together and lead that. The Lexington Herald was really promoting the issue and dealing with the issue, and they subsequently won a Pulitzer Prize, as a matter of fact, for their series of editorials dealing with that. One of those--don't have it hanging up now--but one of those was very praiseworthy of my efforts and our office's efforts, and so I'm proud of that. So, we did a lot of good there. Gee, there was a lot of other things going on. A lot of it seemed to revolve around Wilkinson and the tension between my office and the Governor's office, a lot of the things that I recall. Of course, there are always opinions that people were asking us for. Some of which were controversial. We did a good work for the Public Utilities Commission and the Public Service Commission and did a number of things there. Insurance rates, I personally argued a case before the Kentucky Supreme Court, dealing with insurance rates and raising individual rates, and so that was effective. I guess, I don't know, there are probably a bunch of other things about being attorney general that I should mention. We worked on a lot of other legislation, consumer protection legislation, et cetera. But those are the things I have already mentioned, and I think are probably the ones I'm proudest of in my role as attorney general. As 1990, as we rolled into 1990 and then 1991 elections were coming, I had to make a decision what I was going to do politically since I could not run for reelection as attorney general. That was not a question. I think was fairly well known. I had gotten a fair amount of publicity. Made a few enemies but basically had pretty positive name recognition in the state. I told you I made a decision not to run for the United States Senate probably sometime in 1989. So 1990, the real question is whether I'd run for Governor or Lieutenant Governor, and Lieutenant Governor's job is a historically, at that time, a stepping-stone to running for Governor in Kentucky. It's kind of the logical thing, sort of, like Vice President of the United States is the logical position to run for President. But I was really interested in thinking about running for Governor because frankly, I was an activist person, and I like to get a lot of things done, and Lieutenant Governor didn't have any power. I mean it was like a zippo job. I mean it's sort of the same as Vice President. It was Harry Truman, or who was it who said that being Vice President is not worth a warm bucket of spit or something like that, or a bucket of warm spit? BOHL: Right. COWAN: Whoever said that, I mean, it was pretty similar being Lieutenant Governor. Since the attorney general had a staff of a couple hundred people and was always involved in things, it sure seemed to be logical that the attorney general ought to be in a position to run for Governor. Frankly, attorney generals around the country were running frequently. I mean that was a clear stepping-stone in other states to run for Governor. It wasn't a very successful one. In fact, at one point, while I was attorney general, we counted something like of forty-one attorney generals who had run for Governor or senator; thirty-eight of them had lost. It was not a good position because you got a lot of publicity, but you did a lot of things, and because of the nature of modern campaigning, when you do things you make enemies, and you give people reason to criticize you, and you may not handle things exactly right. So anyway, I had to decide whether to run and was very interested in doing that. Quite frankly, would have run for sure, probably except for fact that Brereton Jones, who was the Lieutenant Governor at the time, was doing a great job of rounding up support for himself, and that's what he was doing for all his time as Lieutenant Governor was running for Governor. I mean, that's what Lieutenant Governors do basically, and he had really gathered a lot of support. He was a very nice, charming man and he had a lot of support. Ultimately, I decided that--and I did some polling, which was not encouraging, but it was not totally discouraging either, but ultimately, I decided that was too big of a thing for me to bite off at that time. Okay, so I decided to run for lieutenant Governor instead. That's when there were several--I think, five of us in a race--we got in a race. Paul Patton, of course, who is the county judge executive of Pike County; he had run for lieutenant Governor four years before. Bobby Richardson, a former speaker of the House, was running. Pete Worthington, who was a speaker pro tem of the House--did he run? Yeah, I think he ran very briefly. Yeah, which he had no business running. Ray Corns, who was a Franklin circuit judge who had made the initial historic decision to overturn the Kentucky system, or to declare the Kentucky school system unconstitutional, which ultimately led to KERA. He ran for lieutenant Governor. Another guy, and I don't know why he ran at out, John Fitzstewart (??) a nice guy. He was a labor lawyer who didn't have any background, he ran. So there were maybe--oh, Steve Collins, the son of the former Governor, Martha Lane Collins, he ran for Lieutenant Governor. So there may be six of us in a race. It became obvious after a short period of time, I think, that Patton and I were the main leading candidates for that race. I spent a lot. That's when I first spent a tremendous a lot of time raising money. We raised over a million dollars for that primary, which was far more, I think, than any Lieutenant Governor or anybody for Lieutenant Governor had ever raised before. Wound up spending that. That was a pretty dramatic. Then something happened that was very dramatic that changed the whole course of my political career. Really, you know, in the long run, changed the course of my life and resulted in me losing that election. That was an election I should have won. I was ahead in the polls, not by a whole lot, but by enough, over Patton, and I was--[knock on door] [Pause in recording.] COWAN: Are we back on? Yeah? BOHL: Yes. COWAN: That was a pretty dramatic thing, and that related to Wallace Wilkinson indirectly. Wilkinson had, because since he could not succeed himself and did not get his wish done, he decided that his wife should run for Governor, Lurleen Wallace and George Wallace in Alabama. His wife had no business running for Governor. I mean, she is a nice lady, but she didn't know anything about public policy, and, you know, she was just not capable of being Governor, and he was going to be the Governor basically while she was Governor. That was his idea. So he got her in a race, and because of the Governor's tremendous ability to raise money, he was really raising money for her, you know, and the way his people were running money for her--and this is where I got involved--got to be very iffy, at best, if not outright illegal because they were twisting arms, you know, for road contractors and other people who wanted to do business with the state to make contributions to her campaign. As a result, I set up a special unit, or so I said, to investigate this and these kinds of fundraising practices. Of course, this upset Wilkinson no doubt, but I felt like it was the right thing to do. We impaneled a grand jury to investigate some of this fundraising, and it was a joint grand jury with the US attorney's office in Lexington, and we started calling witnesses in, et cetera, et cetera. In early May--and the primary is at the end of May--in early May, we got some indictments of some people and mostly for laundering money. It is illegal in our Kentucky law, as under most states, to give somebody money to then give to the candidate because that is laundering. You've got to give money in your own name, if you are going to give money. Well, as a common practice, to ignore that law or not, or people weren't aware of it, and it happened all the time. So, in the course of the grand jury investigation, we had documents that basically showed that this was going on, and the grand jury indicted some people in early May. Well, about two weeks before the election, one of the people who had been called before the grand jury as a witness and whom we had just granted immunity to, so he could testify, held a press conference that was going to be over in Lexington and produced a letter that had come from my campaign, that I had allegedly signed, saying, you know, "We'd like you to make a contribution." At the bottom of which was a handwritten note that said something like, Joe Whatever-His-Name-Was, "This is a critical time in my career. I really need your help. I will never forget your help." Well, it turns out he had gotten this letter either right before or right after he had been subpoenaed to appear before the grand jury. Well, I hadn't known about it at the time. The actual writing on the letter was somebody on my staff. I did not sign it, but. I did not actually write that note, although I had signed some notes to other people with similar language. He held out this letter, and he said, "I got this letter right before or after I was subpoenaed, and I think this was an example of terrible leadership," implying that somehow I was coercing a campaign contribution from him, in return for me going light on him, or making some kind of a trade. He had held this. He had gone to the Patton people, and he had held this letter until like a month later. He had actually--in the meantime, they had actually run a commercial- -the Patton people knew about this too, and they had actually run a commercial saying something to the effect--this would have been about a little over two weeks before the election--saying something to the effect that, you know, "Even Cowan's hometown newspaper, the Courier- Journal doesn't endorse him. Why is this? Stay tuned." I mean they kind of put a teaser out there. It was a very effective commercial. Then it turns out shortly after this commercial--and I didn't know what he was talking about. We had no idea what he was talking about. Then it comes out that this big press conference. Well, the Courier-Journal had really made a big deal out of this. They made a huge deal out of this. Made a front-page story out of it and really made me look like a crook. I was very disappointed in them because they knew me, and they knew I wasn't a crook, but they nevertheless thought I had been--they were right in one thing; I had been pretty aggressive in my fundraising. I never, you know, made any promises or any quick quid pro quo, but I had been pretty insistent about people making contributions and more so than I should have probably, but certainly nothing illegal. They made it look like it was the worse kind of thing that had ever been happened, and this letter had gone out, which was really part of--these were just mass mailings. The campaign did not communicate with attorney general's office about who had been subpoenaed and who hadn't been subpoenaed, and when this letter was sent out from the campaign, it certainly had no intention whatsoever of putting the squeeze on this guy, and they didn't even know the guy was appearing before the grand jury. But, nevertheless, this all came out, and as a result of this and some extended articles, I loss the race. At one point, one of the people who had been indicted called my office--and this is something that has never been in the papers--called my office and talked to deputy attorney general and said, "If we want to do this plea bargain, we will accept a misdemeanor plea"--because these are felonies they were charged--" a misdemeanor plea, and if you don't accept this plea bargain, then we're gonna have a press conference, and we're gonna say that Cowan has indicted us purely for political purposes to gain advantage." So I being somewhat naive and somewhat idealistic, thought, Well, I am not going, this is a serious crime; I'm not gonna accept this plea bargain, and I told my deputy. I said, "No. We are not gonna do that." Well, sure enough. A couple of days later, they had this press conference. They made another story, which added onto this other story and how they came kind of came on to effect. So the result of all this, I mean, I had a series of just terrible, terrible articles in the paper for about, you know, a week to ten days running. We were doing daily polling at the time, tracking polling, and my numbers were just going down, down, down. I went from a position of leading in the polls to losing that primary by about ten points I think, as I recall. So, you know, I thought I was going to win up until then, you know, as any young politician. I mean, you got all these visions of, you know, I'm going to be Lieutenant Governor and then I'm going to be Governor and who knows what's going to happen after that, et cetera, and all of the sudden I found myself, you know, out, or having lost an election. So, it was a very personally painful thing. At the same time, we were also going through an internal investigation--actually an investigation in our internal affairs, or special investigation unit because some cocaine that had been evidence had turned up missing, and we had asked the state police to come in and do an investigation because we didn't want to be in a position investigating ourselves. We wanted, you know, to have it done properly. So they were going through this investigation. In the middle of all this, they came up with a mistaking conclusion briefly- -which they later rectified--that somehow the head of my special investigations unit had stolen or taken for his own personal use some evidence, some shotguns or one shotgun--I think it was a shotgun or some kind of a weapon--and that he might be indicted, in the middle of all this stuff going on. So my poor wife and I were just going through hell at this particular time. Particularly her. I mean I was somewhat used to it. It was, you know, certainly professionally, the toughest period of my life, and it was the least fun. You know, as I said, we wound up losing, and, you know, then Paul Patton won the election. He won the primary. He won the November election. Then we know what happened to him. So, you know, again, that's one of those "what if" kind of things. What if all this hadn't happened? You know, what if the Courier-Journal hadn't done this? What if I hadn't sent this letter out, et cetera? I mean the course of history would have turned. Could have and would, well, have been different in Kentucky. So anyway, but that was it. Then the rest of time--that was the end of May, and the rest of the time as attorney general, I carried on. We did some of our best domestic violence work after that, and we did some other things, but then come January--well, one last thing I should mention about that is I was going out the door, in December of 1991, as Wilkinson was about to depart, he decided to appoint himself to the University of Kentucky Board of Trustees. That caused a big flap because he was obviously into self-aggrandizement and everybody knew that he wanted to put himself in a position, the power to do things in the future. He thought appointing himself to the UK Board of Trustees was a good kind of platform to have. But it caused quite a bit of controversy, and it was basically about two or three days, we did a little research and did an opinion and came up with a conclusion that he couldn't legally do that. That the Governor did not, under common law, have the authority to appoint himself. So we filed a lawsuit, and I argued the case. We went before Franklin Circuit Court and got a restraining order to keep him from sitting on the UK Board of Trustees, and this was right before his term of office was over. As you probably know, the Governor's term is up about three weeks before the other constitutional officers' terms. His term was just about to conclude, and I was still going to be attorney general for another three weeks or so. We filed this lawsuit say on a Wednesday. We got a restraining order on a Thursday, keeping him from doing that. They appealed it. Arguments were heard in the court of appeals Monday, like at noon, and then in the Kentucky Supreme Court Monday evening. I mean no case probably ever moved that fast in Kentucky history. Unfortunately, despite winning the lower court, we lost at the Kentucky Court of Appeals level, and then we also lost at the Supreme Court level, and there was an opinion subsequently written, Cowan v. Wilkinson, which is now cited for in relation to when you can get temporary injunctions, what some of the legal standards are for that. But I take solace in the fact that Justice Lepson (??), who is widely recognized for his intellect, wrote descending opinion supporting our position, but the majority supported Wilkinson's position, and he subsequently took the seat, and then the next legislature changed the law around, and he wound up losing his seat anyway. That was a lot of fun. People really paid attention to that. I had people stopping me on the streets saying, "Oh, Fred, way to go," and, you know, "Keep after Wally," and all this kind of stuff, and there was some good cartoons in editorial. In that sense, I went out on a high note I suppose and enjoyed that. So that was pretty much my--there are probably some other things to talk about, but I think that covers the major bases as attorney general. BOHL: Okay. When I was doing research, I came across a couple of interesting things that you did during your time as attorney general, not necessarily as attorney general. I understand that you were very involved in Al Gore's `88 presidential campaign. COWAN: Yeah. Yeah, I was. I worked with Al Gore. BOHL: Yeah. COWAN: Of course, he had a lot of support in Kentucky because he was viewed at that time of somewhat moderate. Ironically, the way, his image now is not moderate, but he is viewed as sort of a moderate Southerner. He was from a neighboring state, Tennessee, and, you know, he seemed to be the kind of candidate [Pause in recording.] COWAN: Somebody in statewide office would want to have someone would want to run for President who could appeal the Kentucky Democrats, as opposed to the, you know, the arch-typical liberal Democrat from the northeast or whatever, who you knew would not do well in Kentucky. So Gore had a lot of support. And I supported him. I did some work for him. You know, I kind of got myself named head of his task force on children and youth, but quite frankly, I never really did a lot. I mean, again, you know, in these campaigns, and I've seen this--I saw this back when I worked in Harvey Sloane's campaign for Governor. You can get all these people together and get all these great ideas together, but most of these great ideas have nothing to do with winning the campaign. They may have something to do with being good governors. They may have something to do with good policy, but in terms of what you are going to talk about during a campaign, you know, that's not the way they're--so anyway, although, I was chair of that, we didn't do very much. I had talked to some people and maybe wrote a couple of letters or something, but I helped him to some degree and traveled around the state with him, and I remember--I was telling somebody this today--I remember in `88 when he came to campaign, I traveled with him a little bit, and we were driving from Frankfort over to Keeneland, and Versailles Road, I remember he was on his telephone--it was what we call today a cell phone-- BOHL: Um-hm. COWAN: --except it was one of those really big phones. The whole time we were over there, he was talking to people in Washington, and I was kind of like, My gosh, this is kind of amazing because I had never seen anybody do that before. You know, he was talking to all these people in Washington, and it was just kind of second nature to him to do that. So anyway, he asked me at that time in that car ride--I remember this one little thing--whether Ralph Nader was doing, or was being associated with some big ad or something in the New York Times that was coming out that was going to talk about air pollution or something and he wanted, Gore said, "Well, do you think it's a good idea for me to sign onto that too, you know, in my name?" I said, "Well, not in Kentucky, not if Ralph Nader is associated with it." So, I don't know if he ever did or not, but just one little antidote. You know, that was about the extent of my involvement. I went down to the Democratic Convention in `88 and saw Al Gore down there. Of course, that was when the, the Dukakis year, right? BOHL: Um-hm. COWAN: Dukakis. Went down to Atlanta and went to that. But, I was not really heavily involved in that Presidential campaign. I got more involved in Presidential campaigns later. I was involved in `91. In early `92, I spent quite a bit of time working for Clinton in Kentucky, raising him some money in `91. Made a bunch of phone calls. This was before it became obvious that he was really going to be the nominee, but I spent a fair amount of time helping him with that, and then I know Bill Clinton from way back when I lived in Arkansas and I think maybe I mentioned that last time. BOHL: Um-hm. Okay. I also read that in 1989 you took a trip to Namibia. COWAN: Yes, I did. That was part of the National Democratic Institute for International Affairs. That was an election mission. They, the NDI, it is now known, has become a very large organization, particularly with the emphasis in the last few years on promoting democracy around the world. At that time, they were doing a number of election training things. They were doing some election observations. So I went to Namibia. That was the place they were doing--this was right when the process of Namibia becoming an independent nation was coming about, and it was going to have its first national elections, as I recall. As you know, it was kind of a territory, if you will, of South Africa, but it had a mandate for the United Nations to become independent. Then we went down there, and they had a bunch of US--I'm sorry--a bunch of different parties there. Our job at this little delegation of eight or ten people was to kind of--before the election was going to be held, was try to determine whether the processes that were being set up were fair. We traveled around the country and wrote a report. I was technically, I think, the United States representative on this mission. There were some other people from the United States, including a Chris Edley [Junior] who was at Harvard law school the same time I was, and subsequently was pretty involved in--[telephone rings] [Pause in recording.] COWAN: Yeah, I think I was talking about Chris Edley. BOHL: Um-hm. COWAN: Chris is an African American who did some stuff with Clinton in the Clinton administration, and he subsequently--I think he may be the dean of the law school at the University of California Berkeley now, but he was quite successful. Somebody else on that trip who was interesting with little connection--not that it's relevant--is--gosh, I can't believe I'm forgetting her first name. She was Bingham. Oh, my gosh, I knew her so well then too. She was, Barry Bingham's older brother who was killed and who was going to be the heir apparent to the publisher the Courier-Journal until he was killed in a tragic accident. His wife was on that trip. She's was a, she's from Washington, D.C., but she was one of the staff people who was kind of working on that. But anyway, it was a very interesting experience. BOHL: Um-hm. COWAN: I did another one of those later. Subsequently, I did one in Bosnia, Slovenia. I did one in Slovenia I think after I was attorney general with NDI in about 1992, or 1993. Then in `96, I did an election mission in Bosnia for the first elections after the Dayton Peace Accords. That election was supervised by an organization called OSCE, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, which is a very prominent organization that does this sort of stuff. I was recruited through that, really through my experience with the Peace Corps, and I signed up for something. I went over there for almost a month in `96. I wrote an article in the Courier-Journal about it, if anybody wants to dig that out somewhere. It was after I came back. So that was a great experience. I've done those three election missions, and I wouldn't mind doing some more really. BOHL: Okay. So after taking sometime between attorney general then you went back to your legal practice? COWAN: Right. Then I resumed my legal practice with this firm. I've been with this firm since 1992, Lynch, Cox, Gilman and Mahan, and kind of stayed involved in politics. I considered running for Congress in 1994. I guess in the fall of 1993, I think Ron Mazzoli, who was the congressman at the time, said he was not going to run for reelection to Congress. I was, certainly one of the people who was most prominently mentioned as a possible candidate and thought about it. My wife and I talked about it, and I never really wanted to be in Congress because I thought it was kind of a bad job, you know, having to run every two years. My kids were, at that time, you know, all at home and fairly young, and I just didn't have that much desire to be in Congress, and I just didn't have that close, to after suffering that bad defeat in `91. BOHL: Um-hm. COWAN: I just didn't really have it in me to do it. In hindsight, it probably would've been the smartest thing for me to do for my political career because I think I could've won that election. As it turned out, Mike Ward became the congressman and he then he served for one term, and then Anne Northup beat him in `96. She, of course, has been a congresswoman ever since. So, again, that's one of those things that who knows, maybe if I had won that election, you know, Anne Northup might not of even run against me. I don't know. She took my place-- BOHL: Um-hm. COWAN: --in the General Assembly. She took actually the seat that I held in the General Assembly. She won. So, anyway, but I passed on that and did not run for that, and I can't remember what other offices. Then in, I guess, late `97--I'm trying to think about this now--late `97, the terms of mayor and county judge were coming to an end. Dave Armstrong was the county judge executive, and he was finishing his second term. He came to decide that he was going to run for mayor. At the time, I still giving some consideration running for Congress. In fact, I did a poll in late `97, sort of measuring Anne Northup's strength and my strength, and I finally decided after Armstrong was clear he wasn't going to run for county judge executive and he was going to run for mayor, that I would run for county judge executive. A little interesting story about that is that Chris Gorman wanted to run for county judge executive also. Chris had been the attorney general who succeeded me, and he had been county commissioner, and so he said he wanted to run for county judge executive. I said, "Well, Chris, I wanna run. We're gonna run." So, at one point there, it wasn't clear who was going to run. Chris wanted to have a meeting. So we had a meeting, and Chris suggested, "Well, why don't we just let Jerry Abramson decide who is going to run for county judge executive." I said, "Chris, I'm not gonna do that. I'm gonna run for county judge executive." So, he backed down, and he wound up running for Congress, and he ran a pretty effective campaign against Anne Northup, but ironically, he wound up endorsing her, in the campaign, I guess two years ago, which was really kind of strange since he had run against her. In fact, I think he may have told me the other day he switched parties. He may even be a registered Republican now. But, anyway. So I ran for that. That race was really interesting because all the sudden this guy Joe Corradino, who he is still an engineer and had a prominent engineering firm. He was very involved in politics. Had been closely involved with the Sloane administration. He decided that he wanted to run. He was going to run for mayor, and he was running for mayor until Armstrong decided that he wanted to run for mayor, and then people convinced Corradino to run for county judge executive. Corradino got the backing of the Patton people in the Patton administration. He had all this backing in the Patton administration, and a number of people were telling me that I couldn't win and et cetera, et cetera. I remember one guy I called and asked for a contribution. He said, "Fred, you can't win. I'm not gonna make any contribution." And then two days later, he wrote me a later and sent me a $1,000 check and said "Well, I was using the wrong criterion," you know. (Bohl laughs) As opposed to who could win versus who is the most qualified. I subsequently--that was an interesting thing because Corradino was one of those lightening rods in that Joe was a very take charge kind of guy, very effective guy, but he also makes a lot of enemies, and he had been in charge of the airport project, which had displaced a lot of people and a lot of people were upset about the way he had handled that. A lot of people didn't like Joe in the business community. I mean they just didn't like his style, liked the way he worked, et cetera, for various reasons. Had, had words with him or cross words with him or whatever. So I had quite a bit of support, and we wound up doing very well, raising a lot of money, and I won that election. You know, we were ahead the whole time. Corradino got a little bit closer at the end, but he never caught up. So, I kind of surprised--sort of beat the Governor's people in that race and surprised some of the money people in the community, although I had a quite of few of them supporting me. But then I lost the election to Rebecca Jackson in November, and the interesting thing about that race was that Rebecca, you know, had not been--she had been county clerk. She didn't have a reputation as being a heavy weight. She didn't have a reputation as being somebody who really, you know, understood policy, or whatever, but I think, like a lot of people, underestimated her and underestimated her political appeal. She's a very nice woman, a very attractive woman. She was quite popular, and she was also very well known. You wouldn't think county clerk wouldn't necessarily make you very well known, but she became very well known. She had beaten, I guess, four years before she had beaten a guy for county clerk, who had been a county commissioner named Jim Malone. "Pop" Malone, who was a really arrogant guy, and she ran against him on sort of the same kind of Ernie Fletcher theme. Gotta clean up this mess. He'd had some bad publicity. He'd done a couple of things and gotten some back publicity. So she'd won that election. So four years later when she ran for judge executive, she sort of ran on the same theme. "Well, I cleaned up this mess in the county clerk's office," and "We got an effective county clerk," and she was a good county clerk. But anyway, she was well known, and her name recognition was quite high. Her name recognition, when the election started, was probably well into the eighties, whereas my name recognition was maybe in the forties somewhere. So name recognition--this is what most people and what most novice politicians don't understand--is it makes a huge difference in terms of your initial standings in a polling situation, which in turn, makes a huge difference in whether you can raise money or not. Because, you know, if you are not showing up well in the polls, it is very, very hard to raise money. Well, anyway, I was able to raise money, but our polling showed me consistently behind her. I mean I've spent all this money on TV and just not making any progress. I was twenty some-odd points behind her in our own polls, you know, and I had underestimated all these things. I just didn't think that she would necessarily be that formidable of a candidate. So ultimately, at the end, we, you know, started to catch up with her and got very close and had some effective attacks on her, I thought. She had not raised as much money as we had and hadn't run as good a campaign, but she still won by, I think, four points, like fifty-two to forty-eight. The other interesting thing, historically and politically, about that race was that merger about Jefferson County--Louisville's and Jefferson County's governments was a big issue in that race, not because we necessarily disagreed that much, although there was somewhat of a disagreement. But I made it a big issue because when I saw how far behind we were in the polls, and I had already supported the merger, I needed something to really kind of capture the public's imagination in order to try to get myself back in the ball game. So we decided that we would make merger a big issue. It had a lot of opposition in the community, but it had a lot of support. So it was a decisive issue in that sense. So we basically ran our campaign the last month or so around the issue of merger. Well, that got me in a lot of trouble with the African American community because they were, the African American political leadership was opposed to merger for the most part, because they felt you would have a county council with a diminished representation. In the city of Louisville, I think, of the twelve alderman at that time the Board of Alderman, a six or seven were African Americans, whereas in a county council, and as it turned out of twenty-six county council members, they might only have five or six, at most, African Americans because their population countywide was less than it was just in the city. So that got me in trouble with them, and they didn't endorse me initially. I mean I was a Democrat. I mean they weren't going to endorse a Republican, but they didn't endorse me initially and that got me some bad publicity. But I don't think that's what cost me the election. I think what cost me that election was Rebecca Jackson was just very popular. She hadn't been involved in any scandals per say, or, you know, there really was very little to attack her on, and when somebody is ahead of you, you know, you got to have something to attack them on or you're can't win. You can't just win on saying, "Hey, I'm a good guy," because they're saying the same thing and the voters already know that. That was an election that, you know, I never was in a position to win. I mean, maybe if it would have lasted another week, you know, maybe I would have won, but we had plenty of money. It wasn't the lack of money. It was just her popularity that really was the major factor there. BOHL: Um-hm. A few years later, in 2003, you did run for US Senate for a while? COWAN: Right, right. Yeah. Yeah, and that was again, that ironically came about solely because of Paul Patton, the difficulties he had been in. Paul Patton was all set to run for the Senate against Jim Bunning and had done all kinds of research and was all prepared to go after him, and then all this stuff came out about Patton and his situation with the woman down in Western Kentucky and his tearful apology, his misleading the state and all that kind of stuff. Were you in Kentucky at the time? Do you-- BOHL: I wasn't in Kentucky, but I -----------(??) COWAN: --All right. You know about--well, I mean, his standing. He went from being a popular Governor with a good reputation to a Governor with terrible numbers in just a very quick period of time because of that whole situation. All of the sudden he wasn't going to run for the United States Senate and there was no obvious candidate for the United States Senate. And frankly, I'd always wanted to be in the United States Senate. That'd probably been my--you know, if you'd ask me when I was just getting started in politics in my early thirties or whatever, you know, what's your ultimate goal, it'd probably be, I'd like to be United States Senator. So, I figured, okay, you know, I'm going to take a shot at it. Now, I knew it was going to be tough because I hadn't been in office in a long time. This was 2003. I hadn't been in office since 1991, even though I had run statewide since 1991. But I did a poll, and we tested some themes against Jim Bunning and found out that he wasn't all that popular, and I thought I could beat him if I could raise the money. Since I knew how to raise money and raised a lot of money, I figured I had a pretty good shot at it. So we started it, and we did pretty well. We raised about $250,000 in the first quarter, and then the Governor's race was going on at the same time between Chandler and Fletcher. Started getting a lot of, "Well, I'm putting all my money in Chandler. Wait until after the November election," and a lot of this kind of stuff, and our fundraising started slowing down. Then after the election, when Chandler lost, it just totally dried up. I mean I would spend all day on the telephone and maybe raise one thousand dollars. You know, I just got very discouraged frankly, and thought, Oh, you know, There is no way we are going to get enough money. I mean, Bunning, in the meantime, already had $3,000,000 in the bank, and I was sitting there with maybe $300,000 or $400,000, and I did not want to go through the situation that Lois Combs Weinberg had gone through, the previous race against Mitch McConnell when everybody in the state knew she didn't have a chance, and she was still out there plugging away, and she got slaughtered. But she never had enough money. She could never compete, and I just didn't want to go through that. That's all I could see happening. I just could not see how I could possibly win. At that time, it seemed to be clear that Dan Mongiardo, state senator, was going to run. So I was going to have a primary. So I was going to have to use my money in a primary. I was going to come to the end of a primary with no money in the bank, and Bunning was going to be sitting there, at that time, you know, four or five million, and I just didn't see how I could win. So I chose to drop out because of that. You know, in hindsight, many people said, "Oh, You should have stayed in. You'd be United States senator today," et cetera, et cetera. Because Bunning wound up saying some really stupid things in the campaign, and he is--I heard some stories from people as I was campaigning about some of the ways he treated people. He is an extremely unusual politician in that he does not treat people well at all. He said these stupid things in the campaign like he doesn't read the newspapers and, you know, crazy things like that. As a result, Mongiardo got very close to him. Well, I think most people will, you know, you can ask them, but I mean a lot of people will say, "Well because I had been a statewide office holder and had somewhat of a statewide reputation that I could have won that election." My pollster told me that. I said, "Thanks a lot." You know this is months after I dropped out. (Bohl laughs) But, you know, at the time there was no way that I could see winning that. You know, if I had stayed in maybe Bunning wouldn't have said all those stupid things he said anyway, and he still would have been impossible to beat. So, you know, that's the crazy thing about politics is you don't have a lot of control over a lot of things. One of the things, I've learned about politics in my life, they are bitter pills to swallow. But one is you don't have a lot of control over a bunch of things that happen, and secondly, it's not fair. Politics is not fair, you know. I mean, whoever it was--Jimmy Carter who said, "You know, life is not fair," or wherever that quote came from is certainly true in politics. You can't assume that the way things turn out are gonna be fair. You know, I go back to my 1991 loss, and I still to this day think that I was very unfairly treated by the Courier-Journal, and they'll deny that. They'll say I was very fairly treated. I think I was very unfairly treated, but, you know, that's reality and that's what you got to deal with. So anyway. Since that race, you know, I was very involved in John Kerry's race for President. I raised a lot of money for him. I raised, I don't know somewhere between $150,000 and $200,000 in Kentucky for him. Most of it was in Kentucky and was one of his national co-chairs as a result. I think they said anybody who raised over $100,000 was a national co-chair. If he had been elected president, I'm sure I would have tried to do something in administration, but he wasn't. That was that and so now, I am running for circuit judge. So, you know, I like public service, and I miss public service. You know, I feel like being judge would be a good challenge. I like the law a lot. You know, I think I can be an effective judge. I mean would I rather be Governor or senator, sure, but you know, you gotta move on, right? You know, you may wanna be the head of the history department at, you know, Harvard or some other school some day and maybe you'll wind up head somewhere else, but, you know, you gotta move on, so. BOHL: You've mentioned a couple times today about the enemies you created based on your record. COWAN: Um-hm. BOHL: Was there ever a time you felt that your work in politics was causing you or your family to be threatened? COWAN: Like physically threatened? BOHL: Um-hm. COWAN: Yeah. I had a situation in `91 when I was attorney general, involving child support. I think it was `91. I think it was one during the campaign. Another thing that happened during that campaign. In which, on our answering machine at home, I picked up the answering machine and there was this foul-mouthed guy who was cussing and cursing and saying, "Are you the so-and-so who did all this kind of stuff," and, "I'm going to bring my wife over there and leave her on your doorstep." You know, "I'm going to get you," and I mean just threatening kind of stuff. Well, this guy called back another time. I tried to draw him out a little bit about, "Well, who are you, what's going on, et cetera," and he was doing all this cussing. So he lied to me and told me he worked for LG&E and he didn't really work for LG&E. It turned out I think he worked for Bell South. Ultimately, we filed a complaint with the police, and they did an investigation. It turned out this guy had threatened a lot of people over a child support issue because he was being forced to pay child support that he didn't want to pay. He had threatened a judge, and I think he had threatened a county attorney. Anyway, I ultimately testified in his trial. I don't know what really happened to him. I think he was convicted, but I don't know what his disposition was. Another time I had a guy who, I had just issued this report involving a state office holder, and someone related to her basically threatened my life, I mean, in sort of an offhand manner, but it was serious enough. Those are the only two incidents I can remember which I felt like I was in any kind of physical danger. There might have been others, but I don't recall any. Yeah, the enemies were, mostly political enemies one way or another. BOHL: How do you think that your public service has affected your family? COWAN: Well, that's a good question. You'd have to ask my wife about that. She'll give you an ear full. My wife has never--she likes policy. She's very involved in it, but she has never really liked my campaigns. She takes things too personally. She's never--she's not a Hillary Clinton type, or use the example, Kathy Sloane who was so involved in Harvey Sloane's campaigns, or someone like that who was involved in every intimate detail of the campaign. She doesn't do that. It was very hard on her in a lot of ways, early on, when I was in the legislature running for the legislature. In the legislature, I think I spent a lot of time focused on that and not on my family, and I think that affected it. I had a very good relationship with my children. I have three daughters now. It's affected them, in two of my daughters who are now in their twenties are very involved in politics. One of them works on Capitol Hill, and the other is working in a campaign for attorney general out in Nevada right now. My oldest daughter is working for a foundation in Mississippi, working on Katrina relief work. So they've all been pretty publicly oriented. So I think my involvement in politics affected the way they thought about it, and my wife's involved, my wife has been a very public person, publicly involved and interested in all kinds of organizations and stuff. So to that extent it has. You know, past that, how has it affected them? Hard to say, hard to say. I mean certainly we have less income than we would have had if I had focused on making money instead of spending all the time I've spent over the years on politics, but. BOHL: Who would you say are your political heroes? COWAN: (laughs) I don't know. That's a very good question. My political heroes. You know, when you've been involved in politics to the extent I've been involved, and you know people, you know that nobody is a saint, it's kind of hard to say who a hero is. You know, I go back and admire people in history and the way they handle things like, you know, like Lincoln. You know, the more you read about him the remarkable things he did. FDR, you know, was a great President. You know, Truman, I don't know if he's a hero of mine. I wouldn't say that. You know, hero implies that there are some people you kind of look up to, and you kind of emulate, or want to emulate. Hard to say. Maybe, yeah, maybe Lincoln probably gets about as close to it as I can imagine, I suppose. I mean, some of the founding fathers were great men. I just finished John Adams's biography. You know, they were fascinating and deep-thinking men. Politics had a lot more substance then than it does now. Politics is very superficial, in so many ways, these days, I think. People don't have time to think about things. I mean, it's so poll driven and mass media driven that it's a different ball game. The challenge to me in politics has always been, how do you get elected, and how do you be effective, and how do you keep your integrity at the same time, and it's a balance there, you know. Often so, when I was in the legislature, they'd say, you know, "Be a statesmen, be a statesmen, vote for this tax bill," or whatever. It was kind of a joke because everybody in the legislature knew that the line between being a statesmen and a politician who's lost an election is a very thin line. You know, I think the public is always looking for heroes. [telephone rings] COWAN'S ASSISTANT: Fred-- COWAN: --yeah. COWAN'S ASSISTANT: There is a lady here from -----------(??) COWAN: Yeah, I'm going to be out. Three o'clock is the time. I'm going to be out after 3:30 PM. Okay. COWAN: The public is always, you know, looking for leaders they want, and they should. They want people who are people of great integrity and vision and wisdom to be their leaders. But, you know, political leaders are like everybody else. You know, they're no better and no worse than most everybody else. They just happen to be interested in running for office. Ultimately, you know, you look at people like Paul Patton or you look at people like Ernie Fletcher and here are people who have accomplished a lot of things in their previous careers, and now all the sudden the public thinks that they are horrible people because of some stuff they have done. Which, you know, they are not horrible people, they just did some really stupid things, and all of us do stupid things to one area or another. Although there is a danger, one thing, in politics that I strongly believe, and seen it happen time and time again, is when you get in these positions--the same thing happens with CEOs of organizations--you know, you get all these people telling you how great you are. Paying attention to you and wanting you to do these things, and you begin to think, Yeah, I am pretty great and all that stuff, and then you start to think, Well, I don't have to follow the rules that other people follow. Well, that's when you get in trouble. That's when you see that happen time and time and time again. You know, it's a challenge to maintain your balance when you are in those political positions. BOHL: What advice would you give to someone who was considering going into politics? COWAN: Well, that's a good question, and it's very hard to say. I think it depends on the individual and what level they want to go in. If they want to start at an early level, I mean, you can give advice on how to run campaigns, sort of technical advice, you know being involved in your community and try to make a difference. I like to believe that the best politicians are the people who really want to make a difference but who are sensible(??). I mean like Jerry Abramson, I think, is a great politician. I think he really wants to make a difference in the community. I think Dave Armstrong, in many ways, is a great politician. He wanted to make a difference in the community. The community recognized that. So I think rather than to start with the notion that I want to be a politician and then just have that as an overriding ambition, I think your ambition should be, what can I do in this community to make a positive difference in people's lives, in whatever aspect it is. It always makes me a little suspect in the multimillionaires who come in and run and finance their own campaigns because they've made all this money, and well, they've done good and important things often times in building businesses and more, but they haven't had any experience in kind of making things happen in the community per se. All of the sudden, they are super qualified because they can write a big check to themselves. So, you know, frankly, in this day and age and probably for the foreseeable future, if you can write a big check to yourself, it's a big advantage in politics because raising money is very difficult. I started at the bottom. You know, I worked my way up to a certain extent, by raising money, $50, $100, $500 at a time. So, you know, I still think that's a good way to do it. You get to see people. You get to know people better when you are involved in a smaller race to start. If you run a big race to start, like you run for Governor or senator because you can write a five million dollar check to yourself, it's not retail politics; it's very wholesale, it's very mass media oriented, it's driven by the polls, it's not driven by your knowledge of people or by your ability to relate to people necessarily. So, I think, you know, for a young person who is going to be involved in politics, try to do some useful, worthwhile things in the community you can be proud of. Get to know people, build a base, work in other people's campaigns. That's the best way to get to know other people, volunteering campaigns. Then try to run in a place where you can win. A lot of people run in districts that are overwhelmingly Democratic or Republican, and they are on the other side of the fence, and it's almost impossible for them win. So be smart about where you're going to run and what you're going to run for. So I think that's probably the best I can do as far as advice. BOHL: Okay. That's pretty much it for my set questions. Is there anything else you want to talk about that we haven't mentioned yet? COWAN: Turn it off for a second and I will see if I can think of anything. [Pause in recording.] COWAN: You know, I have a certain observation I think about politics today, which people may or may not be interested in. Is that, I think, it is very hard for political leaders and people who run for office and campaigns, to get past the superficial because polls determine so much how campaigns are run. The reason they do that is because when you do a poll, you're always asking people and testing out various themes. Whatever the issue happens to be--whether it's child support, or whether it's the environment, or whether it's economic development, or whether it's education or whatever, you are asking people questions about this, and depending upon how they respond, then that determines kind of the shape of your campaign. Which is not to say that you're going to say something you don't support, at least not in my case, that you don't support or believe in, but you are going to emphasize certain things that you wouldn't otherwise emphasize. But secondly, you're never going to propose some really brand-new idea that is totally different because nobody, when it polls, nobody is going to respond to it positively because it's going to seem kind of weird. I think there is a difficulty in politicians running for office state to really formulate visions of how they think things ought to be or really give people an idea or fresh new look at the way the world ought to develop. You know, for example, you look at this issue of global warming. Even today, it would be very dangerous to run on that platform, even though, I mean, I, for one, believe that it's definitely here, and it's affected, you know, man-made in many ways. It's only been, you know, within the last year or so, and some are with Al Gore's recent movie, and so forth, that it's become more and more prominent to think about that as a positive thing, which leads me to a second point that I've made many times about politics. Politicians, as much as the public likes to think so, are the people who really changed society. The people who changed society for the good are average citizens who organized themselves in a certain fashion to make a difference, and they build enough support for an idea, whether, you know, it's civil rights or the women's movement or environment, to name some that have come along in the last thirty or forty or fifty years. That eventually there is a consensus or there is an opportunity to build a consensus. A politician's role, at that point, is to try to help formulate that consensus, but the politician is not going to be a leader in terms of changing society. I just don't believe that that happens. Because of inherent nature of democratic politics. A change is going to come otherwise, and to me, that really is, in terms of people who are committed to seeing a better society, that's where the real action is. But you got to have good politicians, and they do make a difference, I firmly believe that. You know, there is so much cynicism today. So many people say, "It doesn't make a difference who you vote for." Well, I firmly believe it makes a huge difference who you vote for. You can look at policy after policy that where the Democrats would be in one direction and the Republicans in another. In terms of real change in society, I don't think it's led by politicians. I think they reflect often times what the consensus was going to be anyway. Anything else? You got any other questions? BOHL: I don't think so. COWAN: Okay. Well good. Well, I've enjoyed it. BOHL: Thank you. COWAN: Hope it's helpful if anybody ever listens to this. I hope they-- (both laugh--find it instructive. (both laugh) [End of interview.] Cowan (House 1982-1987, 32nd district; Democrat) delves into his campaigns for state attorney general, lieutenant governor, county judge executive, U.S. Senate, and circuit judge. He discusses issues he faced as attorney general, including election fraud, campaign finance, juvenile death penalty, child support and child sex abuse. Cowan also covers his political philosophy, the role of the press, his sometimes contentious relationship with Governor Wilkinson, campaigning for presidential candidates, and returning to law practice. Part 2 of 2. insert here