tv Rep. Ralph Hall R-TX Retirement Interview CSPAN March 9, 2019 9:26pm-10:01pm EST
the oldest person to ever serve in the house. he was also a world war ii veteran. congress, heeaving sat down with c-span for an interview about his life and career. this is 35 minutes. >> congressman ralph hall, you've been in the house of representatives since january of 1981, and you'd hoped to be here for one last term. the voters thought otherwise. how are you processing your departure? >> well, everything that i checked on during that that i was 10 to 12 points ahead. it told me one thing, don't depend on the people that tell you you're ahead and you're not. i really thought i had it won. coming back that night at 3:00 in the morning, i had to think as i was driving back out to my house how it happened. when i got home i pulled out old elections and checked to see how i did there.
looked at robert's rule. i figured it out finally. the guy got more votes than i did. i got beat. that's all there is to it. it didn't bother me but it hurt me because it hurt some of my friends. >> how are you feeling about leaving? >> well, when i wanted a doughnut this morning, i went down and got it. i've been a member of congress for 34 years and to finally get beat, if i was a manager for a be able or football team and i had 34-1, i'd be in the hall of fame, so doesn't bother me. and really it didn't bother me to get beat, because i wasn't just set on going. i had 18 co-chairman who were chairman of my 18 counties in my district that were supporting me and wanted me to run, and i did.
it is better judgment -- it's hard to get elected if you are 90 or 91-year-old and they don't tell people that you run two miles every morning, that you vote 99 plus percent of the time. there's a difference between 90-year-old people. that wasn't brought up by the dallas morning news because they're not in my favor. >> all 90-year-olds are not built the same. -- i do people are wondering how you run two miles a day. what is your secret? >> i was told once, i was in the cattle building, if one of your heifers has a bull calf. go out there and lift the bull calf every day over the fence, day after day after day until he's a full-grown bull. then when you can still lift him over the fence and throw him over the fence, you can throw
the ball enough to run for congress. that's what they told me. so that's how i got into the congress, i left the cattle business and came here. >> well, you've switched parties during your time here. you've seen the parties change so many times. what's your handicap, let's start with the democrats what do you see when you look at the democratic party? >> well, the democrat party was a two-party party, democrats and -- conservatives and liberals. change the way i voted when i switched to be a republican. i was not really liked any better by the republicans than the democrats, because i voted my district. i had the sam rayburn district. go up there and do a job and tell them you're doing a good job. i'm not a golfer. i don't hunt. i don't fish. i campaign when i have a day. i go walk a building out or
something. i've campaigned all my life. i think that's the way i stayed elected. >> staying with the democrats, today is it still split between the liberals and the conservatives >> yeah. there's three or four conservatives over there now. >> that's it? >> yeah. >> so it's changed. >> they'll slowly become republicans, probably. of course it would make sam rayburn if he were alive. he was our kind of democrat. because when he looked back over his shoulder as he went to bonham texas to die, he left a balanced budgets, so he was a conservative. >> when you look at the republican party, your challenger was a tea party member. is the republican party -- >> i don't know if he's a tea party member or not. you can't direct mail them. we don't know who they are or where they are.
i always tell them to look at my record. >> are you seeing the party split the same way you described the democrats between fiscal conservatives and -- >> well, we have different types of conservatives as republicans. we have those that are hell for leather, republicans, you know, and it's got to be a republican if you're right. you have to be a conservative if you're right, and that's what we're beginning to learn, i think. >> other members that we've talked to have talked about how the congress has changed in the past during your tenure to an institution where people used to do things together off hours, which played out in more compromise. do you find that the place has changed in that regard and, if so, why? >> well, pretty much. when i got here i was a democrat but i was a conservative democrat. i didn't really fit. republicans really didn't want me and the democrats didn't like me. for example, the bushes were dear friends of mine. i flew with the old bush. he flew torpedo bombers.
i knew who he was because he was of a famous family. he didn't know me until after the war was over. i knew those people and add -- and admired them. i had good luck with the bushes were here. i had good luck with reagan. i have a picture on my wall made with reagan, looking at our boots at camp david. he was a good guy and easy to talk to. ronald reagan came here when a man, one person could make a difference. i doubt that they can today. >> why so? >> i don't know. he came here accepted as a conservative democrat or republican, but he'd been a
democrat like all the rest of us, so he was in between -- he was a in-between deal there. somehow we felt like you could trust him. i got called the first 30 days he was here, because when he hit here, he hit here with a plan to increase pay for the military and yet cut the budget. that was his goal, and he had enough folks to get it, do it. when he got here about 19 or 20 of his fellow republicans came to him and said, if you don't hang the way you're voting on funs and on abortion, we're not going to support your bill. of course, you know what they told them, to go jump. but then he had to have some
help out of the democratic party i was a democrat there. billy townsend was a democrat. we had some strength over there. jim baker could tell the president, call one of those guys and they'll help you. they said, well, i know ralph hall better an i know any of them. we'll have the president call him and maybe he'll pick up those votes that he lost. they needed about 10 votes. they told me he was going to call me. so i was ready for him. he called and said, this is ronald reagan. i said, yeah, i believe that. martha, come over here. he thinks i'm reagan now, but -- i want you to hear him. he said, no, i really am. another guy came over and no, it's really him. that's the funny type things that would happen. >> sure. who forget a call from the president like that? >> when i knocked on the door he told me to come over there. i need some time. i had a program like he did. i always wanted to put a president on hold. i put him on hold about two minutes and i said, well, i can come over there today, tomorrow,
or the next 30 minutes. what you want me to do? he told me to get my you-know-what over there. i knocked on the door. he said one question, what is it going to take for you to help me pay for the budget? -- hoadley cut the budget and increase pay for the military? i had an answer for him. >> as you look across the president's you have served under, served with -- which is them have been the best at work in congress to get their legislative -- >> i'd probably have to say reagan. he was so believable, and he had been a democrat, you know, pretty much. but the two bushes were easy for me to work with because i knew them. during world war ii, i had flown -- been at the same base a time or two with the old bush. he was a famous father. i knew who he was. he didn't have any idea who i
was. i supported him for some statewide race. i think he got beat the first time. but bushes have always been favorites of mine. because i knew little george when he was nine or 10 or 12 years old. i knew he was never going to be president. but that's what a good woman can do for you. she changed him. you can have me or you can have jack daniels and he made the right choice. that woman probably saved the guy. >> ronald reagan was the best at work in congress? >> i think so. think he handled them better. he even went over and tear down that wall and brought cheers rather than jeers. he knew what to say and when to say it. he came when one person could make a difference. i don't think one person can make a difference now. >> there is a photo on your wall
of a president you did not serve with, but the texan. lyndon johnson. what was your impression of him? >> he landed a helicopter many our football field and i got to know him then. i went to work for him and i think they were paying me $3 a day to put up his placards, but what i had to do, i had to bring them three placards of the guy they were hiring me against. they really were hiring me to tear the other guy's placards down. that was my first real participation. it is a lot of politics. he got me into politics later. he was a good sheriff. >> you left politics for a while and worked in private industry but decided to come back and make your bid for national elected office.
who drew you back in after your time in private life ? >> i was in business and i was buying and selling land. i was -- rockwall county's the smallest county in texas, 254 counties and my little county is the smallest. dallas spills over on us and as they spilled over on us, it increased the value of our land and the counties next to us. i bought a lot of land and bought it and sold it at that time right time. during the 80's when every hit bottom, i was running for offers and i was trying to come up here. if i had been doing what i'd been doing, i'd have been broke. but i wasn't. all through the 1980's i was trying to stay -- keep my head above water because i knew i was coming to congress. >> why did you want to come to congress? >> well, sam rayburn and my mother were schoolmates at mayo college, a little college before east texas teachers state
college at commerce, texas. now it's texas a&m at commerce. they elected a good friend. she wrote a letter to sam rayburn when world war ii broke out and asked me to help me get an officer, get officers training school. he didn't call her back or write her back. he came to her breakfast table. he said i can't hire him because of his grades. i graduated in a class of 38 but i graduated number 38. i always have been able to make it some way. somebody's been good to me. >> was it sam rayburn that made you want to come to congress? >> yeah. because my mother spoke to highly of me.
a bunch of republicans came to me one time when i was a county judge in rockwall and was going to put up money for me to run against sam rayburn. my mother asked me, if you do that, where are you going to get breakfast, you know? i wasn't going to run against sam rayburn. he was a great man. i think sam rayburn could still be speaker of this house or could be -- i think, oh, joe dimaggio could still hit the fastball, the pitchers of today. i think those old guys could still operate the way they did, because, you know, when -- like i said, when ray burn looks back over his shoulder, he left a nation here that had a plan for it and had a balanced budget and had had one for 10 years when he was there. >> your office is in the ray burn building. did you do that intentionally? >> no. i always wanted to get here. the first year i was here, we drew for offices. there were 9 of us and i drew up
-- there were 92 of us and i drew number 92. >> last again? >> i drew number 60 when there was 62 votes. so i stayed where i was. finally, i stayed here so-long had my choice and i picked this place. this is the best office on the hill. >> why is that? >> you're closer to the elevator, the views, and you think about that when you're an old guy. what is handy for you? restrooms. got everything an old guy wants. >> you're surrounded by lots of photographs. >> so proud of all these people. they're all friends of mine. i don't know what i'm going to do with all these pictures. i have neil armstrong who came to my home and supported me when it looked like i might get beat. he came and worked for me. he was a good guy. buzz aldrin's been to my home several times, and in rockwall, you know, they weren't sure who
buzz aldrin was, but they knew he was somebody. and of course i took him to the schools. you know, seniors vote. this guy, neil armstrong and buzz aldrin came on one of my election action -- elections. he called me from new york. i have tickets, you come pick me up. he said the dallas morning news is knocking around. first thing i learned is you don't fight people. -- you don't fight people that buy ink by the barrel. he came here and it helped me. they helped me through the campaign. i've had good luck and all kinds of help. to be in politics and stay, you have to have some ability but you have to have a little luck every now and then.
i've always had that and had people who helped me. the regulation -- when people were going to run against me, the regulation were republicans and they'd tell the people in my district that they weren't going to get any republican money, the money would go with me. wasn't too good be some of the real hard wing left democrats up there but they're still my friends. >> what are you going to do with your pictures and papers? are they going to a university somewhere? >> i'm told they're going to take all the pictures to texas a&m, reproduce them and give these back to me. i hope they do.
>> your papers are going to texas a&m? >> yes. everything i have are going to texas a&m at commerce. my grandson went to school there. my wife, when i was in the office here started school there and went all the way through and got her degree from there. so we're east texas state teachers college people. didn't know there was another school anywhere. >> many of these pictures and memorabilia are from the space program. will you talk about what you think your legacy of the space program has been? >> well, when i came up here, when i was first elected to congress, kim wright was the speaker. he'd been in my home and he and i were good friends. i'd referee a fistfight that he had with a guy that's one of his best friends even today. i knew people who later were somebody. he called me in and said what do you want to be on.
i said i want to be on something with energy texas is an energy state. i want to be something with that space station. i've gone to some of the liftoffs with some of the older members. i think i belong on some kind of space program. he put me on both of them. it would take you 10 years to get on either one of them now days. i got lucky. i have friends in high spaces. >> what are you proudest of? >> well, i'm proudest that we -- i was that one street we name and kept them from killing the space station. they came down to one vote on that. and i got dr. debakey to walk the floors with me. we had that same vote and we won by a hundred votes. i think that helped preserve the space thing. later they tried to take space out of science, space, and technology. i was a one-man army that taught them to leave space where it was because that's where it belonged? >> why? >> going to the moon? is that transportation? i think that's a little licked. -- little ridiculous. but it is space, you know, and it's been space forever. why change something like that? what benefit would it be? >> what do you think of this state's commitment to the space
program today? >> well, we're hurting. we're in trouble. and it's a lack of money. i have a book over here was written by -- what is his name? he's been before all the committees saying how bad we need the space program. i've asked them to give money and it took too much money for them. they wouldn't do it. so we're at russia's good will by -- we started out giving them $50 million for a seat to go to our own space station. we need to keep going back and forth to that station. we made a mistake when we didn't put up the amount of money that it would have taken, because the space program is just not even 1% of the overall budget. and space is so important. every youngster in the world would be affected if we lost the space station. we'd lose all our international partners if we didn't do our
part in keeping the space station open and available to them. it's just important. we may have to defend the next war out of space. who knows? but we need a space station. i told dr. debakey himself, if you ever leave that space will never find a cure for cancer. and what's more important than a cure for cancer? it's important. >> i want to go back to your military service. in recent decades, fewer and fewer members of congress have served in the military. came in, it was the vietnam generation. does it make a difference, considering that members have to make that important vote about -- >> yes, it does and it made a lot of difference that i was a veteran when i came here. sonny montgomery was the only -- was chairman of the veterans
committee and was the only general i knew that i could call sonny, but that was his real name. if he lost four votes in the entire congress he'd go grab them by the tie. what do you mean voting against space, what do you mean voting against my bill? he was strong and it was a strong push that day and time and still should be. >> what about members of congress with military service when you have to vote on things like sending people to war? how important is that? does it matter? >> it matters if you've been side by side with someone or you've gone to your buddy's funeral or you have a grave named after you. as a joke i always kid and say when i die, do i want them to say he was a good man or he really was a good to his family or he was a good member of congress. no that's not what i want to hear them say. i want to they're them say "i thought i saw him move." so i'm 91 years old.
i don't hurt anywhere. i'm not on anybody's wait list or anything like that. i still run a couple miles a day. i vote 99% of the time. i do most everything everybody else can do. i have been running for 35 years, two miles every day. i don't run it every day but there's never three days goes that i don't run it. i run it two or three times a week. i ran this morning. >> one thing that's changed is media coverage of congress. you mentioned ink by the barrelful. the people working in ink are hurting nowadays. it's all the internet and social media. how do you think that's affected the relationship with the public, the social media, and the press? >> there is progress. some good and some bad. i've popped off and said things to people but i've said things i wished to hell i hadn't said, you know.
i think we're more aware when we talk to you folks of what we're saying that, it could be in the paper in san diego tomorrow or in tv. i think you stop and think a little bit more so than we used to, you know. a lot of these politicians, they shoot at everything that's that flies and claim at anything that falls. those kind of people are brought to their knees sooner or later . you got to have some common sense and have some view of the future and remember what happened in the past before you pop offer here and stake take a stand on anything. >> do you have any allies in the senate? any particular friends? senators. two good i've always liked the senators over there. got along with them fine. never wanted to run for the senate. i was in the texas senate 10 years. >> you wouldn't you want to go -- to run for the senate? >>
anybody would like to be in the senate. i always thought if somebody dies over there, they'd appoint me to finish the senate term and if that never happens, i think -- he's still got it. he won't run against anybody. so i'd be standing there. i'd be -- lot of times i've been lucky just because i was standing there. >> so the senate itself, though, and the house of representatives, what can you do here that you can't get done in the senate? >> pass a bill and you have to really have the votes over there. and you have to raise so much money. the cost of running for office is a major issue up here. it's why i could never run for senate. i couldn't raise that much money. >> you've had to raise increasing amounts of money to run for the house. what do you think about - >> i've been here so long, it came easier for me. finally, this last time i ran but i was spending money on
surveys. they were telling me i was 10, 12% ahead when probably i wasn't. and i -- i guess i thought i was, but it was -- it didn't turn out right. it didn't hurt me but it hurt my people so much. i had grown people crying there. i had one guy that's 6'8" that drives me places i go. i was there and it was obvious i was getting beat. i felt water hitting my head and i looked up, this old guy was crying. i said come on, you're 6'8", you're a grown man. it's nothing to cry about. i'm not hurt. please don't you all be heard. it hurt my friends and folks more than it hurt me. i could seat it coming. i'm ok. i think i'm pretty lucky to be 91 years old. i got a job until december 31st now. how many other 91-year-old guys have that?
very few. >> what are you going to do with your time after? >> i will keep working, i have to. i have expensive grandchildren. my grandchildren are going back to college station. i'm a texas guy but i'm an aggie now. they kiss me on the face, every kiss costs me a hundred dollars. but it's worth it. they were kissing me good-bye and i had a girl who worked for me before. she was strange. not unattractive but never had any boyfriends. she was going to open the door for them. i said are you going to kiss me? she said, no. i said why not? she said, well, when you were 19 -- 23 years old, would you want to kiss and 90-year-old woman? i said that's the greatest thing question isaid to a have asked. we will be friends forever. i think that's something people ought to hear.
>> if you were asked to tell a story from your service here, the best -- helps people understand what it's like to be a member of congress, whether it's a funny story or a story of power or whatever, what would that story be? >> oh, i don't know. john connolly was by far the greatest politician i ever knew. he was governor of texas. should have been president but they only had one delegate and couple million dollars wasn't nearly enough. i've had so many things that people helped me because i was a democrat and then when they helped me because i was republican. but i've always got along with -- neither one of them were many love with me but neither one of them really hated me. >> did it give you some bargaining advantage that you -- >> i think so. i've had to knock on the door of the white house and imply --
one time, i said that i think the president wanted me to vote a certain way. i said, well, i got a brother that always wanted to be a federal judge. he turned and the guy who was standing there, he said hall, this isn't a place to ask him for this. i said hell, he's asking me for something, i said i'll ask him for something. he was thinking about it. he turned and asked them if he could get confirmed. i said wait a minute, mr. president. he's not a lawyer. that brought a big laugh. every time i saw him after that, he laughed because he liked him because he wasn't a lawyer. those are some of the things you remember. >> so any regrets? >> no, not really. what i've done, i've had -- when i was a democrat, if a republican would run against me or announce against me, whoever was president up here, whether it was one of the bushes or a reagan, that's most of the time
i've been there, they would get in the race with me and tell them they weren't going to get any republican money. i have had help. i stumbled into it because i got along with everybody. i don't think i have an enemy in the entire congress. i don't think people say that's ralph hall's bill, let's vote against him or let's vote for him. i don't have any enemies over here. i don't run the thing. i'm the oldest member of congress to ever stand on the floor and cast a vote. you'd think that ought to buy me something. maybe i shouldn't have to the run for re-election but doesn't change anything. i'm just like everybody else. >> but you made it into the history books. >> but i'm there, and they call me at first over here to talk to me about like egypt, should they arm the people that were out in
the crowd there throwing rocks at their capital -- or arm the people that were in the capital that were mistreating the people who were in the streets. my suggestion was, arm both of them. they both hate us. well, they haven't asked me back over there since so -- i still think i was right. both of them hate us. why would we help either one of them. >> with your great friendship with the bushes, when you lost your bid, did you hear from anybody? >> i sure did. the nicest letter you've ever seen. >> was it george senior or -- >> it was george jr. >> what did it say? >> he said i was a good man, a great man, all that kind of bull. i'm going home for a thing friday. if i had known they were going to deify me like they did all this time, i would have quit a
long time ago. >> congressman, i don't believe that. >> well, it's true. i don't really have any enemies. i bruise easily. i never won a fistfight in school. i was 6'2", and looked like ichabod crain. i didn't have any girlfriends, but i didn't have any fistfight either. i wasn't much of a fistfighter. but i've always been fortunate to be in the right place and the right spot. and you have to have that kind of luck if you go where i've gone. 12 years as a judge in the smallest county in texas. i was the youngest county judge, i guess, in the state of texas. then 10 or 12 years in the senate, texas senate to pass some very important legislation in the senate, legislation that saved jobs at texarkana there, when you feel -- you work
together with them you save 500 jobs, it gives you a good feeling. if you can get a good boy in guam that wants to be stationed at fort worth because his grandfather is dying, it's a good feeling to be able to do things like that to help people. that's what i've got out of being where i was, because i got to do things to help people that otherwise you can't do. i even see a little difference now. i'm a defeated candidate now. i see some difference out there now as to how people treat me. or they don't need me because i'm not going to be here after the 1st. i don't like that but it's a hard, cold fact. i'm not going to be here after the 1st. i'm going to be at my grandkids. i haven't been hunting in -- i don't even know where my shotgun is. one guy in the depression said he ate so many rabbits, he freezes on dogs. i'm not that bad. and i'm going to help some
people that's need helping and i will look after grandchildren as i maybe have not looked after as much as i should have. >> thank you for spending time with c-span. it was good to reminisce over your career in congress. >> it was an honor to be here with you. announcer: brown politics is died at the age of 95. services will be held next saturday at rockwall, texas. q andcer: sunday night on a history professor amy greenberg discusses her book lady first. >> i was so astounded by the stuff sarah polk did. she wrote letters to acer in court -- a supreme court justice
and members of congress that were completely confident, 100% about politics, and were not noticeably different than a letter a man would write. announcer: on thursday, nancy pelosi and other members spoke on the floor, to pay tribute representative don young of alaska. now, the longest serving republican in-house history. he has served for 45 years. .his week, he asked the record in this is 20 minutes. without objection, the gentlewoman from california is recognized. the speaker: mr. speaker, i rise to mark an historic moment in our institution as don young, the dean of the house, becomes the longest serving republican in the house's history.