Billie Carr is one of Houston's leading progressive liberals, a Democratic national committe-
woman, and strong Kennedy supporter.
Victoria Smith: In 1976 you backed Jimmy
Carter and, now, you're supporting Kennedy.
Billie Carr: I was an uncommitted delegate to
the 1976 Democratic National Convention, but
I worked for Carter. I had some hopes for him
and that hope turned into excuses and apologies and finally disappointments. I don't think
he kept faith with the party platform or with
what he personally told me he would do. I
think we have to put him back on that track
through a Kennedy candidacy, or replace him
with a Kennedy nomination.
VS: But what about November? Who has the
better chance to beat Reagan? (U.S. Rep.)
Mickey Leland has come out with the party
unity theme that Carter stands the best chance
of beating Reagan.
BC: Well, Mickey is now an elected official
and, unfortunately, he has gone the way of
most party officials of whom Bob Dylan once
said, 'just want to be on the side that's winning.'
I'm disappointed in Mickey.
But back to your first question. I think that
if Kennedy could get the nomination, he would
have as good a chance of beating Reagan as Carter would have. It will be difficult, but I think
it is going to be very difficult to re-elect Carter.
VS: You think his bubble's going to burst over
the inflation issue?
BC: Yes. What's happening in Iran has saved
him, for patriotism reasons, but that's deteriorating. It's not going to be too long before the
American people are just going to get pretty
disgusted about that whole economic situation.
Things are getting worse every day, and not
just for the poor-it's always been bad for the
poor-and not just for the low-income, but even
middle class people. A couple called me just the
other day. They're both working and they've
been turned down for three mortgages in the
last few months. They can't buy a home in
Houston, Texas! And they are mad, frustrated,
upset. Those kinds of people are being put in a
squeeze, and they can't understand it.
I spoke with a wealthy oil and gas man
who said, 'God, even rich people are getting
hurt, I'm just like the man in Fourth Ward,
Jimmy Carter's going to put me out of business.'
See, the crunch is going all the way up, and
something has to happen. All those chickens are
going to come home to roost on Jimmy Carter
at some point.
I don't share Mickey's fear about electing
Kennedy, I fear trying to elect Carter.
VS: So you're saying that the deterioration of
the economy under Carter may very well be the
issue to pull Reagan into the White House-if
Carter wins the nomination?
BC: It's not as bad in Texas as it is in some
other places, but we're not far behind. But by
November, my dear...
I just don't know that Carter is re-electable
and I would hate to see Reagan win the presidency of the United States.
VS: But if the choice is Carter and Reagan, will
you support Carter?
BC: I certainly would be working for Carter
over Reagan, but not with a happy heart, a
clear mind, or a clear conscience. And only
because I'm afraid of what Reagan would do to
the nation. I think Reagan is a fool, and he is
much too conservative for anything I have in
mind. But I have very little hope for Carter
either, so it's really a dilemma, a very big
VS: A lot of Democrats who are not enthusiastic over a Carter nomination, nonetheless, have
some serious doubts about Kennedy. How have
you resolved those "moral" issues?
BS: Kennedy is a man who for 16 years in the
Senate has stood for the things that I believe in,
and has worked very hard for all the issues I'm
concerned about. His criminal bills bother me a
bit, but other than that, I have no problem with
As far as his personal life is concerned,
that's just ridiculous. The only way you can
evaluate the way a person would behave in an
emergency is to put Carter in a car, and have an
accident, and see how he handles it. It's silly to
think that what happened in an automobile
wreck has anything to do with how effective
you're going to be as president.
And as far as "morals" are concerned, for
God's sake, Thomas Jefferson had seven children by his sister-in-law, even Eisenhower had a
mistress, Roosevelt died with his mistress of all
those years. In movie stars, we think it's glamorous, but in politicians, we think it's disgraceful. And in our own families and private lives,
we excuse it, but we expect a politician to be
above all that, and they're not, they're not.
I don't care about Kennedy's personal life,
only he and his wife ought to be concerned
about that. His record in the senate is what
people need to be looking at, and in what he is
saying and what he could do for us.
VS: Still, the Chappaquidick affair sticks in
people's minds, and seems to affect even highly intelligent and astute voters.
BC: That's just ridiculous. I'd like anyone who
has had an accident to ask themselves if they
handled it in the best way they thought they
would have. None of us knows what we're
going to do, despite what we think we might
do beforehand. I think it's just an unfair thing
to use that as a way of evaluating whether
someone is capable of being president.
VS: You say Carter hasn't lived up to his com-
paign promises. What makes you think Kennedy would?
BC: Kennedy has a 16-year record in the senate of living up to his commitments. I've analysed those commitments pretty well. Now,
nobody lives up 100 per cent to anything, but I
think he has lived up to them better than most
any elected official I've had anything to do
with. I am satisfied with his record.
VS: In Houston, it seems that Kennedy is most
popular with the Chicano community. Is that
BC: Kennedy is very well respected among
Chicanos. Our Kennedy meetings have been
well attended by Chicanos. We have a Chicano
organizer working the valley and other places in
Texas, and we've had just excellent response
from the Chicano community. They very
strongly support Ted Kennedy.
VS: What about the black community?
BC: Blacks seem more inclined to support the
incumbent president. There seems to be a kind
of patriotism that exists in the black community, of being "good Americans" by continuing
to support the president through thick or thin,
right or wrong. If Kennedy were doing better,
I think that would be different, but then, it
would be different in the Anglo community, so
it's not strictly a black question. It gets back to
that wanting to be on the side that's winning.
And it's the Carter people who are raising
the fear of a Reagan victory.
VS: I suppose Leland's endorsement of the
Carter/Mondale campaign influenced some
BC: I think Mickey's decision is going to do
more harm to Mickey than it is to the Kennedy
campaign, to tell you the truth. It's interesting,
because even some blacks who themselves are
for Carter were very disappointed in Mickey.
It's the whole idea that Mickey is supposed to
be pure of mind and pure of heart. It's like expecting your leaders to be better than you.
It's like a Ralph Nader. You'd hate ever to
hear that he drove a Pinto or a Corvair. You
may. That's okay, but if he ever did, you'd be
The people that supported Leland in
money, marbles and chalk, are disappointed he
went with Carter. He's the only congressperson
with a safe district, and he can do anything he
wants to do, and people expect him to be above
Also it would have been better for Mickey
to have made his own announcement instead of
having Vice President Mondale announce it
publicly and it would have been better for him
to at least have talked to some of his Kennedy
friends and let them know.
VS: Have you talked to him since then?
BC: He called me the morning after the announcement (at a banquet honoring the Democratic State Chair Billy Goldberg on March 27).
He said he'd stayed up all night, didn't sleep
and I said, That's called a conscience. It kept
you awake this time, but next time it will be
easier to sleep, and the time after that you
won't have any trouble at all? Mickey's situation is more serious than just a presidential
VS: Isn't it called the Gammage Syndrome?
BC: Yes. It's like you have three chances (and
it gets easier each time). Like Bob Gammage, he
made his first mistake, and then his second, and
then his third, and then after that he was voting
the same way Ron Paul was voting. So you
worry when someone flakes off to some position, and then tries to justify it.
VS: I also think of Hubert Humphrey, who got
progressively more conservative as he went
along. I grew up in Minneapolis and Humphrey
was a real radical when he was mayor of Minneapolis!
BC: Well, what happened to Humphrey was
Lyndon Johnson, and that's what's happening
to Mondale. Mondale's repeating the same
thing. He's now serving with Carter, and when
Carter's through, you won't be able to elect
Mondale to anything. He's exactly repeating
the Humphrey thing, he's got himself tied to
Carter the same way Humphrey got himself
tied to Johnson. And it killed Humphrey politically and it's going to kill Mondale, more than
But I've not seen that in Kennedy. His senate record is a good indication of the way Ken-
VS: And you haven't had any indication that
Kennedy would compromise his liberal views to
be more electable?
BC: Now, if you want to talk about how a
candidate stands up under pressure let me give
you an example ...
When Kennedy was losing so badly [in the
early primaries], he announced he was going to
make the big Georgetown speech. I always expect the worst. I thought here it comes, I
almost said alligator because that's what I call
politicians at that point of desperation who
turn away from liberal progressive programs,
and start trying to change their image so that
they will be more electable, more winnable. For
a moment I thought Kennedy would try to
kind of out-Carter Carter, in being a kind of
"me-too" candidate. That's what generally
happens with candidates. Or it's a time when
most alligators would be scrambling to get out
from under. He didn't do those things.
When he made his Georgetown speech, it
was the most liberal progressive statement, and
I think it set the tone for what we ought to be
about in the 80s. I was proud of him then, because he didn't do what the pressure from the
media, and the Carter victories would have
done to most people. That's what I evaluate
Kennedy on. He didn't give in and say what
people want to hear, he didn't turn on his own
programs, if anything he got more progressive.
About the Olympics he said, 'Let's go over
there and win the gold and come back home,
gold's valuable these days.' I mean, he's even
going against public opinion by telling us what
we ought to be hearing, rather than maybe
what we want to be hearing. That's why I'm
proud of his candidacy.
al constituency." He says that while the
senator may have Chicano support in
some parts of the country—Arizona, for
instance—prominent Chicanos here like
Carter appointee and former INS (Immigration and Naturalization Service) head
Leonel Castillo and McConn aide John
Castillo are working actively for the Carter/Mondale campaign.
Hofheinz admits that Carter has
"locked up the support of virtually all the
Democratic elected officials in Texas. Of
course, this is traditional, that the elected
officials support the man in office."
(Congressman Bob Eckhardt still remains
neutral at this time.)
Art Wiese, Washington bureau chief
for the Houston Post, recently made mention of the success the Carter/Mondale
team has had in Texas. He says they've
been able to accomplish "what generations of the state's feuding Democrats
have failed to produce—an alliance, however fragile, between the party's left and
right wings." The political endorsements
are "an enormous tent covering a broad
sweep of ideologies" from former U.S.
Senator Ralph Yarborough to Texas
House Speaker Billy Clayton.
Carter's strength in the black community is formidable, at least in Texas, as
even the most ardent Kennedy supporters
"Blacks seem more inclined to support the incumbent president," Carr says
frowning. "There seems to be a kind of
patriotism that exists in the black community, of supporting the president
through thick or thin, right or wrong.
There are blacks who are for Kennedy, of
course," she stresses but concedes, "that
situation is getting kind of tough for us."
When Carr says tough, she means
tough. At a banquet honoring Texas
Democratic chair Billy Goldberg (March
27), Vice President Walter Mondale
announced U.S. Representative Mickey
Leland's endorsement of President Carter.
Leland had been uncommitted and many
felt he was a natural for Kennedy, citing
Leland and Kennedy's camaraderie on
health care legislation.
However after flying in from Washington with Mondale that night, the freshman congressman allowed the vice president to break the news to the crowd. It
stunned the Kennedy people and angered
some of them to hear from the pulpit
that Leland would be a co-manager of
the Texas Carter/Mondale re-election
Billie Carr does not hide her feelings
on the matter and says she was openly
disappointed. Leland even surprised some
Carter people, she says. "They understand why they have to be for Carter, but
even they expected Mickey to be pure, a
"He's the only Congressman with a
safe district. He can do anything he wants
She thinks Leland's decision "will do
more harm to Mickey than it will to the
Carr feels if Kennedy were doing
better nationally, he would probably
enjoy more support among black Texas
And if former UN Ambassador
Andrew Young's assessment is correct,
Carr is right on target.
In a recent address here to a predominantly black audience, Young encouraged
blacks to vote for Carter since he was
almost a shoo-in for the Democratic
Voting for a winner, Young suggested,
was the politically prudent route for
blacks to take.
Of interest in the midst of all the black
politicians voicing their support for the
administration is a Harris poll in mid-
April that shows Kennedy leading Carter
nationwide among black Democratic