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'Twisted Justice' - Former Oklahoma Governor Writes Memoir

September 12, 2012 1 p.m.


David Hall, former Oklahoma governor

Related Story: 'Twisted Justice' - Former Oklahoma Governor Writes Memoir


This is a rush transcript created by a contractor for KPBS to improve accessibility for the deaf and hard-of-hearing. Please refer to the media file as the formal record of this interview. Opinions expressed by guests during interviews reflect the guest’s individual views and do not necessarily represent those of KPBS staff, members or its sponsors.

CAVANAUGH: Old wounds have healed for former Oklahoma government David Hall. He has decided to write a book about the most infamous part of his life, convicted on federal bribery charges stemming from his time as governor. He describes how part son political rancor can lead to dysfunctional government. Governor Hall, welcome to the show.

HALL: Thank you, it's an honor to be here, and I'm a big fan of yours.

CAVANAUGH: That's very nice of you to say. I want people to know that you maintain your innocence despite the conviction, and you say you've forgiven the people involved. So after 3 decades, why write this book?

HALL: Well, my grandchildren would never know my side of the story because at the time I was 86ed, our state was -- convicted, our state was controlled by one major media source. They were able to eliminate just about any other story coming out about my side of the case. So I thought I'm going to put it on paper so my descendants will know the true story.

CAVANAUGH: So after all this time, you haven't had the opportunity to basically write out your side of the story

HALL: Oh, no. I've had many opportunities. When I was in prison, I wrote the outline for the book. I put it away because I got so angry, by the time I finished the outline that it sat for ten years. Then it was probably another seven or eight years that I resurrected it and started gean. Then I put it away again, and I thought I'm not going to ever go there. But when they attempted remove president Clinton from office by that impeachment, I felt that was unjustified. I'm not excusing his moral act, but the attempt to impeach him for something that should never have been brought or given that much attention was unpartnerable to me. That's why I decided to finish the book.

CAVANAUGH: You went to prison for 18 months. A lot of people call federal minimum security prison, you know what they call it.

HALL: Club fed.

CAVANAUGH: Exactly. What was it like for you? Was it like a country club

HALL: Not at all. It was more like being in basic training in theary. I lived in a barrack, and there were 50 Americans and 450 undocumented workers that had been put there before being deported. And it -- I was in the high desert, Safford in the remote area in the northeast part of Arizona. It was very difficult for the federal prison system to find a prison in which there was not somebody who had either been prosecuted or was a relative of someone I had prosecuted during my years as district attorney in Tulsa.

CAVANAUGH: Now, as I said in the very beginning, you said then and you say now you didn't do this. How awful is it to be incarcerated like that?

HALL: I felt like Jean Valjean in Les Miserables. It just haunts me. But it served a purpose. If I had gone on in politics, I might well have had a heart attack and died. At that time, I weighed about 230, and I was constantly aware that I might have heart trouble. My wife was thrilled that I got out of it, not by the way I got out, but the fact that we left. And after 57 years, I listened to her very carefully.

CAVANAUGH: Well, I want to tell our listeners you're slim and trim today. So it must be agreeing with you. When you were at that federal prison, you were there at the same time as John irlick man. He was in jail from charges stemming from watergate. You were a Democrat, him a Republican. Did you have a lot of interaction?

HALL: A lot of interaction. But in the 17 months we spent together, we never discussed my case or his case. And it was sort of an unsaid agreement between us. The most interesting thing, we were the only two lawyers in the camp. You know what the first question I would ask anybody if they came to ask me for advice?

CAVANAUGH: Have you been to John?

HALL: You're the first person that ever got it right!


HALL: The thing we did not want was a disagreement between us. So John never gave advice to anybody that I had, and vice verse A. He played only bridge, I played only backgammon. We never competed in anything in which there would be some rancor. We had some really difficult times at first. When I first got there, I had such a hatred for what they had done to me that it was difficult not to smack him the first time I saw him. But as it was, it was sort of a standoff. The only time we ever had a very long, detailed conversation was there was a plot to kidnap him. So they locked him up, and we were the two most prominent people in the camp, together in a cell for 24 hours. And that's the only time we had long, long discussions about politics in general.

CAVANAUGH: You just -- you took us back to the '70s there with the name John irlick man, serving time in his role in the watergate scandal. In your book, you talk about how the watergate scandal is connected to the conspiracy, as you call it, to make sure that you were ultimately charged with these bribery charges that you were convicted of. And if just -- in bringing us back to Watergate, you remind us of a time after that scandal when the nation was hoping for better government. And I wonder from your unique perspective, as someone who was brought down by political intrigue, do you think the nation is in a better or worse shape politically today than it was back in those watergate days?

HALL: Oh, I think it's in much better shape. Of the wonderful thing about the 24 hour news cycle is that it's very, very difficult for anyone to hide anything or for an opinion not to be exploited by one side or the other. I think that's the greatest blessing we have. The worst blessing we have are the types of extremists and -- one of them being this issue of signing the no-tax pledge by the Republican which put these men in a strait jacket where they couldn't make a decision or they would be just a target for all kinds of bad words.

CAVANAUGH: I wonder, governor, did you watch the conventions?

HALL: Oh, my gosh! Yes.

CAVANAUGH: What did you think?

HALL: Oh, I thought they both were marvelous. But it's so tragic that conventions have no suspense now. The last suspenseful convention we had was Kennedy/Johnson. We didn't know who the particular person was going to be until the last minute. And it was so great to see president Kennedy choose Johnson. But this convention was more of a show and tell than it would be -- both convention, and I thought the two ladies were the high points of the convention. But the one that swept them away was Bill Clinton. He brought these issues down to the denominator for all of us and made real these arguments rather than being esoteric.

CAVANAUGH: You spoke of Michelle Obama and Mrs. Romney. In thinking about Mitt Romney, you live in La Jolla. Are you a neighbor?

HALL: No. There is a high rent district in La Jolla and a low rent district. And I hope to live in the low rent district.


CAVANAUGH: I want to go back to your assessment of the conventions for just a moment. What you're saying is back in the day, they used to be sort of messy and nobody really knew the outcome. And now it must seem really stage managed to you.

HALL: In the old days, it was like making sausage. You didn't want to know everything that was going on. Nowa day, it's a planned entertainment event as well as an issue-oriented event. The major networks used to carry much more of the convention than they do now. They have only this very short span in which you only see the very best of the convention, if you want to take out Clint eastwood's situation. In the old days, you got a chance to see the rough and tumble.

CAVANAUGH: I remember. Basically all day long coverage they used to have.

HALL: You're right. And some of the great news men that were are developed as a result of those microphones on their heads going around and interviewing really made history for us.

CAVANAUGH: And one of the things that's changed since your time in office is the amount of money that campaigns have to raise. I wonder, do you remember how much you raised in your 1970 governor --

HALL: Do I remember? You're not kidding.


HALL: I can tell you all three timis ran. For the race that he woo won, I raised $750,000, and we had no donation over $700.

CAVANAUGH: And I just looked it up. Both presidential candidates have already raised over $500 million.

HALL: Oh, it's unbelievable. And it's so difficult to know how to manage this because the loopholes that have been perpetrated by the lobbyists in these various campaign, particularly the super pacs that are completely unregulated, it reminds me of the early days of the hedge fund managers in accident, and with no regulation, they were moving our economy in different directions.

CAVANAUGH: I was going to ask you about the citizens united decision. Some say that's unleashed a torrent of corporate money into political campaigns.

HALL: That's why personally, Maureen, I'm for President Obama. I want to see him reelected to finish the job. And one of the other reasons is I want to see some moderate judges appointed that will take into consideration the effect 50 years down the line that these are going to have.

CAVANAUGH: How much time, I'm wondering, what does it do to our political leaders that they need so much money to run for office that so much of their time is taken up just trying to fund raise?

HALL: It's tragic. I would bet you, I don't know that from any survey. But bet you that 60-70% of the time is spent either on fundraising or planning fund raiding or supervising somebody else. It's tragic. Part of the reason I wrote this book, I believe we need citizens who are politicians rather than politicians who are citizens. And the fact that -- I wrote a piece after I was elected but before I took office saying that if I only served one term and I got done what I wished to get done, it would have been worth it. I didn't know how prophetic that was. But we need more of that attitude, and if we did, it would change the issues of this grace divisiveness more than anything.

CAVANAUGH: In your book, twisted justice, you criticize as you have already here, the use in recent years of wedge issues in politics. Do you see wedge issues being used again in this political campaign?

HALL: It's interesting. Not as much as I observed in the last four-year campaign. The issue of abortion and gay rights has played a part, but both the candidates I am so pleased to see have either stayed more on economics or healthcare as the big issue the Republicans are going for. The tragedy of this race though is when both leaders, the house and the Senate on the Republican side, said that their objective when President Obama took office was to see that he was defeated, not to see that what was done for the country was good in those four years.

CAVANAUGH: They say once politics gets in your blood, it's hard to walk away. And you were basically forced out of politics because of your conviction. Do you miss it?

HALL: Oh, my gosh! Do you miss a horse race if you're a racing fan? I love it, but it's great to be a senior elder not being zinged by the press and have a chance to express the -- the toughest thing when you're office, you have to be so careful about every word you say that you're reluctant many times to speak out on issues that really aren't important you'd like to have a say. That's not true today at 80 years old.

CAVANAUGH: Have you ever worked as a political consultant?

HALL: No. But I have a friend who's a dynamite CEO, on his way up, and when he get a chance to run, I hope I can help him.

CAVANAUGH: Is there anything that sticks out to you that Mitt Romney and President Obama should be doing this instead of that?

HALL: Well, yes. I do think that President Obama could have been more careful in the way that the Obamacare was presented, and having to defend it now, for example, sending the Congress that 1,600 page document with so little time. Upon on the other hand, as I know from my own experience, that first year, year and a half that you're in office is the only time that you can completely depend on being able to get something done fast. I took on the oil industry to get the gross production tax pass to pay for education and teachers. But that probably was one of the things that hurt me the most after that. But had I not done it in the first year, it would have never been done.

CAVANAUGH: One of the reasons you wanted to write the book, I understand is to encourage people to think about going into politics:

HALL: Absolutely.

CAVANAUGH: Considering your experience though, why would you want people to consider running for office?

HALL: If good people keep turning down the chance to be representatives and senators or governors or mayors, we're going to have nothing but second-rate people serving in these offices. And already I find many people in California and other places where I speak are cynical, thinking instead of getting the cream of the crop, we're getting less than the cream of the crop representing us across the country.

CAVANAUGH: When bright, spirited young people see the price you've paid, and to an extent, are the price Bill Clinton has paid for being in public service, what would be the counterweight to that?

HALL: Well, the chance to change the destiny of this country is the greatest challenge in the world. Also the ability to carry on to completion something that you want done. There is no other activity that's harder to do and gives you more satisfaction when it's done. With all the turmoil I had, I am so proud of 21 issues that we took on and passed 20 of them. And Oklahoma is a better state for it want

CAVANAUGH: Now, people listening to this can still hear that lovely Oklahoma twang in your voice.


CAVANAUGH: Why did you decide to move out here to San Diego?

HALL: Well, in my second year in office, we decided that we would try and set up a national campaign to try and be vice president in the 1976 race. So I began to meet people across the nation, and we organized 11 states: New York and California being No. 1 and 2. Hubert Humphreys' finance chairman became my chairman for California, Jean Wyman. They did such a marvelous job, and I loved California so much, and I had so many friend from my days in politics that lived in la costa that we owned a place there, are and we moved there after I finished my term in prison.

CAVANAUGH: And just stayed here because it's so wonderful

HALL: Oh, and moved to La Jolla which is the most diverse -- walk down the street, there are 10 different languages going. And everybody I've met in California that I -- that excites me or these people who are more interested in what you know and what you can do than where you came from or who you are.

CAVANAUGH: Is this book twisted justice, is this your legacy?

HALL: It's part of my legacy. There are two more books that I have in the mill. One is a very short book on how to overcome life's obstacles. I haven't given it a name yet. But then the last book is how America treats her political prisoners, and the name of that back is saffron.

CAVANAUGH: All right.