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Oral Histories and Interviews: Fenno - Julia Butler Hansen


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Interview with Rep. Julia Butler Hansen (D-WA)
May 1968

Tough, gracious, frank--she gave me an hour and treated me seriously.


Advice to newcomer: "Know every item that's in your bill. Be prepared to hold a colloquy on six trees in South Dakota. For everyone else on the floor, they are interested in just one thing. You have to know them all."


"Timing is everything. [House Speaker Sam] Rayburn [D-TX] was a master of timing. There used to be a saying in my state that some people would never learn. They never developed a sensitivity to the mood of the House. That's why we only have two hours of general debate. Two hours is enough time for everyone to get it out of his system. More than that, people begin to get edgy, they want to go home, and the fur will begin to fly." "I always check with the leadership to make sure all the things are arranged, that if whip calls are needed, they'll be ready."


"The greatest problem is a controversial item that can't be easily explained, one that looks like a luxury item or a frill--like arts and humanities." "I talk to everyone, get every point of view and give everyone the fairest possible consideration." "To a mid-westerner, arts and humanities doesn't mean anything. But to the east side and west side, it's important." (She told Senator Claiborne Pell, D-RI, to hold up on the authorization bill so they could say "not authorized yet" if someone objected. "That took the steam out of the boys"--then the Senate put it in, they agreed in conference.


"When the conference reports come back, I control all the time. And I'm not going to give H. R. Gross [R-IA] forty minutes. It's just like any other day" (smiling). "I'm a great believer in figures. I learned a long time ago that if you have the votes, you don't need to speak. And if you don't have the votes, you can talk all day, and nothing will help you. The longer you talk, the more trouble you are in."


Story regarding Robert L. F. Sikes (D-FL) and Sam M. Gibbons (D-FL): Gibbons proposes an amendment regarding poor people. Hansen tells Sikes that if he wants his fish hatchery he had better stop Gibbons. "I told him if he didn't help I couldn't hold off attacks on his fish laboratory. And I said I'll take a very dismal view of appropriations for Florida in the future. I didn't want any teapot tempest on the floor."


Story regarding clerk: "It's no secret that some clerks in the subcommittee run the committee. I told him, you had better run for Congress. And if I'm so stupid I can't understand it, I don't belong in Congress. That's settled."


Story regarding Arnold Olsen (D-MT), Hansen's competition for a seat on Appropriations.

Appropriations Committee Chairman Clarence Cannon (D-MO): "I'd love to have a woman on my committee."


Olsen to Cannon: "You don't want a woman on your committee."


Hansen: "Cannon began to think about it and began to waver. He shivered a little."


Hansen to Cannon (by emissary): "You wouldn't want your opposition to women and your letter to me to appear in the press, would you? I won't take any chances."


Hansen to Olsen: "If you want to run versus me on the basis of knowledge, experience, and what votes we can get, fine. But if you are going to run versus me on grounds that I'm a woman, I'll go out to Montana where I often go to make speeches to Democratic women, and I'll cut you to pieces out there."


Hansen: "The next day he came to me and said he was dropping out, that he didn't want to run versus a woman. I said, 'that's not all there is to it, is it Arnold? You don't have the votes.'"

"Education and Labor is a philosophical committee. You have great debates on great issues."


"More pressure member-to-member on Appropriations than on other committees."


"The member-to-member pressure is much greater on Appropriations than on the authorizing committee. Authorizing legislation is more technical and only a few people get interested in it. But when you get to the money, every member is interested."


"[Appropriations Chairman] George (Mahon) [D-TX] said to me, 'Julia, you're putting too much in the bill. You've got to take some out.' So I said to him, 'George, I represent all the states west of the Dakotas, and that's a pretty big piece of real estate.' He said, 'Yes, but you've got to cut the bill.' So I said, 'George, I'll tell you what I'll do. I'll change places with you. If you take over my committee, I'll go on the Defense Subcommittee, and we'll see what you can cut there.' He said, 'Well, well, I guess not.' But I went home and thought it over and worked like fury to take some money out of the bill, and I found five projects I could cut. So I went back to him the next day and told him. One of them was Guadeloupe, Texas. George wasn't listening when I said that, but a newspaper man was sitting in the corner. He heard it and put it in the paper. The next day, George said, 'What do you mean cutting this project?' and I said, 'I told you I was going to do it.' I said, 'One man is going to get one point four million dollars, and I think that's too much.' He said that he agreed. He's very fair. He's courteous and gentlemanly, and much more considerate of the wishes of others than Mr. Cannon. Sometimes I wish he'd look a little harder at his defense budget. . . ." Then a long, long discussion of how much we spend on defense, war, liquor, drugs, hardware compared to interior and how she got all these figures for life on floor.


"It's common sense that when you get the chance, you go to a higher committee in the House. In my state legislature, I was chairman of Education. Then later, I had a chance to move up to Highways, and I did. I could run the education program of the state through the highway program. There was that much power. The same in Congress. The authorizing committee on the interior was fine and good, but it didn't have the power. If you can't get the funds, you won't get the project. It's just common sense."


"I don't try to live in a woman's world. I live in a man's world, and I operate that way. A woman has to work twice as hard as a man to get accepted. You can't be an incompetent woman. If you are, the men will laugh you down the drain. . . . I'm the first woman to be chairman of an Appropriations subcommittee. I'm sure George Mahon asked everyone around if they thought I'd be a good chairman. But if you'll notice, I have less trouble with my bills than most of the others."


Administration? No generalization. "They leave Appropriations alone."


Clientele groups: More active on Appropriations than Interior. She spoke of the pressure on Indiana dunes and Piscataway as very great. Pulled some stunt regarding authorization here, too. Kept it out of the appropriations bill, and let the Senate put it in.


Appropriations less partisan then. "But partisanship has mounted in the last two years. They have been hard years for Appropriations with the fiscal situation so difficult."


Interior and Insular Affairs Committee Chairman Wayne N. Aspinall (D-CO) helps her--a colloquy on floor for Aspinall--she knows him well--was "trained" by him on Interior Committee.


But she points out all the time that she had twenty-two years in Washington's legislature--that she's experienced, not stupid, et cetera.


Not very good comparing Interior and Education and Labor. I gave up. It was too long ago, and the Interior Subcommittee is so immediate.


Michael J. Kirwan (D-OH) asked for her on the Interior Subcommittee. She knew him before, and they had some (unnamed) mutual friend who was very influential.


On Land and Water Conservation Fund--back door financing. "George came to me and said I was hurting the Appropriations Committee by supporting the financing, that their members could go out and buy anything. I told him that the escalation of land prices was a scandal, and that if we didn't move as quickly as possible, it would be worse. I also said we couldn't defeat the bill anyway, and that our best chance was to make a clear record. If you can't lick 'em, I said, join 'em, and get the best you can."