BOHL: The following is an unrehearsed interview with former StateRepresentative Frederick J. "Fred" Cowan who represented Jefferson County in the Thirty-Second District from 1982 to 1987. The interview was conducted by Christy Bohl for the University of Kentucky Library, Kentucky Legislative Oral History Project on Friday, July 28, 2006, in the office of Fred Cowan in Louisville, Kentucky, at 2:00 PM.
[Pause in recording.]
BOHL: This afternoon I'm talking with Fred Cowan. Mr. Cowan, could youplease tell me where and when you were born?
COWAN: (laughs) Uh, October 11, 1945, New York City.
BOHL: Did you grow up in New York?
COWAN: Uh, I spent about the first seven years of my life in New York.And I lived in Wilmington, Delaware, for a year and then I moved to 1:00Kentucky. I was say eight or so. About nineteen fifty-, '53, I think is when I moved here, so I think I was just, just about eight.
BOHL: How did you end up making these moves?
COWAN: Well, uh, it's an interesting story. My, uh, mother is, grew upin a farm family in western Kentucky, and, uh, outside a, a little town called Sturgis, Kentucky, which is in Union County. And she, uh, after she finished high school, in the middle of the Depression, she came to Louisville to get a, a business degree, kind of a secretarial degree. She wound up working in Cincinnati, where she met my father, who was also working. My father was from New York. And they got married after a while. Uh, I like to say that my father was a traveling salesman 2:00and my mother was a farmer's daughter. So, they got married after a while, and then, uh, they lived in, uh, Cincinnati and then they lived in Birmingham, Alabama, where my sister was born, and then moved back to New York. My dad had gotten a job in New York. So, that's how I wound up in New York. And then he, he got a job working in the DuPont Company in Wilmington, and went to, went, we went to Wilmington, Delaware, for a year. And then my parents got divorced. And this is 1953, and which was very unusual in those days. And, still kind of a, looked down upon. And so my mother took her three children, my brother, my sister and me, and brought them back home to Sturgis, Kentucky. And, uh, we lived in Sturgis, Kentucky, for a year, and my mother was, uh, running a little, trying to run a little daycare center that she started and so forth, and then, uh, she decided she wanted to bring, bring us the whole family to Louisville. So, we got to 3:00Louisville in about, nineteen, I think, fifty-four.
BOHL: Okay, uh, clearly with her bringing you back to Sturgis, did youhave much contact with your grandparents then?
COWAN: Uh, yes, uh, we initially lived with them. Uh, this is hermother and father, we initially lived with them, uh, for two or three months on their, in their farmhouse outside of town. And then we moved into town in Sturgis. So, um, we had some, I wasn't, you know, I wasn't especially close to them I don't think. But we did things with them; we did things on the farm and so forth. So, I have that, uh, that farming background.
BOHL: Okay, what kinds of activities did you do when you were a child?
COWAN: Oh gosh, um, well, I guess I was pretty typical in that I did,you know, a lot of sports with kids. Uh, uh, played, uh, you know, 4:00baseball, football, basketball, you know, that sort of thing after school. Um, and , uh, I guess one unusual thing about me compared to most city kids is that I did get the opportunity in the summertime to go to my mother's, uh, home in western Kentucky, and I would stay with her sisters, one of her other sisters and their family. And so I would get, they were farmers, and I would get exposure with working on a farm, and, you know, and I did, by the time I would say nine, or so, until I was maybe fourteen or fifteen, I would spend a lot of time down there in the summertime, and, you now, do different things on the farm, and get up and go to work with the, all the, of course, the kids worked in those days and, on the farm. So, um, so I had that experience. 5:00And, um, I did, you know, I went, I went to camp a couple of times, like, you know, day, um, YMCA camp a couple of times. Uh, and, uh, you know, I was pretty, pretty typical, nothing, nothing unusual I suppose.
BOHL: Uh, was education something that was really stressed in yourfamily?
COWAN: Well, that's a good question. Um, it's hard for me to answerthat question because I don't know whether it was stressed or it was just kind of expected. I think it was, we were, it was always expected of us that we would go to college; it never occurred to me that I wouldn't go to college. Um, and, uh, uh, I was, for some reason, I was, I think probably it had to do with my parent's divorce and me being motivated maybe to, get the approval of my father, or something, I don't know quite what it was. Uh, I, I was, I never had 6:00to be, uh, encouraged to study; I was a very studious, uh, kid and, uh, worked very hard in school and did very well. Uh, my older sister, on the other hand, she was not that good of a student, although she subsequently wound up with a, uh, PhD from Oxford, and she just retired from being a professor at, uh, Candler School of Theology in Emery for thirty years. And my brother, who also went to, who was a terrible student, younger than I was, uh, he, uh, wound up getting a PhD also from, uh, Michigan. So, so I'm the un-, uneducated one because I just have a law degree. (Bohl laughs) So, uh, so I don't really say that education was always stressed; it was expected, you know, and it's like, you're gonna be going to college somewhere. I mean, the main thing about my childhood I think the, the dominating feature is that I grew up, from the time I was eight, eight or nine basically in a single parent home. My dad was living in New York; my mother was here raising three kids. Uh, we were, uh, low income; I wouldn't say we were poor, 7:00but we watched our pennies very carefully. And, um, um, you know, that was sort of the way we lived. , you know, we lived in a two-bedroom, um, rented apartment in, uh, in the Highlands here. And, um, you know, we didn't go out to eat; we, we had a, drove a used car, and didn't have Cokes in the house because they were too expensive. And so, it was, you know, it was a pretty, uh, uh, I wouldn't, aesthetic is too strong a word but it was, you know, there were no frills in my childhood, let's put it that way.
BOHL: Okay, where did you go to school when you were growing up?
COWAN: I went to public schools, um, throughout, uh, both in, uh, NewYork and Wilmington and Sturgis. and, uh, when I came here I went 8:00to public school system, the City of Louisville School System, and I went to Bloom Elementary School, uh, Highland Junior High School, and Atherton High School. So, that was, in, in those days those were all neighborhood schools before the days of, uh, uh, of busing. And also at that time, Louisville had a city school district and a county school district, so it was still the city school district.
BOHL: Uh, what were your favorite subjects in school?
COWAN: Uh, that's a good question. Um, gee whiz, I don't know, I wouldsay probably in high school, you go back to high school, I liked, uh, math didn't like science so much, I liked math. I was pretty good at math. Uh, I really wasn't as, surprising given what I've turned out doing, I don't think I was really very much into history, uh, political science, that sort of thing. Um, so, you know, I, as I said I worked 9:00hard at all the subjects I did, I didn't really try to distinguish them based upon, oh, I liked this one better than that one, therefore, I worked harder. I mean, I worked, I worked hard to, you know, do well and get good grades.
BOHL: Were there any particular teachers who really encouraged you?
COWAN: Well, yeah, there were. We had, I had some, uh, several alongthe road. Probably the best teacher I ever had was my math teacher in high school. Mrs. Helen Cunningham was her name and she was a great teacher. She, uh, really got us to think, I mean, that was, you know, which was very unusual among high school teachers, she was really, she'd ask us open-ended questions and get us to think about and try to get us to see, you know, how, you know, how you get, whether it was, uh, geometry and, uh, or whatever. Um, and, or, you know, we got into calculus and those things, I mean, she was, you know, it wasn't just 10:00teaching things as --------(??), she wasn't telling any answers, she was trying to get you, and as a result, there I was in a public high school and graduated in 1963, and my class--well, first, I have to back up and say, uh, at that time the public school system had just started doing some tracking and had some advanced classes, uh, not too many, but, uh, I was in, uh, advanced classes. and this, this, uh, class that we had at Atherton, I mean, our SAT average on math in this public high school was over 700, so, you know, I mean, it was, uh, she was a good teacher. And, uh, there was some smart kids in that class as well. So, uh, it, it, uh, I remember her best, uh, in terms of a being a great teacher and being a great friend. Um, but there were other teachers, there were good teachers, uh, some not so good but there were good teachers in public schools in those days. And, um, I mean, I'm sure there still are. But I think the, you know, part of the relevance 11:00of me being in advanced class, uh, to being a subject of being a legislator is important because, uh, when I got in the legislator I was probably one of the, uh, champions of the gifted and talented program in the legislature at the time I was there. I mean, I was a big advocate. There was, uh, a fair amount of opposition in the, uh, in the, when, when I was in a legislator from '82 to '87 , uh, from people who thought that, you know, that it was elitist or anti-democratic in some way to have, you know, a gifted and talented classes. But I know based upon my experience and based upon my personal experience, uh, learning, I knew how important it was to me to, uh, have, uh, a gifted and talented class, uh, that, that I got to participate in. And I'm, I'm still a big believer in, in those classes.
BOHL: Okay. Uh, was religion something important in your family growing12:00up?
COWAN: Yeah, I'd say it was. Um, um, of course there are alwaysgradations of how important it is but we went to church every Sunday and Sunday school. Uh, my mother was, uh, uh, you know, loyal and dedicated, um, Methodist. Uh, we weren't, uh, it wasn't like we read the Bible every morning, or, you know, we might say grace before dinner or say our prayers at night. But it wasn't overly emphasized, let's put it that way, but it was very much a presence in our lives. and, uh, uh, I grew up with that in my background and I, when I was, I didn't mention when, you asked what my activities were earlier, I forgot to mention Boy Scouts. I was a Boy Scout. And, uh, I received the, uh, God and Country Award which was, uh, an award for the Boy Scout which you had to work for to do, you know, certain things religiously- 13:00oriented. Uh, so I, I got that. And, uh, so, it was, it was there; it was not, you know, as I said, it wasn't like someone beating you over the head with it, but it was very much a presence in our lives.
BOHL: Okay. With your dad being in New York and you living in Kentuckyprimarily how often did you get to see him?
COWAN: Um, probably about twice a year. In those days in the fifties,you know, air travel was not as easy. Uh, of course it was a long way to drive; there were no interstate highways or they were just beginning. Uh, so we maybe got to see him maybe Thanksgiving and then we would frequently spend, uh, summer vacation with him, uh, you know, usual two weeks or so. And, uh, that was about the exposure and we would talk to him about, you know, maybe once a week on the phone he'd call or once every two weeks. He, uh, it was very, it was very difficult. It was a, uh, you know, my dad was a little bit remote but yet he didn't want to feel remote. Uh, and he was kind of a strict 14:00father at the same time, not, you know, not brutally strict but strict. And yet here he was a thousand miles away. And so it was kind of an uneasy relationship, uh, I think, growing up with my dad. And, uh, but he was very much a presence, and, uh, he always paid his child support, when I became attorney general later on, uh, uh, the collection of child support became a major issue for me. And I don't know whether that's somehow related to, you know, the fact that my parents were divorced but, you know, it never became an issue. Nowadays, it's, it's scandalous, people who don't pay child support, I mean, it's a major, uh, scandal in our country and was when I was attorney general and remains so today. Uh, but he never missed a payment. And, uh, he was always, you know, very conscious in that regard. And my dad was very honest and, uh, you know, a good man. So, you know, that was, that 15:00was, um, you know, he didn't abandon the family or anything like that.
BOHL: How did you decide to go to Dartmouth?
COWAN: Uh, when I, when I went to Atherton High School in the, inthe sixties, Atherton was at that time I suppose was the premier high school in Jefferson County in the sense that, well, from its neighborhood it was probably more of the wealthier area of the city and this was before the, all this, the growth of the suburbs that we see today. [telephone rings] And--
UNKNOWN: -- J.D. Nichols returning your call.
COWAN: J.D., yeah, yeah, I got to take this.
[Pause in recording.]
COWAN: Atherton High School was, uh, sort of the premier high school atthat time. And it was just, uh, kind of expected, I guess, that part of the institutional fabric that the kids who were, you know, high up in the class would, uh, go to Ivy League schools if they could. And, 16:00um, uh, so, uh, I applied, and I applied to a bunch of other schools and I was accepted to all of them. I was very fortunate in that regard. And, um, I wound up, it, it came down between Dartmouth and Harvard. I was accepted at Harvard, and, uh, but they didn't give me any money. and, uh, so I debated that and I really didn't have any money and I just didn't feel like it was, it was going(??), I mean, my mother probably would've figured out some way to let me go if I wanted to go. But, you know, I was, like, I mean, Dartmouth had given me like a $1200 scholarship and a $500 loan, which, you know, at that time room, tuition and board was like $3400, so that was a lot of money and I was going to work the side. So a $1000 or a $1200 scholarship was a significant thing to pass up just to go to Harvard and, and, you know, Dartmouth was a super school. So, you know, I had my, I had a, in New 17:00York I had my grandmother, uh, well, actually she's my step-grandmother she said, "Oh, well, Dartmouth's got a lot of publicity lately or something," which is a kind of a stupid reason to go, but I went. And, and, uh, I, I guess the, Dartmouth appealed to me because it was, you know, it was in the wilderness somewhat and, , you know, it's, I don't know if , you know, very much about it. It's a beautiful campus and I had not visited any of the campuses. Nowadays, you know, everybody goes and visits the campus. I mean, my daughter, my middle daughter, gosh, I think we went to like, she went to like fifteen or seventeen different campus, some of them two or three times. I didn't go to any of them, and so, but, so I chose Dartmouth sight-unseen, but that's how I got there.
BOHL: Uh, your freshman year at Dartmouth was the year of the JFKassassination--
BOHL: --was that something that really was on your radar?
COWAN: Oh yeah, sure, absolutely. Uh, yeah, I was a little, by thattime I was a little bit politically-oriented. Uh, I had, uh, been 18:00president of the student body at, at Atherton. And so, I had obviously run for office, uh, and elected. Uh, I'd actually, uh, my mother comes from, uh, her father came from Casey County in Kentucky, which is a very Republican area, and he, her father, my grandfather, Charles Wesley met, uh, my grandmother at Western, uh, which was a teachers college at that time. And my grandmother was from Union County and they met at Western. And they got married and they went back to Union County; they didn't go to Casey County. So my grandfather coming from Casey County, a Republican area, moved to Union County which was a very Democratic area, uh, my grandfather stayed true to his Republican roots, and he was the Republican county chairman in, in, uh, Union County for many, many years, and met all the, you know, high-rated 19:00Republicans including, uh, Eisenhower, Nixon and all these people. And but anyway, I, I, I tell you by explanation, by reason of explanation my mother was, I think that's why she was Republican, and so I was Republican initially in high school. You know, I was fifteen, sixteen, seventeen years old, maybe. And, uh, so when Kennedy was shot, uh, my freshmen year in, in college it was a big shock, and I was certainly, in those days unlike now, , you know, there wasn't so much animosity between Republicans and Democrats; it wasn't so, you know, nail biting, fire breathing, kind of partisan politics that we see today. People were much more civilized about their politics and much more gentile. So I was shocked and certainly upset about it all. And I remember talking to my sister and my sister was in, uh, Dallas at the 20:00time, uh, attending, uh, Southern Methodist University. And she was really upset because, uh, by that time she had become fairly liberal, I suppose. And she said some of the school kids in Dallas stood up and cheered when they learned Kennedy had been shot. I don't know if there's much, uh, documentation of that, but that's what she told me. And, and, uh, anyway I remember, I remember her telling me that. And that was pretty, pretty shocking. So I remember when I found out, I remember going down to watch the TV in the business school. And, you know, I remember, I think we went to, uh, you know, went to the chapel for a memorial service or something. And it was, uh, it was obviously a major event. You know, everyone says you remember exactly, you remember where you were when Kennedy was shot and you do.
BOHL: Okay, another, uh, pretty major national event around the same21:00period is the civil rights movement.
BOHL: Uh, again is that something you have much memory about?
COWAN: Yeah, uh, in two ways, uh, one, uh, a little bit in Louisvillewhen I was growing up here in Louisville but not too much, I have a little bit of memory about that. Uh, well, I've, I've got two or three memories. Uh, one, um, was about, I don't know what year this would've been, maybe this would've been 1958, 1959. I was actually, I told you earlier that I spent a lot of my summertime in Sturgis, Kentucky, or the farms around there. And, uh, their school started a week before ours did at that time. And so, for some reason, and I don't know why and I was there, maybe we were just observing, the Sturgis schools were being integrated for the first time. And there were some rowdies who were very upset about this. And, uh, Happy Chandler who was the 22:00governor called out the National Guard to protect the kids at Sturgis, uh, the, the, the black kids who were going into the school. And I remember observing that. And, and, you know, there were, if I'm not mistaken, there were certainly soldiers there. And I don't know whether there were tanks or not, but there were certainly soldiers, I mean, you could go back and look in the Courier-Journal from those days because it was front page news, it was national news. But it was, the, the, the integration happened. Uh, and then I remember, I think when I was elementary school, and this would be before that incident I just described, I remembering getting a note, uh, all the kids got a note to take home to their parents, which said something like, and, and I was at Blum Elementary School, where there were, there were no, I don't remember any black kids at all. We were close to and provided, we were the school for the Protestant orphan home, which was, uh, it's where Mid-City Mall is now on Bardstown Road. And maybe we had a kid 23:00who was mixed race or something in our school. There, there were no blacks in the school, uh, for all practical purposes. And we got a note that said something, and it was, I still remember this, it'd be real interesting, it was very, uh, kind of ambiguous, but basically it said something like, "Well, we want you to know,"--this is the school system sending a note to the parents--"that there may be some changes in the school district next year and you may just want to be aware of this in case you want to do anything," or something like that. I mean it was real weird. So that was part of the civil rights movement. And then, of course, I remember the civil rights era from going to Sturgis, and at that time in Kentucky, western Kentucky there were still colored, uh, "colored bathrooms" and "colored drinking fountains," I can remember those as a boy. Um, and, uh, and here in Louisville there were some demonstrations in the, starting of the late fifties and early sixties for, I think, to segregate, to--excuse me- -integrate the movie theaters and maybe a couple of other things. But I was pretty oblivious to that for the most part. There were, there 24:00was one black girl at Atherton, who's, she was a very smart girl, who subsequently went to Rutgers and ended up becoming a college professor, I'm not quite sure. Uh, but she was, she was, I think, she may have been the only black student, may be one or two others at Atherton. But that was, that was it. Um, so, but then of course, uh, when I got to college, uh, by the time, summer of '63, that was, right when I was graduating from high school and entering college, that was the, uh, civil rights summer in Mississippi as I recall. I think that was, was that the year, uh, Schwerner, Goodman, and Chaney were killed? Was that '63 or was it '66? I can't remember.
BOHL: I'm pretty sure that was '63.
COWAN: Uh, may have been '63. Even then though I wasn't too tuned intoit. Uh, first couple of years at college I was not too tuned into it. We had, we had, uh, in my fraternity we had a black, uh, student. 25:00In fact my fraternity I got more and more tuned in as time went on. My fraternity, uh, was a national fraternity and we disassociated ourselves from the national fraternity and became a local fraternity. And one of the major reasons we did was because at the time the national fraternity had a policy that said that local chapters could discriminate against blacks if they wanted to. And, um, you know, we, we thought that was wrong, and so, uh, that was one of the reasons we disassociated from the national. Um, and then, um, uh, of course it all got wound up together, you know, the, the Vietnam war thing, which I'm sure you're gonna ask me about, was getting geared up in those days. And then in my senior year in high, in college spring break, I think it was my senior year, I went down to Mississippi and did voting, some voting rights work for, you know, a week, not, not 26:00much, you know, it was kind of little, a drop in-drop out kind, kinda deal. But I had gotten pretty socially conscious by then, I suppose, and, uh, I thought that was a good thing to do. And that was, that was the year after Selma, the march on Selma, which Alabama, which I think was in the 1966, and that had got a lot of publicity. There was a fraternity brother of mine who had been involved in that, and so forth. So, uh, civil rights was, uh, obviously becoming, uh, more and more of an issue. Uh, as I said it was all wound up with the, um, it was all wound up, uh, the Vietnam War. But I guess looking back on my own particular attitudes about race and my childhood, uh, I must have grown up in a household that was pretty free of discrimination, uh, because I always was, uh, kind willing to take the, you know, the pro-integration 27:00side and arguments. I remember having argument with a high school friend of mine and he was sort of anti-integration and I was talking to him about that, about how, well, we really needed to do that et cetera, et cetera. So, uh, and then I went into the Peace Corps in Ethiopia which is, you know, where there're black people, so that didn't bother me at all to do that.
BOHL: Okay, you mentioned that, uh, you were in student governmentwhen you were in high school. Were you involved in any other extracurricular kind of activities when you were in school or college?
COWAN: Uh, yeah, I was, um, I was, um, in high school, uh, speech, uh,contests, speech and debate contests. Uh, uh, basketball. I played basketball my senior year in high school on a team. I was, I liked to joke and say I was the sixteenth-man on the team. And I played, uh, I was a big star, I say, I played eight minutes my whole senior 28:00year. And I played for Adolph Rupp-- Junior, that is. Adolph Rupp Jr, his nickname was Hirkey Rupp; it was his first year coaching was at Atherton when I was a senior. So, I like to tell people that I played for Adolph Rupp. Um, and, um, so I was involved in that and then when I got to college, uh, I didn't do too, I did intramural athletics, I rode on a freshman crew team for a, a semester. Um, and I was a little bit involved in, uh, campus politics, and by the time I was a senior I was more involved in the anti-war movement. Anti-war things. Uh, as I told you, I was a member of a fraternity. Uh, I don't know, I think those were the major things. Nothing, nothing really major. I don't look on my college years as my finest years in terms of accomplishments or anything. I just, you know, I just did okay, got through. Almost 29:00got married, did not get married fortunately. Uh, that was kind of a blow. Uh, college years were a, you know, I was very much kind of a, an idealistic young kid who was trying to find himself and the world. In those days, uh, uh, in the early 1960s, uh, there wasn't this emphasis on career orientation I think that you found in recent years. Some kids were very, yeah, I'm gonna be a doctor; yeah, I'm gonna be a lawyer; yeah, I'm gonna go to business school. But, but a lot of kids were just, you know, didn't have any idea, they were just gonna get a liberal arts education and then see what happened. And of course the Vietnam War was there as well.
BOHL: Okay. Uh, as you referenced quite a few times, now, toward theend of your time at Dartmouth, uh, Vietnam was becoming more and more prominent.
BOHL: Uh, how did it affect the Dartmouth campus, were there sit-ins,30:00teach-ins, that sort of thing?
COWAN: Yeah, there was all that kind of stuff. It was, it got to be apretty, uh, a pretty big deal, IM, Dartmouth was kind of, uh, a little bit behind some of the other schools, uh, because it was, always had this reputation of always being a little bit isolated, and it was not in a big city. Uh, Hanover, New Hampshire, is just a small college town. And, um, um, you know, the students had a reputation as being somewhat conservative, I suppose. But they started getting more and more involved and there started being demonstrations. And I remember one particular demonstration at college where, uh, they, um, uh, someone said, "Okay, everybody who's going, we're gonna have a vigil today at noon, we're gonna line up side-by-side on the green." There's a big rectangular green in the middle of the campus. And so we went out there, the anti-war group, and the pro-war group stood right across the sidewalk from us about eight feet away facing us, with, and they're 31:00all lined up the other way, so it was kind of a dramatic faceoff, if you will. It was not, uh, it was not, uh, it wasn't violent or anything like that. Uh, um, however, I do want to say interesting about the times. I liked to site this as an example of how quickly things changed. In 1963 when I entered Dartmouth, uh, George Wallace, who was of course governor of Alabama and who was running on, was known as sort of an arch-segregationist and a populist, the, and that sort of thing, came to Dartmouth to speak. I mean, Dartmouth, as all colleges do, get people to come and speak, so he came to speak. And I did not go to his speech, but I remember it being reported in the daily newspaper that he was cheered at his speech. And, uh, the daily newspaper wrote an editorial criticizing it; it's called the Daily 32:00---------(??). Well, he came again when I was a senior, so four years later, a short four years later. And after he spoke, he was jeered, his car was surrounded, uh, it was rocked. I mean, it was a serious potential for violence. I mean, there was violence. It was a serious potential for someone being injured there. And I remember that, just in those four short years, you had that, that dramatic change in the, in the national mood and national consciousness. And, uh, it was reflected on the college campus. It was, it was pretty, uh, pretty interesting time to be there.
COWAN: So that was kind of a civil rights sort of thing to. The, thewar, uh, as I said, it was all, it was all kind of wound up together.
BOHL: What did you end up majoring in?
COWAN: Uh, I majored in political science, or government, as we calledit there. Uh, I, uh, I considered switching to English. I enjoyed English. But, uh, I, I guess I was, uh, enough governmental oriented 33:00at that point to, to do that. Another, uh, interesting vignette from those days is, uh, I, I voted my first presidential election when I was in college. Uh, at that time in Kentucky--this maybe something you did not know--Kentucky was one of maybe only two states in the Union where you could vote when you were eighteen in a presidential election. We were kind of forerunners. So I got to vote in the, uh, election between Barry Goldwater and Lyndon Johnson. and I remember a conversation I had with my sister, it was one of those turning points in one's life, and I was really not sure where I was feeling politically, and so forth, and this was before, this would've been 1964, this was before the swelling of, of the, you know, the Vietnam era and the, and the, and the civil rights era had, had really taken 34:00over the consciousness of college students. And I remembering talking to my sister and said, "Well, you know, maybe I'll vote for Goldwater," or whatever, and she just reamed me out. You know, she just told me, "No, you can't do that, there's no way you can do that; you have to vote for Lyndon Johnson," blah, blah, blah, and so forth. So I wound up voting for Lyndon Johnson in my first presidential election, and I really have been a Democrat ever since. (both laugh) Truth. So anyway I mention that in passing.
BOHL: That's fine. Okay, after college you decided to join the PeaceCorps in Ethiopia, like you said.
BOHL: What drove that decision?
COWAN: Well, uh, uh, one thing, uh, it was, uh, uh, the, the draftwas out there. I mean you could be drafted and go to Vietnam, and I was opposed to the war, and I did not want to go to Vietnam. And you could get a deferment; you know, you couldn't get out of it entirely, but you could get a deferment by joining the Peace Corps. So that was part of it, and part of it was sense of adventure, and part of it was 35:00a desire to something worthwhile. And, um, um, so I was excited to be able to do that and enjoyed it. And that's, uh, and I chose to go to that part of the country, I had done a paper in my senior year on the Ethiopia/Somalia border dispute, which had been going on for years, which if you have read the paper recently is, here we are, forty years later, and it's, there's still Ethiopia and Somalia difficulties, so. So, that, that was, those things probably, and I, and I was at that point, I had been, I don't think I was, I don't think you could call me a radical, but I was, I was sufficiently wrapped up in the, you know, the anti-war mood, the civil rights era and everything that I, I felt as if I wanted to do something in the public service arena. Uh, and the Peace Corps was, would fit that well.
BOHL: Okay. So what kinds of things did you do in Ethiopia, did you36:00just teach, or?
COWAN: Yeah, primarily I taught. Um, uh, I was an English teacher.Ethiopia, the Ethiopian school system had been set up by the British after World War II and the language of instruction was English. And there were very few teachers at that time who were Ethiopians in high school because there were very few Ethiopian college graduates, although they were rapidly being trained. So there were a lot of Peace Corps volunteers who were teachers, a lot of Indians, probably Indians, uh, were the major source of teachers in high school. Uh, but there were also Swedes and French in my town. And, uh, uh, so I was a teacher, I taught English. Uh, kind of proud at what I did over there, I accomplished quite a bit with my kids, and because they have to take a test at the end of high school in order to graduate in national, multiple choice test and I prepared them well for that. And, uh, that 37:00was a whole interesting experience. I, I don't know if you want to go into much detail about that, but Ethiopia was a, uh, it was, it was in the process, Ethiopia was an American ally at that time. Haile Selassie was the emperor at that time and had been for, um, thirty-five years at that point, thirty, thirty-five years. And there was a lot of discontent among the population. He was kind of a benign dictator, if you will. But as the, as more and more Ethiopians are educated, these students became more and more radicalized themselves. And so, there was a huge riot in my second year at our school, and it was kind of a protest against the administration of the school for being so strict. Our first year I was there, it was a very loose administration of the school, and then we got a new principle, and he was very strict, if you're not at school at 8:30, you don't get to come to school, you know, you have to stay in class, and, you know, all this kind of stuff. And so they at one point, they just, the students just took over the 38:00school. They rioted, they were throwing stones, they were, you know, doing all this stuff, protesting the various conditions. Anyway this was right before the Christmas break in, in my second year; it would've been 1968. And, uh, none of the teachers wanted to go back because we were scared, we didn't know what was going to happen. And so we had an audience with Haile Selassie the emperor -------------(??) and we actually visited him and he told us, "That in our country, teachers are like fathers, and don't worry, we'll take care of you," and so forth. So we went back to school, they had all these riot police there, to protect us in there American-issued, you know, uniforms and weapons and trucks and stuff like that, so it was, it was pretty exciting.
BOHL: Um-hm. So, when you came back, did you come back to Kentucky?
COWAN: No, uh, I went to, uh, North Carolina to teach in special39:00program; it was funded by the Ford Foundation called Teachers Inc. And the idea behind it was to get people from, uh, different backgrounds who didn't come out of the traditional teacher education backgrounds, uh, Peace Corps and some other, and put them in a school system and have them work with existing teachers and reach out into the community. The idea was, well, these people(??) going to work in the community and, and, and get the school, uh, outside of its four walls and, uh, really kind of provide a different type of education hopefully. And, um, so I did that, uh, for a year and as, as am as a footnote to that, you'll find this interesting. This was in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. Uh, the superintendent of schools in Chapel Hill, North Carolina at that time was a young man named Bill Cody and he invited this whole program in because the superintendent had to approve it obviously. 40:00And that's, you know, that's a pretty progressive thing for a school superintendent to say, "Yeah, we're going to get all these kids in from all over the country, who have been in the Peace Corps and other places coming into our school system." And, uh, anyway he subsequently, many years later, about, this must've been maybe seven, eight, ten years ago, he became the superintendent for schools in Kentucky. So I never went to see him when he did, but he probably remembered me but I never went to see him. So, that's kind of interesting. So, one thing I want to mention about the Peace Corps that I'm--
COWAN: --proud of, that I enjoyed, I ultimately became quite fluentin the language there, uh, in the main language there called imhark, which, uh, which, uh, I'm not ----------(??) fluent any longer but, uh, I was at that time. So, it was, it was fun.
BOHL: What was your first job?
COWAN: Well, Peace Corps, I got paid for that. Um, teacher in Chapel41:00Hill, um, that was the year I was drafted by the way, that year. And, um, um, I had hoped to stay out of the draft, I was drafted and I, I spent, I'd done these things thinking I wouldn't be, have to go, and it turned out that I'd, I would've had a medical deferment anyway because I had had a stomach ulcer when I was twelve or thirteen years old. And, um, um, um, that gave me what they called a one-wide deferment, which means, you know, we're not going to call you right away, but we'll call you if we really, really need you. So, so, uh, that's why I never was in Vietnam. I never served in the military. So I did that, and then after I, after I taught school, uh, for that one year, I decided not to go back. And I wound up working for a newspaper in Little Rock, Arkansas. And, uh, worked there for, in that position for a year, and then I started a consumer advocacy organization that I did for about four years before I went to law school. And I met, during 42:00that period of time, I met Bill and Hillary Clinton, interestingly, and also got married, and so that was pretty eventful years.
BOHL: How did you meet your wife?
COWAN: My wife is, uh, grew up in, uh, in, uh, Scarsdale, New York andshe went to, uh, Barnard College and Boston University Law School. And she, um, as a lot of us were, she, uh, when she finished, uh, BU Law School she received a fellowship from the federal government called Reginald, uh, Reginald Hebrew Smith Fellowship, which had a bunch of lawyers who would go out and work in legal service offices around the country and do law reform work. YOU KNOW, they wouldn't do the ordinary, just I'm going just do divorces, or evictions, or consumer stuff, or whatever; they would, they would, the idea was they were supposed to go out and do, uh, bring class actions, bring lawsuits 43:00that would bring major reforms. Uh, which subsequently, uh, those fellowships and that whole roll of legal services was subsequently, uh, deep six when, uh, probably by the Reagan years, and people felt like we don't need these, why should the federal government be funding these kids to go out there and cause trouble for everybody. But she did, she came to Little Rock to, uh, serve in that program. And, uh, she did some interesting stuff and some jail litigations, juvenile detention center litigations and that sort of thing. And I kinda knew she was coming because I, I had, uh, some friends working for the legal services. And at this time, by that time I was running this, uh, consumer advocacy organization. and she, uh, I asked her to represent my organization, which was, had a action before a state agency to try to hold down bus rates, at that time they were a lot of, you know, when people didn't have cars, there was intrastate state buses. I 44:00don't even know if you can even, in Kentucky I don't know if you can go anywhere in bus, uh, from, anymore. I guess you can go some places on Greyhound. But, but there used to be a lot more because that was, you know, not everybody had a car in those days. So she represented me and we, we were friends for a while and then it blossomed into a romance. And the rest is history, as they say.
BOHL: Okay, so, when did you actually marry?
COWAN: Got married in 1974.
COWAN: And we got married in, uh, Little Rock.
BOHL: How did you decide that you wanted to go to law school yourself?
COWAN: Well law school had always kind of been an option for me, Iguess. Uh, you know, I guess it been maybe in some ways somewhat logical, uh, you know, because I was in, as I said, in student government politics. I, I liked to, uh, speak, I like to make a difference. Uh, I had an uncle, still do, I mean, who was a lawyer, 45:00who kind of inspired me, I suppose, to go to law school. And, and I had, uh, I had, uh, actually signed up a couple times for the LSAT before and had never taken them. And then Linda was already a lawyer when we got married, and, uh, as I mentioned. And it was just sort of the logical thing to do that point in my life. And I, I knew, when I went to law school, I, I always assumed that I would be doing something in the public interest arena. I never really contemplated, uh, uh, you know, being a traditional private practitioner. And, and to some degree I'm still not a traditional private practitioner. I'm, uh, I don't think I mentioned this to you, you may not heard this, but I'm running for circuit judge now. So, so I've obviously done a number of things in the public sector and used my law background ability in that sense too. But I have also done, I've done quite a bit of public, uh, private practice too in the last thirty years, obviously. 46:00
BOHL: Okay, and, uh, you and your wife have three daughters.
BOHL: Are any of them interested in--
[Pause in recording]
BOHL: --your oldest daughter
COWAN: My oldest daughter works for a foundation, uh, that, that is,uh, handing out grants down now in Mississippi, doing Katrina relief work. And she's, uh, so she's publicly oriented in that sense. My middle daughter works for, uh, Congressman Steny Hoyer on Capitol Hill; he's the second-ranking Democrat in the House. She works in his leadership office. and my youngest daughter, uh, just graduated from American University in Washington and she is going to work, just left to go, uh, uh, work for a, uh, a political organization called Emily's List. I don't know if you have heard of that. She's, they're gonna, she's going to work on a campaign between now and November. I don't know what she's going to do after that. So, yeah, there all involved 47:00in politics, probably too much but anyway. (Bohl laughs) You don't control kids, do you?
BOHL: Okay. Um, you mentioned you were already getting prettypolitically interested, uh, how did you determine you wanted to be a candidate?
COWAN: Well, I think that probably goes back to the time I was, um,I started this consumer advocacy organization in Arkansas. Um, one of the things we did, and it was kind of, you know, it was sort of half-way modeled after what some of the work that Ralph Nader was doing in those days. Um, it was an independent organization. We were very poor but we had a little bit of membership support, a little bit of foundation support. And some of our activities had to do with lobbying the legislature on consumer related issues. So I spent some time at 48:00the legislature and started seeing what they were doing. And, uh, and, uh, then, uh, you know, you hang around those politicians and see what they do. And it's pretty interesting and you begin to realize that, you know, these guys make decisions that affect your lives, your life, you know. And these, that's, that's, uh they, they play an important role. And while it's great being an advocate and being a lobbyist for something you believe in, uh, you know, they're making a difference. So, and then I got, I, I remember in those, uh, when, uh, Dale Bumper, uh, Senator Dale Bumpers from Arkansas ran, he'd been governor, when he ran against, uh, Bill Fulbright who was kind of a , you know, Fulbright was, uh, what's the word I'm looking for? Was, uh, an institution in Arkansas. Uh, Bumpers ran against him for the Senate in the Democratic primary in nineteen seventy--what year was that? [Nineteen] seventy- 49:00four I want to say. Um, that, I'd been asked to go work on Bumpers campaign. And, uh, I'd passed up that opportunity but again it was, you know, I was kind of moving in those circles, starting to move in those circles. So I think that by the time I went to law school I kind of sensed that, "Hey, you know, maybe I would like to be a candidate. Maybe I would like to run for something." And I know when I got there I was defiantly interested and contemplated in law school in maybe my second year in law school, um, going back to Arkansas and running for Congress because, a congressman named Wilbur Mills who is a very powerful chairman of the House appropriations and revenue committee had gotten in a lot of trouble. Uh, and this is a whole story in itself. 50:00Uh, are you familiar with this at all?
COWAN: Well, this is an interesting story. He had been, um, turns outhe had a lot of alcohol problems and nobody really knew it. Well, one day, one night somehow, he was shepherding this young lady around at night, and she was a hot-tempered young lady, and they got into a fight, and they stopped on the, on some bridge in Washington, D.C., I don't know which one it was, the Key bridge or one of them. And she jumped out of the car and jumped over the bridge railing into the, into the title basin, so I don't know where that was exactly. And this of course made, made big news. And here a guy was, I mean, it's like, you know, you've seen these scandals in this day and age. But, you know, in those days, it was especially something, and they hadn't, the papers hadn't really gotten into covering scandals. So this was a scandal they were gonna cover. So Mills was all the sudden became, you know, you know, very, uh, you know, prominent in a wrong way, notorious in 51:00a wrong way, and he subsequently resigned I think from Congress under all the pressure. He later was, did the same thing he went up to Boston, and she was up on stage and he went up on the stage while she was performing, or something, she was a, she was a, her name was, uh, gosh I thought I would never forget it. Uh. Oh my gosh, it's slipping my mind. She was known, the Argentine Firecracker was her nickname. And he resigned so I, while I was in law school and I, I thought at the time, I thought, Well, maybe I should go back to Arkansas and run for congress because I had gotten some in running this consumer organization, I had gotten some publicity and press. It would've been a stupid thing to do and I subsequently didn't, but I, I thought quite a bit at the time. So I knew by then, by the time I was law school, I knew that I was interested in politics and I, and I knew there was a good chance I'd run for office.
BOHL: How did you and your wife come to the decision to set up yourfamily here in Louisville? 52:00
COWAN: Good question, uh, you know, we could've gone anywhere really,um, good fortune about going to a school like Harvard is that you can, you can have your choice of what city you want to go to, and work in a, in a law firm. And, but, you know, I was at that time, I was, uh, thirty, uh, let's see how old was I? Uh, yeah, I was about thirty-two or thirty-three, I guess, and, uh, uh, we had our, uh, Eliza had been born my last year in law school. So there, you know, we knew Washington a little bit. I'd worked their one summer; she had spent time there. Of course we knew Little Rock. I lived there for five years and she had lived there for two or three years. And we, we knew Louisville and we knew New York, and those were the only places that we really knew. Uh, we didn't want to go to New York, neither one of us had any desire to go to New York even though her family lived there. 53:00Um, Little Rock she thought was too far away from, from her home in New York, New York area. She was close to her grandparents especially. Uh, Washington we thought about quite a bit. And, uh, in fact I went there and had some job interviews and got a couple of job offers. Uh, got one in government and one in a, in a sort of public-oriented law firm. And the other choice was Louisville because that's where I grew up and that's where my mother lived. Um, and we knew it. And, um, and then all, you know, I think and also realizing, as said it was political instinct, realizing that, you know, if I wanted to get into politics, you know, Kentucky wouldn't be a bad place to get into it. So you put all that combination together, and, uh, you know, Louisville made sense. So we came.
BOHL: Um-hm. How did the local political organizations work at that54:00time the late seventies and early eighties? Was that something you were involved with at all?
COWAN: No, I didn't get involved--well, my, my initial involvement when Icame back here, uh, was not with a local political organization; it was on a campaign. Uh, Harvey Sloane had been mayor of Louisville; he was running for governor. And he, uh, his press secretary, a women named Barbara Hadley--she's now Barbara Smith--had just been fired because of a conflict with Harvey's wife, Kathy, who was very strong-minded, uh, woman and for whatever reason, there's, I don't want to go into it at this point, but she was fired. So he had a need for a press secretary. And, and I had been talking to people and I, I mean, I had finished law school and had come back here without a job. I did not have a job when I came back. And, uh, I happened to be talking to these friends 55:00of, uh, who were parents of people I'd gone to high school with, they were older generation. And they said, "Well, you ought to go talk to Harvey Sloane; you know, he just lost his press secretary." And so I did and, uh, he offered me the job. Uh, ironically--(laughs)--you'll find this interesting. I also applied for some jobs in the government, including the attorney general's office right out of law school. And I was not offered a job in the attorney general's office. I later heard in part they were suspicious that somebody from Harvard would want to apply for a job in the attorney general's office. Why(??), which I thought was kind of strange. So I don't know if that's true, but I just heard that. So, uh, anyway so I took this job with Harvey Slone working in his campaign for Governor. And a campaign is always the greatest way to get into politics because you meet so many people, and, you know, you, you, you, uh, you know, you're at doing something which 56:00has a specific goal in mind. And, uh, so I worked in his campaign for, uh, well, from that August of 1978, I guess, until the end of the primary in May of '79. And, uh, you know, we had traveled all around the state, I was his press, I started out as his press secretary and issues coordinator. And after a few months, uh, they asked me to, uh, be his fundraising person, which was, I mean, I didn't know anything about fundraising. But that shows you, I mean, campaigns are a lot for sophisticated now than they were then. Because they would've never, nowadays you'd never throw somebody into a fundraising position that, that had no experience and didn't know how, how it was done. But I was kind of thrown into that, so I wound up, uh, raising money for him in the last five or six months of that campaign. But I didn't work 57:00through the political structures at that point or anything, I didn't, and they were, even at that point, they were not, they, this was after, and they've become almost irrelevant in a way, not totally irrelevant but, um. Before I came back here there was a, uh, a Democratic organization, an old-line Democratic organization that I have heard lots about, uh, run by, uh, Miss Lenny. I'm not sure who she was but she was like the chairman of the party. And in order to get a job at city hall, it's the old, you had to go through Miss Lenny. You know, you couldn't get a job in government unless you got approved, uh, you know, grace said over you by the party chairman. But by the time I came back that had all changed, by the time I'd came here in '78 that had all changed. And, uh, the party structure did not have the power that it once did. They still had legislative district chairman but, you know, it, the media age had begun, the media was dominating things. 58:00and that '79 gubernatorial primary, uh, if you know anything about it or read it in the history books, uh, uh, John Y. Brown came in and he announced his candidacy for governor in March, I think it was, the first of March. He put in a million dollars of his own money. Uh, he had a helicopter to fly around the state in, he had Mrs., uh, Phyllis George Brown, you know, the glamour of all that. And, you know, just came in and took the election away. I mean, Poor Harvey had been working for, you know, a year and a half on this thing , you know, just toiling in and out, ever day, going all over the state, I mean, he walked across the state. And, um, Brown just came in, in a matter of two and half months with the right money and right glamour, took it away from him because the, the media exposure. So, saying all that, just says the party, you know, the party structure was not really a 59:00significant factor in politics at that time although it's still there and it still serves a purpose.
BOHL: Okay. So how did you decide you wanted to run for the legislatorin 1981?
COWAN: Well, uh, you know, as I mentioned I was, uh, I guess I knew Iwanted to run for something. And, uh, uh, I started practicing law in 1979, uh, with a, with a prominent law firm here. Brown, Todd and Heyburn. And I guess within, uh, a little over a year, I, uh, was aware that these legislative races were coming up. And, um, uh, you know, it, it, my state representative was somebody I never really knew anything about, never heard anything about. I didn't think he was 60:00particular effective. And he's a Republican and I was a Democrat. And I just decided to run. And, um, you know, there wasn't anything specific I think that made me run for that office, other that the fact that, I, you know, that I had enough exposure to politics by that time, and, and I, I knew that when I started to practice law, you know, that I would probably run. In fact I told one of the partners there, I said, "Look, I mean, I will probably want to run for office here. I mean, do I need to tell everybody that or whatever?" He said, "Well, you're all right, you know, if you're gonna run, you're gonna run, that's fine." So, um, so late, I guess, late 1980, about a year ahead of time, the elections in those days were in the, uh, in the odd-number years. They switched a constitutional amendment, they switched, uh, my next election was 1984, right. Yeah. I think they already had the constitutional amendment, so 1981, so actually served a three 61:00year term. Yeah. Cause my first term I think was a three-year term. And, uh, uh, so I started campaigning about a year beforehand, I was running against this ten-term Republican incumbent. And, uh, he just kind of took things for granted. I mean, he'd been in there forever, and he thought I was just, you know, Democrat running. But, uh, I worked very, very hard. I mean, I knocked on doors, uh, I started knocking on doors, I even knocked on a few doors in February and in early March when it was still quite cold outside. And when it started getting a little warmer, I started knocking on doors virtually every day. I mean, I would work till five o'clock, and then I'd go out and I'd have literature and I'd knock on these doors. And I had a well organized campaign. Uh, uh, we raised a bunch of money at that time. I think, you know, I think my first race we raised $27,000, which was 62:00quite a bit for a legislative race, uh, a House race in 1981. And, uh, billboards, and then, then two weeks before the election, every time whenever I, whenever I did all this door knocking, I had a whole plan set up as to how to, you know, we would send out postcards before I walked with a little postcard with my picture on it with a little information on it, said, "I'm going to be coming by. I hope to see you." And then I'd go and I'd, if they weren't there, I'd leave them a brochure, and then I'd send them a follow-up letter the next week, said "I'm sorry I missed you, or I'm glad I got a chance to meet you, or whatever." And I would also, every time I'd talk to somebody I'd asked them if they wanted to put a yard sign in their yard, I'd make a note of it and write it down. And of course this was before the days before computers; I don't know how we kept track of all this. Uh, and I actually had a paid campaign manager. Uh, uh, a woman I'd met in a Harvey Slone campaign. And, uh, in fact, I just saw her 63:00yesterday. She's still a friend of mine. And, uh, she was very well organized, and very pleasant, very nice, and we kept it all organized. And so, two weeks before the election we put up all these yard signs. And all of the sudden there were like 600 yard signs that went up in the district. I mean, it was just like it, you know, bloomed out of nowhere. And at that point this guy, my opponent Bruce Blythe, he realized I think that he had a real fight on his hands. So, uh, but it was too late, because he hadn't been doing all this work(??). He also, I also got a little bit of luck because he had a accident. He'd, he'd, he had, uh, been flying these, uh, what do they call them? These, these light planes, you know, these single person planes that you fly,
COWAN: Ultra lights, I think they are called. And he had an accident,fallen and broken his hip, so he couldn't be walking anyway. Uh, so, um, but I, I, one of the best stories I remember about that was, uh, I was walking over in Cherokee Gardens and the Courier-Journal 64:00had already endorsed, and they endorsed Bruce Blythe because he's the incumbent and they like to endorse incumbents and Blythe was not a, again, going back to those days, the Republicans were not, you know, they, they, they were very moderate Republicans. Not everybody was a, you know, right-winger or whatever. And, um, so I was campaigning over in Cherokee Gardens and these, there're big houses over there, and I knocked on this door, this one door, and nobody came to the door. And I rang the door bell again. And this window upstairs opens up, way upstairs and says, "Yes," and "Well," I said, "How are you doing? I'm Fred Cowan and I'm running for state representative," et cetera. And she said, "Oh, Mr. Cowan, you're so nice to come by. I'm just glad," she said, "I agree with the Courier-Journal, I agree with the Courier Journal. You know, you're not going to win this race but I hope you'll stay in politics." (laughs) So I said, "No, I am gonna win, no, I am gonna win," because I had a pretty good sense by then that I was gonna win. So I still remember that and I quote that a lot, because it was fun, because then we won and I won, and I think I got 55 percent of the 65:00vote the first time, which was a pretty good, pretty healthy victory for, uh, beating an incumbent. So, uh, that was, that was probably the best, that's still the best victory I ever had in politics, was that first one, the very first one.
BOHL: Okay, what were your expectations of what you could accomplish?
COWAN: Oh boy, I don't know, that's tough. I don't know, that's veryhard to answer, because, um, I didn't know what to expect period, uh, really. Really I didn't know what, I had some exposure to legislators. I, I thought that I could, uh, I thought that I could get along with all kinds different of people. And, uh, and, uh, that I had a chance of, you know, because of my background my law degree, and so forth, that, that, you know, people would treat me seriously. And I had a 66:00good fortune of others, the leadership race going on at that time. And I had a good fortune of supporting all the people who, who won. It was, uh, I'm trying to remember I think Bobby Richardson was pretty much a shoe-in for speaker at that time. The previous speaker had been a guy named, uh, Bill Kenton who had died of a heart attack. And I had never known Bill Kenton. But he was, he was getting ready to run for governor, Kenton was, and he died of a heart attack earlier that, that year, in 1981, I think, '81. And we went down to, in those days they had the, they had the, uh, the pre-legislative conference, uh, down at Kentucky Dam Village. Somebody else told you about this?
BOHL: They've mentioned it but nobody's talked about it--
COWAN: --well, it was like a big get-together, it was like a big party,frankly. It was the last year they did that, because then they changed and they didn't do that anymore. But that, all the lobbyists would come down, they'd have party rooms, and you'd go around, you know, 67:00some people would get out of control, and so forth, but there were, you know, they had organizational meetings, and so forth, uh, down there So I went down there, and they're I guess some elections, I don't know whether they were elections there, or people were just getting committed, and I, I was, uh, chose the right people to support, uh, in these, in these leadership elections and they all won. And, uh, I was, uh, named to the House appropriations and revenue committee, which was kind of the plum appointment, a lot of people wanted to be named to that. But Marshall Long and I, who you may have talked to or know of, Marshall was, was from Shelbyville; he was also a freshman. He and I were named to the H & R, A & R committee. So, that was pretty good, and that put us in a position to have more influence. Anytime you're dealing with money, obviously that gives you a good position. And, um, so , I, you know, I mean, I didn't, I didn't think I was, I was sophisticated enough to know that I wasn't gonna go over there 68:00and knock the world off its feet. I mean, I was willing to learn and stand in line and take my turn, but I was, I was, at the same time I, you know, I already knew I was not gonna be satisfied just being a legislator. I mean, I knew that I wanted to run for a higher office I think pretty quickly. I didn't, having worked in a gubernatorial campaign and seeing that, in the Sloane campaign, um, you know, I, I, I had a pretty good idea. One thing I did not tell you that, or I, I neglected to mention about my political career was, in 1980, um, I ran for, uh, and was elected vice-chairman of my legislative district, so, as part of the party structure. That was the only time I ever held a position in a party structure. So I was elected to, uh, to that. And, uh, we were elected, uh, by running, uh, kind of a 69:00negative campaign in a way. Melissa ----------(??) was the legislative district chairman and we were running as a ticket. And we were running against Tony Miller who subsequently became circuit court clerk over here. Tony had been an aid to William Stansbury who was, uh, had been mayor of Louisville and was always messing up and doing crazy things. That's another whole story in itself. And so, so all we had to do was mention to Melissa's opponent who worked for Mayor Stansbury, and so Melissa won and I won, and, and, but that was my only role in the party structure, I guess, I was legislative district vice-chairman until the next, until 1984, I guess which was, you know, they, they have those elections on presidential years. So, so, anyway, that's by footnote since you're interested in my background. And, uh, so then on a legislative front, uh, you know, I was, um, I was progressive, considered myself progressive. I was, uh, I think I was in the first 70:00session; I worked hard on the bill that would allow Jefferson County to set up this, uh, pollution testing program for cars, which subsequently became very controversial. And there was a question whether they could legally do it and they didn't think they could unless they got some legislation past. So I sponsored that bill and worked very hard on that and, um, uh, got it out of committee but then lost it in the, um, in the, um, uh, rules--not the rules committee, the, what's it called? Is it called the rules committee? Yeah, the committee that decides where the bills go after they come out of committee, which is the next powerful committee in the, in the, uh, in the legislature. Because there's a lot of opposition in Jefferson County then and there is subsequently became, you know, we don't have that program anymore because of the opposition from it. But I believed in it because I 71:00thought we needed clean air. And, you know, I didn't, didn't think it was gonna be that much of an inconvenience for people to have their car tested. And this was a way to enforce it. So, that, that legislation was the thing that sticks out in my mind at that time. Um, now, also, uh, well, that, I, you know, I remained the appropriation and revenue, and I was and I guess I became, now at that time I wasn't a chairman of committee, then when Don Blandford was elected speaker of the House, and Bill Richardson, was that '84 or '86? I can't remember which. Uh, I became, uh, chairman of the budget committee of appropriations and revenue that dealt with, uh, it's called justice judiciary and corrections, so it dealt with the state police, with the judicial system and the correction system. and as budget chairman, I mean, you're pretty, pretty powerful position because you, you've got a 72:00subcommittee you're working with, but if you want something done or you want some money out or some money in, in your little area, you know, then you, you can pretty much make it happen. So that was an, that was interesting. And it, you know, and then the, uh, the leadership fight, I guess, in, uh--oh, before I talk about that. I think I had a pretty successful career. We did a bunch of stuff. Uh, uh, one thing I cite in my campaign all the it mean is the, the Bluegrass State Skills Corporation, a bill that I, uh, uh, passed. I mean, I sponsored it, really it was my idea, and it's one of those things where most, most legislations, somebody else, you know, lobbyists got the idea or somebody in the cabinet or whatever. But the legislators have their own ideas about things and I had gotten this idea from something that had done in Massachusetts that I read about. And, um, so that bill passed and over the years it's proven to be a very successful program. 73:00I liked to say that they've, at this time they've trained over 500,000 Kentuckians and it's part of every major economic developmental package. Uh, I did that, and I, in 1986 I passed the crime victims bill of rights. And, um, handled the, by that time I knew I wanted to run for attorney general, so I was getting some of these judicial, uh, criminal legislations bill. Uh, passed a bill that both the opponents and proponents of the death penalty wanted at the time, which was a bill that would, uh, that said that, uh, you can have a life sentence without the possibility of parole for twenty-five. So the people who were against the death penalty were thinking, Well, if something, if the, if the jury's got a choice between death penalty, and, you know, life sentence when they know in the back of their minds this guy's going to be getting out on parole, then if they have, if they see a choice and says, "Yeah, you can go life sentence but you can't get out 74:00of parole for twenty-five years," you know, maybe they'll go for that rather than the death penalty. And, of course, the prosecutors were thinking, Well, you know, let's see if we can get this guy and keep this guy in there for twenty-five years anyway, and he won't get out on parole. I mean, life sentence in those days, I don't know what it is today, but people get out on parole, and, uh, eight, ten, twelve years, maybe, maybe twelve years, I can't remember exactly what it was. So, well, they could get out on parole that early on a life sentence. So, passed that. I was the floor manager of juvenile code thing. I did some work, uh, to help Jefferson County, help the Kentucky Center for the Arts get some money, uh, in the budget. I remember we had an interesting involvement with Wendell Cherry. Wendell Cherry was, uh, one of the founders, he and David Jones were the founders of Humana. And Wendell was very involved in the arts, uh, big, uh, pusher behind the Kentucky Center for the Arts. And they wanted to get a rest-, a 75:00hotel tax passed. And the legislature was just opposed to it. They weren't going to pass a hotel tax. And obviously some of the hotel interests were opposed to it as well. So Wendell, so I convinced Wendell that we could get the appropriations for the Kentucky center without the hotel tax. and, uh, and I lobbied hard for that and we managed to get it, and he sent me a little note afterwards, kind of interesting saying, "You were right and I was wrong," I don't know whatever happened to that note but that's kind of interesting. ------ -----(??)--------- He was an interesting guy; he was from Hardin County and became very sophisticated in the art world, as you may know. But, uh, so I think I had a pretty good legislative career. I think I did, uh, it probably wasn't as successful as I would've liked it to have been. Uh, if I'd have stayed a legislature, you know, I would've tried to get in a leadership, but I really, other than budget chairman of that, uh, you know, that budget committee, I, I wasn't, uh, committee chair or anything like that. But I, I knew that by, you know, by 76:001986 that, or the session of 1986, I had determined I wanted to run for attorney general in 1987, so I wasn't concerned about leadership positions in the, in the, in the House at all.
BOHL: Okay, it sounds like you were able really get to work on gettingbills through pretty quickly. Was there anyone who helped you to figure out this process, that sort of speed that along?
COWAN: Well, I did one thing that was, uh, that someone had suggestedto me, I guess I shouldn't, uh, take credit for it myself because someone suggested to me. I think. And, uh, I asked the, uh, director of the LRC at that time, Vic Hellard, I said, "Well, can you, when you determine where my seat is, can you give me a seat next to someone who's, you know, pretty knowledgeable, and pretty good guy, you know, so can help me learn some stuff?" So I was fortunate enough to be seated next to, uh, Bob Jones who is, uh, was the state legislator for 77:00Oldham County. And Bob was, Bob was, uh, one of the, oh, three or four most effective legislators there. Uh, and he was because he, he didn't have any ego in it; he was never trying to get publicity for himself; he was just trying to get bills passed or bills blocked or whatever. And he had a way of doing that. And, uh, uh, so, Bob was as much a mentor as anyone I suppose. Uh, he was, he's a Democrat; he's a little more conservative than I am probably. But, um, uh, he, uh, he was a good guy, still a friend of mine, and, um, uh, did, just did great things. So I would guess he was probably as if somebody identifies a mentor more than anybody, and there were some other people that, you know, uh, I lived my first year with, uh, a group of six or seven people that were the so-called Young Turks, uh, include, uh, uh, Harry 78:00Moberly, who's now chairman of appropriations and revenue, Joe Barrows, who's, uh, in leadership is Greg Stumbo, uh, uh, who, you know, attorney general and was a majority leader, uh, uh, uh, Roger Noe, who subsequently ran for, uh, superintendent for public instruction. He's down at, I guess, Southeast, what's it called? Southeast Community College in Harlan. Um, who else? David Thomason, who's from Henderson, and David became a speaker pro temp. Oh, he was elected speaker pro temp. So that was a good group of people. They were young people, they were, but they were politically savvy, and they were, some of them had served for one or two or three terms. So that was kind of a good influence to have too, I think. And, uh, and because I had supported the right people, the Bobby Richardson and Jim LeMaster, David 79:00Thomason, uh, I was, uh, you know, included in some strategic sessions, not by no means all, but some. You know, and had some influence, uh, through the leadership function.
BOHL: Okay. Uh, the Young Turks are known particularly for their, uh,emphasis on education reform.
BOHL: Uh, was that something that you got involved with, really, I knowKERA passed after you were out.
COWAN: Right. No, I was involved with that, yeah, uh, yeah, HarryMoberly and Roger Noe were probably the people who were most, uh, interested in education, although Tom Barrows was as well. I mean, uh, uh--
BOHL: --Barrows really is, yeah, but. (laughs)
COWAN: Yeah, um, not, not Tom, oh, another good buddy of ours was TomJones at the time who was from Lawrenceburg. He was, he didn't live with us but he was sort of in our group. Um, yeah, I did some things in education. Uh, I did a couple things. Uh, uh, I worked on, I don't 80:00think anything every passed on this, but I worked on trying to make principals, instructional leaders as opposed to just administrators. And worked on some issues on that. Um, I'm trying to remember, I, I, I also got, and I don't remember what year this, it might've been '84, I can't remember if it was '82 or '84. I got, uh, some appropriations for, uh, Jefferson County to do matching funds, so they could get kind of like a grant process where the state would provide them with matching funds if they went out and raised money in a private community, uh, they could get these matching funds. So we did that and I think Jefferson County used that and got some computers, some of the first computers in schools. Um, I don't know, I can't remember what else, seems like there're one or two other things I did in the education arena, but I can't remember them right now.
BOHL: Uh, at the point when you were in the General Assembly, was there81:00a Louisville caucus?
COWAN: Well, there's a, um, there's always been a, uh, Jefferson Countydelegation, which has had meetings and had meetings then. But they made some efforts to agree on things and work together as a block but not very effectively because Jefferson County is a very diverse county in itself. And you get people who have, live in one part of the county, have an entirely different position than in the other side of the county. The air pollution thing is a perfect example. You know, where I lived in the, in the Highlands, uh, in Crescent Hill areas, uh, some of the inner suburbs, I mean, it was, that was a perfectly acceptable position for me. People didn't complain to me they thought it was great that I was trying to do something about the air pollution. But you go out in south and southwest part of the county or, and they're kinda like, you know, that's just government just interfering with my life trying to get me to do all this stuff, which we subsequently found. So, there was a, you know, Jefferson County had 82:00meetings, but it was not a cohesive, effective group frankly.
COWAN: And I don't know, it still probably isn't. Now one thing they donow and they started, and they started to do then was that they would, on, on appropriations of things that might be important to the whole community, they would try to work together and, you know, they try to prioritize, you know, the top, top priorities for a specific, uh, dollar projects, or something like that. So, to that extent, it was useful. But when it got to issues, and just about any issue, business, labor, environment, health care, or whatever, there wasn't much consensus. And I was always, and I, and I felt like, um, you know, for me I felt like, and I had gotten some good publicity, you know, rising 83:00star, this kind of stuff, uh, I'd felt like, you know, I had to really struggle to, when I, if I wanted something, like on that, like on that air pollution thing, talking to people out in the south and southwest county came from a different background, and I didn't go to Ivy league schools, and all this kind of stuff. You know, it was a, it was a, a barrier I had to cross there. And, uh, and, uh, I felt bad about it because I didn't, you know, to me there wasn't a barrier, but I always felt like well, you know, there a little bit stand offish from this East End guy, he's got all this highfalutin education, and that kind of stuff, so I had to, I had to, I had to work through that.
BOHL: Okay, you mentioned that a lot of the ideas for bills came fromlobbyist. Who were the strongest lobbyist while you were there and how influential were they?
COWAN: Well, um, let's see, the utilities were pretty, uh, pretty strong84:00lobbyist, especially, uh, Kentucky Utilities, I think was strong. Uh, Ashland Oil was a very strong lobby group at that time. Uh, the Farm Bureau was, uh, strong, um, at that time. And then, uh, you know, uh, when issues would come up, uh, there would be, uh, you know, somebody get organized. You know, the hospitals, Humana became very influential while I was there. Um, the hospital association, you know, the horse, horse, uh, the thoroughbred horse industry, Churchill Downs, uh, they, they were certainly influential. Um, you know, then on a specific 85:00issue like, uh, if there's, if there's a trade fight between, between the ophthalmologist and optometrist, you know, then you would see, for example, the optometrist, you'd see how strong a lobby they were. You know, they obviously don't get involved in every issue, but if it affects their business they get involved. Medical association, they were active. Uh, KMA. Um, you know, coal, coal's always important, the coal lobby. I, I, you know, I guess about what you'd expect. Um, you know, and then you'd have the industry groups, Kentucky Chamber of Commerce. They were certainly influential, and the labor organizations, and the teachers. KEA was very strong and still is. Um, the utilities, uh, Bell South, uh, effective lobby organization. I think those are probably covers the waterfront pretty much. I'm 86:00sure there're some I'm leaving out. Uh, cities, uh, they had, you know, they were pretty, they're pretty, they were there when League of Cities, they were there when they needed to be on a city-related issue.
BOHL: Okay, you mentioned they you lived with some of the otherlegislators during the session.
BOHL: What kinds of things did you do on your leisure time while theassembly was in session?
COWAN: Well, in those days, this was before BOPTROT.
COWAN: Uh, I mean, it was a constant party atmosphere. I mean, youknow, after the session, uh, you know, there'd be people go out to Holiday Inn, was kinda a hot spot at that time. And you'd go to eat at Flynn's, you know, people would go eat there and go to Holiday Inn. And, you know, other people would have parties, lobbyists would pay for parties that might legislators might put on. I mean, it, it was 87:00pretty tiresome in a way. It kind of, it kind of, I mean. It was exciting to me at the time because I was brand new to it. But I mean, when you think about it, it's a pretty pathetic way to, you know, go about your existence. I mean, I mean, I, I'm sure there were a lot of legislators who did not participate in that, but I was trying to, and the reason I stayed there, I was trying to socialize and make friends, build relationships, et cetera. And so, obviously I was going go out to these, these different, uh, events, and so forth. So it was, that was, that was kind of the way(??). You know, you wound up doing different things. And the receptions almost every night, one lobby group or another would have a reception. And, uh, yeah, really, I mean, it'd be interesting to know, but it seems like almost every night. You know, one lobby group or another would have some kind of reception. Monday through Thursday, I mean, everybody went home Friday, so, and you didn't go into a session until two o'clock on Monday, so. You know, and they had different dinners. They used to have the varmint dinner, and, you know, different, different kind 88:00of things. The governor would, every now and then, have some kind of event or something. But, uh, so it was, it was, and that was before BOPTROT, and it really kind of got out of control. Just to cite one little example, I mean, I can remember well when you go over to Flynn's and, you know, say four legislators be having dinner, and they'd order stuff off the menu, and so forth. At the end of dinner they'd go over, and they'd see Joe over there was a lobbyist, and say, "Hey, Joe, do you want to pick up dinner tonight?" "Oh sure, sure." You know, so, I mean, that was just the way it went. You know, cause, so, it made Joe look good because he could show on his expense account that he bought dinner for these legislators, and the legislators said, "Hey, great, I don't have to pay for it myself." So, I mean, that kind of, that kind of relationship ultimately, uh, led to BOPTROT. And then the, then they, uh, you know, the lobbyists would hang out in the leadership offices all the time and they were walking in the leadership offices, which , you know, is not good. You know, they didn't have 89:00those, those ropes that they have there now, where you can't go back in the leadership offices. I don't know if you've been up there during a session but they have, you get up there and they have ropes, so you can't go in the leadership offices unless you, you know, got an appointment. But it used to be the lobbyists just go in and out there and they just sit there, the lobbyists would just sit in the leadership offices. You know, just I mean, it was, you know, not, not good. So, ultimately, and I don't know exactly how it got started. You'd have to go back and read the stories, but not sure exactly, uh, why the initial FBI investigation started in BOPTROT, but that started, uh, let's see, I think that hit the fan in, in, uh, my first year as attorney general, I want to say, '88. So I think the investigation must have started in, I don't know,'87 maybe, somewhere in there.
BOHL: I'm thinking it was a little later than that, because Bill McBee90:00didn't even get out of the legislator until 1990. And he was a lobbyist at the time of BOPTROT. So I'm thinking probably more like '91 or '93.
COWAN: Well, maybe it was after I was attorney general then. Because Iwasn't, the attorney general's office was not involved.
COWAN: Maybe, maybe it started in '90, maybe you're right, maybe itstarted in '90 , uh, the investigation started sometime in '91 maybe, and maybe, uh, the '92 General Assembly was -----------(??)-------- of the, the BOPTROT was like '90, the invest-, the prosecution started in '92 or early '93 maybe, that's probably right.
BOHL: Okay. You mentioned that the governors would have functions.Uh, how much of a relationship did you have with Governors Brown and Collins?
COWAN: It was not close. Uh, I was not close, uh, I was not close tothem at all. We used to have fun in the legislature though. They, at my expense, there was, somebody played a trick on me, and I'm still not sure who to this day did it but they--(laughs)--they, somebody said, 91:00sent in a note to me, and said, "The governor wants to see you." And this was while we're in session, so I went all the way down to the, this was, I was a freshman legislator. I went all the way down to the first floor to the governor's office, and said, "I got this note, said the governor wants to see me." The governor comes out and says, "No, I didn't, I didn't say I wanted to see you." So somebody just sent me down there just to, gullible me, to, you know, either get me off the floor for some reason or just whatever. So, you know, they'd do that kind of stuff, and we used to spike Cokes with hot pepper and, I don't know(??), just crazy, crazy kinds of things. (Bohl laughs) So, interesting little vignette, as my daughter, I'd let her sit on my lap one time when, uh, when she would come over to visit, my oldest daughter. And, uh, they had the, the green and red buttons: green, if you're for the bill; red, if you're against it, obviously. So I intended to vote one, one way on this critical bill and I looked up on 92:00the screen and saw that I was voting the other way, and she pushed the, pushed the button the other way, so I said, "Oh my gosh." (Bohl laughs) So, so that was kind of fun. That was kinda fun. So, anyway, so I wasn't that close to the governors, no.
[Pause in recording.]
COWAN: For me, and maybe some of the other Young Turks, as well, youknow, the period of the late sixties and the seventies, which you no doubt read about, was a period of great turmoil in American society, and there was a great, I think, desire on the part of young people to make changes for the better. There was a lot of emphasis on, on, uh, civil rights, on poverty, on, uh, the problems we had and then the, you know, environmental movement came, uh, along about that time, and the women's movement was coming. And it all provided a backdrop for me at 93:00least, and I think for some other people, um, to be kind of activist, if you will(??). You know, somebody who's gonna -----------(??) we're out there determined to save the world in some way, to make, to make a difference. So, um, you know, that, that goes back to my, you know, my experience as a Peace Corps volunteer, as a consumer advocate, and in law school even I was founded, I helped found an organization called Students for Public Interest Law. Uh, and as I told you, I didn't really anticipate, when I went to law school in the first place, of ----------(??) a private practice; I kinda envisioned doing, you know, doing in the something in the public interest sector. And, um, and that whole, uh, ambiance, that milieu, if you will, I think provided a significant backdrop for, uh, you know, my motivation, and, and what 94:00I was trying to do in, in, uh, in politics. And I think, you know, I think people have come after me, or after people that, it's, it's different. They're different. It's not quite the same. And, uh, you know, the period of the, the mid-sixties to late seventies was a, uh, you know, it's a unique period in American history, I think. So I just wanted to mention that to you, because that's, that's important. You know, I mean, it's, you hear people talk about it, and it's, for the, you know, my parent's generation, World War II kinda defined them or the Depression. Well, I think the sixties defined people in my generation, the sixties and seventies, the civil rights, Vietnam War, environmentalism, all these things. You were either, you know, if you got swept up in it, uh, you know, it mattered a lot to you. If it didn't, then, you know, maybe you're, you know, you're more conservative today. Maybe not, I don't know.
BOHL: Okay, you said you pretty much have known going into the95:00legislature that you didn't intend to stay there for very long. Uh, you hadn't had any prosecutorial experience, but you decided to be attorney general. What was your thought process?
COWAN: Well, uh. The, in my case, I think it goes back to, uh, whatI just mentioned in a way, the attorney general's office was, in my mind, an activist office. It was an office where, you know, you could do things for consumers, or do things to improve the environment, or, you know, whatever it happened to be. It was not a prosecutorial office, just a prosecutorial office. Uh, you know, I wasn't running for attorney general because, you know, my greatest desire in the world 96:00was to stamp out crime. I mean, that was part of it. But I mean, I mean, I had a bigger agenda there. And the attorney general's office is a great office for doing a lot of stuff. I mean, it's got, you know, they've got a consumer protection division, they've got a utility intervention division; they've got a crime victims division. Uh, you know, they've, you know, it gives you a lot of flexibility. I got involved in the collection of child support, uh, which is a combination of, of prosecution and civil law and all other, you know, kinds of things and dealing with poverty at the same time. I mean, it was, it was just great. I mean, the attorney general's office is a great office, uh, for somebody who wants to do stuff. [telephone rings] You know, the prosecution side of it was important too because, uh, it was a way for my, uh, activist bent(??) to, uh, uh, address some issues. 97:00For example, the drug issue, I mean, it was a major, major concern. And, um, and, uh, then it also fit very nicely with the work we did on domestic violence. Um, and, as I already mentioned, child support. So, they was, uh, they were, uh, you know, some good opportunities there. Of course at that time, the attorney general you could only serve one term, so that was unfortunate. I would've loved to run for another term but could not. So anyway, so that's basically why I decided. And for me, the other thing for me was running for attorney general was, uh, I mean, I wasn't in a position to run for lieutenant governor or governor at that point, because I hadn't been around long enough. Uh, and, you know, really wasn't in a leadership position. And I suppose another way of saying was the attorney, I think the attorney general's office at that time was, um, maybe somewhat 98:00undervalued in the, in the state. It was, uh, you know, it was, it was not seen as the potent position that it actually is by virtue of its legal responsibilities and its legal authority. So, there weren't a lot of people trying to be attorney general. So it was a great opportunity for me to move into something reasonable quickly uh, you know, on a state-wide basis, and, you know, be in a position where I would, you know, be able run for a higher office after that. So, it made a lot of sense logically to do that as well.
BOHL: Okay, how did you go about campaigning? Obviously you can't begoing door-to-door all over the state? [telephone rings]
UNKNOWN: Don ---------(??) here to see you.
COWAN: I think she forgot you're back here. (Bohl laughs) ------------(??) Um, let's see, where were we? Where're we at? 99:00
BOHL: Campaigning for attorney general.
COWAN: Yeah, uh, well, you know, having to run, having to work in astate-wide campaign, in the Sloane campaign, I mean, I knew a little bit about state-wide campaigns. I also had a unique advantage in that I knew the importance of raising money, which most people, novices in politics don't understand and they don't understand what it takes to raise money. So, um, I knew that I needed to do that. Uh, raise money. And you know, so you make contacts and, um, I can't remember when I started actually raising money but, you know, I'd make calls, phone calls and ask people for money. Ask them for. And, um, then I would start making contacts with traditionally the attorney general's, uh, race has been a great interest to prosecutors, to commonwealth attorneys and county attorneys. So I made a lot of contacts with them. 100:00Got a lot of good, you know, the attorney general's office is the chief prosecutor estate and he's the head of the prosecutors advisory council, which helps pass the prosecutor's budget passes through the attorney general's office and the attorney general has some influence on how that budget operates. So, and then the other thing, county attorneys, as it turns out, and most counties in Kentucky are, are pretty powerful politically, because they're, you know, you get elected there. And they're often at the center of political organizations and stuff. So, having the support of county attorneys was very important. More, more so, county attorneys than commonwealth attorneys, although county-, commonwealth attorneys were, you know, they were important, but county attorneys are, are really, uh, crucial for, for a lot of counties in the political support. So, I get their support. And then, you know, I'd go and travel to places and get introduced to people, and I'd, um, you know, I worked the, the contacts I had in Frankfort 101:00through other legislators and through lobbyists I'd known. And, uh, they'd introduce me to people. And, you know, you just build a series of concentric circles, I guess, and, and started doing some traveling as much as you could. And, and I guess I started campaigning in. Uh, let's see. Well, I, well, eighty-, by the legislative session of '86, I was, I knew I wanted to do this. I don't remember when I actually started raising money. I can't remember but it was probably that spring or something, when I, I probably worked, started working on it, you know, a substantial amount of time right after the legislative session, I would say. Um, then my law practice was, you know, I, I really cut that way back and concentrated on that and started traveling around and we, you know, picked out the key counties, and, you know, something like twenty-three counties in this state have 70 percent of 102:00the voters or something like that. So, you know, you better have some contact in these key counties, so, you know, you'd go and spend time with them. And then I eventually, uh, I eventually, uh, hired somebody to be my campaign manager who, uh, had never worked in a campaign before but she was very well organized. And, um, you know, she's a very hard worker and she did a great job. And we got a couple of other people to kinda help out, so it was a small staff. And we raised this money and then I was contacted by a guy who, uh, um, does media out of Chicago, and I talked to him and hired him. And hired a pollster. The guy I hired media has since become very successful he's, uh, he was John Edwards's chief advisor or chief media person, and, uh, Barack Obama's media person, and, you know, this kind of stuff. So, uh, he did, he did great work for us. So, uh, that's how we got going. The 103:00campaign itself was different, if you, I mean, that's a whole other story maybe we should get into that another time.
COWAN: What else along that line do you have?
BOHL: You decided to resign your legislative seat early even though theyhadn't had the election yet.
COWAN: Yeah, boy, you really have done your homework, haven't you. Goodfor you.
BOHL: I try.
COWAN: Yeah, the reason I did that was, uh, it didn't work, the reasonI did that was these Democrats, uh, in, in the community were thinking, Well, if you resign your seat now, so we have this special election in November, more Democrats will come out to vote and we will have a better chance of holding on to that seat than if, if you wait until January, and then we would have, have to have a special election in the middle of January, and there won't be many people come out. It 104:00didn't make any difference because Anne Northup, uh, won the election anyway. She beat, uh, I think Allen Steinberg was her opponent. And, uh, she, uh, she beat him. Um, and, uh, so I gave up, you know, two months' salary and two months of my pension, or three months, whenever I resigned, I can't remember when I resigned exactly. Sometime before the November election though. So that's why I did that, because they asked me or they suggested it. I thought, I do that to try to help out, help hold on that seat for Democrats. But it didn't do any good. Because Anne Northup was a, she was good, she was a good campaigner.
BOHL: You stuck around for the special session on workers comp anyway,even though you were trying to campaign at the same time.
COWAN: Gosh, I don't even remember that, when was the special session?
BOHL: Um. I--
COWAN: --I didn't resign my seat until--105:00
COWAN: --until, until like October of 1987, so I had already won theDemocratic primary.
COWAN: The special session on workers comp, I don't know when that was.
BOHL: I'm not certain myself. It had to have been the fall of '87 aswell though.
COWAN: Was it? See, I, I--
BOHL: --I know it said that, uh, you ended up missing a little bitbecause you had a kidney stone that you had to go to the hospital for a few days.
COWAN: Okay, yeah. No, I remember the kidney stone. (Bohl laughs) Idon't remember the, uh, special session though. I remember, the, the kidney stone is quite memorable. That was an interesting, interesting, uh, little episode. That was in the middle of a campaign event when I started feeling that. (laughs) And my wife, uh, was with me, fortunately, and it was over in Lexington. And after the campaign event, I said "You know, I've got this pain that just won't go away." And, and, uh, so we started to drive home and I says, "This is really hurting; I've got to the hospital." So we said, "Well, we'll(??) Go, go to the hospital in Louisville." so we drove all the way back, and 106:00she, she doesn't like to drive that fast, so I was just cussing and moaning and groaning the whole way, and then we got into the, got into the hospital, and they finally figured out that it was a kidney stone. I had had, I had an examination earlier that week because I had had some pain and they haven't found anything. Anyway. So, okay, anything else, and then maybe, maybe we'll, maybe we'll reschedule.
BOHL: Okay. What do you think your greatest accomplishments from yourtime in the General Assembly?
COWAN: Well, I think I probably, one thing I have not mentioned, uh,that I'll mention, uh, that was not highly publicized, but it was very important. There's some publicity to it. And that was the purposed constitutional convention; did you follow this at all?
BOHL: I'm not sure.
COWAN: There was a purposed constitutional convention to balance the107:00budget--
COWAN: --on, on the federal level. And if you look at, if you look atyour constitution you realize one of the ways to amend the constitution is for the states, and I think it was two-thirds of the states, to call for a constitutional convention, which has never been done in our history. And the people, some, for some reason wanted to have a balanced budget amendment of the constitution, they went this route and they had gotten, if I'm not mistaken, they had gotten 32 states, by 1984 or '86, they had gotten 32 states, they were two states short of two-thirds to, um, to, uh, pass this resolution calling for constitutional convention. Well, it had become a big issue then because we would have been the thirty-third state, which next to the thirty-fourth. And nobody knew what in the world a constitutional 108:00convention would look like. Uh, I mean, it was a scary proposition. It was a very interesting coalition. There were people on the left and people on the right, called the eagle forum, was against it. There were people against it who thought, Well, if there's a constitutional convention they will legalize abortion. They're people who were afraid they, were gonna prohibit abortion. There was, uh, people who didn't know what they were gonna do with it. And it was a very frightening thing. So, there a lot others, a lot of academic, uh, debate about it. A lot of scholars, law school, uh, professors, and so forth, writing about it. And it was a pretty big effort; it was a national organization designed to defeat it. ------------(??) designed to, and I became very interested in it, and I became kind of a point person in the General Assembly to do it. And we managed to, uh, defeat it on the floor of the House. Uh, you know, there was a lot of coalition. 109:00Labor was very much against it. And I lead the floor fight and I helped organize that. And, uh, that was probably something that I was proudest of because I think it would've been such an uncertainly in our, in our nation's history. And when we stopped it in Kentucky, I like to think that, that it took a lot of steam out of their sails. They came back again a couple years later, but it didn't seem to have the same steam at that point. Um, and, uh, uh, it was, it was nice. Uh, Arthur Goldberg, former Supreme Court Justice was involved in it. He wrote me a real nice letter afterwards, which I still got framed. Uh, but as I said, I, it never got as much publicity as I thought it should have. It got some but it never got as much as I thought, because I thought it was just an incredible important issue. So, um, that was probably, you know, look back at it, that was probably my proudest legislative accomplishment, the other ones I've mentioned, 110:00uh, I was proud of, uh, you know, Bluegrass State Skills Corporation, Crime Victims Bill of Rights, uh, handling of the juvenile code. Uh, there were some other things. Uh, I helped GE out here with some, uh, tax legislation; it was a considerable support from them. Um, you know, I passed a number of, a number of other bills, uh, that were, uh, corporate type bills. Um, and I can't remember what else. There were, there were, you know, I had a, I had a pretty good legislative record, not as, as I said, not, you know, not, not overwhelming but a good solid legislative record, at that point(??). So, I think those are kind of. So, do you want to stop at this point then?
COWAN: Let's, uh, reschedule.
[End of interview.]