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Interview with Jack Watson, November 11, 2015

Richard B. Russell Library for Political Research and Studies, University of Georgia
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00:00:35 - Early life / Meeting Charles Kirbo and Jimmy Carter

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Partial Transcript: We are most anxious to talk to you today about your political and professional careers.

Segment Synopsis: Watson describes his childhood, recalling growing up in El Paso, Texas but moving to Pine Bluff, Arkansas at the age of ten. He talks about attending Vanderbilt University on an ROTC scholarship and afterwards joining the U.S. Marines. Watson talks about studying law at Harvard Law School, and later working as a lawyer. Watson discusses working with his mentor Charles Kirbo, who introduced him to Jimmy Carter.

Keywords: 1966; King and Spalding; Plains, Georgia; first force reconnaissance unit

00:13:54 - Working for the Georgia Department of Human Resources

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Partial Transcript: So Jimmy was elected governor in 1970.

Segment Synopsis: Watson recalls giving Jimmy Carter advice for a speech he gave to the Downtown Rotary Club about law and order in America. Watson also discusses becoming a pro bono lawyer for the Atlanta Crime Commission and getting interested in mental health. Watson recalls being asked by Carter to become the Chairman of the Board for the Georgia Department of Human Resources.

Keywords: Atlanta Journal Constitution; Frank Moore; Frank Shackleford; Griffin Bell; Hamilton Jordan; Jody Powell; Lester Maddox; Mental Health Association of Metropolitan Atlanta; Richard Harden; public health; welfare

00:24:05 - 1976 presidential election

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Partial Transcript: By the end of 1974, which was toward the end of Carter's term as governor, you became involved with a group to help plan his 1976 campaign for president.

Segment Synopsis: Watson recalls learning about Carter's plans to run for president for the first time during a dinner in the governor's mansion. He talks about his work to raise money for the campaign in Georgia. Watson talks about how winning the primaries in Iowa, New Hampshire, and Pennsylvania were important in establishing Carter's legitimacy as a candidate in the eyes of the voters.

Keywords: Bob Lipshutz; Carl Sanders; Charles Kirbo; Frank Moore; Hamilton Jordan; Jody Powell; Phil Wise; Scoop Jackson; Stuart Eizenstat

00:36:55 - Carter's transition team

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Partial Transcript: I set about working on a memorandum.

Segment Synopsis: Watson says that after the Pennsylvania primary, he began working on a memorandum to propose a small transition team to start planning for Carter's presidency. Carter asked Watson to be the head of this transition team. Watson says that many important senators wrote him recommendation letters for people that they thought should be on the transition team, so he was able to hire some great people.

Keywords: Clark Clifford; Dick Cheney; Gerald Ford; Harrison Welford; Jack Brooks; Jack Marsh; Jerry Brown; John Gardener; Mo Udall; Pat Anderson; Phil Landrum; Phillip Hart; Sam Donaldson; Teddy Kennedy

01:03:35 - Selecting Carter's administration and cabinet

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Partial Transcript: So he becomes president, what use did he make of your transition plans?

Segment Synopsis: Watson talks creating a Talent Inventory Program to manage incoming recommendations for positions on Carter's administration team. He also discusses the fact that Carter did not choose a Chief of Staff for the first two years of his term, noting that Carter carried out himself a lot the responsibilities of what a chief of staff would do.

Keywords: Bob Lipshutz; Frank Moore; Gerald Ford; Hamilton Jordan; Jay Beck; Jody Powell; Phil Wise; Richard Nixon; Ronald Reagan; Stuart Eizenstat

01:16:46 - Watson's roles during Carter's term

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Partial Transcript: So what was Jack Watson doing during that period?

Segment Synopsis: Watson discusses how Carter wanted the governors of all the states and the mayors of important cities to be able to contact him if they needed to. He put Watson in charge of this by making him the Assistant to the President for Intergovernmental Affairs. Watson also discusses being the Secretary to the Cabinet, where he coordinated interdepartmental activities and coordinated the execution of domestic policy.

Keywords: Stuart Eizenstat; local governments; state governments

01:25:05 - Keeping in touch with state politics

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Partial Transcript: This is probably a good time to tell you one quick thing, as to how well this worked.

Segment Synopsis: Watson discusses how he was able to get all of the Democratic governors to support Carter's reelection in 1980. He said that he was able to do this because Carter was so good at keeping in touch with state and local politics. Watson also discusses becoming the head of the Interagency Coordinating Counsel to bring policy makers together.

Keywords: Howard Baker; Jim Hunt; Jody Powell; OPEC; Panama Canal; Tip O' Neil; hostages; inflation; oil

01:37:10 - Carter's Cabinet

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Partial Transcript: Jack, you worked extensively with the Carter Cabinet. Tell is about the cabinet.

Segment Synopsis: Watson discusses the members of Carter's cabinet, reflecting positively on the loyalty and competency displayed by its members. Watson also talks about the bad reputation Carter's inner circle had and how they were referred to as the "Georgia Mafia."

Keywords: Bob Burglin; Brock Adams; Cecil Andrus; Cyrus Vance; Frank Moore; Griffin Bell; Hamilton Jordan; Harold Brown; Jody Powell; Mariel Harbor boat lift; Moon Landrieu; Pat Harris; Stuart Eizenstat; Urban development action grant; Zbigniew Brezinski; water

01:51:06 - Decline in Carter's popularity

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Partial Transcript: In was in the summer of 1979, that the President gave his famous speech about the crisis in confidence in the United States.

Segment Synopsis: Watson discusses the decline of Jimmy Carter's popularity. He says that Carter was unpopular with Congress because he asked them to make a lot of hard decisions such as ratifying the Panama Canal treaties and approving bills regarding renewable energy. Watson says that Carter did not campaign for reelection because he refused to campaign during the Iran hostage crisis.

Keywords: Chief of Staff; Cyrus Vance; Hamilton Jordan; Lyndon Johnson; Presidential Personnel Office; geothermal power; solar panels; wind power

02:03:43 - Reorganization of Government / Healthcare

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Partial Transcript: What other subjects would you like to talk about?

Segment Synopsis: Watson discusses Carter's two main public policy goals when he reorganized the government: energy and education. Watson also expresses disappointment at failing to pass hospital cost containment legislation, and how that was a huge disappointment. Watson then discusses how human rights was the center piece of Carter's foreign policy.

Keywords: Central and South America; Costa Rica; Jim Schlesinger; Mexico; Panama Canal; democracy

02:11:52 - Economic factors affecting Carter's 1980 campaign

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Partial Transcript: I read recently where President Carter, in an interview, blamed three conditions for his loss in 1980.

Segment Synopsis: Watson talks about how the increasing prices of oil and inflation in the economy were some of the factors that caused Carter to lose the reelection in 1980. Watson also discusses the fact that Carter had the support of Republicans in Congress that would work with him, which is something that President Obama did not have.

Keywords: John Anderson; Paul Voker; Ronald Reagan; alternative energy; interest rates

02:22:11 - Future plans / Chief of Staff

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Partial Transcript: What's in the future for Jack Watson?

Segment Synopsis: Watson talks about what he is doing today and what plans he has for the future. Watson also recall becoming the Chief of Staff for Jimmy Carter after Hamilton Jordan was moved to work on the reelection campaign. He also talks about his work with the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

Keywords: Jim Baker; Mount St. Helen's' Mariel HarborlFEMA; National Portrait Gallery; Rosalynn Carter; Stuart Eizenstat; drought; horses; mental health; motorcycles; natural disaster; three mile island