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The Congressman Charles Wilson Collection - News Clip from World News Tonight (1984)

East Texas Research Center

Sound | 1984

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  •  Charles Wilson discusses the role of “yellow dog” Democrats 
  •  Senator John Tower discusses Texas as a conservative state 
  •  Wilson talks about the lack of balance on the ballot 
 
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In this 1984 news clip from World News Tonight, Peter Jennings discusses Texas’s political history and its significance in the upcoming national elections. With the help of politicians including Charles Wilson, Jennings relates the evolution of Texas from a one-party Democratic state to a more diverse state that votes both for both Democratic and Republican candidates. The video highlights Texas’ importance in the national race in saying that no candidate has ever become President without winning in Texas.
Charles Nesbitt “Charlie” Wilson was a 12-term Democratic United States Representative from January 3, 1976 until October 8, 1996. As a congressman, he served Texas’s second congressional district, which included Harris, Jefferson, and Liberty Counties. He is perhaps best known for his congressional leadership in Operation Cyclone, the largest CIA covert operation in history, which supplied military equipment to Afghanistan during the Soviet Invasion in 1979. Wilson’s efforts were successful in this arena, and the Soviet Army withdrew form Afghanistan in 1989.  
 
Wilson was born on June 1, 1933 in Trinity, Texas to Charles and Wilmuth Wilson. He graduated from Trinity High School in 1951, then attended Sam Houston State Teachers College where he received an appointment to the United States Naval Academy. At the Academy, he received the second most demerits in its history and graduated eighth from the bottom of his class in 1956 with a B. S. in engineering. This did not stand in the way of Wilson later achieving the rank of lieutenant, and during his time as a staff officer at the Pentagon, he volunteered for the Kennedy campaign and decided to enter political office himself. 
 
Wilson’s first interest in politics had come at an early age, after a fight with an elected-official neighbor who killed Wilson’s dog. The neighbor was upset that the dog had wandered into his yard and fed the dog glass, killing it. Wilson retaliated with political action, driving voters to the polls while spreading the story of his dog’s murder. His efforts resulted in his neighbor losing the election by 16 votes.  
 
During his congressional tenure, Wilson was often called “Good Time Charlie,” known for socializing with attractive women and enjoying alcohol. He embraced this reputation. Further, although he was hawkish on foreign issues, he was liberal on many domestic issues, including women’s rights, social security, and abortion. George Crile III captured these aspects of Wilson’s personal and political life in his 2003 book, Charlie Wilson’s War: The Extraordinary Story of the Largest Covert Operation in History, which was later adapted into the 2007 film Charlie Wilson’s War, starring Tom Hanks as Charles Wilson. Wilson died in 2010 and is buried in Arlington National Cemetery.  
John Tower was born in Houston on September 29, 1925 to Beryl and Joe Tower. His father was a Methodist minister, so Tower spent his childhood in various Texas towns. He graduated from Beaumont High School and enrolled in Southwestern University in 1942. However, the next year he joined the Navy to serve in World War II.  Following the war, Tower was discharged as a seaman first class and completed his studies at Southwestern, earning a degree in Political Science. He earned his graduate degree from Southern Methodist University and also attended the London School of Economics.
 
Tower identified as a Republican and lost his first political campaign for state representative in 1954. He also lost the 1960 election for the Texas Senate in 1960 to Lyndon B. Johnson. However, Johnson was elected Vice President, and Tower won the special election for his seat the following year. He won re-election in 1966, 1972, and 1978. Tower was the first Republican senator to be elected from Texas since 1870, and many considered this the beginning of two-party politics in Texas. Most notably, Tower was skilled at guiding legislation through Congress, working in the interest of economic growth, small businesses, energy, agriculture, and transportation. He also assisted on Republican presidential campaigns and headed the Tower Commission on the Iran-Contra Affair in 1986.
 
Tower married Lou Bullington in 1952, and they had three daughters. His second marriage to Lilla Burt Cummings lasted from 1977 to 1987. He earned an honorary doctorate degree from Southwestern in 1964 and was named a distinguished alumnus in 1968. The Tower-Hester Chair of Political Science at Southwestern and The John Goodwin Tower Center for Political Studies at SMU are both named in his honor. He died in a plane crash in Georgia on April 5, 1991.