Betty Westbrook Transcript

Interview with Allen Tea Party member Betty Westbrook in community space at her retirement home in Allen, Texas on July 21, 2010.

Interview Time: 46:28 A.J. Bauer: What year were you born in? Betty Westbrook: [19]29. AB: Have you always lived in Texas? BW: I was born and raised in Texas, yes. AB: And what’s your life story, where did you go to school? BW: Well I went to school in East Texas and then migrated to Dallas after that and went to work and married and had children. And my husband traveled — we moved around a lot because of his job. And I was — I worked for Exxon Mobile out in the lab in Dallas for several years and then I was a homemaker for years and then my husband died in ‘92, and I wasn’t old enough for Social Security or Medicare, so when he got sick I went back to college and took computers and went to work at a newspaper. AB: Oh, what newspaper? BW: The local newspaper out here in Plano — the Plano Star Courier — and I was a columnist for about 10 years and then I retired and I remarried in ‘96. AB: So you when you worked for Exxon Mobile, what did you do in the lab there? BW: Oh, I was — I did secretarial work for the neurophysicists. AB: And what inspired you to go back to school and become a columnist? BW: Well, when my husband got sick, he was only 57 when he got sick, and I’m a couple of years older than him but I wasn’t eligible for insurance — and at that time I was — when he got sick I wasn’t working. I had raised my children and we had just moved back here from Chicago, I guess it was, and I realized that when something happened to him I wouldn’t have any insurance. And so he encouraged me to go back to school — to go to college, I had never been to college. AB: Where did you go? BW: I went to the local — Collin County has a — it wasn’t continuing education, we didn’t have that then, but it was just a regular college — a junior college. I was the first one in my class to get a job — it was at the newspaper — and I always had an interest in writing but never had done anything. So I took a night course in creative writing while I was working there and I wrote something about my husband’s death. So I laid it on the editor’s desk — I mean that was after I went to school, and I wrote in retrospect I talked about his illness and his death and I put it on her desk. And so she printed it. And then it just, it just turned into a job — I mean it didn’t pay, but I did a column every week because I had a lot to say. AB: What kind of things did you write your column about? BW: Well, the first time I wrote just about — a lot of general things — and then later they wanted me to write about senior things — senior items, because I was ... And that’s what I did I had a lot of people, a lot of my friends, come in and talk to me about issues and I would address those. But anyway, it was a good outlet for me because I needed something. I’d always — my husband was an executive, he had a large territory — he was a regional sales manager — and I helped him a lot. And I didn’t have my own career, and so I was always his wife — and I was glad to be his wife — but I was just glad to have an outlet for myself. AB: I imagine. That’s great. BW: And then I retired after I remarried. AB: And you mentioned you always liked writing but never got around to it — what were some of your favorite subjects in school? BW: Well, I excelled — of course that was the time, I don’t know if you even know about that, but at the time we didn’t have to go but 11 grades. We had a choice. So in 11th grade, I was just — I’d gone to a country school and I was doubly promoted because I was the only one in the third grade. So I was on the fast track for graduation — I graduated when I was 16. But my best subjects were English and literature and, you know the typing and shorthand skills. And secretarial work was the only work I ever did. AB: What would you say is your first political memory? BW: Well, my first political memory was — I had two brothers that were in World War II, and both of them, of course, were drafted because they were that age. No, I take it back — one brother was not drafted. He joined when he got out of school, because I remember now — we were listening to the radio on December 7 — he was home on furlough and he had to be called back immediately. So I thought Eisenhower kind of won the war, you know. So when he ran for president that was my first time to vote. My parents and my grandparents and most of the people in my family were Democrats. My dad was, you know, yellow dog. But I was the first Republican and the rest of them thought — conservative — the rest all followed, eventually they became that. But I voted, I paid — at that time we paid $3.75 for a poll tax. But I had to wait until I was 21 to vote — I believe it was 21 then — but that was my first time getting to exercise my right, and I was glad to pay whatever it took. AB: So you were the first in your family to vote Republican then? BW: Yes, yes. AB: Was politics something you talked about growing up? BW: No, we didn’t. AB: That said, you knew your father was a yellow dog? BW: Yeah [laughs]. Well in the years before he died I realized more and more. My mother might not even have been — I’m not sure if she voted to tell you the truth. We didn’t always get to vote and I can’t tell whether my mother ever did to tell you the truth. AB: So, what drew you to politics — were you drawn to politics at an early age? BW: Well, of course that was my first — I was not very old, 21, but that was my first interest in politics — after the war. Because I graduated high school in ‘45, and that was, of course, the year the war ended. And I knew we were affected, because, you know, we couldn’t — we were rationing and everything. The war affected us because, you know, we rationed in school and we didn’t get to take trips and stuff like that. But I just, I never, I was more interested in boys. AB: The usual things. BW: And the usual things [laughs]. And I still am interested in boys! Just kidding — they need to have my same name, my grandchildren [laughing]. AB: Of course — a different kind of ‘boys.’ What’s your history of party affiliation? Have you voted Republican since Eisenhower? BW: Yeah, I have always. AB: What’s kept you in the party or on that track? [Note: At this point a woman with the bridge-playing group comes in and Betty arranges for us to continue talking in the game room until 1:30, when the bridge group expected to meet] BW: Well, I’ve always been that energetic or interested, but not until I got married and had some kids and did some foolish things — foolish things like get married young and stuff like that. But it was back — let’s see this would have been before, before Reagan, that I voted in Texas — we were living back in Texas at that time and I voted. And someone asked me if I would like to come to be a judge — an election judge. And I don’t know how that happened, because that was the time when there was just a few of us. That was in Mesquite, which is in Dallas County, and there’s only a few. AB: Only a few Republicans? BW: Republicans, right. And I was PTA president and I didn’t know a lot — but anyway they found out there was someone like me that could be a judge. So I took the judges job there and then we moved to California when Reagan was governor and then when he ran for president — for some reason I just didn’t get that interested. But when I came back to Texas in 1977 — we lived in Chicago and I didn’t get into politics out there. But in ‘77 we came back and I was an election judge for 30 years — precinct chairman for 30 years. It’s an unpaid position, but I served 30 years in Plano and then when I moved to Allen, I had retired, but they didn’t have anyone in this capacity in this area so I went ahead and took it — precinct chairman, that’s what my job is now. AB: And from where do you get your conservatism — are there any pivotal points in your life that informed your conservatism? BW: Well, you know, I don’t know how to say this — but you know, we were raised on a farm. And even though my father was a Democrat, he was a conservative. They were in those days. I don’t know, we did without a lot of things, and I could see that the government was part of the problem. Even as young as I was — because daddy listened to the radio and I heard some things go on and I guess when I left home I just wasn’t satisfied with what was happening. And I don’t know if I knew or had sense enough to know, but I just knew — I didn’t like the way the country was going and I like to — I just don’t know. You have to be a conservative when you live — of course I was a child of the Depression. And so I don’t remember a lot about that — but when you’re raised like that, I don’t know if it makes a difference or not, but it was really hard for us because we were a large family. And there were a lot of times where we just didn’t have proper clothes and stuff like that. And I thought, well, you know, the government is doing a lot of stuff and taking a lot, and of course as time went on they’d be taking more and doing less. It’s kind of a hard question to answer. AB: What are the political issues that are most important to you, and have they changed over time? BW: Well, I wasn’t — I didn’t spend a lot of time thinking about abortion in the early years, because, you know, for some reason it just never affected me. I never thought about it. But then when I was precinct chairman and we had to vote on the plank, you know, of the Republican Party, well I saw that it’s time we have to take a stand. And as a Christian I didn’t like the way it was going — I didn’t think that was right. [Note: The bridge group enters. Betty says, “Nobody interrupts...?” waiting to hear what we were being displaced by. “Bridge,” a woman replies. Then Betty and the woman say in unison, “Nobody interrupts Bridge!” Betty and I then move to a different room for the duration of the interview.] AB: So the question was: What are the most important political issues to you? And you were talking about your stance on abortion. BW: Well, abortion turned out to be, because it’s just such a hot item and I just think it’s wrong, as a Christian, and it’s gotten to be so — there’s so much of it, and now especially that the taxpayers are paying for some of it. But that, and of course right now it’s immigration and education. AB: And what about immigration and education are important to you? BW: I remember when I was just a kid going to school that the people in our community made all the decisions. And you know, I don’t know if you know, but the two-cent milk is what opened up the government. I remember I didn’t get two-cent milk because we did not qualify and my dad wouldn’t have done that anyway — he was too proud. And so that’s when the government took over and now it’s just wild because we don’t have any freedom. I just think it’s rotten — I don’t know how to explain it but it’s not good. AB: And with immigration? BW: Well, I’m on Arizona’s side. I think we need to do something about those borders. AB: And what characteristics are most important to you in a political leader? BW: Well, integrity. I mean that’s probably a lost cause right there to find someone with integrity but that’s what we need. And I’d like for them to have a relationship with Christ — I’d like for them to be Christian. But if another person — I might consider another person. I don’t know if I could or not to tell you the truth. I probably couldn’t [laughs]. AB: What is it about being a Christian that makes a good leader? BW: Well, because they depend upon God and they believe in prayer — even though a lot of people don’t. And I believe that the Bible speaks of that, of leadership and leaders are responsible, but so are we responsible that we live out our lives — you know what I’m saying, I couldn’t expect him to be anything, that president to be anything that I’m not. But I expect him to be better than me. So that’s two things that I’d like and I’d like for them to have some knowledge about the world. AB: And talking about religion — what role has religion played in your life and in the development of your political beliefs? BW: Well, I have to believe — I’m not one of those people who — there’s people in my denomination who say if you don’t believe in every — if you don’t believe the Bible like I do, that it says what I say it says — I believe it’s literal but I don’t have to fall into somebody else’s patter. But I still think — I know that God has ordained man. I don’t mean that he puts people in power — we put people in power. I think he lets us go ahead and make mistakes, because — does that make any sense to you. Does that answer your question? AB: Yeah, a little. What denomination are you? BW: Guess. AB: I don’t know. BW: I’m Southern Baptist — we’re getting a bad rap right now about some things — I forgot now what it was. AB: I was going to say, what are you getting a bad rap about? BW: I forgot. AB: I’m out of the loop. BW: That’s okay, you’re from up north. AB: Well, I’m from Texas originally — I’m from Flower Mound. BW: I thought you might be, that you’re home for the summer. AB: But yeah, I’m out of the Southern Baptist loop. BW: Well, we’re kind of rabble rousers [laughs]. That’s what they say anyway. AB: So you’ve always been Southern Baptist? BW: Yes. Well, I had a fundamental background — or more fundamental — I lived out in the country. But they’re about the same. I stayed what I am because I felt it was in line with what I believe. AB: What kind of music do you like? BW: I like country music — of course I like Christian music, but I do like country music. And I like songs from the 40s and 50s — the old stuff. I’m in a couple of singing groups and we sing that old stuff. AB: You said you’re in a couple of singing groups? BW: Yeah, we go out to nursing homes. AB: How’s for television — do you watch television? BW: I do a little bit. I mostly watch Fox News. But I watch a couple of the dramas — forensic medicine. I started watching that woman that’s the Ex-wife or something like that, it’s really neat. AB: What was that? BW: It’s called Ex-Wife I caught it on Channel 11 last night — she’s a lawyer and they do weird things. But I like drama. Of course, I used to like the, you know the funny part. But since Red Skelton and some of them died it’s just gotten too over the top — too nasty. I watch very little TV. AB: And how about books? Do you like to read? BW: Yes, I read a lot. We have a library here and I read murder mysteries. AB: Do you have a particular author you like? BW: Yes, I like James Patterson. Patterson and I’ve read some Fern Michaels, and I picked up one today by somebody else I like — oh, Mary Higgins Clark, I like her. AB: And what are some books that have been important or formative in your life — books that stand out? BW: Well, I’ve done some — are you talking about biographies and that kind of thing? AB: Whatever stands out as important to you. BW: Well I think the reason I like James Patterson is because the lawyer always wins [laughs]. He always wins the cases and for some reason they say that’s not a good thing. But you know, I like stories that come out good, don’t you? AB: Yeah. BW: It’s so funny, that lady [one of the bridge players] thought I was tutoring you. AB: Yeah, maybe. What I was I going to say — how’s for nonfiction? Do you read nonfiction or mostly just fiction books? BW: I read a lot of books that are related to Christianity because I’ve held offices in the church. And I read some of Mark Levin’s book on liberty and I read a lot of books about Laura and George — the Bushes. AB: Changing gears a little bit — what does it mean to you to be an American? BW: Wow. You know, every Sunday when I go in the church I see that the flag is up on the stage. And sometimes it’s not — sometimes they’ve left it somewhere for cleaning. And I always go somewhere and find that flag — the American flag — because I feel it’s just so important that it be there. And last Sunday, we were doing — they asked me to do the Bibles. If you pay $5 at Lifeway, you can put your name in the Bible and they will ship it. So we did that at church, and the pastor said — I have an announcement from Betty, and she’s the most patriotic person that I know. And that’s kind of good to be remembered for that — better than being remembered for something else. And I’m — you know I told you I was a precinct chairman. When we sold our big house and moved here two years ago, well I realized that there’s no one here pushing voting. And so I went to the manager and said would it be possible if we took the van — our company van — to the early voting? And she agreed to do that twice — two different times. It never had happened. And I said if you put my name out there, it doesn’t matter what party they’re with, I will help them get their voter registration changed. And at election time I got the address — I got copies of requests for mail-in ballots and I took them to their room, everyone who wanted one, and I taught them how to fill them out. So we had about 70 vote, just in my, in the Republican primary. And I know there were others of other parties. I mean, that’s — and that goes along, I think, with my pride in my country. When I was in school, there was a lot of my friends that went away to war. And my brothers, one of them was drafted and the other joined. The one that was drafted was over there in the second front, you know, with Patton. And there were about three years there where we didn’t even hear from him. I’ve even written about my brothers and how much they had to give up in order for my freedom. And what it means to be an American is it means to be free and it means the Constitution and the Bill of Rights and it means something that no one else has got — no other country can brag about the things that we have. And I’m always reminding our pastor and music director about holidays — hey, July 4 is coming up, hey, Veterans Day is coming up. Because everybody doesn’t feel that way. AB: Right, and the inversion of that question — what does it mean to be un-American? BW: Well, it’s treason. And we have some people in government that are treasonous, I think — that act un-American and maybe it’s wrong for me to judge, but I have to judge. They say you can judge a book by its cover. AB: And you see we have people in government that act un-American. What are some un-American actions that the people you are referring to are doing? BW: Well, the one thing would be that we’re ignoring our own situation on this side of the border. And we seem to be involved too much worried about the other side. And I don’t know if this is true, but I probably could prove it somehow — one politician told me we were spending twice as much on the Mexican side of the border than we are here. And I don’t doubt that. To me that’s un-American. If we don’t — we’re the last bastion of hope for the world, I think. And if something happens here we’ve got no place to go. There’s no place else for us, so we have to keep — we just have to keep what we have. AB: This may be a hard question — do you feel a stronger identification with your country, state, your religious group, ethnic group, class, any other category? What do you most closely identify with? BW: Well, I’d have to say with my church friends, because I am really involved in church. But because of my political persuasion — I think that, I mean everybody knows what I believe. Everybody who knows me knows why I am what I am. And I don’t go around wearing the flag all the time — I mean I do wear a flag, but you know what I’m saying? I think it kind of goes with it — you know, God and country. AB: You mentioned Fox News earlier — what are your primary sources of news? BW: Well, Fox is, right now, the only news I watch. In the past I’ve watched the others, but they leave off too much. I feel like I’m getting all of the news if I watch Fox. I do get some from the radio — conservative talk radio. AB: What are some of your favorite talk radio shows? BW: Well I listen to WBAP. And sometimes I listen to KSKY — I think that 660, but mostly I listen to 820. AB: Where did you get your news before Fox News and talk radio? BW: Well, I watched the local stations — the network stations. In fact, it was only two and a half years ago that we got cable. So I haven’t been watching Fox — I was watching radio, I mean listening to radio, but I never did get Fox because we didn’t have cable. So we moved here and got cable and I started watching Fox. AB: And what are your opinions of the news media, generally? BW: Well, I think they’re real biased. And there was some items just recently that everybody else talked about but they didn’t cover — Bob Schieffer, for instance, didn’t even know some of this stuff was happening. It’s hard to believe — because I worked for a newspaper, and it was just a small town newspaper, but they read other stuff. They kept up because — even if it’s a little rag they had to put some news out there every once in a while. AB: So, did you feel that the media was biased before you started watching Fox News and listening to talk radio? BW: Oh, I can’t remember when I didn’t feel that way. Even though I wasn’t watching Fox, in my circle of friends, as a result of my political persuasion, you know, I was getting lots of e-mails. AB: And, what are your opinions of journalists in particular? BW: Well, I never did want to be a journalist and I still wasn’t. I wasn’t actually a journalist, I just wrote a column. But, you know, I can remember in the early days when we had the Pathe News in the theatre and we had the radio that we depended on a lot — even after TV came along. There were some of those guys, you know, that you could get some news out of them, but they didn’t tell you what you just heard. But now they all want to tell you this is what you just heard — and even what they’ve played you don’t want to hear again, because — it’s what they leave out, I think. And I’m hoping it’s not bias on my part, but it looked to me that they were cheerleaders, actually cheerleaders for Obama. And that is — I mean I learned that much when I was working at that newspaper. Even though I didn’t do news, I realized that when you do news you don’t do editorials and news on the same page — I learned that quick. But they get it mixed up — I don’t think they can decide which is which, because they editorialize everything it seems to me like. AB: How and when did you find out about the Tea Party movement? BW: Well, for 30 years I’ve been in the same women’s club. AB: And what women’s club is that? BW: Plano Republican. It’s where I lived, and I held an office. But I got — they have an organization called the Texas Federation of Republican Women, and they have a federal — they get really involved. And I felt like, if you’re in that position you don’t have freedom. You have to fall in line with their rules. And I just didn’t feel like this was the place for me — I feel like I ought to be doing more stuff. But anyway, I got a phone call from a lady that was in the Tea Party and she said she’d like for me to come and explain to them how I got involved as a precinct chairman. So I went there and it turned out it was a Tea Party. And I saw people — I met people personally that first year — was that last year or the year before? I think it was probably last year that we really got going. AB: Yeah, it was probably 2009. BW: Anyway, even some of the those people have never — they told me — we rented a restaurant and they told me after I got through that they had never even been involved. They had voted but they never got involved. And out of that group, I interviewed a bunch of couples. And those people that had never gotten involved were going to go to DC that first time. They were going to go, give up their time — it was so important to them. And I said, maybe their eyes are being opened. And I saw all these young people and thought, this is for me, this is where I need to be. And they wanted me because I had experience. And so I thought maybe this is a better place for me. So I left that women’s club and became the Tea Party. AB: So it was mostly — the Tea Party is a little more active than the women’s club? BW: Yeah, and they don’t seem to be — I mean they don’t have to answer. I mean everything we did we had to answer to someone else — there were certain rules and regulations. And I felt like I spent a lot of time — and I shouldn’t say, for the people that are still in there I think that’s fine and good. But I just think this is what I needed to do. I needed to try to be an influence on these younger people — to keep them out there voting, and keep them interested — not to give up. I have three close friends now that are precinct chairmen — that volunteered to do that. Now, that’s no pay and a lot of work and a lot of money, you know that we have to get involved ... And they are so energetic. And it just makes me feel like we’re getting something done. And of course we’re getting a lot of notoriety, it’s not all good. But it’s — evidently we’re doing something right or they wouldn’t be so mad at us. AB: What would you say are the main values of the Tea Party movement — what would you say sparked it? BW: Well, I think they realized that our country was being given away. And I cannot repeat those five things — you probably know what they are. But the one that’s most important is they believe in our country — still. And you know, it looks like every American would believe in their country, but these people do. They’re different. We meet twice a month! Can you imagine people at this time — meeting twice a month and having jobs? I mean I’m retired, but they do this and they have full-time jobs and find time to do this. And it’s their values system — of course, the Republican Party has values. But I don’t know, it just seems like these people are able to express it — I don’t exactly know how to describe it. AB: And what would you say the media consistently gets wrong about the Tea Party movement? BW: Well, I think one thing that we’re being accused of calling people names. And there’s some man out there, I don’t remember his name, but he’s offered $1,000 or $10,000 or $100,000 — anyway, he’s offered a sum of money to someone who can prove that this happened and no one has claimed the money yet. And I think that they’re afraid of us. Because this much interest — when the last elections before the Tea Party have been so pitiful. I mean, why wouldn’t they get worried if they see people waking up. And this what — I used to, when I worked elections, I’d get so depressed. Because, you know, I’d give my time and people wouldn’t show up. And the newspapers say this is the percentage of voting and they’d say this is pathetic — they’d make note of it. So now we’re involved, so what’s the big deal? This is what it’s all about — it’s what they’ve been wanting! I think they’ve been wanting participation, but evidently they’re not wanting this kind. But it just goes to reason — just like you go to the city hall, the city election and a couple dozen people can decide you’re going to spend $10 million on a building — an arts hall. I mean it’s not two dozen, but it’s a paltry amount, and they’re not the ones that are going to be paying the bills — because everybody’s going to be paying the bills. It’s pathetic. AB: So, one thing that I think is interesting or have been trying to figure out — you know back in ‘94, whenever the Republicans took power after Clinton had been elected. Newt Gingrich and everybody — so there was that backlash after Clinton got elected and conservatives regained their breath and took back over. BW: Newt Gingrich had the Contract For America. AB: Exactly. And so this kind of seems like it parallels it a little bit, right, where Obama gets elected and you have midterms coming up — but this feels different than that in some way. Do you think this movement here is — how do you think this differs from ‘94? ... Do you think they’re different or do you think they’re the same. BW: Well, no. I think you’ve got people that are not party people — I mean these Tea Party people, all of them are not Republicans or Democrats or Libertarians. Some of them are just tired of this. I mean, I feel like it’s different, because I feel like we’re getting people who are voting more on values — I really think so. I think they’re fed up. AB: I guess, what do you think makes people more fed up now? BW: Well part of it to me is what’s happening with our new laws that are being passed. In 2011 we’re going to be hit hard with taxes — all of Bush’s tax cuts are going to be expiring. I mean, I think that’s what’s happening. I mean, some of the other presidents have been just as bad — but I just don’t think we’ve ever faced, well the kind of debt we have is unsustainable. So I think it’s probably different. AB: I think those are all my questions. Is there anything else that you feel is important to know about the Tea Party or anything else? BW: Well, I know that there’s a thought out there — it’s out there — that this is just a flash in the pan. But I don’t believe that. I believe, I believe it’s really real, because I went to an executive meeting last night — this was of the precinct chairs — and we have more precinct chairs than I’ve ever seen — and so many of them are these people, that this is their first time to get into the ring, so to speak. And I just think that they’re — they just woke up. And I think that there’s going to be a permanency to it. Now, I was a Republican when they had the convention when they opened the Christian organization — and I’m a Christian, always have been, but I wasn’t part of that group, when they took over the party. And a lot of them, I think they’ve slipped away. A lot of them gave up on it I think — but still I think there’s a lot of that that’s still going on. I think that’s still what makes our plank different from the other party, is that we have the Christians in there. So, I think probably some of them left, but I think it’s still a very vibrant group of people — I think they’re committed. — Interview conducted by A.J. Bauer —

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