Transcript Index
Search This Index
Go X

0:00 - Biographical background

Play segment Segment link

Partial Transcript: Born on a dairy farm in Racine County. Father immigrated from Ireland at age nine. Generally kept about forty cows on the dairy farm. Flynn milked cows twice a day from the age of twelve and did all the usual farm work of the time. Attended a one-room school in the town of Caledonia. Went to St. Catherine's High School in Racine. Got a law degree from Marquette University in 1933, returned to Racine to practice law, and has practiced law in Racine ever since. Served four years in the state senate and one term in the Congress. Married in 1938. Two sons and two daughters. One son a circuit court judge. Fourteen grandchildren. Has lived in current home in Racine for forty years.

5:34 - Always had an interest in politics

Play segment Segment link

Partial Transcript: Stayed up until 4 a.m. listening to the 1928 Democratic Convention on the radio, pulling for Al Smith. Parents were Democrats who supported the La Follettes.

7:12 - Became active in the Democratic Party upon graduation from law school

8:09 - History of Racine County and Wisconsin helps explain their politics

Play segment Segment link

Partial Transcript: Immigration. Haymarket Square in Racine, where farmers sold hay to city dwellers who kept horses. Norwegians and Danes in Racine. “Now, there are only a few events in a lifetime that sway mass thought and mass emotion, and cause people on a mass basis to change their normal habits. One doesn't change his religion; one doesn't change his political faith; one doesn't change his normal customs, until some great event comes about that causes a radical change in his life.” The Civil War was such an event. Most people in Wisconsin became Republicans at this time and stuck with it. This discussion and that which follows on Side 2 of this tape, consists largely of relating a standard history of events, with Flynn's interpretations, which are summarized above.

25:06 - More on Flynn's interpretation on the history of Racine and Wisconsin

Play segment Segment link

Partial Transcript: The next great event to cause mass political shifts was the Great Depression. Roosevelt was not elected by the Democratic Party. “He was elected by the people of the United States as a savior of our country. There weren't enough Democrats in the United States to elect a President at that time.” The Democratic Party at that time consisted largely of Irish Catholics. At the state level, however, Wisconsinites had the La Follette Progressives to turn to rather than the Democrats. When La Follette dissolved the Progressive Party and returned to the Republicans, labor would not follow him. La Follette's dissolution of the Progressive Party created “the greatest moment in decision making, as far as politics are concerned, in the history of politics in the State of Wisconsin.”

38:29 - Status of the Democratic Party in Wisconsin at the time of the dissolution of the Progressive Party

Play segment Segment link

Partial Transcript: Provided no alternative to the Republicans; honest, but its program did not differ from the Republicans. Did not have the courage or strength to press for social legislation. Flynn had been active in the party for some time and was impressed, finally, with its top leadership--Bob Tehan and Jerome Fox, “true liberals.” The question was whether these people could be trusted to “make the Democratic Party a liberal vehicle for social legislation” and thereby make the party attractive to labor and other liberals. Flynn knew them and trusted them. It was up to Fox, Tehan, and the State Central Committee to convince the longtime, diehard Democrats to welcome the new constituencies and give them an equal say in running the party.

44:51 - Distrust within the new coalition

Play segment Segment link

Partial Transcript: Labor and the liberals did not believe that the old-time Democrats would share control of the party, and the old-time Democrats feared labor would take complete control of the party. To dispel that mistrust, “It took all the political maneuverability that Jerry Fox of Chilton and Bob Tehan of Milwaukee had and the assistance that the State Central Committee gave it to sell the Democrats that were active that here truly was an opportunity for the Democratic Party to become the dominant party in the state of Wisconsin, to become what we always said we were--that is, a liberal party--but which we never had actually been before, to have labor join us, and to be the party of the people....” “There was grave doubt. And I can't tell you the doubt, how strong it was in 1948 when this merger took place.”

47:56 - Democratic National Convention, Philadelphia

Play segment Segment link

Partial Transcript: Flynn attended the convention as a proponent of the merger of the old Democrats and the new liberals. “That was the dullest, deadest, most terrible convention any man ever attended.”

49:37 - More on the Democratic National Convention

Play segment Segment link

Partial Transcript: Truman “made, I think, the greatest speech I've ever heard.” And the convention was no longer dull. Electrified the audience.

51:58 - Building up the Democratic Party in Racine County

Play segment Segment link

Partial Transcript: When Flynn finished law school and got active in the Democratic Party in 1933, the party consisted of only three main people. They welcomed him. Flynn was looked to as the person to unify the new constituencies with the old Democrats. The First District could not elect a Democratic Congressman. Democrats could carry about fifty-five percent of the vote in Racine and Kenosha Counties, but would lose the other counties by huge margins. Flynn worked mainly with the unions. Harvey Kitzman, president of the J.I.Case union, was a key figure. Ardith Riggs, an old Socialist at the Case plant, was also very important in convincing labor to join the Democrats. He and Flynn worked as a team visiting local union meetings. Old Progressives, like Mayor Francis Wendt and Flynn's own law partner, opposed this because they were trying to bring labor into the Republican Party. “We carried the unions in Racine almost completely.”

59:10 - Split within the Democratic Party in Racine

Play segment Segment link

Partial Transcript: Two people in particular vied with Flynn for local party leadership. At a meeting one of them said, “If you think you're so damned smart, then why don't you run for office.” Flynn accepted the challenge and ran for the state senate, heading a slate which won the primary and the general election. Flynn then set about working on unity within the county, on sharing the power. “And we did make amends with them. We did bring them in. And the same people that fought us, joined up with us and became supportive.... But it took time.”

62:14 - Flynn did not run for reelection to the state senate

Play segment Segment link

Partial Transcript: Had a young family at the time and was paying his secretary more than he was making from the state senate.

62:50 - The need for candidates with experiences outside of politics

65:03 - Carl Thompson gave up a lot for the party

65:49 - Flynn was involved in the Democratic Organizing Committee (DOC) from the start

Play segment Segment link

Partial Transcript: On the State Central Committee and in frequent contact with Bob Tehan. Was not a delegate to the first convention, however, because of a dishonest vote in the meeting to elect delegates.

67:42 - More on the split in Racine County

Play segment Segment link

Partial Transcript: Basically a split between the old Democrats and a couple powerful labor leaders. Sam Rizzo, of the Auto Workers, “wanted personal power. And he used his position in labor to further himself in politics; he used his position in politics to further himself in labor.” Rizzo's lawyer, a man named Ben Schwartz was the other key figure on the side opposed to Flynn. They wanted to control the whole party in Racine.

70:58 - The split in the party contributed to Flynn losing his seat in Congress

Play segment Segment link

Partial Transcript: Flynn tried to heal the split, like hiring Mrs. Schwartz's son during the summer. Rizzo even backed Flynn for Congress, backed him strongly. Flynn took Rizzo to Washington and roomed with him. After a few months, Rizzo took a leave to work on the Humphrey for President (1960) Campaign. When Rizzo returned to Wisconsin, “he started undermining me in the District,” especially amongst labor. Ten days before the election, Schwartz called Flynn and explained why labor was cool--because Flynn had refused to sign a letter sent him during a strike at J.I.Case. “I said, 'You in particular should know more than to try and to use the Congressional office as a campaign tool when a strike is going on.'” Essentially, Schwartz then offered to help reelect Flynn, provided he and Rizzo could “run that office.” “I said, 'If that's your price for support, ...it's a price that I will not pay.'” Lost 5500 votes in Racine, which, if they had gone the other way, would have elected him.

77:42 - Leadership of the old Progressives in Racine did not join the Democratic Party

Play segment Segment link

Partial Transcript: “...They just died...disintegrated.”

78:00 - Divisions in the party at the state level

Play segment Segment link

Partial Transcript: Milwaukee people felt, because of their size, that they should have greater recognition. “On the other hand, over the years the Milwaukee area had not come up with forward-looking, progressive-type legislation for the benefit of the mass of people. So many of their people were people that could be lobbied.... And the people coming off the campus in Madison had, I think, a higher moral tone.” The Madison people were more intelligent and simply of a “higher quality.” Because of the existence of a ward level organization, which resulted in battles for control of the county organization, Milwaukee was different from the rest of the state. Madison people travelled the state making speeches. “They captured the imagination, they captured the friendship of the officers of the party in the northern counties. So that Madison controlled not only Madison, but the outlying areas.... Milwaukee never went outside of Milwaukee County; they were fighting within the county all the time.” Madison people, however, could have used “a lesson in public relations.” They “tried to force it, drive it home, rather than be a leader and bring it home.” “So Madison comes in with a power play for over several years time with legislation, what they're going to do, and they start running the party.” Henry Maier was young and politically ambitious, “and they didn't do anything to blend Maier into their organization.” So Maier organized the Lake Shore against Madison and the north. Governor Tony Earl is making the same mistake today. Gaylord Nelson, unlike Pat Lucey, avoided confrontation with Maier.

90:47 - Philleo Nash

Play segment Segment link

Partial Transcript: He was good for the party, tried to unify it. Flynn supported him for chairman of the party.

92:02 - Flynn lined up more with Milwaukee than with Madison

Play segment Segment link

Partial Transcript: “Lucey turned me off.” Lucey is doing better now.

93:06 - Flynn in the state senate

Play segment Segment link

Partial Transcript: The state senate passed eighteen of the twenty-one bills he introduced during his first session. He tried to do a good job for his district. Got along well with the Republicans in the state senate., “because I didn't go in as a flaming liberal.” Roomed with Senator William Draheim of Neenah, who also was a conservative Democrat. Became good friends with Warren Knowles. Democrats filibustered the reapportionment bill. Angered Knowles because they did not yield the floor when expected and Knowles had already claimed Republican victory to the press.

100:10 - Flynn was never able to work well with Pat Lucey

Play segment Segment link

Partial Transcript: Lucey was a loner, who dealt well only with a few advisors in Madison.

100:37 - Decision to run for congress in 1956

Play segment Segment link

Partial Transcript: The incumbent, Larry Smith, had let it be known that his health was poor and this would be his last term. Flynn, by running against him, would become the front runner in 1958 should Smith actually retire. Did not think he could beat Smith.

101:53 - Flynn liked being in congress

103:07 - Lynn Stalbaum

Play segment Segment link

Partial Transcript: Succeeded Flynn in the state senate, with Flynn's support.

104:41 - First district congressional elections in the 1960s

Play segment Segment link

Partial Transcript: Flynn lost the election in 1962 because he did not have the support of the Auto Workers because of Schwartz and Rizzo. In 1964, Schwartz and Rizzo promised Stalbaum labor's support if he would run in the primary against Flynn. Stalbaum won the primary and the general election. Rizzo and Schwartz then tried to dominate Stalbaum like they had tried with Flynn, “but Lynn apparently told them to go to hell.” Stalbaum was very honest. Schwartz and Rizzo worked against Stalbaum when he ran for reelection and, just as was the case with Flynn, he was unable to pull enough support in Racine to be elected again. “They thought they could control that office in Washington.”

109:40 - Flynn's secretary in Washington had alerted him to Rizzo's plans

110:11 - Les Aspin did not face the same situation because Rizzo and Schwartz had faded from the scene by the time Aspin was running for congress

110:19 - After his last congressional campaign, Flynn did not run for public office again and became much less active in the Democratic Party

110:41 - Flynn's decision to become an attorney

Play segment Segment link

Partial Transcript: Influenced by a judge who lived near his parents' farm.

111:55 - Although he supported Progressive candidates for state office, Flynn was never active in the Progressive Party

112:25 - Status of the Racine County Democratic Party in 1933 when Flynn returned from law school

Play segment Segment link

Partial Transcript: No meetings, since there were only three people plus Flynn who were party activists. Flynn worked to enliven the party. Started a Young Democrats chapter.

113:12 - The social stigma of one's political affiliation

Play segment Segment link

Partial Transcript: In the 1930s and 1940s in Racine and even later in Rock County being a Democrat was socially unacceptable and could hurt one's business.

114:01 - Racine in the 1930s voted for Progressive candidates by a slight margin

114:59 - Rock County made the difference when Flynn was elected to congress

Play segment Segment link

Partial Transcript: Between 1956 and 1958 Flynn spent a lot of time in Rock County, working mainly through the unions, to improve his chances in the 1958 election. While he still lost Rock County in 1958, the margin was drastically reduced.

117:04 - Role of blacks in Racine's Democratic Party

Play segment Segment link

Partial Transcript: In the early years, they were non-political and rarely voted. “Most of the blacks that were here in Racine were brought up in truck loads by the Racine Steel Company from Mississippi.... They were the poorest of the poor....” Some work was done through the churches, but the churches were small. Those blacks who did get active politically did so through the unions. Did have a couple black aldermen.

119:19 - Party leaders from Madison did not try to dominate Racine and Kenosha

121:34 - In 1960 presidential campaign, Flynn supported Humphrey

122:33 - Campaign debt dinner

Play segment Segment link

Partial Transcript: To pay off his 1958 campaign debt, Flynn had a ten dollar a plate dinner at Parker Pen in Janesville. The hail seated 550 people, but the man (Paul Corbin) who took charge of the affair sold 750 tickets. John Kennedy was the guest speaker. The overflow crowd was sent to a hotel to eat. “It took me two years to overcome that, the two hundred people who paid their money and didn't get in.”

127:17 - Revealed that Corbin had been a communist

Play segment Segment link

Partial Transcript: He was furtive, but a good organizer. Corbin was Flynn's unpaid home secretary for Rock and Walworth counties. Janesville Democrats revealed to Flynn that Corbin was, or had been, a Communist. This greatly surprised Flynn since Corbin had been editor of the Wisconsin Democrat.

129:43 - More on Paul Corbin's communist ties and his closeness to Bobby Kennedy

Play segment Segment link

Partial Transcript: Had belonged to a Communist cell in California. Involved in unions in Milwaukee. Moved to Janesville and did advertising work. Attorney General's office had a thick file on him. Flynn fired Corbin. Corbin, involved in the Kennedy campaign in Wisconsin, remained with the campaign through the election. After the election, Bobby Kennedy wanted to hire Corbin, but was unable to get a security clearance for him. So, he made him the number two man in the Democratic National Committee. The number one man was always a U.S. Senator; hence, the number two man was the effective head of the DNC. Bobby Kennedy had a private telephone line from his desk to Corbin's desk so they could talk without even going through secretaries. When Kennedy left the Attorney General's office, Corbin's file disappeared and Corbin wound up working for the Kennedy Trust.

0:00No transcript.