The Southwestern Historical Quarterly, Volume 81, July 1977 - April, 1978 Page: 478
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Southwestern Historical Quarterly
reader does not gain a firm picture of the man or his methods until
after Kerr enters the Senate in 1948.
Kerr eschewed Washington social life, being a non-drinking South-
ern Baptist layman. He devoted himself to politics and the protection
of the oil and gas industry. A provincial politician with a penchant for
vicious debate tactics and vituperative attacks, he was more feared than
admired by his colleagues. After a disastrous campaign for the Demo-
cratic presidential nomination in 1952, Kerr became a single-minded
individual. He used his position as chairman of a Public Works sub-
committee to commit the federal government to a billion dollar project
to make the Arkansas River navigable. He used his position on the
Aeronautics and Space Sciences Committee to influence defense con-
tractors to expand or create facilities in Oklahoma. And, as a member of
the Finance Committee, he guaranteed that money was available for his
schemes. Kennedy, when he became president, struck a bargain with
Kerr: the Senator would get the appropriations he wanted, and Kerr
would support the administration's legislative program (except with
regard to medicare). When Oklahoma's Governor J. Howard Edmond-
son, a Kerr opponent and a friend of Kennedy's, asked the President
why he was coming to Oklahoma and staying with Kerr, the President
responded, "Why Howard I'm going to Oklahoma to kiss Bob Kerr's
ass" (p. 221).
Unlike many political biographies written as doctoral dissertations,
this book adequately explains the subject's motivations. What is dis-
appointing is Morgan's failure to explain how Kerr gained his extraor-
dinary strength. Morgan mined the voluminous Kerr papers at the Uni-
versity of Oklahoma, but, as she notes, the Senator's family had removed
all of the "personal" correspondence. Further, she was denied access to
Kerr-McGee corporate records. Morgan hints at the basis of Kerr's
power in Washington when she mentions, almost casually, the campaign
funds which he provided fellow senators and congressmen, even Re-
publicans! Where did this money come from, and how was it distrib-
This is a study of one senator's rise to inordinate power, but it fails to
explain the roots and sources of that power. Kerr used his position to
provide Oklahoma with a system of silt traps on the Arkansas River and
federal and defense-related jobs. Unlike Lyndon Johnson, who also
worked for civil rights and aid to the poor, Kerr left his state and na-
tion a modest legacy.
Texas ArM University
KEITH L. BRYANT, JR.
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Texas State Historical Association. The Southwestern Historical Quarterly, Volume 81, July 1977 - April, 1978, periodical, 1977/1978; Austin, Texas. (texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth101205/m1/534/: accessed June 23, 2017), University of North Texas Libraries, The Portal to Texas History, texashistory.unt.edu; crediting Texas State Historical Association.