A retired professor revealed some of the interesting details of the life of former Kentucky governor and U.S. Senator Albert Benjamin “Happy” Chandler that will be part of his upcoming biography during a speech to the Corbin Kiwanis Club last week.
Richard Crowe spoke mostly about Chandler’s political exploits leading to him being elected Kentucky’s 44th and 49th governor.
“I’m not going to stand up here and tall you that Happy was an angel, but I will tell you that Happy stole less than the other guys stole,” Crowe told the group during their weekly meeting at David’s Steakhouse in Corbin.
“In that way, he was a good guy.”
Chandler, a Democrat, was serving as Lt. Governor under Ruby Laffoon whom Crowe described as a crook, and who had ruined the state’s finances. When Laffoon left the state to visit with U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt, Chandler conspired with fellow legislators to change the election laws — a move that withstood court scrutiny and helped paved the way for him to be elected governor in 1935.
Chandler took Kentucky’s moribund budget situation and turned it around by laying off 10,000 unneeded state workers, refinancing the debt and forcing liquor distillers and cigarette manufactures to pay steep taxes.
Chandler was just 36-years-old when he was first elected governor.
Crowe said he had mannerisms that helped vault him to political success, including the ability to remember people’s names and something about their family so he could engage them in conversation at a later date.
“That probably got him a million votes over his lifetime,” Crowe said.
Crowe said Chandler viewed himself as playing a role, like an actor, when he campaigned and would keep his speeches short so as to not bore crowds. He moved little when he spoke, so as to not be distracting, and would often start off a speech slowly and methodically, only to ramp it up at the end. He often ended speeches with a song or a Bible verse.
“You have to remember, this was during the Depression and there was really not much radio or TV to speak of. It’s all face-to-face and hand-to-hand campaigning and he loved it,” Crowe said.
Crowe talked briefly about Chandler’s sports prowess as an undergraduate student at Transylvania University, his failed attempt to pay his way through Harvard Law School, and his eventual return to Kentucky to study law at the University of Kentucky.
Chandler’s served in the U.S. Senate from 1939-1945 and was elected again as the state’s governor in 1955.
He is perhaps best known, outside of Kentucky, as the Commissioner of Major League Baseball from 1945 through 1951. He played a major role in the racial integration of the MLB when he approved Jackie Robinson’s contract with the Brooklyn Dodgers.
Crowe said he isn’t certain when his book will be complete. He currently has a page on www.gofundme.com seeking donations for his efforts.