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Politicians of Oklahoma’s Past: Carl Albert

7:05 AM EST on March 8, 2021

When it comes to Oklahoma lawmakers, we often think of them as partisan, nonsensical ass-hats who spend their time taking away constituents’ civil rights, tweeting inflammatory bullshit, and staying in office well beyond their best-by date. Nowadays, that doesn’t appear to be an unfair assessment. However, once upon a time there was a 5’4 “Little Giant” lawmaker from Oklahoma who spearheaded social programs and was next in line to becoming president of the United States…twice.

When many of us think of Carl Albert, what often comes to mind are usually the high school, parkway, or research center at OU rather than his tenure in Congress as a representative and eventual Speaker of the House. In all honesty, I was only vaguely familiar with the man until I got into a Richard Nixon kick earlier this year and started binging a bunch of podcasts on Watergate and Spiro Agnew’s bribery conspiracy. It was then that I began to understand why so many random things are named after him.

The only thing we haven't named after Carl Albert is a sandwich. Take this as a challenge, my fellow Oklahomans. 

Born in 1908 in a mining camp outside of McAlester, Carl Albert graduated from OU and was awarded a Rhodes scholarship before being drafted to serve in World War II. He was elected in the US House of Representatives in 1947 and served in the House for 30 years, a feat Senator Inhofe is trying to scratch and claw his way to beating.

Like most southern, liberal white men from our nation's past, he drew criticism early in his career for his refusal to support the 1957 Civil Rights Act, but eventually voted in favor of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, going against many of his racist constituents back in Oklahoma. He also worked with Lyndon B. Johnson to garner support for the Social Security Act of 1965, which created the Medicare program. An Oklahoma lawmaker supporting social welfare programs and civil rights? What a concept!

Carl Albert became Speaker of the House in 1971 and has held the highest United States government office of any Oklahoman in history. He was holding the office when then-Vice President Spiro Agnew resigned after being caught in an active bribery scandal, leaving him to be second in line for the presidency. This was also the period during which the Watergate investigation was gaining traction. A staunch Republican representing the “Silent Majority,” Nixon probably had a feeling that 1. His control over the Watergate coverup was loosening and 2. Having the democrat Carl Albert succeed him may not lead to the pardoning that his eventual vice-president would bring.

Soon.

Though it was said he never wanted to take the office, in 1973 the White House already had a plan for what appeared at that time to be the inevitable swearing-in ceremony for Carl Albert to take on the position as United States President. However within two months of Agnew stepping down, Nixon appointed Gerald Ford as Vice President. So in the end Albert did not assume the presidency after Nixon’s resignation, though he was again second-in-line to assume the highest office in the nation.

Unlike current Oklahoma lawmakers, after 30 years Carl Albert decided he was finished with politics and chose to not run for office again after 1976, retiring back home in Oklahoma. He may have been known as the “Little Giant,” but he made a big impact on American history.

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Ask Hayley about President Truman and General MacArthur’s relationship. Then follow her on twitter @squirrellygeek and become a contributing member of TLO here.

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