State's most colorful leader

Tuesday, December 4th 2007, 11:37 am
By: News 9

Throughout Oklahoma's 100-year-history, there have been a number of powerful political figures. None may be more celebrated or questioned than Oklahoma's ninth governor, William "Alfalfa Bill" Murray.

"He transcends 50 years of Oklahoma politics," said Michael Dean, spokesman for the Oklahoma Historical Society. "Few people cast a longer shadow across the pages of Oklahoma history than William "Alfalfa Bill" Murray."

Without a doubt one of the most colorful and controversial characters the Sooner state has ever called its own, Alfalfa Bill became this state's first Speaker of the House in 1907. Oklahomans twice elected him to serve in the United States Congress. But for all his electoral success, Murray is perhaps best known as the father of Oklahoma's constitution.

Of course in Murray's day, the media wasn't covering his every move 24/7. The racist, sexist, and anti-Semitic remarks Murray made during some of his speeches got little press. But in later years, those comments would catch up with Murray. Right now there is a student-movement at Oklahoma State University to have Murray's name removed from several campus buildings.

"He started out as a favorite son of Oklahoma," said Dean.

Twenty-four years after drafting the framework for the state government, Murray ran for governor. He won the election in 1930 and inherited a state being buried by the Dust Bowl and in economic ruin of the Great Depression.

"He said it was going to be the largest economic calamity this nation, or any other nation, ever faced and he was right," said Dean.

Fighting to save the government he helped build, Murray used his own salary to help feed the poor. But his charity couldn't prevent the state's deficit from reaching an unprecedented $5 million. Murray saw only one way out of debt-statewide tax collection.

"Which is probably his biggest lasting legacy," said Keith Gaddie, professor of political science at the University of Oklahoma.

With his legacy growing in Oklahoma, Murray became increasingly frustrated with Washington D.C. politicians. So he set his sights on the White House and the Democratic presidential nomination in 1932.

With funds hard to come by, Murray went so far as selling presidential candy bars to raise money for his campaign.

"He tried to do anything to raise some money," said Jeanne Hitch Letcher, archivist at The Carl Albert Center at OU.

Murray did make a name for himself, but he didn't get very far at the Chicago convention in 1932. His run for the presidency ended and he returned to Oklahoma governor's mansion. He did not give up on the state, however. He was determined to cure the ailing economy. Relying on controversial use of Martial law, he called upon the Oklahoma National Guard to police everything from ticket sales at University of Oklahoma football games to border disputes with Texas.

"That was something he thought he believed he had the authority to do," said Dean. 

After leaving the governor's office in 1935, Murray largely slipped into private life. He was very popular man even in his private life and years later some believe Oklahoma will never see an equal to the popular former governor.

"We have not seen a candidate for public office like William H. Murray in years and years and years. And unfortunately, I think because of the media, were not likely to," said Dean.

Murray died in October of 1956. He was laid to rest in Tishomingo, where 26 years later the State legislature would re-name Murray State College in his honor.

Originally Aired: 11-15-2007