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´╗┐Ren Harman: Good afternoon this is Ren Harman the Oral History Projects Archivist for Special Collections and University Archives that's part of University Libraries at Virginia Tech. Today's date is June 28th, 2023 at 2:20 p.m., we are in the conference room in Special Collections on the campus of Virginia Tech. And I have a very special guest with me this afternoon, so sir, this is the only time that I will prompt you, but if you could just state in a complete sentence: my name is--, when and where you were born?

Frederick C. "Rick" Boucher: This is Rick Boucher, I was born on August 1st, 1946 at approximately two in the afternoon, in Johnston Memorial Hospital in Abingdon, Virginia.

Ren: Thank you sir, thank you. So you were born, we have mentioned this before, in Johnston Memorial, as was I, in probably the very same hospital separated by some years. So you were born in Abingdon, did you grow up in Abingdon and can you just tell me a little about your early life and growing up?

Rick: I grew up in Abingdon, I went to the public schools in Washington County, 1:00graduated in 1964 from Abingdon High School. Then went to Roanoke College where I received a Bachelor of Arts degree in 1968 and from there, I went to the University of Virginia School of Law where I received my law degree in 1971.

Ren: Thank you. Can you tell me a little bit about growing up in Abingdon, things that you did, talk a little bit about your mother and father?

Rick: My mother and father turned out to be great role models. Of course, someone who's very young probably doesn't appreciate that fact. But the older I became, the more I did. And their careers made them happy. It was very clear to me that they were having fun doing what they were doing. They were both lawyers, they were unusual in that sense. In fact, my mother was the first woman to 2:00practice law west of Roanoke. And that was in about 1945, when she began practicing law in Abingdon. She also graduated from the University of Virginia Law School and in those days, their practice was not to accept women. They had an entirely male student body in the law school. For that matter, they had all males in the undergraduate school also up until the 1970s when Judge Robert Merhige in Richmond ordered that women be allowed to participate in the University of Virginia. But in 1943 and previous years, exceptions had been made because the men were off fighting the war. They wanted to keep the law school open to keep the professors employed, and so they admitted women. Grudgingly, 3:00I'm sure. Not a thing they really wanted to do. But they did. And my mother was in that class of women who were the first women to be admitted to the law school and she graduated there in about 1945. She was very quick to go through school. She went through college, grade school and college, all by the age of about eighteen, and so she graduated from law school when she was I think twenty-two. And that was very young, you know by current standards, if you take the requisite amount of time through all those grades and through a four-year college education, you would typically graduate law school by the age of twenty-five. But she graduated as a much younger person, entered law practice, and was unique in so many ways. Just enjoyed what she did. My father, also a 4:00lawyer, practiced with her. And he was the elected Commonwealth's Attorney in Washington County as a Republican. My mother was also very political, she was the Chairman of the Political Party in the County, but it wasn't his party. She was the Chairman of the Democratic Party. So I learned a couple of things from that. First of all, bipartisanship matters, and that was instilled in me at an early age. So political differences in terms of party really don't matter. What does matter is doing a good job in policy, making sure that you comprehend issues and that you act intelligently in order to resolve them. That is what I tried to practice my entire career. So I learned a couple of things, first of 5:00all that law is fun, and that politics is fun. You know as a six or seven year old, that's about all you can comprehend and as I grew older I realized why, because I saw the kinds of things they were working on. So I had a pretty easy decision path for careers. Law and public service, I followed the family tradition. I graduated law school myself and was so glad to be practicing law and then emerged into public service. First running for State Senate at the age of twenty-seven, and then running for Congress when I was thirty-five years old. Fortunately winning elections along the way. I'm very fortunate to have the career I had, I don't think I would have had it, had it not been for the role model and example that my parents set.


Ren: Your mother, what was her name?

Rick: Dorothy Boucher. Dorothy Buck Boucher, her father was Fred Buck. He was also involved in public service, He was the president of the local bank and member of the State House of Delegates and his father before him was a minister in rural Washington County, early years of the 1900s and also a member of the State House of Delegates. Public service ran pretty deep in the family. That's a tradition that made a difference to me and something I try to uphold.

Ren: Your father's name?

Rick: Ralph Emerson Boucher. He was Commonwealth's Attorney in Washington County for several terms.

Ren: Can you talk a little bit about Washington County, maybe not the whole county, but specifically Abingdon. Just for someone who might be listening who might not be from the area. Obviously it's a very historic town, can you just 7:00talk a little bit about Abingdon?

Rick: Yeah the town of Abingdon is historic. Its roots are back in the 1700s and we still have buildings that are standing and in use today that were built in the 1700s. It has an old and historic district. My mother actually as chairman of the local planning commission, played a major role in establishing the historic district in Abingdon, And that was done when it wasn't a commonly known thing to do in communities. I think only Williamsburg at that time had a historic district. It wasn't long after that that a number of other communities, Charlottesville, Alexandria, among others, adopted historic districts. But Abingdon was one of the first and again, a tribute to my mother for having originated that idea. And the goal of it is to preserve the old architecture, to 8:00make sure that part of the heritage is kept intact. So today when you drive down Main Street and Valley Street in Abingdon, the two streets in the historic district, you'll notice that the buildings haven't changed much. New paint has been applied and sometimes additions have been built, very consistent in style with the original architecture of the building. You notice a quaintness. I get a sense of serenity from it, that you don't get in a lot of places today. And I think that's part of what makes Abdingon unique. It's a bit of a professional community for many counties around. Legal and medical and other professional services like engineering and accounting are centered there. And the clients are 9:00spread out over a multiple county area in the western part of the state. So it's historic, it's thriving. Houses don't stay on the market very long, they're sold very fast. And it's a desirable place to live.

Ren: I want to ask you, just out of curiosity, your mother and father being lawyers during this time period, what type of law were they practicing at that time?

Rick: My father was a general purpose lawyer. He tried cases, typically representing plaintiffs who were people injured in automobile accidents or who had other kinds of disputes they needed litigating in court. And he performed that litigation. He represented criminals in a defense capacity. He had been 10:00Commonwealth's Attorney, the Chief Prosecutor, and after he left that position he carried on the criminal defense practice by representing defendants. My mother did the office practice. She was a leading real estate lawyer in the area and she did wills and trusts. She served on a bank board, and she did corporate work. She was the go to person for that kind of thing in the community. They were both very successful and very happy in their work. One thing I remember about them is that they didn't work extraordinarily long hours. When five o'clock came, they came home. They didn't go back to the office at night. That's very different from the way law practice is today. I was in a law firm in D.C. for ten years after I left Congress, basically from 2011 through 2020, and law 11:00practice today is much more competitive. It's much more hardworking. The client demands are greater, and the time frames are shorter. So lawyers, I think, work far longer hours than was the case in the 1950s and 1960s when I was growing up.

Ren: Back then it was more of a nine to five.

Rick: Yeah much more of that.

Ren: I want to ask you about your adolescent years at Abingdon High School, what was Rick Boucher into then?

Rick: I loved athletics, I was on the varsity basketball team and I ran track. The reason I started running track wasn't because I had a passion for it, but I wanted to play basketball. And the basketball coach also was the coach of the track team. And his insistence was that anyone who played basketball had to run 12:00track. He had leverage to get a track team assembled, and he knew how to use it. So I wound up running track because I wanted to play basketball. But the more I got into it, the more I appreciated that. I felt like I was in such great shape because going out every afternoon after school and running builds conditioning. It's a kind of conditioning that just playing basketball or some other sport like that doesn't build. Because you get a sustained level of activity over a longer time and longer distance, it builds conditioning. I felt better, I felt stronger. And I've kept up running until today, I'm seventy-six, I'll be seventy-seven on August 1st of this year, and I'm on the New River Trail or the Virginia Creeper Trail in Abingdon. Running days when the weather's good. I say 13:00it's running, there are people who actually walk past me while I'm running [Laughs].

Ren: Shuffling [Laughs].

Rick: So my running is more in my mind than it is a reality, I think. Most people who look at me wonder if I'm doing alright. But you know, it's good psychologically, and I do stay in reasonably good shape by doing that.

Ren: I was gonna say, and I hope you don't mind me saying this, as someone who you were my Congressman for my entire life, the majority of my life, and seeing you through the years and then I was preparing for this interview and then when we spoke before, watching the campaign videos and seeing pictures thinking, you know what? Mr. Boucher hasn't changed a whole lot over these years. And I think that's probably attributed to your track, basketball, being active. I hope that I'm able, when I'm seventy-six years old, to get out on the Creeper trail and do 14:00those things. So were they the Abingdon Falcons--or were they still the Falcons?

Rick: Yeah. In fact, we named that team, those of us who were students at Abingdon High School, the first year that the new Abingdon High school was opened. It was grades eight through twelve, and I was in the first cadre of students who attended Abingdon High, and one of the things we did was have a new name for our sports teams. I think that the principal orchestrated that. And so we had a contest among the students of what that would be. There were nominations of names, and then a vote, and we voted on the Falcons. And so I was part of the student body that selected the Falcon name and it's still the Falcons today

Ren: Do you remember any of the other options besides Falcons?


Rick: I don't, but you can imagine what they were. You know, bold animals, by and large.

Ren: We're from Richlands, so we were the Blue Tornadoes which was an odd name for the area.

Rick: 'Cause you don't have many tornadoes.

Ren: We don't have many tornadoes, for sure. So that was always kind of an odd name for a team. So you graduate high school and then you go to Roanoke College for undergraduate, why Roanoke?

Rick: My father had gone there, and he thought it would be a fitting place for me to go. I interviewed there and at University of Virginia. I was accepted both places. I think my mother was a little more prone to me going to undergraduate school at UVA, but I liked the atmosphere at Roanoke College. I spent a day on the campus there during this decision process, and really liked what I saw. And 16:00I had a great four years at Roanoke College. I'll have to say I didn't enjoy every moment, but I sure enjoyed the vast majority of my time there. I was in a fraternity and still today have the friends who were fraternity brothers in my fraternity at Roanoke College. It was a good four years. And there I was involved in the campus verison of public service. I was the elected president of the Student Honor Council which was modeled after UVA's Honor Council. I was in student government, I was on what amounted to the legislative body for the student associations. It was a nice well rounded experience. I played intramural 17:00basketball and would go out and do a lot of jogging.

Ren: I'm guessing point guard?

Rick: Actually I was a forward. I'm only five [foot] eight, but I could shoot from the outside.

Ren: Okay.

Rick: And so the coach decided, okay he's short, but he's a pretty good shot so we'll make him a forward.

Ren: How's your jump shot today?

Rick: Umm poor. It's been a while since I tried it. The last time it was pretty terrible.

Ren: And the fraternity was Kappa Alpha, is that correct?

Rick: Yep, that's right.

Ren: At Roanoke College when you were there you said there was good times and bad times--

Rick: No, I don't want to stress the bad times.

Ren: Yeah.

Rick: A person describing something in glowing terms that lasts for four years would say, I enjoyed every moment of it. Well that's never true.


Ren: Right, right.

Rick: You never enjoy every moment of it, but no I mean, there were courses I took that I thought I wouldn't get the most out of. That's true in any school. Some are just going to be better than others. On the whole though, the experience was excellent. I would say that it was enormously enjoyable, I'm very glad I went there.

Ren: Just kind of the typical stressors of being eighteen, nineteen, twenty years old at a university or college, you're going to have those mountain tops and valleys of course at the same time. What was your major when you graduated?

Rick: I had two, political science and economics. So those two courses.

Ren: So I assume going to Roanoke College, you had your sights set, I assume, on going to law school after.


Rick: I did. Yeah there was never doubt about that. And I knew where I wanted to go: University of Virginia. It's a superb law school, I think it's underrecognized in terms of its excellence across the state. But it ranks very highly in all of the surveys. In fact at the time, it ranked number two behind Yale. This was the late [19]60s and early [19]70s. And it did rank number two. Of course these rankings are done by U.S. News & World Reports and they were based on a compilation of data from a variety of different sources. They're generally right and not specifically right. But if you're in a law school, it's ranked in the top ten in America, you're going to a good place. And the test for me was the big law firms, they were interested in hiring graduates who had done 20:00well at that law school. So I was able to have my first job after law school at a Wall Street law firm in New York, Milbank Tweed, and I was there for a couple of years. Decided to go back and run for office, so after two years at Milbank Tweed, I came back to Virginia and joined a regional law firm and immediately set out to run for the State Senate. And the next year was elected. So I had only been back from New York for basically a year when I was elected to the State Senate.

Ren: Oh wow. I want to ask you a little bit about, because the timeframe that you were at UVA in the late [19]60s and early [19]70s, being a law student at that time and that time period, there was a lot going on in our country, in our world. And being that close obviously to a major university, obviously it wasn't Berkeley, but did you see any type of social unrest or protest at that time?


Rick: There wasn't a great deal of that at Roanoke College at that time, it was a pretty placid place. I would say that the social upheavals that swept across America and campuses in the late [19]60s kind of bypassed Roanoke College and probably a lot of very small colleges too. Of course when I went to the University of Virginia in the fall of 1968, I was in the very thick of it. Not that I really took much part in it, I was too busy studying. But there was a lot of activity in the undergraduate school. Lot of protest, social movement, calls for social change.

Ren: I just can't imagine being near a university during that time and just seeing what was happening and what was going on. So after you graduated from UVA 22:00Law, you mentioned practicing law on Wall Street. So here's this young man from Southwest Virginia going to law school at UVA and then going to Wall Street in New York City. What was that experience like?

Rick: Large law firm, and it was in the Chase Manhattan Plaza, and I could look out my window onto the East River and see Brooklyn across the way. And the Brooklyn Bridge was right down below me, so I could see the traffic on the bridge. Then the next year, my office was moved over to the west side of the building, same floor but just on the west side. So I overlooked the Hudson and I could see the Queen Elizabeth 2 sailing into port and then leaving. And this was 23:00a big event when it happened. The tug boats and the fire boats all came out. The fire boats were sprouting water, not to put out fire but to celebrate the arrival in port or the exit from port, this enormous and celebrated ocean liner. And the other associates in my group at Milbank used to have little parties when this happened when QE2 was coming in or leaving port and we would have that in my office. We would all have coffee and celebrate--well there wasn't much to celebrate, it was just an excuse to get away from work for twenty minutes.

Ren: Yeah [Laughter].

Rick: But it was kinda fun.

Ren: Did you ever, I'm just curious, feel country mouse in a big city, kind of feel?

Rick: No, not for a day. Not for a day.

Ren: You just felt like you fit in?

Rick: Well I fit in well everywhere I went. College, law school, I graduated 24:00very high in my class in law school. I never for a moment had any concerns that I wouldn't fit in. It was easy.

Ren: So you never felt overwhelmed by the big city?

Rick: Of course not.

Ren: Wow.

Rick: Well you know, no, I just never did.

Ren: Just knowing Wall Street--or not knowing--or having been to Manhattan, Wall Street, Brooklyn, those areas, and then knowing what Abingdon is, or Charlottesville or Roanoke, I feel like if I was in your position I would have been maybe a little more nervous. But I think that probably speaks to your drive, I guess.

Rick: Well, I've never had doubt that I could achieve what I wanted to, if I worked hard enough, and I always worked hard. At Milbank Tweed, what people valued was your ability to do the work. Having a certain amount of social grace 25:00was necessary in order to get the job to begin with because it was an extensive interview process. Once you're hired that's a given and from then on, it's a matter of how well you do your work, and I think I did mine very well. But I had other experiences that were beyond the area of where I grew up. So I was very lucky when I was in college I had a fraternity brother who one summer had been invited by his family to go to England and spend the summer working in a factory. He came into my room at the fraternity house one day and he said, I got 26:00room for one more on this trip, do you want to go? And without thinking anything at all, I said, yes, I'll go. And my parents were very happy for me to have that experience. So they helped to make it financially possible and we lived in a little town called Waddesdon, which was near Aylesbury in the Midlands, actually more the Home Counties of England, Buckinghamshire, where the factory was. It was a New Holland Machine Factory that made hay balers and they were exported from England to South Africa where they were used in harvesting crops. And we manufactured those out on assembly lines. The job we have was on the assembly line. They could only pay us under English law three pounds a week, which was 27:00about ten dollars. But they could give us room and board, and because we were classified under English law not as permanent employees but as trainees, in theory we were training to be hay baler makers, I guess. It gave us an opportunity to have the job. The room and board was quite nice. We were in a little country hotel and had the run of the the dining room, so we enjoyed that thoroughly. I made a friend on that assembly line, who later went into the Royal Air Force and then became one of the editors of The Times of London, and we're in touch today. I go to visit Mary and Jerry, and they come over here and stay at my place on occasion.

Ren: That's crazy.

Rick: It's nice to have that friendship, all because I worked on the assembly line at the New Holland Machine Factory.

Ren: Yeah and to have that experience what that did and preparing you to go somewhere like New York to work. I'm sure that was--


Rick: I have never felt out of place anywhere I've been.

Ren: So that first year in New York, that would've been what? 19-- let me do my math here.

Rick: Starting in the fall of [19]68.

Ren: [19]68, starting in 1968.

Rick: No, I'm sorry, fall of [19]71.

Ren: Fall of [19]71.

Rick: Yeah. Right, fall of [19]71.

Ren: My personal question is do you remember how much your first paycheck was?

Rick: I remember how much my salary was, and it was considered to be a top of the line salary, because this was a top of the line firm, and I think it was eighteen thousand dollars a year.

Ren: That was--

Rick: But that was 1971, and today that same firm pays the starting associates, which is what I was in the fall of [19]71, the last time I looked it was two hundred fifty thousand a year.

Ren: My goodness.

Rick: Yeah so, that shows you the comparison of what inflation has done over the 29:00years to salaries. Eighteen thousand dollars in 1971 would be like two hundred fifty thousand dollars today.

Ren: Right right, that's incredible. I was just curious and we could take that out if you want.

Rick: No, no I don't mind.

Ren: So I want to get to your political career, obviously we've talked about your mother and father and their public service and on different sides of the aisle. You were raised in a house where public service was obviously pretty forefront to the family discussion, you were in this law firm in New York and you're watching the QE2, what pulls you back to Washington County?

Rick: The desire to run for office. Pure and simple. While I was at Milbank Tweed, I had another very fortunate experience. I went to a cocktail party hosted by the law firm within the first two weeks of arriving there in September 30:00of 1971 and the managing partner in the office was a fellow named Alexander Forger who just, by the way, celebrated his hundredth birthday. But he was the managing partner at Milbank Tweed in September of 1971. And at the cocktail party I met him, and we had a brief conversation, and he said, I'm doing something kind of interesting. I said, well what? He said, I am the New York State Director for the McGovern for President campaign. During my years in law school I had pretty well established my political identity. I'm firmly planted in the Democratic Party, and on the sort of center-left side of the Democratic 31:00Party, because by then I had adopted the attitude that change was needed in America. And I was very concerned about the Vietnam War which I was against from the start and felt so strongly was wrong, and McGovern was the person who seemed to me to hold the promise of extracting this country from this terrible war. Mr. Forger was the New York State Chairman, so I tucked that away, and I thought, well that is interesting. I went off then to study for the New York Bar, the firm gave us all a leave of absence to study for the bar and I took a bar review course and took the bar exam in December of that year, fortunately passing it. Then in January, early in January, I showed back up in the office, having been absent for a couple of months studying for the bar, and there was a note on my 32:00desk. And it said that Alexander Forger wants to talk to you. So I went up to his office, which was shall we say, considerably larger than mine, with a great view, a sweeping view out on New York Harbor and he said, I think I mentioned to you that I'm the New York State Chairman of McGovern for president. Well that campaign is doing really well and they need political advance people. I said, well what's that? He said, basically what you do is you set up events for the candidate, so you're responsible for organizing the entire event and making sure it's successful. So that's what an advance person does, and they need some people to work, beginning right away, in the Wisconsin primary. So would you be interested in going to Wisconsin? And I said, well sure. When these opportunities come along, I never hesitate. So that night I was on a plane to 33:00Milwaukee and I spent two weeks before the primary doing advance work for the McGovern campaign, for him, and set up a number of events for him. Little rallies for him here or there, tour of a factory floor, typical kinds of things that a presidential candidate would do in a primary campaign.

Ren: And this was leading up to the election of [19]7--?

Rick: [197]2.

Ren: [197]2.

Rick: Where McGovern confronted Richard Nixon for the presidency, so this was the Wisconsin primary which was one of the very early ones. And we won that one, it really put him on the road to winning the nomination, the Democratic nomination for president. So the campaign asked me if I would stay on through the general election, through the primary fights and then the election, and I 34:00said, well I do have this obligation at the law firm so I am going to have to go back and have that conversation. Which I did, I went back to see Alex Forger again, and he said, fine. If you would like to do that, we'll give you a leave of absence, this time will be without pay, because we're not going to pay you to go campaign for McGovern for six months, but we'll take your apartment where I'm sure you got a lease. And I did. He said, we'll put an associate in your apartment, so you won't have to pay for that. And that made it possible for me to do it. So I stayed with the campaign, I traveled the whole country. I visited just about every state, setting up events for McGovern through the general election. I made a lot of friends and political contacts. I got to know grassroots organizing in a way that I never would have had I not had an 35:00experience like that, and that gave me the skills I had to have to come back and run for office in Virginia. So you asked me, what brought me back to Virginia? It was in large part that experience knowing I was ready, it was also the fact that I had grown up in a family that valued public service. And there'd always been a lingering thought with me that I'd run for office, and the time was right because there was a race that I thought I could win coming up the next year. So I went back to Virginia to run for office and fortunately I was successful, was elected to the State Senate the next year.

Ren: The presidential election of [19]72, going into that, could you see the writing on the wall in terms of McGovern 'cause he got kind of walloped, right?

Rick: Well we could all read the polls, but we kind of put those thoughts aside because we were doing the right thing. Raising the Vietnam War as an issue, 36:00helping to build momentum in the country to get us out of the war, was even more important in my mind than who actually won the election. And I think we achieved that.

Ren: So when you came back to Washington County to win that State Senate race, that would have been--?

Rick: [I returned in late 1973, began the State Senate race in 1974 and was elected in] [19]75.

Ren: [19]75, because it's off years. Can you talk a little bit about that campaign and what was that experience like being a first time candidate and taking all the things you're learning from the McGovern campaign and taking all the things you've learned through law school and being a lawyer and a practicing lawyer. What was that experience like of that first campaign? I've seen some pictures.

Rick: In fact the digital collection here at Virginia Tech has got a lot of those photos. It was a challenge because the seat was held at the time by a 37:00Democrat, he was considerably more conservative than me. In fact he was on the tail end of the old Harry Byrd organization that was so much a fixture of the Virginia political scene from the 1920s right on through the years in which I emerged and got active. And we could not have been more different in our points of view. I could sense that he was not popular just from my early soundings around the senatorial district, and so the opportunity had clearly presented itself. So I announced and ran. I won the nomination, and then I went on to run against a Republican in the general election, and it was a Republican leading 38:00district, so that was hard too. It was a hard fight for the nomination; it was a hard fight to win the election. But I was successful in doing both.

Ren: Do you know what made him unpopular in the district at that time? For you to primary him, we see that so often today, but was that commonplace back then?

Rick: It wasn't over policy. It wasn't because of any particular policy. There had been an annexation issue that had pitted the City of Bristol against Washington County and he more or less lined up with the city and there were people in the county that were upset with him over that. That added a few votes to my column. But the main problem he had was that he had just fallen out of touch. He really hadn't bothered to go around and meet with people and let them know what he'd been doing and what he was up to and report to them on his work. 39:00And that is so essential if you're going to effectively serve in office. He just hadn't done that. He'd been there twelve years. A lot of the people I went to see who were prominent in the Democratic Party when I was seeking the nomination really didn't know about him. They'd never met him and a lot of them didn't know who their state senator was. There wasn't much allegiance for him and I was able to build a base pretty fast across the senatorial district.

Ren: Do you remember--I'm sure you probably do--how much you won by?

Rick: It wasn't a primary, it was a convention.

Ren: Oh okay.

Rick: There were county mass meetings where delegates were chosen. The delegates went to a convention and voted. Our people went to the mass meetings, our slate of delegates got elected and at the convention I think the vote was something like ninety to sixty.

Ren: I want to ask you, during that time and that time period, obviously this 40:00might be a broad question and my apologies if it is, because I'm sure there was different branches of the Democratic Party, but by and large, mid-1970s, what were some of the foundations of the Democratic Party in terms of their policy and things they believed in during that time?

Rick: Well, I'd have to scratch my head to come up with a lot of an answer. It was a time of transition in politics; Virginia was undergoing a political transition. It was the transition on the Democratic side from the Byrd organization that had been hyper-conservative, to a more progressive kind of politics; more represented by what was happening nationally in the Democratic Party than what had happened in Virginia historically. So it was that time of 41:00transition. That brought tension, as you can imagine. And it brought a level of suspicion within the party, sometimes of new people that were showing up and I had to endure my fair share of that. When I was elected to the State Senate, I was one of the youngest by far. The only one who was in my age cohort was Virgil Goode, and he represented Franklin County and we were both twenty-eight years old basically. I think we were both twenty-eight, and I think the next youngest was about thirty-seven. By a decade, we were the two youngest and he had been there for a term already. He was elected when he was very young. And so I had to convince some of the old Byrd organization people in the State Senate that I was to be trusted. And I think they discovered that I could be, but it was a process 42:00where I had to earn trust.

Ren: At that time being in the Virginia Senate, that was your career, that's what you did, were you able to do other things to support yourself from a financial standpoint?

Rick: Oh the state legislature was part time; it was then and is now.

Ren: Okay that's what--

Rick: Yeah, yeah no it is. It's part time. So the legislature met for about two months in the early months of the year, January, February, usually adjourned by about the 10th of March, then you'd go back to Richmond periodically for committee meetings throughout the year, but you were free to earn your money after that. So I had a law practice. I was in a regional law firm for a time and then I went into my family's law firm for a time, which is where I was when I ran for Congress. So yeah, I earned a living as a lawyer.


Ren: So how long did you serve in the Virginia Senate?

Rick: Seven years.

Ren: Those seven years, having an election every two years--

Rick: Every four.

Ren: Every four years.

Rick: So I only had one reelection for the State Senate, so the first term was four years. After the reelection I served three years, and then I was elected to Congress.

Ren: And for listeners outside of Virginia, Virginia's one of those unusual states, along with New Jersey and maybe a couple others where they have odd year, off season elections, versus the presidential and national elections. When you were in the Virginia Senate, what kind of drew you to run for Congress in that house district?

Rick: I think in the McGovern Campaign, I decided what my goal was to serve in the U.S. Congress, and I won't call the Virginia Senate experience a stepping 44:00stone to that. I didn't view it that way, but it was the first step on the road to a political career that for the most part, was as a member of Congress.

Ren: I want to know the conversation that you had assuming, and pardon me I don't know, the conversation you had with your mother and father, when you said, hey mom and dad or mother and father, I want to run for Congress. What were their reactions?

Rick: For the State Senate or Congress?

Ren: For Congress.

Rick: Well that seat was held by an incumbent who was very popular at the time. This was 1982. I started the race in 1981. And my mother, very smart in so many ways, and wise politically, understood the district, she knew that it was going 45:00to be a major fight, and she said, if you decide to run, I'm there for you completely. But you should know that I think this is going to be a very hard race, I'm not sure you can win. And I said, well, I'm not sure that I can win either. But I think there's an excellent chance that I can, because just as the incumbent in the State Senate had neglected his constituency, I didn't think that the incumbent in the congressional seat had done much to help the constituency. I didn't get a sense that real progress had been made, or that he had a legislative record that amounted to very much. I thought, you know, there are obvious things that need to be done in this congressional district. We were desperate for new employment opportunities, then and to a large extent even now. 46:00So my campaign was focused around economic development; here are the various things that should be done to promote the economy in the region. Starting with, saving the Appalachian Regional Commission, the Economic Development Administration and the development arm of the Department of Commerce, the grants and loans that build infrastructure from the Department of Agriculture's Rural Development Agency. All of these were threatened by the budget that President Reagan had put forward, because his goal was to essentially eliminate those functions, believing that ought to be a state or local responsibility, but our localities could never have financed the infrastructure on their own. They just didn't have the dollars to do it. And so help from the federal government was 47:00essential. If we were going to grow, if we had to have water and wastewater facilities, and industrial parks and roads that were necessary to promote economic growth, it was essential that the federal government finance the lionshare of that. I was determined to try to make that happen, and my campaign was built around that theme. And it was very successful because my opponent really didn't have anything to say about it, he didn't say yea or nay, it was like the idea hadn't really occurred.

Ren: Yeah I wanted to ask you about that. Obviously being a son of this area, I'm just curious, I know it probably changed over the years, what was your coalition of voters, maybe in that first congressional campaign? What was your coalition of voters, and did that change over time, or was it always that same group of folks?

Rick: It didn't change much over time. It was a couple of things, it was 48:00organized labor, there's not a huge amount of that in Southwest Virginia, but the mine workers had substantial presence in the coal producing counties. The autoworkers that had, and have, a substantial presence in the New River Valley with the large Volvo Truck manufacturing plant in Dublin, and some other facilities throughout the district. The garment workers at that time worked in sewing factories. The carpenters had a substantial presence. So there were elements of organized labor that collectively made a great difference. And I had the support of all of those, the active support. They provided volunteers for poll working, get out the vote efforts, and other essential parts of campaign activities. The community in the New River Valley, Radford and Blacksburg, were 49:00a big base of support for me. These are college towns, progressive in their thinking, with a corps of a Democratic Party that was very active and there were lots of people to support the normal campaign events that all candidates need help with. The forces were there for that and the votes were there for the general election for the Democratic candidate. [There were families that had been Democratic for generations which broadly supported me], and then throughout the district, there was a smattering of people who had moved into the area from other places, bringing their politics with them, and largely they were progressive in their thinking and voted Democratic. So I was able to coalesce those various groups into a pretty effective campaign. And that, by the way, 50:00didn't change much as the years progressed.

Ren: I wanted to ask you, the election evening or night when you're newly elected Congressman Rick Boucher, what was that feeling like?

Rick: Oh, it was great. But it was tenuous because there were a hundred eighty thousand votes cast in that race, and as election night closed at around midnight, I was ahead by about two hundred votes. Not a lot. And not all of the precinct results were in, probably 98 percent of them, but not all. Just a few changes here and there could make a big difference. Two hundred votes. When I woke up the next morning, the day after the election, I was ahead by twelve 51:00hundred votes because there had been a transposition error in the reporting of votes from one of the precincts in Wise County, one of the large ones, and they had left off the one that was the first of four digits. They only reported three digits. So that boosted me by a thousand votes, and that was a much more comfortable margin. Still less than 1 percent of the total vote, but a much more comfortable margin. So under state law, the losing candidate was entitled to a recount, paid for by the state, and of course we had that, and that wasn't concluded until December. It was administered by the Circuit Court of Washington County which was assigned by the State Supreme Court, the role of doing that, Judge Aubrey Matthews presiding. All of the various voting officials from the 52:00twenty-seven counties and cities of the 9th district went to Abingdon and were supervised in a recount, administered by Judge Matthews. It took one day, and in the end, I had actually gained about thirty votes, I think. So the initial vote was almost exactly correct, and then it became official that I had won the seat. But on election night you know, there was always that slight air of uncertainty. So the celebration was tempered by the reality that there was still more to come.

Ren: And you were thirty--?

Rick: I was thirty-six.

Ren: Thirty-six, so I'm around that age and I'm just imagining, did you feel like--I know what your answer is gonna be but I wanna ask anyways--when you feel like you won, did you feel like a heaviness or a burden or any type of weight on your shoulders or chest?

Rick: No, I think I had a realistic idea of what the job entailed, and I thought that I was ready to undertake it. I was looking forward to it. I was excited. 53:00Ready to get started.

Ren: I do want to get to some of your legislative achievements here in just a second, that first day stepping onto Capitol Hill, whether that was an orientation or the first day that the Congress was seated, or whatever it is, and I know you probably had visited and been there before, kinda that first day where you're Congressman Boucher from the 9th district of Virginia, what was that day like?

Rick: I remember being sworn in. There's a little bit of a ritual that takes place with the opening of every new congressional session, where the members who normally have an electronic voting board where they cast their votes from terminals on the floor, that's all tabulated electronically in a very quick matter of time, all vote by voice instead, when the nominations for Speaker are made, it inevitably is two choices, the Democratic choice, the Republican 54:00choice, and whichever party controls the majority of seats wins. But, you go through the roll call anyway and it's a verbal roll call with everyone having to answer, stand and say who they're for. And I remember that so distinctly. Of course I repeated it then fourteen times, but it was the same process every time. And I remember taking the oath of office, being sworn in by the new speaker.

Ren: 1983, correct?

Rick: Yeah, January of [19]83.

Ren: Of [19]83, now the Speaker of the House at that time would have been--?

Rick: Tip O'Neill.

Ren: Tip O'Neill, okay that's what I was thinking. When you got to Congress in 1983, of course we're in the Reagan Administration, Tip O'Neill, the Speaker of the House, were the Democrats in control of the House during that time?

Rick: Yes, and had been for decades.


Ren: Right.

Rick: And remained in control until 1994, so for another decade after I showed up there, we kept the House.

Ren: What were some legislative priorities, for you, for the 9th district, and then also maybe some other legislation that you worked on, more larger, more national legislation?

Rick: Okay, I mean it's a long answer.

Ren: For sure.

Rick: In those early years it was, as I indicated, making sure that the federal role in economic development remained. And that meant funding for the Appalachian Regional Commission, the Department of Agriculture's Rural Development Agency, the Department of Commerce's Economic Development Agency. At that time, the Tennessee Valley Authority that served part of my district had an economic development program, so working to maintain that. And collectively, 56:00those agencies provided the bulk of the funding for infrastructure in the region. And that was critical to economic growth. And it was a fight, because David Stockton was Ronald Reagan's budget director, and every budget he assembled that the president sent to the Hill, would have eliminated all of those economic development functions. So it was a fight. This wasn't easy. We did keep the funding intact. The Democrats had a majority of seats, but we barely had effective control because some of the Southern Democrats had kind of departed to the Reagan view of economics, so the Republicans by a few votes had a working majority. But we were able to maintain the federal role in economic development that way. And that continued. It wasn't long until the Democrats came thundering back, but for a little while, things were not so great. Tip 57:00O'Neill was a great Speaker. He was an everyday person, very down to Earth. He understood at a sort of core level, the American public and what the American public needed and would respond to. So his guidance was quite good as a Speaker.

Ren: He had a unique relationship with President Reagan, didn't he?

Rick: Well they were both Irish and they celebrated that fact and they got along. I mean, they fought over policy, but on a personal level they definitely got along. They did very well together. And Tip O'Neill had a terrific relationship with some of the Republican senior House members who he knew and enjoyed getting together with socially. It was a different era then. The 58:00moderates in both parties actually comprised a core majority in the center, that's not true today because the tensions have grown and divisions have grown wider. Today the moderates have been relegated to irrelevancy by and large. It's now the extremes of both parties that control the agenda, the right wing of the Republican Party and the left wing of the Democratic Party. I don't like seeing that because it's not good for policy making, it's not good for the country. In those early days in the 1980s and up until the mid [19]90s, we made policy and solved big problems in the middle. And it was done with a combination of Republican and Democratic votes. Tip O'Neill was a practitioner of that kind of approach and he worked very successfully with friends on the Republican side. 59:00But those days are in the past now, you don't see much bipartisanship in Congress these days.

Ren: A couple political things I want to ask you just because this is your life, your life's work. I read a book a couple years ago and it talked about the polarization that we see and you're talking about in Congress and it talked a little bit about when Newt Gingrich became Speaker and it really talked a lot about C-SPAN, the cameras were allowed or they were just constantly rolling, and how that changed people's perceptions of their congress-people. Did you feel that or experience that like when C-SPAN became bigger and bigger. Did you feel that things got more polarized in that time?

Rick: Well, Gingrich polarized the house.

Ren: Yeah.

Rick: Yeah, he did it purposefully and successfully. He did. He tore up the old way of doing business and it hasn't gotten back to that balanced bipartisan 60:00policy making ever since. He was very destructive in the things that he did. C-SPAN, I never thought it was a mover of political events. People were able to watch the House floor proceedings through that, there were debates about whether the cameras should remain stationary or whether they ought to rove the chamber. None of that in the end mattered much at all. It was good fodder for cable TV and for headlines, but it didn't really make a difference.

Ren: I think that might've been the argument he was making, he was saying, okay let's look at Congressman Boucher advocating for whatever this person or this station is against allowing that access that necessarily was a little different before.

Rick: I don't know.

Ren: I was just curious.

Rick: It made some headlines, but it was a tempest in a teapot. Really didn't amount to anything.

Ren: Talked a little bit about this over other conversations, but some of your 61:00greatest legislative achievements, so to speak, and I know there's one you want to talk about probably so you can talk about it.

Rick: Well there are several. In 1982, Dick Gephardt was trying to figure out how to best position the Democrats in the House for the impeachment of President Clinton. And he was looking for a moderate to be the face of the Democratic position and it had to be someone on the House Judiciary Committee because that's where all the early proceedings were taking part, and when he looked across the Democratic membership of the committee, I was the only moderate. I 62:00literally was the only moderate. There weren't any others, everybody else was basically from a large city and their politics were way to the left of where I was. And so he called me and said, this will be the worst day of your life. And I said, that's not good news coming from the Democratic leader of the House. He said, well, I really need you to take the lead for the Democrats for the Clinton impeachment. And I said, well-- okay. If you're convinced I need to do that, I will--not happily--but I will. So, during the hearings, I led the Democratic position, I drafted and we offered as our position on the House floor, a Democratic resolution of censure of the president for events that had happened, but not impeachment. I argued strongly that impeachment was not the right 63:00approach for this. I wasn't accustomed to going on TV and seeking that kind of publicity because I thought it was largely a waste of time and detracted from the work I was doing. But in this case calls came in, would you appear? Would you appear? So I was on TV a lot, and it was about a month long exercise, but it was all consuming. I devoted all of my time to it. It was sixteen hours everyday, trying to build a coalition to win on the floor. We got some Republican votes, not very many, not enough to win, but we came fairly close. We were within five or six votes of our resolution of censure winning. So I felt 64:00like it was good exercise, but that was hard. There are a lot of materials in the collection here at Virginia Tech about that time and the work I did. In later years, I chaired the Subcommittee on Energy and the Environment and we had jurisdiction over the Environmental Protection Agency and all of the nation's clean air laws. And it was clear to me at that time that climate change was an enormous challenge for this country and for the world, and that if anything was going to be done, it had to be done on a global basis. But to have global action, the United States would have to lead by example and we would have to adopt controls ourselves because after all, you can't really expect the developing world that's just growing to look at us, fully developed, and say, well you're not undertaking responsibility, so why should we? And so we had to lead by example. That led me to draft and [circulate broadly among interested 65:00parties a discussion draft of a cap and trade program], a measure known as the Clean Energy Security Act. Henry Waxman at that time was Chairman of the Energy and Commerce Committee, I was a member. I was, I think actually when we reported this measure to a full House, Chairman of the Subcommittee on Communications and the Internet, but, in the previous Congress, I had been Chairman of the Subcommittee on Energy and Air Quality. We did all of the run up work for this legislation. I conducted about twenty-eight days of hearings on the subject of climate change; we looked at causes, we looked at possible solutions, we drafted legislation, didn't introduce it at that point, but drafted and circulated comprehensive regulatory legislation. It was a cap and trade program that would have created an emissions trading system and assigned allowances for carbon 66:00dioxide emissions to the major emitters, and then those caps would ratchet down over the years, and allowances could be traded so that you get an efficiency in the reduction process. And that works to drive investment to the place where the dollars get the greatest amount of reduction for the dollars expended. So it had a lot of appeal, it would have worked. We were able to pass the bill in the House in 2009, but it did not pass the Senate. That is work still to be done, and the challenge of climate change has only grown more severe. Another thing I guess I would mention as a major achievement happened earlier in my career when I chaired the Subcommittee on Science of the Committee on Science, Space, and 67:00Technology. The National Science Foundation had the research agenda for advanced communications, and it was building at that time equipment and helping to fund grants that would help develop means for computers to talk to each other. And it was known as NSFNET. It was very primitive, just purely research. But it was a network of computers and this whole infrastructure had been funded through the NSF through its research grants. But it was growing up pretty quickly and people from Silicon Valley came to visit me as chairman of the subcommittee, and the 68:00message was pretty uniform and that is, you know, we're ready now for commercialization of this entity, and it no longer needs to be just a research and education project. It needs to have full commercial standing and we need to be able to put commercial content on this computer backbone. They didn't call it the internet at that time, that came later. The NSF had a charter that basically said that the NSF could only engage in functions for either educational or research purposes, nothing else. So nothing commercial at all. So that meant the NSF's opinion, the lawyers' opinion, they could not put commercial content on this network they were developing. So I introduced a very simple bill and it 69:00basically said there could be commercial content on the NSFNET, consistent with maintaining the mission for research and education for the network as a whole. But you gotta allow for commercial content. [It was one of the last bills President George H.W. Bush signed before leaving office, allowing] for the first commercial content on what we call the internet today. So, Google, Amazon, all of those things came later, but that was the start. I guess if I were to point to one issue, one achievement that I thought had the most groundbreaking significance, that would have been it. The author of the bill that allowed the first commercial content on the internet, and if anyone wants the footnotes that show the history of that, look at my Wikipedia entry, there's one footnote--quite a long footnote--it's got all of that detailed.

Ren: And to look at how much advertising is on the internet now versus print or 70:00television, I saw a statistic the other day and it's amazing to know that had that not happened, what would--

Rick: Well had that not happened there would be no Google, there would be no Amazon. You wouldn't have any of what the internet is really used for today, you wouldn't have electronic banking, you wouldn't be able to make a hotel reservation or a restaurant reservation online. All of that is electronic commerce that was enabled by allowing commercial content on the internet. Now of course it all grew enormously, but that was the first crack in the door.

Ren: Yeah and I feel like there's someone out there--millions, billions--you and your colleagues and others owe a big thank you for that, to be able to do those things.

Rick: Only one person ever really thanked me. I went out to Silicon Valley probably in 2009. I had just become Chairman of the Subcommittee on 71:00Communications and the Internet and so, people in Silicon Valley were interested in talking to me and I went to Google, and Eric Smith came in. Eric was the CEO of Google, and he had an interesting history on his own. You know he grew up in Blacksburg.

Ren: Mm-hmm, yeah.

Rick: And as a kid, he used to mow Paul Torgersen's lawn.

Ren: Yeah.

Rick: So we had quite a connection because of that. Brilliant guy, absolutely brilliant. He runs a big foundation today that donates millions of dollars to worthy causes around the world. When he walked into the conference room where I was sitting in, he shook my hand and said, thank you for my job [Laughs].

Ren: [Laughs] Hey that's a good thank you coming from him!

Rick: That was quite a thank you coming from him.

Ren: So you were the U.S. Representative for the 9th district from 1983 to 2011 after that you worked in a law firm in D.C. from 2011 to 2020, would you say retired, semi-retired? How would you feel?


Rick: Mostly retired, when I left the law firm my intent was to retire because I was basically done with active work. I'm seventy-six, and the time really had arrived for me to do things that are more personally enjoyable than working. I wanted time I can devote to things I enjoy. Cooking, all of the activities out of doors, jogging on the trails and hiking in the mountains, and spending time with my wonderful wife. Those are the things I get the most fulfillment from now.

Ren: Amy is your wife's name, correct?

Rick: Amy, that's right.

Ren: Amy, I wanted to make sure we got that in there. Last question, just really quick, obviously while we're doing this oral history and this interview you donated your congressional papers to Virginia Tech, to Special Collections University Archives, a lot of these are online and digitized, more going up to 73:00my understanding, this oral history will accompany that collection. Just quickly, why Virginia Tech and what do you hope researchers or community members glean from your collection?

Rick: Good questions. Virginia Tech for obvious reasons. This was the largest university in my congressional district, it was also the largest employer in my congressional district. And I had worked actively with a series of Virginia Tech presidents, four I think in total, from the time I took office until I left Congress. They all had enormous federal agendas. This university receives a lot of federal money for research and development, and while I wasn't lobbying for specific appropriations or grants for sure, but what I was doing in Congress was making sure the budgets of these agencies were fully funded and that the budgets 74:00had the kinds of priorities for funding that would match the kinds of programs Virginia Tech has. So it was important legislative work on behalf of the university. And I carried that out throughout the entire twenty-eight years I was in the House, so I had a close association with Virginia Tech. And of course, the renowned digital capabilities of Virginia Tech, meant that they could digitize most of this collection and make it available over the internet for anyone who wanted to see it. That's a work in process. They've made great progress, and that's still continuing. What do I hope people will gain from it? Well, maybe it will lend to young people to sense that public service is important, and that people should devote some part of their lives to public service, helping others. That's been enormously fulfilling for me, and it's 75:00something I learned from the experience with my family. Hopefully this collection can pass that along to the next generations.

Ren: I'll say thank you so much for your time, for talking with me.

Rick: Thank you!

Ren: I could talk to you for three more hours if we had time I would probably ask you so many other questions, but I do want to be respectful of your time so I'll just say, Rick Boucher thank you so much sir, thank you for your service, thank you for agreeing to speak with me and for sharing your oral history with us today.

Rick: Thank you very much Ren, it's been a pleasure.

Ren: Thank you.

[End of interview]