Profile: Congressman William Natcher

By Dan Modlin, Kentucky Public Radio

To mark the 100th anniversary of the state Capitol building, WFPL and Kentucky Public Radio are spotlighting some of the top statesmen and women of the past century, influential politicians who served the commonwealth in Frankfort or Washington — or both.

Today, we profile longtime Second District Congressman William Natcher.

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“If you take care of the health of your people and  educate your children you will continue living  in the strongest country in the world”

For more than 40 years as a member of congress, William H. Natcher never missed a day of work and never missed a vote. It seems unlikely, his record of being present for more than 18 thousand consecutive votes will ever be broken, but his respect for the job may set an example for many other politicians. In 1992, Natcher described the approach he decided to take when he and his wife first moved to the nation’s capitol.

“When we got to Washington we talked about the assignment and we decided we’d try to do it right. And that’s the way I’ve done, I’ve tried to do it right,” said Natcher.

First elected to the House of Representatives in 1953, Congressman Natcher represented western Kentucky’s 2nd District without ever accepting campaign contributions. What few campaign expenses he incurred were covered out of his own pocket.

“President Clinton, in his statement accompanying the Presidential Citizen’s Medal referred to Congressman Natcher as a “citizen legislator,” said Ed Yager, who’s a professor of Political Science at Western Kentucky University.

“He had a bare bones office staff, he didn’t have a press secretary, He would drive around meeting with constituents, and of course he didn’t accept campaign contributions. You have to look at all of those different elements combined suggest that he saw himself  primarily as a citizen legislator, notwithstanding the fact that he served for over forty years,” said Yager.

Yager is researching the life of William H. Natcher for a book project. His co-author on that project is Nan Natcher, a graduate student in the field of political science. William H. Natcher was her great, great uncle.

“He would drive from town to town. In Franklin he would stop at Moore’s Drug Store. Or he might drive over to Owensboro to a little place. And he would go to these places where the people of the counties went, and that’s how he got elected. He didn’t run ads, he didn’t accept contributions. He just talked to the people,” said Nan Natcher.

”He’s buried on the farm where he grew up. He could have been buried
in Arlington. He was a World War Two veteran and obviously served in Congress, but he chose to be buried right on the farm where he grew up. That farm was very special to him and Bowling Green was very special to him and it was a place he never forgot about in all his years in Washington,” said Nan Natcher.

In researching the book, the two authors have found bi-partisanship was very important to Congressman Natcher.

“He really reached across party lines and it didn’t matter to him if  it was a Democrat or a Republican..Everyone respected him and he respected everyone. And he had working relationships with everyone. There was no one, to my knowledge, that he had conflicts with,” said Nan Natcher.

“A common saying attributed to the Congressman was ‘I have just as many friends on the other side of the aisle as I have on this side of the aisle,” said Yager.

And Yager believes it was a combination of respect for other lawmakers and competence in legislative matters that made Natcher such an effective congressman.

”He was an absolute expert on parliamentary procedure and he was also an expert on the budget and had many parts of the budget  memorized. And so this professional competence was extremely important. But on the other hand He also had the personal qualities which were extremely important to getting things done in the House of Representatives. He was civil. He thought of himself primarily as an American first, and as a Democrat second,” said Yager.

William H. Natcher died on March 29th, 1994. His funeral was attended by a number of dignitaries, including then-President Bill Clinton. Congressman Matcher was chairman of the House Appropriations Committee at the time of his death.