Tag Archives: Jack Brooks

Entering crucial stage of midterm campaign

I’ve seen this kind of thing happen before. A “wave election” occurs when the least likely incumbent takes a fall, signaling a dramatic change in fortunes for the halls of Congress.

In 1994, I had a ringside seat for one of those events. Longtime Democratic U.S. Rep. Jack Brooks of Beaumont represented one of Texas’s last Democratic bastions in the Golden Triangle. He’d been in Congress for more than four decades. His foe that year was a guy who came out of nowhere.

Steve Stockman shocked the political world by beating the late “Sweet Ol’ Brooks” to take his House seat as part of the Contract With America GOP delegation.

I figured at the time if Brooks was to lose, the entire House was going to flip. Sure enough. He did. The House did flip.

Stockman lasted one term before being defeated for re-election in 1996. He was elected again much later, but then lost again after another single term. He’s now facing prison time for fraud.

Fast-forward to the present day. Texas’s U.S. Senate seat is in play. Democrat Beto O’Rourke is trying to unseat Republican Sen. Ted Cruz in a state that is as Republican as it gets.

The way I figure it today, if somehow O’Rourke manages to pull off what looks like the Upset of the Ages, then the U.S. Senate stands a good chance of flipping from Republican to Democratic control.

It’s a steep hill for the El Paso congressman. He trails the Cruz Missile. But not by much. I see polls that swing from 2 points to 8 points. Cruz should — by standard political measures — be way up. He’s not.

O’Rourke well might lose on Nov. 6. I don’t want him or his allies to claim some sort of “moral victory” by making it close. A loss is a loss. For my money, Cruz needs to lose. He might represent a lot of Texans’ values. He doesn’t represent mine.

If the Cruz Missile gets blown out of the sky, then I am betting that the entire Senate turns over.

Believe me, stranger things have happened — just as it did in the Golden Triangle all those years ago.

Ex-congressman faces a possible prison term

I would feel a hint of compassion for a former congressman.

Except that I cannot.

Steve Stockman once was a Republican member of the House of Representatives. He served two non-consecutive terms. He now faces a possible decades-long prison sentence if a jury convicts him of mail and wire fraud, money laundering and election law violations.

He allegedly treated himself to lots of campaign cash, not to mention using it to pay for non-political related expenses for staffers and family members.

I don’t know whether he’s guilty of the charges brought against him. That will determined by a Houston-area jury. I do know of Stockman as one of the strangest politicians I’ve ever encountered.

He first won election to the House in 1994 as part of the GOP Contract With America tidal wave. He managed to sweep from Congress a powerful Democratic committee chairman, Jack Brooks of Beaumont, who at the time was the senior member of the Texas congressional delegation. Brooks chaired the House Judiciary Committee when he lost to Stockman — who knew next to nothing about the congressional district he represented for two years.

He most recently invited the angry man of rock ‘n roll music, Ted Nugent, to attend President Obama’s State of the Union speech in 2013; that occurred during Stockman’s second term in the House.

He didn’t distinguish himself at all during his time in the House. He ran for the U.S. Senate in 2014, but lost to incumbent John Cornyn in the GOP primary.

Stockman was a goofball while he served in the House. As the Texas Tribune reported, Stockman once had a bumper sticker printed that read: “If babies had guns they wouldn’t be aborted.”

Doesn’t this jokester just crack you up? Naw, me neither.

Well,  I’ll await his verdict and I might offer a comment when the jury delivers it.

I would wish him well, if only he had learned how to behave himself while he served in the People’s House.

Trump needed reminder to show compassion?

Check out the picture. It shows you Donald Trump’s hands clutching some notes he held while he listened to the pleas of those who survived the Parkland, Fla., high school massacre.

I was truly ready to give the president unvarnished props for his listening to those who survived the shooting along with the loved ones of those who perished in the carnage.

Then this picture showed up.

I am struck by the last notation: “I hear you.” Yep. It seems the president needed crib notes to remind him to offer a word of compassion to the grieving survivors and family members.

I almost don’t know how to respond to this.

OK, I won’t beat up the president too savagely over this. I have a reason. He is far from the only politician to rely on notes.

Do you remember how President Reagan would carry 3-by-5 note cards into Cabinet meetings? How he would glance at them to remind him of the talking points he wanted to address?

Get this, too: A man who represented me in Congress used the same technique when he came to visit our editorial board at the Beaumont Enterprise in Southeast Texas.

The late Rep. Jack Brooks was a ferocious Democrat who pretty much detested almost any Republican he encountered. Brooks was not the least bit bashful about denigrating Ronald Reagan’s intelligence. He actually would chide the president over the way he depended on those note cards.

Brooks, though, did precisely the same thing when he sat down with us to talk about the issues of the day. Actually, Brooks often would launch lengthy soliloquies using the notes he held in front of him.

That all said, I get that Donald Trump is employing a tactic that others have done.

I’ll just add a final thought. The only reason I mention this at all is because the president has insisted many times since running for office that he is “like, a really smart person” who knows “the best words” and who attended “the best schools.”

Does an intelligent, well-spoken, well-educated man really need note cards to remind himself to say “I hear you”?

I guess this one does.

JFK murder recalls a curious interview

brooks-at-lbj-swearing-in

Take a good look at this picture. You know the moment it has recorded.

Standing behind the grieving Jacqueline Kennedy, just over her right shoulder is a fellow I used to know pretty well. He is U.S. Rep. Jack Brooks, a Democrat from Beaumont, Texas, and arguably the crustiest, most partisan member of the Texas congressional delegation at that time … or perhaps any time.

Brooks died just a few years ago. He was one of the Democrats who lost his re-election bid in that historic Republican “Contract With America” tide that swept over Congress in 1994.

The previous year, I sat down with Brooks to interview him about the events that occurred in Dallas 30 years earlier. I sought to get into the man’s soul, into his heart. I wanted him to share with his constituents — through this interview to be published in the Beaumont Enterprise — what he felt that day.

Jack was riding in the motorcade that beautiful day in Dallas. It was Nov. 22, 1963. He was riding several vehicles behind the presidential limo that was carrying the Kennedys and Texas Gov. John Connally and his wife, Nellie.

Rifle shots exploded from the sixth floor of the Texas School Book Depository Building, hitting the president and Gov. Connally. Their car took off at full speed for Parkland Hospital. The world held its breath when news broke that “shots were fired” at the motorcade.

Then the terrible result flashed around the globe: The president was dead.

I sought to plumb deep into Rep. Brooks’ heart and soul that day.

But I learned something that day about Brooks that I knew intuitively all along. He wasn’t prone to thinking like that. I recall being disappointed at the seeming lack of pathos this man.

Brooks wasn’t the most gracious fellow I’ve ever met. He could be as mean as they come. Perhaps he wasn’t comfortable talking to a media representative about that terrible day.

Surely he knew, I speculated to him out loud, about the immense burden that his mentor and friend — President Lyndon Johnson — was carrying at that moment. Did he sense it? Did he grasp in the moment that the world was watching everyone’s move that day? Brooks didn’t confide much to me during our visit that day.

That interview stands perhaps as the most glaring missed opportunity I experienced during nearly four decades in daily journalism.

Oh, how I sought far more than I got from a veteran Texas politician.

C-SPAN worked miracles with this spot

cspan_bus

I want to share a moment regarding my one direct contact with the Cable-Satellite Public Affairs Network . . . aka C-SPAN.

I’ve already sung the praises of Brian Lamb, the founder of the one national network that covers politics and policy without a hint of bias.

Take another look.

But the folks who put together their video presentations are masters of editing, cutting, pasting and making subjects look a whole lot smarter than they really are. In my case, that’s not all that difficult.

I arrived in the Texas Panhandle in January 1995 to take my post as editorial page editor of the Amarillo Globe-News.

That spring, C-SPAN embarked on a project called the “School Bus Tour.” It was sending a yellow bus to every congressional district in the United States. All 435 of them would get a visit from the C-SPAN school bus. Its intent was to educate viewers on the members of Congress representing their constituents living in each of those districts.

The 1991 Texas Legislature had gerrymandered the congressional map in Texas to give Amarillo two House members. The 13th Congressional District comprised the northern portion of the city; the 19th District comprised the southern portion.

The lines were drawn that way to protect the Democrat — Bill Sarpalius — who represented the 13th District. Democrats controlled the Legislature back then, so they sought to rig the lineup to protect their own. The tactic worked until the 1994 election, when Republican Mac Thornberry upset Sarpalius.

But the 19th District remained strongly Republican and was represented by U.S. Rep. Larry Combest of Lubbock.

C-SPAN called one day and wanted to know if I would be willing to be interviewed by the network about the 19th District. I was to talk about Combest and the district he had represented for the past decade.

Holy crap! I thought. I didn’t know much about the district, or about Combest. I was brand new here. I’d lived for the 11 previous years in the Golden Triangle region of Texas, which was represented in the House by Democrats Jack Brooks of Beaumont and Charlie Wilson of Lufkin.

I accepted the offer, then cracked the books to learn more about the 19th Congressional District and about Rep. Combest.

C-SPAN’s school bus crew met me at the newspaper office one Saturday morning and I talked for about 30 minutes or so with a camera rolling. I stuttered, stammered, paused, stopped-and-started my way through it. Hey, I’m not a TV guy.

I was frightened by the prospect of how it would look on TV. The producer assured me, “Don’t worry. You did just fine. We’ll take good care of you.”

Well, they shot their B-roll video, showing scenes of feed lots, ranch land, wind mills and such from around the sprawling district, which stretched from Amarillo all the way to Lubbock, about 120 miles south of us.

They told me when the segment would air.

I waited for it. Sure enough, they managed to make me sound a whole lot more polished than I really am.

What’s more — and this is the real beauty of this kind of skill — they preserved the essence of every comment I made. There was not a single phrase that was aired during the three-minute segment that was out of context or didn’t convey my intended message.

I would have a similar experience later, during the 2008 presidential campaign, with National Public Radio. NPR wanted to interview two journalists about the state of that campaign between Barack Obama and John McCain. I learned once again about the talent and skill it takes to edit someone’s spoken words while preserving the integrity of what one says.

Believe me, it’s a remarkable skill, indeed.

 

Bye, bye Rush … don’t hurry back

I posted something to my Facebook feed the other day about Rush Limbaugh losing yet another radio station from his shrinking audience.

The post prompted an interesting exchange among several individuals with whom I’m “friends,” actual friends — and it included one of my sons.

One of the individuals encouraged another respondent to actually listen to Limbaugh’s radio show before making a judgment about his message.

http://www.salon.com/2015/06/09/rush_limbaugh_is_cooked_the_stunning_fall_of_the_rights_angriest_bloviator_partner/

It reminded me a bit of a similar exchange I had in the pre-Internet days with a man I admired greatly.

The late Maury Meyers, who once served as mayor of Beaumont and who once ran unsuccessfully for Congress against the Irascible Man, the late Rep. Jack Brooks. Meyers was a Republican, Brooks a Democrat.

Meyers was a fine individual, a progressive, pro-business mayor.

He also was a fan of Rush Limbaugh.

I wrote a column about Limbaugh’s short-lived TV show in which he’d rant for 30 minutes, sign off, then come back the day and rant some more. I couldn’t take it and I said so in my column, which ended with this: “Rush Limbaugh is to TV political commentary what Willard Scott is to TV weather predicting, with one difference: Scott makes me laugh; Limbaugh makes me sick.”

Meyers called me and invited me to listen more intently to Limbaugh. Tune in to his radio show, Maury implored me. Listen to him over a period of time and tell me if you still feel the same way, he said.

I took him up on it.

Limbaugh was worse than I thought. I wrote a follow-up column, stating that Limbaugh’s radio show was the worst piece of broadcasting I’d ever heard. OK, I’ve heard worse since then, but at that time, Limbaugh was the gold standard for right-wing trash-talk.

The term “Dittohead” was meant to be worn as a badge of honor by the man’s radio listeners who proclaim themselves to be among them. It’s an interesting term, when you think about it. To me, it more or less connotes an inability or unwillingness to think for one’s self.

That, I reckon, is Limbaugh’s audience.

And it appears to be dwindling.

 

 

Only the ‘rich’ can serve in Congress?

Alcee Hastings must not be a wealthy man.

The Florida Democratic U.S. representatives wants a pay raise from the 174 grand he makes annually. He says “only rich people” are able to serve in Congress, given the paltry sum House members and senators earn each year.

Please. Stop.

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2015/05/19/congressional-pay_n_7337282.html?ncid=fcbklnkushpmg00000013

Have members of Congress earned a pay raise? Consider a little bit of information here.

The latest average of polls compiled by RealClearPolitics.com puts congressional approval rating at about 15 percent. Fifteen percent of Americans think Congress is doing a good job. The polls don’t ask voters, more than likely, whether they think Congress deserves a raise.

As for Hastings’s assertion that only rich people can serve now, I want to add two quick points.

One, did he not know how much the office paid when he chose to run for Congress when he was impeached by Congress and tossed off the federal bench after being convicted of bribery and perjury by the Senate?

Two, there exist plenty of examples of members of Congress enriching themselves while serving on Capitol Hill. One example that comes to mind immediately is my former congressman, the late Jack Brooks, a Democrat from Beaumont, who used to cite how poor he was when he was elected to Congress in 1952, but who acquired tremendous wealth by virtue of his serving on a number of bank and other corporate boards.

The only possible positive I can see in Hastings’s demand for more money lies in the U.S. Constitution’s 27th Amendment, which says: “No law, varying the compensation for the services of the Senators and Representatives, shall take effect, until an election of Representatives shall have intervened.”

 

 

R.I.P., Maury Meyers

This brief message will be of interest perhaps only to my friends in Beaumont, Texas. But I need to express some sadness today over news that a former mayor of the city where I lived and worked for nearly 11 years has died.

Maurice “Maury” Meyers served two stints as mayor of Beaumont — in the 1970s and again in the late 1980s. He was quite a visionary fellow who veered far from what I understand had been the norm for Southeast Texas politics.

http://www.beaumontenterprise.com/news/article/Former-Beaumont-mayor-Maurice-Meyers-dies-5554661.php

A region that prides itself on homegrown talent and achievers welcomed this New York-born and bred Yankee into public life. Meyers obviously didn’t speak with that distinctive Southeast Texas combination of Texas drawl and Cajun inflection that is so common in a region I’ve referred to over the years as Baja Louisiana. No, he spoke the language of a New Yorker as he campaigned for public office and then made pronouncements from his mayoral bully pulpit.

Meyers sought always to promote Beaumont as a business-friendly city, which at times was a difficult sell in a region known to this day as a haven for plaintiffs seeking judgments against businesses. The region’s historically high membership in trade and crafts unions often was seen as an “anti-business.” Meyers sought to change that perception.

I think he succeeded to some degree.

Perhaps the apex of Meyers’s political career came when he challenged the late long-time U.S. Rep. Jack Brooks in 1990. Meyers ran as a Republican against the cantankerous Democratic lawmaker. Meyers lost, which was no surprise, given Brooks’s huge reservoir of support among African-Americans and union members. The newspaper where I worked, the Beaumont Enterprise, endorsed Meyers over Brooks — a decision we didn’t make lightly. Suffice to say it angered “Sweet Ol’ Brooks” greatly.

I respected Meyers greatly for the courage he showed in trying to reform what I thought then was a stagnant political culture.

He was a good man who fought like hell for the city and the region he adopted as his own.

Issa misuses immense power

My reading of the controversy over U.S. Rep. Darrell Issa’s recent behavior at a key House committee meeting is fairly straightforward.

The chairman misbehaved … badly.

He needs to be called down for his treatment of a senior member of his committee. What’s more, he needs to be called down for the interminable hearings he keeps conducting on matters that do not rise to the level of importance he’s attaching to them.

I refer to the IRS and Benghazi controversies.

This week he shut down the microphone of Ranking Democrat Elijah Cummings of Maryland as Cummings was trying to speak publicly about the IRS matter involving the tax agency’s vetting of conservative political action groups’ tax-exempt status. Democrats call it a witch hunt; Republicans say the IRS might have acted on orders from the White House. Except that independent analyses have determined the White House wasn’t involved.

Issa chairs the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform. It doesn’t control much tax money. It isn’t by definition a “sexy” committee. Its role is to probe government functions and to ensure that government agencies are working efficiently.

This particular committee once operated under the name of Government Operations Committee, which was chaired for many years by my former congressman, the late Jack Brooks, a tough-as-nails Beaumont Democrat. Brooks was as partisan and mean as anyone I’ve ever known, but he didn’t send his committee on witch hunts looking scandals involving Republicans where none existed.

By my reckoning, Issa is misusing the immense power of his committee. He keeps calling IRS officials before his panel to ask them questions they’ve already answered, or have fallen back on their Fifth Amendment protections against possible self-incrimination. He’s spending a ton of public money on these investigations, about $14 million to date.

He’s also got his sights set on the Benghazi matter, the firefight that in September 2011 resulted in the deaths of four Americans, including the U.S. ambassador to Libya. Issa alleges that then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton covered up what she knew and when she knew it. Government probes have determined there was fault in the way the State Department handled the crisis, but there is no evidence of a deliberate cover-up. Issa persists nonetheless.

The matter with Rep. Cummings is just one more example of the manner in which Issa is abusing the power of the gavel. He did apologize — more or less — to Cummings for cutting off his mic. Then he went on TV to portray Cummings’s outburst as a staged event.

Democrats sought a resolution to punish Issa. The GOP-controlled House, to no one’s surprise, shot it down.

There’s good news, though, in all of this. Issa’s term as chairman of this panel expires at the end of the year. I’m hoping he won’t do any more damage to the cause of “government reform” before he hands the gavel over to someone else.

Congress too mean even for John Dingell

When John Dingell says that life in Congress has become too much to handle, then you know things have gone badly.

Rep. Dingell, D-Mich., is the longest-serving member in the history of the U.S. House of Representatives. Today he announced he is retiring at the end of his umpteenth term.

http://thehill.com/blogs/ballot-box/house-races/199023-report-rep-john-dingell-to-retire

For 58 years Dingell has been serving the people of his House district.

I’m trying to think if there has been a more cantankerous member of the House then Dingell. One name comes to mind: the late Jack Brooks, D-Beaumont, who served for 40 years before losing his seat in the landmark 1994 Contract with America GOP sweep of both houses of Congress. “Sweet Ol’ Brooks,” which he called himself, was my congressman and we had, shall we say, a checkered relationship during the years I covered him while working for the paper on the Gulf Coast.

Dingell is at once a poster for and against term limits. He made congressional service his career, which term limits proponents say runs counter to the Founders’ wishes. Then again, the folks in his Michigan congressional district thought enough of him to keep re-electing over the course of 50-plus years.

“I find serving in the House to be obnoxious,” Dingell said. “It’s become very hard because of the acrimony and bitterness, both in Congress and in the streets.”

So, another longtime veteran is calling it a career. When this man says public service in Washington has become “obnoxious,” then you’d better break out the gas masks.