Those were the days

By JOHN KANELIS / johnkanelis_92@hotmail.com

A news report about the deep divisions between Democrats and Republicans on Capitol Hill brought to mind something I learned many years ago about the Texas congressional delegation.

The state’s U.S. House members, divided between Ds and Rs, would meet each week for breakfast. They ate with each other. All of them! They would sit in the congressional dining hall and talk to each other about common ground. They would discuss the state’s myriad problems.

I believe I heard this tale during the era when a Texan, Fort Worth Democrat Jim Wright, was serving as speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives. I cannot recall at this moment whether Wright instigated the weekly breakfast meetings. All I do remember is that the congressional collegiality among Texans was legendary on Capitol Hill.

A Congressional Quarterly story about the Texas delegation’s weekly meetings compared the relative good cheer among our state’s lawmakers with the open hostility among other states’ delegations. I believe the CQ story compared Texans’ warm feelings with the chill that hung over the California delegation.

Bear in mind something about the Texas congressional delegation in the 1980s. The delegation included some fierce partisans on both sides of the aisle. My congressman was a fellow named Jack Brooks, a Democrat from Beaumont who was a crusty, irascible, profane, cigar-smoking, former Marine who pretty much detested Republicans. He had next to nothing nice to say about his GOP colleagues. I recall him telling me once that he thought President Reagan was dumber than a potted plant.

But he would go to those breakfasts with his colleagues. All of them. Republicans and Democrats.

I don’t know if they’re still meeting these days in that fashion. Nor do I know whether anyone within the Texas congressional delegation has the stature or the commanding presence of Speaker Wright.

Instead, I hear stories these days about House members fearing their colleagues. They actually are frightened by the prospect of working with them, of sitting beside them in the House chamber. They fear someone on the other side of the room is going to shoot them, for God’s sake.

My strong belief is that the current Texas congressional delegation just isn’t wired collectively to exhibit the kind of camaraderie that made its predecessors the envy of Capitol Hill.

Too bad.

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