All this talk we hear these days about “loyalty” to an individual rather than to the Constitution or to constituents who politicians represent brings to mind a story I related this evening to a friend of mine as we left a college football game in Commerce, Texas.
It involves a former congressman I got to know well while I worked as editorial page editor of the Amarillo Globe-News. His name is Larry Combest, a Republican from Lubbock who for years represented the 19th Congressional District, which for a time included the southern half of Amarillo.
Combest was, in the term of art applied these days, a “traditional Republican conservative.” He also was unafraid to buck the dictates of his political leadership.
In 1994, when the GOP took control of the House of Representatives and installed Newt Gingrich as speaker of the House, the Republican majority decided to reconfigure federal farm policy. The GOP-led House produced something called Freedom to Farm. Combest, whose congressional district included vast stretches of cultivated farm land and ranch land, didn’t like what the legislation contained. He said it treated the cattle ranchers and farmers who helped elect him badly. He refused to sign on to the legislation.
Combest’s refusal to buy into Freedom to Farm incurred Gingrich’s anger. He scolded Combest privately, or so I was led at the time to believe. Combest didn’t budge. He told Gingrich — and I heard this through back channels — that he didn’t work for the speaker. He worked for the people of West Texas, who told him they didn’t like the direction that the new federal farm policy was heading. Combest wasn’t going to give in to the dictates of the House political leadership.
Combest held his ground, even though it cost him — in the immediate term — an appointment as House Agriculture Committee chairman; he would become chairman, if memory serves, sometime after Gingrich left the House amid a personal scandal and when the GOP lost ground in subsequent midterm elections.
The point of this little essay is to illustrate that politicians should put the needs of their constituents above the needs of political leaders who harbor delusions of grandeur and godhood. Larry Combest knew who sent him to Congress and he honored his commitment to them rather than to a bomb-throwing ideologue.
We need a lot more of that kind of loyalty rather than what we are seeing being playing out these days in Washington.