Tag Archives: Sam Rayburn

Time of My Life, Part 58: It goes with territory

By John Kanelis / johnkanelis_92@hotmail.com

My morning started at the Sam Rayburn VA Medical Center in Bonham, Texas, where I went for a routine exam.

During the course of the examination, the radiology technician and I engaged in some light-hearted banter that wove its way eventually toward some of the complaints she gets from veterans such as me.

“If I say something that someone doesn’t like, they go to” speak to the personnel office, she said. “Then I hear from her” and have to explain, she added.

No one tells the personnel office about all “thousands of good things that go on here,” she said.

I laughed. Loudly, in fact. It reminded me of an aspect of my career that I shared with the radiology technician. I will share it with you.

I told her that “when I was a working guy, I wrote editorials for newspapers.” One of the aspects of the job was getting feedback from readers. It could be positive. It could be negative. I told her that “I lost count many years ago of the time someone would say, ‘Hey, I really liked that editorial you wrote.’ I would ask him or her ‘Which one?’ They couldn’t remember, but only told me they liked it,” I explained. Did it frustrate me? Of course it did! I wanted to know the particulars of what pleased this individual; I didn’t tell her that part.

Then I told her, “If they disagreed with an editorial I wrote or a position I laid out, why they were able to recite it back to me … word for word.”┬á

Such is the nature of that line of work and so it is with what my new friend at the Rayburn VA Center has chosen to do.

I ended up telling her, “I hope you know it just goes with the territory.”

She understands.

Mr. Sam knew his place

BONHAM, Texas — The plaque pictured here offers an important civics lesson. It tells of the late Sam Rayburn’s role as speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives and also as a rank-and-file member of the legislative branch of the federal government.

The great Mr. Sam said he didn’t work “under” eight presidents, but that he worked “with” them. Listen up! Pay attention!

Too many presidents over many decades have fancied themselves as bigger than their office, occupying an office bigger and more powerful and meaningful than the other two co-equal branches of government.

Yes, Donald Trump, I refer to you as well.

Rayburn served in the House with eight presidents, the first of whom was Woodrow Wilson; the last of them was John F. Kennedy. Rayburn died in November 1961.

He was the Man of the House, even when he wasn’t pounding the gavel as its speaker.

I came back to the Rayburn Library and Museum today to show my visiting brother-in-law — who is quite a student of history — this place my wife (his sister) and I visited for the first time just a few weeks ago.

I didn’t see the plaque on our first visit. I feel compelled to offer these few words as a tribute to the understanding that Speaker Rayburn had about Congress and its role as a partner in the making of laws that govern all Americans. He was a student of government and knew he was duty bound to work within the system, reaching across the partisan divide, to find common ground in search of the common good.

There is a huge lesson that needs to be learned in the present day. Donald Trump, then the Republican nominee for president, declared in the summer of 2016 that “I, alone” can repair the things that he said were ailing the country. Uh, Mr. President, good government is most definitely a team sport, requiring all branches of government — even the judiciary — to play a role in the crafting and interpretation of law.

Sam Rayburn knew what has been lost on occasion in the present day. Legislators dig in against the president, who digs in against the men and women who serve in Congress. Nothing gets done. They all seek to declare political victory, when in reality they all fail.

Given that we have only one president at a time, the onus for failure — at least in my mind — falls on the doofus in the White House at the moment.

I cannot stop thinking at this moment how the great Sam Rayburn would react to the bullying and showboating he would witness from down the street at the White House.

My guess? He wouldn’t stand for it.

Mr. Sam might be spinning in his grave

An item has been brought to my attention, so I want to share it with you here.

The fellow set to be nominated as the nation’s next director of national intelligence now serves the Fourth Congressional District of Texas, which once was served by one of the great Texas politicians of all time, three-time U.S. House Speaker Sam Rayburn.

The current congressman, John Ratcliffe, will be named soon to succeed Dan Coats, who is, um, “stepping down” as DNI. It seems that Coats and Donald John Trump have had some serious differences of opinion over the Russians’ role in the hacking of our election system in 2016. Coats says the Russians did it: Trump sides with the Russians who deny doing it.

Enter the newest DNI, Rep. Ratcliffe.

To be fair, Ratcliffe’s national intelligence credentials are no skimpier than those that Dan Coats brought into the office. Coats, though, proved to be one of the few mature grownups to serve the Trump administration.

The jury is still out on Ratcliffe, a fervent, strident, ardent supporter of Trump. I await the questioning from senators who will ask whether he supports the Coats view of Russian hacking or the Trump view that it was all a “hoax.”

As for the Rayburn legacy, I’ve had the pleasure of writing a blog post for KETR-FM, the public radio station based at Texas A&M-Commerce, the talks about the Rayburn Library and Museum in Bonham. You can see the KETR piece┬áhere.

While touring the exhibit, I found a statement attributed to Mr. Sam, the legendary Democrat, that I believe is quite fitting in today’s climate. He says it is better to always “tell the truth” because you never have to worry about what you say.

Ratcliffe is set to join a presidential administration that seems to consider truth-telling to be some sort of sin, a sign of weakness.

How would Speaker Rayburn react to that? I sense he might be doing cartwheels in his grave at this very moment.

Speaker Rayburn’s credo: Just tell the truth

BONHAM, Texas — The text below the picture posted with this blog item offers a fundamental and irrefutable truth about those who serve in public office.

It is simply to tell the truth at all times. “You don’t have to remember what you said,” the text tells us.

Who said it? The late great U.S. House Speaker Sam Rayburn, arguably Bonham’s favorite son.

He was known simply as Mr. Sam. He mentored many huge Texas political icons, men he taught the lessons of legislating and leadership. He was known to be a plain speaker, a man of enormous integrity. Mr. Sam did not enrich himself at the public trough.

I came to his library and museum today. My wife and I took a tour of the simple but still elegant exhibit and learned a little more about this legendary political figure.

I was struck by the text I cited at the beginning of this blog post because — and you likely know where this is going — of the conduct we have seen exhibited by the current president of the United States, Donald John Trump.

I have no idea how Speaker Rayburn would react to the incessant, relentless and unceasing lies that pour forth from Donald Trump. I only can presume to believe that he would be appalled, aghast and astonished at what would he hear.

The library and museum speak silently but eloquently to the kind of man Rayburn was. He represented his North Texas congressional district with honor, as he did the House of Representatives as the Man of the House.

Sam Rayburn’s honor, to my mind, was built on his effort to speak honestly and truthfully. It is a lesson that is lost totally on too many politicians who have come along after him.

That means you, too, Donald John Trump.

Do these guys represent the state … or not?


Hurricane protection is a real big deal if you live along the Texas coast.

My family and I lived there for nearly 11 years before high-tailing it to the High Plains more than two decades ago. We still have dear friends there who face the threat of being wiped out by killer hurricanes that blow in from the Gulf of Mexico.

The Texas Tribune reports that many of the state’s congressional delegation, including some House representatives from the imperiled region, aren’t yet willing to commit to spending what it takes to protect coastal cities from potential destruction.


What’s up with that?

They don’t want to spend the money it will take, for example, to buttress the seawall protecting the Houston-Galveston region. It’s not politically prudent, apparently, in this age of penny-pinching for the sake of penny-pinching.

“While state officials say the project enjoys┬áthe full support of┬áTexans in Congress, almost every member has been silent on the issue, including those who hold the most sway,” the Tribune reports.

Don’t these individuals represent the state that sends them to Washington to certain things for us, such as argue for legislation that benefits the state?

Sen. John Cornyn, the senior man from Texas, isn’t weighing in on the coastal protection plan. Texas’ other senator, Ted Cruz, is too busy running for president to give much careful thought to the needs of the home folks … or so it seems.

The Tribune reports that Texas Land Commissioner George P. Bush has placed coastal protection at the top of his own agenda. Bush hopes Cornyn will climb aboard the protection bandwagon. If he does, he figures to bring considerable political clout to the battle, which matters a lot, given that Cornyn is a key member of the Senate Republican leadership team.

The issue is money. As the Tribune reports: “But with a price tag sure to reach into the billions, the spine will almost certainly require a massive infusion of federal money,┬ástate officials agree. Whether Texas’ congressional delegation has the political backbone to deliver the cash remains to be seen.”

I’m trying to imagine an earlier generation of Texas pols — guys like Lyndon Johnson and Sam Rayburn — sitting on their hands.

What became of a strong House speaker?

John Boehner seems like a decent enough fellow. I’ve long thought of him as someone whose instincts lead him toward working with Democrats, not against them.

But the speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives has this problem: It is that some of his fellow Republicans don’t like working with the other party. There seems to be enough of those types to make governing quite difficult for the once-affable speaker.


Boehner today┬ásaid on CBS’s “Face the Nation” that the House is a rambunctious place. It’s full of members with competing ideas on how to get things done. He said “I think” I can lead the House.

Interesting, yes? Well, yes.

The speaker was handed a big defeat this past week when the House defeated his plan to fund the Department of Homeland Security for three weeks. The “rambunctious caucus” of the House, aka the TEA party wing, bolted from his idea, along with a number of Democrats. Some last-minute scrambling enabled the House to approve a DHS funding bill that expires at the end of this week. Then we get to do this all over again.

I’m trying to imagine how past speakers would handle all this rambunctiousness. Would Speaker Sam Rayburn of Texas allow it? How about Speaker Tip O’Neill of Massachusetts? Hey, do you think Speaker Newt Gingrich of Georgia would stand still for this foolishness?

These three gentlemen — two Democrats and a Republican — were among the stronger-willed men to run the House. They all governed with considerable effectiveness. Their secret? My belief is that they all knew how to work with members of the “other party.” They also worked well with presidents of the other party, working overtime to search for common ground.

Speaker Boehner is being whipsawed by his own caucus. It’s not a pretty sight.

By definition, Speaker Boehner is the Man of the Entire House, not just of his or her political party. The partisan roles are filled by the majority leader and the majority whip of the party in charge. The speaker, though, is supposed to look after the interests of all House members.

Boehner has to figure out a way — in a big hurry — to get the rowdy bunch in line.

I have an idea: Pick up the phone, call Newt Gingrich and ask┬áhim: “Newt, how in the world can I corral these clowns?”

Boehner’s backside is on the line

Poor John Boehner.

He wanted more than anything to be speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives. He got his wish when Nancy Pelosi handed the gavel to him as the 112th Congress convened in 2011. But now he’s like the dog who kept chasing the car … but didn’t know what to do when he caught it.

The Republican speaker is being whipsawed by factions within his own party.

Does he “cave” to demand to end the government shutdown by agreeing to put a Democratic measure to fund the government to a vote? Doing so would anger the tea party clique that is calling the shots in the GOP caucus.


Does he want to remain speaker or — as he insists — does he want to do what’s best for the country and get the government, all of it, back in action?

Therein lies his dilemma. He must appease the raucous minority within his own caucus or he must do what most of the rest of us want, which is to end this ridiculous stalemate.

He is the speaker of the House, which defines him as a very powerful politician. He’s second in line to the presidency, after the vice president. He can make the speaker’s office as weak or as strong as he wants.

My sense is that Boehner wants to be seen as a strong speaker in the mold of, say, Texas Democrat Sam Rayburn. He’s wired to cut deal with the other side, just as Rayburn was during his many years as speaker.

However, he’s got that faction within his own party that thinks it knows best. It doesn’t know anything. Its members have no institutional knowledge of what happened to their caucus the last time they orchestrated a government shutdown in 1995. They had their heads handed to them at the next election.

Another speaker, Newt Gingrich, knows what happened. He’s been trying to counsel his tea party pals about the folly of their mission. It’s been to no avail.

Meanwhile, the current Man of the House is being flummoxed. Poor guy. Maybe he shouldn’t have wanted to be speaker quite so badly.