I blame John Nance Garner for our problem. Yes, Cactus Jack from that incubator of national leaders, Uvalde, Texas, is making it harder and harder for Texans in Washington to succeed in climbing the power ladder. Congress is especially getting tired of Texans’ dominance, and I see their point.
According to an article I recently read, the latest near-victim, I suppose you could call him, is Rep. Kevin Brady, a long-time Republican from The Woodlands, who wanted to succeed Rep. Paul Ryan as chairman of the House of Representatives’ powerful Ways and Means Committee. Ryan, kicking and screaming, was promoted to the one job in the House even more powerful than chairman of that committee: Speaker of the House.
How powerful? Former Rep. Bill Archer of Houston once told me that he wouldn’t run for the U.S. Senate because, as ranking minority leader in the Ways and Means Committee, if the Republicans ever took control of the House, he would be committee chairman, a post he would rather have than Senator.
Why was Rep. Brady having trouble being elected chairman by the Republican Steering Committee in a closed-door vote? It’s called Texas fatigue, and it all started with Cactus Jack. Garner, a state legislator, was elected to Congress from the Uvalde district, which back then was rural and unimportant. Actually, it still is. Nevertheless, he served 30 years in the House, becoming Speaker. Then he was vice president and ran for President.
Incidentally, if you are wondering how Garner was nicknamed Cactus Jack, when he was elected to the Texas House in 1898, the legislature selected a state flower for Texas. Garner fervently supported the prickly pear cactus for the honor and thus earned the nickname “Cactus Jack.” If Garner had won the Presidency, the Rose Garden would be known as the Cactus Terrace.
In 1913, a young man from that other hotbed of leadership, Bonham, Texas, was elected to Congress. Sam Rayburn served 48 years in the House, 17 years as Speaker, a record not to be broken anytime soon. It is not well known, but before Rayburn became Speaker of the U.S. House, he had served as Speaker of the Texas House, where he first honed his leadership talents. In 1937 yet another hayseed arrived in Congress: Lyndon Johnson, from – again – yet another cauldron of leadership, Johnson City, Texas. LBJ had learned how to wheel and deal by watching his father, Texas State Rep. Sam Ealy Johnson, work the House: come up to a colleague, quietly grab his – the other pol’s – coat lapels and pull him real close while whispering the pitch. Worked in Austin, worked in Washington.
Those were the glory days, when Rayburn ran the House and Johnson ran the Senate. What Texas wanted, Texas got. Can you spell NASA, aka JSC? Not to mention dams, roads and military bases. Later came Jim Wright, from Fort Worth, who served in the House 34 years and became Speaker, but left under a cloud. Committee chairs usually were decided by seniority, and Texas’ long-term (always Democrats) reps landed most of them. Even now, seven chairmanships are held by Texans.
You can see why members of Congress are getting tired of Texans in high places, but our numbers will grow. We currently have 34 representatives, second to California’s 53. After the 2020 Census, we shall pick up at least two more Congressional seats, maybe even three or four, depending if the other members let us count our illegal immigrants and convicts. This will also give Texas more votes in the Electoral College. I suspect George W. will win again.
Down the street, the White House tends to speak with a Texan twang: Dwight Eisenhower, LBJ, Bush and Bush. Between Ike’s first term and George W’s last year, there was a Texan living at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue 26 of the 44 years. We have had only two native-born Texans in the White House, Ike and LBJ, but the current, and constant, Presidential campaigns may give us one more. Rick Perry is gone — his campaign was a total embarrassment, but we could have had an inside track for Son of NASA. However, U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz (Canada, Houston) is still in the fight, as is Sen. Rand Paul (Lake Jackson, Baylor). Carly Fiorina was born in Austin, her father was a law prof at UT. Donald Trump visited the U.S.-Mexican border one afternoon. Does that count?
Elsewhere in Washington, you will find a bunch of Texans in high places, like the Pentagon. John Steinbeck, in “Travels With Charley,” wrote: “Among other tendencies to be noted, Texas is a military nation. The armed forces of the United States are loaded with Texans and often dominated by Texans.”
(Not to get sidetracked, but speaking of fatigue, there was a Bush or a Clinton in the White House or cabinet for 32 years straight. And Texans have seen a Bush on one ballot or another at least, by my count, nine times. This includes the one we just put in office, Land Commissioner George P. Bush, who apparently is not actually in his office very often as he is campaigning for his daddy, Jeb!)
As we can see, Texans have long been a powerful influence in Washington, and others are getting weary of it. Gail Collins, a columnist for The New York Times, has a book out, “As Texas Goes — How the Lone Star State Hijacked the American Agenda.” The title is self-explanatory: we are the lead dog in the dog team or the tail that wags the dog. Either way, Texas is setting the pace for the rest of the nation. Collins is not real happy with the situation, but acknowledges it is a fact. She wrote: “Personally, I prefer to think that all Americans are in the same boat. And Texas has a lot to do with where we’re heading.” Others may be fatigued, but as for us, keep on rowing.
Ashby is electable at email@example.com