Jack Brooks, an irascible, cigar-chomping former Texas congressman who over 42 years defied fellow Southerners to support civil rights, investigated abuses by Presidents Nixon and Reagan and repeatedly attacked government waste, down to the cost of wrenches, died on Tuesday night in Beaumont, Texas. He was 89.
This was my congressman, for as long as I can remember, growing up. In actuality he wasn't; we lived in the district next door, and my brother served as a page in DC for our actual representative, John Dowdy, in the late '60's. But even Charlie Wilson -- who succeeded Dowdy, and certainly in Wilson's early political career -- paled in comparison to Brooks. When I was in college in the late '70's, my fraternity hosted him as guest speaker. Long before I was a Democratic activist, I was a huge fan of Jack Brooks.
Brooks ascended to the legislative pantheon under the tutelage of two legendary Texas Democrats, House Speaker Sam Rayburn and Lyndon B. Johnson, both as a senator and as president, and became a swashbuckling Texas character in his own right. His politics were pro-labor, pro-gun, fiercely partisan and boldly unapologetic, particularly when it came to funneling federal funds to his East Texas district.
He played a supporting role in one of the most famous news photographs of the 20th century, that of President Johnson being sworn in as president on Air Force One in Dallas after President John F. Kennedy was assassinated on Nov. 22, 1963. Brooks, who had been in the presidential motorcade, stands behind Jacqueline Kennedy.
He had run Kennedy’s 1960 presidential campaign in his district, where Kennedy won by 40,000 votes. In October 1963, he was the only one of nine Southerners on the judiciary committee to vote for the Kennedy administration’s civil rights bill. When President Johnson took up the bill after Kennedy’s murder, Mr. Brooks was one of 11 out of 92 Southerners to vote for it on the House floor in 1964.
Brooks was ousted from Congress in 1994, by Steve Stockman, among other reasons because he voted in favor of a crime bill that restricted sales of assault rifles. That's a story all its own; go back to the NYT link to read it.
This video of Lamar University history professor Robert Robertson compresses into a couple of minutes the legacy of Jack Brooks and his witness to the history of the Kennedy assassination and the civil rights movement.
If there were still any fighting Democrats around like Jack Brooks, I might not be a Green today.
Update: The Bayou...
This was back in…September. I’m pretty sure. September of 1992. It was hotter than Hell that day.
Bill Clinton was running for president and he sent Senator Al Gore, his running mate, down here to Beaumont for a rally at Lamar University.
Both of the candidates were good-looking and Southern.
The youngest men I would remember in the White House after all of the “old men” who followed Nixon. Something about all of them seemed so stiff and artificial. Especially Reagan with his hair dye and Hollywood glitz.
Poor Senator Gore was sweating like a pig. He kept wiping at his brow with a handkerchief and he finally had to take his jacket off.
Gore was introduced by the giants of Southeast Texas politics. Carl Parker, Charlie Wilson and Jack Brooks. He didn’t hold a candle to them. The ‘wonkishness’ that became more exaggerated as he moved up in politics and got older was evident. He was boring. But who wouldn’t be after such a grand display local of wit and charm.