Phil Landrum: Architect of Anti-Poverty Law and Conflicted Democrat

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In 1960, John F. Kennedy had his second best performance in the state of Georgia, winning over 62% of the vote, exceeding his support in his home state of Massachusetts. Although Georgia politicians had grown more conservative since the New Deal, this change being best represented by the rightward shift of Senator Walter F. George, they were still strongly wed to the Democratic Party. One of the Democrats that represented Georgia politics’ conundrum between party loyalty and ideology quite well in the 1960s and 1970s was Representative Phil Landrum (1907-1990). Elected to Congress in 1952 representing Jasper, he gained a bit of a conservative reputation, but he could support a surprising number of Democratic initiatives.

Interest rating groups couldn’t seem to agree on what Landrum was ideologically. Americans for Democratic Action didn’t care for him much, with his adjusted scores ranging from 0% to 67%. Americans for Constitutional Action, on the other hand, gave him scores, adjusted for counting for pairs, between 19% and 85%. The 1950s and 1960s had some discrepancies, which can be accounted for in part by ADA’s stronger emphasis on social and foreign policy and ACA’s stronger emphasis on fiscal and agriculture policy. Landrum was quite conservative on the subject of foreign aid and was mostly so on social issues, while he was more amenable to the Democratic platform on fiscal and agriculture issues. Thus, during the Eisenhower years Landrum comes off as solidly conservative by ADA standards but moderate by ACA standards. Likewise, with the Kennedy and Johnson years, Landrum comes off as moderately liberal by ACA standards while he is moderate to moderately conservative by ADA standards. Their ratings seemed more in accord with his record in the 1970s, which was his most conservative period. In 1959, Landrum attracted opposition from labor unions for his collaboration with Rep. Robert Griffin (R-Mich.) in the Landrum-Griffin Act, a measure backed by President Eisenhower which was aimed at combating organized labor corruption and racketeering and was harsher on them than the union-backed reform measure, the Kennedy-Ives Bill.

Perhaps partly as a result of Kennedy’s impressive performance in Georgia, Landrum grew more and more committed to major Democratic programs in the 1960s as did other Democrats in the state including the more hardline John J. Flynt of Griffin, but like most other Georgia politicians, he remained a through-and-through segregationist. He headed the subcommittee on education, which wrote the Library Services Act. Landrum, most importantly, proved key to winning sufficient support for President Lyndon B. Johnson’s “War on Poverty”, contained largely in the Economic Opportunity Act of 1964, which he drafted and sponsored. A key provision that Landrum included that helped win sufficient Southern Democratic support was that governors could veto community action projects in their states. Indeed, five other members of the Georgia delegation voted for the bill. There is a strange contrast in the fact that President Johnson relied for one of his signature achievements an intractable opponent of one of his other signature achievements, the Civil Rights Act of 1964. However, that year, the state for the very first time in its history voted for the Republican candidate, Barry Goldwater. The state in four years went from the second best performing state for Democrats to the fifth worst, and this contributed to the pushing of Democrats to the right. In 1964 and 1966, Landrum faced difficult primaries, possibly due to his cooperation with LBJ.

Although Landrum had been the House architect of the anti-poverty law, by the late 1960s he was starting to back budget cuts for it and by the Nixon Administration, he was backing turning the anti-poverty program entirely to the states and voting against its extension. He also voted against the Family Assistance Plan, the Nixon Administration proposal for guaranteed minimum income for families. However, even during this time, he parted with conservatives in some ways. Landrum joined the doves in backing a fixed timetable for pulling out of Vietnam and his vote against a school prayer amendment didn’t please social conservatives.

By his last term in Congress, from 1975 to 1977, he was voting as a solid conservative. His lifetime MC-Index score stands at a 52%, reflecting both his more liberal and more conservative periods.


Cook, J. (1990, November 22). Phil Landrum, 83, Former Lawmaker From Georgia, Dies. The New York Times.

Retrieved from

Phil Landrum, 83, Former Lawmaker From Georgia, Dies – The New York Times (

Landrum, Phillip M. Our Campaigns.

Retrieved from

Our Campaigns – Candidate – Phillip M. Landrum

One thought on “Phil Landrum: Architect of Anti-Poverty Law and Conflicted Democrat

  1. Interesting profile. As a footnote, Landrum had the same main opponent in his difficult primaries in 1964 and 1966: Zell Miller.

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