Clarence Cannon: Master Parliamentarian and Budget Hawk

Clarence Cannon - Wikipedia

The state of Missouri has produced some interesting characters as a state, but its most lasting was Clarence Cannon (1879-1964), whose parliamentary knowledge of Congress was second to none and who served from 1923 to 1964.

Cannon started work in Washington for Speaker of the House Champ Clark, where he familiarized himself with legislative rules and procedure and in 1917 he became House parliamentarian. Although the Republicans won Congress in 1918, Cannon was so good at his job they retained him. By 1919 he had written a book on the subject, A Synopsis of the Procedure of the House. Cannon subsequently wrote Procedure in the House of Representatives (1920) and Cannon’s Precedents of the House of Representatives (1936).  So knowledgeable he was that he was the designated parliamentarian of every Democratic National Convention from 1920 to 1960. Clark lost reelection in 1920 and died only two days before his term was to end. Such a departure left the door open for Cannon to begin his political career. In 1922, he won back his old boss’s seat, ousting Republican Theodore Hukriede by 13 points. Cannon was a loyal Democrat and exceedingly popular with his constituents, but one who would not refrain from exercising independence when he felt it right, especially on matters of one of his specialties: the budget.

Although he supported a lot of the New Deal and actively defended public ownership of power generating facilities, Cannon was averse to high spending (at least outside of agriculture) and frequently backed budget cuts, whether presidents of either party wanted them or not. He secured his place of power in Washington when in 1941 he became the chair of the House Appropriations Committee, a post he would hold for all but four years of the rest of his life. In this post, Cannon even initially even blocked funding for the Manhattan Project as overly costly, until he was briefed on its merits, after which he approved. Cannon could also be pugnacious and got into conflicts with some members. In 1933, fellow Missouri Democrat Milton Romjue slapped Cannon in the face during an argument and he responded by slugging him, giving him a black eye. In 1945, he socked his Republican counterpart, John Taber of New York, during an argument in the bathroom. He didn’t fall short on rhetorical conflict either, in 1947 he lampooned Rep. Frank B. Keefe (R-Wis.) in a debate on the floor of the House, “Of all the ‘piddlin’ politicians that ever piddled ‘piddlin’ politics on this floor, my esteemed friend, the gentleman from Wisconsin, is the greatest piddler that ever piddled” (Masonry Today). In the early 1960s Cannon also got into a bitter feud with elderly Senator Carl Hayden (D-Ariz.) on matters of parliamentary procedure. He even applied his nature when writing to the former First Lady Jackie Kennedy, who in response to her 1964 letter thanking him for his work for the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, stating that “I know the fight was not easy”, wrote “You say the fight was not easy, but on the contrary, we had cooperation from everyone. It was done practically by acclamation” (Masonry Today).  

On civil rights, Cannon had a mostly positive record. Although he voted against anti-lynching legislation in 1937 and 1940, he backed nearly all subsequent civil rights measures, including the Civil Rights Acts of 1957, 1960, and the landmark Civil Rights Act of 1964. Cannon also voted for Powell Amendments that would have cut off education funding for segregated schools, even though he was from a state that until Brown v. Board of Education (1954) had de jure segregated schools.

Cannon proved a thorn in the side of the Eisenhower Administration with his aversion to increased foreign aid spending and having as his right-hand on the matter Otto Passman, a Louisiana Democrat who was a known foe of most foreign aid measures and had even opposed the Marshall Plan. Despite his increasingly frequent dissents in later years and many sources labeling him a “conservative”, he still proved a strong supporter of certain New Deal fundamentals, including a strong minimum wage and public power.  Also, his MC-Index life score is a 27%, with his highest score being achieved in the 86th Congress, when he scored a 55%. In 1962, although Cannon had supported much of President Kennedy’s New Frontier legislation, he denounced the 87th Congress as the first hundred-billion-dollar Congress to the consternation of the Democratic leadership. He also proved a staunch opponent of funding NASA, denouncing it as a “moondoggle” (Masonry Today). Although Cannon had planned to run for reelection in 1964, his health couldn’t hold out and on May 11th he suffered nausea and was diagnosed in the hospital with heart failure. He died the next day at the age of 85. Such an institution Cannon was at the end of his career, that President Lyndon B. Johnson and former President Harry S. Truman attended his funeral.


Clarence Andrew Cannon Passes Away. Masonry Today.

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Henry, C. The Man Who Brought Two Presidents to Town. Elsberry Historical.

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THE ECONOMY: Cut that BUDGET! (1957, March 4). TIME Magazine.

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The Father of Mother’s Day was a Bigoted Demagogue

James Thomas Heflin - Wikipedia

James Thomas “Cotton Tom” Heflin (1869-1951) had two things he would say he was proud of during his political career: founding Mother’s Day and shooting a black man in an altercation. This is the story of the man who made Mother’s Day possible but also rose and fell in politics through his practice of bigotry.

The son of a slaveowner, he was commonly known as “Cotton Tom”, as one of his priorities was keeping the price of cotton high. Another was white supremacy. Such staunch feelings were not necessarily endemic to members of the Heflin family: his uncle, Robert Stell Heflin, had been a Radical Republican and his nephew, Howell Heflin, had a history of supporting civil rights before and during his career in the Senate.

Heflin’s rise to prominence began in 1901 when as a state legislator he participated in the Alabama constitutional convention. He successfully argued for excluding blacks from voting, stating, “…God almighty intended the negro to be the servant of the white man” (Feldman, 77). Heflin, a man who regarded himself as a staunch advocate for poor whites, and others at the constitutional convention also explicitly endorsed the idea that no individual black person could be equal or better than any individual white person. He simultaneously thought of himself as a friend of black people who accepted the place he wanted them to occupy in Southern society. As Secretary of State of Alabama, Heflin had endorsed the convict leasing system, which sold black prisoners (who were sometimes falsely convicted) to farmers and industrialists for the duration of their sentence and in some cases suffered worse working conditions than American slavery. In 1904, he was elected to the House, where he stood for expanding rural mail routes and stronger railroad regulation. In 1908, Heflin tried to introduce segregation to streetcars in Washington D.C., a proposal which was defeated. He received death threats over his proposal and was authorized to carry a gun for self-protection. In the wake of this controversy he got into a scuffle with Lewis Lundy, a black man who had confronted him on a streetcar. Accounts differ as to circumstances, but apparently Heflin, who was with Rep. Edwin Ellerbe (D-S.C.), saw Lundy cursing and drinking whiskey and asked him to stop. After Lundy shouted insults at him, the scuffle broke out, with Heflin throwing him out onto the platform of the St. James Hotel stop and shooting at him after he saw Lundy reach into his pocket for what he thought was a razor. He received a head wound, the cause which may have been a bullet wound, Heflin pistol-whipping him, or the impact from being thrown out of the streetcar. Heflin also managed to accidentally shoot a white bystander, Thomas McCreary, when the bullet ricocheted into his leg. Although he was indicted for assault with a deadly weapon, Heflin got the charges dropped after he paid McCreary’s hospital expenses and Lundy didn’t show up to testify against him. A lawsuit filed by Lundy appeared to go nowhere. Heflin thought himself justified, stating “Under the circumstances there was nothing more for me to do, I am glad to say I have not yet reached the point where I will see a Negro, or a white man either, take a drink in the presence of a lady without saying something to him. I did only what any other gentleman placed in similar circumstances would have done” (Langeveld). Others, including editorial writers from Southern newspapers, thought he had through his conduct unnecessarily escalated the situation.

On May 10, 1913, Heflin introduced his most lasting achievement in House Resolution 103, which requested the donning of white carnations by federal and elected officials to honor mothers. He stated that mothers are “the greatest source of our country’s strength and inspiration” (U.S. House). The following year, in response to the resolution’s popularity, he introduced as a law with Senator Morris Sheppard (D-Tex.) that the second Sunday of May be observed as Mother’s Day and requesting American flags be displayed in government buildings, homes, and offices “as a public expression of our love and reverence for the mothers of our country” (U.S. House). After the legislation quickly passed, President Wilson signed the law. This is Heflin’s, and Senator Morris Sheppard’s, mark on every year in the United States. Despite Heflin’s successful advocacy for Mother’s Day, he voted against women’s suffrage, since he, as did many other Southern whites, had no interest in the U.S. officially granting suffrage to black women and believed the woman’s place was in the home. He was outright contemptuous of his Alabama colleague, Richmond Hobson, for endorsing women’s suffrage, mockingly suggesting he don a bonnet and a dress (Watson). Heflin was also a supporter of Prohibition, but voted against the Prohibition Amendment, since, perhaps thinking about the specter of federal intervention on the South’s Jim Crow policies, he chose to take a state’s rights position. He regularly indulged in conspiracy theories and wild accusations, including one in September 1914 that 13-14 members of the House were influenced in their votes by a German slush fund, an accusation an investigation in October 1917 determined to be false (Langeveld). In 1920, Alabama’s voters saw fit to elect him to the Senate to replace the late John H. Bankhead.

As a senator, he was an economic progressive, opposing the tax policies of the Harding and Coolidge Administrations and supporting federal intervention for relief of farmers. Heflin also continued his reputation as one of the staunchest racists on Capitol Hill, publicly protesting New York’s legalization of interracial marriage. When New York Senator Royal Copeland reacted angrily to Heflin, Heflin responded that if he ever traveled to Alabama for a presidential campaign that the people would lynch him. He also had a history of engaging in anti-Catholic rhetoric and in 1928, he refused to back the candidacy of Democrat Al Smith, stating “Alabama isn’t going for Al Smith. Neither is any other southern state, except possibly Louisiana. He is a Tammanyite, wringing wet and a Roman Catholic. I would vote against him for all three reasons” (Langeveld). Heflin endorsed Republican Herbert Hoover for supporting Prohibition and not being a Catholic, and indeed Alabama voters seemed to have a difficult time balancing their historic loyalty to the Democratic Party and their feelings on Catholics, and Smith only won the state by less than three points. By contrast, in 1924, Democratic nominee John W. Davis had won the state by over 40 points. As it turned out, Heflin’s electoral career did come to an end over prejudice, that is, his anti-Catholic prejudice. As he went on a speaking tour speaking against Smith during the 1928 campaign he was pelted with eggs, stones, and a quart bottle. Heflin railed against the Smith campaign that it was a Catholic conspiracy, “Wake up, Americans! Gird your loins for political battle, the like of which you here not seen in all the tide of time in this country. Get ready for this battle. The Roman Catholics of every country on the earth are backing his campaign. Already they are spending money in the South buying up newspapers, seeking to control the vehicles that carry the news to the people. They are sending writers down there from New York and other places to misrepresent and slander our State, all this to build a foundation on which to work for Al Smith for President. The Roman Catholic edict has gone forth in secret articles, ‘Al Smith is to be made President.’ ” (Bailey). He was punished by Democratic primary voters for his disloyalty in 1930 by turning him out in favor of John H. Bankhead II by about 50,000 votes. Heflin ran as an Independent and blustered about a Papal conspiracy within the Democratic Party to defeat him and the press as well as many political figures in Alabama denounced his antics. Grover Cleveland Hall wrote in the Montgomery Advertiser that he was a “bully by nature, a mountebank by instinct, a Senator by choice…Thus this preposterous blob excites our pity if not our respect, and we leave him to his conscience in order that he may be entirely alone and meditate over the life of a charlatan whose personal instinct and personal vanity are always of paramount concern to him” (Langeveld). Heflin tried to appeal his loss to the Senate in 1932, claiming massive voter fraud and delivering a five hour speech in which he again capitalized on racial prejudice, but the Senate easily dismissed his claim. His lifetime MC-Index score stands at a 9%. That year, he actively campaigned for Franklin D. Roosevelt and proved a supporter of the New Deal. As a reward for his support, Heflin was appointed special representative for the Federal Housing Administration. He unsuccessfully ran for his old House seat in 1934 and in 1937, he tried again to be elected to the Senate, but lost to Congressman Lister Hill. That same year, KKK Grand Wizard Hiram Wesley Evans publicly revealed that Heflin had joined the organization in the late 1920s. His time in electoral politics had come to an end.

In 1948, Heflin opted to stick with the Democratic Party rather than endorse the Dixiecrat candidate Strom Thurmond. Apparently a candidate being Catholic was more offensive to the staunch bigot than a candidate who supported civil rights! Then again, Republican Thomas Dewey was also a supporter of civil rights, having signed an anti-discrimination bill as New York’s governor, so Heflin may have been thinking that Jim Crow might have a better chance with Southern Democrats continuing to have a say even with a pro-civil rights Democratic president. He suffered dementia in his final years, which most notably manifested in a public incident when he tried to board a bus for Washington D.C. wearing a bathrobe. Heflin died on April 22, 1951.

“Cotton Tom” Heflin represented a different age in politics, but even in that age he stood out as particularly egregious in his bigoted demagoguery, and even Alabama voters who strongly backed Jim Crow tired of his antics. Yet, few people know that he more than any other politician is credited for the creation of Mother’s Day.


Again, Heflin. (1930, February 17). TIME Magazine.

Bailey, G. (2017, November 28). Worse than Roy Moore? History News Network.

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Feldman, G. (2004). The disenfranchisement myth: poor whites and suffrage restriction in Alabama. Athens, GA: The University of Georgia Press.

Langeveld, D. (2013, August 9). Thomas Heflin: even bad men love their mommas. The Downfall Dictionary.

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Rice, A.S. (2014). The Ku Klux Klan in American politics. CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform. 

The Election Case of J. Thomas Heflin v. John H. Bankhead II of Alabama (1932). U.S. Senate.

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The First National Celebration of Mother’s Day. U.S. House of Representatives.

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Watson, E.L. James Thomas Heflin. Encyclopedia of Alabama.

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Americans for Constitutional Action: The Forgotten Conservative Interest Group

ADM Ben Moreell
Admiral Ben Moreell, First chairman of Americans for Constitutional Action.

Although the 1950s often get looked back on with some reverence by conservatives for being a relatively calmer and more “family friendly” time than the decades that followed, it was a time of some disappointment for them. President Eisenhower was a moderate, the GOP was not nearly as gung-ho against New Deal measures as they were when Truman was president, and Southern Democrats too were proving less conservative than during the Truman years as well. On June 27, 1958, at the behest of a group of conservative senators, a new organization, Americans for Constitutional Action (ACA), was born to elect more constitutional conservatives. This was the conservative answer to Americans for Democratic Action, a liberal group founded in 1946 dedicated to preserving and expanding the New Deal. As I have written about before, the 1958 election proved calamitous for Republicans, with them losing thirteen seats, all to liberal Democrats. Democrats also gained two Senate seats with the admission of Alaska that year and in two cases retiring Republicans were replaced with more liberal ones. This set the stage for the politics of the 1960s.

ACA’s Mission

The ACA issued seven guidelines for which it based its index to judge members of Congress. These were, “For safeguarding the God-given dignity of the individual and promoting sound economic growth by strengthening constitutional government; for sound money and against inflation; for the private competitive market and against government interference; for local self-government and against central government intervention; for private ownership and against Government ownership; for individual liberty and against coercion; for National sovereignty” (Congressional Record). They also aimed to strengthen the Conservative Coalition, made up of Republicans and Southern Democrats. 

The ACA’s Start

Under the leadership of retired Admiral Ben Moreell, founder and former head of the Seabees construction battalions and chair of Jones & Laughlin Steel Co., this organization lobbied for these principles and for electing legislators of both parties who would do so. People who were on the organization’s Board of Trustees included former President Herbert Hoover, former Secretary of the Navy Charles Edison (yes, a son of Thomas!), Dwight Eisenhower’s older brother Edgar, John Wayne, and former Congressman Howard Buffett (Warren’s father). In 1960, they published their first ACA-Index, which covered for the Senate 77 votes from 1955-1959 and for the House 40 votes from 1957-1959. These were intended to influence conservatives for the 1960 election. This publication got some publicity when General Edwin A. Walker, under his mandatory “Pro-Blue” anti-communist program, got in trouble for calling former President Truman, Eleanor Roosevelt, and former Secretary of State Dean Acheson “definitely pink” in print, promoting conservative literature and the ACA-Index to troops under his command and telling them and their families to consult it before voting, a violation of the Hatch Act. He would resign the army after being admonished, being the only general to do so in the 20th century. The ACA was fearless in its selection of votes: there were years in which no senator would get a 100% because their standards were so high and they didn’t seem to care who voted for or against their position. They broadly opposed the New Frontier, the Great Society, foreign aid, farm subsidies, raising the debt limit, and major civil rights legislation. However, chair Moreell made it clear that they didn’t expect perfection: when the organization honored Congressman Bob Dole of Kansas with their Distinguished Service Award on May 25, 1965, Moreell stated, “The acceptance of this award does not mean you are in complete agreement with all of the measures advocated by ACA nor does it imply any commitment to support those measures in the future. ACA will never impugn the motives or question the probity of those who do not agree with our views” (Americans for Constitutional Action).

Issues They Considered And Didn’t

Americans for Constitutional Action had some interesting inclusions and exclusions for what they graded. During the 1950s they counted zero votes on final passage for mutual security bills while ADA consistently counted them. ACA counted some specific measures involving foreign aid and amendments increasing foreign aid though. They also didn’t count federal aid for education during the Eisenhower years, possibly because the issue of desegregation often got tied to them, resulting in a Southern Democrat voting bloc against. Yet, other measures regarding education they did count. For the Senate, they almost never counted the invoking of cloture to end debate and even declined to do so when they were the only Senate votes on the proposal to end the “right to work” provisions of the Taft-Hartley Act during the Great Society Congress. One of the most notable exclusions I’ve seen was the entire issue of abortion. ADA and ACU both counted abortion as an issue, but ACA repeatedly declined to do so. Maybe this was seen as a Catholic issue for them (as it is often seen abroad) or they failed to reach a consensus on whether they thought abortion ought to be seen as a matter government should be involved in. They were also late on covering proposals to limit the reach of the Occupational Safety and Hazard Administration, not opting to count it until 1975, whereas ACU started counting in 1972. The ACA system I think in many ways was a better one than both ADA and ACU. They counted each issue as a point (as opposed to double-counting most important ones), didn’t count absences against people, often were more comprehensive in their vote selection than either ACU or ADA, sometimes they counted some lower profile economic issues, and they were most insistent on coming out against subsidies and bailouts. They also far more regularly counted matters such as budget cuts than ADA did and were less heavy on social issues. Chairman Moreell ultimately hoped through its endorsements and active support for conservative candidates as well as these ratings to make the two parties ideologically responsible: Republicans being the solidly conservative party and the Democrats being the solidly liberal party.

The Slow Decline of ACA

The beginning of the fall of Americans for Constitutional Action came with the landslide victory of President Lyndon B. Johnson in 1964. After that election, another conservative organization was founded, the American Conservative Union. This group had the backing of National Review founder William F. Buckley Jr. and several former and current representatives. However, the ACU’s first year of rating Congress was 1971, so the ACA had the conservative monopoly so to speak on this matter until then. In time the ACU would get more attention and more prominence and crowd out the ACA, particularly with people like Buckley at the helm. In 1973, Moreell, now a man of eighty-one and in increasingly poor health, retired from the ACA. However, as late as 1980 it still attracted former members of Congress to its Board of Trustees, including H.R. Gross (R-Iowa), Gordon Scherer (R-Ohio), Al Cederberg (R-Mich.), Ed Lee Gossett (D-Tex.), Alton Lennon (D-N.C.), and O. Clark Fisher (D-Tex.). They continued to exist during the 1980s but sometime in the decade went defunct: the American Conservative Union had won the battle of influence. The ACA was also, unlike ACU, uncomfortably close to segregationists during its time. While the organization did have some people who voted for civil rights legislation on its Board of Trustees such as Charles B. Hoeven of Iowa and Katharine St. George and John Pillion of New York, it also had dyed-in-the-wool segregationists, the worst among them being a man who wasn’t even a member of Congress: ACA Assistant Director John J. Synon. Synon was one of the major lobbyists against the Civil Rights Act of 1964, called for closing all public schools and reverting to private schools in response to desegregation, and actively campaigned for George Wallace in 1968. Author William P. Hustwit wrote of him, “Calling someone like Synon a segregationist would be kind. He distributed works of scientific racism through the Patrick Henry Press and always took the most radical stances against civil rights” (125). The ACA seemed to ease up a bit on civil rights by the 1970s, but still counted issues such as busing and affirmative action. Critics also tried to tie the organization with the conspiratorial John Birch Society (JBS), and while ACA denied being supportive of the JBS, they had at least two members of the Board of Trustees who were also members of the John Birch Society: Howard Buffett and retired General Bonner Fellers. The ACU seems to have constituted as an organization a decisive break with the John Birch Society as well as the segregationist elements of the Conservative Coalition, although Southern Democrats did score rather high during the 1970s by their standards as well. The American Conservative Union today is the most significant and oldest conservative organization that issues ratings of members of Congress, but Americans for Constitutional Action was the first.

Sadly, their ratings are not readily available like Americans for Democratic Action’s or American Conservative Union’s are as no organization maintains a website with the ACA-Index. Indeed, one must go to specific university libraries to get access to their publications. It is an ongoing project of mine to reveal ACA-Indexes and discover in as full of detail as possible what the ACA used to judge senators and representatives. I have at my disposal information on what the ACA scores were and even how many votes were counted, and on this basis I try to ascertain what collection of votes produce these scores. I have had far greater success with the House and the Senate: I have the full record on what votes ACA counted to judge representatives from 1957 to 1978. For the Senate, I only have 1961, 1962, 1966, 1968, 1969, 1970, and 1974. Hopefully I will be able, in time, to bring this to completion.


Adm. Ben Moreell Dies. (1978, August 1). The Washington Post.

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Charnock, E.J. (2020). The rise of political action committees: Interest group electioneering and the transformation of American politics. New York, NY: Oxford University Press.

Extension of Remarks of Hon. Bruce Alger of Texas. (1963, June 3). Congressional Record.

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Hustwit, W.P. (2013). James J. Kilpatrick: Salesman for segregation. Chapel Hill, NC: The University of North Carolina Press.

Peppard, A. (2018, November 19). Before gunning for JFK, Oswald targeted ex-Gen. Edwin A. Walker and missed. Dallas News.

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News Release. (1965, May 26). Americans for Constitutional Action.

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The Gang of Seven: The Freshmen Who Changed Washington and Produced a Speaker

A soft-toned black and white poster of the freshman House Republicans who have come to be known as the

From CQ Roll Call file photo.

Recently former Speaker of the House John Boehner has received some press for his new book, On The House: A Washington Memoir, where he has a lot of criticisms and in particular for those elected in the Tea Party wave and after who worked to undermine his position. Interestingly enough, Boehner himself was once part of a group of legislators who worked to change Washington. The 1990 election wasn’t great for the Republicans as midterms are historically not favorable to the party in the White House. However, it wasn’t catastrophic either, and seven new Republican representatives were elected who would stand out for their reformist efforts: Frank Riggs and John Doolittle of California, Jim Nussle of Iowa, Charles Taylor of North Carolina, John Boehner of Ohio, Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania, and Scott Klug of Wisconsin.  These seven worked to “shake up” Washington so to speak and did so by criticizing and drawing attention to special perks legislators got and publicizing scandals, such as the Congressional Post Office and House Banking scandals that exposed poorly run operations and abuses of power from members of Congress.

The Congressional Post Office Scandal

The Post Office scandal began with an embezzlement charge against an employee of the Congressional Post Office and expanded after Democratic efforts to stop the investigation. The Congressional Post Office was so badly run that the AP reported, “The transcripts, from interviews conducted two years ago as part of an internal House probe of its own postal system, portrayed an operation where tens of thousands of dollars lay loose in drawers and even on the floor, where recordkeeping was sloppy or nonexistent, and where some of the highest-paid employees spent their days reading newspapers” (Drinkard). Congressional Postmaster Robert Rota pled guilty to three charges in July 1993 and implicated through testimony Ways and Means Committee chair Dan Rostenkowski (D-Ill.), former Representative Joe Kolter (D-Penn.), and Kolter’s chief of staff. The Post Office was only effective when members of Congress, especially Rostenkowski, wanted special favors. As mail clerk Inga Lawson stated, ″Whenever he’d [Rostenkowski] call or wanted something, in fact everybody had to jump to it, you know, regardless of what it was″ (Drinkard). He would be convicted of mail fraud and Kolter would be convicted of conspiring with Rota to embezzle $9300 in taxpayer funds in 1996.

The House Banking Scandal

As the media was starting to catch on to the House Banking Scandal, Minority Whip Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.) and the “Gang of Seven” decided to expose it as they correctly figured that more Democrats would be damaged than Republicans. Gingrich himself was damaged as a result as he was found to have had 22 overdrafts and came close to losing renomination over the matter in 1992 (Bolduc). The event was most notably publicized by Jim Nussle of Iowa, who delivered a speech while wearing a paper bag over his head to illustrate the shame check-kiting members brought to the House. The House bank did not function like a bank, rather like a credit union, and it functioned poorly: “It paid no interest and charged none on overdrafts. If a member didn’t mind signing the bum check, the bank didn’t mind cashing it. Technically, the congressmen didn’t bounce checks.–the bank almost never bothered to return them for insufficient funds. In fact, it was so badly run that many congressmen plausibly claim that they had no idea they were in arrears. As a result, a number of innocents inevitably will be tarred with the same brush as those “kiters” who deliberately manipulated their accounts to get interest-free loans” (Newsweek). Ultimately, the Gang of Seven were able to force the closure of the House Bank and twenty-two representatives were singled out by the House Ethics Committee for egregious overdrafts, among them eighteen Democrats and four Republicans. The worst offender for overdrafts was former Representative Tommy Robinson (R-Ark.), who had bounced 996 checks, some over 16 months overdue. Of the twenty-two listed, seventeen were still in office and of those, only five were reelected. The truth is that the biggest scandal surrounded how poorly the bank itself was run, as the Bank didn’t post deposits timely, and representatives were not given regular account statements or informed of when they had overdrawn. The 1992 elections would result in a whopping 110 new members for the next Congress and minor Republican gains. Four former representatives, one delegate, and the former sergeant at arms for the House were convicted of criminal charges related to the scandal. These scandals, in addition to an overall weariness of Democratic rule for so long and an unpopular healthcare proposal tarnishing President Clinton’s image as a moderate produced a political earthquake in 1994.

1994 Republican Revolution

The 1994 elections were the shining moment for the Republican Party as well as the Gang of Seven: Nussle and Boehner played significant roles in the drafting of the Contract with America, a list of conservative policy proposals they promised to bring to the floor should they win a majority. Two months before the 1994 elections, Boehner delivered a speech blasting the Democratic Congress, saying, “The liberal Democrat establishment in Washington doesn’t understand the concept of a contract because they don’t understand the meaning or the power of a kept promise” (Marcos & Wong). On November 8, 1994, the Republicans won 54 seats from the Democrats in the House, gaining a majority in that chamber for the first time in forty years. They also managed to defeat some powerful incumbents, including Speaker of the House Tom Foley of Washington, Judiciary Committee chair Jack Brooks of Texas, Intelligence Committee chair Dan Glickman of Kansas, and Rostenkowski, who had been indicted before the 1994 elections. The most notable accomplishment that came out of this was the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act, which overhauled the welfare system. However, President Clinton and the Senate managed to block many of their proposals.

What Became of the Gang of Seven?

Frank Riggs (MCI: 80%) lost reelection in 1992 but returned in 1994 and unsuccessfully ran for the nomination to run against Senator Barbara Boxer in 1998. He has since moved to Arizona and lost an election for Arizona Superintendent of Public Instruction in 2018.

John Doolittle (MCI: 96%) was forced to retire in 2009 due to his ties to Jack Abramoff. No charges were brought against him after an investigation.

Jim Nussle (MCI: 86%) served in the House until 2007. He had chosen not to run for reelection and unsuccessfully ran for governor against Democrat Chet Culver. Nussle subsequently served as President Bush’s director of the Office of Management and Budget. He left the Republican Party on January 6, 2021, citing the storming of the U.S. Capitol, and now is an Independent.

Charles Taylor (MCI: 94%) lost reelection in 2006, having been politically weakened over controversies regarding his business dealings.

John Boehner (MCI: 93%) succeeded Tom DeLay as House Majority Leader in 2006, served as Minority Leader from 2007 to 2011, and as House speaker from 2011 to 2015. As Speaker he blocked further progressive legislation and regularly had to negotiate with President Obama for budget deals and ironically faced his own group of whippersnappers among the Tea Party freshmen, most notably the Freedom Caucus. Boehner is now the head of a cannabis lobbying firm, The National Cannabis Roundtable.

Rick Santorum (MCI: 89%) was elected to the Senate in 1994 and was elected Senate Republican Conference chair but lost reelection in 2006 by over 18 points. He subsequently ran for the Republican nomination for president in 2012 on a socially conservative platform but lost to Mitt Romney. Santorum tried again in the 2016 primary but didn’t make headway. He remains active in Republican politics and is a commentator for CNN.

Scott Klug (MCI: 60%) had promised to serve only four terms in his election bid in 1990 and he honored that promise, opting not to run for reelection in 1998.


Bolduc, B. (2012, January 20). Ex-Pols: Gingrich Supported Gang of Seven. National Review.


Caught In The Act. (1992, March 22). Newsweek.

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Drinkard, J. (1994, July 7). Post Office Workers Describe Operation As Sloppy Cesspool. Associated Press.

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Feldmann, L. (1992, March 13). Congress Reels From Check-Kiting Scandal. The Christian Science Monitor.

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Freddoso, D. (2012, March 28). House headgear: The Paper Bag Speech. Washington Examiner.

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Marcos, C. & Wong, S. (2015, October 29). Boehner’s top 10 moments in Congress. The Hill.

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McGrady, C. (2019, July 29). Here are the ‘squads’ of Congresses past. Roll Call.

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Texas Legends #1: Morris Sheppard

SHEPPARD, MORRIS. SENATOR LCCN2016862554 (cropped).jpg

I am starting a series called “Texas Legends”…these are profiles of politicians from Texas who served in federally elected office 30 years or longer and served during the 20th century. In the days of Democratic domination of the South, voters in the region often chose to elect members of Congress with full cognizance that with seniority came great power, and no state fared better with this system than Texas. They got a president, two speakers of the House including the longest serving one in history, and numerous powerful committee chairmen. This growth of power was a benefit of Democratic national dominance starting in 1933, Texas’ Democratic dominance, and the tendency of voters to keep reelecting their members to retain leadership positions, such as committee chairmanships. These will be interspersed throughout other postings, so not everything else pauses for Texas Legends. Something to bear in mind about these men is that many, although not all, were racists who supported Jim Crow laws, very much products of their time and place. The first Texas Legend I will discuss is John Morris Sheppard (1875-1941), who started in Texas politics in a far different time, a time in which Texas politicians could be expected to be progressive.

Morris Sheppard grew up in a political family: his father, John Levi Sheppard, was himself a member of Congress, and it was upon his death in 1902 that 27-year old Morris stepped up to the plate to represent Texarkana. He was a staunch progressive, wanting to go further than Theodore Roosevelt in trust busting and in being an enthusiastic backer of the policies of Woodrow Wilson after his election to the Senate in 1913. Sheppard became particularly known as one of the leading Congressional pushers of Prohibition. In 1913, Sheppard participated in the drafting of the Webb-Kenyon Act, a law designed to help dry states enforce their Prohibition laws and in 1917 he succeeded in getting his legislation passed to ban the sale of alcoholic beverages in Washington D.C. Sheppard also authored the Eighteenth Amendment, instituting Prohibition nationwide, making him “the father of national Prohibition”. He was also a major Southern proponent of women’s suffrage. On foreign policy, Sheppard was a firm supporter of the Versailles Treaty with no reservations.  Despite his reformist outlook, Sheppard, like most other Texas politicians of his day, was a staunch racist and segregationist: in 1929 he condemned First Lady Lou Hoover’s invitation of black Congressman Oscar De Priest’s (R-Ill.) wife to tea with other Congressional wives, stating, “I regret the incident beyond measure. It is recognition of social equality between the white and black races and is fraught with infinite danger to our white civilization” (New York World).

In 1921, Sheppard sponsored with Representative Horace Towner (R-Iowa) the Sheppard-Towner Act, providing for federal maternity aid, one of the few progressive measures to become law during the Republican 1920s, but it lapsed in 1929. He also stood as a strong advocate for federal aid to agriculture, banking regulation, and supported public ownership of power generating facilities. In 1929, he rose in the Democratic leadership, becoming Minority Whip, a post he served in until 1933. In 1932, he tried in vain to stop the adoption of the Constitutional amendment to repeal Prohibition, but his amendment had grown too unpopular to remain. Indeed, Roosevelt’s stated support for repealing Prohibition in his 1932 campaign for president got him more support than his New Deal proposals (Lewis).

Sheppard proved a strong supporter of President Franklin D. Roosevelt and enthusiastically backed the New Deal, so strongly in fact that some in the state criticized him as a “rubber stamp”. He even spoke out for Roosevelt’s “court-packing plan” but ultimately joined in voting with the majority to kill it after House Judiciary chair Hatton Sumners stated that he would bottle it in committee and the death of Majority leader Joseph Robinson. He naturally refused to get on board with Roosevelt’s support of the Cullen-Harrison Act, which formally re-legalized the sale of alcoholic beverages. Having been a supporter of Wilsonian internationalism, Sheppard carried such enthusiasm to Roosevelt’s policies as chair of the Military Affairs Committee and backed his legislation to weaken Neutrality laws as well as Lend-Lease. On April 9, 1941, Sheppard died suddenly and unexpectedly of a brain hemorrhage at the age of 65. His lifetime MC-Index score was a 7%. Sheppard was in most ways a man of the left in his day, backing most progressive initiatives as well as the New Deal, but his views on race would be anathema to modern liberals and his leading role in Prohibition is not likely something they would be down for either.


Bailey, R. Sheppard, John Morris (1875-1941). Texas State Historical Association.

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Lewis, K. (2018, August 3). How did FDR really win in 1932? Boston Globe.

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Recognition of Representative DePriest By Hoovers Is Causing Stir In Washington. (1929, June 17). Special Dispatch to The New York World and The Sun.

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Thormaehlen, S. Senator John Morris Sheppard. East Texas History.

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