During the Great Depression, Texas elected Democrats and only Democrats as they had done for so many years. In 1934, At-Large Congressman Joseph W. Bailey Jr. decided to run for the Senate on a platform antagonisitic to the New Deal and had he chosen to run for reelection to the House, his district would have been centered around Lubbock. His successor was George Herman Mahon (1900-1985).
Although he initially supported much of the New Deal, Mahon was placed on the Appropriations Committee and had an eye for expenditures. He was inclined to cut budgets whoever was president. Along with Appropriations chair Clarence Cannon, he was involved in the funding of the Manhattan Project. Although overtime Mahon grew more conservative, he was far from the most conservative of the Southern Democrats. Indeed, he kept party interests in mind, especially when it came to those of fellow Texas Democrats including a one Lyndon B. Johnson, who he supported despite having numerous differing views with him.
In 1956, like many Texas Democrats, Mahon did not sign the Southern Manifesto. However, he voted against a lot of civil rights legislation, including the final version of the Civil Rights Act of 1957 and laws prohibiting discrimination in employment and housing. Mahon also led the opposition in the House to the Philadelphia Plan in 1969. This was one of the areas he differed from LBJ on but was a bit more moderate than some other Southerners on civil rights questions. For instance, he voted for the Senate version of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 and for the Jury Selection Act of 1968. Mahon also voted to extend the Voting Rights Act in 1975, when some other Texans were voting against as the legislation was being applied to Texas for the first time.
In 1964, upon the death of Clarence Cannon of Missouri, Mahon succeeded him to the post. Although supportive of much of the Great Society, he stood considerably to the right of the typical Great Society liberal, and although he voted against Medicare as well as the House version of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, he was sure to vote against Republican sponsored substitutes. Mahon’s reputation as Appropriations chairman was good as he was known for his fairness and effectiveness. This was crucial when he would face his greatest challenge: the rise of the Watergate babies. In 1974, many liberal Democrats were elected to Congress and they wanted to make it clear that seniority alone would no longer determine who chaired committees. In 1975, they succeeded in ousting House Banking and Currency Committee chair Wright Patman of Texas, Agriculture Committee chair Bob Poage of Texas, and Armed Services Committee chair Edward Hebert of Louisiana. Mahon, however, made a solid case for being kept and was. In some ways, he catered to the liberals of the Democratic Party. For instance, he could have tried to stop the New York City bailout as Appropriations chairman, but since he knew the majority of the House wanted it he let it pass through even though he voted “nay” on the measure. He also during the Carter years supported a move to cut funding for B-1 Bombers. In 1976, Texas Monthly listed him as the state’s best member of Congress for his effectiveness and fairness. Despite his good reputation, in the 1976 election Mahon won reelection by less than 10% of the vote against Republican Jim Reese, the closest race he had and a sign that times in Texas were changing.
In 1978, Mahon, like numerous other legacy Southern Democrats, opted not to run for reelection. None other than future President George W. Bush ran for Congress to succeed him, but narrowly lost to Democrat Kent Hance. Although he was vibrant and healthy as a Congressman and looked younger than his years, in his retirement he developed Parkinson’s Disease and died of a heart attack in 1985.
Becker, J. (2020, January 11). George Mahon: Greatest of West Texas Statesmen. Lubbock Avalanche-Journal.
Burka, P. & Smith, G. (1976, May). The Best, the Worst, and the Fair-To-Middlin’. Texas Monthly.
Hunter, M. (1978, February 16). Federal Budget Losing a Critic In Rep. Mahon. The New York Times.