Many of the Texas Democrats who won their first elections in the 1940s were a more conservative breed than past ones, and Omar Truman Burleson (1906-1991) was another example. Elected in 1946, he had previously been an FBI agent as well as secretary to his predecessor, Sam Russell. The freshmen who accompanied Burleson were Joseph F. Wilson, Tiger Teague, Wingate Lucas, and Kenneth Regan and of these people he was in fact one of the more moderate people in his first few sessions of Congress and was a strong supporter of President Truman’s foreign aid programs. He was also active in bringing electricity, airports, and military bases to his district (Hardin-Simmons University). However, Burleson moved firmly into the conservative camp during the Kennedy Administration and proved a staunch opponent of the Great Society, voting against the Economic Opportunity Act of 1964 and Medicare. Although he didn’t sign the Southern Manifesto, he also didn’t support a single civil rights measure during the 1940s, 1950s, and 1960s.
Burleson was an active member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee and resisted rising to chairmanship in that committee as he knew he’d have to lend his support to foreign aid packages, which he had been voting against after the Truman years given his rural constituency’s dislike of such measures. On at least one occasion, however, he voted strategically – on July 14, 1966, he voted against Rep. E. Ross Adair’s (R-Ind.) motion to recommit the Foreign Assistance Act of 1966 to cut funds, which was anticipated to be close, and it failed 191-193. On the very next vote, Burleson voted against the foreign aid bill that passed easily. This pleased both the Democratic leadership and his constituents. He transferred to the House Ways and Means Committee in the 91st Congress.
As chairman of the House Committee on Administration from 1955 to 1969, he did his duties quietly and diligently and that his behavior contrasted with his successor’s indicated his lack of inclination to seek power. His successor, Wayne Hays (D-Ohio), used this position to become one of the most powerful members of Congress, creating “a formidable base of personal power from which he tyrannizes the House” (Burka & Smith). For Burleson to seek power in the 1970s he would have needed to be more compromising on conservatism, which he was just not willing to do. At this time, he was really just a conservative backbencher who wanted to vote his conscience and no more, and resigned on December 31, 1978 as did a number of other members that year to take advantage of a change in pension law. Burleson’s lifetime MC-Index score was a 76%, which reflected a moderate record from 1947 to 1961, and a solidly conservative record after. He was ultimately one of the people, along with O.C. Fisher and Tiger Teague, to be part of the shift of Texas to conservatism.
Burka, P. & Smith, G. (1976, May). The Best, the Worst, and the Fair-To-Middlin’. Texas Monthly.
Omar Burleson Dies. (1991, May 16). The Washington Post.
Omar Truman Burleson. Hardin-Simmons University.
Rakich, N. (2018, January 29). We’ve Never Seen Congressional Resignations Like This Before. FiveThirtyEight.
To Recommit H.R. 15750, the Foreign Assistance Act of 1966, with instructions to reduce from 2 years to 1 all authorizations except for Development Loan Fund and for the Alliance for Progress and to reduce the amount for development assistance. Govtrack.
To Pass H.R. 15750, the Foreign Assistance Act of 1966. Govtrack.