Texas Legends #17: Jake Pickle

On July 9, 1963, President John F. Kennedy nominates Congressman Homer Thornberry of Austin, to a federal judgeship. Thornberry is a protégé of Vice President Lyndon B. Johnson, who was his predecessor to the seat. His successor, elected shortly before Christmas, is James Jarrell (“J.J” or “Jake”) Pickle (1913-2005). Pickle was another protégé of Lyndon B. Johnson from the New Deal days when he worked as an area director for the National Youth Administration and straddled between the liberal and conservative wings of the party. In 1954, he worked for the campaign to reelect conservative Governor Allan Shivers over liberal Ralph Yarborough, and his advertising firm released an ad called “The Port Arthur Story”, which told in a slanted manner the story of the 10-month strike by the left-wing Congress of Industrial Organizations in Port Arthur, Texas, which brought about the deterioration of the livelihood of town. It held that Shivers was the hero defending the town while Yarborough was, although not a communist, “in bed” with them. Pickle denied direct involvement with the ad and found it distasteful. While in Congress, he supported most of the Great Society such as the Economic Opportunity Act of 1964, but he was not 100%, most notably voting against Medicare in 1965. Pickle made a splash early in his career when he was one of only four Texas House Democrats to vote for the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Although this was an act of courage for a representative of Texas at the time and what he regarded as his most difficult vote, his record on civil rights would not always be consistently positive. Pickle voted for the Voting Rights Act of 1965 but did not support fair housing legislation. HIs record during the Johnson years could be characterized as moderately liberal.

A Pickle for Nixon

While Jake Pickle’s record shifted somewhat rightward during the Nixon years, he nonetheless challenged Nixon on multiple fronts. He challenged abusive practices by the IRS and fought his extensive and arguably abusive use of the power of impoundment, which led to Congress crippling that power in 1974. Pickle also was known as a great investigator. According to Burka and Smith (1976), he doggedly pursued investigations into “the 1972 Russian wheat deal boxcar shortage and the Dita Beard ITT scandal”.

The Pickle Brand and Saving Social Security

Pickle gives Coretta Scott King his trademark squeaky toy pickle.

Pickle would establish his own brand in politics, having distributed since he ran for student body president in college “pickle pins”, small pickle-shaped lapel pins (Cox). After being elected to Congress, he would add squeaky rubber toy pickles that he would hand out during campaign season and his Texas Independence Day (March 2) chili was a favorite among colleagues. Indeed, his colleagues found him likeable and enduring. In 1975, Pickle joined the House Ways and Means Committee at the behest of the Texas Congressional delegation, which wanted to block the spot from going to Texas’ most liberal Democrat, Bob Eckhardt, who they considered unfriendly to the oil industry. Four years later became head of its Social Security subcommittee. There, he regarded himself as a foremost defender of Social Security. In 1983, he played his greatest role in Congress when he closely worked with the Reagan Administration to save Social Security from insolvency through raising the payroll tax and increasing the eligibility age for full benefits from 65 to 67, the process starting in 2000. The latter was Pickle’s proposal and saving Social Security he would consider his greatest achievement.

One of Pickle’s “pickle pins”.

The 1980s would see Pickle’s record shift in a bit of a more liberal direction, indicative of the start of the age of increasing partisanship, which we still live in today. His departure from Congress was well-timed; he chose to retire in 1994, the midterm year in which Republicans swept back into the House and Senate. Pickle was overall a moderate, with a lifetime MC-Index score of 40%. His moderate record reflected the character of his district at the time, which although it was staunchly Democratic, there were a lot of liberal voters in Austin and significant enough pockets of conservative voters outside of the city. In 1997, Pickle published with his wife Jake, a recollection of stories from his life and career, with a forward penned by former Governor Ann Richards.


Bartlett, B. (2009, October 9). It’s Time For Deficit Reduction. Forbes.

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Burka, P. & Smith, G. (1976, May). The Best, the Worst, and the Fair-To-Middlin’. Texas Monthly.

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Cox, P.L. (2005, July 14). Pickle, James Jarrell [Jake]. Texas Historical Association.

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Holley, J. (2005, June 20). Texas Rep. J.J.. Pickle Dies. The Washington Post.

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The Port Arthur Story. The Dallas Morning News.

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The Man Who Saved the GOP

I have opted to republish my original post on this on my newer blog as well, mikeholme.substack.com. It is a lengthy read because I read the man’s autobiography in full, and I thought there were a lot of good quotes.

On January 31, 1961, Congress is considering Speaker Sam Rayburn of Texas’ resolution to expand the House Rules Committee by two Democrats and one Republican for the 87th Congress. This committee, chaired by Rep. Howard W. Smith of Virginia since 1955, has time and again buried liberal legislation. Although Smith is a Democrat, he has been out of step with the national party for decades and has even collaborated in the demise of liberal legislation with Republican Minority Leader Charles Halleck of Indiana. President Kennedy openly supports Rayburn’s plan, as his agenda will have a better chance of passing Congress. However, the support of Kennedy and Rayburn isn’t enough. Despite Southern Democrats having tremendous respect and admiration for Rayburn, they tend to agree with Smith more. Kennedy and Rayburn need some Republican votes to make this happen. Coming to their rescue is, on his face, an unlikely source: an elderly backbencher from Massachusetts named Joe Martin (1884-1968). He expresses his belief that Republicans should give his fellow Bay Stater a chance, and his support for this resolution carries the day…the resolution passes by five votes, with twenty-two Republicans contributing to the margin, many from the Northeast (Kenneally, 285). Kennedy’s agenda now has a sufficient chance of passing the 87th Congress. It turns out Martin is no ordinary backbencher. He had once been the leader of the House Republicans and was twice Speaker of the House. Martin, however, had been ousted from his role after the disastrous 1958 midterms in favor of his former deputy, Halleck, and he took the chance to get even on the side. He had also been more cooperative with Rayburn than Halleck was. According to Martin’s biographer James J. Kenneally (2003), “Halleck and Smith, by changing the Republican approach on Rules, hoped to lead a coalition by which they could control the House” (274). Martin, on the other hand, would find ways to get legislation out of the Rules Committee through moderate Republicans. Although he denied a motive of payback, he also said that “I would not, of course, care to see either Mr. Smith or Mr. Halleck with too much power” (Kenneally, 285). Martin helping make it possible for Kennedy’s agenda to have a chance in the 87th Congress was quite a turnaround for a man who had opposed Rules Committee reform under President Truman and had been the most important factor in stopping JFK’s grandfather from being elected to the Senate. Today’s story is about Joe Martin, a powerhouse of 20th century American politics.

I have always scoffed at the prediction of the death of either the Republican or Democratic Party. One way or another, one of them will eventually screw up bad enough for the other to come back into power. The ultimate time in which the former seemed to be on the verge of death was during the Great Depression, and Martin was the man to bring it back. Congressman Joe Martin is today a forgotten man, even though he often served as his (the taxpayer) spokesman during the New Deal years. He was a short, dumpy fellow who was raised in a working-class family (his father was a blacksmith) yet he managed to save up the money he made as a paper boy to buy the newspaper and ultimately made his way to Speaker of the House. Martin delivered no memorable speeches and no laws bear his name, yet he is more responsible than anyone else for the resuscitation of the Republican Party as its House leader from 1939 to 1959.

The Beginning

His political start began in his hometown of North Attleboro, Massachusetts. As he said about his political affiliation, “There has never been any question about my Republicanism. I grew up a Republican simply because my family and practically all my neighbors were Republicans. The very air I breathed in North Attleboro was Republican, and it had never occurred to me to be a Democrat” (Martin, 27). He had first participated in politics when he marched in a torchlight parade for William McKinley in 1896, a youth of 11. When he was elected to the state House, serving from 1912 to 1914. Martin identified with the conservative wing of the party, backing Taft for reelection, which ran contrary to the mood of his state district, which was for Theodore Roosevelt. According to him, he was saved for reelection only by his personal popularity. Martin held in his autobiography that “It has been my observation that in politics a man who has the courage of his convictions survives longer than the man who shrinks from them” (Martin, 35). He was next elected to the state Senate, where he served from 1914 to 1917. During his time in state politics, he started as an opponent of women’s suffrage, voting against it in 1912 and 1913, but in 1917 and 1918 he voted for it and endorsed the 19th Amendment as a reward for women’s war work (Kenneally, 38). In 1922, Martin ran Senator Henry Cabot Lodge’s reelection campaign, who was facing the most difficult election of his career from a strong challenge by Democrat William A. Gaston. His efforts ultimately saved Lodge by 7,000 votes, or less than 1%. In 1924, he ran in the Republican primary against Congressman William S. Greene, an octogenarian who had voted against the 19th Amendment. Martin used Greene’s age against him but the incumbent narrowly prevailed. However, Greene died shortly after the primary, leaving Martin free to run for and win the seat.

Early Years in Congress

Martin was a personal friend and protégé of President Calvin Coolidge and supported his policies. Recalling back, he remarked on his friend that he was “A frugal man, who would have been horrified at today’s free spending…” and that “Outwardly Coolidge was shy and taciturn. Toward his friends, however, he could be surprisingly warm even sentimental. He had a strong sense of loyalty. He was able. He possessed sound judgment. His word was good. He was well liked. He was a strong governor” (Martin, 40). Martin’s judgment of Coolidge’s presidency was, as you might expect, quite positive. He said of him, “As a President, Coolidge was not brilliant by any means, but he exercised good, hard common sense and did not try to stir up trouble. He was content to try to give the people the kind of administration they wanted and was not forever worrying them with alarums from Washington. He was the man for his time and made an excellent President” (Martin, 41).

A Glimpse Into 1920s Congress

Martin’s view of Congress in the 1920s provides a dramatic contrast to today. When he entered there was no air conditioning, no microphones, and the lighting was such that people who read for a long time got eyestrain. Circumstances forced Congress to wrap up business more efficiently. He lamented a decline in quality oratory, holding that “In older days, I was told, a member would not wish to make more than two speeches a session. The country might be better off if we returned to that custom. During my own time in Congress I have witnessed a deterioration in political oratory. Speakers are less eloquent nowadays. More personal effort used to go into the writing of speeches” (Martin, 48). Martin also observed that air conditioning lengthened the time business would go on in the House, that foreign policy was of little concern. The 1920s were marked by “the absence then of the immense pressures that came with the Depression, World War II, Korea, and the cold war” (Martin, 49). In the House, he built up vital relations with people, including ones he had many disagreements with, and some of these, particularly Southerners, would prove valuable in the future when he would do battle against the New Deal. Martin recalls Rep. Fiorello La Guardia (R-N.Y.), and says of him, “He once said to me, “I wish you were a liberal. If you were, you’d be a great leader for us.” Although we were poles apart politically, I liked and admired La Guardia. Many people complained that he was a radical; perhaps he was. That does not alter the fact that he did a great deal of good” (Martin, 50).

Leading Resistance to the New Deal

Martin tended to identify with the Republican Party’s Old Guard but could be pragmatic and embrace the occasional social reform, particularly if it helped workers. Martin’s biographer, James J. Kenneally, labeled him a “compassionate conservative”. His politics combined with his people skills and the defeats of many Republican incumbents during the Great Depression, made him an ideal choice for the fast track to leadership: staunchly conservative Minority Leader Bert Snell (R-N.Y.) certainly thought and acted so. Martin (1960) was supportive of President Herbert Hoover and his 1932 bid for reelection, but reached the conclusion in his autobiography that if Hoover had only embraced legalization of beer and wine he could have won another term (67). This might sound a bit of a limited analysis, but consider that of all of Roosevelt’s campaign proposals, repeal of Prohibition was easily his most popular and Roosevelt ran a much more conservative line than he ultimately governed. This was backed by internal polling from the Hoover campaign as well as the greater press coverage for Roosvelt repealing Prohibition rather than the proposed New Deal (Lewis). Martin opposed most of the New Deal and criticized elements of it as fascist and socialist. He voted against the National Industrial Recovery Act, the Agricultural Adjustment Act, and the Tennessee Valley Authority. With the latter two he did so partly on the grounds that they advantaged the South over New England. Martin also supported alternatives to work relief that placed the distribution in state instead of federal hands and opposed FDR’s tax increases. The tax increases he regarded as so objectionable as they were “…using the power of taxation to underwrite pet theories and impose a new philosophy of government on the country socialism. By collecting and spending huge sums the New Deal was causing centralization of power in Washington. When government money is being spent, the government is going to run the show. Moreover, the New Dealers were being utterly inconsistent. On the one hand they were denouncing industry for failing to provide jobs; on the other they were levying punitive taxes that penalized thrifty and cautious companies. Business was prevented from accumulating adequate surpluses with which to expand its plant and provide the very jobs the government was howling for…Heavy federal spending and increasing centralization of government in an expanding bureaucracy in Washington were other aspects of the New Deal that I fought in a great many instances because they were repulsive to Republican traditions” (Martin, 76-77). However, Martin also voted for Social Security and a federal minimum wage, seeing them as benefits to the elderly and to workers. Martin (1960) assessed Roosevelt himself thusly, “When he became President, I liked Roosevelt personally and admired ruefully at times his dynamic political skill. Of all our Presidents, he has been the shrewdest politician. Politically, he was much smarter than his party. He was a superb judge of public opinion and was wonderfully adept at creating a personal following” (68). He also found him a great conversationalist, but that he would also be very cunning. The old Congressman recalled, “He was a crafty speaker, who might devote two thirds of the time to matters far removed from Washington only to weave into the other third a skillful pitch for something he wanted from Congress” (Martin, 71).

In 1938, Snell decided to retire and Martin was the clear choice for his successor. That year’s midterms were a triumph for the GOP, regaining much lost ground, but not near enough to be a majority. Martin was now Minority Leader. As he reflected on this period, “Through the violent years of Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal my role of leader put me in the forefront of the opposition not only to many of Roosevelt’s domestic spending programs, but also to measures, such as the lifting of the arms embargo, that threatened to drag us into war abroad long before Pearl Harbor did it for us” (Martin, 2). He was a man devoted to his work…his hobbies were politics, politics, politics, and collecting little elephant figurines. His lifestyle was not what people would think of as normal…he was a bachelor and didn’t smoke, drink, or dance, and lived with his mother (she had a bad case of varicose veins) right up until her death in 1957. Martin also became known for his delightful malapropisms, including “gilded muscles” instead of guided missiles and “headlights” instead of highlights for Republican programs (Time, 1968).

With this devotion to politics and his amiable demeanor, Martin was able to cultivate ties with Southern Democrats, particularly his friend on the Rules Committee, Eugene Cox of Georgia, and they were key players in the newly formed Conservative Coalition. This alliance of Republicans and Southern Democrats aimed to block further New Deal measures and proved quite successful in these endeavors, leaving FDR to focus mostly on foreign policy. By World War II’s end, gone were the Civilian Conservation Corps and the National Youth Administration among other agencies. He reflected on his opposition, “Now, with the battles of the Thirties far behind us and the reforms forged in those controversies accepted as a normal part of our life, one cannot so easily understand what a wrench many of the innovations of the New Deal caused Republicans of my bent and background. American society as it had existed for a generation or so before the Depression was certainly not a perfect society, as anyone knew who had, like myself, lived close to the hardships of New England mill towns. Nevertheless, it was a good society, and, at its own peculiar pace, a progressive society. Above all, in a world that was flying faster than anyone realized into the clutches of regimentation it was a society that cherished the individual and fostered his enterprise” (Martin, 65). He ultimately had no regrets about his role in opposition to the New Deal. Martin (1960) said on the matter, “Looking back now on the huge spending of that period, I am convinced that I was right. It never did bring us the prosperity we groped for” (78).

On foreign policy, he supported preparation for war including the peacetime draft but opposed measures he thought would bring the United States closer to war, including Lend-Lease and the repeal of the arms embargo. His stances on foreign policy along with those of Reps. Hamilton Fish (R-N.Y.) and Joe Barton (R-N.Y.) led President Roosevelt to include them in a rollicking taunt of “Martin, Barton, and Fish” in 1940. Martin (1960) reflected on his foreign policy, “I despised Hitler and Mussolini and certainly hoped that the Allies would defeat them once the battle was joined. On the other hand, I thought it was alarmist nonsense and interventionist propaganda to say that a Germany victorious in Western Europe could leap across thousands of miles of ocean successfully to invade the United States through Canada or Latin America. While I was alarmed by the menace of Hitler, I did not think that a German victory would put the United States in peril of its life. I did believe that the United States must make itself strong” (89). Such esteem Martin had from his colleagues in his leadership that he was made chairman of the Republican National Convention in 1940, 1944, 1948, 1952, and 1956, a record.

World War II and the Truman Years

He supported the war effort of course but also supported tax relief and the Smith-Connally Act over President Roosevelt’s veto. Politics did not come to a screeching halt because there was a world war. The Republican Party maintained under his leadership during wartime the status of loyal opposition. Martin was even one of the few legislators in the know about the Manhattan Project and helped allocate funding for it in the military budget (Ford, 4). During the Truman years, Martin maintained his stance as leader of the opposition and he reflected on the nature of that time, “The years of his presidency were a period of dizzying surprises. They were crammed with drama and suspense, wisdom and folly, greatness and smallness, comedy and tragedy. The Truman era was an incredible kaleidoscope, alternately dazzling, bewildering, and distressing” (Martin, 175). He also thought at the time that Truman’s dropping of the atomic bomb on Japan to have been a mistake. However, similar to FDR, on a personal level they got along quite well. Martin was a personal friend of Truman’s, but remarked “Politically, because of the leading roles we played in our opposing parties, we often carried on like cobra and mongoose” (Martin, 175). In 1946, shortages, particularly on meat, wore on the American public and the GOP put out a successful campaign slogan in “Had Enough?”, which catapulted the Republican Party into Congressional majorities for the first time since the Hoover Administration.

Under Martin’s leadership, the 80th Congress pushed a conservative agenda on domestic policy and an internationalist agenda on foreign policy. The Congress passed over President Truman’s veto the Taft-Hartley Labor Act, tax cuts, and a bill loosening anti-trust regulations on railroads. On foreign policy, they passed the Marshall Plan and aid to Greece and Turkey, both measures President Truman championed. Martin had come to the conclusion that foreign aid was a highly necessary tool in prosecuting the Cold War, as America needed to compete for influence in Africa and Asia. This Congress also conducted the House Committee on Un-American Activities Hollywood hearings, resulting in contempt citations for the “Hollywood Ten”, members of the American Communist Party, that landed the men in jail. Truman nonetheless derided the 80th Congress as the “do-nothing Congress” in the sense that they did nothing he wanted on domestic policy. Martin (1960) said on his oppositional Congress, “…as Speaker of the Eightieth Congress in 1947-48, I led the Republicans in what looks in retrospect like the last stand against heavy federal spending, high taxes, centralization, and extravagance” (177). It was also his view that the Speaker of the House, despite the reforms against Joe Cannon in 1910, was still a highly powerful figure in that they have the ultimate say who goes on what committee in Congress and they decide who rises in the ranks. Despite such power, Martin (1960) understood that it should be used judiciously, “In order to maintain his effectiveness a Speaker has to be fair. He is no longer a Reed or a Cannon. His rulings can be overturned by the House” (181). Truman successfully ran against the 80th Congress, resulting in the loss of GOP majorities as well as presidential candidate Thomas E. Dewey’s (who wouldn’t defend the Congress) loss. When Dewey had campaigned in North Attleboro, Martin’s mother, as he wrote, “admonished him with more wisdom than any of us realized at the time “Don’t take it so easy” (Martin, 19). Out as Speaker, he early and often opposed President Truman’s proposed successor to the New Deal, the Fair Deal. Except this time, the Conservative Coalition was mostly successful in stopping it. Martin (1960) believed that Dewey’s 1948 loss was a disaster for political stability, stating “Instead of two healthy parties, we had one party bloated with a too-long tenure and aother party reduced to dark frustration. In this unwholesome state some Republicans turned to extremism because, as the Dewey defeat seemed to prove, the course of moderation had failed us once again. The nation sank into division and bitterness it need not have known, nor would have, under anything like normal circumstances. If Dewey had been elected in 1948, we never would have experienced the McCarthy era because Republican energies would have been working in a different direction, discharging the responsibilities of administering the government” (197-198).

On April 6, 1951, Martin sparked drama when he read a letter from General Douglas MacArthur to him into the Congressional Record, which criticized President Truman and his allies’ conduct of the Korean War. MacArthur was promptly fired, resulting in a tremendous controversy. He regretted his exposure of the letter, as he hoped it would further MacArthur’s cause instead of getting him fired. He arranged for MacArthur to deliver his famous “Old Soldiers Never Die” address to Congress on April 19th (Patriot’s Day in New England), a speech that moved many Republican members to tears. Representative Dewey Short (R-Mo.), himself a masterful orator, praised the speech, “We saw a great hunk of God in the flesh. We heard the voice of God” (Kenneally, 188). Not everyone saw it that way. President Truman, for instance, read the speech and in an interview after his presidency remarked that “It was nothing but a bunch of damn bullshit” (Weintraub). Martin continued to attack the administration on foreign policy, blaming the loss of China on George Marshall and attempting to deny Secretary of State Dean Acheson his salary. Martin reflected on his attack, “We believed that Secretary Acheson was largely to blame for the administration’s course…There was no personal vindictiveness on my part. Acheson was simply in the line of fire as I had been in Roosevelt’s when he delivered his ‘Martin, Barton and Fish speeches'” (Kenneally, 188).

President Martin?

There had in the past been talk of Joe Martin as either president or vice president, and it wasn’t talk he pushed hard to entertain. In 1952, he thought MacArthur would be the prime choice for president and early on surreptitiously was helping Taft. Indeed, reports from people familiar with Taft on the subject of who he would pick as vice president, the top two were MacArthur and Martin, with Taft’s Massachusetts campaign manager Basil Brewer reporting his pick would have been Martin (Kenneally, 191). If Taft had clinched the nomination, picked Martin, and won the presidency, he would have been the 35th president as Taft would die the next year of cancer. Once it was clear Eisenhower was going to win, Martin suppressed dissent and proclaimed him the victor. Journalist William Allen White had said of a possible dark horse Martin candidacy in 1940, “He will make…if the dice roll right, a liberty-loving president” (Ford).

The Eisenhower Years: Martin as an Eisenhower Republican

After the 1952 election, Joe Martin was back as Speaker and dedicated to pushing the Republican Party agenda and regarded the president’s agenda as synonymous. Therefore, he moved to support measures that bore similarity to measures that Martin and other Republicans had staunchly opposed under President Truman. This included substantive foreign aid packages, federal aid to education, and the construction of some public housing. The only issue Martin could not back Eisenhower on in his first term was on the St. Lawrence Seaway, as one of its impacts would direct commercial traffic away from New England. However, he also did not try to obstruct the project. Martin also saw Senator Joseph McCarthy as useful up until the point he started attacking the Eisenhower Administration with the same fury he had the Truman Administration (Martin, 237).

The more hardline conservatives in the party were unhappy with the moderate course of Eisenhower, such as Hamer Budge of Idaho and Noah Mason of Illinois, who would later play roles in challenging Martin’s leadership. However, Martin stood firm, thinking of these measures as for the good of the party and the country. He recounts Senator Richard Russell (D-Ga.) telling him, “Joe, we’ve got to make the Eisenhower administration a success. We’ve all got to cooperate to this end, because if it fails, the next administration will be a radical one” and that he would impart this point to his reluctant colleagues (Martin, 232). His perspective also reflected the reality that Republican control of the 83rd Congress was slight and he needed Democratic votes to pass President Eisenhower’s programs. He also maintained a close personal friendship with the Speaker of the House Sam Rayburn, who he referred to as “the gentleman from Rayburn, Mr. Texas” (Time, 1968). This led to accusations that Martin gave in too much. He disputed this in his autobiography, holding that “Another thing that my young Republican associates forgot was that my friendship with Rayburn enabled me to obtain for our side a good deal more patronage, such as jobs around the Capitol, than we, as the minority, ever would have got otherwise. Ironically, some of the men who had benefited most from this unexpected patronage were to vote against me” (Martin, 9). Rayburn himself would not campaign against Martin. When once he was asked to do so once he responded, “Speak against Joe? Hell, if I lived up there, I’d vote for him” (Time, 1968).

Although the Republicans had gained Congress in 1952 only to lose it in 1954, they did maintain fairly healthy numbers until Martin’s argument wore thin in 1958. The 1958 midterms were a disaster for the Republican Party and many Republicans placed the blame on him. While in 1956, President Eisenhower had publicly supported him staying leader, this time he maintained silence as did Vice President Nixon, leaving the door open for Charles Halleck of Indiana, Martin’s more conservative deputy, to make a credible challenge. However, the stance from the White House was only on its face neutral. As Martin (1960) recounted, “The President said that he was neutral. It was, however, a strange state of neutrality in which Eisenhower took no sides while his legislative liaison officials egged Halleck on. I was the President’s leader in the House; I had made enemies in pushing legislation that he wanted passed. If the President was going to remain impartial, he should have required the same impartiality of his subordinates. This is particularly true since the attitude of those presidential assistants who shuttle back and forth between the Capitol and the White House is regarded in Congress as reflecting the sentiments of the President himself” (5). It was also of note that it was Rep. Bob Wilson of California who initiated the challenge against Martin, as Wilson was a close ally of Vice President Nixon. Eisenhower and Nixon in other words had fully approved of Halleck’s push for leadership. Many party conservatives agreed and backed him, and Martin narrowly lost the leadership contest, 74-70, the first time a party’s leader had been defeated in Congressional history. He was bitter over his defeat. Martin reflected on his loss in his 1960 autobiography, “I lived in a false sense of security in my established position as the leader. I had every reason to feel I was secure. I had served my party honorably for a very long time. For twenty years in the House I had guided the party’s course, often through perilous sessions” (Martin, 3). Unlike many leaders of today would after such a blow, he didn’t retire and join a lobbying firm.

Independence and Instruction as a Backbencher

Now that he was out of leadership and relegated to the status of backbencher, Martin charted his own course. His record had grown more moderate during the Eisenhower years, and this trend accelerated. Martin thought highly of Nelson Rockefeller as a future presidential candidate, but he still seemed to maintain some of his traditional anti-New Deal stances. In his autobiography, My First Fifty Years in Politics, he stated, “Many of the experiments of the New Deal seemed to us to undermine and destroy this society” (Patterson, 306). Although out of the halls of power, his service to the party continued as he would sit next to Republican freshmen and mentor them on where and when to speak, how to move up the ladder in committees of the House, and giving them tips on how to deal with the various other aspects of being a member of Congress, including addressing constituent issues (Kenneally, 285). The freshmen were grateful for Martin’s sage advice, and he helped make better representatives for the Republican Party. One of these nuggets of sage advice, which he got himself as a young representative, is one that frankly many could use today, which is “…don’t talk too much. The fellows that talk, talk their way out of Congress” (Martin, 236).

In 1960, Massachusetts strongly voted for Kennedy; the state gave him his third best margin in the nation. The Bay State was moving in an increasingly Democratic direction and that included Martin’s district, one of the more Republican in the state. However, he was able to be reelected, even in this era of Democratic ascendency, at least in part because of his long history of top-notch constituent service. Democrat Patrick Harrington, who would run for Martin’s seat in 1966, held that his district was ripe to be won by a Democrat, but only if Martin wasn’t the incumbent as “he gets the votes of Democrats on the basis of personal favors he has done for them over a period of 40 years in Congress” (Hill). Martin said much the same in his autobiography. He stated, “It has been a personal rather than a strictly political following that has kept me in office despite the rising Democratic tide. Over the years I established a reputation as a fighter for New England, and the voters have kept reelecting me because I have given them service. Every year that I have been in Congress it has been my practice to visit each post office in my district at stated times to make myself available to discuss their problems with the people” (Martin, 55). To hammer it in once more, constituent service is important! His new independence as a legislator also didn’t hurt. In 1961, upon only recently hearing of the John Birch Society, Martin offered a nuanced opinion that “if done right” its goal of stopping Communism would be helpful, but months later he regarded them as extremists “whom we can control” and warned that if it stuck to “ultra conservatism” it could do well but if it was just a hate group (which he believed it was) that it had no future (Kenneally, 288).

The most repeated instance of Martin exercising independence during the 1960s was on raising the debt limit. He would support raising the debt limit even when no other Republicans in the House would, and this got him some praise in the press as a bipartisan gesture. Martin’s reception to the New Frontier and Great Society was considerably friendlier than his responses to the New Deal and the Fair Deal, as he supported making the Rules Committee permanently larger in 1963, federal aid to education, federal aid to mass transit, the Economic Opportunity Act of 1964 (reluctantly), Medicare, selling wheat to the USSR, higher foreign aid spending, and the creation of the Department of Housing and Urban Development. Martin had not gone full liberal, however: he opposed the 21-day rule to expedite the exit of legislation from the Rules Committee, he maintained his traditional opposition to public works spending for job creation, opposed rent subsidies, maintained his opposition to government encroachment into the field of power generation, opposed expansion of the food stamp program, and opposed the repeal of the “right to work” section of the Taft-Hartley Act. He also often supported Republican alternatives to Democratic domestic plans, including on Medicare and the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

Martin and Civil Rights: An Advocate

Although Martin closely worked with Southern Democrats, his record on civil rights was mostly favorable. He had consistently supported anti-lynching and anti-poll tax legislation since 1937 and had worked to attract black support for the GOP. However, Martin stopped short at endorsing a mandatory Fair Employment Practices Committee and in 1950 backed a voluntary substitute. During the Eisenhower Administration, he worked hard for strong civil rights legislation in 1956 and 1957, and on one occasion chewed out Republican Russell Keeney of Illinois in front of fellow colleagues for helping Southern Democrats by sponsoring a weakening jury trial amendment. Martin would also vote for the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Voting Rights Act of 1965, and supported fair housing legislation.

The Twilight Years

In 1964, Martin cast his vote for Gerald Ford over Charles Halleck as Minority Leader, a post the future president won, thereby Halleck suffered the same fate as Martin. Despite that year being difficult for the Republican Party and especially so in the Northeast, he still won reelection with 63% of the vote. He would continue to vote as a moderate in the Great Society Congress. In 1965, Ford delivered a tribute to Martin, in which he praised his long party service and gave an example of his devotion: when the Republican National Committee was evicted from its building after it came under ownership of the CIO, Martin, although not personally wealthy, bought another building and obligated himself as a personal liability for the $33,000 lease (Ford, 3). By 1966, however, he was noticeably in decline; he was an octogenarian like his predecessor Greene and his health issues had over the last several years been causing increasingly long absences from Congress. Nonetheless, Martin felt up for just one more term and promised that this would be his last election. Complicating his plan was a 35-year-old attractive woman named Margaret Heckler, who ran in the GOP primary against him to his left. He fought the challenge, but Heckler brought up his old campaign against Greene on age in 1924 and won the primary with 56% of the vote. Politics was Martin’s life, and with his career finally at an end, he lived only a little over a year after leaving office, dying on March 6, 1968, of “peritonitis, secondary to acute gangrenous appendicitis, ruptured” apparently with no antibiotics or other drugs (Time, 1968). It seems like Martin was done and just allowed himself to die.


Martin’s MC-Index scores over his time in Congress.

In the end, Joe Martin was consistently interested in what he thought was best for the Republican Party and the nation, be that a Coolidge conservatism in the 1920s, a resistance to the New Deal and the Fair Deal, or Rockefeller Republicanism. This is reflected in his lifetime MC-Index score of 76%, with his score between 1925 and 1953 being an 86%, while it was a 54% between 1955 and 1967, with his highest Congress being the 73rd at 97% and the lowest being the 88th at 24%. Martin’s Americans for Democratic Action scores ranged from 0% in 1949 to 78% in 1957, and his ACA-Index scores ranged from 22% in 1964 to 92% in 1959. It could be said in the end that he was a Republican with a big “R” and a conservative with a small “c”, although he might have disputed the latter part of that characterization. Robert J. Donovan, the journalist who interviewed Martin for his autobiography, walked away impressed with the character of the man and frankly so do I. Joe Martin couldn’t make it in politics today…he’d be insufficiently partisan and too conservative for Massachusetts. Indeed, in his autobiography he wrote, “In the 1920s, when automobiles and roads were crude by modern standards, campaigning by car held more hazards than it does now. In the 1926 campaign my Democratic opponent was a woman named Minerva Kepple. Like myself, she used to drive from town to town making speeches. One day when I was spinning along near Somerset I came upon a car that had broken down. As I pulled alongside, I saw Minerva sitting at the wheel bewildered and dejected. She was due at a rally in Somerset, where she was to deliver a speech that would no doubt beat my brains in. I suppose if I had had brains worth beating in, I would have left her there and gone on to have Somerset to myself. But I said, “Come on Minerva, I’ll get you there,” and I whisked her into town in time for her speech. I defeated her without any trouble on election day. I have heard that in later years she always voted for me for Congress. I believe that has been true also of others I have defeated. If so, it is one good fruit of the rule that I have always followed never to wage a vicious campaign. I have always tried not to hurt an opponent personally” (Ubertaccio). Martin is proof that good people can succeed too in politics and the GOP owes a great debt to him for their continued survival. He dedicated his autobiography to “The millions of Republicans and to the many Democrats and Independents as well who fought with me through the years to maintain the two-party system of government in the United States” (Martin).

Correction, 8/15/22: Lodge’s 1922 opponent was not John F. Fitzgerald. Fitzgerald ran for governor that year and it was William A. Gaston who ran against Lodge. I regret the error.


Auchincloss, K. (1959, January 8). The Fall of Joe Martin. The Harvard Crimson.

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Ford, G.R. (1965, May 24). Testimonial for Joseph W. Martin, Jr. Ford Library Museum.

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Hill, R. (2018, April 8). Mr. Speaker: Joseph W. Martin of Massachusetts. The Knoxville Focus.

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Hill, R. The Defeat of Congressman Joe Martin. The Knoxville Focus.

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Kenneally, J.J. (2003). A compassionate conservative: a political biography of Joseph W. Martin Jr. Washington, D.C.: Lexington Books.

Kenneally, J.J. (2009, August 5). Black Republicans During the New Deal: the role of Joseph W. Martin, Jr. The Review of Politics, 55(1).

Kirby, M. (2011, July 17). Truman, MacArthur, and the infamous letter. The Sun Chronicle.

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

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Martin, J.W. & Donovan, R.J. (1960). My first fifty years in politics. New York, NY: McGraw-Hill.

Massachusetts: The Gentleman from Martin, Mr. North Attleboro. (1968, March 15). Time Magazine.

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Patterson, J.T. (2014). Congressional conservatism and the New Deal. Lexington, KY: University Press of Kentucky.

The Congress: Elephant Boy. (1938, April 11). Time Magazine.

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Ubertaccio, P. (2017, March 19). Remembering the gentleman from Massachusetts, Joe Martin. WGBH News.

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Weintraub, S. (2000). MacArthur’s War: Korea and the Undoing of an American Hero. The New York Times.

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Politics from Sixty Years Ago: The ACA-Indexes of 1961 and 1962

President Kennedy’s agenda was foremost in the minds of conservatives and the people of ACA to oppose.

I am publishing today a glance at what politics looked like 60 years ago from the perspective of the leading conservative ratings institution of its time, Americans for Constitutional Action. They counted for the 87th session of Congress 23 House votes and 29 Senate votes. The votes primarily surround JFK’s New Frontier programs with a small focus on social issues. Some exclusions ACA had as opposed to ADA include not having a foreign aid vote in 1961 (unless you count the establishment of the Office for International Travel and Tourism) and not having a vote on criminal defendant rights. ACA, however, includes agricultural issues whereas ADA is lacking as well as counting some more lopsided votes for the liberal position (Educational TV for instance). ACA counts only a single vote on the subject of civil rights: Senator Javits’ (R-N.Y.) proposal to grant Attorney General Bobby Kennedy the power to bring civil suits and injunctions on civil rights cases.

Barry Goldwater, the beau ideal of ACA, he scored 100% in both years.

This, along with Americans for Democratic Action’s records of this period, should be a corrective of the misleading narrative that President Kennedy was some sort of a conservative or even would be today. The record of what he supported and opposed should let people know. It is also clear that of the two parties, the Republicans were in this day clearly the more conservative, and of the elected officials in the House and Senate who scored 100% for the entire session, counting vote pairs, 16 of 20 are Republicans. The conservatives who did not disagree with ACA’s position once were Republicans Goldwater of Arizona, Smith, Hiestand, Lipscomb, and Rousselot of California, Hoffman and Findley of Illinois, Bruce of Indiana, Johansen of Michigan, Beermann of Nebraska, Ray of New York, Scherer and Ashbrook of Ohio, Bottum of South Dakota, and Tower and Alger of Texas. The four Democrats were Waggonner of Louisiana, Williams of Mississippi, Thurmond of South Carolina, and Robertson of Virginia. As the 1960s wore on, numerous Republicans would see stunning declines from their 1961 scores, and for a few, it would be the only time they ever got higher than a 50% by ACA. Richard Schweiker (R-Penn.), for example, scores an 83% in 1961 but if you consult his Nixon era scores from my previous Americans for Constitutional Action posts, you’ll see stunningly little resemblance between this Schweiker and Senator Schweiker. Same goes for Charles Mathias (R-Md.), whose score of 67% is the only one above 50% he ever registered on the ACA-Index before having a long career as a liberal Republican. For Democrats, particularly from the South, there is a dramatic difference in how many of them vote as opposed to Democrats today, but you also see in some states a significant presence of progressives.

Basis for ACA-Indexes:

1961 ACA-Index, House

1961 ACA-Index, Senate

1962 ACA-Index, House

1962 ACA-Index, Senate

Political Change of the 1960s: A Case Study of Two Conservatives

The 1960s were a tumultuous decade, and indeed it was a time that some allege that the “parties switched”. Ratings issued by interest groups of the period don’t bear that out. However, there were some definite changes that certain individuals in politics underwent in that turbulent time. A fascinating example is what happened with two people commonly regarded as conservative: Democrat George W. Andrews of Alabama and Republican William M. McCulloch of Ohio. Both had served since the 1940s, both were critics of the Truman Administration, and both received low Americans for Democratic Action scores during Truman’s second term. Although they certainly didn’t agree on all issues, the most obvious disagreement the two had was one of the question of civil rights. Andrews was a signatory of the Southern Manifesto and an advocate for shutting down public schools and making education private to stop desegregation while McCulloch was known as “Mr. Civil Rights” for his advocacy on the subject and had supported an NAACP lawsuit to desegregate restaurants in Ohio.

George W. Andrews (D-Ala.)

The first major conservative ratings organization, Americans for Constitutional Action, scored Andrews a 31% and McCulloch a 100% in their 1959 ACA-Index. In 1969, however, the situation was reversed: Andrews scored a 93% while McCulloch scored a 33%. Although I have contrasted Andrews’ lowest score and one of McCulloch’s three 100% scores vs. one of Andrews’ highest and McCulloch’s lowest for dramatic effect, a more comprehensive look is only somewhat less dramatic: when their votes from 1957, 1958, and 1959 are counted together, Andrews has a 37% and McCulloch a 95%. McCulloch’s scores after 1969 were 53%, 56%, and 63% and Andrews’ were 78% and 87%. A change had occurred, and not only one because of differing methods of scoring from ACA. McCulloch had voted against the Economic Opportunity Act of 1964 and numerous expansions of government but now was more willing to embrace anti-poverty spending and was more flexible on expansions of government. Andrews had previously supported public housing measures and food stamps, but later voted against housing programs and food stamp spending. There appear to be two turning point years for the two men. Andrews’ is 1962, and McCulloch’s is 1968. The below chart represents their ACA-Index scores from 1957 to 1972. Andrews doesn’t have a 1972 score as he died at the end of 1971.

1962 was the year George Wallace ran his successful campaign for governor on a distinctly anti-Kennedy line and the year that longtime Alabama Senator Lister Hill almost lost reelection to a Republican activist who ran a hard anti-Kennedy line. Although there had been room in the past for support for national Democratic policies in Alabama, this room was shrinking, and the 1964 election proved it. Five of eight Alabama seats were won by Republicans, the first time any Republican had won a House seat in Alabama since 1898. Andrews was among the three remaining Democrats, and part of this can certainly be thanked to his significant shift rightward after the 1962 midterm. Remaining Democrats shifted more to the right, including Senators Hill and Sparkman.

William M. McCulloch (R-Ohio)

For McCulloch, he had been tapped to be on the Kerner Commission in July 1967 to investigate urban riots of that summer. The committee had concluded that rioting was caused by lack of economic opportunities, generally blamed white society for the conditions causing the rioting including racism, and had recommended programs to remedy de facto segregation in the cities. Given the shift in his record, including his willingness to cast votes for housing and anti-poverty programs after the release of the report, being on the commission probably had a great impact on him.


Derbes, B.J. (2012, September 24). George Andrews. Encyclopedia of Alabama.

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William M. McCulloch. Ohio History Central.

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Weldon B. Heyburn: A Most Disagreeable Senator

Idaho has long had a well-deserved reputation as a staunchly conservative Republican stronghold. It was 1964 when the people of the state last elected a Democrat (and did so only by two points) and 1974 when a Democrat was last elected to the Senate. However, the state’s early years were a bit different. Idaho was much more likely to elect Democrats and Populists given the currency issue, and conservative Republicans had trouble there for some time. A breakthrough for them was the election of Weldon B. Heyburn (1852-1912) to the Senate over future Senator William E. Borah in 1903. Senators at the time were elected by the State legislature, meaning that conservative Republicans had gained hold of the legislature. Heyburn was a staunch defender of what saw as the interests of his state: mining, timber, and development. He publicly opposed President Roosevelt’s conservation policies, going so far as to state that federal forests were “an expensive, useless burden to the public” (Kramer). Heyburn stressed state’s rights on conservation over federal, and was successful in requiring Congressional approval for the reserving of future forest lands. However, the foxy Roosevelt added 16 million more acres to be conserved before he signed that law to the great consternation of Heyburn, who threatened to cut off funding for conservation efforts (Kramer). He was also a foe generally of greater regulation of the economy and did not approve of interventions into child labor. However, Heyburn’s efforts were appreciated by some, including those who often didn’t agree with him. As former Senator Fred Dubois wrote in a February 16, 1909 letter to Harry Day of the Hercules Mining Company, “I do not know whether Heyburn appreciates the fact that you were more largely instrumental in his re-election than any one else. I know the word you sent and I also know the thin ice on which Heyburn was standing. You were extremely wise in foregoing your personal feelings against Heyburn. You and I both know his faults, but at the same time he has virtues. One of these is that he will be outspoken and fearless in protecting all the industries of Idaho, and you can talk to him very freely on matters of that kind” (University of Idaho). One of these virtues was his propensity for hard work, but this would later prove detrimental. Heyburn, however, has a significant contribution to American law: he introduced the Pure Food and Drug Act of 1906.

Heyburn not only disagreed politically with Roosevelt, but could also be highly personally disagreeable as well. He once declined to award a debate prize to a student with the rationale that “he does not seem to have learned enough to be a Republican” and on another occasion halted an orchestra mid-performance because he disapproved of the song they were playing (Kramer). Sources on Heyburn also generally don’t cover this aspect of his life, but his obituary noted that he was most known not for his opposition to Roosevelt’s conservation but for his “unyielding bitterness toward the south, and frequent denunciation of southern civil war leaders. He called the placing of Lee’s statue in the capital an insult to the nation, and in discussing this and many other incidents, engaged in acrimonious debate with southern senators” (The Spokesman-Review).

Heyburn was the largest man in the Senate, and this was among the factors that cost him his health. In March 1912, he collapsed in the Senate after delivering a speech on arbitration treaties. His doctors instructed him to rest, but he refused to do so, and his health continued to deteriorate. Heyburn died on October 17th, his last words being, “I have lived my life as best I could within the power of human limitation…I am worn out in the service of a great cause” (University of Idaho). Although his official cause of death was complications from heart and kidney disease, he had worked himself to death. Heyburn’s MC-Index score was an 84%. He is remembered in Idaho through Mount Heyburn, Heyburn State Park, and the town of Heyburn.


Kramer, B. (2010, August 22). Heyburn left thorny legacy on natural resources. The Spokesman-Review.

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Senator W.B. Heyburn Dies After Lingering Illness. (1912, October 18). The Spokesman-Review.

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Weldon Brinton Heyburn, 1852-1912. University of Idaho.

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Texas Legends #16: Henry B. Gonzalez

In the 1950s, San Antonio was a changing place. Although during the 1930s, its most notable representative was arch-liberal Maury Maverick, the 1938 midterms saw his ouster in favor of anti-communist and New Deal critic Paul J. Kilday. Kilday’s record as well as the region’s conservatism would hold until the Eisenhower years, then he and the region would shift in a liberal direction despite the region’s vote for Eisenhower in 1956. This can be attributed to the rise of more liberal Latino voters in San Antonio, and their chief figure would be Henry Barbosa Gonzalez (1916-2000).

As a San Antonio councilman from 1953 to 1956, Gonzalez oversaw the desegregation of public accommodations in the city. This wasn’t his first rodeo on civil rights; in 1945 he had resigned as chief probation officer of Bexar County after he was denied permission to appoint a black officer. In 1956, Gonzalez was elected to the State Senate, and mounted a 36-hour filibuster (a Texas Senate record) in 1957 against ten bills intended to work around segregation with future Congressman Abraham J. Kazen, which resulted in the defeat of eight of them. Kazen spoke for 14 hours, and Gonzalez did so for 22. This effort would make headlines, and it would set him up for his next position.

In 1961, Congressman Kilday was appointed a judge by President Kennedy and resigned his post. The special election to succeed him was a high-profile event, with Vice President Johnson coming down to Texas to campaign for Gonzalez, and former President Eisenhower campaigning for Republican John W. Goode. Gonzalez would win the special election by over 10 points and would sail to reelection in future elections, being the first Mexican American member of Congress from Texas. As Burka and Smith (1976) wrote about him, “He is a folk hero to his constituents: he leads parades, attends festivals; in the right place, he is a legend in his own time”. Indeed, Gonzalez’s record on constituent service matched his folk hero reputation. As one high level Texas official familiar with Washington said, “If I had a problem with the federal government, I’d want to live in Henry B’s district” (Burka & Smith). His political power was unrivaled in San Antonio for the duration of his time in office. As one former reporter in his district said of him after his death, “Like everyone in San Antonio, I both feared and admired Henry B. After all, he was regarded as only slightly less powerful than God and just as easy to offend” (Russell, 2001).

At the Forefront of Civil Rights and the Great Society in Congress

After his election to Congress, Henry Gonzalez proved the most liberal Democrat in delegation until the election of Bob Eckhardt in 1966. He initially wanted to get on the House Armed Services Committee, but was assigned to Banking and Currency, where the chairman, fellow Texas Legend and populist Wright Patman, mentored him and prophetically advised, “Henry, you just stay on this committee and quit making a wave about Armed Services, and you’ll end up as chairman” (U.S. House of Representatives). In 1964, he helped pass the Housing Act of 1964 and successfully pushed for the end of the Bracero program, which employed migrant workers who often worked in dreadful conditions for lower than minimum wage. Gonzalez voted for every major civil rights law and in 1966 he was one of only two Texas representatives to vote against striking fair housing from the civil rights bill under consideration. He was to many conservatives a reviled figure because of his unapologetic and combative style. It didn’t help that of the four Republican presidents he served with, he supported the impeachment of three (Nixon, Reagan, and Bush). As was written in a 1976 Texas Monthly article, “…Gonzalez has a distinct mean streak; once you get on his enemies list you never get off – “and that”, explains one Washington observer, “includes anyone who’s ever had a cross word to say about him”” (Burka & Smith). During his second term, he punched Congressman Ed Foreman (R-Tex.) in the arm for calling him a “pinko” on the House floor and in 1986, he punched a man in a San Antonio restaurant for calling him a communist.

Contrary to those who thought of Gonzalez as a “pinko” or communist, he proved a strong backer of the Vietnam War effort, even as anti-war sentiment was ramping up in the 1970s. During that decade this elevated his scores with conservative groups and lowered his scores with liberal groups. His political route in the 1970s was a source of disappointment for many liberals who hoped for greater things from him. Although once an outsider in Texas politics, Gonzalez had become his own sort of establishment in San Antonio. Also, his advocacy for amendments that instructed U.S. representatives to financial institutions to vote against loans to countries that expropriated property of U.S. citizens and businesses without compensation demonstrated an opposition to communism.

Gonzalez and The House Committee on Assassinations

After the Watergate scandal and the Vietnam War, there was a lot of reevaluations of certain events, and among these were the Kennedy and King assassinations. The Church and Hart-Schweiker Committees had revealed CIA involvement in international assassinations, and many Americans wondered whether the organization could have been implicated in assassinations in the United States. Among them were Gonzalez, Thomas Downing of Virginia, and D.C. Delegate Walter Fauntroy, who advocated for the creation of an investigative committee. The House Committee on Assassinations was established in 1976, with Downing being its first chair. However, he was retiring, so Gonzalez succeeded him in the 95th Congress.

The Committee would be a troubled one and an element of the investigation would give JFK assassination conspiracy theorists ammo with an audio recording that would later be decisively disproven. The House Committee on Assassinations will in itself be a future post, so I will not get in depth about it here beyond Gonzalez’s role in it. He was a constant critic of the Warren Commission and would have intense disagreements with head counsel Richard Sprague. This got so bad Gonzalez tried to fire him on February 10, 1977. However, he received no support for this from the other committee members, so he resigned on March 2nd. In a two-page resignation letter he despaired of the situation he found as chairman, writing “I found in the committee an administrative nightmare; I found a chief counsel who assumed the full powers of the committee itself (and by implication usurped the powers of the House itself); a chief counsel who was insubordinate and insulting, not to mention disloyal” and further called Sprague “an unscrupulous individual, an unconscionable scoundrel” (Burnham). Sprague himself would resign not long after as numerous representatives stated that they wouldn’t vote to continue the committee if he remained chief counsel. Given the support the chief counsel received from other committee members, the conflict between Gonzalez and Sprague appears to have been one of likely no more than personalities. On March 30th, the House voted to continue the committee, with Louis Stokes of Ohio as the new chairman. In 1979, Gonzalez pushed for further investigation into the murder of Judge John H. Wood, who he held was murdered by organized crime for his tough sentencing on drug cases. Ultimately, five individuals would be indicted for the crime, with actor Woody Harrelson’s father, Charles, being convicted of pulling the trigger on the orders of drug lord Jamiel Chagra.

The 1980s: Opposition to Reagan and Savings & Loan Bailout

During the Reagan years, Gonzalez was back to form as the liberal he had been in the 1960s and was largely opposed to the era of deregulation and prophetically warned of a coming collapse of the savings and loan industry. In 1983, he supported impeaching President Reagan over the invasion of Grenada and again backed impeachment over Iran Contra. On banking issues, he had a reputation as a populist, and his role on the House Banking and Currency Committee was where he shined most. Gonzalez positioned himself as a fighter against predatory lenders and the Federal Reserve (he called for an audit before Ron and Rand Paul brought the proposal its modern publicity) and his constituents loved him for it. In 1989, as the new chairman of the House Banking and Currency Committee, he held hearings on the Lincoln Savings and Loan and its owner Charles H. Keating Jr., who would be convicted of fraud and earned praise for his leave no stones unturned approach. A senior fellow at the Brookings Institution at the time, Robert E. Litan, characterized him thusly, “He doesn’t calculate the political consequences. When he smells something bad, he goes after it” (Kenworthy). His colleagues from both sides of the aisle viewed his role here positively: Republican Toby Roth of Wisconsin praised his handling, “Many members from his side of the aisle are trying to whitewash what happened. But he has the stick-to-it-iveness of an English bulldog. He’s a genuine old-fashioned public servant” (Kenworthy). Future Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), at the time a representative, was also impressed with Gonzalez. He said on the hearings, “When Henry thinks he’s right, there’s no standing in his way. It’s difficult to have hearings like this. It hurts peoples’ reputations. But when the sun sets, he will have done a national service” (Kenworthy). Gonzalez would go on to manage passage of the bill bailing out savings and loan institutions.

Critic of Bush

In 1991, Gonzalez voted against authorization for use of military force on Iraq for Saddam Hussein’s invasion of Kuwait and charged that U.S. agricultural loans made to Iraq during the Reagan Administration were used for the purchasing of weapons with the Reagan Administration’s knowledge. This charge was never proven, and Gonzalez proposed to impeach Bush for not seeking Congressional approval first. He would also call President Bush a “liar” on the floor of the House in 1992 before he was forced to change his language after Robert Walker (R-Penn.) objected as calling the president a “liar” is against House rules (Russell, 1992).

The End

In 1994, the Democrats lost Congress and Gonzalez lost his post. In 1997, his health declined after a dental infection spread to a heart valve and spent half of the term recovering. Reading the writing on the wall, he reluctantly retired and was succeeded by his son, Charlie, in the 1998 midterms. His son would serve until 2013. Gonzalez’s lifetime MC-Index score is an 11%. To this day in Texas “Taco Day” is celebrated on May 3rd, Gonzalez’s birthday, to celebrate his achievements.


Burka, P. & Smith, G. (1976, May). The Best, the Worst, and the Fair-To-Middlin’. Texas Monthly.

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Burnham, D. (1977, March 3). Gonzalez, Assailing His Committee, Quits as Assassination Inquiry Head. The New York Times.

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Gonzalez, Henry Barbosa. U.S. House of Representatives.

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Iraqgate. Encyclopedia Britannica.

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Kenworthy, T. (1989, December 6). Gonzalez’s Pugnacious Populism. The Washington Post.

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Kohout, M.D. (2007, September 13). Gonzalez, Henry Barbosa (1916-2000). Texas Historical Association.

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Russell, J.J. (1992). The Eternal Challenger. Texas Monthly.

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Russell, J.J. (2001, January). We Remember Henry B. Gonzalez. Texas Monthly.

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The Joe Biden Record on Abortion

Senator Biden in 1974, when he condemned Roe v. Wade as too extreme.

President Joe Biden is a fascinating one for me, in that he is a bit of a historical relic himself. This could be interpreted as an insult since he is the oldest president in history, but it is also true that he arrived in the Senate in a very different time when the parties were far more ideologically diverse. Despite in his years in the Senate on numerous abortion issues being in the minority of his party, he has now rallied to the defense of Roe v. Wade. In 1973, Biden characterized himself as “about as liberal as your grandmother” on the issue of abortion and the following year he said, “I don’t like the Supreme Court decision on abortion. I think it went too far. I don’t think that a woman has the sole right to say what should happen to her body” (Viser). As president, however, he has struck a different tune. In response to the leak of Justice Samuel Alito’s opinion striking down Roe v. Wade, President Biden stated, “The idea that we’re going to make a judgment that is going to say that no one can make the judgment to choose to abort a child, based on a decision by the Supreme Court, I think, goes way overboard” (Viser). Biden today directly contradicts Biden from 48 years ago, and this I think is him trying to stay within the center, not of the American political spectrum, rather that of his own party. After all, it would be a very weird situation to have a president of a party at odds with almost every other elected official in said party. While President Trump went against most of his party in his opposition to sanctions on Russia, he also went against the entirety of the Democratic Party. If Biden were to stick to his guns so to speak on the Hyde Amendment and his old views on Roe, he would be siding with most Republicans against nearly all Democrats. But, what is the truth of Biden’s record on abortion? The truth is a bit muddy but Biden’s record as senator has certain consistencies, which will be revealed.

President Joe Biden now, who condemns overruling Roe v. Wade as too extreme.

I have consulted both Americans for Democratic Action and American Conservative Union archives for this vote selection, which is from 1975 to 2008.

  1. Allow Social Security Funds for Abortions
    Senator Jacob Javits (R-N.Y.) motion to table the Bartlett (R-Okla.) Amendment, barring Medicaid funds to pay for abortions.
    Passed 54-36: D 38-16; R 16-18, 4/10/75. Biden – Nay
  2. Rejecting the Hyde Amendment
    Senator Birch Bayh (D-Ind.) motion to insist on language deleting the Hyde (R-Ill.) Amendment, prohibiting the use of Medicaid funds to pay for abortions.
    Passed 53-35: D 36-19; R 17-14; C 0-1; I 0-1, 8/25/76. Biden – Nay
  3. Adopting the Hyde Amendment
    Senator Warren Magnuson (D-Wash.) motion to agree to the House prohibition on abortion, which has since been known as the Hyde Amendment.
    Passed 47-21: D 28-13; R 18-8; I 1-0, 9/17/76. – Biden – No vote.
  4. Prohibit Taxpayer Funds for Abortions
    Senator Jesse Helms (R-N.C.) amendment, prohibiting funds for abortions except when the mother’s life is in danger. This would exclude rape and incest.
    Defeated 33-65: D 16-43; R 16-22, 6/29/77. Biden – Yea
  5. Stricter Language on Abortion Restrictions
    Senator Richard Schweiker (R-Penn.) motion to recede and concur with the House language on abortions funded through Medicaid, only permitting them to save the mother’s life, rather than the Senate language which also made exceptions for rape, incest, and if two doctors determined that continuing the pregnancy would result in physical damage to the mother.
    Rejected 33-51: D 13-38; R 20-15, 9/24/79. Biden – No vote.
  6. Stronger Abortion Prohibition
    Senator Jesse Helms (R-N.C.) motion to table amendment deleting House-passed language prohibiting Medicaid funding of abortions except as necessary to save the mother’s life.
    Passed 52-43: R 33-20; D 19-22, 5/21/81. Biden – Yea
  7. Table Restriction of Use of Federal Funds for Abortions
    Senator S.I. Hayakawa (R-Calif.) motion to table the Helms (R-N.C.) amendment, restricting federal funds for abortions.
    Passed 47-46: R 19-33; D 27-13, 9/15/82. – Biden – Nay
  8. Adoption of the Hatch (R-Utah)-Eagleton (D-Mo.) Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, holding that “A right to abortion is not secured by the Constitution”.
    Defeated 50-49: R 34-20; D 15-30, 6/28/83. Biden – Nay
  9. Blocking Federal Abortion Funding
    Senator Howard Baker (R-Tenn.) motion to table the Weicker (R-Conn.) amendment, allowing federal abortion funding, permitting abortion funding in cases of rape or incest.
    Tabled 54-44: R 39-15; D 15-29, 10/3/84. Biden – Yea
  10. Table Senate Commendation of President Reagan’s Condemnation of Abortion
    Motion to table the Helms (R-N.C.) amendment expressing the sense of Congress that President Reagan be commended for his condemnation of abortion at home and abroad.
    Defeated 43-52: R 19-35; D 24-17, 8/8/84. Biden – Nay
  11. Permit D.C. Funds for Abortions
    Senator Alan Simpson (R-Wyo.) motion to table the amendment prohibiting the use of federal D.C. funds to pay for abortions, except to save the life of the mother.
    Passed 54-41: R 19-34; D 35-7, 11/7/85. Biden – Yea
  12. Weaken Restrictions on Funds for Abortion for D.C.
    Amendment weakening restrictions on the use of funds going to the payment of abortions except to save the mother’s life.
    Adopted 48-42: R 17-33; D 31-9, 9/16/86. Biden – Yea
  13. Permit D.C. Funds for Abortions
    Senator Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) motion to table the Nickles (R-Okla.) amendment, prohibiting federal or D.C. funds for abortions unless the mother’s life were in danger.
    Passed 60-39: D 42-9; R 18-30, 9/30/87. Biden – Yea
  14. Prohibit D.C. Funds for Abortions
    Senator Don Nickles (R-Okla.) motion to table the Bradley (D-N.J.) motion to disagree with the House amendment that no funds in the District of Columbia be used for funding abortions unless the mother’s life was in danger.
    Passed 45-44: D 13-33; R 32-11, 9/30/88. Biden – No Vote.
  15. Defeat Prohibition on Funding for China’s Forced Abortion and Sterilization Program
    Senator Pat Leahy (D-Vt.) motion to disagree with a House amendment barring any funding for the UN Population Fund if the funds financed communist China’s forced abortion and sterilization program.
    Passed 52-44: D 38-12; R 13-32, 11/15/89. Biden – Nay
  16. Prohibit Funding for NGOs That Perform Abortions
    Senator Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) amendment, excluding private, non-profit organizations that perform abortions from receiving taxpayer funds.
    Rejected 34-58: D 4-44; R 30-13, 9/25/90. Biden – Nay
  17. Prohibit Funding for NGOs Performing Abortions for Minors Without Parental Notification
    Senator Dan Coats (R-Ind.) amendment, prohibiting publicly funded organizations from performing abortions for minors without parental notification.
    Adopted 52-47: D 13-41; R 39-5, 7/16/91. Biden – Nay
  18. “Gag Rule” Repeal Veto Override
    Passage, over President Bush’s veto, of the bill allowing publicly funded family planning clinics to advocate abortion as an option.
    Veto overridden 73-26: D 51-3; R 21-23, 10/1/92. Biden – Yea
  19. Hyde Amendment Repeal
    Amendment repealing the Hyde Amendment.
    Rejected 40-59: D 32-20; R 7-39, 9/28/93. Biden – Nay
  20. Ban Peaceful Obstruction and Violent Intimidation Outside Abortion Clinics
    Passage of the bill making peaceful obstruction as well as violent intimidation outside of abortion clinics a federal crime subject to civil penalties.
    Passed 69-30: D 50-3; R 18-27, 5/12/94. Biden – Yea
  21. Partial Birth Abortion Ban
    Passage of the Partial Birth Abortion Ban Act, banning a late-term procedure commonly referred to as “partial birth” abortion, in which the fetus is delivered before the abortion is completed.
    Passed 54-44: R 45-7; D 9-36, 12/7/95. Biden – Yea
  22. Block Funds for Forced Abortions in China
    Senator Jesse Helms (R-N.C.) amendment, blocking funds for the UN Population Fund unless the president certifies that the UNFPA has terminated all activities in China or that no coercive abortions continue to happen because of Chinese government policies.
    Rejected 43-57: R 40-13; D 3-43, 9/21/95. Biden – Yea
  23. Partial Birth Abortion Ban
    Passage of the Partial Birth Abortion Ban Act over President Clinton’s veto, banning a late-term procedure commonly referred to as “partial birth” abortion, in which the fetus is delivered before the abortion is completed.
    Veto sustained 58-40: R 46-4; D 12-35, 9/26/96. Biden – Yea
  24. Repeal Hyde Amendment
    Senator Bob Kerrey (D-Neb.) amendment, repealing the Hyde Amendment.
    Rejected 39-61: R 4-50; D 34-11, 6/25/97. Biden – Nay
  25. Partial Birth Abortion Ban
    Passage of the Partial Birth Abortion Ban Act, banning a late-term procedure commonly referred to as “partial birth” abortion, in which the fetus is delivered before the abortion is completed.
    Passed 64-36: R 51-3; D 13-32, 5/20/97. Biden – Yea
  26. Allow Abortions at U.S. Military Hospitals and Medical Facilities
    Senator Patty Murray (D-Wash.) amendment, repealing the prohibition on privately funded abortions at U.S. military hospitals and medical facilities for service members and their dependents.
    Rejected 44-49: R 5-46; D 38-3, 6/25/98. Biden – Yea
  27. End Debate on Prohibition of Non-Parents Transporting Minors Across State Lines for Abortions
    Motion to end debate on the bill criminalizing anyone other than a parent transporting minors across state lines to obtain an abortion.
    Rejected 54-45: R 52-2; D 2-42, 9/22/98. Biden – Nay
  28. Partial Birth Abortion Ban
    Passage of the Partial Birth Abortion Ban Act over President Clinton’s veto, banning a late-term procedure commonly referred to as “partial birth” abortion, in which the fetus is delivered before the abortion is completed.
    Veto sustained 64-36: R 51-3; D 13-32, 10/10/98. Biden – Yea
  29. Partial Birth Abortion Ban
    Passage of the bill banning “partial birth” abortions, providing for fines and up to two years of imprisonment for doctors performing them, with an exception of if it was necessary to save the mother’s life, which existed in all prior versions.
    Passed 63-34: R 49-2; D 14-31, 10/21/99. Biden – Yea
  30. Retain Prohibition on Abortions at U.S. Military Hospitals and Medical Facilities
    Senator Gordon Smith (R-Ore.) motion to table the Murray (D-Wash.) amendment, repealing the law barring overseas U.S. military hospitals and medical facilities from performing privately funded abortions for U.S. service members and their dependents.
    Passed 51-49: R 49-5; D 2-43, 5/26/99. Biden – Nay
  31. Retain Prohibition on Abortions at U.S. Military Hospitals and Medical Facilities
    Table amendment permitting abortions in military hospitals.
    Passed 50-49: R 48-5; D 2-43, 6/20/00. Biden – Nay
  32. Permit Funds for Distribution of “Morning After” Pill on Public School Grounds
    Table amendment preventing use of federal funds to distribute the “morning after” pill on public school grounds.
    Defeated 41-54: R 5-48; D 35-6, 6/30/00. Biden – Nay
  33. Permit Abortions at U.S. Military Hospitals and Medical Facilities
    Senator Patty Murray (D-Wash.) amendment, granting military women and dependents of military personnel stationed overseas access to abortion services.
    Adopted 52-40, 6/21/02. Biden – Yea
  34. Senate Resolution Endorsing Roe v. Wade
    Adoption of Senator Tom Harkin’s (D-Iowa) resolution by the Senate affirming that Roe v. Wade was correctly decided.
    Adopted 52-46: R 9-41; D 42-5; I 1-0, 3/12/03. Biden – No vote.
  35. Retain Mexico City Policy
    Amendment tabling the repeal of the Mexico City Policy, prohibiting the use of taxpayer funds by international organizations that promote or perform abortions.
    Defeated 43-53: R 42-9; D 1-43; I 0-1, 7/9/03. Biden – Nay
  36. Partial Birth Abortion Ban
    Adoption of the conference report of the bill banning “partial birth” abortion, only allowing the procedure if necessary to save a woman’s life, with doctors performing the procedure being fined and sentenced up to two years imprisonment.
    Adopted 64-34: R 47-3; D 17-30; I 0-1, 10/21/03. Biden – Yea
  37. Unborn Victims of Violence Act
    Passage of the Unborn Victims of Violence Act, making it a criminal offense to injure or kill a fetus while committing a violent crime on the level of crime to the woman.
    Passed 61-38, 3/25/04. Biden – Nay
  38. Repeal Mexico City Policy
    Amendment repealing the Mexico City Policy, prohibiting the use of taxpayer funds by international organizations that promote or perform abortions.
    Adopted 52-46: R 8-46; D 43-0; I 1-0, 4/5/05. Biden – Yea
  39. Prohibit Circumvention of State Parental Notification and Consent Laws
    Passage of the bill making it a federal crime to take a minor across state lines to perform an abortion to circumvent parental notification and consent laws.
    Passed 65-34: R 51-4; D 14-29; I 0-1, 7/25/06. Biden – Nay
  40. Repeal Mexico City Policy
    Amendment repealing the Mexico City Policy, prohibiting the use of taxpayer funds by international organizations that promote or perform abortions.
    Passed 53-41: R 7-40; D 46-1, 9/6/07. Biden – Yea
  41. No Funding for Organizations Backing Coercive Abortions and Sterilizations
    Amendment prohibiting taxpayer funding for any organization or program backing coercive abortion or involuntary sterilization.
    Adopted 48-45: R 44-3; D 4-41, 9/6/08. Biden – No vote.
  42. Unborn Eligibility for SCHIP
    Amendment including the unborn for Eligibility in SCHIP (State Children’s Health Insurance Program).
    Rejected 46-52: R 44-4; D 2-47, 3/14/08. Biden – Nay
  43. Increase Funding for Parental Notification Laws on Abortion
    Amendment increasing funding for enforcement for laws requiring parents to be notified in cases of minors seeking abortions, while cutting spending elsewhere.
    Rejected 49-49: R 44-4; D 5-44, 3/13/08. Biden – Nay

    Biden’s record indicates that from 1975 to 1982, he was entirely on the “pro-life” side, even voting to prohibit Medicaid funding for abortions without an exception for rape and incest in 1977, against the views of majorities in both Senate parties. However, in 1983, he voted against the Hatch-Eagleton Amendment, and from that point his record became significantly more favorable to legal and readily accessible abortion. He voted against any efforts at blocking funding for abortions in D.C., any efforts to prevent abortions in military hospitals and medical facilities, the Unborn Victims of Violence Act, as well as efforts to prevent minors from getting abortions without parental knowledge. As a senator, Biden continued to favor the Hyde Amendment and voted for the Partial Birth Abortion Ban Act. Overall, of these 43 key votes over 33 years, he voted 17 times for the “pro-life” position and 21 times for the “pro-choice” position, with five occasions in which he didn’t vote. His record was, I’d argue, leaning to “pro-choice” in the 1990s, although I can see his votes against abortion restrictions in D.C. as being justified as defending the autonomy of D.C. I have to wonder if he just stuck to the whole Hyde Amendment because he had done so in the past. I believe, however, that Biden still is against “partial birth” abortion being legal.


    ADA Voting Records. Americans for Democratic Action.

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    Sen. Joseph Biden – Abortion. American Conservative Union.

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    Viser, M. (2022, May 3). Abortion has long been complicated for Biden. Now, he leads the fight. The Washington Post.

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Hawaii’s First: Fong and Long

Vice President Nixon congratulates Senators Long and Fong on their elections.

On June 15, 1898, Congress passed, after some resistance from Speaker Thomas Brackett Reed (R-Me.), the Newlands Resolution by a vote of 209-91, which annexed Hawaii. As of April 23, 1900, Hawaii was a territory under this law, but it would have a long road for statehood. Despite having a long history of support for admittance as a state from the Republican Party given the party’s dominance of the territory until 1954, a combination of Southern Democrats and some breakaway conservative Republicans, most notably John Pillion of New York, were opponents. Southern Democrats knew that a state that had a majority of racial minorities would have two senators who would vote for civil rights. However, Democrats were making headway in the territory, Indeed, this is what happened. The first senators elected were Republican Hiram Fong (1906-2004), who had served in the Hawaii House from 1938 to 1954 and been Speaker from 1948 to 1954 and Democrat Oren Long (1889-1965), who had been a popular governor from 1951 to 1953. After winning close victories, the two men took office on August 21, 1959, with Fong prevailing on the coin toss as to who would be the senior senator.

Hiram Fong

Hiram Fong had had a long history in Hawaii politics and was there for the GOP’s dominance and was one of the numerous Republicans who lost reelection in 1954, the year the state switched party preference. He was originally born into poverty as Yau Leong Fong, but as an adult he excelled in the field of law and changed his first name to “Hiram”. According to Fong himself, he changed his name to “Hiram” because he liked the name, but others have speculated it was out of admiration for Hiram Bingham I, a missionary from New England who came to Hawaii (Nakaso). Despite Fong’s prior loss, he was still a popular enough figure to be elected to the Senate. He was a unique figure in the state: he was of Chinese descent in a state of people of primarily Japanese descent and was the first of Asian descent to be elected to the Senate. As a state legislator, he led the moderate faction of the GOP and his support of a Wagner Act for the state was critical to its passage in 1945, winning him a lot of support from organized labor. Fong continued to be a centrist figure in the GOP as a senator, being strongly supportive of foreign aid and supported several key Great Society programs, including the Economic Opportunity Act of 1964 and Medicare in 1965, the latter which he had voted against thrice previously. Fong was a staunch anti-communist who opposed grain sales to communist nations through the Export-Import Bank and described communism as “the wrong concept of man and the universe” (U.S. House of Representatives). In 1964, he was the first person of Asian descent to receive votes for president from a major party, winning the votes of Hawaii and Alaska’s delegations to the Republican National Convention. Despite that year being a difficult one for Republicans, Fong won reelection and outpaced Barry Goldwater by a whopping 32%. Goldwater’s paltry 21% of the vote contrasted tremendously with the last presidential election, in which Nixon lost the state by only 115 votes. Fong’s survivability can be attributed to his continued close ties with organized labor in Hawaii, but he drew the line at repealing the “right to work” section of the Taft-Hartley Act during the Great Society Congress. He gave his backing to both the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965, dismantling once and for all the national origins quota system, as well as its attached McGregor Amendment, which placed for the first time a cap on immigration from the Western Hemisphere. Fong strongly supported the civil rights legislation of the 1960s and also often voted against busing in the 1970s. On the lighter side of matters, he was also a subject of a joke told by Senator William B. Spong (D-Va.) about a theoretical piece of legislation on protecting Hong Kong songwriter copyrights proposed by him, Senator Fong, and Senator Russell Long of Louisiana, which would be called the “Long-Fong-Spong Hong-Kong-Song Bill” (Hunter).

A Scandal in Senator Fong’s Office

In 1971, the Justice Department indicted Senator Fong’s longtime legislative assistant, Robert Carson, for allegedly attempting to bribe Deputy Attorney General Richard Kleindienst to intervene in a grand jury investigation (U.S. House of Representatives). Fong stood by his longtime aide, but he was convicted. The senator himself was not implicated, but it was nonetheless some unwelcome tumult in his career.

Fong, Nixon, and Beyond

President Richard Nixon looked with admiration on Fong for his achievements, and said in a 1960 speech, “…remember, all of you, the American dream is not just a dream, it does come true – Hiram Fong’s life proves it, and my life and Pat’s life proves it, too” (Nixon). The two were personal friends and Fong was more supportive of conservative positions while Nixon was president than he had been in the past. His support for Nixon’s approach to the Vietnam War, including the bombing of Cambodia, lost him votes in his 1970 reelection bid, but he survived. In 1976, Fong would have had to face popular Congressman Spark Matsunaga if he was to run for reelection and since his last election was tough, he opted not to run again. His lifetime MC-Index score was a 52%, reflecting his overall centrism. To this day, Fong is the only Republican to have represented Hawaii in the Senate, and one of only three Republicans to have ever represented the state in either House of Congress. He lived a long life, being physically healthy and working up until his nineties, and he was reportedly mentally sharp until his death from kidney failure.

Oren Long

Oren Long was not that notable for his role in the Senate, to be honest. By the time of his election to the Senate, he was 70 years old and didn’t intend to run for reelection. Long had been notable as governor as a staunch advocate for statehood and is notably one of only two non-Asian senators in the state’s history. He was also staunchly liberal in his less than four years in office with his support of JFK’s New Frontier programs, scoring a 5% on the MC-Index. Long’s successor would be the far more notable Dan Inouye, the state’s first representative, who won with over 69% of the vote in the 1962 election and would serve until his death in 2012. Long himself died two years after leaving office of an attack of asthmatic bronchitis.


Fong, Hiram Leong. U.S. House of Representatives.

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Hunter, M. (1982, February 11). A Law By Any Other Name. The New York Times.

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Nakaso, D. (2004, August 18). Hiram Fong dead at 97. Honolulu Advertiser.

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Nixon, R.M. (1960, August 3). Remarks of Vice President Nixon, Kamehameha Shopping Center, Honolulu, HI. The American Presidency Project.

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Oren E. Long. Hawaii History.

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Bartlett and Gruening: Alaska’s First

On July 7, 1958, a decades long effort finally succeeded when President Dwight Eisenhower signed into law the admission of Alaska as the 49th state. On January 3, 1959, the state was admitted to the Union. Statehood had for some time been a bit of a political football, with Democrats tending to favor the state’s admission while Republicans and Southern Democrats tended to oppose it. Efforts to combine Alaska with Hawaii statehood had been tried before and flopped in the Senate. The Republicans who opposed it believed it would be a welfare state (it kinda is) and believed, as did Democrats, that the state would produce two Democratic senators. Southern Democrats figured that Alaska’s admission would mean two more votes in the Senate for civil rights. They also knew who would get elected…the Alaska’s two leading proponents of statehood: Edward Lewis “Bob” Bartlett (1904-1968) and Ernest Gruening (1887-1974). These two men would be liberals, but they would also be independent-minded and have several significant accomplishments.

Bob Bartlett

Bob Bartlett was appointed secretary of the Alaska Territory in 1939, and would from 1945 until statehood be its delegate, where he was the most active person in the territory advocating for statehood. Upon Alaska’s statehood, he and his colleague Gruening had a problem: who was to be the senior senator and who was to face reelection first? Gruening proposed to resolve the matter with a coinflip. Neither one of them got along so a discussion probably wouldn’t have accomplished much. The first toss was on who had to run for reelection first, and Bartlett lost that one, thus having to run first. However, Bartlett won the second for seniority. For the rest of his life, Bartlett would nickname Gruening “Junior” for losing the second coinflip.

Bartlett and his colleague Gruening had an active rivalry despite being much more similar than different politically. He explained his dislike for his colleague thusly, “How can you approach logically a man who distorts facts, always, to suit his own fancy and his own needs and desires? It is impossible” (Reamer). True to Bartlett’s words, Gruening, outliving him, would in his 1973 autobiography Many Battles reframe the story. He claimed that he had “offered to concede” but Bartlett insisted on the coin toss without Bartlett around to contradict the narrative (Reamer).

Bartlett, although not a particularly vocal figure, was one of the most active senators in getting legislation passed, perhaps the most in American history. One of his laws, the Bartlett Act, required handicap access in all federally-funded buildings. Even as a delegate, he authored the Alaska Mental Health Enabling Act, which provided for the funding of mental institutions in the Alaska Territory. This legislation caused much controversy for its initial allowance for people from the lower 48 states to be transferred to asylums in Alaska, making people fear that this bill would essentially establish a Siberian gulag for Americans. In response to these fears, Senator Barry Goldwater (R-Ariz.) proposed an amended version in which the law only would serve to commit people in Alaska, and that is the version that passed unanimously. Bartlett was truly a workhorse rather than a showhorse. He was also more go-along, get-along as a senator than Gruening, who had been disliked by FDR and later by LBJ. Bartlett was a strong supporter of the Great Society and civil rights legislation.

By the late 1960s, his health was in serious decline due to a lifetime of heavy smoking and was suffering from heart disease. On December 11, 1968, Bartlett died at the Cleveland Clinic Hospital after heart surgery. His MC-Index score was a 13%. Republican Ted Stevens won the special election to succeed him and he would serve until 2009.

Ernest Gruening

Ernest Gruening (1887-1974) was already an old man by the time he was elected to the Senate and had a long career in politics in the Alaska territory, serving as its governor from 1939 to 1953. He had been a trailblazer on civil rights, signing into law the Equal Rights Act of 1945, an anti-discrimination statute. In 1955, Gruening delivered a notable speech titled, “Let Us End American Colonialism!”, comparing Alaska to a colony and argued that statehood was due for Alaska, quoting Dwight Eisenhower declaring back in 1950, “Quick admission of Alaska and Hawaii to statehood will show the world that America practices what it preaches” (Gruening). Although a liberal, Gruening would prove a major pain for the Democratic leadership because of his siding with Wayne Morse (D-Ore.) in his newfound opposition to foreign aid as an ineffective way to fight communism. He also voted against ratifying the Consular Treaty in 1967, which had been signed by the Johnson Administration in 1964, joining senators who feared that the Soviets would have better opportunities to spy on the United States. He also sided with him in his vote against the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution, which earned him the enmity of LBJ.

Morse and Gruening would be among the leading critics of the Vietnam War. He would write in his autobiography, Many Battles (1973), “I detailed my objections to the resolution on the second day of the debate, and again on the third. But the resolution was adopted by eighty-eight yeas to two nays, that of Senator Morse and mine… What none of the senators and representatives knew, however, was that they had been misled about the Tonkin Gulf incident. The facts would not be fully revealed until four years later when, on February 20, 1968, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee reopened an investigation into what actually had or had not happened in the Tonkin Gulf. But even before these subsequent disclosures, Senator Fulbright publicly and repeatedly expressed regret for his sponsorship and support of the Tonkin Gulf Resolution. He said he had been deceived. The Congress had been bamboozled into giving the President the unlimited power he sought to wage war in Southeast Asia. Had the Congress not been misinformed by the executive branch, the resolution would never have been adopted” (Simkin). Like Bartlett, Gruening was supportive of the Great Society, but he was known foremost for his Vietnam War opposition.

Despite his advanced age of 81, Gruening felt up to another term. The Democratic Party establishment supported him for another term, but Democratic primary voters disagreed and picked Mike Gravel. Gruening’s MC-Index score was 15%. Gruening tried for an independent write-in campaign for another term, but write-in campaigns are not often successful and his started only three weeks before the election. In retirement, he successfully completed his autobiography, Many Battles (1973). Gruening died on June 26, 1974, the same year as Wayne Morse, the other senator who voted against the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution.


Gruening, E. (1955, November 9). “Let Us End American Colonialism!” Keynote Address to Alaska Constitutional Convention.

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Haycox, S. (2018, December 21). Alaska’s first U.S. senator did more for the state than Alaskans remember. Anchorage Daily News.

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Reamer, D. (2021, October 31). For Alaska’s first senators, an epic battle of ego came down to a coin flip. Anchorage Daily News.

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Simkin, J. (1997, September). Ernest Gruening. Spartacus Educational.

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