This is it, the final Texas Legend. This one is unique in two ways. First, he is the only Republican, and second, he is as of writing, still alive!
In 1970, Congressman George H.W. Bush, heeding the advice of former President Johnson to run for the Senate (he compared the House and the Senate to “chicken shit” and “chicken salad” respectively), threw his hat in the ring for the second time. The first time, 1964, had been tough for Bush as it was a bad year for Republicans. This time seemed promising as Democratic Senator Ralph Yarborough, the leader of the liberal wing of the Texas Democratic Party, was increasingly unpopular. Unfortunately for Bush, he proved even too unpopular for his fellow Democrats and they voted him out in favor of moderate Lloyd Bentsen, who proved far more difficult to campaign against, and Bush lost. However, Bush’s plan did work out well for his successor to Congress, William Reynolds “Bill” Archer Jr. (1928- ). Archer, a businessman and local politician, had been a Democrat until 1969, and had served in the Texas State Legislature from 1967 to 1971.
While Bush was more amenable to compromise, Bill Archer, while resembling Bush in terms of personality, was more of an ideologue and quickly proved one of the most conservative members of Congress. His Americans for Constitutional Action scores were regularly quite high, and in his first four years he only got a single vote wrong by them, which involved the Vietnam War. Although he was a staunch conservative, he was also regarded as one of the more effective members of the Texas delegation. Archer’s specialty was taxation, and he proved a productive member of the House Ways and Means Committee. Texas Monthly noted in 1976, “Archer does his best work on the Ways and Means Committee, where he is one of the more energetic members on the Republican side. Says one regular observer of Ways and Means: “Archer reads the bills, and he knows precisely what’s in them that will affect his constituency, and he knows how to change it or get it out. He’s terribly knowledgeable and effective for his point of view.” Says another: “He’s a bulldog; he studies his stuff. Archer is the only Republican on Ways and Means who understands the whole Social Security mess” (Burka & Smith). Being both a conservative and from Texas, he was a natural fit to represent the interests of the oil industry on the committee. The late Pierre Rinfret, an economist who didn’t share conservatism to Archer’s degree and delivered harsh criticisms to more prominent conservatives, thought highly of him as a man of honesty and integrity. This view is backed by a Texas Monthly article that reported, “Archer’s integrity is unquestioned. A Texas reporter on Capitol Hill who pays close attention to the financial interests of congressmen calls Archer “one of the most personally honest guys I’ve ever covered in politics.” His attitude toward campaign contributions and personal finance disclosure goes far beyond minimum legal requirements. He will not accept contributions from organized groups nor will he take cash from anyone. His annual disclosure statements are finely detailed” (Burka & Smith). Despite good work, Texas Monthly regarded him as Fair to Middlin’ and there were two reasons for this. First, he was in the minority party in the House and thus not able to be as influential as he otherwise might be, and second, that he was a conservative ideologue who could let his ideology get in the way of his effectiveness and persuasiveness. Indeed, although Texas was conservative, many of its voters opted to stick with moderate to conservative Democrats, so Archer was a staunch conservative outlier in the state for much of his career. As might be expected, he was a strong supporter of the tax reduction policies of Ronald Reagan, and in 1982 voted against the 1981 cut’s partial rollback. Archer was also a supporter of trade agreements, including NAFTA, and backed deregulation efforts.
He often opposed civil rights legislation as a burden to business or to state governments. Archer voted against the 1975 Voting Rights Act Amendments, which extended coverage to Texas, and voted against the 1982 extension. Archer also voted against the Americans with Disabilities Act in 1990. He initially supported the Equal Rights Amendment in 1971 before opposing it over abortion concerns. Archer was also socially conservative in the traditional ways to be so, including opposing restrictions on school prayer and opposing gay adoptions.
In 1994, the midterms produced Republican majorities, and Archer succeeded the disgraced Dan Rostenkowski (D-Ill.) as chairman of the Ways and Means Committee. As chair, he supported a considerably different course than his predecessor. Archer saw the leadership of the Ways and Means Committee under Wilbur Mills (D-Ark.) as a positive example and sought bipartisan approaches to achieving passage of major legislation. This approach was successful in producing legislation in 1997 that provided for a balanced budget as well as for tax reduction. Archer also spearheaded the 1996 welfare reform legislation, stating that it, “turns today’s welfare trap for the needy into a trampoline to self-sufficiency…With this bill, we fulfill our promise to replace the failed welfare state so that America’s poor can achieve independence and enjoy successes that come from work” (Miller). He, unsuccessfully, tried to find a way to make Social Security sustainable in the long-term, a problem that to this day faces the United States. In 1999, Archer worked with the Clinton Administration to secure “most favored nation” status for China. Republicans have six-year term limits on chairmanships, and by 2000, his was up, so he decided to retire as at 72 years old he had reached the height of his career. Archer’s lifetime MC-Index score was a 98%. In 2002, President Bush considered him as a replacement for Paul O’Neill as Secretary of the Treasury. He afterwards consulted for PriceWaterhouseCoopers and most recently in 2017 he testified in favor of the Republican tax reduction bill.
Now that Texas Legends is over, I am mulling over my next series. I am strongly considering an American Radicals series which will focus on the far left. These are historical figures of the far left and include prominent academics, activists, and criminals. Some gradually adopted radicalism, others abandoned their radicalism later in their lives, and others remained radicals until their dying day. Like in the Texas Legends series, I anticipate most or all people I will cover will be dead. Unlike Texas Legends, however, I plan on no legislators being listed even though there were and are undoubtedly radical legislators (Sanders, Warren, & the Squad are some of the biggest contemporary examples).
Burka, P. & Smith, G. (1976, May). The Best, the Worst, and the Fair-To-Middlin’. Texas Monthly.
Diaz, K. (2017, July 19). Ex Houston Congressman Bill Archer Testifies for GOP tax reform plan. Houston Chronicle.
Miller, J.Y. (1995, December 21). Welfare Reform Bill Passes House. South Florida Sun Sentinel.
Rinfret, P. William (Bill) Archer; Chairman, House Ways and Means Committee: A Man of Integrity, Honor, and Service. Parida.