Arthur W. Mitchell: The First Black Democrat in Congress

By the time of the Great Depression, black loyalty to the Republican Party had been tested for some time. The Republican Party had abandoned consistent efforts for civil rights after the failure of the Lodge Federal Elections Bill in 1890, they had failed to pass an anti-lynching bill in 1922 despite President Harding and its Congressional leaders voicing support. Worse yet, President Hoover had broken a promise to Dr. Robert Moton, Booker T. Washington’s successor as head of the Tuskegee Institute, to grant blacks an unprecedented role in government after Moton agreed to help Hoover cover up abuses of blacks by local whites during the 1927 Mississippi River Flood recovery. Dr. Moton opted to endorse Roosevelt in 1932, and his New Deal was proving popular for many blacks. The first major sign that he was appealing to blacks was the 1934 midterm election, specifically in Illinois’s 1st District, a Chicago-based district which was and remains majority black. The incumbent is Oscar De Priest, a Republican who has voted against New Deal programs and condemned the New Deal as socialist. However, Arthur Wergs Mitchell (1883-1968), does not do the same, instead switching to the Democratic Party and campaigning in support of the New Deal. He had formerly headed the Chicago turnout campaign for Herbert Hoover in 1928. Although he narrowly loses the Democratic primary to Harry Baker, a white man, he dies before the election and Mitchell gets picked to fill in. Chicago Mayor Ed Kelly is of able assistance as he campaigns heavily for the black vote. Before I discuss Mitchell’s political career further, I feel his background is worth some coverage.

A Shady Past

Before moving North, Arthur W. Mitchell had engaged in agricultural education pursuits in Alabama. He founded a number of agricultural schools which were more oriented to getting free labor from students than educating them in superior farming practices. Mitchell also exaggerated his ties to Booker T. Washington (he had attended Tuskegee for one year) and outright lied about attending Talladega College. In 1908, he founded with the white owner of Fair Oaks Plantation the African American Building Loan and Real Estate Company and the West Alabama Normal and Industrial Institute. This school was a scheme to get cheap black labor to work in farms and woodlots, with only some rudimentary skills being learned by the children of the laborers at these schools (Nordin). The parents had hoped that their children would be learning skills that would enable them to have better futures. Mitchell would make appearances at Northern philanthropic institutions and send mailers to raise money for this scheme, thus taking away funds that would otherwise go to Booker T. Washington’s Tuskegee Institute. Although Washington initially campaigned against Mitchell’s activities, Mitchell managed to bribe a Tuskegee telegraph operator to intercept personally damaging communication and blackmailed Washington into backing down (Nordin). After the work was done at the plantation, the school’s main building mysteriously burned down.

Mitchell again engaged in this scheme at another plantation near Geiger, Alabama. Once again in 1915, a mysterious fire destroyed the school. Mitchell then served in an administrative role with the Armstrong Agricultural Institute. By 1919, however, pending lawsuits and allegations were mounting against him that he had defrauded poor blacks out of land, and he fled with his family to Washington D.C. While there, Mitchell uses illegally obtained money to buy apartments and study law (Nordin). He also sells real estate, and he is aided in these endeavors by Congressman John McDuffie (D-Ala.), a man he had befriended in his days in Alabama as he was one of the backers of one of his schools.

A Democratic Establishment Man

Ideologically, Mitchell is on the liberal end of course given his support of the New Deal, but he is more moderate than his successors will be. This district doesn’t go solidly Democratic overnight, as he wins reelection repeatedly by less than 10 points. In 1938, Mitchell’s opponent is black Republican William L. Dawson, who had worked in the Chicago Republican machine under De Priest. While in Congress, Mitchell, like De Priest, is accused of insufficient advocacy for civil rights by civil rights groups. He kowtows to what the Democratic machine in Chicago wants, distances himself from civil rights groups, does not attempt to aid black constituents from Southern districts who write him, and largely avoids issues that would cause offense to Southern whites. Rather, he is pushing measures to honor certain black figures that wouldn’t rock the boat. Indeed, biographer Dennis Nordin wrote of him that he was a “masterful flatterer of whites. . . . Whenever individual Democrats had done anything of importance . . . Mitchell was likely to offer them his help. . . . His letters, however, compromised African American respectability . . . [but suggested] that he might be personally useful if a need should arise to manage and control troublesome African Americans” (Pinderhughes). Mitchell also pushed a Southern-friendly myth that blacks in the South were better off than blacks in the North. In 1937, he strongly backs Roosevelt’s “court packing plan”, charging that the court had perverted the meaning of the 14th Amendment to defend corporations rather than blacks. That year, he sponsored an anti-lynching bill that was weaker than the Gavagan-Wagner proposal backed by the NAACP and there are murmurs of this bill getting support from a significant number of Southerners, including Judiciary Committee Chairman Hatton W. Sumners of Texas. Although Sumners and a few other Southerners vote for it, many Southerners opt to vote against anyway and many supporters of Gavagan-Wagner vote against the measure as too weak. Mitchell then backs the Gavagan-Wagner Bill, which passes the House but dies in the Senate.

Discrimination Lawsuit and Independence

In 1937, Mitchell boarded a train to take a vacation in Arkansas, and although he had paid a first-class ticket, by the time the train gets into Arkansas he is moved to a blacks only car by the conductor, which is in poor condition. Although the railroad offers to refund him the difference, Mitchell declines and files suit for discrimination in interstate travel. His case against the Illinois Central, Pullman, and Rock Island railroad companies takes four years to make its way up to the Supreme Court, and the court rules unanimously in his favor that under “separate but equal”, passengers traveling interstate regardless of their race must get first class accommodations if they paid for them. Although a small legal victory, it is a victory, nonetheless. He also during World War II spoke out against defense contractors who discriminated against blacks. Mitchell also demonstrates his independence in voting in his final term in Congress, which includes being one of two Cook County Democrats to support the Vinson Anti-Strike Bill, an unprecedented bucking of organized labor on his part.

The End

Ironically, Mitchell’s greatest accomplishment results in his political downfall. Chicago Mayor Ed Kelly and his machine don’t appreciate that he was exercising independence in advocacy for blacks, especially that which impacted Chicago-based rail companies, and he learned that the machine would be backing William L. Dawson, his 1938 opponent who had since become a Democrat, instead. Mitchell figured he wouldn’t win this fight and decided not to run again. Dawson would win the 1942 midterm election and be much more of a loyalist for liberalism than Mitchell, and the 1946 election would be the last time in which a Republican would come within single digits of defeating a Democrat in the 1st district. Like Mitchell, Dawson would also kowtow to the Chicago Democratic machine and remained in office until his death in 1970. Mitchell would afterwards assume the role of elder statesman and gave his support to Democratic presidential candidates.


Hill, R. Mitchell v. United States, et. al. The Knoxville Focus.

Mitchell, Arthur Wergs. United States House of Representatives.

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Nordin, D.S. Arthur Wergs Mitchell. Encyclopedia of Alabama.

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Pinderhughes, D.M. (1998, Fall). The New Deal’s Black Congressman: A Life of Arthur Wergs Mitchell. Political Science Quarterly, 113 (3)

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The Pugnacious Pete Stark

Pete Stark early in his Congressional career.

Before I post this, I want to put my cards on the table. In the 2012 redistricting, my hometown was to fall under his district, and I voted for Swalwell over Stark and did so with gusto given his ultra-liberal reputation and his penchant for pugnaciousness. On to covering Stark:

The year is 1972 and liberal Democrats have recently taken umbrage to Congressman George P. Miller. Miller had served in his Alameda County-based district since 1945 and is now 81 years old. The central complaint they have with him is that he has proven supportive of President Nixon on the Vietnam War. Although still a liberal Democrat in many more ways than not, he voted against Cooper-Church in 1970, against the Nedzi-Whalen Amendment and the Mansfield Amendment in 1971, and against the Boland Amendment in 1972, all efforts to restrict the scope of the war or to pull out. One of his colleagues, Jeffery Cohelan of Berkeley, had lost renomination in 1970 for less to Ronald V. Dellums. Enter Fortney Hillman “Pete” Stark (1931-2020).

Stark is a banker by profession and had founded the Security National Bank in Walnut Creek in 1963, intending it as a bank for the working class. His bank was a success and opened branches in both Alameda and Contra Costa Counties, eventually becoming worth $1 billion. He was at one time a Republican, but moved into the Democratic Party in the 1960s and was vehemently against the Vietnam War. His bank printed checks with the peace sign and he had the peace sign constructed atop the headquarters of his bank, attracting liberal customers. Stark, who campaigns against Miller both on him being old and his Vietnam War record, wins the primary. Indeed, his more difficult election is the general and in the year of the Nixon landslide, he prevails by six points against Republican Lew Warden. This will be the strongest challenge he ever faces from a Republican as his Alameda County district only gets more Democratic. Upon his victory, Stark sells his shares in Security National Bank. He soon establishes a staunchly liberal record, especially on questions of foreign policy and has a record both as a serious politician but also for his outbursts. I will start with the former.

Contributions to Law

Although Stark’s field was not initially healthcare, in 1985 he was elevated to be chairman of the subcommittee on health on the Ways and Means Committee. He would be the leading Democrat on this subcommittee until 2013. In 1985, Stark succeeded in getting an amendment attached to the Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act (COBRA), mandating numerous employers to offer continuation of coverage after a major life event and in the following year he won passage of the Emergency Medical Treatment and Active Labor Act (EMTALA), requiring hospitals to treat and stabilize people in emergency rooms regardless of ability to pay. He contributed the Stark Laws, which are regulations that severely restrict healthcare providers from referring Medicare patients to institutions that they profit from.

In 1986, as part of the tax legislation he played a key part in establishing COBRA, permitting employees to stay on their employers’ healthcare plans while looking for another job. He also worked with Rep. Bill Gradison (R-Ohio) to pass the Medicare Catastrophic Coverage Act in 1988, which expanded Medicare benefits to include outpatient drugs and caps copayment costs for enrollees, but the law faced massive criticism in the following year and was repealed by Congress. In 2008, Stark was one of the leaders of the push to pass the Medicare Improvements for Patients and Providers Act over President Bush’s veto.

The Stark Law

In 1988, Stark proposed a law that prohibited doctors who took Medicare patients from referring them to facilities where they or member of their immediate family have a financial stake and this was ultimately incorporated into the Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act of 1990 (Kolber). This was followed up with a prohibition regarding doctors who took Medicaid patients (“Stark II”) in 1993.

Stark and Obamacare

Stark was also a key figure in the drafting of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (“Obamacare”), having written some provisions of the law. He was an advocate for single-payer health care before it got the visibility it has now and unsuccessfully pushed for the inclusion of the public option, which if enacted had the potential to crowd out the private health insurance market.

Stark and Constituent Service

I have written this before, and I will do so again. If a member Congress has a reputation that is extreme or outrageous, look to constituent service as a reason they stick around. Stark had a reputation of delivering for his district, steering billions of dollars into it and assisted thousands of constituents in dealing with federal agencies (Lochhead).

Stark’s Controversies

Stark in 2002.

Pete Stark was a highly controversial figure to say the least, and he could be quite feisty. Some of this can be attributed to a core attitude of his, which in his own words in 2002 was, “I cannot tolerate individuals who are indifferent to the plight of the poor” (Schudel). I will go down the list!

In 1990, he called Health and Human Services Secretary Louis Sullivan, a black physician, “a disgrace to his profession and his race” over disagreements on healthcare policy to which he responded, “I don’t live on Pete Stark’s plantation” (Schudel).

The following year, he called out Jewish colleagues who supported the Gulf War, referring to Jewish co-sponsor Rep. Stephen Solarz (D-N.Y.) as “Field Marshal Solarz in the pro-Israel forces” (Discover the Networks).

In 1995, he called Rep. Nancy Johnson (R-Conn.) a “whore for the insurance industries” who got her knowledge about healthcare through “pillow talk” (from her physician husband), for which he subsequently wrote an apology (Discover the Networks).

In 1999, Stark denounced California’s welfare director, black conservative Eloise Anderson, by stating that she would “kill children if she had her way” (Discover the Networks).

In 2001, during a debate on sexual abstinence programs, Stark accused Congressman J.C. Watts (R-Okla.) of fathering all of his children out of wedlock (two were). Watts, not present at the debate, got wind that he had said this and confronted him two days later, asking why he said that and asserted that not all of his children were born out of wedlock, to which Stark retorted, “Then how many were there?”, with Watts having to be restrained by his fellow members (Lochhead).

In 2003, Bill Thomas (R-Calif.), chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, was trying to quickly pass an employer pension reform plan. Stark proceeded to heckle Thomas with vulgarities. Rep. Scott McInnis (R-Colo.) told him to “shut up” and he responded, “Oh, you think you are big enough to make me, you little wimp? Come on. Come over here and make me. I dare you. You little fruitcake. I said you are a fruitcake” and proceeded to call him a “cocksucker” (Discover the Networks).

In 2007, in response to President Bush’s veto of a proposed expansion of the State Children’s Health Insurance Program, he said, “You don’t have the money to fund the war or children. But you’re going to spend it to blow up innocent people if we can get enough kids to grow old enough for you to send to Iraq to get their heads blown off for the president’s amusement” (The Columbus Dispatch). Republicans attempted to censure him for this remark, but Democrats were in the majority and it was voted down.

Carl Guardino, the head of the non-partisan Silicon Valley Leadership Group arranged a meeting with Stark and a few small business leaders, which according to him, went like this: “Mr. Stark walked in, screaming the ‘F word’ at those small businessmen and women and turned what should have been a civil discourse on jobs and the economy into a curse-laden tirade” (Lochhead).

In 2008, Jan Helfeld, an interviewer who employs Socratic questioning, interviewed Stark, with the Congressman expressing the belief that “the more we owe, the wealthier we are”, and after he questions this by asking “Shall we borrow another trillion so we can become more wealthy?” he got progressively more belligerent and distraught as Helfeld stays on this issue and then Stark ended the interview, saying “Get the fuck out of here or I’ll throw you out the window” (Helfeld).

In 2010, he asked a member of a militia movement at a Town Hall meeting who was supporting stricter border control, “Who are you going to kill today?” (Schudel)

When a senior citizen at a Town Hall meeting said, “Don’t pee on my leg and tell me it’s raining” Stark responded, “I wouldn’t dignify you by peeing on your leg. It wouldn’t be worth wasting the urine” (Tavares).

Stark and the House Banking Scandal

I have covered the House Banking Scandal in the past, and it turns out that in the California delegation, Stark had a lot of overdraws. He had 64 overdrawn checks, which was a bit galling for a banker. However, Stark was after an investigation cleared of any criminal wrongdoing and received an exoneration letter, which he commented on by saying, “It’s a dastardly political thing if some poor bastard gets no letter. I’m not a lawyer, but it doesn’t seem to me it quite follows what ought to be ethics” (Tampa Bay Times).

Stark, Reintroducing the Draft, Atheism, and Other Matters

During the War in Iraq, of which he was a staunch critic, Stark supported reinstating the draft to make it so that people in more groups would have to experience the burden of war, stating, “If we’re going to have these escapades, we should not do it on the backs of poor people and minorities” (Tavares). He was also a Unitarian and in 2007 was the first ever member of Congress to openly identify himself as an atheist. The following year, the American Humanist Association awarded him the Humanist of the Year award.

Although Stark had a lifetime ACU score of 4%, he did have an independent streak. For instance, in 2008 he voted against both versions of the financial services bailout which created the Troubled Asset Relief Program and against bailing out the auto industry. Stark also voted against “cap and trade” in 2009 as an insufficient approach to climate change.

In 2010, Chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee Charles Rangel (D-N.Y.) stepped down in response to pressure within the Democratic Party after a critical report from the House Ethics Committee on taking sponsored Caribbean trips was released, which would later result in a censure. Although next in seniority for the post, Stark’s infamous reputation caused them to pass him over for Sander Levin of Michigan.

By 2012, Stark was, like Miller before him, getting on in years. In fact, he was going to be turning 81 in November, the same age that he had campaigned against Miller based on age. What’s more, he had been redistricted into a district that had only half of his original constituency. Folks in places like San Ramon, Dublin, Pleasanton, and Livermore were not so friendly to Stark’s political hot takes. What’s more, although his primary residence was in Alameda County, he had been spending most of his time in his other home in Harwood, Maryland and a controversy came about over whether he had improperly filed for an application for a homestead exemption for this home (Sherman). Enter Dublin City Councilman Eric Swalwell to challenge him. Stark attacks with him with both barrels, and falsely accused him of taking bribes from developers, which he ended up apologizing for (Lochhead). He also characterized him as a “Tea Party” candidate, a characterization that has aged like milk. Stark also mixed up the defunct Solyndra with Tesla Motors, both companies that had involvement in his district, proclaiming that he would love to buy one of the company’s new “S” cars (Lochhead). Although Stark won the primary, Swalwell could still run against him in the general election as California had recently adopted the open primary system and he prevailed by four points on Election Day. This made Stark the second longest serving member of Congress to ever lose reelection.

Stark died of leukemia on January 24, 2020. Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi eulogized him, saying, “Today, America has lost a champion of the people and a leader of great integrity, moral courage, and compassion. Congressman Pete Stark was a master legislator who used his gavel to give a voice to the voiceless, and he will be deeply missed by Congress, Californians, and all Americans” (Tavares). As for what I think of the man, I think he was a partisan bomb thrower with a nasty streak and had some ability as a legislator. I have no regrets about voting him out, but one thing I will say for Stark is that he had the sense not to run for president! Why Swalwell even ran in the Democratic primary in 2020 is to me a mystery for the ages.


70 in House bank scandal are cleared. (1992, September 10). Tampa Bay Times.

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Helfeld, J. (2008, August 23). Pete Stark Blows Up Over National Debt. YouTube.

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Kolber, M.J. (2006, April). Stark Regulation: A Historical and Current Review of Self-Referral Laws. HEC Forum 18(1): 61-84.

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Lochhead, C. (2012, August 16). Pete Stark’s burned bridges have cost him. SFGate.

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Novak, R. (2003, July 24). Thomas’s ‘police state’. CNN.

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Pete Stark. Discover the Networks.

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Republicans blast Rep. Stark for war-funds remark. (2007, October 19). The Columbus Dispatch.

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Schudel, M. (2020, January 25). Pete Stark, long time East Bay congressman, dies at 88. The Washington Post.

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Sherman, J. (2010, March 1). Pete Stark’s bizarre ethics interview. Politico.

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Tavares, S. (2020, January 29). Why Pete Stark Mattered. East Bay Express.

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Why Pete Stark Mattered

How They Voted: Annexation of the Hawaiian Islands

Queen Liliuokalani, the last of the Monarchs of the Hawaiian Islands

In January 1887, a secret society was formed in Oahu called the Committee of Safety, which had as a goal the overthrow of the monarchy with the ultimate aim being the annexation of the Hawaiian Islands by the United States. Some of its rationales included profligate spending by the King and the need to counter Japanese expansion. In June of that year this group, which had taken control of the Honolulu Rifles, was successful in making King Kalākaua sign the “Bayonet Constitution”, which severely restricted the King’s power, giving power to the legislature and cabinet and instead of having him have absolute veto power, allowing the legislature to override with 2/3’s of the vote. It also required the King to abide by the same laws that his subjects had to obey. This constitution also only permitted suffrage among literate Hawaiians, Europeans, and Americans with a minimum property requirement. The previous constitution had permitted suffrage for all adult males. This meant poor people and Asians were out of the political process.

After King Kalākaua died on January 20, 1891, Queen Liliuokalani attempted to restore the powers of the monarchy that had been limited in the Bayonet Constitution, and the Committee of Safety then, with the unofficial support of U.S. officials, initiated the overthrow of Queen Liliuokalani on January 17, 1893. This established the Republic of Hawaii under the new president, Sanford B. Dole. However, efforts to annex the islands were delayed until 1898, when Rep. Francis Newlands of the Silver Party of Nevada introduced the annexation resolution. The Spanish American War was then in progress. This is a very boiled down telling of this part of the story, which perhaps in future I will tell in greater detail.

Francis G. Newlands, sponsor of the resolution annexing the Hawaiian Islands

Most Republicans supported annexing the Hawaiian Islands while most of its opponents were Southern Democrats. Perhaps the most notable dissenter among the Republicans was Justin Morrill of Vermont, who was 88 years old and one of the founders of the Republican Party. He would die in office on December 28th. Senator Richard Pettigrew, now a “Silver Republican”, was a leading voice against the annexation of Hawaii and of imperialism altogether. He held that he could find no native Hawaiians among those he spoke with who were in favor of annexation and that the whole cause of annexation was the lifting of the duty on sugar and the placing of a bounty on domestic sugar, and stated, “Will Senators vote to take this title tainted by fraud? Will Senators vote to ratify this robber revolution brought about by us and refuse to consult the people most interested? If they will, it is an astonishing thing. If they will, then you can well suppose that we will go on with our career of conquest regardless of the honor of our flag and the honor of our name. We will go on to acquire other lands. There will be no stopping this acquisition” (6702). Speaking in favor of annexation included Henry Teller (SR-Colo.), Cushman Davis (R-Minn.) and Eugene Hale (R-Me.). The latter said, “I vote for the acquisition of Hawaii now not in any way as a war measure, not associated with the progress of the war, not marked in any way as a stepping-stone to anything else, but because of reasons that had matured and become convincing to my mind long before war was agreed upon. We have to-day a moral protectorate over the Hawaiian Islands, and it is the sense, I believe, of the American people that the union should be made complete. To me it does not involve statehood, but only a union, to be settled thereafter upon territorial grounds, limits, and precedents. Therefore I have no hesitation in voting for the resolution” (6708).


Annexation of the Hawaiian Islands (1898, July 6). Congressional Record.

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Click to access GPO-CRECB-1898-pt7-v31-20-1.pdf

Hawaii Annexation Vote, House:

Hawaii Annexation Vote, Senate

The Less Known Side of the Reagan Tax Increase of 1982: Why Many Republicans Supported It and Why Many Democrats Opposed It

The year is 1982 and the economy, rather than surging, is in a recession as the tax reductions on the fiscal side passed the year before, although the largest in history, prove insufficient to counter the interest rate raising by the Federal Reserve, a move Reagan backed Fed Chair Paul Volcker on, to combat high inflation. Although inflation goes down, so does the economy and the United States is facing a major budget shortfall. Calls for tax increases and budget reduction abound, and in the House Rep. Pete Stark (D-Calif.) introduces the Tax Equity and Fiscal Responsibility Act.

One of the lesser known Reagan legacies that gets brought up, mostly by liberals, is that he raised taxes through this law in 1982 as an example of why Republicans should be more flexible about raising them. That he signed this into law is true, but when we look at the votes and the breakdown the narrative gets…complicated. There were numerous otherwise quite staunch conservatives who voted for this and some otherwise very staunch liberals who were opposed to it. Both the ACU and the ADA counted the House vote for this legislation, with ACU finding it against and ADA finding it for their respective ideologies. House Democrats went for the legislation 123-118 while Republicans did so 103-89. The most interesting and vexing on the surface is the Senate vote, however, in which Republicans voted 43-11 in favor and Democrats 9-35 against. This means that in total, more Republicans supported this tax hike than did Democrats, and more Democrats opposed this tax hike than did Republicans. While on the Republican side you have some of the usual suspects voting against like Barry Goldwater of Arizona and Jesse Helms of North Carolina, you also have some unlikely senators voting for with major conservative bonafides like Bill Armstrong of Colorado, Steve Symms of Idaho, Strom Thurmond of South Carolina, and John Tower of Texas. William Roth of Delaware, the Senate sponsor of the 1981 tax reduction, voted for this legislation. The Democrats against included Senate Minority Leader Robert Byrd of West Virginia, Senator Joe Biden of Delaware, and some strongly liberal Democrats in Senator Howard Metzenbaum of Ohio and Paul Sarbanes of Maryland. There were of course some notable liberals who voted for this measure, including Alan Cranston of California, Gary Hart of Colorado, Ted Kennedy of Massachusetts, and Bill Bradley of New Jersey. Stark, its House sponsor, was well known for his advocacy for numerous left-wing causes. Rep. Al Gore (D-Tenn.) votes for it too. A part of this that really isn’t known is why would many Democrats who were such critics of Reagan’s 1981 tax cuts vote against raising taxes the following year and why would Republicans who were so gung-ho for tax reduction the previous year raise them? These are questions I intended to answer today.

For Republicans: The Persuasive Power of Bob Dole and Belief in Budget Reduction

The chief advocate for the tax legislation in the Senate was Finance Committee Chairman Bob Dole (R-Kan.). He proved a master of framing in how he pitched this legislation, asserting that this bill was a way to crack down on tax dodgers and cheaters. He stated the difficulty of his task to the American Bar Association on May 15th, “It is a pleasure to be here this afternoon to talk about taxes. Not that taxes are the most pleasant thing to discuss these days – lately every time I mention taxes I have a lurking fear that the next day I will be accused of having destroyed another industry or driven some company into bankruptcy” (Robert Dole).
Dole worked out a package in which the corporate tax is increased, the telephone service tax is tripled, the federal cigarette tax is increased, and more medical spending is required before people can deduct it from their taxes while canceling some scheduled tax reductions. Additionally, rules were tightened on “deprecation, leasing, contract accounting, and investment tax credits” (Fox). Taxes were raised overall by this measure by a factor of $98 billion with a $15 billion cut in entitlement spending.

Naturally, there were some Republican opponents to this approach. Rep. Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.), at the time regarded simply as a partisan bomb thrower, blasted him as the “tax collector of the welfare state” (Ponnuru). Jack Kemp (R-N.Y.), the House sponsor of the 1981 tax reduction, also voted against. Senators Paula Hawkins (R-Fla.) and Jesse Helms (R-N.C.) speak out against the measure. The former broadly opposed the legislation while Helms opposed the idea of raising taxes during a recession as well as the cigarette tax hike. Many Republicans voted for this legislation under the belief that the Democratic Congress would act further to control spending. President Reagan agreed provided $3 in spending reduction would occur for every $1 increase in taxes, but this ultimately never materialized for reasons that are disputed.

Republican senators who spoke for the increase included Steve Symms of Idaho, Chuck Grassley of Iowa, Bob Dole of Kansas, and Strom Thurmond of South Carolina. Thurmond emphasized the necessity of deficit reduction and stated his preference for a bill that cut more spending and taxed less. The Republicans who spoke against the measure were Paula Hawkins of Florida and Jesse Helms of North Carolina. Hawkins broadly opposed the legislation while Helms regarded raising taxes during a recession as problematic and not learning from the mistakes of the presidency of Herbert Hoover.

For Democrats: Too Many Taxes on the Little People

Although many Democrats were appreciative of certain loophole closings that occurred with this measure, their objections to some ways in which revenue was raised was sufficient motivation for them to vote against. Some of the key revenue raising mechanisms included increases in the cigarette tax and a tripling of the telephone tax. Minority Leader Byrd thought the latter a particularly burdensome way to raise revenue. He stated, “This tax bill still means that the average taxpayer must pay more in medical expenses, before he can deduct them from his taxes. This tax bill still triples the tax on telephones. And together, these two provisions will add more than $7 billion to our taxes over 3 years” (22416).

Howard Metzenbaum of Ohio, one of the Senate’s most staunch liberals, praised Dole’s leadership on the matter and stated his agreement with some loophole closings, but found the bill to not be equitable enough. He held that “the failure of the conferees to do that which the Senate had instructed them to do in connection with the extension of unemployment benefits makes this Senator conclude that, on balance, it does not warrant my voting for the measure” (22415). His Ohio colleague, Senator John Glenn, likewise opposed the bill. He charged that “The President’s message and his new tax bill perpetuate the cruel hoax of Reaganomics. They promise a balanced budget and economic prosperity while adding to our national debt and casting the dark shadows of joblessness across our land” (22419) Dennis DeConcini of Arizona, one of the moderates, spoke out against the bill in almost its entirety, and noted that the IRS bureaucracy would be increased. Indeed, it seems like the conservative wing of the Democratic Party really lacked motivation to back this measure as they largely lined up against it in the House and entirely lined up against it in the Senate.

I find it ironic that contemporary Democrats like to invoke this law when many of theirs opposed it, including the current president as well as a number of the party’s most liberal members. This is probably something the liberal talking pointers don’t know and honestly, I don’t judge them real harshly for this, as looking into this admittedly complex piece of tax legislation is a bit of a deep dive and I don’t expect most to undertake it. What’s more, it is particularly striking about the atmosphere of this debate that the perception of Reagan we see is considerably different than his legacy among many Americans, as he is unpopular, and the possibility looks real at this time that he has failed as a president and won’t win another term. Indeed, 1982 was the worst year of his presidency and the Republicans lost 26 seats in the House in the midterms, with the recession hitting its peak in November and December. You would have no idea at this time that Reagan would preside over economic recovery (and yes tax reduction was a factor) and growth from 1983 to the end of his presidency and win a 49-state landslide in 1984.


Conference Agreement – Tax Equity and Fiscal Responsibility Act of 1982. (1982, August 19). Congressional Record.

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Click to access GPO-CRECB-1982-pt16-4-2.pdf

Fox, J. (2017, December 15). The Mostly Forgotten Tax Increases of 1982-1993. Bloomberg.

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Sanders, K. (2015, September 25). Stephen Colbert – Says Ronald Reagan “reversed his world’s ‘largest tax cut’ and raised taxes when revenues did not match the expectations.”. Politifact.

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To Agree to the Conference Report on H.R. 4961. (Motion Passed). Govtrack.

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To Agree to the Conference Report on H.R. 4961. (Motion Passed) See Note(s) 35). Govtrack.

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RINOs from American History #4: Edward W. Brooke

The first black senator in American history was Mississippi’s Hiram Revels. However, he did not serve that long and was the first of the first generation of black elected officials. Edward W. Brooke III (1919-2015) was the first black senator to be elected by popular vote and the first of the second generation, which was primarily liberal and Democratic.

Brooke grew up in Washington D.C. Although it was a segregated environment, he didn’t experience much of the Deep South variety of racism. Although initially a supporter of FDR, his experiences with segregation and racism in the U.S. Army during World War II as well as Japanese-American internment gave him second thoughts. Although FDR had attracted the majority of the black vote through his New Deal programs, the Southern wing remained a sore spot for black voters and allowed for some significant remaining GOP support until 1964. World War II had also been instructive for Brooke that the color line need not exist since as a soldier fluent in Italian in Italy he met and married a local woman without issue. During World War II, despite lacking formal legal training, he became an effective legal defender for black soldiers, and he ultimately earned a law degree from Boston University. Instead of accepting numerous offers from law firms, Brooke formed his own law firm and gained an interest in state politics. In 1950, he ran for the State House of Representatives and sought both the Democratic and Republican nominations. He won the Republican nomination and this started his affiliation with the Republican Party. Although Brooke didn’t win this race and didn’t win the next few races, his profile did rise in an increasingly Democratic state.

In 1960, Brooke ran for but lost the Secretary of State race to Kevin White, future mayor of Boston, who distributed bumper stickers with the slogan “VOTE WHITE”. However, John Volpe, a Republican, was elected governor. Governor Volpe appointed him to chair the Finance Commission of Boston, where he revitalized the commission and got it back to its original purpose: exposing numerous financial irregularities and corruption in the Democratically controlled city. Brooke’s stint as chairman built up momentum for his run for attorney general in 1962, which he won despite Governor Volpe losing reelection that year.

Pursuing the Boston Strangler

After his election as attorney general, Brooke coordinated the statewide police investigation of 13 murders of the “Boston Strangler”, which occurred between June 14, 1962, and January 4, 1964, in Boston and several other cities. He did err when he allowed parapsychologist Peter Hurkos to use extrasensory perception to identify the killer in detail…which turned out completely wrong (TIME, 8). Although Albert DeSalvo was apprehended as the “Boston Strangler” and was proven by DNA evidence to have committed at least one of the murders, whether he committed all the murders or not remains a subject of controversy.

Brooke and the 1964 Election

In 1964, Republican Party moderates and liberals faced a difficult situation in the party’s nomination of Senator Barry Goldwater of Arizona for president, but Brooke navigated the situation effectively by condemning the nomination. He stated on the matter of black support collapsing for the Republican ticket, “You can’t say the Negro left the Republican Party; the Negro feels he was evicted from the Republican Party” (Wingfield & Pratt). He won reelection that year.

In 1966, popular longtime senator Leverett Saltonstall was calling it quits. Saltonstall’s ability to win reelection statewide at this point was due more to legacy and personal popularity than his voting record in an increasingly Democratic state. Brooke ran for the Senate, labeling himself as a “creative Republican”. Although Senator Ted Kennedy campaigned for his opponent, Endicott Peabody, Brooke was endorsed by the departing incumbent, Leverett Saltonstall, and he was too popular to be overcome. Upon his entrance into the Senate, he got a standing ovation. Indeed, his reception was far better than one might expect, and he was treated as all the other senators were. A most illuminating incident occurred when Brooke was going to the Senate swimming pool. In the pool were Senators John C. Stennis (D-Miss.), John McClellan (D-Ark.), and Strom Thurmond (R-S.C.). These men had all signed the Southern Manifesto and had voted against every civil rights measure of the 1950s and 1960s, yet they were inviting him to join them. Brooke stated on this event, “There was no hesitation or ill will that I could see. Yet these were men who consistently voted against legislation that would have provided equal opportunity to others of my race. I felt that if a senator truly believed in racial separatism, I could live with that, but it was increasingly evident that some members of the Senate played on bigotry purely for political gain” (U.S. House).

Although Brooke represented the state of Massachusetts, he symbolically represented black people in all fifty states. He also understood that being successful in the Senate would require him not to be a “black senator” rather a senator who happens to be black. A Time Magazine (1967) article described Brooke’s approach on race thusly, “…[he] has never rallied his race to challenge segregation barriers with the inspirational fervor of a Martin Luther King. Unlike Thurgood Marshall, Roy Wilkins or Philip Randolph, he has not been a standard-bearer in the civil rights movement. He has made none of the volatile public breakthroughs to equality of a Jackie Robinson or a James Meredith. He has triggered none of the frustrated fury of a Stokely Carmichael, written none of the rancorous tracts of a James Baldwin or a LeRoi Jones, drawn none of the huzzahs of a Louis Armstrong or a Joe Louis, a Willie Mays or a Rafer Johnson. He has never sought or wanted to be a symbol of negritude. There have always been two ways for members of minorities to rise: through purely individual achievement and through involvement in group action. But in the U.S., there is room for both types and, ultimately, each reinforces the other” (1).

Brooke saw himself as a figure who could bring people together. He said, “I’ve never tried to run away from my race. I was born a black man. You know that in your bones as soon as you are able to understand this country…My approach to life about race is, I don’t see the difference between black people and white people. I wanted to go to Washington to bring people together who had never been together before. I wanted to break down the barriers between races” (Jacobs). In 1967, he was tapped by President Johnson to serve on the Kerner Commission to investigate the causes of urban riots and the following year he co-sponsored with Walter Mondale (D-Minn.) the Fair Housing Act of 1968, prohibiting racial discrimination in housing. In sponsoring this legislation, Brooke sought to manage expectations, stating, “Fair housing does not promise an end to the ghetto. It promises only to demonstrate that the ghetto is not an immutable institution in America” (U.S. House). Brooke was also early to call for an MLK Holiday, doing so shortly after his assassination in 1968.

Although initially a supporter of the Vietnam War, by the Nixon Administration he had joined the doves, voting for the Cooper-Church Amendment ending US military presence in Cambodia and the McGovern-Hatfield “End the War” Amendment in 1970 which would have had all troops withdrawn from Vietnam by the end of 1971. Brooke’s overall record was decidedly liberal; his scores from conservative interest group Americans for Constitutional Action ranged from 0% in 1975 to 40% in 1968. Brooke was critical of aspects of LBJ’s execution of anti-poverty programs but not the fundamental concepts themselves, stating that Johnson’s approach was akin to “aspirin – it relieves the pain, but it doesn’t cure” and held that “If you give a man a handout, you establish a chain of dependence and lack of self-respect that won’t be broken easily” (Time). During the Nixon Administration, Brooke fought to maintain and expand anti-poverty programs. In 1969, he won passage of an amendment that prohibited charging rent in public housing above 25% of family income (Wingfield & Pratt). Although Brooke’s voting record was unwaveringly favorable to civil rights legislation, busing and affirmative action, and he voted against the Supreme Court nominations of Haynsworth, Carswell, and Rehnquist, he still had differences with civil rights groups for not adopting a more militant approach. As attorney general, he had refused to support civil rights activists in a call for a walkout of black students in protest of de facto segregation (TIME, 8). Brooke was simultaneously critical of Governor Lester Maddox of Georgia and Stokely Carmichael and rejected the Black Panthers. In 1971, he refused to join the Congressional Black Caucus in sitting out of the State of the Union in protest of Nixon’s refusal to meet with them.

Brooke’s views on social issues were generally quite liberal; in 1974 he opposed legislation to reinstate the death penalty and he was a leading opponent of the Hyde Amendment blocking Medicaid funding for abortion. He was also a leading opponent of anti-busing measures and a strong supporter of Title IX by opposing efforts to allow schools to maintain sex segregation for PE classes.
When Brooke disagreed with liberals it was usually on opposing defense cuts although he had occasional agreements with conservatives on domestic government matters; in 1971 he voted against more funding for the Appalachian Regional Development Program and in 1974 he voted to end presidential monitoring over the economy through price controls. Despite his vote against presidential monitoring, Brooke proved a foe of efforts to deregulate oil prices. Although he voted for the Panama Canal Treaties, he was a bit hesitant on the matter as he also voted for numerous reservations.

Personal Difficulties and Defeat

In 1976, Brooke filed for divorce. He and his wife had been separated for many years, and he himself said that “We’ve been distant for 17 years” (People). During this time, he was going out with other women, most notably journalist Barbara Walters, who he would have a relationship with for years. The divorce was acrimonious, with his wife Remigia filing a countersuit claiming “cruel and abusive treatment” from him, namely her claiming that he didn’t give her enough of an allowance including for medicine when undergoing cancer treatment, with Brooke himself claiming that he had given her enough and alleging the same treatment from her (People). She seemed to expect that Brooke was occupied with politics and would return to her once he was done. Although he would have probably survived the nasty divorce alone, matters got worse when in May 1978 the Senate Ethics Committee launched an investigation into an accusation that he had committed perjury by lying about the source of a personal loan in the divorce proceeding. Prosecutor and future senator and presidential candidate John Kerry of Middlesex County also launched an investigation. Although Brooke was not charged with a crime as his misrepresentations were not found to have had an impact on the outcome, this damaged him. He also faced a tough challenge in the primary from conservative broadcaster Avi Nelson, and singled out in particular for criticism was his stance on abortion in a Catholic state. Despite grumblings about Brooke and abortion, his opponent, Democratic Congressman Paul Tsongas, was also pro-choice and won the election by over 10 points. This was the end of his career in elected office, and it haunted him for the rest of his life, saying later, “Why did it happen? I don’t know. I’ve asked my God that many times. Why, why, why, dear God?” (Jacobs)

In 1979, Brooke was tapped to be the chairman of the national Low-Income Housing Commission and President Reagan put him on the President’s Commission on Housing. Given this role he was later accused as a lobbyist of using his former position to win low-income housing contracts for his client and having special access to and influence over Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Samuel Pierce (Martin). This controversy prompted his retirement from politics for good in 1988.

Brooke received a number of honors late in his life. In 2000, a new Boston courthouse was named after him, in 2002 professor Molefi Kete Asante listed Brooke in his book,100 Greatest African Americans. Two years later, President George W. Bush awarded Brooke the Presidential Medal of Freedom, and in 2009 he was presented with the Congressional Gold Medal. Brooke’s final presidential endorsement was for Barack Obama in 2008. At the time of his death on January 3, 2015, he had been the oldest living former senator.


After Years Apart, Senator Brooke and His Italian Wife File for Divorce – and Tempers Erupt. (1976, August 16). People.

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Brooke, Edward William, III. U.S. House of Representatives.

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An Individual Who Happens to be a Negro. (1967, February 17). Time Magazine.

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Jacobs, S. (2003, June 10). The unfinished chapter. The Boston Globe.

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Martin, D. (2015, January 4). Edward W. Brooke, III, 95, Senate Pioneer, Is Dead. The New York Times.

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Wingfield, S. & Pratt, M. (2015, January 3). Edward Brooke, 1st black elected US senator, dies. Associated Press.

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Great Conservatives from American History #6: Joseph Rainey

Since this is Black History Month, I have opted to cover some figures of black history in politics. Today’s is the first black Congressman in history, South Carolina’s Joseph Rainey (1832-1887).

Born into slavery, his father Edward had the good fortune of being permitted by his master to work a side-business as a barber. He would contribute a portion of what he made to his master as was law, but was able to earn and save enough money to buy the freedom of himself, his wife, and two children (U.S. House). Joseph Rainey would follow in his father’s footsteps as a barber in South Carolina. Although a free man, his rights were still limited. As an article in Smithsonian Magazine explains, “Their liberties were limited by law. Every free man over the age of 15 was required to have a white “guardian” to enable him to live in the city, and any “insolence” left the African American man open to violent assault. Free people of color had to pay an annual tax; if they failed to pay it, they could be sold into slavery for one year. Wherever they went, free people of color were assumed to be enslaved and had to show documents to prove they were not” (Donaldson). In 1861, with the outbreak of the War of the Rebellion, Rainey was drafted into the Confederate Army to perform menial labor. The following year, he and his wife fled to Bermuda, where both made a good living and with the money they made. During this time Rainey received a greater education, including reading classic literature which prepared him for civic life (Donaldson). They returned to South Carolina in 1865, and Rainey became active in the Republican Party. In 1868, he participated in the Constitutional convention of South Carolina which instituted a poll tax to fund a public school system. During this time, his conservatism manifested in his expressed belief that those who don’t own property shouldn’t have the right to vote (Richardson). This position traces back to the Federalist Party, whose members believed that people who didn’t own property had no investment in the current governance. In 1870, an opportunity arose with Congress’s refusal to seat B.F. Whittemore, a corrupt carpetbagger who had been censured for selling appointments to naval and military academies at $2000 each and had been reelected after resigning to avoid expulsion. (Rocky Mount Telegram). Rainey was elected in his place, becoming the first black representative in American history.

Rainey usually impressed those he met and many were curiosity. As the Chicago Daily Tribune wrote on him, “His long bushy side whiskers are precisely like a white man’s. His physical organization seems to be sufficiently strong to bear all the strain his mental construction will give. His forehead is middling broad and high and the ennobling organization of the mind is well developed. He has an excellent memory, and his perceptive powers are good. His polite and dignified bearing enforces respect. Of course Mr. Rainey will not compare with the best men of the House of Representatives, but he is a good average congressman, and stands head and shoulders above the ordinary carpet bagger” (Donaldson).He was largely conservative on matters regarding business and monetary issues. He usually supported railroad interests and opposed concepts like “free silver”, expanding silver currency generally, and greenbacks. He did, however, vote for the Bland-Allison Act over President Hayes’ veto in 1878 as a compromise. Rainey’s central cause, however, was protecting the rights of freedmen. For one day in 1872, he presided over the House of Representatives, another first for a black man. As one newspaper noted about the fears of racists, “For the first time in the nation’s history a colored man, in the person of Hon. Joseph H. Rainey, of South Carolina, on Thursday last presided over the deliberations of the House of Representatives….The earth continues to revolve on its axis” (Donaldson).
Rainey, as did almost all other Republicans, supported the Ku Klux Klan Act in 1871 to curb racially motivated violence against politically active blacks and white Republicans. The Ku Klux Klan of the Reconstruction period was by far the most violent of the incarnations of the Klan and had a body count of thousands. Rainey strongly supported the Civil Rights Act of 1875 and asked in a speech,

Why is it that colored members of Congress cannot enjoy the same immunities that are accorded to white members? Why cannot we stop at hotels here without meeting objection? Why cannot we go into restaurants without being insulted? We are here enacting laws for the country and casting votes upon important questions; we have been sent here by the suffrages of the people, and why cannot we enjoy the same benefits that are accorded to our white colleagues on this floor? (Donaldson)

By 1874, the KKK had been countered by federal authority, but new groups arose that also perpetrated acts of violence to upend the political power of blacks as well as white carpetbaggers and “scalawags”. These included the White League and the Red Shirts, which became such a threat that he purchased a “summer home” in Windsor, Connecticut, where he moved his family for their protection. He maintained an official residence in South Carolina as legally required.

Although reelected in a difficult contest in 1876 against Democrat John S. Richardson, the political environment in the state was declining for blacks. Republican presidential candidate Rutherford B. Hayes only won the state by a mere 889 votes that year. His victory was secured by agreeing to end Reconstruction, and the results of the next presidential election speak greatly to how things changed in South Carolina: Democrat Winfield Scott Hancock won the state by 32 points. The numbers would only worsen for Republicans in South Carolina as less and less blacks were voting due to absurdly restrictive voting laws targeted at them, violence, intimidation, and fraud. By 1900, the Republican vote for president dwindled down to 7%. Republican percentages would remain in single digits until Eisenhower almost won the state in 1952, thanks both to Truman’s embrace of civil rights and to the institution of the secret ballot, and the state would again vote Republican for president in 1964. In 1878, with Reconstruction over and increased voter intimidation, violence, and fraud occurring, Rainey was defeated for reelection with Democrat John S. Richardson winning with 62% of the vote, despite the district being majority black in population. He served in a post in the U.S. Treasury for a short time and then he turned to business pursuits, retiring in 1886. Sadly, Rainey didn’t get to enjoy retirement for long. Malaria was a horrible reality in the South until rural electrification, and his brush with it compromised his health so badly that he died months later on August 2, 1887.

P.S.: Some may be understandably skeptical about my assertions of Joseph Rainey as a conservative, thus in the references I have provided links to votes I have cited as evidence. The usage of the word “conservative” for Reconstruction Era politics is usually employed to mean policies that aim for a return as much as possible to the antebellum South.


Donaldson, B.J. (2021, January). Meet Joseph Rainey, the First Black Congressman. Smithsonian Magazine.

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Precedent for Keeping Powell Out. (1967, April 18). Rocky Mount Telegram.

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Representative Joseph Rainey of South Carolina, the First African American to Serve in the House. U.S. House of Representatives.

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To Agree to a Report of Committee of Conference on H.J. Res. 109, Which Provides That Subsidiary Silver Coin and Fractional Currency Oustanding Shall Not Exceed $50,000,000; That Amount of Money Invested in Silver Bullion, Exclusive of Resulting Coin, Shall Not Exceed $200,000 [Limiting Silver Coinage]. Govtrack.

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To Concur in Senate Amendment to H.R. 1093 Said Amendment Striking the Provision Permitting the Coinage of Silver Bullion at a U.S. Mint or Assay Office on Same Terms and Conditions as Coinage of Gold Bullion [Rainey votes for]. Govtrack.

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To Introduce H.R. 2788, A bill to Authorize the Building of a Military and Postal Railway from Washington, D.C., to New York City [Rainey votes for]. Govtrack.

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To Pass S. 617, A Bill to Fix the Amount of U.S. Notes and the Circulation of National Banks, and for Other Purposes [Rainey votes against]. Govtrack.

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To Pass H.R. 1093 Over the Veto of the President. [Rainey votes to override Hayes’ veto of Bland-Allison] Govtrack.

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To Pass S. 647. [Rainey votes to Incorporate the Texas Pacific Railroad Co.]. Govtrack.

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To Suspend the Rules and Pass A H.Res. Providing That the Right of the Congress to Coin and Regulate Money Does Not Include the Authority to Issue Paper of Government as Money [Rainey votes for Anti-Greenback Resolution]. Govtrack.

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To Suspend the Rules and Pass H.R. 3923, Providing for the Coining of the Standard Silver Dollar of the U.S. and for Restoring its Legal-Tender Character. [Rainey votes against restoring bimetallism]. Govtrack.

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To Table H.R. 5429, a Bill Authorizing and Requiring the United States Treasurer to Receive U.S. Coins in Exchange for U.S. Notes [Rainey votes to table]. Govtrack.

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To Table S.J. Res. 11. (Extending Time for Wisconsin Railroad to be Completed) Govtrack.

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Great Conservatives from American History #5: Bob Stump

In 1976, the Arizona Republicans were having a big fight over who was to succeed retiring Senator Paul Fannin. The contenders were both representatives and hardcore conservatives in Sam Steiger and John B. Conlan. The primary battle was bitter, and the winner, Steiger, came out of it a damaged candidate and he lost the election by over 10 points to Democrat Dennis DeConcini. The Republicans also lost Steiger’s seat to a Democrat. Although going from Fannin to DeConcini was a loss for conservatives, it turns out Steiger to Robert Lee “Bob” Stump (1927-2003) was not.

Stump, a cotton farmer by profession, was from the start of his Congressional career a poor fit in the Democratic Party. To win his seat, he spoke out against Vice Presidential nominee Walter Mondale. He had been elected to Congress in a time in which the conservative wing of the party was starting its decline that had kicked off from a change in policy from House Democrats, that who would get a committee chairmanship would no longer be based on seniority alone. Democrats were in no mood for a repeat of the obstructionism of Howard W. Smith of Virginia or the prejudiced and patronizing Eddie Hebert of Louisiana. Stump’s record was shockingly conservative from the get-go, rivaling that of Larry McDonald of Georgia, who would become chairman of the John Birch Society. Americans for Constitutional Action gave him a 100% in both 1977 and 1978. Republicans noticed how poor a fit Stump was for the party and often tried to recruit him. Leading Republican John Rhodes (R-Ariz.) brought the issue up with him multiple times, stating, “I’ve told him any time he wants to switch parties, I can guarantee him the Republican nomination” (CQ, 57). Back when conservative organizations courted Democrats, he was found to be a valuable presence to make their organizations more than simply an arm of the Republican Party. He was part of the advisory boards of the National Right to Work Committee, the Gun Owners of America, and the American Conservative Union. The Democratic leadership was inclined to keep him around simply as a vote for organization of the House.

The liberal project for the domination of the Democratic Party would be stymied for a brief time in the 97th Congress, in which 63 House Democrats bucked party leadership to back the Gramm-Latta Budget and 48 backed the Kemp-Roth substitute that ultimately made up the tax reduction bill. Although the Democratic leadership declined to penalize members who voted for these laws, they were put on notice that future voting in this direction could result in penalties. This prompted Stump to announce in September 1981 that he would switch to the Republican Party. He stated on his departure, “I have been a Democrat all my life. But I find that I can no longer support the policies dictated by the liberals who dominate the party” and went on to say “There were history-making proposals to cut the budget and cut taxes this session. I voted for all those proposals, against the demands of the party liberals” (Hulbert). Stump hoped that his departure would motivate other Democrats to switch, and he was followed by Eugene Atkinson of Pennsylvania and Phil Gramm of Texas. However, most chose to remain. Richard Shelby of Alabama was reportedly close to switching, but he opted to move up in the Democratic Party, eventually winning election to the Senate in 1986. It was after the 1994 Republican Revolution that he switched to the Republican Party. Even Larry McDonald of Georgia, the most conservative of them all, stuck with the Democratic Party until his death. Stump’s switch would be official in the 98th Congress.

In the 98th Congress, Stump the Republican was an even stronger conservative than he had been before, being a strong supporter of Reagan’s increases in defense spending and anti-communist foreign policy. He was also a staunch budget slasher on domestic matters. Stump followed through on fiscal conservatism in his own affairs, maintaining a bare-bones staff. Thus, he performed some secretarial functions, and it was entirely possible that if you called Stump’s Washington D.C. office, he would answer the phone himself. It is hard to imagine any elected official in Washington answering cold phone calls. Stump also sponsored legislation to make English the official language of the United States and pushed for legislation to counter automatic citizenship being conferred upon the children of illegal immigrants. He would make an exception in conservatism in his opposition to prayer in public schools and also opposed the Equal Access Act in 1984. These actions stemmed from his strict belief in separation of church and state as a Seventh Day Adventist.

Stump was committed unwaveringly to an anti-communist foreign policy, consistently backing world actors who were opposed to communism. In 1986, he successfully pushed for ending the prohibition on aid to UNITA anti-communist rebels in Angola, a follow-up to the repeal of the Clark Amendment the previous year. Stump briefly considered running for the Senate to succeed Barry Goldwater but ultimately demurred to Congressman John McCain. He also became one of the chamber’s foremost naysayers, seldom finding a domestic spending proposal he liked. Stump also voted against a lot of social legislation that received overwhelming margins of passage, including the Fair Housing Amendments Act of 1988, the Americans with Disabilities Act, the Hate Crimes Statistics Act of 1990, the Older Workers Benefit Protection Act, and the Civil Rights Act of 1991.

In 1994, a Republican House was elected after forty years of Democratic control and Stump was now chairman of the House Veterans Affairs Committee, where he pushed for college and job opportunities for veterans. Although by this time a powerful member of Congress, he was a workhorse rather than a showhorse. As Senator Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.) said about him, “He always shunned the limelight, but got the job done” (USA Today, 2002). In June 1998, it was mistakenly reported that Bob Hope had died, and Stump announced his death on the floor of the House. Ironically, Hope would die five weeks after him. In 2001, Stump became chairman of the House Armed Services Committee and in this capacity, he successfully pushed for increasing pay for military personnel, additional military construction, and the Bush Administration’s plan for missile defense (USA Today, 2003). In April 2002, he announced his retirement due to declining health, which turned out to be from myelodysplasia, a serious blood disorder. Stump died of this ailment on June 20, 2003. His American Conservative Union lifetime score was a whopping 97%, indicating a strong adherence to conservative principles.

Stump earns an entry for being a leading light for Reagan Democrats to move to the Republican Party, being among the leading supporters of anti-communist foreign policy, his leading advocacy for making English the official language of the United States, his leadership on national defense and the well-being of the nation’s veterans, and his limited government philosophy that applied on the spending side and not merely in the form of tax reductions.


Former Ariz. congressman Bob Stump dies. (2003, June 22). USA Today.

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Hurlbert, D. (1981, September 25). Rep. Bob Stump, a conservative Democrat has announced plans… UPI.

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Politics in America (1981). Congressional Quarterly, 57.

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Rep. Bob Stump of Arizona retiring. (2002, April 26). USA Today.

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From Space to the Senate: John Glenn and Harrison Schmitt

In retrospect regarding the 2022 midterms, no one should have been surprised that Blake Masters lost to Mark Kelly in the Arizona Senate and for multiple reasons. One of them is that Kelly’s resume as an astronaut is more broadly appealing than being the top ideological student of venture capitalist Peter Thiel. Kelly is but the third astronaut to make his way to the Senate. The first two were Ohio’s John Glenn (1921-2016) and New Mexico’s Harrison Schmitt (1935- ).

John Glenn

In 1959, World War II veteran and US Marine John Glenn was recruited by NASA for Project Mercury with six other candidates. Glenn flew on Mercury-Atlas 6, the first manned spaceflight into orbit by the Americans. On February 20, 1962 his flight launched, and he circled the Earth three times, with the craft falling down into the ocean after 44 hours, 55 minutes, and 23 seconds. Upon his return, Glenn was the toast of the nation, meeting President Kennedy, and being the subject of a ticker-tape parade. He then became a close friend of the Kennedy family, and Attorney General Bobby Kennedy urged Glenn to run for the Senate in 1964.

On January 16, 1964, Glenn resigned from NASA to pursue a political career. However, just a month later he had a fall in a hotel bathroom causing a concussion. The head injury impacted his hearing and the attending doctor gave him a recovery time of one year, so he dropped out of the race. In the next year, he accepted the position of vice president of corporate development Royal Crown Cola, later becoming president of Royal Crown International. In 1968, he was in Los Angeles campaigning for Robert F. Kennedy and went with his wife Annie to the hospital after he was shot. Glenn then served as a pallbearer at his funeral. He declined to run for the Senate that year, but looked to a run in 1970 to succeed retiring Stephen Young.

First Senate Primary Run: 1970

Funny enough, the reception to the idea of astronauts running for political office was initially mixed. There were those, particularly among Republicans in reaction to John Glenn’s running for office, who thought that it was somehow improper for astronauts to capitalize on their fame to run for political office. At that time, there was another figure in Democratic politics in Ohio who was looking at a Seante seat in Howard Metzenbaum. Metzenbaum was a businessman but also a bit to the left of Glenn. He had more solid Democratic Party establishment support in the state, particularly from unions and he won the primary. Metzenbaum would, however, go on to lose the election to Congressman Robert Taft Jr.

Running for Office in ’74

On January 3, 1974, Senator William B. Saxbe resigned the Senate to serve as President Nixon’s attorney general. The governor at the time was Democrat John J. Gilligan, who although had appointed Glenn as chair of the Citizens Task Force on Environmental Protection, gave Metzenbaum a leg up by appointing him to serve the remainder of the term. His incumbency edge did not deter Glenn from giving the Senate another go, especially since Metzenbaum had faced the voters before and lost. Metzenbaum blundered badly when he asserted that Glenn had not held a real job. He responded effectively in a May 4, 1974 speech that would come to be known as the “Gold Star Mothers Speech”, stating, “…look those men with mangled bodies in the eyes and tell them they didn’t hold a job. You go with me to any Gold Star mother and you look her in the eye and tell her that her son did not hold a job” (Glenn). Glenn won the primary four days later 54-46% and defeated Cleveland’s Republican mayor Ralph Perk in the general election by 34 points and won all counties.

Although not even two years into the Senate, Jimmy Carter considered Glenn for his vice president and in 1976 he, with Texas Congresswoman Barbara Jordan, delivered the Keynote Address at the Democratic National Convention. However, Jordan was a great speaker and Glenn, who followed her, delivered an underwhelming speech, with his delivery being the primary issue. He lost the nomination to Minnesota’s Walter Mondale. That year, Metzenbaum would join Glenn in the Senate by narrowly winning a rematch with Taft and would become a political ally. He often agreed with President Carter on domestic issues and frequently voted the liberal Democratic line on issues such as food stamps, busing, and abortion. His lifetime American Conservative Union score was a 12%. Glenn also sided with Carter often on foreign policy with his votes for the Panama Canal Treaties and selling AWACs to Egypt, Israel, and Saudi Arabia in 1978. However, he backed funding B-1 Bombers and wasn’t convinced to support SALT II, which fell through after the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. Glenn also naturally backed increased government funding for scientific pursuits. Although overall a liberal Democrat, he was not big on emphasizing partisanship and was highly likeable; he won reelection in 1980 with 69% of the vote, far ahead of Ronald Reagan’s 51.5% of the vote. It was fitting that Ohio, a state that had a disproportionate number of people who made innovations in and had achievements in flight, would vote to keep their astronaut-senator.

Presidential Ambitions

In 1983, John Glenn announced his candidacy for the Democratic nomination for president. Although the front-runner was former Vice President Walter Mondale, Glenn was initially seen as the leading alternative. That year, the film “The Right Stuff” had celebrated the bravery of Glenn and his fellow Mercury astronauts and it really seemed like the stars were aligning for him to win. However, the timing of this movie’s release would turn out to be detrimental to his campaign. Although Glenn was wanting to be questioned about the issues of the day, his background as an astronaut came back to haunt him as many voters at town halls would ask him about that rather than his politics. His record had also been independent enough so that he cast some votes that gave certain groups within the Democratic Party pause: his vote against the Common Site Picketing bill in 1975 concerned organized labor and his vote for selling AWAC planes to Saudi Arabia and Egypt in 1978 concerned Jewish groups. Glenn also had continued his reputation as not being an outstanding public speaker. As humorist Dave Barry wrote, “he couldn’t electrify a fish tank if he threw a toaster into it” (Greenfield).

As the 1984 primary season continued and enthusiasm for Glenn dwindled, he was supplanted as an alternative to Mondale by Colorado Senator Gary Hart. He came in third in the Iowa caucus and the New Hampshire primary, and finally his failing to win any of the Super Tuesday primaries on March 13th combined with increasing campaign debt resulted in him dropping out of the race that night. Although Glenn lost the primary, he would handily win reelection in 1986 against Congressman Tom Kindness. He would, however, have a political complication due to his involvement with Charles Keating.

The Keating Five

With the Savings and Loan Crisis came the scandal of the Keating Five. The Keating Five were a group of senators who had received campaign contributions from and were accused of acting improperly on behalf of Lincoln Savings and Loan Association chairman and fraudster Charles Keating. These were Dennis DeConcini (D-Ariz.), John McCain (R-Ariz.), Alan Cranston (D-Calif.), Don Riegle (D-Mich.), and John Glenn (D-Ohio). Glenn had received from Keating $34,000 in January 1984 to help with campaign debt and he had contributed over $200,000 to a PAC that Glenn was a spokesman for (Keating Five). Of the five, however, McCain and Glenn had only attended two meetings with federal regulators in which Cranston and DeConcini pressured them to lay off Keating. Although Glenn did not appear to be guilty of any ethical or legal violation, he was not dropped from the investigation as the Democrats wanted the investigation to remain “bipartisan” by keeping McCain on, who had the same amount of culpability as Glenn, thus they could not drop him. Ultimately McCain and Glenn were found only to have exercised poor judgment in attending the two meetings with Keating. Although this scandal harmed both, they both won renomination and reelection in 1992. However, in the case of Glenn, it constituted his toughest reelection, winning by less than ten points against future Senator and Governor Mike DeWine.

The Oldest Man in Orbit and Retirement

In 1998, Glenn, at the age of 77, returned to space, being the oldest astronaut in history. This mission was to study the effects of space on aging. Although actor William Shatner flew at 90, Glenn remains the oldest to have entered orbit. He retired from the Senate that year and in 2012, President Obama awarded him the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

Harrison Schmitt

The Watergate Committee benefited the image and career of a number of senators. These included Chairman Sam Ervin (D-N.C.), Howard Baker (R-Tenn.), and Herman Talmadge (D-Ga.). One senator, however, the committee did not benefit was Joseph Montoya (D-N.M.), who performed poorly in his questioning. As The New York Times wrote on him, “He enters the hearing room each day with a prepared set of questions and appears to ask each one of them, regardless of whether they have been asked by another senator and regardless of the witness’s answer. Montoya has told associates that much of his problem has been caused by his lack of staff assistance” (Simonich). Voters were not buying his excuses, and this made him vulnerable for the 1976 election. Enter Harrison “Jack” Schmitt. Schmitt, a geologist by profession, had joined NASA in June 1965 and he was one of the astronauts on the Apollo 17 mission in 1972. He was selected as the scientific community at the time was lobbying for a geologist to collect samples on the moon. As of February 2023, the last man to have ever walked on the moon. Available evidence suggests that he was the astronaut who took a famous photo during this mission called “The Blue Marble”, this photo of Earth:

In 1975, Schmitt resigned from NASA to run for the Senate. Montoya blundered on the campaign by being dismissive of his background as an astronaut, stating, “It’s no big deal to go to the moon. They tied him in the rocket, pushed the button in Houston and off he went. Even I could have gone”, to which Schmitt responded, “I’d like to see him try it” (Simonich). On Election Day 1976 he defeated Montoya by 14 points.

Schmitt proved a moderately conservative senator, and took at times some socially liberal positions, such as voting to retain Medicaid funding for abortions. In 1978, he voted against the Panama Canal Treaties and proved most of the time a supporter of increased defense funding. The American Conservative Union gave him a lifetime score of 75%. He also was supportive of more funding for NASA. During Reagan’s first two years, Schmitt proved a staunch supporter of tax reduction and voted against the partial rollback in 1982 of the Reagan tax cuts. However, that year he also voted to increase the gas tax.

The year 1982 proved a difficult one for Republicans given the recession, and Schmitt was up for reelection. His opponent, New Mexico Attorney General Jeff Bingaman, ran an effective campaign with the slogan, “What on Earth has he done for you lately?” (Kluger) Schmitt ran an attack campaign on Bingaman’s tenure as attorney general, with two ads against him widely being panned as unfair. Bingaman also hit Schmitt on his votes on Social Security as well as his favorable votes for defense spending. On Election Day 1982, Bingaman defeated Schmitt 54-46%. Although Schmitt’s seat was regarded as one of the most vulnerable, his reelection loss was still regarded as an upset given his stature as an astronaut and earlier polling being in double digits for him. Bingaman also benefited from high turnout in Democratic Albuquerque. From 2005 to 2008, Schmitt served on the NASA Advisory Council. He is currently an adjunct professor of engineering physics at the University of Wisconsin-Madison as well as a member of the Heartland Institute. Schmitt has been a critic of numerous approaches to climate change that involve extensive use of government.


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Reinhold, R. (1982, November 3). Schmitt Loses New Mexico Senate Seat. The New York Times.

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Glenn, J. (1974, May 4). Gold Star Mother’s Speech.

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Simonich, M. (2022, August 7). Watergate was no boon for New Mexico’s investigating senator. Santa Fe New Mexican.

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Wilkinson, H. (2020, January 17). John Glenn’s Big Disappointment: Running For President. NPR.

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