Book Studies Texas Personalities in Congress
A new book co-written by UT Dallas professor Dr. Anthony M. Champagne features lively portraits of influential lawmakers who have represented Texas in Congress since the late 19th century, when the state’s political power began.
The colorful personalities of Texan Congress members are explored in a new book co-authored by Dr. Anthony Champagne.
Lone Star Leaders: Power and Personality in the Texas Congressional Delegation covers party leaders, committee chairs and the political pioneers who made Texas a major force in congressional politics for the past 125 years. The book was recently featured at the Texas Book Festival in Austin. Humanities Texas, the state affiliate of the National Endowment for the Humanities, has selected the book for its annual Holiday Book Fair on Dec. 10 in Austin.
Champagne, a professor of political science in the School of Economic, Political and Policy Sciences, and his co-author, Dr. James W. Riddlesperger Jr., wrote chapters on politicians, including: former President Lyndon B. Johnson; former U.S. Sen. Lloyd Bentsen; former U.S. Rep. Barbara Jordan, who was the first African-American congresswoman from the South; former U.S. Sen. Phil Gramm; former U.S. House Rep. Henry B. Gonzalez, who was one of the first Latinos in Congress; and U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, who is the first female U.S. senator from Texas.
“The number of major political figures that have been produced by Texas and sent to Congress is just amazing. …” said Champagne, who is also director of the pre-law program in undergraduate education at UT Dallas. “These are really people who have wielded enormous political power over the years.”
Several Texas congressional lawmakers have held top leadership positions. Both Lyndon B. Johnson and George H. W. Bush were congressmen before they were elected to serve as President. The book does not profile George W. Bush, who did not serve in Congress before he was elected President.
Texas also has produced three U.S. House of Representatives speakers – John Nance Garner, Sam Rayburn and Jim Wright. And Rayburn, Wright, Richard Armey and Tom DeLay served as majority leaders in the House of Representatives.
“At the same time, Texas has produced some people who were buffoons who are incredibly interesting simply because they were such characters,” Champagne said. “People like ‘Pappy’ O’Daniel, Martin Dies Jr. and Bruce Alger from Dallas being the three best examples.”
Champagne said he partly attributes Texas’ congressional power to the size of the state. Additionally, for many years Texas was a one-party state and this created a large, unified delegation.
“It’s very important when you’re gaining a position of leadership in Congress to have a backing of a strong, congressional delegation,” he said. “Having a one-party state also minimizes threats to incumbents which allows members of Congress to get elected and re-elected and to gain power through seniority.”
The authors spent two years mainly performing archival research for the book, which includes old and rare photos of lawmakers such as former U.S. House Rep. Charlie Wilson.
One photo captures Wilson surrounded by belly dancers. Another photo depicts Wilson talking to an Afghan child who was wounded in a mine explosion. And a third image shows him riding a donkey in a parade in his district.
“You put all those three photos of Charlie Wilson together and you have a good sense of what this man is all about,” Champagne said.
Champagne and Riddlesperger, a professor of political science at Texas Christian University, previously collaborated on a book, The Austin-Boston Connection: Five Decades of House Democratic Leadership, 1937-1989. Their current book’s publisher, Texas Christian University Press, suggested the two scholars work on a popular book about influential congressional leaders in Texas. The authors seized the opportunity. Speaker Jim Wright read a draft of the manuscript and volunteered to write the preface to the book.
“They’re a lot of people that I think are fascinated by Texas and Texas politics,” Champagne said. “And Texas has produced so many extraordinary influential figures in Congress that I think people are excited about learning more about those people.”“The number of major political figures that have been produced by Texas and sent to Congress is just amazing,” said Dr. Anthony Champagne, professor of political science at University of Texas at Dallas. Dr. James W. Riddlesperger, Jr., professor of political science at Texas Christian University, collaborated with Dr. Champagne on another book about Texas politics.
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