Jack Brooks: Unpredictable but influential Democrat

 

Jack Brooks was a Congressman who served 42 years in the US House of Representatives. An unpredictable but influential Texas Democrat, he who was one of the few politicians who cast fear in President Lyndon Johnson.

First elected to Congress from a south-eastern Texas district in 1952, Brooks became a protégé of two fellow Texans, Johnson – then a powerful senator – and Sam Rayburn, the long-time Democratic leader and one-time speaker of the House. Brooks became a committee leader in Congress, first of the House Committee on Government Operations and later of the Judiciary Committee, and was so effective behind the scenes that one of Johnson’s former aides said in 1977 that Brooks was “one of the few men LBJ was ever afraid of.”

On 22 November 1963 Brooks was with Johnson in the motorcade in Dallas when President Kennedy was assassinated. In the famous photograph taken aboard Air Force One when Johnson took the presidential oath of office, Brooks is standing directly behind the grieving first lady, Jacqueline Kennedy.

As a member of the House Judiciary Committee, Brooks helped write the articles of impeachment against President Nixon in 1974 in the wake of Watergate and was referred to by Nixon as “the executioner”. In the 1980s he served on the House-Senate Iran-Contra committee investigating unauthorised arms-dealing during the Reagan administration.

Brooks was an old-style politician who favoured assertive talk, bold legislative action and a smouldering cigar clamped between his teeth. He was called “the last of his breed” long before he lost a bid for re-election in 1994. “Jack Brooks was a complete contrarian, a mass of contradictions,” Ross K Baker, a congressional historian, said. “He was a civil rights advocate and strongly pro-gun. He was fiercely combative, but he was someone who could easily cross party lines.”

Brooks began defying expectations early in his career by refusing to sign the 1956 Southern Manifesto, a pact among Southern congressmen to support segregation. He was one of only 11 congressmen from the South to vote for the landmark Civil Rights Act of 1964. He was a strong advocate of Nasa, whose Johnson Space Center in Houston was for a time in his District. But as chairman of the Government Operations Committee from 1975 to 1988 he exposed billions of dollars in government waste. He said the Navy was spending $660 on ashtrays and the State Department had ordered $2 million worth of silverware.

“Brooks finagles and manipulates behind the scenes in the most adroit fashion,” the former House speaker Jim Wright said in 1994. “He knows how to operate, and he will not settle for mediocrity.” In 1973, Brooks questioned the director of the General Services Administration, Arthur F Sampson, who claimed that $10 million of taxpayer-supported improvements to Nixon’s private homes in California and Florida actually lowered their value. “Oh, really,” Brooks said. “Well, Mr Sampson, I’d like you to come down to my farm and desecrate it a little bit.”

Brooks was born in Louisiana and raised in Beaumont, Texas. He was 13 when his father died and he began to work at odd jobs to help support the family. He graduated in 1943 from the University of Texas at Austin in journalism and graduated from law school at the university in 1949.

During the Second World War he saw combat with the Marine Corps in the Pacific. He was elected to the Texas legislature in 1946. Six years later, he won election to Congress. For seven of his 21 elections, he ran unopposed.

As chairman of the Judiciary Committee in 1994, Brooks had helped pass an anti-crime bill that included a ban on assault weapons. He lost his seat to candidate Steve Stockman during the Republican takeover of Congress, after opponents accused Brooks of advocating gun control.

“I think of myself as someone who tries to be constructive,” Brooks said in 1977, “someone who understands that politics is the art of compromise, that it’s a lot more important to get something done than get into a lot of battles and get a lot of publicity. All you do is make enemies that way, and who wants to have enemies?”

Jack Bascom Brooks, politician: born Crowley, Louisiana 18 December 1922; married Charlotte Collins (two daughters, one son); died Beaumont, Texas 4 December 2012.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment
Johnny Depp no longer cares if people criticise his movie flops
films
Arts and Entertainment
All in a day's work: the players in the forthcoming 'Posh People: Inside Tatler'
TVGrace Dent thinks we should learn to 'hug a Hooray Henry', because poshness is an accident of birth
Arts and Entertainment
Wolf (Nathan McMullen), Ian (Dan Starky), The Doctor (Peter Capaldi), Clara (Jenna Coleman), Santa Claus (Nick Frost) in the Doctor Who Christmas Special (BBC/Photographer: David Venni)
art

Presents unwrapped, turkey gobbled... it's time to relax

Arts and Entertainment
Convicted art fraudster John Myatt
art

News
The two-year-old said she cut off her fringe because it was getting in her eyes
news
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Opilio Recruitment: UX & Design Specialist

£40k - 45k per year + Benefits: Opilio Recruitment: A fantastic opportunity ...

Opilio Recruitment: Publishing Application Support Analyst

£30k - 35k per year + Benefits: Opilio Recruitment: We’re currently re...

Opilio Recruitment: Digital Marketing Manager

£35k - 45k per year + benefits: Opilio Recruitment: A fantastic opportunity ...

Opilio Recruitment: Sales Manager

£60k - 80k per year + Benefits: Opilio Recruitment: A fantastic opportunity ...

Day In a Page

Homeless Veterans Christmas Appeal: ‘We give them hope. They come to us when no one else can help’

Christmas Appeal

Meet the charity giving homeless veterans hope – and who they turn to when no one else can help
Should doctors and patients learn to plan humane, happier endings rather than trying to prolong life?

Is it always right to try to prolong life?

Most of us would prefer to die in our own beds, with our families beside us. But, as a GP, Margaret McCartney sees too many end their days in a medicalised battle
Thomas Cook's outgoing boss Harriet Green got by on four hours sleep a night - is that what it takes for women to get to the top?

What does it take for women to get to the top?

Thomas Cook's outgoing boss Harriet Green got by on four hours sleep a night and told women they had to do more if they wanted to get on
Christmas jumper craze: Inside the UK factory behind this year's multicultural must-have

Knitting pretty: British Christmas Jumpers

Simmy Richman visits Jack Masters, the company behind this year's multicultural must-have
French chefs have launched a campaign to end violence in kitchens - should British restaurants follow suit?

French chefs campaign against bullying

A group of top chefs signed a manifesto against violence in kitchens following the sacking of a chef at a Paris restaurant for scalding his kitchen assistant with a white-hot spoon
Radio 4 to broadcast 10-hour War and Peace on New Year's Day as Controller warns of cuts

Just what you need on a New Year hangover...

Radio 4 to broadcast 10-hour adaptation of War and Peace on first day of 2015
Cuba set to stage its first US musical in 50 years

Cuba to stage first US musical in 50 years

Claire Allfree finds out if the new production of Rent will hit the right note in Havana
Christmas 2014: 10 best educational toys

Learn and play: 10 best educational toys

Of course you want them to have fun, but even better if they can learn at the same time
Paul Scholes column: I like Brendan Rodgers as a manager but Liverpool seem to be going backwards not forwards this season

Paul Scholes column

I like Brendan Rodgers as a manager but Liverpool seem to be going backwards not forwards this season
Lewis Moody column: Stuart Lancaster has made all the right calls – now England must deliver

Lewis Moody: Lancaster has made all the right calls – now England must deliver

So what must the red-rose do differently? They have to take the points on offer 
Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

It's in all our interests to look after servicemen and women who fall on hard times, say party leaders
Millionaire Sol Campbell wades into wealthy backlash against Labour's mansion tax

Sol Campbell cries foul at Labour's mansion tax

The former England defender joins Myleene Klass, Griff Rhys Jones and Melvyn Bragg in criticising proposals
Nicolas Sarkozy returns: The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?

Sarkozy returns

The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?
Is the criticism of Ed Miliband a coded form of anti-Semitism?

Is the criticism of Miliband anti-Semitic?

Attacks on the Labour leader have coalesced around a sense that he is different, weird, a man apart. But is the criticism more sinister?
Ouija boards are the must-have gift this Christmas, fuelled by a schlock horror film

Ouija boards are the must-have festive gift

Simon Usborne explores the appeal - and mysteries - of a century-old parlour game