Sunday, June 19, 2005

The Peoples Politician

The Moose pays tribute to one of the best of American politics.

A politician who made the Lone Star State proud has passed away - former Congressman Jake Pickle who represented LBJ's old congressional district in Texas (thanks to gregsopinion for the link) As the Austin Statesman obituary put it, he was truly the People's Politician. Congressman Jake was always a gentleman who put the country's interests first,

"His home phone number was always listed, and he returned from Washington most weekends to answer calls. The nonstop Braniff flight from Washington to Austin was nicknamed the Pickle Express, and the man who called himself a natural ham worked the aisle as if each plane was his personal political rally.

"Other than the long commute to and from Washington and, starting in the 1980s, the increasing partisanship of Congress, there was little I didn't like about being Congressman Pickle," he said in his 1997 book, "Jake," which he co-wrote with Peggy Pickle. "Despite the stress, long hours and the lack of personal and financial privacy, members of Congress are given a truly fabulous perk: the opportunity to get things done."

Congressman Pickle was also willing to take a stand for what was right and defy reaction,

"But his proudest vote was for the 1964 Civil Rights Act. He was one of only six Southern representatives to vote aye. On the job only two months but determined to vote his conscience, Pickle figured he had guaranteed himself a one-term career, because Old Confederacy sentiments still reigned in Central Texas.

Pickle recalled returning to his hotel at 2 a.m. after meeting some friends for late-night drinks to soften the gloomy mood. The hotel operator stopped him in the lobby and demanded that he call the White House. President Johnson, she whispered in a shaking voice, had called personally looking for him. Several times.

Despite the late hour, Johnson came to the phone and admitted that he had failed to vote for several civil rights bills so he could wait for a more auspicious time.

"I just couldn't bring myself to do it," Pickle recalled Johnson saying. "But you did today. On your first big vote in Congress. And I just said to myself that I wasn't going to let this night go by until I had called you and told you personally that your president is proud of you."

That was one of Pickle's favorite stories — he had hours of them — and it usually ended the same way. "Pretty heady stuff for a young man," he would say, choking up."

The Moose was honored to have met Congressman Pickle a while back and he can attest to his genuineness and warmth. It is indeed too bad that there are so few Jake Pickles around this town anymore.

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