Tuesday, September 24, 2013

The more Republicans pretend to change, the more they stay the same for their own benefit

Rep. Lloyd Doggett (D-Texas)
The more things change the more they stay the same, so goes the old adage. This 1994 interview with Rep. Lloyd Doggett (D-Texas), confirms the adage is true. Doggett began his political career in 1973 when he was elected to the Texas State Senate. He served until 1985. In 1989 he became a justice on the Texas Supreme Court, and an adjutant professor at the University of Texas School of Law. He served both positions until he was elected to Congress.
Doggett gained national attention in 1979 when he and 12 Texas Democrats, dubbed the “Killer Bees” walked out of the Chamber, leaving the Senate two members short of a quorum to pass legislation that would have changed the date of the Texas primary to March 11.

To make a long story short, the "Killer Bees" skipped town and hid out until the proposed legislation failed to pass, after five days. The GOP’s goal was to help former governor of Texas John Connally get the nomination for president in 1980. The "Killer Bees" wanted a closed primary. Their suggestion was rejected by Republicans.

The following interview is just as relevant today as was it was 17 years ago. Although there was no Tea Party Republicans, those who were newly elected or won re-election took  attitude to Washington. They  immediately began playing dirty politics in the name of the "American people."

Dorothy: Returning to Austin to keep contact with your constituents. Is this going to be a regular thing with you?

Doggett: Well, I’m sure gonna try. What brought me to Austin this time was the Martin Luther King celebration. So I think being actively involved in that, and in addition, to use time to meet with Police Chief Elizabeth Watson, and her staff to talk about some crime problems. I met last night with the Hispanic Contractors Association. I’ll be going to Wesley United Methodist and to David Chapel on Sunday. The key of what Jake Pickle (his predecessor) did was to be assessable and available to people. And I want to let people know that I am there for them, not for me.

Dorothy: Do you think you will be politically strong in Washington as you have been here in Austin? What is the political climate there right now?

Doggett: Well, it’s very unsettled. You got a lot of guys up there that’s been in power so long they don’t quite know how to adjust to being in the minority. It’s not a big adjustment for me because, even though I’ve been able to have some influence in Austin, usually I’ve been in the minority. By the time I was in the kind of Democrats who run it were not people that necessarily agreed with me on things. On the Supreme Court I did more descending that I did being in the majority.

I’m already equipped to take on Newt Gingrich if that’s what we have to do. Some of the things Republicans have done to shake up Congress are not bad. I think it needed shaking up. There were some things that might never have gotten changed had we not had this shake up. It created some opportunities for new comers. That’s why I got a chance to get up on the floor, and join in the debate within an hour of being sworn in.

While I expect to be in Washington again this next week on some matters that will be coming up in Congress, I feel  the leadership in the Democratic party is much more receptive to me as a new comer, letting me come in and have a role. I was also real fortunate in getting the committee assignment of my choice-- the House Budget Committee. It was really one of the committees I campaigned to get on. I think that is where a lot of the action is gonna be if they start talking about balancing the budget. I think we have to give high priority to these federal deficits. I don’t want to see all the burden placed on the backs of the people who didn’t get the budget out of balance in the first place. They don’t  have a lobbyist up there in Washington. I’m afraid that’s where some of the Republicans are headed. I don’t want to see huge cut backs in Medicare. There are enough people out there who don’t have health care coverage, much less getting cut back some more.

The second committee I sought and was able to get on was the Science Committee. It used to be Science and Technology. I think with the University of Texas and the Pickle Research Center which we need to defend, as well as Motorola putting this lab up on Ed Bluestein. That’s kind of where our economic future lies, and I want to be there shaping that policy.

Dorothy: I’ve been looking at C-Span to see how they are going to fix the budget, but no one has come up with anything. Is this just a lot of Republican posturing, giving all kinds of excuses? I say okay, put it on the table and tell us what you’re gonna do. They just keep going around and around.

Doggett: I think we have to hold them accountable for that. It was within the week that Dick Armey, the congressman from up in Arlington, Texas, the Majority Leader there, said 'Well, you know, if we go on and spell out where all these cuts are gonna be, some of these members of Congress . . . their knees are gonna buckle.'  If their program is not good enough to put on the table, and let everybody know who is gonna get hit by this, maybe they ought to rethink it. I think Republicans are trying to keep us in the dark about this, because if everybody know what the changes are they may not want to make some of them

The other side is the budget balance amendment I don’t support. As much as I would like to see our budget more balanced, it is really a way of deferring the problem to the future. Instead  of doing something right now, they said, 'Well, you know let Joe do it in the year 2002, maybe we won’t be here. He’ll have to make the painful choices.' That’s why we keep saying, lay out the plan; show us over the next several years what the cuts are gonna be, and they keep saying, 'Oh, no. We don’t want to do that.'

Dorothy: Do you think when they authored the Contract with America, Republicans actually had no idea they would be in power?

Doggett: Well, there is a little bit of that. You know the way they did that Contract with America is, they first got some campaign consultants to sit around with people and focus groups and tried out different phrases, and different promises to see which ones sounded the best. Then they put it all together, announced it on the Capital steps, and printed it in TV Guide. Now they’re kind of stuck with that. Some of the things in there are not very practical. Some of them are more talk than anything else. I just don’t think you can govern the country strictly based on campaign gimmicks.

***The Contract with America was written by Larry Hunter and passed with the help of Newt Gingrich, Robert Walker, Richard Armey, Bill Paxon, Tom DeLay, John Boehner and Jim Mussle. The Contract was introduced six weeks before the 1994 congressional election. It was the first mid-term election of President Bill Clinton, in which Republicans scored a victory similar to the 2010 mid-terms election.

Dorothy: I see Newt Gingrich is backing down on some of the things in the Contract. I personally think he wants to be president. Is he a lot of fluff or is there substance to him? Where does he want to take the United States?

Doggett: Well, I think he is very smart, just in terms of intelligence. I think he is very committed; very hard working, bordering on ruthless in his approach. He made some conciliatory comments on the opening day. I would like to work with him if he wants to work together. And then he turns around appoints a woman as House Historian, who said Congress didn’t give enough attention to the views of the KKK and Nazis. One of her associates said Newt knew all about that before he appointed her. I’m glad he unappointed her.

It’s like the book deal. He backed down on that too, getting this $4 million from this guy from Australia, but only after it was brought to light. I think you can see on both the House Historian and on the book deal, that unless we’re up there being very vocal and holding him accountable for some of this stuff, he’s gonna go off to benefit himself personally, and on a really far right tangent. Even on these orphanage comments, which I think is outrageous. He said we would pull children away from their mothers, and put them in an orphanage. I think he is committed to a far right agenda that is out of the mainstream. And in fact, they keep trying to move the mainstream farther to the right. People like Bob Dole, who is kind of an old fashioned conservative, was being viewed as a moderate, because Republican take it so far to one side. You can’t get to the right side of them.

Dorothy: What kind of changes would you like to see take place?

Doggett: I believe changes to our welfare system, for example. It’s not inappropriate to focus on the need for change. I don’t believe that system is serving the tax payer, or the people it’s designed to help. It is, perhaps, cheaper to keep them on a subsistence level, where they just barely get by, than it is to go in and spend the money to provide quality child care,  training and the skills they need to get ahead. 

I am all for reforming welfare, for putting some incentives against welfare usage, but only if we go the first half of the way. And that’s to get people the assistance they need to get a job. I can see that as a real battle with the Republicans, who don’t believe their own campaign speeches. Sometimes they are caught up in their own speeches--the welfare stuff--they can’t quite translate it back into the real world.

Dorothy: The problem with people on welfare is jobs. It’s up to the people to educate themselves and not depend on the government to educate them. Where will the jobs come from?

Doggett: I think individual responsibility is very important, and the government can’t take the place of that. But if we really want to solve the problem now,  we’ve got to go back and do something. I think the first step to jobs is people having the skills that are needed.

Dorothy: What about some kind of discount for people wanting to go to college but can’t afford it because it’s so expensive.

Doggett: My battle this time is to prevent them from eliminating what we’ve already got. No cuts in the Pell grants program to give people the opportunity to go to Houston Tillotson College or Austin Community College or University of Texas. Those programs are very much in jeopardy under the Contract with America. I am very determined to see that those opportunities are not denied. How can you talk about people having personal initiative, taking personal responsibility for themselves, and then cut out the key to them being able to exercise that responsibility.

Dorothy: What about the brouhaha about raising the minimum up another dollar?

Doggett: I think Congress will look at that later on in the year. The question is whether it has any real chance for approval. The Republican leadership have already come out with a over my dead body position. I will say now as I did back during the campaign, I would have rather see if there are going to be some additional employer participation; that it first be  on health care. The problems with getting off of welfare is, if you take a minimum wage job, and then you loose all your health care benefits, that doesn’t get you anywhere. You’re working harder and getting less. I am concerned about many of the minimum wage jobs. Whether it’s a dollar more than we get right now--is there going to be any health care benefits for many of those jobs? That would be my first preference. If we can’t make any headway there, then I think we should look at the minimum wage as a sub-minimum wage.

Dorothy: I saw some Republicans on C-Span talking about a meeting that was taking place, but they had shut out the Democrats. Are you beginning to feel ostracized?

Doggett: There is no doubt that Republicans are enjoying their victory. They are trying to run the show. I think when this 100 days are over, there is going to be a recognition that it takes two parties to govern the country. There has to be some shared participation here. In some of the meetings with Republicans I have been encouraged, particularly with some of those from the mid-west and north east, that there are some people with open minds. On the other hand, I have met some from California and from the south that I think are lost causes. It’s like talking to the wall. They are not going to be willing to change.  They have a whole different view of the world. So I have to offer them respect but vigorous disagreement.

***This article was initially posted July 19, 2011

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