The Wright Amendment Clears DFW for Takeoff …
By Jim Wright
Everyone on both sides wanted American Airlines to relocate its headquarters to the new Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport, from the various political and civic leaders in both cities to American’s corporate brass. Everyone, that is, except New York, where the airline had been based since 1930. Mayor Ed Koch called the departure a “betrayal,” and behind the scenes, all manner of political pressure was brought to bear in an attempt to block the move. It almost worked. But DFW was not without its own political allies. Over the Christmas holidays in 1978, senators Lloyd Bentsen and John Tower were enlisted to come home to the front lines. Fort Worth congressman Jim Wright, the majority leader of the House of Representatives, was an even bigger friend to DFW and American Airlines. Not only did he help clear the way for American’s arrival, he also introduced the Wright Amendment in 1979, which constricted air traffic at Love Field for more than two decades.
The Civil Aeronautics Board, the agency of the government that authorized and certified flights into and out of airports all over the United States, had early on (in the 1960s) said to Dallas and Forth Worth that they could not certify any more flights unless they absolutely promised to close Love Field and Greater Southwest International Airport and Fort Worth International Airport, and to concentrate all their flights into one midway facility. That is what the CAB ordered them to do, and they set about the business of doing it.
The cities of Fort Worth and Dallas, through their city governments, passed ordinances closing Love Field, Greater Southwest, and Meacham Field. They brought in a bond commission that they set out to sell bonds to help the cities finance this new airport that was going to be the third-busiest airport in the world. In exchange for that, the FAA authorized and put in millions of dollars of federal aid to help build this huge airport: now Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport.
It was a deal that I had something to do with helping them all put together. It wasn’t my initiative that started the whole thing. It was the federal agencies saying that they weren’t going to continue to serve Dallas and Fort Worth separately. Love was closed by the city of Dallas. Meacham and Greater Southwest were closed by the city of Fort Worth. So the federal government released these funds, and we built the airport and a magnificent thing for us it has been.
After that, everything was going along swimmingly and fine until Southwest—which came into being in 1971—went to a functional agency of the state, known as the Texas Aviation Commission, and appealed. The Texas Aviation Commission ordered the city of Dallas to open up Love Field for Southwest Airlines. Dallas did so under order of the state. I don’t suppose it had any alternative. But it was on rocky ground because the cities had sold bonds to pay for DFW, and the bonds, every one of them, had a promise that there would be no commercial airline flights out of any other airport within a 20-mile radius of DFW Airport. That’s what the bonds promised, and that’s what was promised to the federal government in exchange for the millions of dollars we got from them.
So something had to be done. The airline deregulation bill came along in 1978, and the CAB was going out of business, but the FAA was taking on all the responsibilities of safety and airport construction and airline safety measures, including air traffic control operations. And the regional head of the FAA told me personally that he was not going to allow any federal aid or assistance to be given to any airport that flew big planes in landing and takeoff routes that overlapped with DFW. In the view of the FAA, it was a safety hazard.
It was 1979, and both cities came to me saying, “Please, do something.” So I put an amendment, offered an amendment to the bill in the House. And it passed the House. And the bill said there would be no commercial airline flights scheduled out of Love Field or Meacham Field or Greater Southwest, which of course was just attached to the south of DFW. That’s the way it passed the House, and then it got over to the Senate, and Southwest and some of the other airline people came up to testify in the Senate.
Southwest made a case to me that they had invested money at Love Field. They wanted to be able to fly out of Texas, but the state agency’s ruling applied only to intrastate flights. That state agency had no control whatsoever for destinations outside the state of Texas. They could literally have gone to DFW and flown anywhere they wanted to, but they chose not to. They said they needed to recoup their investments at Love Field.
Well, Herb Kelleher and I got along fine personally. I did not want to punish some legitimate business that had gone into operation under the rules and laws of the state of Texas. But I had a responsibility to the FAA, which at my urging and insistence had put out the money to build DFW, and to the bond holders who had bought the bonds from the cities of Fort Worth and Dallas, who were Forth Worth and Dallas citizens, most of them.
So I sat down with several presidents and heads and chairmen of the boards of several of the airlines that were involved. DFW had been in operation for five years by ’79. But Southwest was in operation in Dallas, and I wanted to be fair to everybody. So we agreed, ultimately—it was a kind of give-and-take proposition—and we started to compromise. Henry Clay said that “compromise is the cement that holds the Union together.”
I want everyone to understand that I am a peacemaker between Fort Worth and Dallas. I strive to be the dove of peace. I don’t want anyone to think I’ve got anything against Dallas. The three happiest years of my public schooling as a youngster were in Adamson High School in Dallas.
So we compromised, and we comprised what is now known as the Wright Amendment that passed both houses. It said there would be no commercial flights from Dallas Love Field except to and from destinations within the immediately adjoining states: meaning New Mexico, Oklahoma, Arkansas, and Louisiana. That was the solution we came up with, and Southwest was as happy as a clam. I think Herb felt like he had died and gone to heaven when he got that. And I thought that settled it.
It was a compromise, to be sure. It was not a full fulfillment of the pledge that the cities had made to the FAA. But it was in good faith, and it satisfied the requirement by the FAA that there be no big flights in and out of Love Field because they interfered with the landings and takeoffs at DFW. So we thought we had it all worked out and satisfied. But it didn’t long satisfy the Southwest people.
The last time I was at Love Field, a few years ago, they had a great big billboard stating “Wright is wrong.” I was going to Austin, I had to be there for a funeral of a dear friend of mine, and this was the only flight to get me there on time. I went up to the ticket window inside the terminal, and the lady looked at me rather strangely and then said, “We’re asking each of our passengers today to sign this petition, if you would, petitioning the government to repeal the Wright Amendment.” And I kind of smiled, and I could see by the look in her eyes that she recognized me. I said I would be honored to sign up with the proposition except that I was so busy writing notes of congratulations and good wishes to my dear old friends, such as Herb Kelleher. And she said, “Well you wait here just a minute,” and she went and got Herb.
We’ve been friends a long time, in spite of some of the people in Dallas thinking I was discriminating against Southwest. That wasn’t my intention. I think Herb would tell you that the exceptions I agreed to in the amendment kept them in business for a little while.
But they finally worked it out and got things through, I think, in a satisfactory manner. I’m happy with it if the people who provide airline service are happy, if people who fly the airlines are happy, and if safety is served. I’m content and happy that we were able to get through that period and get the airport going good and strong. As I said, I think today that DFW is the third-busiest airport in the world.
It took an awful lot of give-and-take on the part of an awful lot of people.
Jim Wright, former speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives, is a member of the political science faculty at Texas Christian University.
… And American Airlines Arrives
By Ray Hutchison
On January 4, 1979, a great celebration was held at the Inn of Six Flags in Arlington. In attendance were officials of American Airlines, the cities of Dallas and Fort Worth, the DFW Airport Board, bond underwriters, and a few others. They all came to celebrate the last major step leading to the move of the national corporate headquarters of American Airlines from New York City to DFW Airport.
I was in attendance that evening. I had been privileged to participate in the creation of DFW Airport from its beginnings in the 1960s, and now to participate in the beginning event that inspired later moves of major American companies to North Texas as the “area of the future,” because of the convenience and central location of DFW Airport to the rest of the country and the world. With American and other major airlines in place, DFW could become a worldwide international hub airport, leading to enormous economic vitality for the region.
But American’s move to DFW was not that easy. Dallas and Fort Worth civic and political leaders and the leaders of the DFW Airport Board were committed to the move. Al Casey, the great corporate leader of American Airlines, was also fully supportive. It is an understatement to observe, however, that New York didn’t like the idea. It pulled out all stops to prevent the move.
It was essential to the move that tax-exempt DFW Airport revenue bonds be issued to finance the costs of a new national corporate headquarters for American. Though such financings had been closed at airports all across the country, suddenly, the IRS, behind the scenes, prepared a proposed ruling that would have declared retroactively that bonds issued for the offices of an airline would not be tax exempt. It quickly became obvious that New York had put its political clout to work in the Congress in Washington and in the IRS, and that all political muscle had been flexed to stop American from moving its headquarters.
It had been publicly announced that American was moving to DFW. But the public did not know that the planned transfer was about to crater because of politics in New York and Washington, D.C.
A great congressman from Fort Worth, Jim Wright, who was the majority leader of the United States House of Representatives, and the two outstanding United States senators from Texas, Lloyd Bentsen and John Tower, were asked to join the fray. When each was located during the Christmas holidays of 1978 in various parts of the world, they immediately suspended their activities and went back to work for Dallas, Fort Worth, DFW Airport, and Texas.
They won the battle. They persuaded the IRS to make its new rules prospective, rather than retroactive. This permitted the American financing at DFW to go forward and American’s move to DFW to be finalized. The party at the Inn of Six Flags was a celebration of the closing of that financing.
So without costing the taxpayers of Dallas and Fort Worth a single dime, DFW Airport continued the course that was laid out for it by the cities’ great leaders in the 1960s: Erik Jonsson, Bob and Charles Cullum, George Underwood, and many others from Dallas, and Bayard Freidman, J. Lee Johnson, and many others from Fort Worth. It grew to become the third-busiest airport in the United States.
American Airlines achieved Al Casey’s vision. It grew to become the largest commercial airline in the world. And North Texas became the main relocation point for the headquarters of more Fortune 500 companies than any other location in the United States.
Ray Hutchison is an attorney with the firm of Vinson & Elkins in Dallas.
Dallas Adopts 14-1
By Domingo Garcia
Before 1991, minorities in Dallas had a lot to say but little power to actually say it. A group gathered to change that. They proposed the concept of 14-1, wherein the city elects the mayor, but the 14 councilmembers are from single-member districts. On November 5, 1991, four blacks and two Hispanics were elected to the City Council. But the fight over the system is not over. It continues today as some claim it leads to corruption (i.e., the recent conviction of Don Hill), while others say it has paved roads and built schools. Regardless of what’s being argued, 14-1 is the reason so many voices are being heard.
Almost 20 years ago, in 1990, all political power in Dallas rested with a small political elite, which pretty much ran the city. At the time it was an almost-all-white group with only a few safe minority members. That summer we fought for an election to create 14 City Council districts, with only the mayor elected at large, but it was defeated with a vote along racial lines. Our attempts to work a deal with Mayor Annette Strauss and councilmembers were frustrating, since little headway could be made.
I recall a meeting at a church in South Dallas, when we decided that the only option left was to start a campaign of civil disobedience. As a lawyer, the idea of wearing chains at a City Hall protest was not my idea of fun. However, with the city polarized and a majority of the council dug in to keep the status quo, we had little choice. That is how we made Time magazine for the first time, with a picture of me, Steve Salazar, and Roberto Alonzo (all future elected officials) in symbolic political chains. A Dallas political struggle became national news.
Soon after, I got the call from a law clerk in federal Judge Jerry Buchmeyer’s court advising us that he was striking down the 8-3 system. We called all the people who had struggled for so long—Henry Martinez (a World War II veteran who was the lead Latino plaintiff), Marvin Crenshaw, Roy Williams, and dozens of community leaders—and went to El Ranchito Restaurant in the heart of North Oak Cliff to celebrate. The feelings were close to the joy of seeing my sons’ births. Actually it was almost the same as seeing a birth, but one of real democracy.
The next day I got a call from Charles Tandy, who represented North Oak Cliff. He wanted to maintain a majority Anglo seat in Oak Cliff and agreed to support our plan for 14-1 if we could work it out. His vote was key to getting a majority of the City Council to accept the judge’s ruling and not proceed with a long appeal.
We arranged a meeting in my law office, attended by councilmembers Diane Ragsdale, Al Lipscomb, Jim Burger, and Tandy. Working with all of our experts until 4 am, we drew the Latino and African-American districts, plus the majority Anglo Oak Cliff district. Joe May, who went on to become a Dallas ISD trustee, looked me in the eyes and said, “We just changed the future of Dallas history.” A sense of awe and heavy responsibility hit me all at once. I thought of the residents of the Ledbetter neighborhood in far West Dallas, who still had few paved streets and, of course, no curbs or gutters. Could we change their lives? I thought of how the neighborhood I grew up in, once called Little Mexico, had been destroyed with little thought to the community who had lived there for decades. They had no voice at City Hall.
After I was elected as one of the first Latino councilmembers under 14-1, I realized the Dallas I grew up in—the one where policemen routinely abused your friends, the one where you expected little or no city services, the one where you were turned away because of the color of your skin—was gone.
Though 14-1 has had its pros and cons, compared to the Dallas of 1990, it has helped to improve the lives of hundreds of thousands of people. Sometimes a few determined people can make a difference. In 1991, they did.
Domingo Garcia, a former Dallas City Council member and state representative, is an attorney in private practice.