CLOUT ON CAPITOL HILL

How does the Dallas delegation measure up?

There’s not much future in the House of Representatives for a crusty, 63-year-old conservative Republican. In his dozen years on Capitol Hill, self-made millionaire Collins has done little more than vote against Democratic programs while preaching the virtues of oil companies, big business, and the free enterprise system. While that’s not all bad, he has done little in the way of working with the Democratic majority in the Dallas-Fort Worth area to bring in new federal dollars. Rather, he reflects the tendency of Dallas City Hall and parts of the business community to steer away from the federal purse strings. Occasionally, he has some success in pushing his oil and gas deregulation point of view within the House Interstate and Foreign Commerce Committee, but only because of help from produc-ing-state Democrats like Gramm. Nevertheless, he is a likeable guy who gets along well with most of the Texas delegation. He also has a businessman’s style and a sense of humor, not a bad attribute for a politician who usually finds himself on the losing side of a vote. Unlike his fellow conservative Gramm, Collins will leave the House without making his mark. ” We don ’I pay any attention to him at all,” said a Democratic leadership aide. “He’s just another one of those loud-mouthed reactionaries.”

Since the previous Congressman from the 84th District, Dale Milford, was generally considered the dumbest member of the Texas delegation (if not the entire House), his successor had only to be mediocre to stand out. But Frost has higher ambitions than that. He immediately went to work to build a power base by enlisting Wright’s help to convince House Speaker O’Neill to appoint him to the House Rules Committee, the most powerful House panel, at the expense of Jim Mattox, who coveted the seat. Both Frost and Mattox were lured to the committee, which consists of 11 Democrats and 5 Republicans, by the fact that each member automatically becomes part of the House leadership. “Frost is cerebral,” says one long-time congressional observer. “So far he has straddled the lines very well by being a leadership man and not antagonizing his constituents.” At the behest of Dallas’ financial interests, Frost convinced the rules panel to recommend a package that permitted 12 Texas cities to be eligible to sell tax-free home mortgage bonds after the House Ways and Means Committee left the Texas towns out. He also worked with Wright to get a dozen A-7’s into the 1980 budget, enough to keep Vought’s Grand Prairie production line open another year. The 38-year-old Frost has set his sights on moving up the leadership ladder and talks about being “around here for a long time.”

The former Texas A&M economics professor was expected to be a right- wing ideologue, and he has lived up to the billing. But he has surprised fellow congressmen with his depth of intellect and his ability to produce results through hard work. “He does his homework and works like an SOB, “observes a congressional liberal. “He sticks to his ideology and at the same time is not a crazy. “Most of the work, however, appears centered in the House itself or in the southern part of his district, which stretches from Tarrant County southeast toward Houston. Although he represents the southernmost portions of Tarrant and Dallas counties, his presence there is minimal, leaving one of his three Democratic colleagues from Dallas-Fort Worth to tend to local business. In a way reminiscent of how former Texas Congressman Bob Krueger parlayed oil and gas to gain a national constituency, Cramm has used his conservative economic principles to gain notoriety. Last March, for instance, Cramm led a charge to get the House to consider a budget amendment that would make future increases in the national debt dependent on a balanced budget. It lost by two votes and only after some heavy-handed tactics by the House leadership. Given time and a bit more philosophical tempering, Gramm could surpass Mattox (assuming the latter is re-elected) in representing the traditional banking and business interests of the north and central Texas area.

When he joined the House three years ago, the stocky Mattox acted like a baby bull in a china closet. Much to his chagrin, that’s still the image of Jim Mattox today, a good-natured former state representative whose fights with the local press and repeated political gaffes have at least temporarily derailed his political ambitions. Not too long ago, Mattox hoped to be the bulwark of Dallas’ congressional delegation. Instead, he faces another duel next fall against Tom Pauken, a conservative whom he beat by fewer than 900 votes in 1978. The probability that Mattox would be fighting for his political life and the fact that the House leadership found him unpredictable in his first term cost him the job on the Rules Committee. “The speaker didn’t like the idea that the leadership had to go to him and beg him all the time for his vote,” recalls a congressional insider. While most second-termers are moving to build a constituency in the House, Mattox, because of his political instability at home, finds himself back at square one. He has rid himself of his long-time confidant J.D. Arnold, the only presssecretary in memory who by his mouthbecame a political liability. Also gone aresuch excesses as taking on Bell Helicopter ofFort Worth for training Ugandan pilots. Instead, he has concentrated more on thingsat home as well as matters before his HouseBanking Committee, a plum assignment forhelping the folks back in Dallas.

Newsletter

Keep me up to date on the latest happenings and all that D Magazine has to offer.

Comments