The Austin-Boston Connection: Five Decades of House Democratic Leadership, 1937-1989

The Austin-Boston Connection: Five Decades of House Democratic Leadership, 1937-1989

The Austin-Boston Connection: Five Decades of House Democratic Leadership, 1937-1989

The Austin-Boston Connection: Five Decades of House Democratic Leadership, 1937-1989

Synopsis

For the more than fifty years that Democrats controlled the U.S. House of Representatives, leadership was divided between Massachusetts and Texas. When the Speaker was from Texas (or nearby Oklahoma), the Majority Leader was from the Boston area, and when the Speaker was from Boston, the Majority Leader was from Texas.

The Austin-Boston Connection analyzes the importance of the friendships (especially mentor-protégé relationships) and enmities within congressional delegations, regional affinities, and the lynchpin practice of appointing the Democratic Whip.

Excerpt

In 1940, the Speaker of the U.S. House was a Democrat from a district on the Texas-Oklahoma border. the majority leader was a Catholic Democrat from a Greater Boston district. Thirty six years later the Speaker was a Democrat from a district on the TexasOklahoma border and the majority leader was a Catholic Democrat from a Greater Boston district. While it may seem as if time stood still in the House, the 1940 occupants of these posts—Speaker Sam Rayburn and Majority Leader John McCormack—were not the occupants of these posts in 1976. And, rather than the same districts being represented, they were adjacent districts such that the leaders of the 1970s—Speaker Carl Albert and Majority Leader Tip O’Neill—were the neighbors and friends of their predecessors in the leadership. Even more unusual was that every Democratic Speaker from 1940 to 1989 came from either the North Texas–southern Oklahoma area or from the Greater Boston area. With one exception—Hale Boggs of Louisiana served as majority leader from 1971 to 1973—in the years when the Democrats controlled the House, there was an alternation of the leadership such that when the Speaker was from North Texas–southern Oklahoma, the majority leader was from Boston, and when the Speaker was from Boston, the majority leader was from North Texas–southern Oklahoma.

This Austin-Boston alliance that dominated House Democratic leadership from the New Deal to the Reagan era was more than mere coincidence; rather, it was the manifestation of Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal coalition in the House of Representatives necessary to balance the regional interests of that broad coalition. Forged in the late 1930s in the wake of Roosevelt’s failed efforts at recasting the Democratic Party, the Austin-Boston alliance took shape as Sam Rayburn of Texas, Roosevelt’s preferred candidate over New Deal dissident John O’Connor of New York, won the House majority leadership post in 1937. Upon Rayburn’s succession to the Speakership, another Roosevelt loyalist, John McCormack of Boston, bested southern conservative Clifton Woodrum of Virginia to . . .

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