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458Southwestern Historical QuarterlyApril for the study of smaller Texas towns where die picture show was one of the few sources for local community entertainment. Sandia Preparatory School, Albuquerque, New MexicoRon Briley Eckhardt: There Once Was a Congressmanfrom Texas. By Gary A. Keith. Foreword by AI Gore. (Austin: University of Texas Press, 2007. Pp. 334. Illustrations, chart, notes, sources, index. ISBN 9780292716919, $34.95 cloth). Immediate political biography, done poorly, can often be tedious, even for the most enthusiastic aficionados of political history. Yet Gary Keith takes an intriguing personality and important political career, contextualizes diem, and gives us an interesting window into postwar politics. Keith's lens is Congressman Robert "Bob" Eckhardt, a progressive Democrat with a unique and significant career in understanding modern Texas and American politics. Keith begins the Eckhardt story in turn-of-the-century Texas. Born to German settlers, the Eckhardts were prominent Austin residents. They lived in a state enjoying increased political importance and economic growth, but still marred by racial discrimination, notably against Latinos, and Jim Crow institutions such as poll taxes for African Americans. While an undergraduate and later a law student at die University of Texas at Austin, Eckhardt made the connections, personally and professionally, that proved so important to his later life and career. As a young attorney he fought against segregation and for labor. Eckhardt served in the Army Air Corps Reserves during World War II, despite a fear of flying, teaching at a ground school. After the war he worked for the Office of Inter-American Affairs (OLAA) and eventually moved to Houston in 1950. Eckhardt worked as a lobbyist and as a cartoonist for the Texas Observer, was an unwavering supporter of progressive Ralph Yarborough and early organizer for the liberal Democrats of Texas (DOT). The author introduces us here to the personalities and characters of postwar Texas politics, including Lyndon Johnson, John Connally, and George H. W. Bush. A longtime activist and lobbyist, Eckhardt made a predictable foray into politics and served in die Texas House of Representatives from 1958 to 1966. There he began a career in the Texas House as a legislator's legislator, working tirelessly on maintaining fair taxes as well as, in his most famous victory, preserving "Open Beaches" for public use. In some ways the beneficiary of redistricting in growing Houston, voters sent Eckhardt to the U.S. House in 1967, where he served until 1981. He worked on committees such as (not surprisingly) Labor, and worked on other important issues including environmental protection, consumer defense, and progressive taxation. A supporter of the New Deal, his postwar political record often placed him in agreement with his Democratic Party. Once in Washington, Beltway insiders learned about Eckhardt what many Texans already knew: the Congressman had a freewheeling personality. Eccentric and charming, self-absorbed and 20ogBook Reviews45g absent minded, Eckhardt arrived in the capĂ­tol a sketching, bicycling, seersuckerclad lawmaker. Rather ironically, as Keith explains, similar reactionary political circumstances to those during Eckhardt's rise helped bring his political demise, especially the backlash to the Carter years and particularly the oil and gas crises. By his 1980 reelection campaign Eckhardt found himself a target for die Reagan Revolution. Cast as a liberal and, in die words of his young opponent Jack Fields Jr., representing "everything that is wrong with this country," Eckhardt lost reelection in 1980, ending a storied legislative career (298). At first glance this is a celebratory account of Eckhardt. Yet Keitii balances this with some of Eckhardt's flaws, including extramarital affairs and failed marriages , drinking, political failures, and ego. While some may find the chapter subheadings distracting to the narrative and others might balk at the description of the "angry sociopolitical movement" of the New Right, this is solid and impressive scholarship (295). Eckhardt: There Once Was a Congressmanfrom Texas stands as an invaluable addition to our understanding of recent U.S. politics, in Texas and nationally. This brand ofwell-researched and written biography works. Augustana College, Sioux Falls, South DakotaJeffrey A.Johnson Ropin' the Dream: The Story of the Ken Lance Sports Arena, 1964-1994. By Ruth Lance Wester andJune Proctor. (Kearney, Neb.: Morris Publishing, 2007. Pp. 186. Illustrations...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1558-9560
Print ISSN
0038-478X
Pages
pp. 458-459
Launched on MUSE
2011-07-06
Open Access
No
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