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Chapter VI: Friends, Enemies, and Committees


My father's Congressional friends tended to be liberal New England Republicans, like Senators Charles Tobey from New Hampshire and Ceorge Aiken from Vermont, moderate to liberal Southern Democrats like Estes Kefauver of Tennessee, or Speaker William Bankhead, and of course Progressives from Wisconsin like Tom Amlie, or pro-New Deal Western Democrats like Maury Maverick from Texas or John Coffee of Washington. His opponents in the House were ultra-conservative Southerners, such as Joe Starnes of Alabama, or conservative Republicans like dare Hoffman of Michigan and John Taber from Upstate New York.

His political friends, both inside and outside the 12th District, included farmers, small businessmen, most labor union members, monetary reformers, Hispanic voters, and members of other minority groups such as Jews and African-Americans. Of course, his biggest friend, politically, was the Democratic Party. Leaders of the Party, from President Roosevelt to Speaker Bankhead and James A. Farley, all enthusiastically backed my father in his campaigns. My father was also on very good terms with Wisconsin Progressives, Minnesota Farmer Laborites, Socialists like Norman Thomas, and economic reformers like Paul Douglas. However, inside California, after 1936, his relationship with left-of-center third parties, like EPIC, the Townsendites, Socialists, Progressives, or Communists, was cool, if not hostile. My father's political opponents, inside and outside the District, included the banking community, large chemical companies like DuPont, big business in general, more conservative farmers, small businessmen, both Prohibitionists and liquor interests, and the Republican Party. For different reasons, he was also opposed by the Communist Party, both nationwide and inside California. Finally, and most importantly, the press in Southern California, and especially within the 12th District, was very hostile toward my father. The Los Angeles Times was one of his most vehement critics. This was an interesting irony since the working press in Washington admired him very much. For example, in a Life magazine poll conducted during March of 1939, the Washington Press Corps rated my father as the most honest and fifth most intelligent member of the House. However, all of this favorable publicity nationwide was usually ignored by the press in Southern California, and it did not do him much good within the District.

My father's friendship with Speaker William Bankhead and the Democratic House leadership stood him in good stead when it came time for committee assignments. Soon after he was elected to Congress, he was serving on the Rivers and Harbors Committee and the Committee on Flood Control. These posts were very important for anyone representing California ~' 12th District, since it was crisscrossed by rivers that were usually dry but which became raging torrents during the rainy winter season. While my father was in Congress he supported construction of the San Antonio Dam above Claremont and the Santa Fe Dam on the San Gabriel River. Before construction of these dams, farmers and communities were subject to destructive disasters like the floods of 1938. This dam building was a great political asset for my father and helped contribute to his big majorities in 1938 and 1940.

Two other committees figured prominently in my father' S Congressional career. Throughout most of the years he was in Congress, he served on the Committee on Public Lands and a special Committee concerned with (World War I) Veterans Legislation. The Veterans Legislation Committee was significant because a high percentage of World War I veterans were living in Southern California at the time. During my father's Congressional career, the Public Lands Committee had been almost entirely composed of Western Congressmen, since its main concern was property under the control of the Bureau of Land Management. Most of this still open land was located in Nevada and California's Mojave Desert.

My father served on four special committees. Before Pearl Harbor he was active on H.U.A.C. and a special committee to investigate the problem of unemployment. After 1944, he served on the so-called Smith Committee and a Committee on Post-War Economic Policy and Planning. With the possible exception of H.U.A.C., these special committees were more to my father's liking because of their informal and freer atmosphere. They provided somewhat of a welcome contrast to the structured character of the traditional standing or permanent committees. Also, these special committees gave my father a better forum for his ideas and proposals than the floor of the House of Representatives, with its rules regulations and time constraints. My father once told me that his favorite committee was the one which investigated unemployment. However, the Smith Committee was probably more important because it paralleled the famous Truman Committee, whose primary concern was defense spending. The Smith Committee concerned itself with the all-important wartime task of investigating executive agencies which exceeded their authority. Like H.U.A.C., the Smith Committee was chaired by Howard W. Smith from Virginia, a vehemently anti-Communist and conservative Southerner.

Finally, in 1945, at the end of his Congressional career, my father was appointed to the all-important and coveted Committee on Agriculture. With the possible exception of Rivers and Harbors, this is the only important or major Standing Committee of the House on which my father was able to secure a seat. In order to serve on the Agriculture Committee, my father paid a heavy price. He had to give up his seats on Flood Control, Rivers and Harbors and Public Lands. During his last term in office, my father had only three committee assignments: Agriculture, the Smith Committee, and the Committee on Post-War Economic Policy. Despite his efforts on behalf of the School Lunch Program, rural electrification and programs to benefit small and tenant farmers as well as the protection which he provided to California citrus growers, the all-important rule of seniority prevented my father from securing a place on the Agriculture Committee until he had been in Congress for almost ten years.

My father's Congressional career was characterized by a successful combination of idealism, a careful consideration of his constituents' needs, and a pragmatic ability to get along with the more conservative and usually Southern leaders of Congress. He prided himself on having read virtually all of his constituent mail, both positive and negative. For this purpose, he hired several men who had formerly been students at the San Dimas School: Duane-Shaine, Edmund and Ben O'Brien, and Harold Herrin. My father had a good network of contacts within the District who kept him abreast of local developments while he was in Washington. The two most important contacts of this type were his Secretary in the District1 Jack long1 and of course my grandfather1 Charles Brown Voorhis. Mr. Long was invaluable as a link with labor unions, farm organizations, and local Democratic politicians. My grandfather was crucial in lining up support for my father within the business community, no easy task. My father's political correspondence with both Mr. Long and my grandfather was voluminous.

Finally, contact between my parents and President and Mrs. Roosevelt was frequent and cordial. My father and mother received invitations to the White House, both as a couple and individually. Correspondence between my father and both the President and Mrs. Roosevelt covered a wide range of topics, including unemployment, Veterans affairs, the problems of small business during wartime, and upcoming or past election campaigns. This cordial relationship with the White House continued after President Roosevelt's death, during the first years of the Truman Presidency.

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