Longtime Texas US Representative Jack Brooks dead at 89

Jack Brooks (far right) on Air Force One after President Kennedy’s assassination in 1963.
Jack Brooks (far right) on Air Force One after President Kennedy’s assassination in 1963.
Cecil Stoughton/White House

HOUSTON — Jack Brooks hounded government bureaucrats, drafted President Nixon’s articles of impeachment, and supported civil rights bills in a congressional career spanning 42 years. But for most of the country the Southeast Texas politician is frozen in a photograph, standing over the left shoulder of Jacqueline Kennedy as Lyndon B. Johnson was sworn in as president.

Mr. Brooks, who died Tuesday at 89, was in the Dallas motorcade when President Kennedy was assassinated. Hours later he stood behind the grief-stricken widow as Johnson took the oath of office.

Mr. Brooks died at Baptist Hospital of Beaumont after a sudden illness. He would have turned 90 on Dec. 18.

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He was among the last links to an era when Democrats dominated Texas politics and was the last of ‘‘Mr. Sam’s Boys,’’ protégés of legendary 21-year Democratic House Speaker Sam Rayburn in Texas’s congressional delegation.

‘‘I’m just like old man Rayburn,’’ Mr. Brooks, from Beaumont, once said. ‘‘Just a Democrat, no prefix or suffix.’’

He also was a contemporary and supporter of Johnson, who was US Senate majority leader in the 1950s.

Vice President Joe Biden, who served as chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee while Mr. Brooks headed its counterpart in the House, said Mr. Brooks ‘‘was a Texan through and through — tough, bold, and bigger than life. He lived by principles that were carved into his heart, and he was never afraid to fight for what he believed in.’’

‘‘We lost a great American, a great Texan, and a great Democrat,’’ Texas Democratic Party chairman Gilberto Hinojosa said Wednesday. ‘‘During his long and distinguished service he was a champion for working families and equal rights.

Mr. Brooks’s secretary Dianna Coffey said a birthday party was planned for him next Friday, but he suddenly became ill Tuesday morning.

Coffey, who insisted Mr. Brooks stop coming to his office about five years ago, worked out of his home and spent weekends at his farm in Jasper.

When people would ask Mr. Brooks what he did in retirement, she said the plain-spoken Texan would reply: ‘‘Pretty much what I damn well please.’’

Mr. Brooks, first elected to the House in his far Southeast Texas district in 1952, was returned to office 20 more times. He was on the verge of becoming the dean of the US House when he was ousted in the Republican revolution of 1994.

Rayburn, whose 48 years rivaled Mr. Brooks’s House tenure, put Mr. Brooks on the House Government Operations Committee, a panel Mr. Brooks eventually would chair. He gained notoriety as a curmudgeon-like scourge of bureaucrats he grilled for wasting taxpayers’ money, peering at witnesses over his glasses.

‘‘I never thought being a congressman was supposed to be an easy job, and it doesn’t bother me a bit to be in a good fight,’’ Mr. Brooks once said.

A law he wrote required full and open competition to be the standard for awarding federal contracts. The 1965 Brooks Act set policy for the government’s computer acquisition program, requiring competitive bidding and central management. His Inspector General Act establishedOffices of Inspector General in major agencies to prevent fraud and waste.

Other Brooks bills reduced federal paperwork, provided a uniform system of federal procurement, eliminated overlapping audit requirements, and established the Department of Education.

‘‘He literally has saved American taxpayers billions of dollars through his actions in improving government efficiency and eliminating waste,’’ former Texas governor Dolph Briscoe, a longtime friend who died in 2010, said two years earlier when Mr. Brooks donated his congressional papers, photos, correspondence, and other items to the Center for American History at the University of Texas.