CAMPAIGN '80 1 .CONGRESSIONAL
A CLOSE RACE
Republicans are putting "every dollar the law will allow" against Eckhardt.
'BY CHARLOTTE MOSER'
The two hottest U. S. congressional races
in Houston these days are being waged in
districts described frequently as "increasingly Republican."
In the case of U.S. Congressional District 8 in north and east Harris County,
that means a tough fight for 14-year incumbent liberal Democrat Bob Eckhardt.
In what has been called the "dirtiest"
campaign of his career, Eckhardt is battling GOP-groomed conservative candidate Jack Fields, 29, in his first political
But, in U. S. Congressional District 22
in south and southeast Harris County, the
tables ironically are turned. Two-term
conservative Republican Ron Paul has
made such an eccentric mark in office
that newcomer conservative Democrat
Mike Andrews is edging into Paul's shaky
The outcome of these races will have
a long-term impact beyond the individual
effectiveness of the winning congressman.
With re-districting scheduled for Texas in
1981 in accordance with the 1980 census,
the winners would chisel out favorable
districts that could keep them in office
for another decade until the next census.
If conservatives win the elections, the
balance of congressional representation
in the Houston area could shift in the
wake of the right wing tide behind GOP
presidential candidate Ronald Reagan,
now predicted to take 46 percent of
"Houston should have five congressional districts. The real question is which
party will have three and which one will
have two," says Richard Murray, UH political science professor. "If the Republicans win, they would enter a Congress
where the Democrats are the majority
party. That would mean Houston would
get decreased federal support."
The most serious threat to Houston's
liberal voice in the U. S. House is the
current campaign to unseat Eckhardt,
now 62, in District 8. Long an anomaly
froYi this blue-collar, red-neck district,
Eckhardt is a liberal politician in the best
Southern tradition who has skillfully
waged staggering campaigns against the
oil industry and big business during his
14 years in office.
A 1979 New York Times editorial
said Eckhardt was "noted for his intellect
and legislative skill." He is a skillful Con-
stitutionist. Great grandson of Germans
who immigrated to Texas in 1848, he is
Charlotte Moser is editor of north Houston's The Leader newspapers.
the fourth member of his family to make
it to Congress. A graduate of University
of Texas Law School, he served in the
Texas Legislature for eight years before
winning his first congressional race in 1966.
Never has Eckhardt's legislative skill
been put more to a test than in the last
five years. While District 8 has increasingly
acquired the aura of oil industry mega-
bucks, Eckhardt has increasingly been
identified with consumer interests. (With
an 83 percent rating, Eckhardt is the
Texas delegate with the highest marks
from Ralph Nader's consumer protection
In 1975, he wrote the price-control
amendment to the Energy Policy and
Conservation Act. In 1976, he authored
the landmark legislation for the Toxic
Substance Control Act that required pollution clean-up from the Exxon, Shell,
and Arco plants within his own district.
He supported windfall profits legislation
in 1979 and, most recently, has attacked
Texas' Public Utilities Commission for
waffling on its control of the South Texas
nuclear energy project.
That Eckhardt has continued in office
despite his strong stands has earned professional respect for him among friends and
foes alike. Washington Post political columnist Jack Anderson recently rated Eckhardt among the 10 most effective members of the House in a recent issue of The
Washingtonian magazine. Texas' conservative magazine Texas Business called him
the state's "best liberal" whom even conservatives would miss if he were to leave
Until this year, however, Eckhardt's
liberal stand has provoked passionate, but
limited, conservative opposition. In his
first five campaigns, his opponents never
raised more than $40,000 according to a
recent New York Times article entitled
"A Texan vs. Big Oil." In 1978, Eckhardt
even received $32,756 from the oil and
gas industry (putting him among the top
10 congressmen who had received the
most from the industry) before he finally
voted for decontrol of natural gas in 1978.
Such funds brought him a 62 percent defeat of Republican Nick Gearhart in 1976
and a 60 percent defeat of Gearhart in
However, Eckhardt's campaign this
year, for which $250,000 is budgeted,
is different. Targeted by the National Republican Congressional Committee as one
of the most "vulnerable" Democratic Congressmen in the nation, Eckhardt is being
criticized in a heavy media campaign for
"losing touch with his district."
"I don't know of any more worthwhile
endeavor that anyone can undertake than
to unseat Bob Eckhardt," said former
Texas governor John Connally at a press
conference. Rep. Guy Vander Jagt, chair
of the National Republican Congressional
Committee, says the party is throwing
"every dollar the law will allow" against
No one really knows how Jack Fields
came along to be the great conservative
hope. Born and raised in Humble, Fields,
29, was apparently never involved in politics until he announced his candidacy
for the Republican nomination for the
District 8 seat almost two years ago. He
was president of the Humble High School
student body and captain of the football
team. He says he worked his way through
high school and Baylor University (where
he was also president of the student body)
selling burial plotsfor the family business,
the 185-acre cemetery Rosewood Memorial Park.
He graduated from Baylor Law School
in 1977 and returned to Humble to set up
a law practice. There,he met his wife-to-be
Roni Sue, now 22. "God just told me that
this was the girl I was going to marry,"
says the ever-earnest Fields. A year later,
he gave up his law practice, assumed the
vice-presidency of the family cemetery
and began a two-year campaign to defeat
Along the way, Fields put together a
campaign remarkably well-organized for
a first race. Early on, his campaign — with
Houston's Robert Allen of Gulf Resources
and Chemical Corp. as finance chair —was
picked as a priority campaign by the National Republican Congressional Committee because of its smooth operation.
Campaign fund-raisers set a budgeted
goal of $600,000 of which almost a half-
million dollars was raised by early October, making it the best-funded congressional campaign in Texas' history, according to the Houston Post. (Eckhardt's 1978
opponent was able to raise only $40,000.)
National GOP celebrities like former President Gerald Ford and Eddie "I'm Mad
Too" Chiles were sent to Houston to
campaign for Fields.
Fields and his campaign staff of 11
full-time members have the scrubbed,
flawless image of young conservatives.
Fields himself participated in the GOP's
candidate training school, the National
Congressional Council in Washington,
D. C, where he learned campaign techniques, fund-raising and briefing on issues. His campaign manager Jerry Linds-
ley, 25, was executive director of the College Republican National Committee in
Washington, D. C, and his press director
Brian Wirwicz, from North Carolina, formerly worked with the National Conservative Political Action Committee, one of
many right-wing "action committees"
which have sprouted to work for conservative candidates.
Fields has come down on Eckhardt's
liberal voting record and extolled the virtues of prayer in school, voluntary school
Fourteen-year Democratic incumbent Bob Eckhardt faces a tough race against a GOP newcomer.