Rep. Ralph Hall (R)
Texas 4th District
The Red River Valley is hardscrabble farm country along an unnavigable river. First settled in the 1830s, in the days of the Texas Republic, many counties here reached their population peak around 1900, when a large extended farm family worked every 160 acres. It includes towns like Denison, which was the birthplace of Dwight Eisenhower and has become a manufacturing center, and Sherman, which was the site of a major race riot in 1930 when a black farm worker accused of rape was trapped in the courthouse after an angry white mob set it on fire. To the east is Texarkana, noteworthy because its neat grid streets cross the Texas-Arkansas state line, which is straddled by the city’s downtown post office. This small city and its hinterland produced two presidential candidates in the 1990s: Ross Perot grew up in Texarkana, while Bill Clinton’s boyhood home of Hope, Ark., is 30 miles east. This part of Texas sent Democrat Sam Rayburn to Congress in 1912. He was the powerful House speaker from 1940 until his death in 1961, except for two terms when Republicans had the majority. The Red River Valley was one of the strongest Democratic parts of the country, with a sentimental regard for Confederate veterans and a seething hatred of Wall Street bankers. This was Rayburn’s politics, and he arguably was the most skillful lawmaker of the 20th century. He helped write the securities laws that for 75 years provided the basis for confidence in American securities markets. Today, Rayburn’s politics has almost completely vanished from the area. The cause of the Confederacy has been left behind, populist suspicion of Wall Street has been replaced by active brokerage accounts and allegiance to the Democratic Party is a thing of the past.
2008 Presidential Vote
|Cook Partisan Voting Index|
The 4th Congressional District of Texas is the lineal descendant of the seat that Rayburn held, and still includes his hometown of Bonham in Fannin County, which houses a Rayburn museum. But it is quite a different district. In Rayburn’s time it was a farm district, separate and distinct from citified Dallas. Today, it still has its farm counties, but they are only a short hop on the interstate from the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex, and nearly half the district’s people live in the metropolitan area. The counties at the edge of the Metroplex, Collin and Rockwall, are among the fastest-growing in the country; with 71% growth from 2000 to 2007. Rockwall ranked third among the fastest-growing counties in the nation. The two counties are home now to upwardly-mobile families, far more trusting of free markets than of government regulation, and more than 2-to-1 are Republican. In 1940, the year Rayburn became speaker, his district voted 90% for Franklin D. Roosevelt. In 2008, the 4th District voted 69% for Republican presidential nominee John McCain.
Rep. Ralph Hall (R)
Elected: 1980, 15th term.
Born: May 3, 1923, Fate .
Education: U. of TX, TX Christian U., S. Methodist U., LL.B. 1951.
Religion: United Methodist.
Family: Widowed; 3 children.
Military career: Navy, 1942–45 (WWII).
Elected office: Rockwall Cnty. judge, 1950-62; TX Senate, 1962–72.
Professional Career: Practicing atty., 1951-80; Pres. & CEO, TX Aluminum Corp., 1967-68; Spec. cnsl., Howmet Corp., 1970-74.
The congressman from the 4th District is Ralph Hall, who was born in 1923 and first elected in 1980. He turned 86 in 2009 and is the oldest member of the House; he is also the dean of the Texas delegation in Congress. Hall grew up in Rockwall County, served in the Navy during World War II as a lieutenant and aircraft carrier pilot, and had a 30-year career in local politics and business before coming to Washington. He got his law degree from Southern Methodist University, was a county judge in the 1950s, and from 1962 to 1972, served in the Texas Senate. In 1980, he was elected to the House as a Democrat. His evolution to the Republican Party was a long time in gestation. He supported just about everything in the GOP’s Contract with America policy agenda in 1995 and was one of only five House Democrats who voted to impeach President Bill Clinton. He voted for Bush administration policies on taxes, trade and foreign policy. (But Hall is not a pure free marketer. He voted against the North American Free Trade Agreement.) During the 2002 campaign, he promised to vote for Republican Speaker Dennis Hastert if his vote decided which party would control the House. And in January 2003, he voted “present” rather than vote for liberal Democrat Nancy Pelosi for speaker, because, he said, “she just don’t think like we do.”
|Ralph Hall (R)||206,906||(69%)||($939,674)|
|Glenn Melancon (D)||88,067||(29%)||($83,243)|
|Ralph Hall (R)||41,764||(73%)|
|Kathy Seei (R)||5,835||(10%)|
|Gene Christensen (R)||5,492||(10%)|
|Kevin George (R)||2,965||(5%)|
Prior Winning Percentages: 2006 (64%), 2004 (68%), 2002 (58%), 2000 (60%), 1998 (58%), 1996 (64%), 1994 (59%), 1992 (58%), 1990 (100%), 1988 (66%), 1986 (72%), 1984 (58%), 1982 (74%), 1980 (52%)
Republicans restlessly waited for years for Hall to join them. When he failed to switch after the 2001 redistricting, local and national Republicans expressed interest in a serious challenge to Hall. But they backed off after Hall met with President George W. Bush at the White House and the president strongly opposed a challenge. In March 2003, Hall was the only Democrat to vote for the Republican budget, which barely passed. Bush called to thank him. “I didn’t want him to have a setback in Washington, D.C., when he’s working his heart out two oceans away to win a war,” Hall said. The 2003 redistricting finally convinced Hall to change parties. With Republican candidates lined up to run against him, he switched parties on January 2, 2004, the final day for filing. He said that his Democratic Party affiliation was limiting his ability to get appropriations for his district. And so Hall moved from being the most conservative Democrat in the House to a relatively centrist Republican.
When he joined their side, Republicans rewarded him with the chairmanship of the Energy and Air Quality Subcommittee of the powerful Energy and Commerce Committee, an attractive perk for a Texan. Hall helped to enact the energy bill of 2005, and later fought Democratic proposals to raise taxes on oil companies. When Republicans lost the majority in 2007, Hall became the ranking Republican of a full committee, the Science and Technology Committee. He has collaborated with Chairman Bart Gordon, D-Tenn., on the $20 billion reauthorization of NASA programs in 2008 and on energy research and development.
Party-switching has played well at home. With support from Bush and then-Republican House Speaker Dennis Hastert, Hall won 77% against two opponents in the Republican primary in 2004 and went on to win in the general, 68%-30%, his largest margin in more than a decade. The Dallas Morning News was less impressed, urging Hall to retire. He has won the subsequent elections with over 60% of the vote. When Hall retires, his son, Rockwall County District Judge Brett Hall, a Republican, is said to be interested in running for the seat.