Republican Steve Stockman caused plenty of controversy during his brief stint in Congress in the mid-1990s. But his strong opinions and unabashed conservatism suit the heavily Republican, southeast Texas district just fine. Of the four new congressional seats Texas gained from redistricting, the 36th is the most conservative and is tailor-made for Stockman.
As an accountant who grew up in the Detroit suburb of Royal Oak, Stockman is an unlikely Texas politician. He was one of many unemployed men from Michigan who came to then-booming Texas in 1980 seeking a job. For a time, he was unemployed and homeless. Only at age 34 did he get his bachelor’s degree.
By then, he had decided to run for Congress. In 1990, Stockman took on veteran Democratic Rep. Jack Brooks, chairman of the House Judiciary Committee. Brooks was not an easy target and spent $885,000 to beat Stockman, 58 percent to 42 percent. But Stockman ran again in 1992, narrowing the margin to 54 percent to 44 percent. Two years later, it was 1994 and a terrible political year for Democrats. And at age 71, Brooks looked the part of the old Washington insider. Stockman challenged Brooks a third time, and rode the strong anti-incumbent wave that year to a win, defeating Brooks 52 percent to 46 percent.
In the House, Stockman antagonized House Speaker Newt Gingrich by opposing the U.S. bailout of the Mexican peso, which had been delicately crafted in a high-level bipartisan deal. In 1995, Stockman penned an article in Guns & Ammo magazine suggesting that the Clinton administration raided the Branch Davidian cult-run compound near Waco, Texas, in 1993 to gain support for an assault-weapons ban. The article appeared soon after the Oklahoma City bombing, which fed suspicions that Stockman was sympathetic to right-wing militias. Stockman later said he regretted the timing of the article. He lost in 1996 to Democrat Nick Lampson.
Todd Gillman, the Washington bureau chief of The Dallas Morning News, wrote of Stockman recently, “While his mistrust of government was unusually strident for the time, in Congress at least, elements of his agenda are now staples of conservative discourse: demand for a balanced budget, smaller government and lower taxes, and warnings about illegal immigration.”
After leaving Congress, Stockman ran an unsuccessful campaign for the Texas Railroad Commission in 1998. His website says that during that time, he worked as a bank vice president and was director of the Campus Leadership Program for the Arlington, Va.-based Leadership Institute, which trains young conservative activists.
In the 2012 election season, Stockman entered a cluttered, 12-candidate Republican House primary. He ran a shoestring campaign, with a headquarters in a motorcycle shop. An Associated Press article reported that Stockman declined to attend campaign forums and was standoffish with GOP officials. “It is a strange campaign style, but then, Stockman is a strange character,” Lamar University political science professor David Castle told the AP.
His rivals included state Sen. Mike Jackson and financial adviser Stephen Takach. Jackson was the target of a mailer that falsely claimed he supported abortion rights and was dropping out of the race. The mailer included the line, “Paid for by Friends of Congressman Steve Stockman,” but Stockman disavowed any connection to it. He and Takach both got 22 percent and advanced to a runoff, while Jackson came in third with 20 percent.
Stockman’s campaign signs referred to him as “congressman” and his website encouraged voters to “reelect” him. His campaign played up his cosponsorship of a ban on partial-birth abortion and the Defense of Marriage Act. Both Stockman and Takach emphasized the need to curb illegal immigration. Stockman prevailed in the runoff, 55 percent to 45 percent, and in the general election he beat businessman Max Martin.