Before “I Love Lucy” the television show, there was Ralph Hall the politician.
That subtle jab was posted last month on a website promoting Steve Clark, a Dallas businessman eyeing Hall’s U.S. Congressional seat. Hall began his public service in 1950 as Rockwall County Judge, during Harry Truman's administration, and then served as a Texas State Senator from 1962 to 1972. He went to the U.S. House in the same 1980 election that put Ronald Reagan in the White House and has held the post for three decades — a couple too many, according to his challengers.
“A longtime friend and supporter of Ralph Hall, we agree on almost everything with the notable exception that I passionately embrace term limits for those in the Congress,” continued Clark.
Hall did not return phone calls seeking comment for this story.
His seven challengers — five Republicans, a Democrat, and a Libertarian — think the incumbent, who turns 87 in May, should step down from representing Texas’ 4th Congressional district due, in part, to his advanced age.
“It is a factor and my (89-year-old) mother is the first one to say he’s too old, even if he is in good health and spirits,” said Sulphur Springs tax attorney Valinda Hathcox, the lone Democrat in the race.
Hathcox, 62, tried unsuccessfully to dethrone Hall in 2008, but lost the Democratic Primary election (she previously lost a 2006 bid for land commissioner to Jerry Patterson).
“I am beginning to think that once you are there and you are in it so long, with the gerrymandering that we’ve had as far as encapsulating incumbents, that there is no longer true representation,” Hathcox continued.
Others are more direct.
“If you have been in Congress since 1981 and if you are 87 years old now, is that too long to perform at the top of your game?” asks Lou Gigliotti, one of the five Republican challengers, on his campaign website.
The Libertarian in the race is Jim Prindle, a former military intelligence officer and current real estate agent. He and Hathcox will set their sights on the winning Republican after the March primary.
Fending off crowds appears to be one of Hall’s strong suits. In 2008 he outlasted four GOP challengers, a horde big enough to automatically spell runoff. But the veteran campaigner carried 73 percent of the primary vote into the general election in 2008, then triumphed over Democratic challenger Glenn Melancon with almost 69 percent of that vote.
Those gunning for Hall’s seat this time also raise their eyebrows — and hope voters will follow — about Hall switching parties in 2004 after 20 years as a Democrat. The district's voters have had three chances to disapprove — in 2004, 2006, and 2008 — and haven't.
“If you have been in Congress for 28 years and for 24 years as a Democrat it’s awful hard to go against your friend and buddy,” Gigliotti said.
Gigliotti, 60, a veteran race-car driver and owner of Wylie-based LG Motorsports, said Hall was part of the status quo that is strapping Texans in chains. Leaving the niceties in the pit, Gigliotti instead said current federal legislators are creating a “socialist” regime.
“The normal, average person is being enslaved by this government,” he said.
Joshua Kowert, 28, tried unsuccessfully to outlast Hall in 2008 and is back for another go-round. After three decades, he said, Hall should be sent home — if he can remember where that is.
“Anyone who spends five days a week for 30 years in Washington can’t represent Texas,” he said.
Kowert said Hall deserves respect for serving so long but said his accomplishments have tapered off in the last few years.
“I am not going to question the guy’s loyalty (to either party). The guy’s record speaks for himself,” he said.
Rounding out the rest of the GOP ballot are Jerry Ray Hall, a self-proclaimed Tea Party Republican who actually embraces the moniker “Tea,” and John Cooper, a Sulphur Springs pastor and another Tea Party enthusiast who calls government’s current spending “reckless” and “speculative.” There's a trend here: Clark, on his website, aligns himself with the Tea Party, too.