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Seeking Bipartisanship in a Sharply Divided Town

U.S. Reps. Kevin Brady and Pete Gallego are from different political parties, but they are united in trying to bring a little bipartisanship to the Texas delegation. They have scheduled a breakfast next week to discuss ways to forge a common agenda for the state.

With an eye toward restoring at least a modicum of bipartisanship in bitterly divided Washington, a group of Texans in Congress wants to bring back meetings of the entire delegation without regard to party affiliation.

Kevin Brady and Pete Gallego have a lot in common. They are both Texans. They entered the state Legislature together in 1991. And each now serves in Congress.

But Brady is a Republican and Gallego is a Democrat, which in Washington might make them enemies.

They are not following the script, though.

Brady and Gallego are trying to bring together all 38 Texans who serve in Congress to find common ground and discuss how to advance the state’s agenda in the nation’s capital.

A bipartisan breakfast has been scheduled for Thursday, and so far at least nine members, seven of them former state legislators, have said they will attend. Brady and Gallego are pursuing the others.

“There’s a new willingness among the Texas delegation, particularly among those of us who worked together in the state Legislature, to reach across the aisle,” said Gallego, who represents a border district stretching from San Antonio to the outskirts of El Paso. “We remember when friendship trumped partisanship.”

Although the Legislature has gotten bogged down in partisanship of its own, the party lines have never run as deep as those in Washington. Even today, with Democrats far outnumbered by Republicans at the Texas Capitol, members of the minority party retain powerful committee chairmanships and often carry high-profile bills. That would be unthinkable in Washington.

Brady, who represents a conservative swath of suburbia north of Houston, said pulling the former state legislators together in Washington “seemed like a natural thing to do.” Expanding it to the entire delegation made sense, he said, because there are many issues around which the Texans can unite, like NASA financing, agriculture and energy policy.

“These issues affect our state, so regardless of what party you’re in, we want to make sure we’re all working together in the same direction,” Brady said. “Texas trumps partisan concerns, and we just need to pull together for our state regardless of party.”

Former U.S. House Speaker Sam Rayburn, a Democrat from North Texas who served in the House from 1913 until his death in 1961, fostered a tradition of home-state unity in his delegation. But he served at a time when Democrats ruled Texas. Still, he had clashes with U.S. Rep. Bruce Alger of Dallas, who was the only Republican in the delegation when he took office in 1955.

Fort Worth lawyer Dee Kelly, who worked for Rayburn in the early 1950s, said the legendary speaker was a "partisan Democrat" but had good personal relationships with many Republicans, particularly the House minority leader, Joe Martin of Massachusetts. In fact, when Rayburn won back the speakership in 1955 after losing it to Martin two years earlier, he let the Republican keep the speaker's office and he stayed in the one set aside for the minority leader because he was tired of moving back and forth.

"The big difference was personalities," Kelly said. "These people today — they don’t like each other.” 

Starting in 1993, U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison — a former state House member — brought Texans from both parties together for regular meetings, but those tapered off in recent years amid bitter redistricting clashes.

For the new effort, Gallego is handling the task of rounding up the delegation’s other 11 Democrats. Brady is handling invitations to the other 23 Republican House members as well as to Texas’ U.S. senators, John Cornyn and Tea Party firebrand Ted Cruz, both Republicans.

Before the meeting on Thursday, the bipartisanship effort will face its first potentially divisive decision: where to find breakfast tacos worthy of discerning Texas taste buds.

They are “not as easy to find in D.C. as you might imagine,” Gallego said.

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Politics Kevin Brady Texas congressional delegation