Saturday, May 16, 2009

Forgotten American Blogging: Maury Maverick

During the 2008 presidential campaign, John McCain's use of the term "maverick" to describe himself led to a curious rebuttal. Sarah wrote a post about the Maverick family of San Antonio, long leaders in regional progressive politics, snapping at McCain for adopting the term.

The most famous member of this family is Maury Maverick. Pretty much forgotten about today, Maverick had a really interesting, if short, career. Born in San Antonio in 1895, he lived the life of a member of the Texas elite--education at Virginia Military Institute, Texas Military Institute, and the University of Texas; passed the bar in 1916, served in World War I as a lieutenant earning a Silver Star and Purple Heart, engaged in private business after the war, and a career in local politics. Maverick's liberal reputation began during these years when he took on the Ku Klux Klan in San Antonio.

But in 1934, Maverick suddenly became an important national figure. With the support of San Antonio's Latino population, Maverick was elected to the House of Representatives. There he was an ardent New Dealer from one of the most conservative states in the country. Upon reaching Congress, Maverick rapidly became a leader of the progressive bloc in the House, particularly his "Mavericks," 35 young congressmen who resented the conservative Democratic leadership in Congress. Maverick led fights to create the National Cancer Institute, to clear slums, and for conservation.

Even by the time his first term began in 1935, a lot of Texas Democrats were opposed to most of the New Deal, especially Vice President John Nance Garner. One of the greatest things Lyndon Johnson ever did was sabotaging Garner's attempt to take the 1940 Democratic nomination from Franklin Roosevelt. Garner wanted to turn back much of the New Deal and it's hard to imagine Garner providing the same kind of leadership as Roosevelt through World War II. Anyway, Maverick quickly felt the ire of Garner, Martin Dies, and other conservative Texas Democrats. He managed to get reelected in 1936. But in 1938, running for a 3rd term, the Texas Democratic Party redbaited Maverick out of office, claiming that he wanted to "supplant the American flag with the red flag of Russia." During these years he also mentored the young Lyndon Johnson, an interesting point because Johnson certainly didn't follow Maverick's radical leanings. However, Johnson was excellent at making people believe he was on their side, regardless of the position, so this is not the surprising.

Maverick still was very popular among the Latino poor that made up much of his district and almost immediately upon his return to Texas he was elected mayor of San Antonio. Maverick received federal money to build the famed Riverwalk that now defines downtown San Antonio, an object lesson to Texans of what the federal government can do for you, not that they would ever listen.

Again, the Texas Democratic Party, and especially the San Antonio political machine, worked to redbait him out of office and he was defeated for reelection in 1941. Maverick was a strong believer in free speech. He lent out San Antonio's Municipal Auditorium to a labor union with communist connections. In response, his opponents burned him in effigy and destroyed his political career. Still the ardent New Dealer, Maverick worked for the Roosevelt administration in useful ways during World War II, serving on the War Production Board and the Smaller War Plants Corporation, as well as the Office of Price Administration and Office of Personnel Management.

Following World War II, Maverick went back to the law, dying in 1954 at the age of 58. His son, Maury Maverick, Jr., followed in his father's footsteps, providing a lonely liberal voice to Texas politics until his death in 2003.