front cover of Call Me Tom
Call Me Tom
The Life of Thomas F. Eagleton
James N. Giglio
University of Missouri Press, 2011
Call Me Tom is the first book-length biography of one of Missouri’s most successful senators. A moderate liberal in a conservative state, Thomas F. Eagleton was known for his political independence, integrity, and intelligence, likely the reasons Eagleton never once lost an election in his thirty years of public service.

Born in St. Louis, Eagleton began his public career in 1956 as St. Louis Circuit Attorney. At 27, he was the youngest person in the history of the state to hold that position, and he duplicated the feat in his next two elected positions, attorney general in 1960 and lieutenant governor in 1964. In 1968, he was elected to the U.S. Senate, where he served until 1987. He was thrown into the national spotlight in 1972 when revelations regarding his mental health, particularly the shock treatments he received for depression, forced his resignation as a vice presidential nominee of the Democratic Party. All of that would overshadow his significant contributions as senator, especially on environmental and social legislation, as well as his defense of Congressional authority on war making and his role in the U. S. military disengagement from Southeast Asia in 1973.

Respected biographer James N. Giglio provides readers with an encompassing and nuanced portrait of Eagleton by placing the man and his career in the context of his times. Giglio allows readers to see his rumpled suits, smell the smoke of his Pall Mall cigarettes, hear his gravelly voice, and relish his sense of humor. At the same time, Giglio does not shy away from the personal torments that Eagleton had to overcome. A definitive examination of the senator’s career also reveals his unique ability to work with Republican counterparts, especially prior to the 1980s when bipartisanship was more possible.

Measuring the effect his mental illness had on his career, Giglio determines that the removal of aspirations for higher office in 1972 made Eagleton a better senator. He consistently took principled stands, with the ultimate goal of preserving and modernizing the agenda of Franklin D. Roosevelt, his favorite president.

Thoroughly researched using the Eagleton Papers and interviews with more than eighty-five people close to Eagleton, including family, friends, colleagues, subordinates, and former classmates, Call Me Tom offers an engaging and in-depth portrayal of a man who remained a devoted public servant throughout his life.
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The Caning
The Assault That Drove America to Civil War
Stephen Puleo
Westholme Publishing, 2012
A Turning Point in American History, the Beating of U.S. Senator Charles Sumner and the Beginning of the War Over Slavery
Early in the afternoon of May 22, 1856, ardent pro-slavery Congressman Preston S. Brooks of South Carolina strode into the United States Senate Chamber in Washington, D.C., and began beating renowned anti-slavery Senator Charles Sumner with a gold-topped walking cane. Brooks struck again and again—more than thirty times across Sumner’s head, face, and shoulders—until his cane splintered into pieces and the helpless Massachusetts senator, having nearly wrenched his desk from its fixed base, lay unconscious and covered in blood. It was a retaliatory attack. Forty-eight hours earlier, Sumner had concluded a speech on the Senate floor that had spanned two days, during which he vilified Southern slaveowners for violence occurring in Kansas, called Stephen A. Douglas of Illinois a “noise-some, squat, and nameless animal,” and famously charged Brooks’s second cousin, South Carolina Senator Andrew Butler, as having “a mistress. . . who ugly to others, is always lovely to him. . . . I mean, the harlot, Slavery.” Brooks not only shattered his cane during the beating, but also destroyed any pretense of civility between North and South.
One of the most shocking and provocative events in American history, the caning convinced each side that the gulf between them was unbridgeable and that they could no longer discuss their vast differences of opinion regarding slavery on any reasonable level.The Caning: The Assault That Drove America to Civil War tells the incredible story of this transformative event. While Sumner eventually recovered after a lengthy convalescence, compromise had suffered a mortal blow. Moderate voices were drowned out completely; extremist views accelerated, became intractable, and locked both sides on a tragic collision course.
The caning had an enormous impact on the events that followed over the next four years: the meteoric rise of the Republican Party and Abraham Lincoln; the Dred Scott decision; the increasing militancy of abolitionists, notably John Brown’s actions; and the secession of the Southern states and the founding of the Confederacy. As a result of the caning, the country was pushed, inexorably and unstoppably, to war. Many factors conspired to cause the Civil War, but it was the caning that made conflict and disunion unavoidable five years later.
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Capitol Investments
The Marketability of Political Skills
Glenn R. Parker
University of Michigan Press, 2011

“Who would spend millions for a job that pays $250k? Parker’s answer will surprise you. Required reading for Congress jocks.”
—Michael C. Munger, Duke University

“A unique and interesting approach to the study of legislators and legislative institutions.”
—David Brady, Stanford University

What would you do if, the very day you were hired, you knew you could be unemployed in as little as two years? You’d seek opportunities in your current job to develop a portfolio of skills and contacts in order to make yourself more attractive to future employers. Representatives and senators think about their jobs in Congress in precisely this way, according to Glenn R. Parker.

While in office, members of Congress plan not merely for the next election but for the next stage of their careers. By networking, serving on committees, and championing particular legislation, they deliberately accumulate human capital—expertise, networks, and reputation—which later gives them advantages on the job market. Parker’s study of the postelective careers of more than 200 former members of Congress who left office during the last half century shows that, in most cases, the human capital these politicians amassed while in office increased their occupational mobility and earning power.

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Catch and Release
An Oregon Life in Politics
Les AuCoin
Oregon State University Press, 2019
In 1974, at the age of thirty-two, Les AuCoin became the first Democrat to win a US House seat in Oregon’s First District. He was one of the post-Watergate reformers who shook up an insular, autocratic Congress and led fights for affordable housing, “trickle-up” economics, wilderness protection, abortion rights, and nuclear arms control. In the 1980s, the Oregonian called him “the most powerful congressman in Oregon.”
 
In this compelling collection of life stories, AuCoin traces his unlikely rise from a fatherless childhood in Central Oregon to the top ranks of national power. Then came a painful defeat in one of the most controversial races in US Senate history, against incumbent Bob Packwood.
 
A fly fisher, AuCoin uses “catch and release” as a metaphor for succeeding and letting go of loss with dignity and equanimity. His memories are in turn funny, suspenseful, and revealing. AuCoin takes us to the Kremlin, pre-industrial China, the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, and into the tortuous politics of the Northwest spotted owl crisis. He interacted with world figures like Mikhail Gorbachev, Ronald Reagan, House Speakers Tip O’Neill and Jim Wright, and Oregon legends Tom McCall and Mark Hatfield. Closer to home, AuCoin allied himself with activists like Sidney Lasseigne of the Newport Fishermen’s Wives.
 
Catch and Release offers readers a revealing glimpse behind the scenes of congressional life, as lived by the 535 souls who inhabit the US House and Senate—including the author, who assesses his own strengths and foibles with humility and candor.
 
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The Challenge of Congressional Representation
Richard F. Fenno
Harvard University Press, 2013

At a moment when Congress is widely viewed as hyper-partisan and dysfunctional, Richard Fenno provides a variegated picture of American representational politics. The Challenge of Congressional Representation offers an up-close-and-personal look at the complex relationship between members of Congress and their constituents back home.

When not crafting policy in Washington, the 435 members of the U.S. House of Representatives are busy assessing and building voter support in their districts. Fenno delves into the activities of five members of the House—Republicans representing Pennsylvania and New York, and Democrats from California, Florida, and Illinois. Spanning the ideological spectrum, these former and current representatives are senior lawmakers and rookie back-benchers from both urban and rural areas. Fenno travels with them in their own political territories, watching and talking with them, conducting interviews, and meeting aides and constituents. He illuminates the all-consuming nature of representational work—the complicated lives of House members shuttling back and forth between home and Capitol, building and maintaining networks, and making compromises. Agreeing to talk on the record without protective anonymity, these elected House members emerge as real personalities, at once praiseworthy and fallible.

While voting patterns and policy analysis constitute an important window into the legislative process, the nonquantifiable human element that political scientists so frequently overlook is the essence of negotiation. Fenno focuses our attention on how congressional leaders negotiate with constituents as well as with colleagues.

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Clear It with Sid!
Sidney R. Yates and Fifty Years of Presidents, Pragmatism, and Public Service
Michael C. Dorf and George Van Dusen
University of Illinois Press, 2022
The son of a Lithuanian blacksmith, Sidney R. Yates rose to the pinnacle of Washington power and influence. As chair of a House Appropriations Subcommittee, Yates was a preeminent national figure involved in issues that ranged from the environment and Native American rights to Israel and support for the arts. Speaker Tip O'Neill relied on the savvy Chicagoan in the trenches and advised anyone with controversial legislation to first "clear it with Sid!"

Michael C. Dorf and George Van Dusen draw on scores of interviews and unprecedented access to private papers to illuminate the life of an Illinois political icon. Wise, energetic, charismatic, petty, stubborn--Sid Yates presented a complicated character to constituents and colleagues alike. Yet his get-it-done approach to legislation allowed him to bridge partisan divides in the often-polarized House of Representatives. Following Yates from the campaign trail to the negotiating table to the House floor, Dorf and Van Dusen offer a rich portrait of a dealmaker extraordinaire and tireless patriot on a fifty-year journey through postwar American politics.
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Congress and the Rent-Seeking Society
Glenn R. Parker
University of Michigan Press, 1996


Skillfully blending historical data with microeconomic theory, Glenn Parker argues that the incentives for congressional service have declined over the years, and that with that decline has come a change in the kind of person who seeks to enter Congress. The decline in the attractiveness of Congress is a consequence of congressional careerists and of the growth in the rent-seeking society, a term which describes the efforts of special interests to obtain preferential treatment by using the machinery of government--legislation and regulations.

Parker provides a fresh and controversial perspective to the debate surrounding the relative merits of career or amateur politicians. He argues that driving career politicians from office can have pernicious effects on the political system: it places the running of Congress in the hands of amateur politicians, who stand to lose little if they are found engaging in illegal or quasi-legal practices. On the other hand, career legislators risk all they have invested in their long careers in public service if they engage in unsavory practices. As Parker develops this controversial argument, he provides a fresh perspective on the debate surrounding the value of career versus amateur politicians.

Little attention has been given to the long-term impact of a rent-seeking society on the evolution of political institutions. Parker examines empirically and finds support for hypotheses that reflect potential symptoms of adverse selection in the composition of Congress: (1) rent-seeking politicians are more inclined than others to manipulate institutional arrangements for financial gain; (2) the rent-seeking milieu of legislators are more likely to engage in rent-seeking activity than earlier generations; (3) and the growth of rent-seeking activity has hastened the departure of career legislators.

Glenn R. Parker is Distinguished Research Professor, Florida State University.

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Congressmen's Voting Decisions
John W. Kingdon
University of Michigan Press, 1989
This classic study of voting decisions in the U.S. House of Representatives, based on extensive interviewing and observation, combines theory and substance, generalization and detailed description. With a new introduction, this influential and innovative book remains the best statement of the ways in which legislators reach decisions. The work contributes in critical ways to scholars’ and students’ understanding of such larger features of legislative process as representation of constituencies, the place of specialization in the making of public policy, the extent and types of legislative rationality, the importance of principles in decisions, and the place of legislatures in larger political systems.
 
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The Cost of Courage
The Journey of an American Congressman
Carl Elliott
University of Alabama Press, 2001

This deeply moving story chronicles the tenacity and vision that carried Carl Elliott from the hills of northwest Alabama to eight distinguished terms in the United States House of Representatives.

Born in a log cabin on a tenant farm in 1913, Carl Elliott worked his way through The University of Alabama during the Great Depression and was elected to Congress in 1948. With a no-nonsense philosophy of fairness and equal opportunity, he established himself as one of the most effective members of the House of Representatives during the 1950s. He was a progressive Democrat and he fought hard for the dirt farmers and coal miners he grew up with and who sent him to Congress.

In an era when racial segregationists dominated southern politics, Elliott worked with many of the important political leaders of the 20th century, including Presidents Truman, Eisenhower, and Kennedy and powerful House Speaker Sam Rayburn. He was instrumental in passing the National Defense Education Act of 1958, which continues to provide college loans to more than 20 million Americans. But his brave stand against racism and George Wallace in the 1966 Alabama gubernatorial race ruined him professionally (he never returned to elected office) and financially (he cashed in his congressional pension to help fund the campaign). Even as a destitute invalid in his old age, however, Elliott kept his dignity and integrity intact.

The life story of Carl Elliott is full of humor and wry wisdom and explains how he made his way across a stage as big as America, influencing its politics and future, and then emerged, belatedly, as an unsung hero of the fight for civil rights and equality.

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Cultivating Justice in the Garden State
My Life in the Colorful World of New Jersey Politics
Raymond Lesniak
Rutgers University Press, 2022
Born into a working-class Polish immigrant family in Elizabeth, New Jersey, Raymond Lesniak went on to become a major force in the tough and bruising world of state politics. In this remarkable memoir, he reflects upon his life and career fighting for social justice in the Garden State.
 
He recounts the many causes he championed in his forty years as a state legislator, from the landmark Environmental Cleanup Responsibility Act to bills concerning animal protections, marriage equality, women’s reproductive rights, and the abolition of the death penalty. He also delves into his experiences on the national stage as a key advisor for Bill Clinton and Al Gore’s presidential campaigns. With refreshing candor, Lesniak describes both his greatest achievements and his moments of failure, including his unsuccessful 2017 gubernatorial run. 
 
Cultivating Justice in the Garden State is both a gripping American success story and a must-read for anyone seeking to understand the inner workings of our political system. It offers an insider’s perspective on the past fifty years of New Jersey politics, while presenting a compelling message about what leaders and citizens can do to improve the state’s future.
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