The machineries of government can be used for good or ill. Some politicians abuse their offices or use them strictly to destroy their political opponents while others try to uplift their communities and make life better for others. With his more than four decades in Congress, Jack Brooks became an iconic figure who instituted many changes for Southeast Texas.
Jack Bascom Brooks was born in Crowley, Louisiana, in 1922. His family moved to the Beaumont area in 1928. They struggled in the midst of the Great Depression while Brooks attended Beaumont schools. He earned a scholarship to attend Lamar Junior College when he graduated high school in 1939 and majored in journalism. In 1941, he transferred to the University of Texas where he earned his bachelors degree in 1943.
The nation was in the midst of World War II when Brooks graduated. He enlisted in the Marines in November 1942 as a private while still a student and was sent to the Pacific after graduation. He saw action in some of the fiercest battles of the war, including Guadalcanal and Okinawa. He was honorably discharged as a first lieutenant in 1946. He would later return to the Marine Reserves and serve until his retirement as a colonel in 1972.
Brooks was part of the wave of veterans turning to public service after the war. He was elected to represent Jefferson County in the Texas House of Representatives in 1946. While serving in the state legislature, he started attending law school at the University of Texas in order to better understand the lawmaking process, earning his law degree in 1949. He also pushed through legislation making Lamar Junior College a four-year college as Lamar University.
He decided not to seek re-election in 1950. In 1952, the ailing Congressman Jesse Combs announced he would not be seeking re-election to the seat he had held since 1945. Brooks jumped into the race to succeed Combs and defeated twelve other candidates to win the Democratic nomination. He went on to win the general election with 79 percent of the vote and was unopposed for re-election in 1954, 1956, and 1958.
As a congressman, Brooks was an early protégé of Sam Rayburn, who ultimately became Speaker of the House. He was also a strong supporter of the oil industry and worked to bring federal projects to the Texas Gulf Coast. In 1963, he was part of the tragic motorcade that included President John F. Kennedy, Vice-President Lyndon Johnson, and a host of other Texas dignitaries in Dallas when Kennedy was assassinated. Brooks was aboard Air Force One later that day when Johnson was sworn in as president by Judge Sarah T. Hughes.
Brooks was a strong supporter of Johnson’s Great Society programs, helping write groundbreaking civil rights legislation, voting for the establishment of Medicare and Medicaid, and expanding federal aid for college students. During his years in Congress, he served on many committees and ultimately came to chair the House Judiciary Committee and the Committee on Government Operations.
As the Watergate Scandal unfolded during the presidency of Richard Nixon, Brooks became an outspoken investigator into the crimes Nixon had committed. It was Brooks who drew up the five articles of impeachment that the House Judiciary Committee voted on in July 1974, which led Nixon to refer to Brooks as his executioner. The committee rejected two articles and instead approved the three articles of impeachment that dealt strictly with the events surrounding the break-in of Democratic headquarters at the Watergate complex. Nixon resigned rather than face the humiliation of impeachment.
In 1994, Brooks narrowly lost re-election with 49 percent of the vote as part of an anti-incumbent wave. It was his only electoral defeat. He had one of the longest tenures of service in Congress ever and the second-longest for any Texas Congressman, second only to Sam Rayburn. After 42 years in Congress, Brooks moved into a quiet retirement.
Brooks became a respected figure in the region. A statue of him was erected at Lamar University. A park in Galveston was named for him. In 2010, Jefferson County renamed the Southeast Texas Regional Airport near Port Arthur in honor of Brooks. He died in 2012.