Saturday, July 14, 2012

36th President Hones Political Skill as Hill Secretary

Lyndon Baines Johnson, one of the most masterful politicians in American history, arrived in the nations capital in 1931, at 23, when he was recruited as a legislative secretary to newly-elected Democratic Congressman Richard M. Kleberg.

Two years later he was elected speaker of the Little Congress, a club for Capitol Hill secretaries. According to the Office of the Clerk, U.S. House of Representatives:

"The 24-year-old congressional secretary of Congressman Dick Kleberg of Texas adeptly bypassed precedent which dictated the election of officers based on seniority by inviting a large contingent of employees (elevator operators and mailmen, for instance) to join the Little Congress. Johnson’s tactic to expand the membership beyond congressional secretaries — according to the organization’s bylaws eligibility included anyone on the legislative payroll — paved the way for his surprise election as speaker. As presiding officer, Johnson transformed the Little Congress into a finely-tuned organization with membership in the hundreds.

". . .The club eventually disbanded during World War II and was replaced by the Congressional Secretaries Club — a rival organization established in 1935, partly as an explicit rejection of Johnson’s dominance of the Little Congress."

Johnson parlayed his contacts on Capitol Hill, and at home in Texas, and in 1937 won a special election for the Congressional District vacated by the death of James P. Buchanan. In 1948 he was elected to the U.S. Senate, where he became the minority leader, and later, the majority leader. Upon the assassination of President Kennedy on November 22, 1963, Johnson was sworn in as 36th President of the United States.

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