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Remembering Ex-Rep. Jack Edwards: Goldwater Republican, Gentleman of the House

Remembering Ex-Rep. Jack Edwards: Goldwater Republican, Gentleman of the House

This Jan. 1974 photo shows former Congressman Jack Edwards. His family said through a spokesman that Edwards died Friday, Sept. 27, 2019 at his south Alabama home after a battle with pancreatic cancer. (Al.com via AP, File)

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Sunday, 29 September 2019 07:02 PM Current | Bio | Archive

When news came last week from Mobile, Alabama that former Rep. Jack Edwards died one week before his 91st birthday, the immediate reaction from former Republican colleagues in Congress and staffers who recalled him was “why didn’t Jack stay around another ten years and serve in a House ruled by Republicans?”

Elected in 1964 as one of the five new Republican House Members who rode presidential nominee Barry Goldwater’s long coattails in Alabama, courtly, good-natured lawyer Edward was considered unbeatable in his district. 

He could have held it for life.

But after twenty years, at age 56, Edwards decided he had enough of Washington and went back to his beloved Mobile in 1984. That same year, former State Sen. Sonny Callahan, who had lost the Democratic nomination for lieutenant governor, switched parties. Callahan agreed to run for the open U.S. House seat only after he had the popular Edwards’ blessing and went on to win in November.

Like his hero Goldwater, Edwards championed smaller government, a strong national defense, and greater freedom. But his good nature and Southern “country lawyer” demeanor helped the Alabamian make many friends on the Democratic side of the aisle.

As a result, Edwards became Ronald Reagan’s “point man” on defense issues.  As ranking Republican on the Defense Appropriations Subcommittee, Edwards played a key role in securing the funding Reagan wanted to rebuild America’s defenses and eventually win the Cold War.

He also served on the Transportation Appropriations Subcommittee, the House Banking Committee, and as vice-chairman of the House GOP Conference. 

Where most of the early Republican office-holders were Democrats who converted in the 1960’s, Edwards was in the party when it was in the proverbial “telephone booth” in the South. In fact, his great-great grandfather, William F. Aldrich, was the state’s last Republican U.S. Representative before 1964 — having served from 1886-1900. 

After serving as a U.S. Marine Corps sergeant in the Korean War, Edwards earned undergraduate and law degrees from the University of Alabama. He built a thriving law practice in Mobile and was named by the Alabama Junior Chamber of Commerce (Jaycees) as its Outstanding Local President for 1961-62.

His path to Congress was complicated. 

When the 1961 Census reduced Alabama’s U.S. House delegation from nine to eight, an unusual election was held the following year with all of the House Members on the same ballot. Democrat Frank Boykin, Mobile’s 28-year U.S. Representative, came in last and thus was eliminated.

In 1964, Democrats nominated veteran State Sen. John Tyson, Jr. for the redrawn, Mobile-based 1st District. Republicans nominated first-time candidate Edwards, who ran as a Goldwater conservative and won by a margin of 3-to-2.

Of the seven Republicans who came into the House because of Goldwater’s sweep of the Deep South, Mobile journalist Quin Hillyer pointed out that “most of them didn’t last in office long, but the amiable Edwards proved popular….without playing up divisive racial issues, he helped lead the realignment of the South from a Democratic stronghold into a Republican one.”

Decrying what he called “purists” in his party and calling for broadening the Republican base, Edwards told Alexander P. Lamis, author of “The Two-Party South,” in a prophetic 1979 interview that the GOP could “take in some of that middle ground that is fertile and ripe for the picking if somebody will just appeal to them. 

“Maybe I’m wrong, but maybe if I am right, we will prevail.” 

John Gizzi is chief political columnist and White House correspondent for Newsmax. For more of his reports, Go Here Now.

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When news came last week from Mobile, Alabama that former Rep. Jack Edwards died one week before his 91st birthday, the immediate reaction from former Republican colleagues in Congress and staffers who recalled him was "why didn't Jack stay around another ten years and...
edwards, goldwater, alabama, reagan, defense
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2019-02-29
Sunday, 29 September 2019 07:02 PM
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