Tags: margaret heckler | passing | congresswoman | diplomat | massachusetts

Remembering Former Rep. Margaret Heckler: The Lady Who Unseated 'Mr. Speaker'

By Saturday, 25 August 2018 08:20 AM Current | Bio | Archive

At the funeral Mass for Margaret Heckler on Saturday, son John Heckler, Jr. recalled how his mother balanced a life as “Mom” to three children with a distinguished career as Republican U.S. Representative from Massachusetts from 1966-82, secretary of health and human services, and later ambassador to Ireland.

“To me, Mom was able to leap tall buildings in a single bound and more powerful than a locomotive,” Heckler told the mourners at St. Matthew’s Cathedral in Washington D.C., invoking the popular descriptions of superman. 

“And I know for a fact she was faster than a speeding bullet!” he added.

To this reporter, this description of “Peggy” Heckler (who died on August 6 at age 87) was particularly appropriate because of the move with which she first made it to Congress in 1966: taking on Joe Martin, Republican congressman for 42 years and the last Republican speaker of the House before Newt Gingrich in 1994.

Before, in between, and after his two stints as speaker (1946-48, 1952-56), Martin was minority leader in the House. Famed as the “Martin” in FDR’s hated Republican trio of “Martin, Barton, and Fish,” the Massachusetts man was a generally centrist leader liked by colleagues of both parties.

In 1959, however, younger House Republicans had grown tired of the 73-year-old Martin and voted to replace him with the more aggressive and more conservative Rep. Charles Halleck of Indiana. Martin remained in the House and moved to the backbenches.

Seven years later, talk of Joe Martin retiring was rampant in his North Attleboro-area (Massachusetts) district. At 82, he was frequently hospitalized and had missed nearly half the votes in the House in 1965.

But lifelong bachelor Martin wanted one more term and then, he told local Republican leaders, he would retire in favor of State GOP Chairman John Parker. Republican Gov. John Volpe, Parker, and other party chieftains agreed and gave their blessings to Martin.

Margaret Heckler definitely disagreed. One of the few women lawyers in the Bay State and a Governor’s Councilor (one of eight elected officials on a Council that offers advice on issues to the governor), Heckler was disgusted with what she considered “the old boys’ network” wiring the congressional district.

Heckler, 35 and a mother of three, began organizing coffees in the homes of friends and what she called a “supermarket saturation”— greeting voters as they shopped for groceries. Husband John Heckler, Sr., reported the Boston Globe, “worked eighteen hours a day as her campaign manager.”

“I still remember those banners on the side of buses reading ‘Margaret O’Shaughnessy Heckler for Congress,’” James Lombard, then a graduate student at Boston University and later GOP leader of the Florida House, told Newsmax, “And I’ll never forget those bumper stickers reading ‘We Need A Heckler in Congress.’”

In terms of issues, Heckler disagreed with Martin on relatively little. Both were centrist Republicans who supported civil rights and federal aid to education. Heckler was more vocal in her opposition to President Lyndon Johnson’s handling of the Vietnam War.

The insurgent, Heckler, often praised Martin and said “how much I honor and respect him.” But, she also made clear it was time for him to go and that the district needed someone younger who was “forthright” and had “outspokenness.”

On Primary Day in September, signs were ominous. 8000 more Republicans voted that day than in the primary in 1964. Nearly 125 eager Heckler volunteers gathered at the Sidney Hill Country Club. At 11:15, they broke into wild cheers with the news their candidate had beaten Martin by about 2,000 votes.

“You can’t win ‘em all,” Martin told reporters at his North Attleboro home.

Martin retired to Florida and died two years later. Heckler, who won narrowly in November, went on serve sixteen years in Congress, to co-chair the Congresswoman’s Caucus in Congress and championed legislation such as that which allowed women to obtain credit without the signature of their husbands. A moderate Republican, however she opposed abortion and later spoke to pro-life groups as a private citizen.

As congresswoman, Cabinet secretary, and diplomat, Margaret Heckler was a person of consequence. But in order to become one, she first had to take on a Herculean political task. She did so, and succeeded.

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

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At the funeral Mass for Margaret Heckler on Saturday, son John Heckler, Jr. recalled how his mother balanced a life as "Mom" to three children with a distinguished career as Republican U.S. Representative from Massachusetts from 1966-82, secretary of health and human...
margaret heckler, passing, congresswoman, diplomat, massachusetts
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2018-20-25
Saturday, 25 August 2018 08:20 AM
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