Congressional Junket Costs Soar But Travel Perks an Old Story

July 6, 2009

The Wall Street Journal gave front page prominence a few days ago to a major article about the mushrooming volume and cost of taxpayer-paid junkets by members of Congress and their fellow travelers.  It reports that spending on overseas travel has nearly tripled since 2001, and that the 2008 tab of $13 million represents  a 50 percent jump since  Democrats took control of Congress two years ago. This follows a flap back then when some critics claimed that Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi had asked for a 200-seat government aircraft to ferry her entourage between California and Washington, while she responded that she only wanted one that could fly that distance non-stop–regardless its size.

All of which brings to mind a comparative, if trivial, smiler of a story told here in Texas years forty years ago. Back in those days, when President Lyndon B. Johnson was in office, along with Austin Congressman Jake Pickle, old Braniff  Airways ran a daily “Jake Pickle Special” non-stop flight  between Washington, D.C. and Austin, and on to San Antonio.

 A  frequent flyer on that plane was longtime Bexar County Congressman Henry B. Gonzalez, the popular voice of hundreds of thousands of Mexican Americans. Rep. Gonzalez always sat in Seat 1A in the first class section. The story goes that a reporter, taking note of that non-egalitarian practice, one day asked the Congressman how he, as  champion of the little man, could justify the cost of sitting in first class. And without hesitation and with a straight face, Gonzalez is said to have replied: “I want to make sure there are plenty of seats back there for my people.”  The Congressman went to his grave as a hallowed figure with the Convention Center on the Hemisfair grounds named in his honor. And today,  son Representative Charles Gonzalez proudly carries on his legacy of public service as a member of Congress. But we haven’t ask whether  he flies first class.

–Julian Read

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