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The Mattox Seat Faceoff in Dallas By Jon Weist Dallas For some, it had been a long time coming. Too long. But impatience washed away in a rush of enthusiasm when John Bryant announced he would run for the Fifth Congressional District seat being vacated by Jim Mattox. More than 200 people turned out for Bryant’s official campaign office opening the day after St. Patrick’s Day. Those present were, to a man, optimistic and excited about Bryant’s move. “We’ve waited a long time for this,” one Oak Lawn precinct chairman said. “John’s been wasting his time in the Legislature.” One East Dallas precinct chairman carried the theme further. He said he’d been contacted by a representative of Bill Blackburn, a former Dallas mayor pro-tem and Bryant’s chief opponent. “I don’t personally know anyone who isn’t behind John, and that’s what I told him,” the man said. None of the precinct chairmen or other active Democrats at the rally could think of anyone supporting Blackburn. For five terms, Bryant, a Democrat from the largely working-class neighborhood of Pleasant Grove, led the anti-Bill Clayton forces in the Texas House. Although he inevitably lost more battles than he won, he at least slowed down the business establishment’s domination of the House. He never had the muscle to kill anything the lobby really wanted, but his ability to cripple pet legislation made him the spiritual leader of the House’s liberal opposition. In 1978 Bryant was in the forefront of the move that limited the higher ceiling on interest rates to two years, attached the same limit to a proposal giving manufacturers of defective products protection against consumer lawsuits and successfully wasted a loan shark bill authorizing a 300 percent interest-rate increase on small loans. In a largely symbolic gesture, Bryant gathered enough votes to put the House on record opposing the split presidential primary bill that caused the infamous Killer Bee episode. As chairman of the House Study Group, Bryant earned a reputation for having the facts end figures to destroy business-backed legislation. Unfortu nately, facts and figures have never carried much weight when the pressure is on. Opponents will no doubt downplay Bryant’s effectiveness the Study Group wasn’t allowed to take positions on legislation and point to the fact that he didn’t pass many bills of his own. Bryant wasn’t given much discretion on his committee assignments, and by his last term he was hassled even when trying to pass a local bill. The leadership thought enough of him to strip him of him primary tool, chairmanship of the Study Group, during the last session. With that background Bryant also ran for Speaker against Clayton lobbyists will no doubt take careful aim at him. It’s likely to be with another Democrat. The race for the Fifth will probably be decided in the primary. The redistricting arrangement created by three federal judges made the Fifth a district with a 57 percent Democratic majority. Bryant announced his candidacy as soon as Mattox indicated he would stay in the Attorney General’s race. Blackburn filed March 3, Bryant March 9. you get to feeling like you’ve attempted to do all the things you can attempt to do,” Bryant said the day after the rally. “You succeed at some things and don’t succeed at others. I just felt like I wanted to exercise a bit more responsibility than I had been.” Although Bryant is generally perceived as the frontrunner his legislative district is entirely within the Fifth’s boundaries he isn’t taking Blackburn lightly. Blackburn spent a week in mid-March in Washington, looking for help among lobbyists and business leaders. He was escorted around the city by Rep. Charles Stenholm, chairman of the Conservative Democratic Forum and a boyhood friend since both were in the third grade. Bryant doesn’t hesitate to point out Blackburn’s multi-faceted connection with the boll weevils. Jeff Moseley, Blackburn’s campaign manager, is a former aide to Rep. Phil Gramm. Blackburn defends Moseley: “Jeff’s 27 years old. He’s not a political idealogue. It was just a job for him.” But Bryant thinks Blackburn has an even bigger problem. He lives a blockand-a-half outside the district. “He can’t vote for himself. My question is, how can a person ask us to vote for him if he can’t vote himself?” Bryant said. Blackburn claims support from the district’s conservative elements and thinks he will split the minority community with Bryant. He also said he thinks his Democratic credentials are as good as Bryant’s. In 1967 and ’68, Blackburn was assistant special counsel to President Lyndon Johnson, and he has been the Dallas County Coordinator for Sen. Lloyd Bentsen. Bryant has the backing of past legislative supporters and a considerable number of veterans from Fifth District campaigns for Jim Mattox. The office manager for the Bryant campaign, Jacque Perna, worked in Mattox’s campaigns against Tom Pauken. She said turning out volunteers for Bryant has been easier than she imagined. “You normally have to beg for people to volunteer,” she said recently. “We had no trouble getting people to come in. We kind of figured that if they liked Jim Mattox, they’ll love John Bryant.” Opening night certainly furthered that impression. People lingered for a long time, and more than a few leading Dallas Democrats showed to make their support known. “I’ve never had any trouble being elected in the district I’m in,” Bryant said. “The voters have an accurate perception of me as a person who’s willing to battle with the powerful, specialinterest groups.” Even fund-raising, a plague for most liberal candidates this year, has been “difficult but very gratifying.” Still, Bryant isn’t yet buying a house in Washington. He expects a considerable effort by Blackburn, funded by lobbyists who would prefer Bryant retire to his law office on Interstate 30. “It’s going to be a very tough campaign because he’s going to be very lavishly financed,” Bryant said. In political campaigns, especially when one is up against money, caution is certainly the best-advised route. However, one can’t help but believe the impressions that support for Bryant in the district runs wide and deep. His legislative record indicates he’s a scrapper, and 28 APRIL 23, 1982