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ECKHARDT Qn Was a Congwsman frunt Texas Eckhardt: There Once Was a Congressman from Texas By Gary A. Keith University of Texas Press 448 pages $34.95 Fil ellow eccentric Maury Maverick Jr. described Bob Eckhardt as “98 percent genius, 2 percent village idiot.” Two percent is probably lowballing it, but none would dispute that Eckhardt was a remarkably perceptive guy, a populist politician with an amused mien, thick drawl, and naughty streak. Eckhardt: There Once Was A Congressman from Texas is the first biography of the homegrown progressive since his death in 2001. Given the depth of research, it may be the last. The book counts as political science and Texas history. But its greatest accomplishment is reclaiming a crucial figure who is already fading from public memory. Gary A. Keith, a political scientist and assistant professor at the University of the Incarnate Word in San Antonio, has done posterity a favor. “Bob Eckhardt was an intellectual giant who made an indelible mark on the work of the U.S. House Of Representatives during the 14 years he served in that great institution,” former Vice President Al Gore writes in the book’s foreword. “He was a Shakespeare-quoting, Renaissance man of high principles who had a lust for life that included a love affair with the Constitution and a consuming passion to craft legislation in the public interests’ For four decadesincluding stints in both the Texas House and U.S. HouseAustin-born and bred Eckhardt was a leading figure among Texas progressives. He was also a character. His manner of expression was courtly and ornate. He collected obscure and lyrical turns of phrase, and worked them into his everyday speech. Chairing a subcommittee in the U.S. House, he declared, “Seniority is like a frigid, flirtatious shrew. When I was courting her, she made me miserable. Now that I have her, she gives me no satisfaction.” During a debate in the Texas House over whether to delete information on parentage from birth certificates, he said, “I am not so much worried about the natural bastards of this state as the self-made ones.” Literate and droll as he was, he was also wild. Before ever meeting him, his third wife, Celia Morris, had observed the congressman eating at Scholz Garten in Austin, “cutting his bread with his pocketknife and plunging the bread into his The Man in the Panama Hat Gary A. Keith reclaims the legacy of Bob Eckhardt, the quixotic progressive. By Brant Bingamon All Photos courtesy of UT Press 12 THE TEXAS OBSERVER JANUARY 11, 2008