February 28, 2017

James Albon Mattox

   Jim Mattox was born in Dallas and grew up in a working-class neighborhood of East Dallas, the son of a sheet-metal worker and a waitress. After graduating from high school in 1961, he joined the Teamsters and worked on loading docks. He also peddled Bibles door-to-door in Dallas and Tulsa. Thinking that he might want to be a Baptist preacher, he enrolled at Baylor University, a Southern Baptist institution, where he ultimately decided to major in business. He received his undergraduate degree in 1965.

   After receiving his law degree from Southern Methodist University in 1968, he worked as a felony prosecutor for Dallas County District Attorney Henry Wade. He also got himself arrested while in private practice when he rushed to a downtown Dallas park one evening to assist pot smokers being arrested by police. Mr. Mattox was elected to the Texas House of Representatives in 1973 and to Congress in 1976. In that race, he accused his Republican opponent, Nancy Judy, of being unladylike for bringing up labor contributions to his campaign that had come from outside Texas.

   In Congress, he was the only freshman elected to the powerful House Budget Committee and the Banking Committee and was one of the leaders of his freshman caucus. He described himself as an "urban populist" who was liberal on civil rights but conservative on fiscal and moral matters.  After serving three terms in Congress, he successfully ran for Texas attorney general in 1982.  The next year, Travis County District Attorney Ronnie Earle charged Mr. Mattox with commercial bribery, accusing him of threatening to destroy the bond business of the Fulbright & Jaworski law firm unless it abandoned an unrelated oil company case involving his sister. Mr. Mattox refused a plea-bargain offer and was acquitted by a jury.

   Four years after his loss to Richards, he ran for the U.S. Senate. He vowed to project more of a "Gentle Jim" image, but both friends and foes were skeptical.  Mattox lost the Democratic primary. Four years later, he tried to regain the attorney general's seat but lost to Republican John Cornyn. Mattox continued to practice law and was a Hillary Clinton delegate to the 2008 Democratic National Convention, later shifting his support to Barack Obama. On November 20, 2008, Mattox died of a heart attack at his home in Dripping Springs.

30° 15.917, -097° 43.620

Monument Hill
Texas State Cemetery

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