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Henry B. González: 1916-2000: Congressman

Became A U.s. Representative In Congress

In 1958, riding on his increasing fame in San Antonio and throughout Texas, González made an unsuccessful bid for the governorship of Texas. In 1961 he lost a special election to fill a seat in the U.S. Senate, left vacant when Lyndon B. Johnson was elected vice president. However, in the same year he ran in another special election to fill a seat in the U.S. House of Representatives, left open when Congressman Paul Kilday accepted a military court appointment. Endorsed by Texas Governor Price Daniel as well as President John F. Kennedy and Vice President Johnson, González won the election and began a 37-year career as a member of the U.S. Congress. He was the first Hispanic from Texas to gain a seat in the House of Representatives.

Throughout a long career that spanned 18 consecutive terms, González never faced a Democratic opponent in a primary and only faced a Republican opponent in the general election six times. The retention of his seat was nearly guaranteed, and he usually garnered at least 80 percent of the vote. Always staunchly independent, González never ran on a Hispanic platform, declaring that he represented all the people in his district and particularly wanted to be a voice for the poor and the underprivileged, regardless of race. On the day when González raised his right hand as he was sworn into national office for the first time, in his left hand he clutched the draft of a bill that would put an end to poll taxes, which discriminated against the poor and minorities. Because he refused to adopt a more aggressively focused Mexican-American agenda, his membership in the Congressional Hispanic Caucus was revoked.

During the 1960s González forged a reputation as an outspoken, fiercely independent voice in Congress, often taking unpopular positions. In 1962 he succeeded in getting legislation to abolish the poll tax passed in the House. In 1963 he refused to support additional funding for the House Committee on Un-American Activities, because he believed it received an unfair proportion of money when compared to other House committees. In the same year he spoke passionately against proposed legislation that would clear the way for large fruit and vegetable growers to exploit migrant farm workers. The following year he was one of the few congressional members from the South who supported the landmark Civil Rights Act of 1964.

In 1977 González was appointed as the chairman of the House Assassinations Committee that was charged with investigating the murders of President John F. Kennedy and Martin Luther King, Jr. However, after coming into conflict with the chief investigator, González quit the committee. As a member of the House Small Business Committee during the 1970s, González played a key role in the reform and improvement of small business practices and regulations. He also took a stance against the expansion of nuclear power facilities. In 1981 González became the chairman of the Subcommittee on Housing and Community Development and battled President Ronald Reagan, who had proposed cuts in funding to public housing projects.

González served as chairman of the important House Banking, Finance, and Urban Affairs Committee from 1988 until 1995 when the Republicans took control of the House. During his tenure at the helm of Banking, Finance, and Urban Affairs, he pushed through legislation dealing with such issues as bank fraud, money laundering, flood insurance reform, housing initiatives, and loosening credit restrictions for small businesses. González also predicted the collapse of the savings and loan industry in 1989 and was subsequently instrumental in drafting bailout and reform legislation.

After being displaced from his prestigious position as committee chairman after the 1994 elections, González, by then in his late seventies, seemed to lose some of his vitality. He was also burdened by the illness of his wife, which cut short the time he spent on Capitol Hill. In late 1997 he announced his retirement from Congress due to failing health caused by an infection that had affected his heart. He did not step down immediately, however. He returned to San Antonio until September of 1998, after which he returned to Washington to serve out the last weeks of his term. His son Charlie took over the remainder of the term and was subsequently re-elected to his father's seat in Congress. The elder González died on November 29, 2000.

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Brief BiographiesBiographies: E(mily) R. Frank (1967-) Biography - Personal to Martha Graham (1893–1991) BiographyHenry B. González: 1916-2000: Congressman Biography - Worked To Improve The West Side, Entered Public Office, Filibustered On Segregation Legislation, Became A U.s. Representative In Congress