Democrat strives to keep seat in House
Published: Monday, October 25, 2010
Updated: Wednesday, July 25, 2012 20:07
One would never expect to shake hands with Thomas Chester Edwards, the Democratic congressman born in Corpus Christi, Texas, in 1951 who represents District 17 in the U.S. House.
As the representative walks into a room to spend three hours with college students on a Friday afternoon, the personable and outgoing Edwards introduces himself as such and extends his right hand. On this hand is a battered chunk of gold, barely recognizable as a traditional symbol of a university. When asked, an unassuming look comes over his face as he moves his ring and reveals the pale white skin underneath.
"My wedding ring and my Aggie ring don't come off," Edwards said. "I'm very grateful for what A&M did for me in my life, I feel I'm standing on the shoulders of Aggies of previous generations."
The Aggie ring isn't the only device he never takes off; however, Texas A&M is a significant part of his past. Edwards graduated from A&M with a bachelor's degree in economics in 1974. After graduation, he spent three years working for the man who would groom and mentor him into the congressman he is today. Edwards said the legendary William "Tiger" Teague prepared him well. Teague taught the young Edwards how to continue the legacy of "Mr. Veteran" from central Texas. Edwards often reminiscences about how Teague inspired him to champion veterans' causes.
After three years, Edwards ran for Teague's seat and lost a close contest to an up-and-coming politician named Phil Graham. He was one of Edward's economics professors at A&M. After this loss, Edwards attended Harvard Business School where he obtained an master's of business administration. After the Ivy League, he returned to Texas where he ran a small communications company and worked in real estate until winning the election to the Texas Senate in 1983.
Much like his ring, Edwards never takes off his nice guy persona. His aides bemoan having to keep him on schedule. He will try to talk to everyone in the room and answer any question. On this particular afternoon, one of the students in attendance asks about a career in public service.
"You don't have to be an old Ag to get involved," Edwards said. "Don't let all the ugliness and imperfections of politics keep you out of public service."
It has not kept Edwards away. Underneath it all, Edwards is very passionate about the issues facing Americans and his constituents today. He is neither a hyper-partisan nor can he afford to be one. Since he is the underdog and the incumbent, he has been listening even more attentively to the constituents of the 17th district. Edwards knows people are concerned about issues such as the economy, taxes, earmark spending and higher education.
Edwards is comfortable talking about the economy, even though it may be the most damning issue of his campaign.
"We're not where we need to be," Edwards said.
He has a plethora of ideas he would like to work on if he is reelected. One idea on his agenda is to see reform of federal banking regulations, especially on smaller local banks.
"These are the source of many small business loans," Edwards said. "We overregulated the small banks and under-regulated Wall Street banks."
Edwards also envisions working to draft a "credible bi-partisan debt reduction plan." He advocates middle-class tax cuts. Edwards has indicated that he could even support a year extension of the Bush tax cuts.
Even though it is important to him, economic policy is not what Edwards is known for. He is the new "Mr. Veteran" in Congress. He is willing to and often shares his account about making a promise to the late Teague, his mentor and the original "Mr. Veteran" to continue championing veterans' causes. Edwards often becomes emotional when he speaks of his work to pass the Marine Gunnery Sergeant John David Fry Scholarship law. This law amends the post-9/11 G.I. Bill and provides full benefits to the children of U.S. military personnel killed in the line of duty since Sept. 10, 2001.
"Having represented the largest Army installation that sent more troops to Iraq than any other: Fort Hood," Edwards said. "It has been the honor of my lifetime to try to give something back to our service men and women, our veterans and our families who've given more to this country than I could ever give."
Veterans' issues are not the only topic Edwards becomes impassioned about working on. He represents a district with 92,000 college students and nearly 150,000 K-12 students.
"For America to do well, we need to be educated," Edwards said. "The government has two vital roles: student loans and Pell grants."
He notes that during this past term in Congress he has supported legislation that does both. He also offers as a footnote that he has supported legislation that provides a $700 increase in the Hope Tax Credit, which allows the deduction of college tuition from taxes.
It is hard to attack Edwards on his record of supporting veterans' causes or his continuing support of higher education and students needs. However, Edwards is under fire for how he often goes about funding programs he feels need attention in the form of earmark spending. Edwards is candid in his explanation of this method for acquiring funding.
"Not all earmarks are bad. An earmark is just an idea for a project that didn't come out of the Executive Branch," Edwards said. "It's trying to get your tax dollars back."
According to opensecrets.org, Edwards has sponsored or co-sponsored $90.45 million worth of earmarks in the fiscal year 2010. He also points out that A&M received $131 million in funding from the Economic Recovery Act that allowed the University to save 350 jobs.
Edwards is confident about how the election on Nov. 2 will turn out despite the anti-incumbent fervor sweeping the nation. He is proud of his campaign and his record. However, voters should use their own discernment.