Remembering Jack Brooks

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Years later, Jack did something else pretty extraordinary: he made it possible for the U.S. to rectify one of the darkest moments in our history.

During World War II, Jack had fought against the Japanese in the Pacific. Our government, in one of the worst violations of human rights in our history, interned thousands of Japanese-American citizens in camps in the Western United States simply because they were of Japanese ancestry, even though there was no proof that any of them were disloyal to the United States.

Two of the Japanese-Americans interned by our government as children were later elected to Congress to serve beside Jack — Reps. Norm Mineta and Bob Matsui, both of California.

One day they approached me on the floor of the House and asked if I would talk to my fellow Texan about legislation dealing with the internment that was stuck in the Judiciary Committee that he chaired. The bill provided for a public apology by our government and for a $20,000 payment to each survivor of the internment.

When I raised the issue with Jack, he gave a typically gruff response. “Why should I do anything for the Japanese? They tried to kill me during the war.”

But he did release the bill and it became law. He was a big enough man to help end one of the worst chapter’s in American history.

During my first term in Congress, Jack was chairman of the Government Operations Committee. He successfully steered through the House landmark legislation sought by then-President Jimmy Carter to create a new federal Department of Education. Republicans offered dozens of amendments and the House was kept in session until 2 a.m. several nights in a row to give the GOP a chance to be heard. But in the end, the legislative process worked and the new department was created.

Jack always had good advice for new members of Congress. He would repeatedly tell me not to be in such a hurry to be a part of the House leadership ... my day would come. New members needed to do their apprenticeship. It was sound advice. And then, on his way out the door after being defeated for reelection in 1994, he recommended to Democratic Leader Dick Gephardt of Missouri that I be chosen to chair the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC). I had been in the House for 16 years by that time, but his counsel for patience paid off.

We could use a few more members like Jack Brooks today. He was tough, but he knew how to legislate. He knew when to hold ’em and he knew when to fold ’em.

He was a great member of Congress.

Frost served in the House from 1979 to 2005, and was Democratic Caucus chairman and head of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. He is now an attorney with Polsinelli Shughart.