“Tell the truth
“Make a profit”
So reads the small, black-framed sign at the door of Joe Barton’s office, as if anybody passing that way needs to be reminded of what the Texas Republican is all about.
That includes the likes of U.S. Rep. John Dingell, the Michigan Democrat who spent half a lifetime running the House Energy and Commerce Committee and served as its ranking member under the markedly different and equally effective Barton chairmanship. Passage of Barton’s 2005 Energy Policy Act found the committee governed “in an open, decent and fair fashion,” Dingell admitted.
“Open, decent and fair” are the hallmarks of Barton’s career, and that signature energy bill serves as a fair introduction to the 60-year-old Ennis, Texas, native. Newly installed as chairman of the oldest committee on the Hill, he’d set out straightaway to reverse the rising dependence on foreign oil by making America’s ample energy available to American consumers. Barton said that his own starting point was as “a strong proponent of any kind of energy resource that can be market-competitive at some point in time.”
And when the bill became law, having turned rigid opponents like Dingell into supporters along the way, The Dallas Morning News reported it this way: “It couldn’t be done. It hadn’t been done. In the end, Joe Barton did it. After a year on the job as chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, the Ennis Republican delivered a national energy plan — something Republicans have demanded for a decade. Something the president campaigned on, twice, that eluded the last chairman and that the energy industry has worked years to obtain.”
The reliably skeptical Morning News wondered how that had happened. “Nobody with any sense picks a fight,” Barton explained. “But nobody with any courage backs down from a fight just because you’re going to have to fight. What was it Davy Crockett said? Make sure you’re right, then go ahead?’ By the end, lawmakers involved in negotiations praised Mr. Barton for running an unusually open process — no secret deals, no last-minute surprises.”
Joe Linus Barton arrived in Congress with the fresh face of a teenager and the hard experience of a veteran. He comes from old Texas stock. Bartons have lived and mostly farmed in Texas since it was a republic. He graduated from Texas A&M University with an engineering degree, and then earned a master’s in industrial administration from Purdue University. After a consultancy with Atlantic Richfield Oil & Gas Co. and a year spent learning the reality of Washington’s ways as a White House fellow working at the Energy Department, in 1984 he won the Republican nomination to the 6th District of Texas by 10 votes, then breezed through the general election. Since I won my first election for the House at the same time, I have been able to work with, watch, and appreciate Joe Barton as a “real deal” conservative Reagan Republican.
In 1985, the Reagan Revolution was just cresting, and in picking a Republican for only the second time in 100 years, voters of his district were picking a bright young man whose promise reflected a shining moment when optimism had supplanting malaise and everything seemed possible. It was morning again in America, and Barton earned quick notice from National Journal as one of the “Republicans to Watch.” The magazine dubbed him that again in 2003 when his achievements had prompted radical environmentalists to develop “a website, www.bartonwatch.org, to report on his moves.”