Republican-Southern Democrat Coalition in Congress

By Steve Suitts

Vol. 2, No. 6, 1980, pp. 23-25

A majority of the Republicans and Southern Democrats formed in 1979 an effective, conservative voting bloc which moved Congress to revamp national priorities towards more spending for national defense and away from domestic programs. A Congressional Quarterly study in late January illustrates that when the Democrats of the South and the Republicans throughout the country voted together on issues, they were most likely to prevail. Last year in 70 percent of the roll call votes in which the coalition occurred, Republicans and Southern Democrats won. In 1978, the coalition had only a 52 percent rate of success.

While not a formal voting group, the "conservative coalition" is an alliance of Republicans and Southern Democrats who vote against Northern Democrats. The first major voting alliance in Congress between the Republicans and Southern Democrats began more than a century ago as they joined ranks in the "Compromise of 1877" when Republican candidate Rutherford B. Hayes was declared by a Democratic House and Republican Senate the victor in the contested presidential election of 1876. In return for political patronage and the end of federal enforcement of civil rights laws and the Reconstruction amendments in the South, Southern Democrats joined with Hayes' Republicans. Since the late 1950s, when the coalition clearly developed to oppose proposed civil rights legislation, the voting group has coalesced on several different issues.

In the 1979 session defense, energy policy, reducing federal spending, and race-related issues reflect the concerns on which Republicans and Southern Democrats joined forces.

The Congressional Quarterly lists the major victories of the coalition in 1979 as follows:

-increased military budgets;

-the Senate vote to permit voluntary, prayer in public schools;

-the House vote to limit the powers of the Federal Trade Commission;

-the House vote to kill President Carter's hospital cost control legislation;

-the Senate vote to pave the way for lifting economic sanctions against Rhodesia;

-the Senate vote to protect the tax-exempt status of segregated private schools;

-the Senate vote to kill a proposed constitutional amendment providing for the direct election of the President and the Vice President;

-the Senate vote to weaken the landmark 1977 Strip Mining laws.

The coalition also lost some votes. Enough Southern Democrats and Republicans defected from the ranks to kill a constitutional amendment to bar school busing as a means of achieving school desegregation and to pass some reform in the national welfare system.

In the field of energy, the coalition was usually successful. It trimmed the President's proposed windfall profits tax on oil and kept alive the controversial fast-breeder reactor at Clinch River Tennessee.

Southern representatives most often voting with the coalition in 1979 were three members of the Virginia House delegation. Republican Rep. Kenneth Robinson voted 100 percent with the coalition while his colleagues Republican Rep. Robert Daniel of Spring Grove, Virginia and Democrat David Satterfield of Richmond stayed with the coalition's voting about 99 percent of the time. Rep. Henson Moore of Baton Rouge, Louisiana also voted with the conservative coalition 99 percent of the time.

Alabama's freshman Congressman Richard Shelby representing a district with more than 35 percent Black population voted with the coalition 97 percent of the


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time as did Republicans Archer and Loeffler of Texas and Duncan of Tennessee.

In the Senate, Virginia's John Warner and Harry Byrd respectively led Republicans and Southern Democrats in voting with the conservative coalition. Warner voted 96 percent of the time with the coalition and Byrd joined 88 percent of the time. Strom Thurmond of South Carolina and Jesse Helms of North Carolina also agreed with the coalition more than 90 percent of the time. Freshman Sen. Howell Heflin of Alabama agreed with the conservative coalition 75 percent of the time.

Southerners most often in Opposition to the voting of the coalition were Mickey Leland and Bob Eckhardt of Texas. Others included Harrison of Virginia, Lehman of Florida, Fisher of Virginia, and Ford of Tennessee. Leland and Ford are the only two Black Congressional members from the South.

Dale Bumpers of Arkansas and Lawton Chiles of Florida were more often in opposition to the conservative coalition than any other Southern Democrat in the Senate. Bumpers opposed the coalition 43 percent of the time and Chiles 37 percent of the time.

Although Southern Republicans as a group were the most loyal members of the conservative coalition, there were two exceptions. Louisiana governor David Treen as a Republican from the South had only a 33 percent record of agreement with the conservative coalition; however, he voted in opposition of the coalition only 3 percent of the time.

Obviously, Treen's heavy duty of campaigning for governor in 1979 kept him from Washington and unable to vote often.

Republican Rep. John Buchanan of Birmingham was present for most of the key issues in the House where he agreed with the coalition only 52 percent of the time and opposed the coalition 46 percent of the time. Representing a district which has become increasingly populated by Blacks and labor union members, Buchanan is a Baptist minister who has described himself as "liberal on social changes" and "conservative on business issues."

The conservative coalition's victories last year came more often in the House. In 73 percent of the votes where Southern Democrats and Republicans joined forces in the House, the coalition won. In the Senate, 65 percent of the time the coalition prevailed.