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U. S. Rep. George Mahon, D-Lubbock, talks with supporters at a banquet in Lubbock in November 1966. He represented the 19th District for 44 years and was chairman of the House Appropriations Committee.

Mahon announces retirement

1970 George Mahon's 44th year in Congress will be his last.

The only congressman District 19 has ever had, Mahon is announcing today that he will not be a candidate for re-election to the U.S. House of Representatives in 1978.

"At the end of my current term, I will have served 44 years in Congress and a total of 52 years in public office," Mahon said. "I promised myself long ago that I would not seek to serve in Congress after reaching age 80, a milestone I would pass prior to the conclusion of another two-year term."

Mahon, whose retirement was announced now to halt any efforts at fundraising for another campaign and to give constituents "ample opportunity to consider the selection of a successor," added:

"Having an opportunity to participate in some of the most momentous decisions of our time has been a great privilege. I have dealt with the high and the mighty in government but perhaps my greatest satisfaction has been helping the people of the 19th District who have called on me.

"Throughout my service, I have been sustained by the feeling that I had the trust and support of the folks at home," he said.

Mahon, senior member of Congress and one of the most influential figures on Capitol Hill, did not disclose specifics for the future.

"I am an apostle of the strenuous life," said the 77-year-old Democrat, a strict Methodist who neither smokes nor drinks. "I look forward to participating in many exciting and challenging endeavors that my responsibilities in Congress have not allowed me to pursue."

"But I have no time now to think of future plans. For the next 18 months, I shall continue to give my full energy and devotion to the people of the 19th District and the nation."

Mahon was district attorney at Colorado City when the 19th Congressional District, comprised of 25 counties stretching from Haskell County on the east to the New Mexico border on the west, was created more than four decades ago.

"I've just played things as they came along," he recalled in a recent interview. "In 1934, when I was first elected, I thought I'd like to serve at least two terms so as not to be considered a political accident. And I've been so busy since, that here 42 years have passed and it just seems like yesterday that I came to Congress."

Only six house members in the U.S. history have served longer than Mahon. During his tenure, Mahon has served with eight presidents, beginning with Franklin Roosevelt. He currently ranks as the dean of Congress, having served longer than any other sitting member.

He was appointed to the powerful House Appropriations Committee in 1939, became chairman of its defense subcommittee in 1949, and has served in his current post as chairman of the full 55-member appropriations committee since 1964 - a span longer than any House member in history.

But Mahon, the namesake of a Lubbock library and elementary school and recipient of numerous service awards, was not the one to flaunt that power or impose his will on the national budget. Texas Monthly magazine last year called Mahon the best of Texas' 22 congressmen, noting "he has kept his power and effectiveness when others around him were losing theirs. He is honest, straightforward, a gentleman, never an obstructionist, reasonable and shrewd."

"I have never sought publicity, generally speaking," Mahon once said. "If you're making a career of public service and you dedicate yourself to getting your name in the paper every day, the people will grow weary and tired of it.

"You can't undertake to throw your weight around too much without using up the capability to get things done."

It was perhaps his quiet leadership, his esteem among lawmakers, and the power he possessed but never had to use, that enabled Mahon to retain his post as chief custodian of the nation's purse in recent times when young, liberal House members were ousting senior committee chairmen.

During Mahon's service, he has had a front seat to many of the most dramatic moments in the history of the nation and world. He was one of the few government leaders entrusted to participate in the so-called Manhattan Project for the development of the atomic bomb during World War II.

Mahon has been an advocate of a strong national defense program and was a congressional champion of the development of the nuclear fleet. He has played key roles in the development of farm programs and conservative fiscal policies.

There had been speculation early last year that Mahon might retire after his 21st term in the House. However, the veteran legislator entered the race and handily defeated Republican Jim Reese, Mahon's first opponent in 12 years, in November.

As chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, Mahon is considered to be one of the five most powerful men in the federal government.

The A-J Remembers The Most Important People in Lubbock's History

SPECIAL SECTIONS: 1909-1933 / 1934-1958 / 1959-1983 / 1984-PRESENT | PRINT VERSION