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Then-U.S. Rep. Jim Mattox in 1979 in the Congressional Pictorial Directory
|47th Attorney General of Texas|
January 18, 1983 - January 15, 1991
|Member of the U.S. House of Representatives|
from Texas's 5th district
January 3, 1977 - January 3, 1983
|John Wiley Bryant|
|Member of the Texas House of Representatives from District 33 (East Dallas)|
James Albon Mattox
August 29, 1943
Dallas, Texas, U.S.
|Died||November 20, 2008 (aged 65)|
Dripping Springs, Texas, U.S.
|Resting place||Texas State Cemetery|
Austin, Texas, U.S.
|Spouse(s)||Marta Jan Karpan|
|Children||James Sterling Mattox|
Janet Mary Kathryn Mattox
|Alma mater||Woodrow Wilson High School|
Baylor University (B.A.)
Southern Methodist University (J.D.)
|Profession||Attorney and politician|
James Albon Mattox (August 29, 1943 - November 20, 2008) was an American lawyer and politician who served three terms in the United States House of Representatives and two four-year terms as state Attorney General, but lost high-profile races for Governor in 1990, the U.S. Senate in 1994, and again as attorney general in 1998. He was known as the "people's lawyer" because of his advocacy of what he deemed the needs of everyday Texans. He was a member of the Democratic Party.
In 1961, Mattox graduated in Dallas from Woodrow Wilson High School. He received his Bachelor of Arts in 1965 from Baylor University in Waco and his Juris Doctor degree from the Southern Methodist University Dedman School of Law.
Mattox began his political career as the assistant district attorney in Dallas County and was then elected from an East Dallas district (33-K) to the Texas House of Representatives in 1972 and reelected in 1974. As a state legislator, Mattox developed an interest in ethics reform and open government.
Considered a political liberal Mattox was elected to Congress from the Fifth Congressional District in 1976, 1978, and 1980. In his first election, running on the Jimmy Carter-Walter F. Mondale ticket, he defeated former Dallas Mayor Wes Wise, 60.9 percent to 33.9 percent. He then defeated the Republican Nancy Judy, 67,871 (54 percent) to 56,056 (44.6 percent). The incumbent Republican Alan Steelman ran unsuccessfully that year for the U.S. Senate against the Democratic incumbent Lloyd M. Bentsen, Jr.
In 1978 and 1980, Mattox was hard pressed by Thomas "Tom" Pauken, a staunchly conservative Dallas Republican attorney, who later became the state Republican chairman. In their first battle, Mattox drew 35,520 votes (50.3 percent) to Pauken's 34,672 (49.1 percent). In 1980, Mattox received 70,892 votes (51 percent) to Pauken's 67,848 (48.8 percent). Pauken then joined the transition team of President-elect Ronald W. Reagan.
In 1982, Mattox did not seek re-election to his redistricted House seat, but was instead elected statewide to succeed the outgoing attorney general Mark Wells White of Houston, who was elected governor in a stunning upset of incumbent Republican Bill Clements of Dallas. Nineteen eighty-two was the last year in which Texas Democrats swept all statewide races on the ballot. To win the nomination for attorney general, Mattox defeated fellow Democrat Max Sherman, a former state senator and former president of West Texas A&M University. Mattox then easily defeated the Republican State Senator William C. "Bill" Meier of Euless in Tarrant County, a former Democrat, who holds the filibuster record--43 hours--in the Texas Senate.
In 1983, Mattox was indicted for commercial bribery and prosecuted by Travis County District Attorney Ronnie Earle, a Democrat close to the late Governor Ann Richards. Earle later prosecuted the Republican congressional leader Tom DeLay. Like the DeLay prosecution, the political background of the Mattox prosecution related to an attempt to conceal the delivery of corporate funds to an election campaign. Mattox had received a campaign contribution of $125,000 from his sister Janice, a Dallas lawyer. Janice Mattox in turn had obtained a similar amount from Seafirst Bank in Seattle, which had close ties to Mattox supporter Clinton Manges, a controversial South Texas rancher-oilman who was the successor to George Parr, the corrupt "Duke of Duval". Manges was co-plaintiff with the state (represented by Mattox) in major litigation against Mobil Oil Company. Mobil had attempted to depose Janice Mattox concerning the Seafirst transaction, which led Mattox to threaten Mobil's law firm, Fulbright & Jaworski, with loss of its tax-exempt bond practice, a power held by the attorney general in Texas. Secretly recorded by the recipient of the threats, Mattox did not deny threatening the law firm, nor did he deny the Seafirst transactions, his defense being based on the legal definition of the crime of "commercial bribery." After a long trial, Mattox was acquitted.
In 1986, Mattox was narrowly reelected attorney general with 53 percent of the statewide vote; he beat back an unusually strong Republican opponent in San Antonio, lawyer Roy Barrera, Jr., who garnered 45 percent of the vote. In that election, many Hispanic voters supported Mattox, rather than Barrera. As attorney general, Mattox highlighted the state's accelerated efforts to help mothers collect child support from divorced or unwed fathers. His aggressive attacks on alleged wrongdoing by corporations gained him considerable popular support.
In 1989, Mattox was inducted into the Woodrow Wilson High School Hall of Fame.
In 1990, Mattox chose not to seek re-election to a third term as attorney general and sought the Democratic gubernatorial nomination. He alleged that his principal opponent, outgoing State Treasurer Ann Richards, had used cocaine and was a recovering alcoholic who might falter in handling the strains associated with being governor. Mattox went into a runoff election with Richards because the third contender, former Governor Mark White, polled enough votes to keep both Mattox and Richards from winning an outright majority. Due to publicity exposing Mattox's aggressive tactics used in Corporate attacks to bolster his support, Richards went on to win the nomination and the election, very narrowly, over Republican businessman Clayton Wheat Williams, Jr., of Midland.
In 1994, Mattox ran for the U.S. Senate, but he eventually lost the Democratic nomination to Richard W. Fisher, who had been a Ross Perot operative in the 1992 presidential election. Fisher was also the son-in-law of former Third District Republican Congressman James M. Collins of Dallas. Collins lost the 1982 senatorial general election to Lloyd Bentsen. Fisher was then defeated in the November 1994 general election by the freshman Republican Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison.
In 1998, Mattox tried to return to the attorney general's position, but lost the general election to Republican John Cornyn, a former member of the Texas Supreme Court. Cornyn polled 2,002,794 votes (54.25 percent) to Mattox's 1,631,045 ballots (44.18 percent). (A third candidate received 1.56 percent.) Cornyn had defeated two other candidates for the Republican nomination as attorney general, outgoing Texas Railroad Commissioner Barry Williamson and Mattox's old rival, Tom Pauken. Cornyn became the first Republican ever elected as attorney general of Texas. Four years later, Cornyn vacated that office to become one of Texas's two U.S. senators.
Five days before his death, Jim Mattox testified to a Texas Democratic Party Committee on the Party's method of awarding presidential delegates based on a primary vote plus evening caucuses. Mattox said the system, known as the Texas Two-Step, was an embarrassment to the party. "Now let me tell you, folks," Mattox said. "This system we've got is an expensive system. It's an unintelligible system. It is an acrimonious system across the board. It is subject to misconduct, it is subject to fraud, it is subject to manipulation. It's unfair, it's uncertain, it's inaccurate, and it's an embarrassment to our party."
In 2008, Mattox worked in Hillary Clinton's unsuccessful bid for the Democratic presidential nomination. He died eight months thereafter at the age of 65 of a heart attack in his sleep at his home in Dripping Springs in Hays County west of Austin. In addition to sister Janice L. Mattox, he was survived by his wife, Marta K. Mattox (born February 26, 1955), and their two children, Jim "Jimmer" Mattox and Janet "Sissi" Mattox, and his younger brother, Jerry Mattox (deceased 2016).
Chuck McDonald, the Richards spokesman during the 1990 gubernatorial primary described Mattox as "the original maverick. He prided himself on being the voice of the little guy and took on every big-money interest group he could find. As a political rival, he was as tough as they came. He never backed down from a fight, and he made all the candidates stronger."
Garry Mauro, the Texas land commissioner from 1983-1999 who was defeated for governor in 1998 by George W. Bush and who later managed Hillary Clinton's presidential campaign in Texas, described Mattox as a man "pounding on the table for the people. Anybody that thinks of Jim Mattox and doesn't think of the 'people's lawyer' really didn't know him. He never saw a fight he'd walk away from."
Mattox's body lay in repose at the Texas House of Representatives chamber inside the Texas Capitol rotunda on Monday, November 24, 2008. Services were held on Tuesday, November 25, 2008 at the First Baptist Church, 901 Trinity Street in Austin. He is interred at the Texas State Cemetery, 909 Navasota Street in Austin.