Tag Archive for Chet Edwards

(Digital Collections) Guest Post: Celebrating Congress Week at the Baylor Collections of Political Materials (BCPM)

Poster_Small_330x242_(2016)This week’s blog comes to us from Zach Kastens, a graduate assistant at the Baylor Collections of Political materials. Welcome, Zach!

From April 1st—7th, the Association of Centers for the Study of Congress celebrates Congress Week, commemorating the month in which Congress achieved its first quorums in 1789. This year, the Baylor Collections of Political Materials (a founding member of the ACSC) highlights Congressman Chet Edwards’s defense of the First Amendment to memorialize the 225th anniversary of the Bill of Rights.

Chet Edwards PortraitThomas Chester “Chet” Edwards served as the representative for Texas’s 11th and (after redistricting in 2005) 17th districts from 1991 to 2011. During his 20-year tenure in the United States House of Representatives, Edwards championed legislation on veterans’ issues, education, technology, and senior-citizens. As a moderate Democrat representing a demographically Republican district, Edwards developed a reputation as a pragmatic, independent leader who valued his constituents’ concerns over partisan politics. His political talent and cross-party appeal earned him a spot on then-Senator Barack Obama’s Vice-Presidential shortlist in 2008.

Edwards HandshakeFor Chet, politics, service, and compassion were inextricable from one another. He often spoke of his duty to his district and his appreciation for men and women in uniform. Furthermore, Edwards strongly advocated for the personal freedoms outlined in the Bill of Rights. His willingness to listen to, consider, and learn from opposition was partially informed by his respect for the American Constitution and his own religious faith. As a Christian, Chet’s views on the separation of church and state carried considerable weight among his colleagues, so much so that he was considered by some to be the leading congressional voice on the issue.

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Click the image above to view the speech in the Baylor University Libraries Digital Collections.

In the above video, dated June 12, 2001, Congressman Edwards responds to a quote from President George W. Bush decrying political opposition to Faith-Based Initiatives. This minute-long speech on the House floor held many political implications. As a Democrat representing a Republican district, Edwards toed a fine line when it came to criticizing the sitting Republican President. President Bush’s residence complicated matters; in 1999, before taking office, Bush purchased Prairie Chapel Ranch – a property approximately twenty-five miles from Waco, TX – thus becoming one of Edwards’s constituents.

Here, Edwards reiterates his personal respect for the President and “his right to offer his proposals,” but then gives a scathing critique of the President’s comments: “Challenging people’s religious faith because of public policy differences is not a way to bring Americans together. Rather, it is a prescription for religious divisiveness.” Edwards’s criticism echoes Thomas Jefferson’s remarks in 1802: “… I shall see with sincere satisfaction the progress of those sentiments which tend to restore a man to his natural rights, convinced he has no natural right in opposition to his social duties.” Both Jefferson and Edwards advocate for the separation of government and religion, believing that an American’s belief in the latter should never be made to conflict with the former.

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Click on the image above to view the video in the Baylor University Libraries Digital Collections.

In the above video, dated February 5, 2004, Congressman Edwards and Representative John Boehner (R-Ohio) debate the merits of Charitable Choice provisions. These provisions are found several pieces of legislation, such as the Community Solutions Act of 2001, the American Community Renewal Act, the Fathers Count Act, the Charitable Choice Expansion Act, and the Job Improvement Training Act.  Supporters of Charitable Choice provisions hoped to provide federal funds for religious social work programs to help administer addiction recovery and poverty relief without compromising the integrity of the religious organization’s mission.  Opponents, including Edwards, the Baptist Joint Committee, etc., argued that the provisions would allow religious organizations to discriminate in hiring for federally funded positions; they also feared that these provisions would allow the religious organizations, in effect, to use federal funds to proselytize to their clients.

Edwards argued that the language in the bill “subsidize[d] religious bigotry in America” due to the allocation of taxpayers’ money toward discriminatory hiring practices. He framed Charitable Choice provisions as the first step in the erosion of religious liberty, citing the protections guaranteed by the First Amendment to the Constitution. For Edwards, religious liberty was not a bipartisan issue but a nonpartisan one, too sacred to be sullied by politics. He characterized the denigration of religious freedom as “wrong,” finding such practices “morally offensive as a person of faith” and “deeply offensive to the First Amendment.” Perhaps the most severe condemnation of Charitable Choice legislation comes when he refers to the Founding Fathers’ famous battles over federal and states’ rights as Representative Boehner attempts to adjourn the discussion to a later date: “If this was an issue important enough for Madison and Jefferson to debate for 10 years in the Virginia legislature, … then certainly it’s worthy of our discussion here on the floor.”

Since its 1791 addition, proponents of faith-based governance have attacked the First Amendment’s role as the primary defense of American citizens. However, those who believe in the sanctity of religious liberty have been defended by legislators who shared the vision of America’s Founding Fathers – a vision of a country ruled not by fear, oppression, or dogma but by its own citizens. For Chet Edwards, religious liberty struck at the heart of this vision. He believed in an America where every citizen is free to practice (or not practice) any religion they desire without fear or financial, governmental, or social retribution.


Learn more about the political career of Chet Edwards by visiting the Thomas Chester “Chet” Edwards Papers collection, and for more information about the Baylor Collections of Political Materials, please visit their website.

(Digital Collections) Moving Speeches, Moving Images: The Chet Edwards Collection Adds Video

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Congressman Chet Edwards sits in his office at the Poage Legislative Library, 2012. Photo courtesy Allyson Riley of the Digital Projects Group.

It was a little over two years ago – though it seems like yesterday! – that we met with former U.S. Rep. Chet Edwards (D-Texas) as he prepared to deposit his congressional papers with the Poage Legislative Library. We gave Rep. Edwards a tour of the Riley Digitization Center (described in this blog post) and had a good discussion of what to expect from the materials he had secured and generated over a sterling career in public service.

In the interim, we have since added the Chet Edwards Collection to our roster of digital collections, and today we’re happy to announce that, in addition to its 200+ transcripts of speeches delivered by Rep. Edwards, we have added the first batch of video materials. These clips were migrated from their original format of VHS tape and are presented in digital form for the first time via this collection.

The videos encompass three major sources: footage of Rep. Edwards’ floor speeches from the House of Representatives (captured by C-SPAN); unedited satellite feed from the House Studios and beamed direct to local television news studios; and assorted news segments, television appearances and the occasional long-form video.

Of these, the unedited satellite feed videos show Rep. Edwards in the most unexpected way, especially for a long-serving politician: a friendly, unscripted gentleman interacting with unseen board operators and journalists half a continent away. Between readings of prepared statements and answering questions from the press, Rep. Edwards shows an easy banter with members of the press, asking genuinely after their well-being and showing concern that all is comfortable for the listeners on the end of the line. It’s easy to see how his charm on the campaign trail went beyond the surface “smiling for the cameras” attitude worn by other politicians and touched on the core of a man who showed genuine interest in his constituents.

While there are many excellent clips in this collection, we wanted to feature two in this post. The first is the oldest clip in the collection: Rep. Edwards, who had only begun his career in the House in January 1991, appeared on a call-in show to discuss gun control on October 19 … the weekend after a gunman opened fire on a crowded Luby’s Cafeteria in Killeen, Texas. Killeen was part of Edwards’ congressional district, and his appearance on the show, where he discussed a change in his opinion on the subject of gun control, shows his ability to project calmness in the aftermath of a tragedy, a skill that would serve him well in the years to come. (Clip below is just under 90 seconds long. Click here for the full video.)

The second clip is a brief floor speech delivered by Rep. Edwards in 2002 on the subject of support for President George W. Bush’s approach to the “War on Terror.” In it, he quotes a portion of President John F. Kennedy’s inaugural address:

“Let every nation know, whether it wishes us well or ill, that we shall pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, oppose any foe, in order to assure the survival and the success of liberty.”


View all of the videos – and the rest of the Chet Edwards Collection – at our digital collection site. For more information on the Chet Edwards Papers, visit the Poage Library’s site.

(Digital Collections) A Visit From Rep. Chet Edwards

Former U.S. Rep. Chet Edwards in his office at Poage Legislative Library

Baylor University recently announced that former U.S. Congressman Chet Edwards was appointed the W.R. Poage Distinguished Chair for Public Service, an honor that was accompanied with the news that his congressional papers would be housed in the Poage Legislative Library on campus.

A few weeks prior to the announcement, Congressman Edwards toured the Riley Digitization Center and learned more about our capabilities to digitize large archival holdings. Edwards was very interested in how we are able to turn hundreds of feet of paper records into searchable, remotely accessible digital objects. As his records will also contain materials on audio/visual formats like DVD, VHS tapes, and Umatic tapes (like Beta), Edwards was also impressed with the Riley Center’s video and audio migration technology.


Above, Assistant VP for the Electronic Library Tim Logan shows Rep. Edwards a 16” radio transcription disc while Darryl Stuhr, Manager of Digitization Projects, looks on at left. The disc was placed on a turntable in the radio studio and cut live as the broadcast was under way. An interesting thing to note on discs of this size is the second hole in the center; the extra weight of such a large disc could cause it to wobble during recording, so the second hole in the center fit over a second spindle for added stability.

Prior to his visit, Rep. Edwards had mentioned the impact a speech by George W. Truett had on his development as a legislator. That speech, “Baptists and Religious Liberty,” was delivered on the steps of the U.S. Capitol in 1920 while Truett was in Washington, D.C. for the annual meeting of the Southern Baptist Convention. Edwards spoke fondly of his appreciation for the speech, and we were excited to be able to pull up a digital copy available in our Institute of Church-State Studies Vertical File Collection. Below, Curator of Digital Collections Eric Ames shows Rep. Edwards the digital copy of that speech, reprinted in the October 1981 issue of the “Baptist Standard.”

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We are excited to work with Rep. Edwards as he develops his congressional papers for use by students, scholars, and interested parties around the world. They will serve as a unique and invaluable asset to those seeking a deeper understanding of American politics, geopolitical relations and his beliefs on the subject of leadership.

(1) Photos of Edwards’ tour by Allyson Riley