Thursday, November 14, 2013

A Congressional Record: The Memoir of Bernie Sisk

Book: A Congressional Record: The Memoir of Bernie Sisk
Author: Bernie Sisk
Edition: First Edition
Read: November 2013
259 pages
Rated:  3 out of 5


This book is in an interview format. A.I. Dickman from the UC Davis oral history office was the interviewer. There are five parts, with each part starting off with a bit of background, followed by several sections of interviews. It looks like the words in the interviews were pretty much non-edited. The five parts include:
  1. Down Home Years (In Texas)
  2. California, Here I Come (His time in California and running for Congress)
  3. Mr. Sisk Goes to Washington (Mostly about water)
  4. Order in the House (the 1970 Legislative Reorganization and other misc areas of interest)
  5. Congressional Perspective   (after finishing his service)


Interesting thoughts on the House Reform (pg 130)  His take on things was that Congress had become more and more entwined in its own rules that it was a Herculean task to get through any legislation of importance. The process for updating the rules was long, but they were able to obtain close to universal ascent from both Democrats and Republicans. You wonder what could be done in today's environment, where it seems like both parties go out of their way to antagonize each other, and get nothing accomplished. There seems to be more emphasis on scoring points than working for the good of the US.

Concerns about the debt, which at that time was $800 billion, (pg 132). With the debt climbing above $2 trillion, what would Sisk say about today's debt. He was concerned about the debt we had incurred, that it was more like a war-time debt than a peace time one. Would he see that the Great Recession was such that it was a national emergency? Or would he be more concerned about the longer term impact our current debt would have?

Sisk as a person who could bring people together (pg 138) It looks like there was only a few people which Sisk could not work with. That is amazing considering he was in Congress for something like 26 years. That is not to say he did not oppose and was not opposed in some of the legislation brought forth. But it speaks more to his wiliness to get things done rather than it has to be done his way.

I don't think any of us has a right to block or destroy the rights of others to cast a vote or state a position on an issue. (pg 140)

I just don't think we should have discriminatory laws-mean and women ought to be treated the same.  This was in regards to Social Security (pg 175) I wonder what he would have thought about our rights for everything situation these days.

What was the Board of Education with Rayburn, Truman, Johnson, and McCormack? (192) See Wikipedia on Sam RayburnRayburn was well known among his colleagues for his after business hours "Board of Education" meetings in hideaway offices in the House. During these off-the-record sessions, the Speaker and powerful committee chairmen would gather for poker, bourbon, and a frank discussion of politics. Rayburn alone determined who received an invitation to these gatherings; to be invited to even one was a high honor. On April 12, 1945 Vice President Harry Truman, a regular attendee since his Senate days, had just arrived at the "Board of Education" when he received a phone call telling him to immediately come to the White House, where he learned that Franklin D. Roosevelt was dead and he was now President of the United States.

How to get knowledge of a bill? (197) There are now apps and the web which we can interrogate. In Sisk's days it would be the Congressman's office which tracked down legislation.

Outdoorsman-picture in Evolution Valley (247) Bobbye Sisk Temple says her father loved to go uop to the mountains.

  If you are looking for a well-written account of B.F. Sisk's actions in the House of Representatives and his life, this is not it. But if you are looking at what the man thought and why he did things, this book gives you a pretty good idea. Through the efforts of Sisk, water for farming was brought to the Valley. This book shows from Sisk's perspective how this was done.

Just from this, reading the book would be good for anybody in the region. But what about nationally? Sisk was the type of man who got along with others. He was able to make friends, even with those where there was opposition. What he could not stand was those whom would not keep their word, who proved to be untrustworthy.

Consequently Sam Rayburn, the Speaker of the House came to have confidence in him. Sisk would serve on serve on several important committees, including the House Rules. From here he was able to affect  most legislation over the committee. Hence his influence in Washington was more than just just a congressman from the San Joaquin.

Notes from my book group:

Each year our book group has a night with a live author. We were able to have B.F. Sisk's daughter with us, Bobbye Sisk Temple and her husband Martin Temple. It was a delightful evening where Bobbye provided background about both the book and the man. The background and  questions I had set up included:

Introduce Bobbye Temple
Bobbye Sisk Temple:

Daughter of Bernie Sisk
Married to Martin Temple
Member of the Central Valley Political Archive


B.F. Sisk In Memoriam from the October 30, 1995 Congressional Record by Mr. Radanovich. The last part, which was a quote from the Fresno Bee is meaningful:

`His number one thing was to take care of the constituents. He never held himself out to be a world leader. What Bernie had, that very few folks have, was the ability to disagree with you without making you angry.''--Gordon Nelson, Sisk's former administrative assistant.

  • First, who edited the book?
  • This book was one which I learned a great deal about the area and its history. I enjoyed reading and seeing names I knew about from news reports—jr high and high school and some in college. One thing which I was thinking as I was reading this book, it could have used an editor. How would you have edited the book, while retaining your father's flavor?
  • If I am computing the ages correctly, you would have been in your early twenties when your father ran for Congress. What was it like? Were you campaigning with him? Sounded like your Mom was not happy about him running, but you and your sister were.
  • At the last of the book are pictures of your father in the back-country around Evolution Valley and Lake. I did not get the impression he was really a back country woodsman. But he did enjoy being up in the mountains sometimes. Was this something which came on later in life? Or was it something which was pushed out.
  • Several years ago, this group read King of California by Mark Arax. Are you familiar with this book? What would B.F. Sisk have thought of the book? The book talks about how the big farmers, particularly cotton controlled the formation of the water projects. It sounded like your father was looking at how to help make the Central Valley an economically viable place. How influential were people on the west-side on your father?
  • Your father was one who worked together with others to make things happen. Obviously that is not happening in Washington, or Sacramento, now. Would he have a place in the discussions going on now? Or would he have been more of an outsider? How would he have worked with the divisiveness of our era?
  • In the book, B.F. Sisk was concerned about the size of the national debt. Enough so, he opposed Phillip Burton on many things. How would he have thought about the debt today? Would be have thought it way too big? Would he have considered some of the alternatives of allowing the nation into a deeper recession as viable? …
  • I like the statement he makes in pg 141: I don't think any of us has a right to block or destroy the rights of others to cast a vote or state a position on an issue. This seems like in stark contrast to today where people on the left and right are more concerned with control than rightness. He does go on and talk about the need to make sure what is being done is right for the country.
  • On pg 175, he states. I just don't think we should have discriminatory laws-mean and women ought to be treated the same. In this case he was talking about Social Security. How would he have viewed the expansion of civil rights coverage?
  • Do you know anything about the “Board of Education” on pg 192?
  • It sounded like Sisk encouraged his constituents to contact his office. Is this still prevalent today?

 Good Quotes:
  • First Line: We all know that Congressman Sisk is too humble to mention his own achievements. - From Justice Andreen's Mark 30, 1978 testimonial dinner for Congressman Sisk
  • Last Line: There were times when I felt we faced unjust criticism, but that is part of the price you pay as a public servant.


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