Thursday, June 30, 2016

Banker, Rancher, and U. S. Senator John Thomas [otd 06/30]

Senator Thomas. Library of Congress.
On June 30, 1928, Idaho Governor H. Clarence Baldridge appointed banker and rancher John W. Thomas to fill the U. S. Senate seat vacated by the death of Frank R. Gooding. The appointment arose partly from the fact that Thomas was considered Gooding's political protégé.

Thomas was born January 4, 1874 in Phillips County, Kansas, 60-70 miles north of Hayes. He attended a Normal school in central Kansas. John then taught for several years and spent five years as a school Superintendent. From 1906 to 1909, he served as Register of the Land Office in Colby, Kansas.

In 1909, Thomas moved to Gooding, Idaho, where he engaged in banking and invested in real estate. At that time, Frank Gooding had just completed two terms as Idaho Governor. (Custom then dictated that the governor should serve only two consecutive terms.) Thomas and Gooding became associated through their common interests in banking, ranching, and politics.

Thomas was mayor of Gooding in 1917-1919, when Gooding lost in his first run for a U. S. Senate seat. Gooding succeeded in 1920 and was reelected in 1926. By then, Thomas was a member of the Republican National Committee. Thus, when Gooding died two years into his term, the Thomas appointment followed naturally.

Concerning the appointment, the Governor was reported (Idaho Statesman, July 1, 1928) to say, “For a number of years Mr. Thomas was closely associated with the late Senator Gooding and seems to be the logical man to carry on the splendid fight Gooding waged for the economic development of Idaho.”

The subsequent special election confirmed his seat for the remainder of the term.

Being Senators from a farm state, both Thomas and William E. Borah [blog, yesterday] voted for the 1930 Smoot-Hawley Tariff Act. The Act had originally been proposed as relief for American farmers. However, by the time it passed, the Act also contained sky-high tariffs on hundreds of non-farm products. Countries all around the world retaliated with higher duties on American products. While Smoot-Hawley did not cause the Great Depression, economists generally agree that the Act made it far worse.

During this term in the Senate, Thomas chaired the Committee on Irrigation and Reclamation. In August 1932, a union representative at the Hoover Dam construction site sent him a letter that began, "We believe that a great injustice is being perpetrated against the workers at Boulder Dam in the general lowering of working and living conditions.”

Hoover Dam, 1942. National Archives.
They asserted that the contractor had set wages below area averages, ignored state safety codes, and charged exorbitant prices for goods and services. It is not clear how John replied, and the issue soon became moot for him. That fall, the Democratic landslide led by Presidential candidate Franklin D. Roosevelt swamped his re-election bid.

Thomas spent the rest of the decade attending to his business and ranching interests. In 1940, Senator Borah died in office and Thomas was appointed to fill that vacancy. Again, he won the special election to confirm the appointment. This time his bid for reelection in 1942 succeeded and he began a full six-year term. Ironically, he did not complete that term, himself dying in office in November 1945.
                                                                                 
References: [Hawley]
Boulder Dam Workers, Boulder City/Hoover Dam Museum, Boulder City, Nevada (2005).
“John Thomas,” Biographical Directory of the United States Congress, online.

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