Friday, U.S. Representative Ted Poe (R-Humble) stepped up to the mic on the House floor and blasted President Obama on the issue of the “fiscal cliff,” delivering a 67-second speech peppered with carefully crafted rhetorical flourishes:
Say it isn’t so, Mr. Speaker!
Are you kidding me!?
Congress! Congress! Congress! Is in charge of the purse.
The government has gone wild. And that’s just the way it is.
For Poe, that’s just the way it is, too, on nearly every day he’s held the office, right down to the Walter Cronkite-meets-Bruce Hornsby sign-off.
As Richard Simon of the Los Angeles Times wrote over the weekend, Poe is Congress’ “top talker,” giving more speeches in the House than any other member: 235 in 2009-2010, and 196 during the current two-year term, with time still left to try and break his record.
“The 64-year-old former judge is an oratory throwback in the age of text messages and Twitter,” Simon wrote, noting that such speechifying has decreased since last year, when lawmakers were first allowed to use phones or computers on the floor.
Poe has compared NASA putting the space shuttle in New York to “putting the Statue of Liberty in Omaha” and famously spent five minutes in 2008 defending incandescent light bulbs.
“I don’t see anywhere in the U.S. Constitution that it gives the government the power to control the type of lightbulbs used in Dime Box, Texas or any other place in the United States,” Poe folksily said.
Simon reported that Poe generally gets to the House chamber a half-hour early to make sure he gets a speaking slot (usually the first one), and that “he knows he can belt out a speech in the one-minute limit if he keeps to 175 words.”
But “it’s hard to tell whether Poe’s speeches have any impact, because the chamber often is mostly empty when he talks.”
“He clearly likes visibility,” University of Houston political science professor Richard Murray told Simon. “In a field not known for small egos, he still stands out.”
That description probably also suits the second-most loquacious member of the House, who just happens to be another Texan: Poe’s Houston-area Democratic colleague Sheila Jackson Lee.
“I applaud Ted Poe,” Jackson Lee told the Houston Chronicle‘s Stewart Powell in an older article about their respective C-SPAN speaking habits. “He uses his voice to speak to the issues that he and his constituents care about.”
Coincidentally, Poe came under fire in 2007 for quoting Civil War general and eventual Ku Klux Klan founder Nathan Bedford Forrest in a speech about Iraq, while Lee enraged the Tea Party in 2010 by unsubtly implying they were like the KKK.
As Simon also noted, Poe’s most inadvertently memorable speech might be the one he made in 2010 to mark Domestic Violence Awareness Month, during which his grandson, Barrett Travis, battles valiantly–and unsuccessfully–to stay awake.
“That was not my best speech,” Poe told Simon, laughing.
But you can still watch it right now: