Remembering Mel Hancock–The First Tea Partier
“After the first few weeks in this place [the U.S. House of Representatives], I said my biggest problem was that I couldn’t hear everything on the House floor,” freshman Rep. Mel Hancock (R.-Mo.) told HUMAN EVENTS in 1989. “But then again, probably half of what was said around here wasn’t worth hearing.” After a few weeks of being frequently criticized for his flip comment about Congress, the conservative from Missouri called us to say: “I misspoke. What I meant to say was that 90% of what is said around here isn’t worth hearing.”
That said it all about Hancock, who took very seriously the mission of cutting taxes and reducing the size and scope of government, but never took himself very seriously. When he died Nov. 6 at age 83, that’s how the former four-term congressman from the Show-Me State remembered, as one of the earliest forerunners of the movement now known as Tea Party that is a key part of the political landscape today.
Born and raised in southwest Missouri, Hancock graduated from Southwest Missouri State, and after a stint in the U.S. Air Force, spent 10 years in the insurance business. Starting up and running his own business that leased alarms and other security equipment to banks gave Hancock firsthand experience dealing with government regulations and paying business taxes and other fees. He hated doing all of those of things.
In 1977, the fed-up businessman founded the Taxpayer Survival Association, a not-for-profit grassroots group dedicated to tax limitation. Three years later, with the association leading the charge, Missourians voted to pass the Hancock Amendment limiting government expenditures to a fixed percentage of income and pensions, and requiring voter approval to raise taxes.
Admirers of Missouri’s “Mr. Ax the Tax” urged Hancock to seek office, and he waged losing bids for the U.S. Senate in 1982 and lieutenant governor in ’84. But when veteran Republican Rep. Gene Taylor retired in 1988, Hancock’s fervent following from the anti-tax movement won the day. He topped three opponents in the GOP primary (including Taylor’s hand-picked successor) and won handily in November.
“He votes ‘no’ on everything, including adjournment” is what admirers in and out of Congress said about Hancock. He joined in a lawsuit with colleagues in 1992 in an attempt to stop a congressional pay raise, and once opposed a bill containing $2.7 billion in disaster relief, even though some of it would aid Missouri. True to his passion for term limits, Hancock kept a promise to retire after four terms in 1996 and went home to farm and hunt quail.
He would often call HUMAN EVENTS to rail about George W. Bush and congressional Republicans “selling us out” by increasing spending, and to talk about friends of his pursued by the IRS. Last year, as he battled emphysema, Hancock told us: “I probably smoked too much and am paying for it but, hey, so did Johnny Carson. I’m in good company.” Mel Hancock’s ability to not take things seriously, even at the end of his life, won him admirers and friends, of which HUMAN EVENTS was proud to be both.