Mac Thornberry

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For other people named William Thornberry, see William Thornberry (disambiguation).
Mac Thornberry
Mac Thornberry, Official Portrait, 111th Congress.jpg
Chairman of the House Armed Services Committee
Assumed office
January 3, 2015
Preceded by Buck McKeon
Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from Texas's 13th district
Assumed office
January 3, 1995
Preceded by Bill Sarpalius
Personal details
Born (1958-07-15) July 15, 1958 (age 57)
Clarendon, Texas, U.S.
Political party Republican
Spouse(s) Sally Thornberry
Alma mater Texas Tech University
University of Texas School of Law
Religion Presbyterianism

William McClellan Thornberry, known as Mac Thornberry (born July 15, 1958), is the U.S. Representative from the Texas Panhandle. He has served since 1995, when the House seated its first Republican majority in forty years.

A Republican, Thornberry represents Texas's 13th congressional district, a GOP stronghold which stretches between the Oklahoma and New Mexico borders. It winds across the Panhandle into the South Plains, then runs east across the Red River Valley. Covering over 40,000 square miles (100,000 km2), it is the second-largest district geographically in Texas and one of the largest (excluding at-large districts in Wyoming, Montana, and Alaska) in the country. It is even larger in area than thirteen states. The principal cities in the district are Amarillo and Wichita Falls.

Early life, education and career[edit]

His great-great-grandfather, Amos Thornberry, a Union Army veteran and staunch Republican, moved in the 1880s to Clay County, just east of Wichita Falls. A year after Amos died in 1925, his son bought the cattle ranch that Mac Thornberry, his brothers, and their father now run.[1]

Thornberry is a lifelong resident of Clarendon, some 60 miles (97 km) east of Amarillo, in the heart of the 13th. His family has operated a ranch in the area since 1881. He received his Bachelor of Arts in history from Texas Tech University in Lubbock. He then obtained his Juris Doctor from the University of Texas School of Law in Austin.[2]

He served previously as a staffer to two other Texas Republican congressmen, Tom Loeffler and Larry Combest, and as deputy Secretary of State for Legislative Affairs under Ronald Reagan before he joined his brothers on the family ranch. He also practiced law in Amarillo.

Thornberry is a member of the Council on Foreign Relations.[3]

U.S. House of Representatives[edit]

Committee assignments[edit]

Thornberry serves as Chairman of the House Armed Services Committee – the first Texan of either party to hold this position. The Armed Services Committee has the responsibility to oversee the Pentagon, all military services, and all Department of Defense agencies, including their budgets and policies.[4]

Legislative work[edit]

Legislative biography[edit]

From the National Journal Congressional Almanac:

"In the House, Thornberry has compiled a solidly conservative voting record, though he has a pragmatic streak and is hardly the most ideological Republican in the Texas delegation. In keeping with his scholarly nature, his official website includes an essay explaining his philosophy and explaining his interest 'in continuing to push government to work smarter and more efficiently.'

Thornberry has often been at the forefront of security issues. In 2002, after the September 11 terrorist attacks, he played a key role in the establishment of the new Homeland Security Department. He took over in January 2011 as chairman of the Armed Services Committee’s terrorism panel, and Speaker John Boehner also asked him to lead an effort to develop a cyber security strategy for the country. Earlier, as a member of the Intelligence Committee, Thornberry criticized delays in integrating computer networks and intelligence analyses at the Homeland Security Department. He also has championed missile defense and called for better coordination of military space programs.

Thornberry was critical of President Barack Obama’s arms control deal with Russia in 2010 for precluding the use of nuclear weapons against non-nuclear nations. But he can be more pragmatic than other defense hawks. He served on a bipartisan commission in 2007 that drew up recommendations for winning the war in Iraq with both lethal and non-lethal approaches, such as diplomacy and foreign aid. Despite his expertise on security matters, he lost his bid in 2009 to chair the full Armed Services Committee to Buck McKeon, R-Calif., who had more seniority.

On domestic issues, Thornberry has pressed for repeal of the estate tax and also tax credits to encourage production of oil in marginal wells. In 2010, he got a bill into law expanding access to state veterans’ homes to parents whose children died while serving in the military. He introduced a bill in January 2011 to help states set up special health care courts staffed by judges with expertise in the subject. The judges would serve as an alternative to juries that Republicans say are inclined to award unnecessarily large damage amounts in malpractice cases."[5]

Term limits[edit]

Thornberry has consistently voted for term limits that would apply to U.S. Congressmen. He has never said that he would limit the amount of terms he would serve until a Constitutional Amendment is passed limiting senators and representatives across the board. He is quoted as saying, "The key is who are we working for? It doesn't matter if you've been in Washington two years or 25 years. We saw a huge number of incumbents lose in the last election because they forgot that. I don't work for the new speaker. I don't work for the party. I work for the 650,000 folks in my district. That's certainly the focus of mine."[6]

Agriculture and farm bill[edit]

With a long personal and family background in ranching, Thornberry has been a leading voice in the House of Representatives about the importance of passing a Farm Bill every five years to give farmers and ranchers more stability.[7] In 2013, he voted for the five year Farm Bill that failed in the House.[8]

The 2013 Farm Bill offered taxpayers close to $40 billion in savings, including reductions in farm policy spending and the repeal or consolidation of over 100 programs.[9] Those savings included annual cuts of $2 billion from food stamps, which would have been the most extensive reforms to food policy since 1996.[10]

Voting record[edit]

From Jan 1995 to May 2013, Thornberry missed 124 of 12,475 roll call votes, which is 1.0%. This is better than the median of 2.3% among the lifetime records of representatives currently serving.[11]

Voting scorecard by issue[edit]

  • In 2012 the American Conservative Union Ratings of Congress gave Thornberry a 96% rating for the year. He has a lifetime score of 95%.[12]
  • The National Right to Life Committee has consistently scored Thornberry at 100%.[13]
  • The National Rifle Association gave Thornberry a lifetime rating of 92% on 2nd Amendment and gun rights issues.[14]
  • The Disabled American Veterans and Vietnam Veterans of America have both given Thornberry a 100% score.[15]
  • Both the Fleet Reserve Association and Non Commissioned Officers Association have given Thornberry a 100% score.[16]

Political campaigns[edit]

Thornberry defeated Democratic Congressman Bill Sarpalius in the 1994 general election, a heavily Republican year nationwide. He polled 79,416 votes (55 percent) to Sarpalius' 63,923 votes (44 percent). Two years earlier in a much higher turnout election, Sarpalius had polled nearly double the votes that he received in 1994. The 13th has always been a somewhat conservative district, but on paper had been made somewhat less Republican in the 1990s redistricting. For this reason, Thornberry's victory is still regarded as an upset.

Thornberry has never faced another contest nearly as close as his initial one, and has been reelected 10 times, never dropping below 67 percent of the vote. He has consolidated his hold on a district that was historically Democratic as recently as the 1970s, and is now reckoned as one of the most Republican districts in the nation. Thornberry is only the third Republican to represent the district for a full term since Reconstruction. The previous Republican representatives were Robert D. "Bob" Price of Pampa (1967–1975) and Beau Boulter of Amarillo (1985–1989).

In the 2006 and 2008 elections, Thornberry handily defeated former intelligence officer and Professor Roger Waun.

In the Republican primary held on May 29, 2012, Thornberry overwhelmed his lone opponent, Pamela Lee Barlow, 47,251 votes (78 percent) to 13,643 (22 percent).[17] In the general election, Thornberry bested (91 percent) Libertarian John Robert Deek of Denton and Green Party candidate Keith F. Houston of Canyon (there was no Democratic candidate).[18]

In the Republican primary held on March 4, 2014, Thornberry easily won re-nomination to an eleventh term in Congress. He polled 45,097 votes (68 percent) to challengers Elaine Hays and, again, Pamela Barlow, who received 12,438 votes (19 percent) and 8,860 votes (13 percent), respectively.[19]

General election results[edit]

Texas 13th Congressional District 1994[20]
Party Candidate Votes %
Republican Mac Thornberry 79,466 55
Democratic Bill Sarpalius (Incumbent) 63,923 45
Total votes 143,389 100
Texas 13th Congressional District 1996[21]
Party Candidate Votes %
Republican Mac Thornberry (Incumbent) 116,098 67
Democratic Samuel Brown Silverman 56,066 32
Independent Don Harkey 1,463 1
Total votes 173,627 100
Texas 13th Congressional District 1998[22]
Party Candidate Votes %
Republican Mac Thornberry (Incumbent) 81,141 68
Democratic Mark Harmon 37,027 31
Libertarian Georganne Baker Payne 1,298 1
Total votes 119,466 100
Texas 13th Congressional District 2000[23]
Party Candidate Votes %
Republican Mac Thornberry (Incumbent) 117,995 68
Democratic Curtis Clinesmith 54,343 31
Libertarian Brad Clardy 2,137 1
Total votes 174,475 100
Texas 13th Congressional District 2002[24]
Party Candidate Votes %
Republican Mac Thornberry (Incumbent) 119,401 79
Democratic Zane Reese 31,218 21
Total votes 150,619 100
Texas 13th Congressional District 2004[25]
Party Candidate Votes %
Republican Mac Thornberry (Incumbent) 189,448 92
Libertarian John Robert Deek 15,793 8
Total votes 205,241 100
Texas 13th Congressional District 2006[26]
Party Candidate Votes %
Republican Mac Thornberry (Incumbent) 108,107 74
Democratic Roger J. Waun 33,460 23
Libertarian Keith Dyer 3,829 3
Total votes 145,396 100
Texas 13th Congressional District 2008[27]
Party Candidate Votes %
Republican Mac Thornberry (Incumbent) 180,078 78
Democratic Roger James Waun 51,841 22
Total votes 231,919 100
Texas 13th Congressional District 2010[28]
Party Candidate Votes %
Republican Mac Thornberry (Incumbent) 113,201 87
Libertarian John T. Burwell, Jr. 5,650 4
Independent Keith Dyer 11,192 9
Total votes 130,043 100
Texas 13th Congressional District 2012[29]
Party Candidate Votes %
Republican Mac Thornberry (Incumbent) 187,775 91
Libertarian John Robert Deek 12,701 6
Green Keith F. Houston 5,912 3
Total votes 206,388 100


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  3. ^ CFR Membership List as of May 23, 2012. Available at
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  17. ^ "Republican primary election returns, May 29, 2012". Retrieved May 30, 2012. 
  18. ^ "Big Country reps will keep their jobs, November 6, 2012". Retrieved February 26, 2013. 
  19. ^ "Republican primary election returns, March 4, 2014". Retrieved March 5, 2014. 
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External links[edit]

United States House of Representatives
Preceded by
Bill Sarpalius
Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from Texas's 13th congressional district

Preceded by
Buck McKeon
Chairman of the House Armed Services Committee
United States order of precedence (ceremonial)
Preceded by
Zoe Lofgren
United States Representatives by seniority
Succeeded by
Ed Whitfield