If Richard F. Friedman – aka Kinky and the Kinkster – is elected governor of Texas, he will have some big boots to fill. Yes, he would become the first Jewish governor of the state, the first professional musician and the first composer to write songs with lines such as, “To get to hell, you have to go through D/FW Airport.” But he won’t be the first gadfly, jokester or weirdo to become president and/or governor of Texas. Actually, Friedman would join a long line of – how can I put this? – peculiar leaders of Texans.
We’ve had ranchers, lots of lawyers, a former prisoner of war, arch Rebels and equally arch Unionists, oil drillers and, worst of all, journalists: Gov. Will Hobby was editor of The Houston Post. Another governor-to-be, Ross Sterling, owned that same paper. Both Price Daniel and Oscar Branch Colquitt were newspaper publishers. Colquitt was considered a reformer when, after his election in 1910, he abolished use of the bullwhip in Texas prisons, but what else can we expect from theliberalmedia? W. Lee O’Daniel was a flour salesman turned radio star who once fired the Light Crust Doughboys, including Bob Wills. O’Daniel was the only governor who could not vote for himself, having refused to pay the required poll tax.
Dolph Briscoe Jr. of Uvalde was the largest individual land owner in Texas – and one of the richest. Bill Clements was so wealthy he paid to have the Governor’s Mansion re-done. Jim Hogg was so poor that when he left office, he had to borrow money to move his furniture out of the Governor’s Mansion. Later he invested in the Spindletop oil field and became enormously wealthy. John Connally was shot by Lee Harvey Oswald but survived. Beauford Jester, who had the perfect name for a Texas governor, was the only one to die in office. Actually, he died in a Pullman as the train came into Houston. Lt. Gov. Allan Shivers took over for Jester and had the distinction of serving as governor longer than any other person in Texas history – seven years, six months and four days. George W. Bush was the only Texas governor to become a U.S. president, but Sam Houston was elected president (of Texas) before he was elected governor.
We could say our first governor arrived in 1523, when Francisco de Garay came from Spain, but we modernists go with 1691 and the appointment of Domingo Terán de los Ríos as the beginning of Texas as a political entity. Let’s skip forward to 1836 when we were able to choose our own leaders. Counting both the presidents and governors of Texas, we’ve had a couple of Indian fighters, one of whom helped recapture Cynthia Ann Parker, who was famously kidnapped by the Comanche. Another took on a murdering Indian war party in a different way – he prosecuted the warriors in court, won and they wound up in Huntsville, a first on the Texas frontier. One lost his bid for re-election due to Mexican bandits, another governor had been a Forty-Niner but didn’t like California.
They were a feisty bunch. Gov. David Burnet challenged Sam Houston to a duel. James P. Henderson was governor when the Mexican-American War broke out. He turned the state government over to his lieutenant governor and led Texas troops in the war. Sul Ross was a Texas Ranger and Confederate general. (He was the one in the raid that rescued Cynthia Ann Parker.) Pendleton Murrah was born in South Carolina. His parents’ birthplace and date are unknown. Throughout his life, there was a rumor that Murrah was illegitimate. In a case of irony, after secession, President Lincoln offered to send Union troops to keep Houston (an anti-secessionist) in power as governor. Houston refused, and was forced out of office. Later a scalawag governor, Edmund Davis, called on President Grant to send in Union troops so that Davis could stay in power, even though he had lost his re-election bid to Richard Coke. Grant refused, but Davis wouldn’t leave. So for several days Coke and his legislature held forth on the second floor of the Capitol while Davis and his old legislature passed their own laws on the first floor.
One of our stranger stories involves James “Pa” Ferguson who was impeached for using state funds for his own expenses. He was kicked out of the governorship with the legal decree that Ferguson could never hold state office again. No problem. A few years later he ran his wife, Miriam (or “Ma”), who won, and Ferguson was back in the Governor’s Mansion.
Of the governors since statehood, only four, including our current leader, Rick Perry, have been Republicans, but all have been Protestants – no Jews, no Catholics, no Muslims. The youngest governor was Dan Moody, who was 33 years old when elected. Most of our governors received at least some higher education from Texas schools, but several held degrees from Harvard University, the College of William and Mary, Virginia Military Institute, the University of Virginia and Yale. George W. Bush was only one of three governors born north of the Mason-Dixon Line, and is our only recent governor not to have graduated from a Texas public high school. Preston Smith, who owned a string of movie theaters and was our first governor from West Texas, succeeded John Connally as governor, becoming the first lieutenant governor to go directly to the governorship by election since Hardin R. Runnels defeated Houston in an 1857 contest. Rick Perry doesn’t count because he was elevated to the governorship after Bush won election to the presidency, then Perry was elected on his own. Gov. George T. Wood rode a mule around Texas. At night Wood took a rope and tied one end to the mule and the other end to his ankle. Wood refused to wear socks.
The Constitution of 1876 put the governor’s salary at $4,000. Today it is $93,432, but there is a pay raise in the works. The governor gets to live in a big house in the center of Austin, although during visiting hours there is a constant line of strangers walking through the downstairs. When Sam Houston lived in the mansion, he became so tired of his children sliding down the banister that he drove nails into the top side. The nail holes are still there. The Texas Constitution states that the governor has the use of the mansion’s furniture – and you thought our lawmakers couldn’t handle the big problems.
While the office of governor of Texas is not as strong as in some other states, the law declares: “He shall have power to call forth the militia to execute the laws of the State, to suppress insurrections, and to repel invasions.” Alas, the governor used to have specific powers to call out the troops to chase Mexican bandits and marauding Indians. He lost that right in 1999. Yes, indeed, in 1999. Well, as we noted at the beginning, Kinky Friedman would have big boots to fill – with or without the socks. H