By Lynn Ashby 18 Oct. 2010
So who do you like for governor? Kathie Glass or Deb Shafto? They’re both on the ballot. Actually, it will probably be Rick Perry, again. He has never lost a race, is already our longest-serving governor and the first Aggie to hold the job. Former Houston Mayor Bill White is behind in funds raised and in most of the polls. If elected, he wouldn’t even be the first governor named White.
So let’s look once more at Texas’ leaders, both presidents and governors. We’ve had ranchers, lots of lawyers, a former prisoner of war, fervent Rebels and equally fervent 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. 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. was the largest individual land owner in Texas. Bill Clements was so wealthy he paid to have the Governor’s Mansion re-done. Jim Hogg was so poor when he left office he had to borrow money to move. Later he invested in the Spindletop oil field and became enormously wealthy. John Connally was shot by Lee Harvey Oswald but survived. Beauford Jester was the only one to die in office. Actually he died in a Pullman as the train came into Houston. 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 was Francisco de Garay who came from Spain in 1523, but let’s skip forward to 1836. We’ve had a couple of Indian fighters. Another prosecuted murdering Indian warriors in court, won and they wound up in Huntsville. One lost his bid for re-election due to Mexican bandits, another governor had been a Forty-Niner but didn’t like California.
Gov. David Burnet challenged 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 in the raid that rescued Cynthia Ann Parker.) Pendleton Murrah was born in South Carolina. His parents’ birthplace and dates are unknown. Throughout his life, there was a rumor that Murrah was illegitimate.
In a case of irony, after Texas’ 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 legislators passed their own laws on the first floor.
James “Pa” Ferguson 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 (“Ma”), who won, and Pa Ferguson was back in the Governor’s Mansion.
Only four, including Perry, have been Republicans, but all have been Protestants. The youngest governor was Dan Moody, 33. Most of our governors received at least some higher education from Texas schools, but several held degrees from Harvard, Yale, William and Mary, Virginia Military Institute or the University of Virginia. 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 1857. 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.
We take good care of our governors. The Constitution of 1876 put the governor’s salary at $4,000. Today it is $115,345. And they get free housing. (The Texas Constitution states that the governor also has the use of the Governor’s Mansion’s furniture.) In 2007, the Perrys moved into a gated community while the Mansion was being re-built. Taxpayers paid $9,900 a month in rent, and I didn’t even get a thank you note. While the Perrys were touring Europe, an arsonist burned down a goodly chunk of the Mansion, so they stayed on in their rented digs. Fortunately for the taxpayers, the rent was cut to $9,000 a month. Bill White likes to point out that the final bill will be $362,700, plus another $197,000 annually for related expenses like utilities and butlers.
While the office of governor of Texas is not as strong as in some other states, the Texas Constitution 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 authority in 1999. Yes, indeed, in 1999.
Ashby governs at email@example.com