Archive for August 7th, 2017

First a Facebook post Saturday from Pulitzer Prize winning columnist Lisa Falkenberg:

Political courage is hard to come by these days. Sometimes I wish I were old enough to have seen it in action. I was saddened today to learn of former Gov. Mark White’s passing. As governor, he risked his political future to improve schools for Texas students and support teachers, efforts that required a tax increase. We used to be willing to invest in our future. Not anymore. In his retirement, Gov. White was still active. He served on boards, and I’d see him around town at …

…. I came away impressed with his insight and his grace. #RIP, governor. We can all learn a thing or two from your life of service.

Here is the beginning of a RG tweet from Saturday: White didn’t get the credit he deserved.

Today he is getting credit. Over the last 36 hours, I am finally getting to read and hear about Governor Mark White’s legacy and a great one at that.

Full disclosure. Commentary served Governor White for five years. In 1982 as a key member of his campaign team and from 1983 – 1986 as a Special Assistant to the Governor.   He was my former boss and he was my friend.   And I was there to see his political courage in action from a front row seat, heck more like from a trainer’s stool in a prizefighter’s corner.

I recognize describing someone as “the real deal” is overused but that is who Mark White was – the real deal. He had backbone, courage, balls, a great sense of humor who could also make fun of himself. More importantly, unlike many elected officials of today, he took responsibility and didn’t blame others.

As a campaigner, he was amongst the best if not the best. Yeah, as a typical campaign day would start, he would gripe about starting early and ending late on a schedule with multiple stops. Once he got into campaign mode though he turned it on, he was genuine. He would look his fellow Texan in the eye and take in their concern and/or issues. He wasn’t one of those candidates shaking a voter’s hand while at the same time looking over at the next person in line. He was all eye contact to the max and was very accessible and engaging. He never talked down to folks. Grocery store cashiers, farmworkers, business owners, he treated them all the same. At the end of a campaign day he came away with a personal sense of what was important to the Texans he had engaged.

Over the last couple of days, a lot has been written about Governor White on his championing of education reforms, supporting teacher pay raises, and leading the charge in the diversification of Texas’ economy. Here is this from the Statesman:

Gov. Mark White, the last hurrah of the Texas Democratic Party’s conservative wing, delayed the full emergence of the Republican Party of Texas, diversified the state’s boom-and-bust oil economy and championed public education reforms that helped end his political career.

Governor White did start out in the conservative wing of the Democratic Party but I don’t feel that we took office in 1983 as the conservative wing. I never felt for one day I was working for a conservative or advancing a conservative agenda.

While in office he travelled to a fundraiser at the D.C. area home of the late Sen. Ted Kennedy and Kennedy greeted us on his driveway when we pulled up. Unlike some Texas Democratic elected officials at the time, Governor White didn’t have any problem being seen with the likes of Sen. Kennedy and the late New York Governor Mario Cuomo.

I guess folks have forgotten about the Indigent Health Care Program bill of 1985.   It was the last night of the 69th Legislative Session and conservatives and GOPers ran out the clock on the Indigent Health Care Program bill. A few minutes past sine die, members of the Mexican American Legislative Caucus (MALC) hurried over to the Governor’s office and met with the Governor and demanded that he immediately call a special session. The MALC members were justifiably p_ssed off – not at us – that the bill was killed. The Governor listened intently, huddled with some of us on the staff then visited with Lieutenant Governor Bill Hobby and Texas House Speaker Gib Lewis and called for a special session to begin the following morning. The bill passed a few days later.

He signed a key farmworker supported legislation and the signing took place at the Basilica of Our Lady of San Juan del Valle in the Rio Grande Valley surrounded by farmworkers and Latino state legislators.

Governor White also believed it was important that state government should look more like the people that it served. He was the first governor to systematically begin to appoint women and folks of color to major boards and commissions and name the same type of folks to key positions on his staff, including senior staff.

Here is from an AP story:

The no-pass, no-play initiative, which barred students from playing school sports if they were failing a class, was a politically tricky and unpopular move in a state crazy about its high school football. It had to survive a challenge in the state Supreme Court.

White underestimated the passionate resistance to no-pass, no-play that sparked protests and a few threats of violence.

“It was horrible,” White said. “I misread the intensity of it until I saw it for myself in West Texas. My security people thought I should go by myself: ‘Here’s my gun. You go.'”

I accompanied the Governor on that trip to Odessa and Midland. We met with teachers and coaches in a local hotel conference room. The Governor patiently listened and explained his actions. I remember the teachers and coached being irate and vocal but at the same time respectful.

Weeks later we visited the Rio Grande Valley and were greeted by hundreds of teachers protesting the Governor and the testing provision of the education reform bill.

And this is from RG:

It would be easy to look upon Mark White’s single term as governor as a failure because of his re-election defeat. But student athletes perform better today because no pass, no play forces them to, class size was reduced to make teaching more effective, and the Legislature increased education spending 26 percent to equalize state public spending statewide.

At the end of White’s term, the state paid 67 percent of all education costs in Texas. Today, the state’s share is down to 38 percent. One could reasonably argue that local property taxes are rising in part because no politician today has the courage to say, as White once did, “Blame me.”


Governor White had touch choices to make back then and he made them. For our schools, for our teachers, for our infrastructure, to keep state government working – he made them and it cost him dearly. He wouldn’t have done it differently.

Let me end with this from an article yesterday:

The credit for White’s (1982) upset largely went to U.S. Sen. Lloyd Bentsen and Lt. Gov. Bill Hobby, who financed a massive Democratic turnout effort that propelled a generation of Democrats, including Ann Richards, Jim Mattox, Jim Hightower and Garry Mauro, into higher office.

(White campaign treasurer Shannon) Ratliff said White didn’t get credit for his contribution to the 1982 electoral sweep.

“If you went into the black precincts and in the rural areas, Mark White did better than Bentsen and Hobby,” he said.

This has always been a political pet peeve of mine, but I didn’t want to expend a whole lot of political energy on this back them but now that Governor White will be going to his grave, I will address it. Give Governor White’s campaign its credit.

I travelled the state in 1982 and visited and met with the political folks on the ground. They were excited about Mark White’s campaign. Yeah, the other campaigns spent money but so did we.   The White-Clements race was one of the most watched in the country that year and certainly the premier race in Texas. Do you even remember who the GOP put up against Sen. Bentsen and Lt. Gov. Hobby? Yeah, I didn’t think so.

Folks just didn’t want to give White his due just like folks didn’t want to give him his just due after we got beat in 1986.

By the way, it was Cong. Jim Collins and George Strake and also by the way, there were more votes cast in the governor’s race that year than in the other two.

I was proud to have worked for Governor White. He was a political giant, but he certainly didn’t act like one. We accomplished a lot. It was the greatest honor in my life to work for him. He was a great guy.  He loved Texas.

God bless Texas and God bless Governor Mark White.

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