Former governor Bill Clements puts pen to paper in today’s op-ed page, essentially arguing that if Kay Bailey doesn’t stay put, she risks giving Texas back to the Democrats. (The bloody fight, you see, will provide “the Democrats an opening to make a speedy comeback to political prominence.”)
Clements cites his own gubernatorial quest as historical evidence. But it seems to me that in the interest of slapping down Kay, Clements overlooks something he ought not overlook. And no, I don’t mean the fact that the Democrats don’t have a credible candidate.
I mean scandal with a capital “S.” That is, Sharpstown.
In the early seventies, no one can deny that Texas was already moving to the right. John Connally would soon switch parties, and other key players would follow. But what really hurt the Democrats in Texas was the scandal of Sharpstown, which broke open in 1971. It took down Governor Preston Smith, gubernatorial hopeful (and anointed star of the party) Ben Barnes, and House Speaker Gus Mutscher and his loyalists (opponents pummeled his faction in the 72 election with signs like “Why fire the ventriloquist and hire the dummy”).
That swept away party stalwarts, eroded the base, opened the door to the Governor’s Mansion for the “rarely seen, rarely heard” Dolph Briscoe, and infuriated voters. That, in turn, provided momentum for the Rs, which Clements built on in 1978.
As of right now, Perry and the Rs don’t have to worry about the dreaded “S” word, and that dramatically changes the “Kay for Guv will show Ds the Luv” scenario.
By the way, Bill and Rita Clements’ house ranked No. 63–at $5.79 million–in our April issue’s “100 Most Expensive Homes in Dallas.” Way to go, governor.