Tuesday, December 6, 2022 Dec 6, 2022
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CLEMENTS PLAYS FOR HIGH STAKES

By George Rodrigue |

It’s. . .showtime!

Center stage stands Texas’ Gov. William P. Clements Jr., resplendent in a gray suit accented by a tie of many colors. Above that ensemble bobs the governor’s head, swiveling to and fro, following the San Antonio press corps like a wary snapping turtle.

The press corps wants to know how much money the governor will spend to get re-elected.

The press: Governor, how much are you gonna spend on your campaign next year?

The governor: Next year? I’m not gonna run for anything next year.

The press: This year. I’ve read $10 million.

The governor: It’s kinda like that old saw, “If you listen long enough, you can hear anything.” Well, my experience tells me that if you read long enough, you can read anything, too. I’ve never used $10 million. That number has never come from me. I don’t know where in the world they get that number. It must’ve been some dreamy night they spent somewhere.

The press: Can you guess how much?

The governor: No, I wouldn’t even try to guess.

The press: Will it be more than last time?

The governor: Well, if you want to be definitive about it, my goal is to spend roughly what I spent last time.

The press: Which was?

The governor: If I remember correctly, it was just under $7 million. Right, Sam [Kinch, of The Dallas Morning News]?

Sam: $7.2, around that.

The governor: I thought it was a little under $7 million.

Sam: Well, do you have all that sacked up? Do you have to do anymore fund raising?

The governor: I never use a sack, Sam.

An outsider-A Washington Post reporter-decides to shoot for a 30-second psychoanalysis of the governor.

The Post: Would you, in looking at your career. .. what would you if you were writing your own epitaph. .. what would you write?

The governor; I’m a Texas ticketsplitter. They’re gonna chisel that on my tombstone.

The Post: “Texas Ticketsplitter?”

The governor: Urn hum.

The Post: Well, uh, urn, sooner or later someone from New Hampshire is gonna come down here and say, ” ’Texas Ticketsplitter? What the hell does that mean?’ “

The governor: Well that’s too bad. Everyone in Texas’ll understand. I’m gonna be buried in Texas. So that doesn’t bother me, some character from New Hampshire.

A local television personality, needing sure-fire footage for her 6 p.m. broadcast, tosses Clements what, in the trade, is known as a slow-pitch question. On this particular campaign stop, the governor will be asked the question five times. But each time he answers it with dewdrop freshness and vigor.

TV personality: Governor, why should people vote for you instead of for your opponent [Attorney General Mark White]?

The governor: Well, if I were asked to look at this objectively, 1 would say that I am competent and he’s incompetent.

Good as his word, Texas’ first Republican governor since Reconstruction has been saying that all over the state. In his speeches, his advertisements and his direct-mail solicitations, Clements has emphasized “competency” as the campaign issue, followed closely by his “Texas Way” pitch (who needs those clowns from New Hampshire?) and the Roots approach, stressed in 30-second TV spots about his father’s ranch in Forney, his youth in Dallas, his work in the oil fields, his tremendous business success and his hard-nosed management of “the Pen-ty-gon” in Washington. He grew up Texas Poor, worked Texas Hard and got Texas Rich. And he still talks Texan. Gov. Bill Clements: A regular, down to earth guy, only better.



WHITE’S CAMPAIGN also seems to be making Clements the central issue. This is a referendum on Bill Clements . . . .not only on policies but also on the substitution of arrogance for leadership,” says David Lindsey, White’s press spokesman.

“A referendum on whether people like Bill Clements?”

“Right.”

“We tried looking for dirt on Clements, and it was pretty hard to come by,” explains John Hansen, a researcher with the White campaign. “What we found was that there are a lot of people out there who believe that Bill Clements doesn’t care about them.” To reinforce those feelings, White has seized every opportunity to paint Clements as, in Lindsey’s words, “a mean, low type.”

Clements has no use for the notion that his strong personality and conservative philosophy might have won him some diehard enemies. “There is about a 30 percent group of people out there who would vote for that ashtray over there if it were running on the Democratic ticket,” he says.

But there’s no doubt that the governor inspires strong feelings both ways and that White is trying to capitalize on the bad feelings about Clements-perhaps more than on any good feelings about himself.

In late September, Clements said he was “not interested” in putting a housewife or consumer representative on the Public Utilities Commission. He wanted someone who understood bonding and utilities as a business, he said, “and I don’t know of any housewife that understands that.” White quickly cut a television spot in which he said that he, Mark White, was in terested.

And when Clements’ campaign literature dredged up a 1963 drunk-driving charge against White, White opened a debate against Clements in Amarillo by facing the governor, waving the literature at Clements and saying, “This is garbage, and that is where the people of Texas are going to throw it.” It looked like a beautiful bit of spontaneous indignation. In fact, the whole encounter had been carefully scripted and rehearsed by White’s advisors, who wanted to show that White, in the words of State Democratic Party Chairman Bob Slagle, “is as tough as Clements and a lot nicer guy.”

“The people of Texas perceive him [Clements] as being at one and the same time tough and arrogant, persistent and abrasive, says Lindsey. White’s people, of course, want the negative thoughts uppermost on election day. Clements’ strategists want to accent the “tough,” rather than the “abrasive.” Texans have always loved quiche-scorning, two-fisted, straight-talking leaders, and the Clements campaign is pitching that image heavily in the Hispanic community, where the governor’s motto is “A Man of His Word.” It seems to be working; in San Antonio, not normally a Republican town, the late September polls were showing Clements a likely winner. (The same was true of GOP Senate candidate Jim Collins.)

In the Anglo community, Clements’ literature has carried slogans such as “Tough enough for Texas.” And former Clements workers say there is some validity to the claim. “He’ll eat you alive in a management setting, and that’s his style if you make a mistake,” says Paul Wrotenberry, his former budget director. “There’ve been times I might want to hit him, when he’s chomping on me. But.. .that’s his style. That’s how he gets things done…. That [oil] drilling business is not for pansies. And deep down 1 think he’s very nice.”

To get a few million Texans feeling like Wrotenberry and to get those Texans to vote, the Clements campaign has raised more than $9.3 million-twice White’s war chest – and mounted perhaps the largest direct-mail campaign in state political history. Come election day, the Clements phone banks will mount a massive get-out-the-vote effort, calling Texans that campaign members know will favor Clements.



COL. FRED Barricklow, who upon his retirement from the military joined the political science department at San Antonio State College, runs one of Clements’ two phone banks in that city.

“We’ve got 12 phones here,” he says, gesturing at the converted real estate office where a dozen voices can be heard reading off a sheet of paper before them: “I am a volunteer working to re-elect Gov. Clements. Can we count on you?”

If the voter is for Clements or is undecided, the caller immediately hand-addresses an envelope for that voter. It will be filled with Clements literature and mailed a few weeks before the election. Besides the 12 callers at work this morning, the San Antonio center has six volunteers looking up phone numbers and another two keeping the precinct lists in order.

Clements’ forces want to saturate two out of every three precincts in San Antonio; so far, 689 volunteers have offered their services to Col. Barricklow alone. In Dallas, the callers hope to reach voters in virtually every precinct with the aid of 3,000 to 3,500 volunteers, according to Martha Weisend, Dallas County campaign chairman. So far, all six Dallas phone centers are above their quotas. The campaign hopes to mail 200,000 information packets to Dallasites who might vote for Clements.

“You’d be surprised how many people will vote for someone just because someone else asks them to,” says Barricklow. It might be faster to type voters’ addresses on the envelopes, he adds, but “it’s psychologically better to have the letters hand-addressed.

“This lady on the phone is Mrs. -, and her husband’s a retired colonel,” he says, pointing to the back of one snow-white head of hair. “And this is Mrs.—–, and her husband’s also a retired colonel. And here’s Mrs. –, who’s husband’s a retired colonel. And that’s Colonel Starke in there stuffing envelopes. And here’s Margue-rita. We give her all the Hispanic names, and if they start speaking Spanish she can just shift to that with them.”

“Is her husband a retired colonel?”

“Yes. We’ve had a lot of help from the retired military community. We’ve got just about all of our slots filled, except for some evenings, and those’ll be filled once the corporations start helping out. We’ve got Tesoro Petroleum bringing in 20 people each Thursday 6:30 to 9, and First Interbank is gonna take Tuesdays.”

There are 40,000 retired military personnel in San Antonio, and they form the backbone of many political campaigns around there. Clements counts himself lucky to have their solid support this year.

There’s a great deal of political gossip around San Antonio about the Democrats having to hire phone callers. That’s why Clements’ people stress that they’re volunteers. And they don’t work for anybody but Clements, who’s being careful not to mess in other people’s races. “As the governor says, his plate’s full,” says Bar-ricklow. “And I think he’s smart enough to realize that he’ll have to work with [Democratic Lt. Gov. Bill] Hobby and those people. You don’t see him going around bad-mouthing them.”



POLLSTERS AND reporters have found three types of voters in the governor’s race this year: Those who are strongly for Clements, those who strongly oppose him and those who are upset by Ronald Reagan’s national policies and may use the Texas gubernatorial race to send the president a message. Mark White will get votes mainly because he is a Democrat and is not Bill Clements. Both candidates are, in effect, running on Clements’ record.

“I like to say that the governor has three powers: veto, appointment and persuasion,” says Grant Jones, the Democratic chairman of the State Senate Finance Committee. Unlike most major states, Texas does not allow its governor to directly run state executive departments. Rather, the governor appoints the boards and commissions that run each department subject only to its budget and to the Legislature. And the governor has relatively little consitutional authority over the budget; he is not even responsible for drawing up the official proposal that goes before the Legislature every two years. The conventional wisdom is that Texas’ governor is a very weak official. Baloney, says Clements. “The governor’s office is what you make of it.”

Clements eventually made quite a lot of the governor’s office, but not until after a rocky start-up. During his first biennium, his newness to state government showed. He had promised to cut 25,000 state employees; he managed maybe 3,000, by his reckoning, which the state comptroller’s office thought optimistic. He promised $1 billion in tax relief; he managed maybe $80 million and explained that he had used the billion-dollar figure in his campaign because it was “easy to talk about.”

Not that Clements didn’t work hard. But he started late-the Legislature had been wrestling with the budget for weeks by the time he took office-and sometimes he just came at things from the wrong direction. He tried to save $341 million by cutting a 5 percent annual pay hike for teachers, despite 12 and 15 percent inflation. He vetoed a wildlife bill that deserved to die, but before its passage, he had given no indication of his disfavor. Had he done so, the bill might never have passed. As it was, the legislators overrode the veto. It was the first time in 38 years that a Texas Legislature had defied a governor.

He also vetoed a $30-million prison construction appropriation. Quite possibly the funds could not have been spent in two years anyway, due to a shortage of prison labor. But at the time, Texas’ prison system was under federal court scrutiny and the veto looked bad.

But Bill Clements learns fast. He became a Boy Scout on his 12th birthday and passed the Tenderfoot exam that night. He was an Eagle Scout at 13. At the governor’s first meeting with 400 top state officials, his plea to hold down state spending was met with absolute silence. “Do we have anyone in disagreement?” he asked. “If we have no disagreement, do we have any agreement?” More silence. “I would say we’re not communicating very well. … I’ll see you in your departments.”

And he did. Where before the memberships of state boards and commissions had been apportioned among various constituencies, Clements recognized one constituency: the people of Texas, as represented by the Hon. William P. Clements. He appointed men he’d known most of his life, who he knew agreed with his philosophy of small, efficient, noninterventionist government. He called on oilmen, corporate wizards and a score of capable managers who took pay cuts to enter his administration or serve part-time on agency boards. His appointees often were new to government, but no strangers to handling million-dollar budgets; like Clements, they wanted to run government in a businesslike manner.

On the whole, senior legislators say the caliber of Clements’ appointees has been the brightest spot in his administration. “His bigger appointments to the larger boards have been good people who have been dedicated to doing a good job,” says State Sen. Ray Farrabee, chairman of the State Affairs Committee.

Dallas’ State Sen. Oscar Mauzy, a Democrat, criticizes some of Clements’ appointments to higher education boards for their “parochial” outlooks, and State Rep. John Bryant of Dallas (currently a Democratic candidate for Congress) says the uniformity of Clements’ appointees-rich, white and conservative, as far as the major boards are concerned-runs counter to the idea that many interests should be represented in state government.

But, thanks partly to the sheer number of appointments available to him, Clements can truthfully say that he appointed more Hispanics to state office than any other Texas governor and almost as many blacks as Dolph Briscoe did in his two terms. Says Finance Committee Chairman Jones, “I sure can’t criticize putting people who are successful in government. It’s better than people who need work.”

Clements claims that his administration reduced the number of full-time equivalent state employees by some 3,000; White’s workers note that the state comptroller paid 6,133 more employees in January 1982 than in January 1981, though they cannot convert those numbers to full 40-hour-week equivalents. Even under the comptroller’s figures, however, Clements would have reduced the number of state “bureaucrats” per thousand Texans by almost 10 percent and held the state’s per-capita budget growth to a little more than half the rate of inflation.

Clements also learned to handle the Legislature. “The difference between 1979 and 1981 was like night and day,” says Dallas State Sen. John Leedom, a Republican. In 1979 Clements had tried to cram an unrealistic budget down the Legislature’s throat. In 1981, there were precious few differences between Clements’ budget and that of the legislative board controlled by House Speaker Bill Clayton and Lt. Gov. Bill Hobby. Clements, the supreme outsider, was becoming an inside man. He won passage of some of the most sweeping education and criminal-law bills in years.

“Partly, it was just a matter of getting to know the personalities,” Clements says. More precisely, says one veteran legislator, it was a matter of knowing whom the governor had to do favors for and whom he had to listen to. Clements developed a close rapport with Clayton, Hobby and other key legislators.

And it was a matter of political clout, which Clements acquired in two ways. First, he mounted a full-blown attack on President Carter, who lost Texas and the presidency in the 1980 election that brought Texas Republicans two new state senators and 11 new state representatives. That gave the GOP only 36 of 150 house seats, but it boosted the governor’s political stock. Perhaps more important, he enlisted the aid of some of the stale’s most respected and powerful figures: the men and women he’s appointed to his scores of study committees, boards and commissions.

“You can’t imagine how helpful they’ve been,” Clements says. “When you look at those educational bills that were passed, most of those bills had been in one form or another before the Legislature many times before. And they never could get to first base. And that task force that [SMU President emeritus] Dr. Willis Tate put together that represented the full political spectrum …teachers, administrators and so forth, they then in turn fanned out and that’s where the parent teacher associations and the school board associations and the teacher associations all got behind the thing and it was a united effort. And exactly the same thing happened on Ross Perot’s war on drugs, and these people absolutely flooded Austin, and the legislators felt that pressure.

“And these are not unimportant people. They are high-energy people, they are well-informed people, they are from the private sector, they are not paid…. You are talking about someone who really deep in his gut feels strongly about the issue and wants to do something about it.”

Clements used his own political muscle with skill and also with some enjoyment. When his proposals got bottled up in the early days of the session, the governor invoked his power to tag them “emergency” measures, entitled to special consideration. Some capitol reporters wondered whether exempting gasohol from state taxes and reiterating the state’s opposition to pornography were really urgent necessities. Clements smilingly assured them that he’d always thought all of his ideas were “of an emergency nature.” He was part serious, part joking, but he got the Legislature’s attention.

His education package took the first steps toward eliminating social promotions and requiring competency of teachers, and arrived at a sensible compromise on the issue of bilingual education.

Until 1981, Texas did not allow the introduction of oral confessions at felony trials. Clements’ law-and-order package brought Texas’ policies into line with those of the other 49 states.

Perot and Clements won passage of the state’s first wiretap law, plus stiffer sentences for drug traffickers and the banning of all drug-related “paraphernalia.”

Despite being a member of the minority party-or perhaps due to that potential hindrance-Clements worked the Legislature better than any governor since Allan Shivers, some of his supporters say.

“I think that one of the best things he did was getting along with the Legislature, regardless of party,” says Republican State Sen. Ike Harris of Dallas. “He [Clements] established good rapport. Dolph Briscoe dealt with the Legislature through his staff, which was Mark White. Preston Smith? You’d think he’d have good relationships, but he didn’t. And John Con-nally also had his friends carry water for him. Shivers would invite them over for drinks, out to the ranch. He’d go onto the floor [of the Capitol] and ask if they needed anything.

“Everyone in politics has a big ego, and there’s nothing like on a tight vote and the Governor walks up to you and says, ’Ike, I sure could use your vote.’ “

With another term, the governor thinks he can complete his reforms. He will have appointed every member of the state’s boards and authorities by then. He will have had two more cracks at the Legislature. His long-range planning will be complete. And he will have made enough judicial appointments-which he generally has dispensed to Republicans or to Democrats willing to switch to the GOP – to give the Republicans a good base of candidates in Texas’ larger cities.

Clements would very much like to run on his record. He has taken what could be mostly a ceremonial office and worked 16-hour days. His staff, unlike that of some of his predecessors, knows how state government works. Clements has a day-to-day effect on the agencies. And he has not ignored long-range planning; his Texas 2000 study has been projecting the state’s future problems and needs, as have numerous specialized task forces.

The issues in Texas, he could tell an Arlington crowd last October, are education, law and order, efficient government and water. “And all of those are my issues.”

Still the economy continues to hurt. At the Arlington appearance, Clements was waylaid by a reporter who wanted to know what he thought of Texas Instruments laying off 2,700 workers.

“I feel very bad about it,” Clements said. “1 know the Texas Instruments people extremely well, and I’m sure this is a temporary slip in their affairs.”

The press: Does it make you change your feeling about Texas having the country’s most healthy economy?

The governor: No. And it’s a fact. It doesn’t matter how I feel about it.

The press: We called the [U.S.] Bureau of Labor Statistics and they said Texas was 8th in employment among the top 10 largest industrial states.

The governor: You mean Texas was first.

The press: No.

The governor: Had the lowest rate.

The press: No.

Clements explained that he obtained his figures from the Bureau of Economic Research at U.T. Austin, and from magazines such as Fortune and Inc. During the past few years, he says, “Forty percent of all the new jobs in the country have been created here in Texas. And since I became governor, 800,000 new jobs have been created in Texas.”

As it turned out, Clements and the reporter both were right. Through August, Texas had the lowest unemployment rate among the 10 largest states. Those were the government figures that the governor relied on. But new figures, the last that would be released before the election, showed that between August and September Texas’ unemployment rate soared from 6.7 percent to 8.4 percent. Texas suddenly was in eighth place, with the third lowest unemployment rate among the largest states. Clements still could say that compared with the rest of the country Texas’ economy was sound, but as President Reagan points out, it’s a recession when your neighbor loses his job and a depression when you lose yours. As of September, there were 638,000 Texans in the throes of a deep depression.

As the November election drew closer, Clements seemed to be distancing himself from the Reagan administration. He did not mind crowing over the defeat of the president’s immigration reform proposals; he told a radio talk-show audience that the administration has “no energy policy.” He did not invoke Reagan in his speeches.

Small wonder, says Austin political consultant George Shipley, who is working for several conservative “boll weevil” Democratic congressmen. “The economy is the foremost issue in Texas today,” he says, and Clements’ fate probably will be determined by how effectively he can fend off blame for rising unemployment.

Clements isn’t responsible for the national economy, Shipley says, “but politics and reality are two different things.” More than most governors, Clements stands to catch some blame for Reaganomics.

To ward off blame for the administration’s agriculture program, Clements flew to Washington in early October to check on why tobacco from Sen. Jesse Helms’ home state of North Carolina remained subsidized while some West Texas crops such as peanuts did not.

The trip paid off. When U.S. Rep. Eligio “Kika” de la Garza, a Texas Democrat who chairs the House Agriculture Committee, cornered the governor and asked him what the president planned to do about the 48 percent of Texas farms that are delinquent on their U.S. Farmers Home Administration loans, Clements was able to answer that within 10 days he expected some “semi-guarantees” of aid for farmers in danger of foreclosure. Glad to hear it, said de la Garza; it sounded like everything would be “appropriately timed for November.” If it is, that won’t hurt Clements at all.



IT’S A BIT ironic to find Mark White making a major campaign issue of Clements’ approach to the poor, because Clements started out that way himself. He was born in 1917 in a house on Maple-wood. His father’s ranching and farming business gave the family a comfortable income, but the Great Depression hurt the Clements family as it did so many others. When Bill graduated from Highland Park High School in 1934, he had average grades, had been voted “Most Popular Boy” in his class and was offered several football scholarships in recognition of his ferocious all-state performance as a lineman. Instead, he went to the oil fields. “It was dirty work, tough work, hard work, but I could make more money quicker there than anywhere else,” he says. For 15 months he sent much of his $150 a month pay to his family. Then his father got a job managing a ranch, and Bill decided to give SMU a try. He headed back to the oil patch before getting a degree; an oil worker earned more than a graduate engineer.

In 1947, he started Southeast Drilling Company with two used rigs and backing from Dallas oilman Toddie Lee Wynne. He worked 20-hour days – on the rigs during the day and on the books at night. He helped Sedco become one of the pioneer firms in the design and construction of offshore drilling rigs and prudently rejected invitations to enter markets in Libya, Egypt and Venezuela. “When God passed around judgment, he didn’t pass me up,” Clements says (though the Lord didn’t keep Sedco out of Iran). By 1973, when Clements left Dallas to become Nixon’s deputy secretary of defense, Sedco was the world’s largest drilling company.

Though Clements is now very rich, he’s never been absorbed totally by the pursuit of wealth. He served as chairman of the SMU Board of Governors from 1965 to 1973. Long before he was a public figure, he devoted countless hours to the Boy Scouts, as everything from scoutmaster to member of the national executive board.

Clements’ political problems may come less from his heart than from his mouth. He called the Campeche Bay oil spill “a big to-do about nothing,” branded the governor of Arizona “a clown” and opined that West Texas could solve its water problems by “stealing” from Arkansas.

White’s strategists have exploited Clements’ tendency to shoot from the lip. The governor could accurately charge that White’s office lost some expensive default judgments by failing to file timely appeals. Instead, he accused White of “losing” several big-name lawsuits that the state did, in fact, win on appeal. White replied with a series of radio advertisements that essentially said, “Tsk tsk, that Clements will say anything to get elected.”

Ike Harris says Clements told a group of senior GOP legislators that he realized his staff’s resurrection of the drunk-driving allegation against White was not helping his image any. The governor said he would back away from that topic, Harris recalls. And yet when White made his “garbage” remark, Clements couldn’t help but retort that he found the charge against White “very interesting.”

Another politician might have backed off that issue, just as he might have greeted news of the Texas Instruments layoffs with a few comforting words for the unemployed workers, however ineffective those comments might be in changing actual events. That isn’t Clements’ way. He’s not a man to smooth over the rough edges of life. What you get from him is straight talk and the hard, unvarnished truth. It’s not the usual language of the politician, but you know exactly where he stands.

During the San Antonio radio talk show, a supporter of the governor called and asked what could be done about the 4,000 layoffs at Lone Star Steel’s East Texas plant. Several of his friends had lost their jobs. Clements gave a flawless three-minute description of the state, national and world economic reasons for the plant closing, ending his remarks by noting that Lone Star specialized in steel goods for the oil industry, which can go for another 18 months without buying a single ton of such items. “We’ll just have to wait a-while,” Clements said.

Clements thinks in straight lines. Getting things done, and damn the torpedoes. That’s Clements’ style. Got a problem? Get the facts. Get the resources. Get it fixed. Skip the BS. For Clements, adopting Hubert Humphrey rhetoric would be about as bizarre as donning a Brooks Brothers suit.

On “competence” alone, Clements probably would win the election, Shipley says. “But with economic problems like this, it’s hard to win by saying, ’1 did my job, and I haven’t been a crook.’ ” Hence, Clements has been endorsed by three former Democratic Texas governors and four former attorneys general, but the mid-October polls showed White running stronger in the Panhandle than any Democrat in years.

Clements beat Democratic Attorney General John Hill in 1978 by only 16,000 votes-less than 1 percent of the ballots cast. He did it by saying, “I guarantee you that if you liked Jimmy Carter, you’re gonna love John Hill.” At the time, only one out of every four Texans could stand Jimmy Carter.

Reagan’s personal popularity rating remains in the forties throughout Texas, but his economic policies have riled a good many voters. Clements, who rode a Republican tide into office, will have to swim against a Democratic current to keep it.