From the Annals of the Governors – In 1874, Richard Coke was inaugurated as the 15th Governor of Texas. Coke was a Democrat and his election as Governor is considered to be the end of Reconstruction in Texas. Coke’s election was the subject of legal controversy. The Texas Supreme Court invalidated the election, but Coke ignored the ordered and with supporters and militia seized control of the physical Governor’s office at the State Capitol. The incumbent governor requested that President Grant send in federal troops, but Grant declined to intervene and Coke took office.
Coke was a veteran of the Southern Rebellion. After the war he was appointed a Texas District Court judge, and in 1866 he was elected as an associate justice to the Texas Supreme Court. His political career took off when the military governor General Philip Sheridan removed Coke and four other judges as ‘an impediment to reconstruction.’ The removal made Coke famous and he took advantage of his new found celebrity to run for Governor in 1873. Resentment to Union occupation insured his victory and reestablished the Democratic Party as the power base in Texas for the next 100 years. Unfortunately, the Democrats power was based on disenfranchisement of Blacks, Mexican-Americans and poor whites through the use of poll taxes, overt discrimination and “White Primaries” in which only white property owners could vote. Winning the Democratic Primary was tantamount to victory. Coke’s legacy as Governor is largely one of discrimination and abuse of power. However, he did usher in the Constitution of 1876 which remains the basis for Texas government today – however heavily amended. Coke resigned as Governor after being elected to the U.S. Senate where he served from 1876 to 1895.
From the Annals of Our Poor Idiot Governors – In 1871 James Edward “Pa” Ferguson was born in Salado. Ferguson was City Attorney and a banker in Belton as well as a political player when he decided to run for governor in 1914. He won election as an anti-prohibitionist Democrat but almost immediately got in trouble. Ferguson engaged in a personal vendetta against University of Texas professors who he believed should be fired. When UT refused to act, he vetoed the appropriations bill for the university with the ultimate result of him being impeached, convicted and removed from office. Ferguson was not done with politics as he later ran for the U.S. Senate and President as a minor third party candidate. He was able to secure the election of his wife Miriam “Ma” Ferguson who was the first woman elected governor of a U.S. State.
Red regards Pa Ferguson as one of a long line of worthless inhabitants of the Governor’s Mansion along with such notables as Pappy O’Daniel, Preston Smith, Dolph Briscoe, John Connally, Bill Clements, George W. Bush, Rick Perry and our current poor idiot governor Greg Abbott. Really, where do they get these guys?
From the Annals of Mr. Texas – In 1941, Lt. Gov. Coke Stevenson was sworn in as Governor of Texas when Pappy O’Daniel resigned to take office as a United States senator. Stevenson’s story is rather remarkable. He grew up in hard scrabble land of the western Hill Country and had almost no formal education. He began work in his teens running mule teams that hauled freight between Junction and Brady. He educated himself on the trail studying history and bookkeeping at night. He worked his way up from janitor to bank cashier and continued to study – this time tackling law under the tutelage of Judge Marvin Blackburn. He passed the bar exam in 1913 and continued his banking career while practicing law. Stevenson organized and became president of the First National Bank in Junction and also aspired to politics. He was elected Kimble County Attorney and County Judge. He later was elected to the Texas House of Representatives in 1928 and became Speaker of the House in a remarkable short five years. In 1939, he was elected lieutenant governor. After succeeding Daniel he was elected governor on his own in 1942 and served until 1947. Unfortunately, he may be most famous for his loss to Lyndon Johnson in the 1948 Democratic Primary. It was a race filled with controversy and scandal and revealed LBJ as a politician who would stop at nothing to win. The race and Stevenson’s own remarkable rise to power is brilliantly chronicled in Robert Caro’s Path to Power volume of his series on LBJ.