I note with sadness the passing of Douglas Sloan Harlan, 65, of San Antonio, a longtime friend dating back to our college days at Rice University. Doug was a staunch Republican in the days when the GOP was struggling to establish itself as a force in this state. In 1972 he ran for Congress on a shoestring budget against O. C. Fisher, a fourteen-term Democratic committee chairman. This race was one of the first indications that the dominance of the rural conservative Democrats in Texas politics could not be sustained. The narrowness of Fisher’s victory led him to retire rather than seek reelection in 1974. Doug sought the open seat against Democrat Bob Krueger, a Shakespearian scholar from Duke University, who had returned to his native New Braunfels to run for Fisher’s former seat. Krueger would set a record for spending in a congressional race, while Doug again struggled to raise money; in lieu of billboards, he stationed volunteers on overpasses who would wave placards at passing motorists. Krueger prevailed in another very close race. That was the end of Doug’s career in electoral politics, but he continued to be a presence in San Antonio as an active participant in community affairs, including a stint as chancellor of the local community college. Longtime Republicans recall that he established Camp Wannameetagop (as only Doug would have called it), an informal networking group that met at Camp Allen near Brenham for several years starting in 1979. Doug was a founder, along with Cyndi Taylor Krier, Andrew Sansom, Lee Jackson, and Chase Untermeyer. The idea of the camp was to bring together younger Republicans from around Texas for endless political talk and grudge matches of volleyball. In addition to Kay Hutchison and Jeff Wentworth, Wanameetagop alumni who went on to distinction include the future county judges of Bexar (Krier), Dallas (Jackson), and Harris (Ed Emmett).
Doug was a lawyer, a teacher, and a prolific writer. He wrote several pieces for Texas Monthly in the seventies that shed light on the divisions in the Republican party in that era – between Bill Clements and Ray Hutchison, and between George H. W. Bush and conservatives who favored Ronald Reagan. He wrote a Sunday column for the San Antonio Light for almost a quarter of a century.
Doug loved politics. He spent the summer before his junior year working for U.S. senator John Tower, the first Republican elected to statewide office in Texas. I remember that he returned to school with Senate and White House stationery. I also remember – who could forget? – that whenever I dropped by to see him in San Antonio, he would wash the freezer burn off the ice cubes before serving me a soft drink.
Two years ago I learned from my former Rice classmate and Texas Monthly colleague Griffin Smith that Doug had been diagnosed with multiple system atrophy, an incurable and untreatable affliction. One of his first actions was to make a $1.1 million donation to Rice establishing the Douglas S. Harlan Program in State Elections, Campaigns, and Politics. Last night, Griffin and I shared stories about Doug, as old friends will. Too soon, our conversation came to an end.
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