Senator Don Kennard, R.I.P.
Tue March 22, 2011 5:58 am

Kennard died last Thursday after a long illness. He was 81. I remember him as one of the most vibrant senators of his time, a bear of a man who enjoyed a good story and a hearty laugh.

Kennard served during the "giants walked the earth" era of the Senate (or so it seemed to me, as a staffer working my first session). There was A.M. Aikin, the dean, who served 42 years; Barbara Jordan, soon to become the first black woman elected to Congress from a southern state;  arch-enemies Babe Schwartz and Bill Moore, the latter known as the "Bull of the Brazos"; Charlie Wilson, who had a long career in Congress, culminating in his efforts to chase the Soviets invaders from Afghanistan, as chronicled in the Tom Hanks film, "Charlie Wilson's War"; Jack Hightower, who served in Congress and on the Texas Supreme Court; Ralph Hall, who went to Congress and continues to serve to the present day; Oscar Mauzy, another justice on the Texas Supreme Court; and Bill Patman, yet another congressman-to-be, whose father, Wright Patman, was himself legendary congressman.

Kennard is remembered for his 29-hour, 22-minute filibuster to gain four-year status for the University of Texas at Arlington. Schwartz kept the filibuster going with prolonged questions that gave Kennard plenty of time to save his vocal cords while Schwartz was expounding. Another Kennard filibuster, shorter and shared with other Democrats,  helped kill a proposal to include food under the sales tax. I can still picture Kennard strolling into the Senate with a sack of groceries and expounding on the virtues of the fruits and vegetables he extracted therefrom--and on their cost with sales tax included. Labor funded a prime-time statewide telecast of the filibuster. The Senate passed the tax, but the publicity proved fatal, and the House killed it, 145-0.

One of Kennard's most important contributions was to get a penny of the cigarette tax dedicated to the chronically underfunded Parks & Wildlife Department for the benefit of state parks. (In recent years, the "Kennard penny" was replaced by a tax on sporting goods.) After he was defeated for reelection in 1972, state parks have never really had a champion since, certainly not one who came close to matching Kennard's enthusiasm. His contribution to state parks is a reminder that one person can make a difference and his departure leaves a void.

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