The Best of the Texas Century—Politics

Fluke of the Century

Singing flour salesman W. Lee “Pappy” O’Daniel had never even cast a ballot when he entered the 1938 gubernatorial race, but he didn’t let his disinterest in—and downright ignorance of—the political process prevent him from becoming one of Texas’ most popular politicians. With his vaudevillian charm and populist appeal, O’Daniel was, in the words of former governor James “Pa” Ferguson, “a slickhaired banjo-picker…who crooned his way into the governor’s office [and] has been giving the people of Texas a song and dance ever since.” He rose to fame in the twenties, when he began dispensing homespun advice and urging housewives to buy flour on a noonday radio show, singing his trademark song, “Beautiful Texas,” to the accompaniment of the fiddle-playing Light Crust Doughboys. Politicians and journalists laughed outright when the radio star announced his candidacy, but O’Daniel toured Texas on the back of a flatbed truck with his band the Hillbilly Boys and won the governorship with a pledge that he would uphold the Ten Commandments and the Golden Rule. Once elected, he


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