Our Foreign Legion

Texas has been producing ambassadors since before it was a republic, but no president since LBJ has appointed as many Texans as Bill Clinton.

WITH ITS LONG HISTORY OF settling disputes with fistfights and frontier justice, Texas isn’t exactly known for white-glove diplomacy. It does, however, have a tradition of producing diplomats, one that predates the Republic of Texas: In 1835 the provisional government of the Mexican province of Texas sent commissioners like Stephen F. Austin to procure aid from foreign countries like the United States. Two years later President Sam Houston tapped surveyor and soldier Jacob “Old Jake” Snively as the Republic of Texas’ ambassador to the Shawnee Indians. And in 1857 former president of the Republic of Texas Mirabeau B. Lamar was named the U.S. minister to Nicaragua and Costa Rica by President James Buchanan. Since those early days, a long list of ambassadors from Texas has represented the nation’s interests abroad, exporting Texas culture all over the globe in the process. Bill Clinton has done his part to perpetuate the tradition: Not since native son Lyndon Johnson was in the White House have so many Texans been dispatched to foreign countries.

Six ambassadors appointed by President Clinton hail from Texas: Dallas lawyer and businesswoman Kathryn Hall, who last year took over as ambassador to Austria after the resignation of Dallas oil heiress Swanee Hunt, another Clinton appointee; former congressman and senator Robert Krueger of New Braunfels, who was named ambassador to Burundi and later to Botswana; San Antonio oil executive Stan McLelland, whose post is Jamaica; Waco insurance company CEO Lyndon Olson, who left for Sweden in January; and Houston lawyer Arthur Schechter, who was sworn in as ambassador to the Bahamas in September.

The list is notable because the majority of ambassadorships aren’t political appointments—and Clinton didn’t even carry Texas in 1996. According to Krueger, a three-time ambassador, about 70 percent of U.S. ambassadors are foreign service professionals, which means that appointed ambassadorships are highly prized positions that are doled out to a select few. Because ambassadors represent the president, he usually handpicks the nominees. Often, they’re from his home state or are party stalwarts from neighboring states. It’s not surprising, then, that Arkansas-bred Clinton would turn to Texas for foreign envoys who happen to be successful in business, well connected in Democratic circles, and major donors to and/or fundraisers for the Democratic party.

For instance, Hall was a member of President Jimmy Carter’s traveling campaign staff, was active in Al Gore’s 1988 bid for the presidency, was a state co-chair for Michael Dukakis in 1988, ran unsuccessfully for Dallas mayor in 1991 (as Kathryn Cain, before she remarried), and was the campaign treasurer for Dallas’ current mayor, Ron Kirk. She’s married to Dallas developer Craig Hall, and they own a vineyard in California’s Napa Valley. Hunt, who resigned her post in 1997 to teach at Harvard’s John F. Kennedy School of Government, is the youngest daughter of Texas billionaire H. L. Hunt and a major Democratic fundraiser and contributor. Krueger taught English literature and was the vice provost and dean of arts and sciences at Duke University before entering politics. He is a prominent Texas Democrat who won two terms in the U.S. House of Representatives in the seventies and was a U.S. senator for six months after Governor Ann Richards appointed him to fill the seat vacated by Lloyd Bentsen when he moved to the Treasury Department in January 1993 (Krueger later ran for the seat, but lost to Kay Bailey Hutchison). McLelland, a former executive vice president and general counsel of Valero Energy Corporation, was a close associate of Texas congresswoman Barbara Jordan. He raised money for Ann Richards’ reelection campaign in 1994 and for the president in 1996. Olson, who has long-standing family ties to the Texas Democratic party, is a former state representative and chairman of the State Board of Insurance and a close friend of one of the most powerful Democrats in the state, Waco insurance magnate and former chairman of the UT Board of Regents Bernard Rapoport. And Schechter is active in Jewish organizations, was the Texas finance chairman of the 1996 Clinton-Gore reelection campaign, and was appointed by Clinton to the advisory council of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C.

Not counting the $1 million that Hunt raised and the $250,000 that she personally contributed to the party, the other Texan ambassadors have collectively given Clinton and the Democratic party more than $600,000 as of last year and raised hundreds of thousands more. The money connection has raised more than a few eyebrows and led to charges that the White House sells ambassadorships. As it happens, Hall, Olson, McLelland, and Schechter were among those feted by Clinton at his White House coffees, which critics lambasted as opportunities for “peddling access” to the president and which the White House said were merely part of its overall fundraising strategy.

Although awarding ambassadorships to political and financial supporters is nothing new, the current ambassadors from Texas downplay any link between the size of their contributions and their new jobs. “I would hope the president chose the person based on qualifications and experience,” Olson says. “I’m not unmindful of the fact that I’ve contributed a lot, but I doubt that had anything to do with it.” Skeptics may roll their eyes at such a statement, but McLelland also insists that money didn’t buy his job: “To this day Bill Clinton doesn’t have any idea how much money I contributed,” he says. “I don’t think that affects his decisions.” And Hall says her legal and business background, her interest in art and culture, and her ability to speak German made the big difference in her appointment.

While Texas has produced a bumper crop of ambassadors recently, its diplomatic output has been steady over the years. Franklin Roosevelt gave Henry Hulme Sevier, the founder of the Austin American newspaper (a predecessor of the American-Statesman), the lofty title “ambassador extraordinary and minister plenipotentiary” to Chile and appointed Edwin Jackson Kyle, from the founding family of Kyle, ambassador to Guatemala. President Harry Truman made Chester W.

More Texas Monthly

Loading, please wait...

Most Read

  • Viewed
  • Past:
  • 1 week