Pa Ferguson

OUR OWN TRICKY DICK, James Edward Ferguson was the only Texas governor ever forced out of office for wrongdoing. The same confidence that made him rich inspired him to run for the state’s top office—in his first political campaign. He won, twice, before revelations of financial transgressions brought him down. Loath to part with gubernatorial privilege, Ferguson then presented his wife, Miriam, as a substitute candidate, promising two governors for the price of one (one bumper sticker countered, “No Ma for me—too much Pa”). Not surprisingly, her administrations were equally corrupt. As Father’s Day approaches, we hark back to the era of James “Pa” Ferguson and the scandals he sired.

Born on August 31, 1871, he was raised on a farm near Salado. At age fifteen he was expelled from school for chronic misbehavior.

When he was 26, after no formal study, he received his law degree without being tested because the chairman of the bar-exam committee had known his father.

Ferguson won the governor’s race of 1914, thanks to farmers, whose votes he had targeted by championing agricultural issues. (They nicknamed him Farmer Jim.)

During his run for a second term, his opponent accused him of financial misconduct. Ferguson admitted to having spent state money for groceries, but Texans nonetheless reelected him.

During a spat with the University of Texas in 1916, Ferguson accused faculty members of mishandling funds. The fray revived interest in the similar charges lodged against Ferguson himself. In a special session of the Legislature the next year, he refused to reveal the source of a loan and was summarily impeached. Lieutenant Governor William P. Hobby took over.

Ferguson ran unsuccessfully for the presidency before deciding to orchestrate his wife’s career. Miriam Amanda Wallace Ferguson was elected governor in 1924 and 1932. She was dubbed “Ma” because of her initials as well as her devotion to hearth and home; inevitably, her husband became “Pa.”

During her first term, she issued more than three thousand pardons—bought, opponents alleged, by the convicts’ families. Advertisers in her husband’s Temple newspaper received special favors. Pa often wrote letters on official stationery. She defied him on only one topic: booze. A teetotaler, she refused to serve liquor at official events.

Pa Ferguson died on September 21, 1944. He is buried in the Texas State Cemetery in Austin.

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