The Man in the Black Hat, Part Two

Can a rancher in South Texas take on the third-largest oil company in the world and win? He can if his name is Clinton Manges and he has made it his business to have friends in high places.

Spring is the best of seasons in Duval County. The dust that hangs in the South Texas air for the rest of the year has returned for the moment to the pebbly soil, tamped down by the rains that accompany the dying thrusts of winter. The huisache is in bloom, and for once the brush seems almost benign. Spring is the most welcome time in Duval County for another reason. It is the season for politics, an activity that has attained the status of a sport in the land the patróns once ruled. In towns like Benavides and Realitos and San Diego, the county seat, not a telephone pole escapes the placards of the candidates. If one is so inclined, he can dine almost every night on beans and barbecue at a rally somewhere in the county.

Early in the spring of 1982, several hundred people gathered for such a rally on a large ranch west of Freer. In many ways it was typical. The food tables were loaded with mesquite-smoked brisket and short ribs, pinto beans and jalapenos, tortillas and white bread, sliced onions and pickles. Set up outside, the tables were illuminated with lights strung on temporary poles. In a nearby building, a country-and-western band sawed away while a solitary couple danced. One of the hostesses wore a brown double-knit pantsuit, house slippers, and enormous diamond earrings.

But this was no ordinary rally. Few local candidates were present. Instead the grounds were overrun with supplicants for statewide office, for the state senate, for judgeships. State comptroller Bob Bullock was there. So was Jim Mattox, now the attorney general; Garry Mauro, now the land commissioner; Jim Hightower, now the agriculture commissioner; Ann Richards, now the state treasurer; Bill Kilgarlin, now a Texas Supreme Court justice. The dance hall was actually an airplane

More Texas Monthly

Loading, please wait...