In his heyday Walter Mischer was called the Kingmaker. The Houston real estate developer and banker helped fund the political campaigns of Barbara Jordan, John Connally, and Lloyd Bentsen. He became a national figure in 1980 when he raised more money for Ronald Reagan’s presidential campaign—$3.2 million—than anyone in the country, helping to deliver traditionally Democratic Texas to the GOP.
Today, at age 77, Mischer is no longer the man behind the throne, although he still gives to some candidates, mostly Republicans. He has jettisoned most of his business ventures, including his biggest, Hallmark Residential Group, a home-building company he sold last year for $50 million. He has also let go of most of his ranches, most recently the remaining 51,000 acres of his Black Mesa in West Texas. What’s left of his development business is in a family trust controlled by his son, Walt, and his daughter, Paula.
Yet if he’s not as spry as he used to be—he has battled heart problems and prostate cancer—Mischer can’t keep from wheeling and dealing. He reports to work at his northwest Houston office about four days a week. When I visited him there recently, he was dapperly dressed in a light blue suit and maroon tie. At five feet eight inches tall, with thick glasses and a soft voice, he’s extremely unassuming, making it hard to believe that he was once one of the most powerful men in Texas.
Mischer’s life began inauspiciously. He was born in the tiny South Texas town of Gillett and grew up on his parents’ ranch. But his idyllic childhood was shattered in 1934 when his father was murdered by a jealous family friend. He was eleven at the time. The Depression was on, and most of the ranch was parceled out to creditors. “By the time we got everybody paid off,