I’m sure that many readers are dying to know the answer to this question: If Rick Perry wins the governor’s race with 35% of the vote, which is about his average standing in recent polls, will he post the lowest percentage of any governor in Texas history?
And the answer is . . . Yes. That record is currently held by Elisha Marshall Pease, who defeated five challengers, none of them named Kinky, in 1853. Pease received 13,091 votes, winning comfortably over W. B. Ochiltree, who got 9,178. Altogether, 35,693 voters cast ballots, which means that Pease’s share of the total was 36.68%. Other Texas governors who won with less than a majority of the vote were F. R. Lubbock in 1861, carpetbagger E. J. Davis in 1869, Jim Hogg in 1892, C. A. Culberson in 1894, Dolph Briscoe in 1972, and Ann Richards in 1990.
Perry likes to say that even a governor elected with a minority of the vote is still 100 percent governor. It was certainly true of Elisha M. Pease. The authoritative Handbook of Texas is effusive in its praise:
“Pease was an outstanding governor. Among his important achievements was his pioneering effort to persuade the legislature to establish a system of public education and a state university. Though this effort proved largely premature, Pease’s administration did establish the permanent school fund, and his vision laid the groundwork for future achievement. He also worked to encourage railroad construction in Texas, to put the state penitentiary on a self-supporting basis, and to establish reservations to civilize and educate the state’s Indian population. In addition, he supervised the building campaign that led to the completion of the Governor’s Mansion, the General Land Office building, the State Orphan’s Home (now the Corsicana State Home), and a new Capitol. Perhaps his most significant accomplishment was the settlement of the public debt of the state, by which he made available funds for the establishment of a hospital for the mentally ill and schools for the deaf and blind…all of which he had recommended to the legislature.”
Perhaps there is a lesson here for Rick Perry.