Last spring General Robert McDermott, chairman of USAA Insurance in San Antonio, decided to get involved in the battle over the state budget. He sent letters to a number of legislators, urging them to raise taxes to pay for education. This intervention by one of the state’s most influential businessmen had an effect, all right, but not the one he intended. An option before the Legislature was a tax on insurance premiums. When insurance industry lobbyists swarmed into a House Ways and Means Committee hearing to protest, chairman Stan Schlueter of Killeen was waiting for them. “You said you wanted higher taxes,” Schlueter said, waving McDermott’s letter in the air. “Fine. You can pay for them.”
About the same time, another leading Texas businessman was engaged in negotiations with state highway officials, who wanted to put a freeway interchange on his property north of Dallas. H. R. “Bum” Bright, whose financial empire includes trucking, oil, and real estate interests, a savings and loan chain, and the Dallas Cowboys, had insisted that the state pay him for taking his land. Highway officials had insisted that he donate it, since the freeway would greatly increase the value of Bright’s remaining land—and when Bright refused, they began looking at alternate routes. The issue remains unsolved.
Meanwhile, Robert Bass’s term on the State Highway Commission had expired. Bass wanted the governor to reappoint him. There was a slight hitch—he had supported Mark White instead of Bill Clements—but it’s understood that job-holders usually go with the incumbent, and besides, he is one of the Bass brothers, and . . . so sorry, better luck next time.
McDermott humiliated, Bright denied, Bass rebuffed: a trilogy that would not, could not, have happened a decade ago. What has happened to power in Texas?
In 1979 a UT-Arlington government professor named George Norris Green wrote a book called The Establishment in Texas Politics. He dated the rise of the establishment—“a loosely knit plutocracy comprised mostly of Anglo businessmen, oilmen, bankers, and lawyers”—from 1938, when “conservative, corporate interests took over the state, once and for all, perhaps permanently.”
Those words seem as alien to our time as Hohenzollern Germany. No one in the business and political leadership of Texas even mentions the establishment anymore. It doesn’t exist. It has been replaced by a small group of movers and shakers who have been able to influence public policy not because of their wealth and position alone, the way the establishment did, but because they have something to say about the future of Texas. In the wreckage of the eighties, ideas are a coin more precious than gold.
To be eligible for the list of most powerful Texans, a person has to meet three criteria. First, he has to exercise his influence in the state. T. Boone Pickens qualifies: Treasury Secretary James A. Baker does not, though both operate on a national scale. Second, he has to focus his influence on public affairs. Dominique de Menil can bend the art world to her will, but that is not the form of power being measured here. Third, he must be an instigator of events, not merely an expediter. Very few politicians are instigators; consequently few of their tribe qualify for the list. One politician who is conspicuously missing is Governor Bill Clements. His leading role in the SMU scandal and his attempt to cut spending for education have destroyed his credibility. The governor does have power, of course, but it is only the politician’s power to promote his friends and punish his enemies, not the greater power to persuade.
What about money? If not a prerequisite for power, it is at least a frequent companion—especially in Texas, where political organizations such as parties, unions, and special-interest groups are much weaker than those in the boss-run Northeast. Because political candidates can’t count on institutions for votes, they have to reach the electorate on their own. That requires money—a lot of money. The people who provide it in effect have purchased an option on influence. As with any option, what happens next depends upon whether, and how, the owner exercises it. Without doubt the reliance on big donors and fundraisers carries the potential for corruption, but then so does the boss system. Like it or not, money is to politicians what gasoline is to the internal combustion engine—you can’t run without it. Money is also the principal reason why the power list is, for now, exclusively the province of men. Some of the nation’s richest and most powerful women live in Texas, but they use their money to exert power over culture, not public policy.
Here are the ten most powerful Texans, ranked in order of their importance.
1. H. Ross Perot, 57, investor, Dallas.
Did he bring down Wall Street? In the weeks before the crash, news of Perot’s decision to get entirely out of the market swept through political circles, and . . . well, if you knew that Perot had lost faith in the stock market, what would you do? Sets the standard for the new Texas power figure: influence arises from his ideas, from willingness to put his money ($2.9 billion, according to the Forbes list of the four hundred richest Americans) behind them, and from shrewd knowledge of politics, which enables him to spend his money wisely. Education reforms that he conceived in 1984 rank as Texas’ most important public policy accomplishment in a generation, yet they would not have become law had Perot simply proposed them and left the execution to politicians. Entrusted education fight to his key operative, Dallas lawyer Tom Luce, and a top team of top Austin lobbyists, following his long-established habit of picking top-notch people and delegating authority. Proved last summer his clout hadn’t diminished by getting referendum for appointed (rather than elected) state education board on November ballot, despite opposition from education groups and powerful legislators. (Alas, the appointed board lost.) Unlike many rich types, doesn’t socialize or hunt with politicos. Also disdains Dallas politics: stayed away from breakfast club designed to increase influence of business community. Operates on a higher level: Is rumored to have been approached by Washington Post publisher Katharine Graham about seeking Democratic presidential nomination.
2. T. Boone Pickens, 59, oilman and corporate raider, Amarillo.
Takeover attempts of Cities Service, Gulf, Phillips, and Unocal reshaped oil industry and, with it, all of American business. Successfully opposed anti-takeover legislation in Austin and Washington. A major contributor to Republican candidates, sometimes to point of foolhardiness; one of few oilmen to back GOP’s Milton Fox in doomed Railroad Commission race against Democrats’ John Sharp. Good ties to Clements, who appointed Pickens’ wife, Bea, to Parks and Wildlife commission. Big player in the Panhandle as regents chairman at West Texas State; unyielding defender of university’s controversial president. Became an issue in recent Amarillo city council race, which was seen as Pickens slate versus anti-Pickens slate; his side won three of five seats. Also has strong presence in Midland through Cy Wagner and Jack Brown, financial backers of his takeovers, and in Austin through prestigious Texas Research League, for which he served as chairman from 1984 to 1985. Sometimes mentioned as future GOP governor candidate, but would have to overcome antagonism of Houston and Dallas CEOs.
3. Henry Cisneros, 40, mayor, San Antonio.
The only politician on the list, his power derives from stature as symbol of postmillennium Texas. A bridge builder who spans the chasm between boardroom and barrio, he was the first to preach the need for economic development and diversity—and built two loyal statewide constituencies as a result. Transformed Hispanic politics throughout South Texas by his example, driving anti-Anglo militants and corrupt coyote ward heelers underground. Premature rejection of 1990 governor’s race damaged standing with other pols but not with public; continues to overwhelm possible Dem or GOP rivals in polls.
4. Ray Hunt, 44, oilman, developer, and publisher, Dallas.
Prototype of the Dallas civic leader whose influence reaches into every institution in town. While half brothers Herbert and Bunker Hunt were cornering silver market in the seventies, Ray cornered talent market—with better results. Operates by hiring up-and-coming leaders and giving them lots of rein: John Scovell (fighting white flight from Dallas schools), Walt Humann (urging expansion of Central Expressway), Jim Oberwetter (running the George Bush campaign in Texas), and Hunt himself (rescuing SMU from the wreckage of Clements’ chairmanship, wooing and winning new SMU president Kenneth Pye from Duke). Hunt network includes attorney John Johnson, former Dallas Chamber of Commerce chairman. Not involved in bankruptcy of half brothers (Forbes estimates his fortune at $1.3 billion) or ideological causes of late father, H. L. Hunt. His pragmatic do-what’s-right approach is welcome departure from arrogance of old Dallas power structure, but in one crucial way he is squarely within the Dallas tradition: He chooses to restrict his influence to the city limits.
5. Walter Mischer, 65, developer, Houston.
The last of the old-time kingmakers but never posed as one: low-key, unassuming, used to go to meetings in khaki pants and open shirt. Survived transition to modern era by accepting rather than fighting political changes of sixties and seventies. Understands importance of developing black leadership friendly to business, with result that politicians like state legislator Ron Wilson, county commissioner El Franco Lee, and city councilman Rodney Ellis have good relations with Houston power structure—and Mischer. Only person on the Most Powerful list who plays at every level, from the White House down to city hall. Loves game of politics: tried but failed to get along with Mayor Kathy Whitmire, who doesn’t. After backing two unsuccessful challenges to Whitmire, has called truce and is on her finance team. Basis of strength is ability to raise money, particularly among developers and contractors, and shrewd judgment unclouded by emotion: Though he has little in common with attorney general Jim Mattox politically, he maintains good relations. Inability to beat Whitmire has led to whispers that he’s slipping, but the best measure of his status is that the next comment is invariably, “Who is going to be the next Walter Mischer?”
6. Jess Hay, 56, financier, Dallas.
The premier Democratic fundraiser in Texas, he is on the must-see list for presidential hopefuls and statewide candidates. Network includes MBank, Vantage Development, Democratic party honchos, and anyone who does business with Lomas and Nettleton, nation’s number one mortgage banker: as L&N’s CEO, he is reputed to raise money from firm’s accounts payable list. One of state’s most ardent supporters of higher education; used platform as UT regents chairman and influence in State Senate to block budget cuts aimed at universities last spring. Power may be suffering brownout. Ousted as regents chairman in Clements-engineered coup; lost bid to establish Dallas beachhead in ’86, when Kathy Cain barely failed to wrest county judge’s post from GOP; embarrassed by revelations of L&N loans to land commissioner Garry Mauro after Mauro-chaired panel awarded state contract to L&N. Fundraising ability and closeness to Lieutenant Governor Bill Hobby should keep light shining.
7. George Mitchell, 68, oilman and developer, Houston.
Emerging as leading spokesman for shattered oil and gas industry. His message: next energy boom depends on oil import fee. Backs his ideas with money (his Mitchell Energy stock before crash was valued at $470 million). Underwrites study of new exploration techniques at Houston Area Research Center (a Mitchell-founded project run jointly by UT, Texas A&M, Rice, and University of Houston), located in the Woodlands (another Mitchell project). Also helps fund Harvard oil and gas research, which, along with Greek heritage, brought him role as unofficial energy adviser to Michael Dukakis’ presidential campaign. Solidified leadership of industry when Mitchell Energy executive John Watson became president of the Texas Independent Producers and Royalty Owners (TIPRO) this year. Equally well known for favorite hobby, historical restoration in Galveston, where he breakfasts with local characters on weekends.
8. H. R. “Bum” Bright, 67, banker and oilman, Dallas.
As A&M regents chairman, inspired Aggie renaissance in both academics and football; as biggest shareholder of Republic Bancshares, pushed surprising merger with InterFirst. Antithesis of Ray Hunt—seldom involved in politics at local level (considered tight with personal money in Dallas races) but very involved at state level (and a generous contributor). Operates strictly on Republican side. Major backer of Phil Gramm and Kent Hance; Bright operative Jim Francis was Clements’ 1982 campaign chairman. Feuded publicly with Mark White; lost regents chairmanship and resigned from board as result. Forbes estimates fortune at $600 million minimum. You’d think he could afford to buy the cowboys a decent quarterback.
9. Bob Lanier, 62, attorney and developer, Houston.
Ranked higher during Mark White years when he pushed for rebuilding state transportation system as chairman of Highway Commission. Won votes for gasoline-tax increases (75 percent dedicated to highway construction) in 1984 and 1986 with hardball tactics linking local highway projects to legislators’ support for tax bill. Great political instincts: called by one House veteran “the best outsider at counting votes I’ve ever seen.” Warned White against excessive reliance on political polls (White didn’t listen). Once helped run Louie Welch’s mayoral campaigns; still potent in Houston. When local transit authority tried to adopt an all-rail plan earlier this year, Walter Mischer and other big shots lined up behind it. But Lanier fought for using a portion of Houston’s transit money on roads—and won.
10. Jack Evans, 65, businessman, Dallas.
Cullum Companies’ CEO is heir to Erik Jonsson’s reputation as the person to call in Dallas if you have only one phone call to make. Trying to breathe political life into once all-powerful (but more recently dispirited and disorganized) business community. CPR ministrations have resuscitated Dallas Citizens Council, political arm of old business establishment. Took lead in forming breakfast club to assure “responsible” candidates for city council; membership (at reported $5,000 a year) includes all the usual suspects. An ex-mayor who some think will run again (he quit after one term to tend to business), Evans wisely stayed neutral in heated Annette Strauss-Fred Meyer race last spring. The unanswered question: Is he on the cutting edge of the new Dallas or the blunt edge of the old?
Familiar names all, and yet they are vastly different in identity and style from their counterparts who constituted the list in the heyday of the establishment.
Take a look at our previous roster of the most powerful people in Texas, published eleven years ago. This time the names appear in alphabetical order:
1. James Aston, chairman, Republic Bancshares, Dallas
2. George R. Brown, chairman, Brown and Root, Houston
3. John Connally, attorney, Houston
4. Ed Cox, oilman, Dallas
5. Trammell Crow, developer, Dallas
6. James Elkins, Jr., chairman, First City Bancorporation, Houston
7. Oveta Culp Hobby, publisher, the Houston Post, Houston
8. Ray Hunt, oilman and developer, Dallas
9. Leon Jaworski, attorney, Houston
10. Erik Jonsson, founder, Texas Instruments, Dallas
11. William Lane, president, Riviana foods, Houston
12. Hugh Liedtke, chairman Pennzoil, Houston
13. Ben Love, chairman, Texas Commerce Bancshares, Houston
14. Walter Mischer, banker and developer, Houston
15. John Murchison, oilman, Dallas
16. Allan Shivers, banker, Austin
17. Bobby Stewart, chairman, InterFirst Bank, Dallas
18. Robert Strauss, attorney, Dallas and Washington
19. Gus Wortham, founder, American General Insurance, Houston
20. Mike Wright, chairman, Exxon USA, Houston
Brown, Jaworski, Lane, Murchison, Shivers, and Wortham are dead. The banks once run by Elkins, Love, and Stewart have been sold. Hobby’s paper also has been sold—twice. Connally is bankrupt. Aston and Wright have stepped down, and Jonsson is retired not only from business but also from public life. Cox’s power lapsed because he was a director of two institutions that suffered prominent disasters—InterFirst and SMU. Liedtke, aside from his company’s mega-lawsuit against Texaco, has scant involvement in public affairs. Only Crow, Strauss, Hunt, and Mischer continue to exercise power in the traditional way, and Crow and Strauss do so far less today than they did in 1976.
Our 1976 list had twenty names and could easily have been expanded to thirty or more. The current list doesn’t stop at ten just because it’s a nice round number; we ran out of contenders. More than the names has changed in eleven years. So has the nature of power.
Think of power in modern Texas as being a lot like oil. There is less than there used to be; what remains is harder to get; and once you get it, it isn’t worth as much as it used to be. Oil production peaked in Texas in 1972 and has declined ever since. The power of the establishment peaked about the same time (the Sharpstown scandal undermined the old order in the 1972 elections) and likewise has declined ever since. Both declines became precipitous in the bust of the mid-eighties. There is less money in Texas today and, because of that, less power.
The big loser has been Houston; the big winner, Dallas. In 1976 Houston placed eleven people in the top twenty, Dallas, only eight. Moreover, the Houston representatives had far more raw clout than their Dallas counterparts, most of whom reflected their city’s traditional self-obsession; only Trammel Crow, Bobby Stewart, and Bob Strauss expanded their influence beyond the city limits. Everything seemed to be going Houston’s way. “The case for Houston’s predominance as a center of power,” wrote author Harry Hurt III, “finds even more support when factors like population growth and economic diversity are considered.” Houston economically diverse! Those were the days. Today oil-battered Houston contributes only three names to the 1987 list, compared with Dallas’ five.
The collapse of oil and real estate prices has devastated the big banks, traditionally one of the two major business sources of power in Texas. The other is not the oil industry but the development community. Bankers and developers get involved in state and local politics because their prosperity (unlike oilmen’s) depends upon growth, and almost everything state and local governments do—taxing, spending, regulating—can be seen as advancing or retarding growth. Of the twenty names on the list in 1976, six were bankers; in 1987 Bum Bright is banking’s sole surviving representative, now that Walter Mischer’s Allied Bancshares is about to be California-owned. Most of the big developers survived the bust better than the bankers, but some did not, notably latecomer John Connally.
Even before the bust, however, power was shifting away from the establishment. The old guard couldn’t keep up with changes like single-member districts and the two-party system that rewrote the political rules. George Brown and Gus Wortham had been part of the 8-F Crowd, the group of Houston business leaders who gathered in that suite of the Lamar Hotel, decade after decade, to play poker and decide who to back for public office. The word was passed out of 8-F to the downtown law firms, and through the law firms to the banks. A man could make three or so phone calls and go back to whiskey and poker. In Dallas there was no suite 8-F, but there was the Dallas Citizens Council (no lawyers allowed, just business leaders who had the authority to make decisions for their companies—one banker called them the yes-and-no men), and it too operated by the three-phone-calls principle.
The Lamar Hotel is gone, and so is that style of politics. It was easier to wield influence in the days before single member districts, when politicians in Houston, Dallas, and San Antonio ran citywide instead of in neighborhood districts. Without the blessing—and money—of the men at the top, a politician didn’t have much chance of winning. At the State Capitol too, politics worked from the top down. The influence of the Big Four business lobbyists (representing oil, chemicals, railroads, and the Texas Manufacturers Association) went far beyond their clients’ narrow interests. They advocated the establishment’s number one priority—a good business (always pronounced “bidness”) climate, which in those days meant weak unions, low taxes and minimum regulation. Again the three-phone-calls principle was in effect: Get the lieutenant governor and the Speaker of the House on your side, and maybe a couple of key legislators, and they would pass the word down the line to the rest of the Legislature. When the Dallas legislative delegation was composed of nine white conservative Democrats who had run countywide, as was the case in 1965, it wasn’t likely to produce many mavericks.
Today anyone aspiring to power must be prepared to spend a lot of time on politics and with politicians. All sorts of politicians: blacks and Hispanics, suburbanites who are instinctively hostile to the downtown elites, ideologues, partisans, and small-time egomaniacs who insist upon being treated with exaggerated deference, which the 8-F Crowd and their peers were used to receiving, not giving. It is hard to imagine George Brown walking the halls of the Capitol, going from office to office in search of votes, but Walter Mischer, another 8-F alumnus, understands the new rules and is willing to play by them. That’s why his power has survived. Before the interstate banking bill came to a vote, he swept through Senate offices, delivering his message—“This is good for Texas and good for my personal business”—and didn’t leave an office until he got a definite yes or no. When proposed gasoline-tax increases reached the House floor in 1984 and 1986, Bob Lanier moved into Speaker Gib Lewis’ office and won over wavering legislators with pledges to accelerate highway projects back home. Perot came to Austin this summer to lobby the Hispanic caucus for an appointed state Board of Education. As General McDermott found out, it can be dangerous to stay away.
The two-party system has also contributed to the demise of the old power structure. Before Clements’ election in 1978, an establishmentarian who backed a losing candidate could count on buying his way back into power with a large contribution to the winner after the election. Mischer even had a phrase to describe the process: “catching the late train.” But then the Republicans started winning, and the pressure to guess right began to increase. The late train doesn’t always run anymore. Just ask Robert Bass.
Even more damaging to the old guard has been the evolution of the Texas Republican away from the genteel conservatism of John Tower, toward the fierce ideological populism of Ronald Reagan. The antipathy of the state party for government goes far beyond traditional Republican bugbears like regulation and welfare. Last summer Republican legislators cast vote after vote to cut the budgets of public schools and state colleges. Most of the state’s business leadership was for raising taxes instead—higher education is viewed as a form of long-term economic development. But the power structure had no success in soliciting votes from Republican legislators, secure in their single-member suburban districts.
Just as changes in Texas politics have circumscribed the exercise of power, so have changes in Texas business. A decade ago the chairman of Houston Natural Gas, Robert Herring, was a top contender for the Most Powerful list. Herring spent an average of 20 to 30 percent of his week on political, cultural, and civic affairs, recalls George Strong, a Houston political consultant who works with the company. Most of the company’s business was in the Houston area, so the time spent on politics was well invested. Today Herring is dead, the company is known as Enron, and its operations extend from California to Florida. The current chairman, Ken Lay, does some Republican fundraising, but that is the extent of his involvement in politics.
There are many such stories. In the sixties Herb Kelleher was a skilled operative for John Connally’s political organization in San Antonio. In the seventies he took control of Southwest Airlines, moved to Dallas, and reduced his involvement in politics. In the eighties, with Southwest’s routes stretching from Birmingham to San Francisco, he is totally out of power politics. In the sixties and seventies, timber magnate Arthur Temple knew many of the local officials in the Piney Woods personally. Today’s CEO of Temple-Inland, Clifford Grum, “wouldn’t know where to go to make a contribution to a county commissioner,” says an East Texas politician. Wall Street is more important than Highway 59.
The CEO types, once so prominent in Texas politics, are all but gone from the scene. They don’t have the time, the interest, or the need to participate. Bob Crandall of American Airlines in Dallas cares what happens in Washington, not Austin. Bob Cizik of Houston’s Cooper Industries proved that he was an extraordinary fundraiser by leading the drive to build the new Wortham Center, but his presence in politics is undetected. Randall Meyer of Exxon, John Bookout of Shell, the Thompsons of Southland Corporation—where are they?
A better question is, Do we miss them—not just the CEOs, but the old establishment as a group? There are times, such as the legislative stalemate over the budget, when it would be nice to have an enlightened oligarchy around to dictate solutions. But the establishment wasn’t very enlightened; it was wedded to the status quo, whether it was segregation in the forties or no new taxes in the seventies. Today there is no oligarchy, just a group of leaders operating independently, and as a result there is much more acceptance of new ideas in Texas public affairs and much less handwringing over change. The new power structure in Texas may not have solved the state’s problems, but at least it has gotten the message across that Texas cannot cut itself off from the world anymore.
After the top ten, here’s how the rest of the power pie in Texas is divided:
THE SECOND TEAM
As is frequently the case with second-team players, the thing that keeps them from being on the first team is not lack of talent but lack of desire.
• Robert Bass, investor, Fort Worth. Has gotten his toes wet in politics, but hasn’t plunged in all the way. Getting snubbed by Clements over Highway Commission didn’t help. Still, as Bass brother most attracted to politics, has the potential to have an enormous impact on the state.
• Jack Blanton, oilman, Houston. One rule of Texas politics: the chairman of the UT Board of Regents ranks well up on any list of the most powerful people in Texas. Blanton has succeeded Jess Hay in the job. Enough said.
• John Cox, oilman, Midland. One of the state’s biggest producers is also one of the few oilmen who gives money to Democratic candidates.
• Bob Dedman, businessman, Dallas. Thriving private-club empire worth $600 million, according to Forbes list. Now chairman (for second time) of state Highway Commission. That’s a good combination for exercising power.
• Charles Duncan, investor, Houston. Former deputy secretary of defense and secretary of energy under Jimmy Carter, currently chairman of Rice University. Greatly respected, but in a narrow circle; seems on the verge of extending his influence outside of Houston.
• Gerald Fronterhouse and Bob Lane, bankers, Dallas. Fronterhouse is chairman of First Republic, the biggest remaining Texas bank holding company; Lane is one of few high-ranking InterFirst bankers to stick with Republic after merger. Destined to be the leading spokesmen for banking community if they can ever get their own bank out of the woods.
• Bill Hobby, politician and television station executive, Houston. A year ago the lieutenant governor would have been on the first team. But he was damaged politically by the budget fight and now is getting out of politics.
• Jack Trotter, investor, Houston. Behind-the-scenes player in setting the course of Houston business community, he has an enormous network (among the people made rich by his deals: Charles Duncan, racer A.J. Foyt, funeral home entrepreneur Bob Waltrip). Republican gubernatorial aspirant Jack Rains says, “I’ve never seen Trotter on the wrong side of an issue.”
• Cy Wagner and Jack Brown, oilmen, Midland. Hugely wealthy (Forbes’s joint estimate $750 million), Wagner and Brown have bankrolled some of Boone Pickens’ biggest plays. Word in Midland is they’re getting interested in politics.
When we compile the list of the most powerful Texans in the nineties, these names are oddson to rank near the top.
• Sam Barshop, hotelier, San Antonio. Important Republican fundraiser; likely UT regents chairman when Clements appointees become a majority of the board in 1989.
• George Bayoud, real estate, Dallas. Clements’ executive assistant knows everything there is to know about GOP power structure.
• Milton Carroll, oil-field manufacturer, Houston. Chairman of Texas Southern University board; has superseded A&M regent John Coleman as most influential black businessman in Texas.
• Ed Cox, Jr., oilman and investor, Athens. Father made 1976 power list; son would have ranked higher except for problem loans that forced him to sell off part of empire. Chairman of Parks and Wildlife Commission; strong environmentalist who is frequent host and hunting companion of legislators.
• Robert Dechard, publisher, Dallas. Chairman of A.H. Belo, which owns Dallas Morning News and Houston’s KHOU-TV; occupies traditional Dallas power slot.
• Jack Martin, financial services consultant, Austin. Senator Lloyd Bentsen’s campaign director and his former executive assistant; excels at both fundraising and strategy—and has a statewide network.
• Mike Perrin, attorney, Houston. Leader of younger generation of politically active plaintiff’s attorneys. Also could go on “Couples” list with wife, Melinda, daughter of former attorney general and Chief Justice John Hill.
• Tony Sanchez, Jr., oilman and banker, Laredo. Has potential to be the most powerful and influential figure in South Texas; member of Parks and Wildlife Commission who learned politics working for then Lieutenant Governor Ben Barnes in early seventies.
• Dick Trabulsi, businessman, Houston. Leading Democratic fundraiser among younger set; more interested in national politics than state politics.
• Marty Wender, developer, San Antonio. Mercurial rise from Wannabee to Comer; sold land to Sea World and provided site for pope’s San Antonio visit.
• Tom White, beer distributor, Dallas. Major Democratic money man and organizer in Republican bastion whose influence extends beyond Dallas to statewide politics.
“Texas women have been raised by their mothers to be civilizers,” says state treasurer Ann Richards, the first woman since Ma Ferguson to hold statewide office. “They give their money and their time to the ballet, the library, and the museum instead of politics. But that’s changing.” The other thing that stands between women and power is the ol’-boy network. That’s changing too.
Women do have power, but it’s organizational rather than financial. The Republican women’s clubs, a phenomenon that is as social as it is political, have changed Texas politics by producing straight-ticket GOP voters in numbers that offset lever-pullers among Democratic minorities. For the most part, however, women are achieving power through elected office rather than behind the scenes.
• Rita Clements, mansionwife, Austin. Understands politics, sits in on meetings, doesn’t hesitate to give advice. Goal of rehabilitating husband’s reputation may be beyond mortal reach.
• Carolyn Farb, Houston. Fabulous fundraiser for arts is turning talents to politics by raising money for Bob Dole.
• Eddie Bernice Johnson, state senator, Dallas. Built strong black organization in Dallas; well connected in statewide Democratic party circles. Headed for possible showdown with county commissioner John Wiley (and how!) Price for congressional seat in 1992.
• Beryl Milburn, housewife, Austin. UT regent until last January, former vice chairman of state GOP. High-water mark of power is behind her (by choice—regent reappointment was hers if she wanted it), but still an important figure in GOP circles.
• Rena Pederson, journalist, Dallas. Brought Dallas Morning News editorial page into twentieth century as its editor, with salutary effects on both newspaper and city.
• Petra Reyna, McAllen. Rising star in Mexican American Democrats (chairwoman for Lower Valley); also enjoys good relationship with Bentsens and other leading Anglo families who serve on board of her employer, Rio Grande cancer treatment center.
• Ann Richards, state treasurer, Austin. Assembling women into statewide constituency for likely 1990 governor’s race with organizations like the Foundation for Womens Resources and Leadership Texas; her support cuts across party and ideological lines.
• Nancy Speck, university administrator, Nacogdoches. Immediate past president of Texas Chamber of Commerce; on state economic policy commission. Linchpin in East Texas for mental health, economic development.
• Annette Strauss, mayor, Dallas. Power stems not only from position but also from ability to tap into potent Strauss network when she wants something done.
• Betty Turner, mayor, Corpus Christi. Outspent by campaign opponent Tony Bonilla but won with personal popularity that enables her to bring every faction in town into her coalition.
• Kathy Whitmire, mayor, Houston. Put an end to venerable tradition of insider trading at city hall, to the outrage of ol’-boy network. Refusal to play ball with old power structure has put self-imposed limitation on her power, but it’s no political liability: voting coalition of all the blacks, all the gays, and most of the women makes her invulnerable to electoral attack.
THE BRAIN TRUST
Respect is a source of power. So is knowledge. These are the stock-in-trade of the Brain Trust, a small group of issue-oriented people whom everyone wants on his side. Not surprisingly, the list has a heavy concentration in Austin.
• George Christian, public relations, Austin. Onetime press secretary to John Connally and Lyndon Johnson, now a consultant (and unpaid adviser to numerous politicians); knows more about Texas politics than anyone. Specialty is selling complicated issues (tort reform, obscure constitutional amendments) to public and newspaper editorial boards.
• Ernesto Cortés, social organizer, Austin. Leading spokesman for the poor and powerless; oversees a statewide network of community activist organizations, including San Antonio’s COPS (Communities Organized for Public Service), which he founded.
• W. A. Criswell, minister, Dallas. The voice of Baptist fundamentalism from his pulpit at First Baptist Church is still the most influential churchman in Texas.
• Zan Holmes, minister, Dallas. A former legislator who is the foremost spokesman for the city’s black community.
• Bobby Inman, high-tech businessman, Austin. Staunch advocate of upgrading higher education; founder of high-tech consortium MCC. Credibility with public is second only to Perot’s, earning him some votes for power lists, but has had trouble adjusting Washington-honed political skills to Texas.
• Molly Ivins, columnist, Austin. Mainstay of Texas liberalism whose witty view of politics in Dallas Times Herald carries punch with left-of-center constituency; quick to apply “smell test” to any pols, liberals included, who don’t measure up to her ethical standards.
• Barbara Jordan, professor, Austin. Thirteen years after her speech during Nixon impeachment proceedings her magic voice still carries immense moral authority.
• George Kozmetsky, professor, Austin. Founder of Teledyne Corporation and former UT business dean runs influential think tank (Institute for Creative Capitalism); ideas on public affairs have great weight in the business community.
• George Shipley, political consultant, Austin. A rarity in the hired-gun world—he can view the political world apart from his personal interests and gives advice accordingly.
They have power, but they’re not part of the power network. And in some cases, that’s to their credit.
• Ellen Garwood, philanthropist, Austin. Big contributor—to the contras.
• Joe Jamail, attorney, Houston. Bane of business community as most powerful plaintiff’s lawyer in the state; highly political; lavishes money on judicial candidates—especially those for Texas Supreme Court.
• William Wayne Justice, federal judge, Tyler. Not even Perot has had more impact on state government. For better or worse, his rulings have changed the way Texas approaches prison reform, school integration, bilingual education, and redistricting, among others.
• Bernard Rappoport, insurance CEO, Waco. Has been supporting liberal Democrats since the days when businessmen were ostracized for doing so.
• Harold Simmons, investor, Dallas. Low-profile billionaire whose interest in politics is recent. Actively raising money for GOP senators in ’88 races. On Mavericks list for now because he is more connected to ideological right than mainstream Republican donors like Ray Hunt and Bum Bright, but could move to “Comers” list in a hurry.
• Dean Singleton, publisher, Dallas. Anybody who owns the Dallas Times Herald and the Houston Post has to go on some list, and this is the only one that seems right.
• Oscar Wyatt, oilman, Houston. Too controversial for too long to have real power, but he has enough to avoid being messed with.
IF YOU HAD ONE CALL TO MAKE
Power in Texas has traditionally flowed from Houston and Dallas. Everywhere else, even San Antonio, could be handled by making a single phone call. The recipient was likely to be a banker or a lawyer for the town’s leading families; occasionally it was a wily businessman who loved politics. The local contact raised money and delivered votes for the establishment’s statewide candidates and for his own handpicked local candidates.
These operatives have been slower to yield power than the establishment figures in Houston and Dallas. Gradually, however, the bankers have given way to holding-company executives who don’t care about local politics, and the leading families have been leading for so long that they no longer feel the need—or have the fire—to maintain absolute control. As a result, there aren’t many one-phone-call towns left. The person you want to reach today is less a power broker than a mover and shaker—someone who is first among equals.
Amarillo: Wales Madden, attorney and businessman. A former UT regent and high-ranking member of the conservative Democratic hierarchy, but his statewide power declined when the two-party system left the establishment without a political home. Now a Republican, still important regionally and at UT.
Abilene: Forget it. Abilene has a reputation for sitting on its wallet when it comes to politics. Consequently, it’s not plugged into the power circuit.
Alice: Lucien Flournoy, oilman and drilling contractor. Former mayor, foremost Anglo power in the brush country.
Austin: 926-1221. That’ll get you Southwest Airlines for the next plane out of town. Austin has more factions and operatives than Lebanon, none with more than extremely localized power.
Beaumont: Hubert Oxford, attorney. Good fundraiser, former Lamar University regent.
Big Spring: Johnnie Lou Avery, management consultant. Adroit businesswoman with lots of political savvy, also a columnist for local paper; known from Midland and Odessa to Lubbock.
Brownwood: Beer distributor Stuart Coleman leads remnants of Brownwood Mafia, so named in the late sixties when local boy Ben Barnes was making good as lieutenant governor.
Bryan: During the years of conservative Democratic hegemony, banker Calvin Guest was the man to call. But Phil Gramm moved Bryan into the Republican column, and Guest’s clout, while still substantial, is far below its high-water mark. Banker Bookman Peters is at least his equal.
Corpus Christi: Hayden Head was the establishment’s man in Corpus Christi. When he died in a plane crash this year, there was no clear successor. Leading contender: beer distributor Barry Andrews, a head protégé.
Duval County: Oscar Carrillo, rancher. Some things never change.
El Paso: Travis Johnson, attorney. From the forties into the sixties, banker Sam Young was a true kingmaker. Johnson has held the top spot more through political acumen than through raw power. Key member of Bentsen team; one of the early stockholders of Southwest Airlines. Beats out four-term mayor Jonathan Rogers, former developer, and banker H. M. “Hal” Daugherty, new chairman of the higher education Coordinating Board.
Fort Worth: Dee Kelly, attorney. Some still put him in the top echelon of power in Texas. Clients include some of the state’s most powerful figures (Bass brothers, Midland oilman John Cox), but Kelly was more of an independent operator in the Connally era.
Galveston: Shrub Kempner, investor. Descendent of family that ran city hall for the first half of the century. Gets involved in only good-government issues like opposition to casino gambling, but understands Byzantine world of local politics better than anyone.
Hillsboro: Politically precocious town produced three statewide officials in early seventies (attorney general Crawford Martin, comptroller Bob Bullock, Chief Justice Robert Calvert). Man to call in those days was Will Bond, Bullock’s brother-in-law. Today it’s Bullock himself.
Killeen: Ted Connell, car dealer. Used to be LBJ’s man in town.
Kingsville: That’s king as in King Ranch as in Kleberg. So, call Kleberg First National Bank, and ask for Perry Finger, who married into ranch family.
Lamesa: Lloyd Cline, banker. Former president of National Cotton Council.
Longview: Former state senator Jack Strong. But he can’t match influence of oilman Bob Cargill, who died last year.
Lubbock: In the days when the group known as the Round Table met every day for lunch at the Lubbock Club, attorney Jim Milam was the central political figure. Close to then-Congressman George Mahon, longtime chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, Milam could deliver whatever Lubbock wanted. Now Milam is in his seventies, Mahon is in his grave, and power in Lubbock is diffused. State Senator John Montford can probably bring together more insiders than anyone.
McAllen: Morris Atlas, attorney. Clients include leading families—in particular, the Bentsens.
Midland: Ernie Angelo, oilman (what else?). Attorney Tom Sealy was the one-phone-call man for conservative Democrats during the sixties, when Angelo led GOP coup and became mayor. Gets nod over other big players because he understands local scene better than anyone. On Republican National Committee; his support was breakthrough for George Bush in acceptance by Texas conservatives. Said to be able to call local elections within half a percentage point.
Nacogdoches: A. L. Mangham, banker. Not much happens in town that he hasn’t blessed first.
Plainview: The death of Marshall Formby, former state senator and highway commissioner (ever wondered why West Texas has such great roads?) has left a vacuum.
San Angelo: Frank Junell, banker. The first man local politicos turn to for advice. Son Robert is plaintiff’s attorney, giving the family feet in two political camps.
San Antonio: Red McCombs, car dealer. But city has become so diverse that his power is minor league compared with that of late attorney John Peace in the sixties.
Sherman-Denison: Scott Smith, banker. Connections to Amarillo’s Wales Madden and former GOP gubernatorial candidate Paul Eggers in Dallas. Named by Clements to state Finance Commission.
South Texas: Willie Velásquez, San Antonio. Through his Southwest Voter Registration and Education Project, has built state’s best Hispanic network of South Texas county officials who depend on his voter registration information.
Temple: Jamie Clements, attorney and former mayor. Represents Scott and White Clinic; a clear choice following the death last May of Frank Mayborn, who owned two papers and a TV station.
Texarkana: Ed Miller, attorney. Former county judge whose power is derived in part from prominent client Truman Arnold, owner of Roadrunner convenience store chain.
Tyler: Royce Wisenbaker, oilman and Aggie regent for money; former State Senator Peyton McKnight for politics.
Victoria: Bobby Hewitt, rancher. In the LBJ-Connally era Victoria was the classic one-phone-call town. The callee was Zach Lentz, a businessman (granary owner and farm machinery dealer), who handled all the politics for the leading O’Connor and Welder families. Today Lentz is still worth a phone call, but Hewitt, who, as a member of the clan, runs the O’Connor operations, is a better place to start.
Waco: Another power vacuum. Lyndon Olson, Jr., who recently left the State Board of Insurance to return to town, could emerge as new leader, but it’s far too early to tell.
Wichita Falls: Ray Clymer, beer distributor. Veteran political mover and shaker; Coordinating Board committee chairman for college construction.
THE EMERITUS TEAM
Once they were among the most powerful people in Texas. Today they are less active, but they can still affect events when they choose to.
Perry Bass, oilman, Fort Worth. Nephew of the late Sid Richardson, father of the Bass brothers. Mainly interested in wildlife issues. Biggest behind-the-scenes player in getting Legislature to ban commercial fishing of trout and redfish.
Trammell Crow, developer, Dallas. On the surface still an active Republican fundraiser—chairman of Roy Barrera’s finance committee in 1986 attorney general’s race and Ed Emmett’s finance committee in 1988 Railroad Commission race. Mainly lends his name to give candidates credibility; seldom makes the calls anymore.
Robert Mosbacher, oilman, Houston. Big-bucks national GOP fundraiser; still very active for George Bush but otherwise passing torch to son, Rob.
Peter O’Donnell, investor, Dallas. Republican party chairman in the pre-Clements era showed last spring that he still had muscle when he helped persuade Clements to abandon his opposition to new taxes.
Bob Strauss, attorney, Dallas and Washington. Mostly a D.C. figure these days. Former Dem national chairman whose advice is sought by the president and presidential aspirants. Network in Dallas remains in place, as evidenced by triumph of sister-in-law Annette Strauss in hotly contested mayor’s race last spring.
Arthur Temple, lumberman, Lufkin. Still the best person to call to get something done in East Texas.
Texas has a long tradition of political couples—former governors Ma and Pa Ferguson, Cabinet secretary Oveta Culp Hobby and ex-governor William Hobby, and Lyndon and Lady Bird, to name a few. Today Rita and Bill Clements are keeping the tradition very much alive. Other power couples:
Linda Aaker and Bob Armstrong, Austin. She: Capitol lobbyist. He: former land commissioner, now on Parks and Wildlife commission.
Anne and Tobin Armstrong, Armstrong. She: former ambassador to the Court of St. James’s. He: director of appointments in first Clements administration.
Fran and Eddie Chiles, Fort Worth. She: Republican national committeewoman and big player in GOP right. He: generated “I’m Eddie Chiles and I’m Mad” radio campaign for GOP in early eighties; stature now approximates that of Texas Rangers baseball club, which he owns.
Susan and Richard Collins, Dallas. She: former member of Dallas park board, active in city politics. He: point man for Bob Dole fundraising in Texas and major fundraiser for GOP economic and foreign-policy right.
Helen and Ray Farabee, Wichita Falls. She: veteran activist in statewide mental-health reform movement. He: state senator.
Kay Bailey and Ray Hutchison, Dallas. She: Dallas GOP leader and former legislator. He: former GOP state chairman and former legislator.
Cyndi and Joe Krier, San Antonio. She: state senator. He: president of chamber of commerce.
Jane and Larry Macon, San Antonio. She: former city attorney with good connections in city hall. He: has behind-the-scenes ties to Congressman Albert Bustamente and State Senator Frank Tejeda.
Mary Beth and John Rogers, Austin. She: deputy to state treasurer Ann Richards. He: political consultant for AFL-CIO. What happens if labor endorses Jim Mattox over Richards in 1990 governor’s race?
Judith and Carlos Zaffirini, Laredo. She: state senator and Democratic party bigwig. He: attorney and skilled political operative with contacts in wife’s senatorial district.
OUT OF THE ROLODEX
They used to have power, they don’t anymore, and the loss of it was not entirely voluntary.
Robert Baldwin, Austin, degovernored. Developer was big backer of Mark White. Dream of becoming UT regents chairman ended when White lost.
John Connally, Houston, Chapter 11. More X’s than a tic-tac-toe game: ex-Cabinet secretary, ex-governor, ex-Vinson and Elkins law partner, ex-First City bank director, ex-developer, ex-rich man.
James Elkins, Jr., Houston, sold out. Chairman of First City Bancorporation won’t get rich off sale of near-insolvent bank.
Herbert and Bunker Hunt, Dallas, Chapter 11. It wasn’t easy to lose the Hunt billions, but they managed.
Ben Love, Houston, demoted. Former Mr. Big at Texas Commerce Bancshares, but now number two after sale to New York’s Chemical Bank.
Clinton Manges, Freer, beleaguered. Handed out more than $1 million in political contributions during court battle with Mobil Oil; when contributions dropped off in wake of lawsuits and oil bust, so did his influence.
Bob Perry, Houston, dormant. One of city’s most prominent developers and Republican contributors during the boom years is no longer a big factor in politics.
Robert Stewart, Dallas, re-retired. Most powerful banker in state during InterFirst’s boom years; failed in comeback attempt to rescue bank.
Phil Warner, Houston, resigned. Self-appointed power broker gave up editorship of Houston Chronicle when Houston Endowment Foundation sold the paper. Departure was not mourned.
Ambition is the carbon of the power world—the basic element of life. It is found in abundance, but it achieves its best use only in the right combination with other elements. Wannabees range from political groupies to people with real power, but the one thing they share is an ambition for power that is a little too obvious.
Tieman “Skipper” Dippel, Brenham. Cross a political think tank with the Junior League and you get the Texas Lyceum, an association of business and political types of which Dippel was the first president. Wants to be businessmen’s statewide political guru.
Rex Fuller, oilman, Lubbock. Wants to be sole conduit between Lubbock and governor’s office. Sometimes is. Sometimes isn’t.
Bob Parker, banker, Houston. Made a career out of seeking influence; finally found niche by computerizing Houston Denis’ political contributions, bringing good-ol’-boy fundraising into the modern age. Could move to Comers list.
Pike Powers, attorney, Austin. Former executive assistant to Mark White who spearheaded 1983 drive that brought Microelectronics and Computer Technology Corporation to Austin. Tried to parlay success into a position as an Austin power broker, but failed when campaign he led in ’85 to move local airport lost. Still trying.
Joe Russo, developer, Houston. Well-motivated but ill-starred classic Wannabee. Big chance for power was leading bid to land the 1988 Democratic National Convention for Houston. Lost because fix was in for Atlanta, but lost nonetheless, ruining his chance of running for mayor.
Charles Terrell, insurance executive, Dallas. Wants to use his leadership in Dallas and state crime task forces as statewide soapbox. Managed to catch the ear of Bill Clements; also manages to get lots of ink.