ann richards

Jim Mattox, RIP

Nov 21, 2008 By Paul Burka

In 1982, Ronald Reagan's first mid-term election, a Democratic wave swept the state. Republicans had mounted a major challenge to the D's control of most statewide offices (governor excepted), and U.S. senator Lloyd Bentsen and lieutenant governor Bill Hobby used their muscle to build the best Democratic organization Texas had seen since Lyndon Johnson's heyday. The price of oil was falling, and the threat of a recession hung over the state and the nation. With the Bentsen/Hobby organization behind him, Mark White knocked off Republican governor Bill Clements; Bentsen and Hobby handily won reelection, and a group of downballot candidates benefited from the coattails. One of them was Mattox, the newly elected attorney general. Another was Ann Richards, who was elected treasurer, a position that since has been merged with the comptroller. Garry Mauro was the new land commissioner. And Jim Hightower was agriculture commissioner. (Bob Bullock had been comptroller since 1974.) The liberal wing of the party was ecstatic; the downballot foursome were the first liberal Democrats elected statewide since Ralph W. Yarborough won reelection to the U.S. Senate in 1964. Mattox served in the Legislature in the mid-seventies and was a floor leader for the liberal Democrats and a daily critic of Billy Clayton, the conservative Democratic speaker. He was an unabashed and unrestrained populist. In 1978 he won a congressional seat in Dallas, but 1981 was a congressional redistricting year, and his enemies in Austin (including Clayton and Governor Clements) drew him an unfavorable district in an attempt to get rid of him. They thought that they had killed him off; instead, he ran for AG and won. He quickly earned a reputation as a hardball fundraiser and a bit of a knave when it came to ethics. One memorable story is that banking interests had asked for an attorney general's opinion regarding, as I recall, branch banking, but when it was released, it was too ambiguous to be useful. Mattox sent word that he would clarify it if the banking interests would arrange for another request. The word came back (according to the story I heard at the time): "We can't afford another opinion right now." Mattox always seemed to be involved in some sort of scrape. The Aggies had a rule that women could not play in the band, which was thrown out by a Houston federal court. Mattox refused to appeal the case, infuriating the Aggies. The regents sought to file their own appeal, and Mattox blocked them, saying that only he could represent a state agency in court. He made it stick. In a similar case, Mattox chose not to defend the constitutionality of the state's sodomy statute after a Dallas court had declared it unconstitutional. Mattox relished fights with the remnants of the old conservative power structure he had battled when he was a legislator. He styled himself "The People's Lawyer." He appeared to be indifferent to crossing ethical and legal lines. When he appeared to threaten the bond business of Fulbright and Jaworski (the AG has some regulatory authority over bond issues), Travis County DA Ronnie Earle indicted Mattox on the obscure charge of commercial bribery. He was acquitted. Another incident rife with impropriety was his alliance with South Texas power broker Clinton Manges, who was trying to have an old oil and gas lease on his ranch declared void; Manges was a major contributor to Mattox and the AG joined Manges's side of the case, against Mobil Oil. He was the kind of fighter who, when he drew his sword, threw away the scabbard. In 1990 he and former governor White (who had been defeated by Clements' comeback in 1986) were in a three-way race with Ann Richards. Mattox accused Richards of using illegal drugs, and the issue came up during a televised Democratic primary debate for which I was a panel member. One of my co-panelists put the question to Richards. The tension in the small studio was unbelievable. I could feel it. Richards did not answer the question. Ann looked into the camera and said something like, "I want to say something to all of you who may have made a mistake in your life. You can leave it behind you. You can take charge of your life." She put her heart into that answer, as only Ann Richards could. She never did answer the question. Then it was White's and Mattox's turn to speak. Each gave the identical answer in the crackling silence: "I have never used illegal drugs." Great drama.

How W. Can Lose

Jun 30, 2000 By Evan Smith

What are George Bush’s weaknesses as he heads into the fall campaign? We asked six Texas Democrats— a former governor, a former lieutenant governor, two wannabes, and two wiseacre pundits—to make the case against him. They pulled no punches.

Surprised Parties

Dec 1, 1998 By Paul Burka

Here’s what Republicans and Democrats were talking about after the November 3 election. George W. Bush’s coattails. They were frayed at best, even though the GOP swept every statewide race. The governor got 68 percent of the vote, but the victorious Republican candidates for lieutenant governor and comptroller, Rick Perry…

Less Is Mauro

Jul 31, 1998 By Helen Thorpe

Barring a miracle, Garry Mauro will lose to George W. Bush in this November’s gubernatorial election. So why is he acting like a winner?

Is Waco Wacko?

Apr 1, 1998 By Joe Holley

After the latest standoff there�by an armed UFO cultist�you might think so. But on the fifth anniversary of the Branch Davidian siege, the Central Texas community is doing just fine, thank you.

Who killed the Texas Democratic party?

Jan 1, 1998 By Gregory Curtis

AT LEAST DAN MORALES knew that the mere proclamation he was going to have a press conference was not likely to stop the world in its tracks. The night before and all that morning, some supporters, as well as the attorney general himself, were busy calling around to say that…

Lucken Back

Dec 1, 1993 By Jan Reid

Twenty years later, Jerry Jeff Walker returns to the town his music put on the map.