Former Gov. Bill Clements dead at 94

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by DAVID SCHECHTER

Bio | Email | Follow: @davidschechter

WFAA

Posted on May 29, 2011 at 3:51 PM

Updated Sunday, May 29 at 11:02 PM

Bill Clements has been called blunt, cantankerous and a visionary hero. But one thing is certain about his legacy — he is the father of the modern Republican Party in Texas.

Clements died Sunday at age 94.

Of all the things he did — including making his own fortune in oil — he said being governor of Texas was the most memorable and exhausting job.

"I assure you, that for me, being governor was the hardest work I've ever done," he told WFAA in 2008.

Clements was governor twice — with four years off in the middle.

In 1978, the millionaire stumped the state in style — with a large staff, charter planes, fine hotels and a huge ad budget.

It was no small accomplishment. Texas voters hadn't elected a Republican to the Governor's Mansion in more than 100 years.

"He won against all odds. No one in the Western world thought a Republican could be elected Governor of Texas," said Reggie Bashur, Clements' press secretary.

Clements got high marks for appointing well-qualified businesspeople to lead state boards, and for his passion to plan for the state's future.

Still, four years later Clements lost to Democrat Mark White.

"When you take a shellacking, which we did, you know, you lick your wounds and you come back for another day," Clements said after losing the election.

And in 1986, Clements did just that by beating White in a rematch.

"What a night! What a night! What a night!" he chanted from the podium after declaring victory.

But within months of re-election, Clements was consumed by the SMU football play-for-pay scandal. He had been chairman of SMU's Board of Governors and had initially denied knowing that players were being paid.

"Uh, no. I don't have any recollection of that sort of thing," he first told WFAA.

Later, in 1987, he changed his story.

"In hindsight, it is clear we were wrong," Clements conceded. "You know, we weren't operating like Inaugural Day with the Bible. There wasn't a Bible present."

While Clements broke his promise not to raise taxes, he also succeeded in consolidating state agencies to make government more efficient. And he never stopped wearing his signature plaid jackets — perhaps a loud symbol of his "take it or leave it" attitude.

"I'm not one of those people who has to wake up every morning and say, 'Pinch myself,' and say, 'Well, who am I? Who is Bill Clements?' I know exactly who I am, and I know where I come from."

And exactly what he did set the stage for the continuing dominance of Republican Party in Texas.

E-mail dschechter@wfaa.com

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