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Remembering Texas' Ex-Gov. Mark White: A Democrat Who Slew Giants

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Mark White (AP)

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Sunday, 06 Aug 2017 11:00 PM Current | Bio | Archive

Unlike his good friend and fellow centrist Democratic Gov. Bill Clinton of Arkansas, Mark White, Democratic governor of Texas from 1982-86, was by no means a charismatic politician.

The deliberate, soft-spoken White (who died Saturday at 77) was more comfortable crafting policy such as competency tests for public school teachers, finding alternatives to oil to diversify the Texas economy, and the controversial "no pass, no play" rule, requiring students at all Lone Star State schools to pass all their courses to participate in sports.

But White, his uncharismatic reputation aside, clearly knew something about motivating voters behind issues and against opponents. The Baylor University graduate, who held the un-elected offices of assistant state attorney general and secretary of state in the 1970s, won his first-ever race for office in 1978 by defeating two of the most celebrated candidates of the time in major upsets.

In the Democratic primary for state attorney general, the little-known White seemed a hopeless underdog against the heir to a storied Texas name: former state House Speaker Price Daniel, Jr., whose namesake father had been U.S. senator, governor, and a state supreme court justice.

"Price, Jr.," as he was universally known, had become a liberal hero by pushing reforms while speaker of the House.

But, in the process, "Half-Price," as conservative foes called him, had angered lobbyists for the business community with his heavy-handed approach to his agenda.

"'Half-Price' had no friends in the business community—none," the late Harry Whitworth, president of the Texas Chemical Council, once told me, "He would lie to us when the truth would do."

Fueled by major business donations, White's television blitz highlighted Daniel's liberal record in the state legislature and underscored White's reputation as a "law and order man." Much as Hillary Clinton helped her husband get elected governor of Arkansas that year, White's vivacious wife Linda Gale spoke vigorously on his behalf and won over voters who found her husband aloof and businesslike.

In contrast, Vickie Daniel, a onetime Dairy Queen waitress, ducked the campaign trail.

Even Daniel supporters later admitted their man made a major error by not deploying funds to reply to White's attacks. In a major upset, White beat Daniel with 53 percent of the vote.

In November, he faced a well-funded and well-connected Republican.

"I had expected to portray myself as the mainstream alternative to the liberal Daniel," Republican James A. Baker III wrote in his memoirs.

Houston "super lawyer" Baker had nationwide GOP contacts as 1976 campaign manager for President Gerald Ford and as Ford's deputy secretary of commerce. But for all the money he raised, Baker could not draw a contrast with White.

"My unexpected Democratic establishment opponent [Mark White] beat me 1,249,846 to 999,431," is how he described the outcome in November — with White beating Baker as Texas was electing Bill Clements its first Republican governor since Reconstruction and re-electing GOP Sen. John Tower in a heated contest.

Baker, of course, went on to serve as Ronald Reagan's White House chief of staff and later secretary of State under President George H.W. Bush.

What became of Price Daniel, Jr., was far more dramatic. In January 1981, wife Vickie shot with a .22 caliber rifle. What followed was a celebrated murder trial in which she was acquitted with the legendary Richard "Racehorse" Haynes representing her. This story, Baker wrote, "later showed up in a dreadful, made-for-TV movie, a sad testament to a life and career that held such promise."

After one term as attorney general, White unseated Gov. Clements in 1982. Four years later, with the oil economy in a slump, Clements won back the governorship from him.

He never held office again, But Mark White demonstrated to office-seekers and those who dream of seeking office that sometimes ideas, determination and drive matter more than charisma and money.

John Gizzi is chief political columnist and White House correspondent for Newsmax. For more of his reports, Go Here Now.

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Unlike his good friend and fellow centrist Democratic Gov. Bill Clinton of Arkansas, Mark White, Democratic governor of Texas from 1982-86, was by no means a charismatic politician.The deliberate, soft-spoken White (who died Saturday at 77) was more comfortable crafting...
Texas Gov. Mark White
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2017-00-06
Sunday, 06 Aug 2017 11:00 PM
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