An old coot like me, in a long newspaper career, has met a lot of public officials.
Let me enumerate my “meetings” with these politicians, then we’ll all cast our votes.
Actually, I’m going to name a winner at the end. Meanwhile, let’s detail my meetings and see if you can figure it out before I name him. And, no peeping.
Candidates to choose from are: President Lyndon Baines Johnson (LBJ); Gov. Price Daniel Sr.; U.S. Sen. John Tower; Gov. John Connally; Lt. Gov. Ben Barnes; U.S. Congressman Charles Wilson; and Gov. Mark White.
Presidents first, eh? I got to shake then-U.S. Sen. Lyndon Baines Johnson’s hand after he made a 1951 speech in front of the home economics cottage on the campus of Teague High School. The next time we “met” was a tour of the LBJ Ranch as part of the Texas Press Association’s 1969 convention, the year after the President retired.
MY NEXT elected official meeting has been described in more detail in another column and involved then-Gov. Price Daniel Sr. in a 1958 speech in Teague. After that meeting, the governor put his arm around my shoulder, led me to a sofa and we talked newspapers while he kept a group of bigwigs waiting for a private meeting. Gov. Daniel was a newspaper publisher in addition to being an attorney and a politician.
When LBJ resigned his U.S. Senate post to become Vice President under John F. Kennedy, John Tower won a special election to fill the unexpired Senate term. His popularity got him invited to the annual convention of a lobby group I was working for, the Texas Manufacturers Association. The only time I saw him other than during his speech, was in the hallway late one night. Sorry, but the new senator was rip-roaring drunk and chasing an attractive young woman down the hallway, yelling obscenities.
AT THAT same convention I got my first view of Connally, who was JFK’s Secretary of the Navy. While his morals may not have been any better than Tower’s, at least he did so with “class” and aplomb. He sat in his suite, door open, and directed his aides — a Marine colonel, a Navy commander and a Navy lieutenant commander — to bring women to him.
I met a 22-year-old Ben Barnes in an Austin nightclub during his first term as state representative. I was 24 and still single. I had a date with a University of Texas pre-med student from Turkey. Unbeknownst to me, she was known around the Capitol as the Turkish Delight. In the club, Barnes sent one of his aides to “hustle” my date. I won.
Timber Charlie Wilson came onto my radar in 1972 when he was elected to Congress. At that time, in another one of my lives, I was briefly married to Wilson’s district office manager. Charlie would choose key issues for labor, banking, insurance, lumber and manufacturing and cast votes to assist each constituency segment. It attracted campaign donations and support from all areas and kept the lanky East Texan in Congress for more than two decades. A hawk on defense issues, the former Navy officer got the U.S. to bankroll Afghanistan rebels against Soviet occupation troops and ultimately oust them. Charlie had a reputation as a party animal, something he never tried to hide. With Charlie, what you saw was what you got.
MARK WHITE was Texas secretary of state, attorney general and governor. Once, my boss and I were in some private club atop a high-rise office building or hotel.
White and two associates were seated at a table adjacent to the one occupied by my boss, another gentleman and me. When White came into the club and sat down with his two friends, he had a quarter-folded Houston newspaper in his hand. Within a minute or two of his loud arrival (he was angry), he said something and slung the newspaper. It hit me in the chest. He apologized profusely.
Okay, who’s the winner?
Gov. Daniel, hands down. He was one of the nicest, most moral public officials I’ve ever met.
Willis Webb is a retired community newspaper editor-publisher of more than 50 years experience. He can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.