THE TV – “What a race they have down in Texas. Ted Cruz is fighting for his political life against a Congressman from El Paso, Beto O’Rourke, in what could be…..” The national news media (“Enemy of the American people!”), has suddenly discovered that Texas has an interesting election. I, personally, don’t think Beto will win, but what do I know? I picked Poland over Germany. If Beto does become our newest U.S. senator, he will follow some of our more colorful characters who made history long before they went to Washington. So let’s take a look at a few of our Lone Star senators.
Four of them became senators after serving as governor. Sam Houston and Price Daniel went the other way: serving as senators before becoming governor. Only six were non-lawyers. John Morris Sheppard served the longest: 28 years. Four died in office. Thomas Jefferson Rusk shot himself. His successor, J. Pinckney Henderson, died after serving only six months. John Tower, at 35, was the youngest to serve. One governor, James Flanagan, was married three times and fathered 11children.
Texas, as usual, does things differently. In the case of our U.S. Senators, we have two distinct lines of succession, the Rusk Line and the Houston Line, named for the first two to serve in those slots. John Cornyn holds the Houston Line of succession, Cruz holds the Rusk Line. A bit of background: When Texas entered the Union in 1845, we got two U.S. Senators to serve staggered terms so that both would not come up for election or re-election at the same time. After being sworn in, the two drew lots. Houston got the two-year term, Rusk got the full six years. Rusk doesn’t get enough attention. He fought at San Jacinto, held every office in the Republic of Texas, and was Houston’s drinking buddy. As a senator, Houston would sit at his desk listening to the debates. Eventually, he would take out a knife and start whittling on a wooden stick. The faster and more furious the debates raged, the faster Houston would whittle. By the time the day was over, the janitors would have to come in and sweep up a pile of wood shavings.
In a nod to history, in 1941, Gov. W. Lee O’Daniel appointed Houston’s son, Andrew Jackson Houston, to a vacant Senate seat. He was 87, the oldest man ever to enter the Senate. Unfortunately, A.J. died 24 days later, but it was a nice gesture. South Carolinian Louis Trezevant Wigfall was an excellent shot and liked to duel. He killed Thomas Bird, then got shot through both thighs by Preston Brooks. Wigfall’s law practice suffered, so he came to Texas. Oran Roberts was a colonel in the Confederate infantry. Later he taught law at The University of Texas, but never was worthy of a statue to topple. John Reagan arrived in Texas with $10 in his pocket. He became an Indian fighter, lawyer and eventually ended up as Postmaster General of the Confederacy. After the Civil War, he was treated as a war criminal – you know how mean those postal clerks can be — and was sent to a prison in Boston Harbor. Today schools named for Reagan are being renamed.
Now here’s an odd item: Roger Mills, a senator beginning in 1892, has a county named for him — in Oklahoma. I have no idea why. Rienzi Johnston was called “Colonel” although he only served as a drummer boy in the Confederate Army. How did he get promoted? He became editor of The Houston Post, and must have originated fake news. The aforementioned John Morris Sheppard has the distinction of being “the father of Prohibition.” He was co-sponsor and chief ramrod of the 18th Amendment which outlawed liquor.
Who voted for this guy?
Incidentally, much of this material comes from an excellent book on the subject, “Texas Senators,” by June Rayfield Welch. My copy only goes to Lloyd Bentsen and John Tower. Moving on, Gov. O’Daniel kept his seat as governor and ran for the senate. He was the only governor who could not vote for himself, having refused to pay the required poll tax. He had gained fame as a salesman for Light Crust Flour, and to push his product, O’Daniel hired a country and western band led by a little-known musician, Bob Wills. The Light Crust Doughboys – later the Hillbilly Boys — were a big hit on the radio, and ODaniel turned that celebrity status into the governorship. He was ineffective both as a governor and as a senator. You might say that O’Daniel put the goober in gubernatorial.
We must remember that until 1913 and the adoption of the Seventeenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, senators were chosen by the state legislature. The first popularly elected Texas senator was John Morris Sheppard. In more recent times, John Tower, who took office in 1961, was the first Republican Texas senator since the days of Reconstruction. In 1993 Republican Kay Bailey Hutchison became the first woman from Texas elected to the Senate. Thus far our first and only foreign-born senator is Ted Cruz who, until it was made public during his first race for the Senate, Cruz maintained dual citizenship in both the U.S. and Canada. Indeed, Cruz could just as easily run for a seat in the Canadian Parliament. Undoubtedly the most powerful senator from Texas was a former Houston school teacher, Lyndon Baines Johnson of – appropriately enough – Johnson City.
When Price Daniel resigned to run for governor, William A. Blakley was appointed to the job. There was a story of a young elevator operator in the Senate Office Building opening the door for the brand-new Blakley who was dressed in Texan gear. The young man asked, “Which floor, cowboy?” Blakley replied, “That’s SENATOR Cowboy, and you’re fired.” So if Beto wins, he should remember to take along to Washington his whittlin’ knife, dueling pistol and dress like a Texan.
Ashby whittles at firstname.lastname@example.org