Texas Governor Series: Dolph Briscoe
Last updated 10/12/2021 at 7:25pm
The forty-first governor of Texas was Dolph Briscoe, who served from 1973-1979. Briscoe was a conservative Democrat and was elected at a time when Texas was still a one-party state. No Republican had been elected governor since the episode following the Civil War called Carpetbag government. Briscoe defeated Preston Smith who probably lost because of the largest scandal known to Texas: The Sharp’s Town Scandal.
He was a congenial fellow; a multi-millionaire, a rancher who owned more land in Texas than most other ranchers with the exception of the owners of the King Ranch. Briscoe is most remembered for his concern about ranching, education and taxes in Texas. (Must correct one of my previous articles ---John Connally was not the first to serve a four-year term, in fact it was Briscoe. He was the last governor to serve a two-year term.)
While governor, Briscoe continued his dedication to higher education and was primarily responsible for the little college in Uvalde to experience exponential growth. He was well known for his generosity, eventually forming the Dolph and Janie Briscoe Fund for Texas history at the University of Texas, Austin. Briscoe was the last Democratic governor to be re-elected while in office to a second term.
While Dolph Briscoe was even tempered most of the time and not known for political rants, he could become very forceful when it concerned a pet project. I recall one incident when Briscoe was holding forth and urging members of the Legislature to support the vaccination of cattle throughout Texas. The measure was very divisive among ranchers and even the legislators. I was opposed to Briscoe’s proposal for many reasons. Although we disagreed, Briscoe never reprimanded me or attempted to pressure me into a vote. I recall on one occasion when John Whitmire, now the Dean of the Texas Senate, emerged from the Senate lounge shaking his head. I asked him what was wrong; Whitmire said he had just been chewed out from one end to the other by Governor Briscoe about his stand on the cattle vaccination. I informed Whitmire that I disagreed with the governor who had never said a cross word to me. Whitmire looked at me with a whimsical sort of way and replied, “Yes, but you didn’t lie to him.”
In hindsight as I recall many good things were accomplished while Governor Briscoe occupied the governor’s office. Although Texas was a one-party state, we were somewhat divided along the same lines of conservatives and liberals known as conservative Democrats and loyal Democrats. But it was a time when the Legislature and those who occupied statewide office still understood the need for compromise as a basis for decent government.