Hundred of Texas political history affecionados gathered in their black tie and flowing gown finery at the LBJ Library in Austin on Saturday night,  December 1 for one of the most memorable events in recent years. The historic occasion–titled “State Dinner”, marked the celebration of a massive and masterful update and revitalization of the 41-year old University of  Texas campus landmark, largely funded by those in attendance.

An infectuous air of gaity prevailed from the outset as  guests were greeted by scenes of President Lyndon Baines Johnson and Ladybird Johnson dancing the night away in images projected on the vast Museum outer wall. Once inside, a Who’s Who of LBJ loyalists and admirers  from across Texas and far beyond were treated to a preview of all-new exhibits created by one of the nation’s foremost design teams. 

Back outside, guests dined on the expansive Library plaza amid the magic of a a balmy Austin night with captivating views of a glistening lighted fountain nearby and the dramatic UT tower beyond. After historic film clips and brief remarks by Library Director Mark Updegrove  and LBJ Foundation Chairman Larry Temple, the evening ended with guests adjourning to an adjacent dance floor where they emulated  the scene of President and Mrs. Johnson that greeted their arrival.

On a parting serious note, Chairman Temple exhorted attendees to keep the Johnson Library flame alive through today’s younger generation to assure future understanding and appreciation for the history of one of the nation’s most  important periods. As head of the Foundation, he has devoted countless hours of personal involvement in shepherding the  vast renovation project to completion.

The LBJ Library will reopen to the public on December 22, 2012.

–Julian Read

Media reports of Texas Republican Convention goers being relegated to the outerbanks of accomodations in Tampa  bring a smile and warm memories of  more favorable treatment for our state’s delegates. Of course the Texas  R’s location is where it is  simply because their presence–and comfort–are not relevant to the processs this year. They did not play any key role in selecting  the nominee, and a Republican victory in Texas this fall is a foregone conclusion.

 It is a dramatic contrast to back in 1964, when Texan President Lyndon B. Johnson was being renominated for a full term at the Democratic Convention in Atlantic City.  He had become president on November 22, 1963 following the assassination of President John F. Kennedy.  Texans were riding high. So it was no surprise that the Texas delegation was seated directly in front of the podium.  Housing of the delegates was equally favorable. Power or the perceptionof power makes all the difference.

To repeat an earlier story from that year, some particpants willl long remember the delegation seated just behind them–from Massachusetts. Old timers will recall that there was  not a lot of love lost between Presdent Johnson and former Attorney General Robert  Kennedy. Despite their alienaion, Kennedy was granted a speaking opportunity on the program.  But when he rose to speak, most of the Texans sat on their hands.  That is when Joan Kennedy, then wife of Senator Edward Kennedy became incensed, jumped into the aisle and screamed to the delegates;” Stand up, your SOBs!…Stand up!

Most of us stood up.

–Julian Read

It is amusing to listen to the likes of Rupert Murdoch and Jack Welch, also echoed by the Wall Street Journal, telling Mitt Romney what is wrong with his campaign. They and other voices have been urging him to dump some of his current campaign staffers and to reshape his message to be more specific about what he would do as President.

The truth is that most campaigns go through staff tensions when the going gets tough, regardless of the talent level. There is the inevitable conflict between those who push for fresh faces and the candidate’s  loyalty to those who brought him to the dance.  Rarely do wholesale changes in  midstream turn the tide in a campaign.

Such  current noise reminds me once again of 1980, when I served as communications director for Texas Governor John Connally’s campaign for the Republican  nomination .  When we failed to race to the head of the pack, some of  Connally’s wealthy supporters had all sorts of advice of what was wrong.  Several of them offered the view that we needed to replace current  campaign staffers  with eager new ones who should work for free if they really were dedicated to Connally. them.  One of the most memorable critiques had to do with our campaign graphics  A  movie mogul from LA vowed that the color scheme on our materials was a major problem. He trashed our red and black bumper stickers and went to the trouble of dummying up some blue ones which he said would change our fortunes.

As we were to learn to all too well, our problem was not the color of our bumpers stickers. It was the legions of Republicans across the nation who were dedicated to Ronald Reagan and impassioned to achieve his election.

–Julian Read

As one of the shrinking number of witnesses to the John F. Kennedy assassination in 1963 still standing, I have become acccustomed to the endless parade of conspiracy theories that persist, often ‘”revealed” in conjuction with a new book or movie. But I was not prepared for a phone call received this week from a Texas “researcher” who has been on the trail of  truth for more than forty years. I was struck by his earnestness and apparent sincerity.

After confirming that yes, I did know former Texas Governor and U.S. Secretary of the Treasury John B. Connally, and yes, I was in the Dallas motorcade that fateful day, he shared with me alleged new evidence from sworn affidavits of a whole new scenario of what happened in Dallas.  He claims a convincing case that (a) the regular driver of the presidential limousine was replaced by another man, who turned and shot president Kennedy from the front seat as they passed the School Book Depository; (b) Connally pulled a pistol from a leg holster and shot the driver dead; (c) Parkland Hospital unloaded three, not two bodies from the limo; and (d) the third body–presumably the mysterious replacement driver, was placed in Trauma Room Two with Connally. And the researcher still was working on what became of that body.

The researcher wanted to know my reaction. I told him that for starters, I had been around John Connally almost incessantly for nearly two years prior to that date, along with friends who had known him for a a lifetime, and I never witnessed nor ever heard of his wearing a pistol holster. I also told him that I was with Mrs. Connally outside his room at Parkland shortly after he arrived in the company of Texas Department of Public Safety officers and the scene certainly never included a second body.

If you find this yarn hard to swallow, be forwarned that it may be a harbinger of what is to come as the 50th Anniversary of the assassination of President Kennedy and grave wounding of Governor Connally approaches next year.  And by the way, my informer gravely also shared that than-Vice President Lyndon Johnson was involved in the conspiracy. Which reminds of a similar wild tale that made the rounds a few years ago: that Johnson had met with right wing extremist H.L. Hunt at his home in Dallas the night before to plot the president’s death. The only problem with that story was that Johnson was at the time in plain view of thousands of  Texans at a mammoth Houston rally for the President.  But the stories never go away…

-Julian Read

Amidst the current political dialogue regarding education (college or not to college), President Obama last week used a factory backdrop to focus on the importance of vocational training to produce a skilled workforce for today’s world.  Re-wind five decades of history and you will find that former Texas Governor John B. Connally was far ahead of his time in demonstrating both vision and action on vocational  and higher education.

His very first legislation initiative in 1963, H.B  1, authorized a Study on Education Beyond the High School. He appointed a blue ribbon committee of prominent business and acedemic leaders to study the state’s current educational assets and shortcomings, and to chart a future course to ensure that Texas was equipped for leadership in the years to come. Governor Connally dispatched me to help monitor that group’s  proceeedings. Today’s Texans would be proud to have witnessed the sincere dedication and hard work that those captains of industry and academia demonstrated over a year- long  journey.

The result of their work was groundbreaking legislation that created today’s Higher Education Coordinating Board, directed to bringing order and direction to what was a jumble of education institutions each seeking its own objectives without any overall blueprint for the state.  Former Coordinating Board Chairman Larry Temple, a prominent Austin attorney, can tell you that the lasting value to Texas of that early leadership  by Governor Connally today remains incalculable.

Likewise, when President Lyndon B. Johnson launched the Job Corps program in 1965 to teach vocatonal skills as part of the War on Poverty, Connally applied enlighted leadership with a non-conventional approach to the task.  While other states typically put a  training program in the hands of community colleges, Connally called  in and mobilized Texas industrialists to identify needed skills that would insure employment for program graduates. For example, he turned to world-renowned contraction giant H.B. Zachry of San Antonio to produce a curriculum that would train needed heavy equipment operators.  He even persuaded leaders of Dallas’ Texas Instruments to provide  a fulltime executive to direct Texas’ Camp Gary Job Corps Training Center in San Marcos for a year. Today, Gary is the largest Job Corps center in the nation and can accomodate more than 1600 male and female students.

Connally marked those achievements without formal studies or surveys. Instead, he employed vision, innovation and personal persuasion with a vast  network of leadership acquaintances across Texas back when CEOs could and did make non-partisan commitments for the betterment of the state.  Those were the days…

–Julian Read

In the course of consolidating and cleaning out political archives over the weekend ( an ongoing mission), we stumbled onto a yellowed clipping from the Austin American-Statesman reporting on our remarks at a University of Texas political forum following  Texas Governor John Connally’s unsuccessful campaign for the Republican nomination back in 1980.

Back in that dark age, we made the bold statement that television advertising–and specifically TV spots, was becoming a critical factor in winning campaign.  Hello.  But that was thirty years  ahead of the recent carpet bombing of the voters of South Carolina by candidates Mitt Romney, Newt Gingrich and lesser funded candidates.  Connally was a pioneer in the strategic utilization of television, going  all the way back to his original campaign for Texas governor in 1962.  In that  race, we conceived a campaign that employed five-minute messages in the morning Today Show (where  affiliates today do local news cutaways). That series was widely credited with familiarizing voters with Connally, his family and his views, and helped him win election. We had hoped to use the same technique in the presidential race.  Unfortunately, TV stations declined to clear and sell five minute segments to us. And in the UT forum, we lamented that their decision was a significant factor in Connally’s loss. (The household name of Reagan was a more significant factor. )

Quaint footnote to that campaign: Before anyone ever heard of PACS, Super PACs and today”s obscene expenditures, Connally declined matching federal funds and was the leading fundraiser in the race, amassing a-then-remarkable  $12 million from individual contributors, pocket change in today’s  political world.  Needless to say, the cost of  TV has gone up through the years.  A 30-second spot in yesterday’s Super Bowl fetched $3.5 milllion.  The most we paid back in 1962 for a five minute spot in the Today Show on Fort Worth’s NBC Channel 5 was $50.

–Julian Read

With the nation’s first 2012 Republican Primary caucus about to unfold in the snows of Iowa in the next few days, I am reminded of a personal experience in that quadrennial drama some 32 years ago. It was a chilling one, both physically and psychologically.

As Director of Communications for Texas Governor John B. Connally’s campaign for the Republican nomination for president in 1980, I was keenly interested in assessing the support of our opponents, and most notably that for Governor Ronald Reagan of California. As part of that   mission, I travelled to Ames, Iowa one icy night to surreptitiously visit a rally for Reagan at a local school auditorium.  Despite banks of snow, subfreezing temperatures and a howling wind, I was startled to witness a  jampacked turnout of hundreds of his loyalists. Chastened, I reported back to headquarters that we might be in “deep trouble” (sanitized version). Sure enough, that preview turned out to be an accurate barometer.  On January 21, we received only 9% of the caucus vote. But surprisingly, it was George H.W. Bush who led the pack with 32% of the vote, compared to 30% for Reagan. The lead  then see-sawed between the two through Puerto Rico, New Hampshire, Massachusetts anf Vermont primaries, while Connally placed all of his chips on South Carolina, where he had the vigorous support of  Governor James Edwards and legendary Senator Strom Thurmond, both political powerhouses in the state.  And Connally support did surge to 30% in the March 8 primary.  But a rising Reagan overwhelmed him with a thunderous 55% of the vote. As a footnote  to how that happened, Wikipedia records that heading into South Carolina, political operative Lee Atwater worked to engineer a victory for Reagan.

“Lee Atwater figured that Connally was their biggest threat there ( in South Carolina). So Lee leaked a story to me that John Connally was trying to buy the black vote. Well, that story got out, thanks to me, and it probably killed Connally….Lee saved Ronald Reagan’s camdidacy,”  said Lee Bandy,  a writer for the South Carolina newspaper The State.

We folded out hand, flew back to Texas, cancelled later primaries, and dutifully campaigned for the Reagan-Bush ticket across the state,

With all due respect to both of them,  John Connally would have made a great president.  He later served as Secretary of the Treasury for President Richard Nixon.

-Julian Read

The date of November 22, 1963 will forever be seared into the minds of all who were living then. That was the fateful day that President John F. Kennedy was assassinated, and Texas Governor John B. Connally was near-fatally wounded in a Dallas motorcade.

On the 48th anniversary of that date last week, I joined prominent Austinites and longtime friends Larry Temple, Ben Barnes and Neal Spelce in reliving our collective experiences of that tragic time before an audience at the Headliners Club.  Attorney Temple, than an assistant to Governor Connally, was deeply involved in planning for the President’s trip to Texas. Former Lt. Governor Ben Barnes, then a young member of the Texas House of Representatives, devoted weeks to selling tickets for a mammoth fundraising dinner in Austin that was to climax the tour, and to coordinating preparations with the White House.  He then put together an impromtu prayer service in the Capitol instead of the gala dinner. Well-known broadcast personality Neal Spelce went from mapping out news coverage plans with the local police chief to broadcasting the heartbreaking word that there would be no dinner.

It was my fate to be in that Dallas motorcade as a host to a busload of  national and state reporters–just a few vehicles behind the presidential limousine as it passed beneath the window of the notorious Texas Schoolbook Depository. And as the shots rang out before us, I became immersed in the ultimate crisis that would keep me in Parkland Hospital nonstop for the next three days. 

As a years-later footnote to our experiences, Temple related how he, together with prominent media leaders Tom Johnson and Bill Moyers, travelled to New York to demand that the History Channel recant an absurd documentary claim that then Vice President Lyndon B. Johnson had been part of a conspiracy to kill the President. As a result, the  History Channel did broadcast an acknowledgment of its error, and sent a letter of apology to Lady Bird Johnson.

And was there a conspiracy of some kind? Who knows? But I always will believe that it was solely the act of one demented individual.

–Julian Read

The Who’s Who of the old Austin legal and political community jammed downtown St. David’s church Tuesday afternoon to say goodbye to revered retired Chief Justice of the Texas Supreme Court Joe Greenhill.  And along with the reverent moments to celebrate the life of a genuine comunity icon, attendees got a generous diet of humor from longtime friend Larry York and sons Joe, Jr. nd Bill Greenhill.

York told the story of the day newly elected Lt. Governor Bill Hobby was sworn into office at the State Capitol. When Justice Greenhill called upon Hobby to raise his right hand to take the oath, Hobby–a lefthander, intinctively raised his left hand. So Greenhill, never missing a beat, raised his own left hand and continued to administer the oath.  And the Chief Justice said no one ever questioned whether Hobby was legally Lt. Governor.

Another tale from York that regaled the audience was about the time Greenhill took his rather run-down 12-year-old green Dodge into an auto repair shop to fix some problem. When told the part needed was no longer available, Greenhill instructed  the repair man to “just rig up somthing” he thought would work.  Then, eyeing the SO-13 state license plate, the repair man asked him if  he was in government. Greenhill confessed he was a Justice, to which the man looked over the green Dodge once more and replied “well, you must be a really honest judge”.

On  more serious notes, friends heard how Greenhill always answered his own phone and showed his handwritten opinions to 60-year-long wife Martha to be sure they were easily understood by the layman. They also heard how that in a time before desegregation, he made sure that  visiting lawyer Thurgood Marshall had a place to stay while in Austin to argue the landmark Herman Sweatt-University of Texas case, even though as then- assistant Attorney General for  Texas, he was bound to oppose him in court.  The passing of Chief Justice Greenhill takes away one more giant of Texas history.

–Julian Read

Texas legislative history got a sidelight reference in a national wire story this week about the current standoff in Wisconsin between new Republican Governor Scott Walker and the state’s public employees.  Associated Press writer Scott  Bauer reported that the Wisconsin Senate was just begining to  debate a measure being pushed  by the governor and his Republican allies who control the chamber that would end a half-century of collective bargaining for those workers, when 14 Democratic lawmakers disappeared from the Capitol on Thursday, bringing the debate to a sharp halt.  The move drew cheers from tens of thousands of protesters who filled the state house this week.

In his article, Bauer wrote that “Thursday’s events were reminiscent of a 2003 dispute in Texas, where Democrats twice fled the state to prevent adoption of a redistricting bill designed to give Republicans more seats in Congress. The bill passed a few months later”

Bauer failed to mention a legendary earlier episode at the Texas state capitol. The June 4, 1979 edition of TIME magazine reported in hilarious detail on the time that a dozen state senators, dubbed the Killer Bees, vanished  to combat a bill being pushed by then Lt. Governor Bill Hobby that would have established a presidential primary election on March 11, 1980.  One objective was to give former Governor John Connally a chance to win early in the 1980 primary season and gain a boost toward capturing the Republican nomination for President. But the bill would have established two primaries, one in March for President, and another in May for state and local offices. That would have permitted voters to “cross over” between Democrats and Republicans, a practice that gave heartburn to the all-liberal-to-moderate twelve senators.

The Killer Bees holed up in a cramped garage apartment hideaway just three miles from the Capitol. Since their absence prevented a quorum to conduct Senate business, Hobby dispatched state law enforement officers to search for and return the legislative fugitives.  According to TIME, ” It was one of the most celebrated man hunts in the history of the state. As many as 50 lawmen, including members of the vaunted Texas Rangers, combed the countryside, scanning the sagebrush and cactus scrubland, throwing up roadblocks, searching bars and rumaging through seedy border towns. For five days the hunt went on while the 12 wily fugitives eluded the long, sweaty arm of the law, even though their mug shots were splashed all across the front pages of the state’s newspapers. Finally, after 102 hours of avoiding pursuers, the twelve turned themelves in..”  The measure eventually was defeated after procedural negotiation with Lt. Governor Hobby. 

(For more colorful details, Google Texas Killer Bees)

Julian Read