Congressman Ted Poe (TX-02)
Texas politics is about as rough and tumble as the state we live in, and just about as diverse. From feed stores to board rooms the talk is all the same around this time of year – who’s gonna win? Now, I should clarify because that question really applies to two of our passions: football and politics. Both are contact sports in Texas.
Texas has a unique political history from its days as a republic to some of the characters that have held public office. One of our many famous politicians just so happens to be a woman, and in those days politics wasn’t considered polite conversation for ladies. However, in 1924, Ma Ferguson became the first woman to be governor of the Lone Star State and made her mark on the Texas political landscape.
Miriam Amanda Wallace Ferguson was born and reared in Bell County, Texas in 1875. (More than a few years later, I was born in Bell County as well.) She attended both Salado College and Baylor Female College before marrying James Edward Ferguson. James went on to become Governor of Texas in 1915.
As governor he was known for his colorful personality and was more often than not a little loose with the facts. He ran as “Farmer Jim,” representing the working man and promised to bring change to the establishment. Sounds a little familiar, doesn’t it?
But during his second term in office, Gov. Ferguson found himself in hot water amidst allegations of bribery, embezzlement and a “bear of fight” with the University of Texas. He resigned prior to his impeachment, but the Senate moved forward with the impeachment hearings thus barring him from holding public office in the future. But, Ferguson’s political career wasn’t down and out just yet.
Running on the slogan: “Two governors for the price of one,” Miriam put her name on the ballot in place of her husband’s. While being wife and mother suited her just fine, she was determined to help restore her family name and they soon became known on the campaign trail as “Ma” and “Pa.”
On the campaign promise that she would follow the explicit advice of her husband, Ma beat out primary opponent Felix Robertson in a runoff and became the Democratic gubernatorial candidate. Not that we needed to have a general election back then since everyone was a democrat, but adhering to protocol she easily defeated Republican George Butte to become Governor of Texas in 1924 and Ma and Pa Ferguson moved back into the Governor’s Mansion.
The story could end there, but like I said Texas politics is a contact sport and things began to get rough. Controversy plagued her first years in office and because of questionable highway contracts coupled with allegations of kickbacks and hundreds of pardons, Ma was defeated for re-nomination in 1926. Back then, terms were only two years because of the public’s mistrust of politicians.
So, the Fergusons were moving again. But, not for long. After an unsuccessful attempt to get Pa’s name back on the ballot, Ma entered the race again in 1930, only to be defeated by Ross Sterling. However, like my grandmother always said, “there is nothing stronger than a woman who has made up her mind.” And in 1932, Ma was re-elected for a second time.
Her second term in office was less controversial than the first. She held true to her promises of limiting state spending, but continued her practice of generous pardons and paroles. However, this time the public wasn’t so disapproving given the desperate financial times of the Great Depression. In 1934, Ma and Pa appeared to call it quits and didn’t seek re-election, nor consider it in 1936 or 1938.
But back by popular demand, Ma said she could refuse the will of the people and entered the race once again in 1940. She captured more than 100,000 votes in the primary, but it wasn’t enough to beat incumbent Governor W. Lee O’Daniel.
Pa passed away in 1944 and Ma finally decided it was time to get out of Dodge. She retired and called Austin her home for another 17 years before dying in 1961. Both Ma and Pa Ferguson are buried at the Texas State Cemetery in Austin.
And the rest is as they say…Texas History.
And that’s just the way it is.