Law

Texas Standard: February 24, 2021

As Governor Abbott prepares for a statewide televised address on the blackouts, many wonder why they haven’t heard more from him before now. Rapid fallout from the blackout of 2021 already happening, as 5 ERCOT board members say they’ll tender their resignations. We’ll have the latest. Also more on the implications of last weeks blackout in the fight against COVID-19. And could last weeks disaster actually lead to changes in labor laws? A labor historian on what history tells us about past patterns. Plus commentator W.F. Strong rethinks his list of Texas-themed tunes, a Politifact check of Beto O’Rourke and more today on the Texas Standard:

The Impeachment and Conviction of Texas Governor Jim Ferguson

It’s hard not to like the down-home folksy style that made Texas Governor Jim Ferguson so enormously popular 100 years ago. After all, he was known as “Farmer Jim.” He often said, “Civilization begins and ends with the plow.” Ferguson was a mesmerizing speaker and storyteller and was splendidly fluent in the dialects of rural Texas. Texas was blue, then, really indigo. To be the democratic nominee for governor was the same as being elected governor.

As historian Cortez Ewing pointed out, Ferguson was the “voice of the people,” and with his 6th grade education, he promoted the idea that he had not “suffered the damages” of higher degrees. He liked to say he was no “city slicker” and no  “college dude.” A government doesn’t require “educated fools” to run properly. Ferguson would often call into question the value of a college diploma, saying it was “book learning gone to seed.” He said some professors took three years to learn “you couldn’t grow wool on an armadillo.” His constituency, he claimed, “resided where the creeks forked” and he felt they were getting short-changed by not getting enough basic education while the kids at UT were getting too much of it. He said those kids go up to Austin for four years and return home with nothing but “a mandolin and liver damage.” As my brother Redneck Dave would say, “That right there is funny. I don’t care who you are.”

He did some good things. I suppose the best of them was substantially increasing the funding for public education in Texas, particularly benefitting rural Texas, and creating a Texas Highway Department, even though he later raided the funds with impunity.

As much as one might appreciate Ferguson’s homey aphorisms, a word he’d likely have found objectionable because of its academic taint, his style loses its charm when you learn all that was revealed at his impeachment. In sum, his down-home authenticity faded away to reveal a man who was mostly a fraud. He claimed to be a successful business man; he was not. He claimed to be painstakingly honest; he was an embezzler. He was an avowed enemy of the KKK, but to hear him talk about black people you’d have thought he had earned his hood.   He said the governor served the people, but he used the power of the office to reward his friends and crush not just his political enemies, but good servants of the state whose only offense was not voting for him. Farmer Jim wasn’t even much of a farmer, though he owned a few farms and was incredibly loyal to farmers.

There were two major parts to the impeachment charges brought against him in 1917. The first had to do with his abuse of power while attempting to micromanage the University of Texas. The second had to do with his utilization of the Temple Bank he had controlling interest in as his personal slush fund.

The UT battle was the one he should have avoided. It proved his undoing. Basically he wanted 5 professors fired for the unstated reason that they had spoken out publicly against his candidacy for governor. He told the UT President, Dr. Robert E. Vinson, he wanted them fired. Vinson asked what they had done to deserve it and he said, “I don’t need a reason, I’m the Governor.” He told Vinson that he fought him on this “he was in for the biggest bear fight in Texas history.” That fairly summarized his attitude about his power. It was, in his mind,  absolute. When Vinson refused to fire the professors, he went after the Board of Regents to get them to do his bidding. When they wouldn’t, he started replacing them one by one and withheld state funding from the university to force the university to obey his orders. This led to a special session being called by the legislature itself to press for Ferguson’s impeachment.

Here’s where Ferguson made his first greatest legal blunder. The legislature cannot call itself into special session. Only the governor can do that. So to prove this to them HE called a special session to consider UT funding he could sign. While there, legislators legally took up another matter, impeachment. The house sent 21 articles of impeachment to the Senate. And here Ferguson made his second blunder. He showed up most every day to his own trial, invited or not, with two armed Texas Rangers as escorts. He gave a speech in his own defense and blamed the charges on that “N-word loving Senator from the north, Senator Johnson” (not Lyndon – I’ve cleaned that up for you). Hearing the gasps in the chamber, he immediately asked to strike the comment.  He took the stand on his behalf and was mostly a weak and contradictory witness, unable to explain discrepancies. The fact is that he had parked state funds in his bank for personal gain and he had run his bank as a one man Ponzi scheme. He loaned himself so much money that he practically bankrupted his own bank.  He blamed his directors for running a shoddy operation.

The Senate found him guilty on five charges relating to mishandling of public funds and abuse of power in relation to the university. The vote was 25-3. Even his former political allies couldn’t find him innocent in the face of such damning evidence – and his own indefensible behavior. But the day before the conviction was certain to come down, Ferguson cleverly resigned, claiming then that they couldn’t uphold an impeachment for someone who wasn’t actually in office. This was a vital point to him because the impeachment barred him from running for any office in Texas for life. He later ran anyway claiming that he had resigned before he was convicted. The Texas Supreme Court disagreed – so he had his wife run in his place. And she won.

One final note of incredulity. In her first term, Miriam “Ma” Ferguson, as she was known, had a law passed that gave amnesty to all Texas officials formerly impeached. Of course, her husband was the only one the amnesty applied to. She even used the word “Christian” in the law implying that Christian forgiveness was appropriate here.

 

Ewing, Cortez “The Impeachment of James E. Ferguson.” Political Science Quarterly, 48 (June 1933), 184-210.

Wilson, Carol O. In the Governor’s Shadow: the true story of Ma and Pa Ferguson. University of North Texas Press, Denton, 2014.

 

Texas Standard: January 15, 2020

The Democratic presidential debate: the last before voting begins in this years contest. We’ll explore whether anything might have made a difference to voters in the Lone Star State. Also, wage violations: a new law likely to insulate some of America’s biggest franchises. And a unique way of talking among many Texans: has Spanglish become a language all its own? All those stores plus a Politifact check and more today on the Standard:

Texas Standard: January 13, 2020

After an executive order from the Trump administration, Texas becomes the first state to opt out of future refugee resettlement. We’ll have the latest. Also, a New York billionaire tours Texas by bus trying to make inroads in his presidential campaign. For Michael Bloomberg, the stakes are high. And a disturbing affair in the world of romance novels. Plus the biography of a Texan who fought his way out of tough times and so much more today on the Texas Standard:

Texas Standard: December 10, 2019

Deadline for getting on the ballot in Texas comes and goes. We’ll take a look at what the list of candidates may or may not tell us about an evolution in Texas politics. Also, years ago alarm bells sounded over a high rate of maternal mortality in Texas. Then the data was found to be problematic. A new investigation suggests it was right to be concerned after all. And a booming business in craft distilling in Texas. But spirits are low over a coming change. Those stories and more today on the Texas Standard:

Texas Standard: September 10, 2019

Midland-Odessa, El Paso, Santa Fe, Sutherland Springs… We’ll take a look at laws that may have helped prevent these mass shootings. Also, three Texas border cities are part of the Trump Administration’s so-called “remain in Mexico” program. But there’s some confusion in the rollout, we’ll explore. And a think tank with a focus on renewables says now is the time to say goodbye to natural gas. We’ll explain. Plus, lovesick crabs are being lured to their deaths at the site of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill. And an analysis of the Democratic plan to victory in Texas in 2020. All of that and so much more today on the Texas Standard:

Texas Standard: September 5, 2019

The FBI learning more about how the Permian Basin shooter sidestepped Federal background checks. Now they’re focusing on a person in Lubbock. We’ll have details and look at how Texas lawmakers are approaching the question of what two do about gun violence. Also, another retirement in the Texas GOP and what it means for 2020. Plus it’s being called the most important book on football since Friday Night Lights: the story of the man they call the Tyler Rose, Earl Campbell. Also, heart surgery without opening up the chest? A stunning new procedure that could save lives. All of that and more today on the Texas Standard:

Texas Standard: September 3, 2019

We’re learning more about contact between the Permian Basin shooter and law enforcement before the shooting spree started. We’ll have the latest on the investigation into the second mass shooting in west Texas in a month, and a conversation with the mayor of Odessa. Also, some say we should batten down the hatches for an eventual economic downturn. How do you do that, exactly? Plus: America the gerontocracy? A provocative look at the body politic and a whole lot more today on the Texas Standard:

Texas Standard: August 26, 2019

From guns to lemonade stands, new laws about to take effect. Experts from the Dallas Morning News and the Texas Tribune tell us all about em. Other stories we’re watching, amid record heat, there’s one place in southeast Texas keeping cool without fear of rolling blackouts or skyrocketing electricity prices. We’ll take a look at how they’re doing it. Plus gun control in the aftermath of El Paso: the president first said he’d support tightening gun purchase background checks, then seemed to step back after a call with the head of the NRA. What’s the real story? All of that and then some today on the Texas Standard:

The Provability Gap, Part 4: The Public

Should all the responsibility for the poor track record of getting justice for rape survivors fall on police and prosecutors? Or should city leaders … and the community at large, also carry some of the blame? 

Texas Standard: August 20, 2019

The governor launches a second panel to address immediate safety concerns in the aftermath of the El Paso shooting. What’s different? We’ll take a look. Among the lawmakers assigned to the new Texas safety commission, several from the El Paso area: Democratic representative Mary Gonzales on what she hopes will come out of the newly created Texas Safety Commission. Also, why Dallas is turning to a task force to deal with rising homicide rates. And are national developers driving up college debt? All those stories and more today on the Texas Standard:

Texas Standard: August 19, 2019

A partial win for the Trump administration’s new rule for asylum is affecting thousands of people on the other side of the Texas Mexico divide. We’ll take a look at whats happening. Other stories we’re covering: a ransomware attack paralyses 23 government computer systems statewide. Could it have been prevented? One expert says absolutely. Also, a man set to be executed by Texas this week. It’s his sixth scheduled execution date. Why questions about his actual innocence have haunted the courts for almost two decades. Those stories and a whole lot more today on the Texas Standard:

Texas Standard: August 7, 2019

A presidential visit to El Paso and a rejoinder from a Texas representative: no thank you Mr. President, we don’t want to hear from you. We’ll have more on Mr. Trump’s visit to El Paso and our conversation with Texas state representative from El Paso, César Blanco. Also the latest from a city still in mourning over the loss of 22 people. And psychologists discuss the issues of mental health and guns. And changes to Texas’ laws on hemp and CBD oil creating confusion over pot arrests? Those stories and more today on the Texas Standard:

Texas Standard: July 17, 2019

A Texas democrat in the race for president faces disappointing numbers and new calls to reconsider his political objective. That story coming up today on the Texas Standard. Disorder in the court? A commission set to reconsider whether Texas judges should have to run for office or whether partisan races undermine the independence of the Texas bench. Also amid boom times for oil, a warning of a petrochemical bust just five years away, and why Texas needs to take that into account right now. All that and a whole lot more on the national news show of Texas:

Texas Standard: July 5, 2019

Texas’ fraught relationship with everything cannabis just took a new turn. The new hemp law that’s left law enforcement agencies scratching their heads, we’ll have details. Also, some of Texas’ fastest growing cities have public schools where the population is shrinking: “The Charter Effect”. We’ll explore. And from the days of the California Gold Rush to today, the Midland area remains crucial to those seeking fortune. Plus, nurdles and the woman in a kayak who’s fighting to rid Lavaca Bay of these plastics. And should your relationship with your gun change as you age? We’ll take a look at that and more today on the Texas Standard:

Texas Standard: June 7, 2019

Politically radioactive: a popular plan to protect domestic violence survivors gets the governor’s veto. The reason? Nuclear waste. We’ll have the backstory. Also summer’s here, does that mean your kids will lose a lot of what they’ve learned? Probably not, says a Texas researcher who’s bucking the conventional wisdom… we’ll hear why. And from San Benito all the way to the Big Apple and the Billboard top 10: our conversation with Charlie Crockett. Plus the week in Texas politics with the Texas Tribune and a whole lot more today on the Texas Standard:

Texas Standard: June 4, 2019

Policing the police? A Texas Democrat running for president wants to make police accountability a theme in 2020, we’ll have details. Also, they went abroad to spread the gospel. Now an investigation finds a legacy of abuse by Southern Baptist missionaries, we’ll take a look. And new rankings for public schools across the Lone Star State, one part of Texas continues to shine. But a surprising downturn for some larger districts…we’ll have a closer look. Also, what didn’t happen in the just concluded 86th legislature? All of those stories and more today on the Texas Standard:

Texas Standard: June 3, 2019

The legislative session is out, and now the real politicking can begin. That’s right, the 2020 Elections are not so far away, we’ll have more. And did you hear Texas is now home to the country’s largest trading hub? A trip to Laredo to look at the challenges to keeping that title. Plus, an oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico that made history: an explosion, a failed blowout preventer, millions of gallons spilled. But we’re not talking about the Deepwater Horizon. And most of us take our immune systems for granted, until we feel it fails us in some way. A closer look. And why Texas Football fans should care about the Oklahoma drill and more today on the Texas Standard:

Texas Standard: May 28, 2019

The 86th session of the Texas legislature is history, but is it one for the history books? We’ll take a look at the highs and lows, the winners and losers and more on a special edition of the Texas Standard. At a time of bitterness and division in national politics, a funny thing happened on the way to the Texas legislature in January: the three most powerful figures in Texas politics resolved to get things done without playing to the political extremes. From property tax and school finance reform, mental health care and beyond…we’ll look at who won who lost and how it affects all of us on our special edition of the Standard:

Texas Standard: May 27, 2019

It’s a day to remember: those who gave their lives in service of the nation. But it’s also the end of the 86th legislative session. We will look at the state’s budget and what’s in it. Plus, a bill in Congress that stalled and it has money for Harvey recovery, what’s next? And how could 5G interfere with predicting the next Harvey? We’ll explore. And we’ll take a look at how restorative justice could restore more than individual lives and revive neighborhoods. And the little computer program that could… COBOL has been dismissed but is still going strong. Those stories and a whole lot more today on the Texas Standard: