Page 4


land fraud cases. The deposition revealed that Shivers had paid Lloyd Bentsen, Sr., $25,000 for an option to buy some of the land that had become entangled in the lawsuits, and that seven months later, after having been elected lieutenant governor, Shivers had sold the option for $425,000. That transaction was also handled by Big Lloyd. In short, Shivers was exposed as a politician who had reaped a $425,000 profit from a $25,000 investment on land already involved in a fraud case. Despite such embarrassments, the Bentsen family not only survived but prospered. During the ’50s, brothers Lloyd, Sr., and Elmer transferred their holdings from real estate to insurance, using realty mortgages and bank stocks as the underpinnings of Consolidated American Life Insurance Company. The company’s first president was young Lloyd, Jr., who had served as a congressman in the early ’50s and then, claiming he couldn’t make enough, returned home to take up the family business. The Bentsen brothers continued to be the firm’s largest stockholders, controlling more than a third of the shares, as the firm grew and merged with Liberty Life Insurance of Nebraska. By 1970, when Lloyd Bentsen, Jr., ran against Senator Ralph Yarborough in the Democratic primary, he was president of Lincoln Consolidated, a holding company that served as an umbrella for the family company, in turn, was the parent of Lincoln Liberty and a string of other concerns engaged in mutual funds, a savings and loan institution, and other investment properties. Meanwhile, as a “farmer,” Lloyd, Jr., was receiving over $100,000 a year from the federal government in crop subsidies. He was also on the boards of Continental Oil, one of the biggest oil companies in the U.S.; Panhandle Eastern Pipeline Co.; Trunkline Gas Co.; Houston Bank of the Southwest; and Lockheed Corp., the aerospace and military contractor. He resigned these directorships upon entering the Senate race and quit Lincoln Consolidated after winning the election. Bentsen’s political career was built upon his family’s power in the Valley. After winning medals as a bomber pilot in World War II, he returned home and, at age 25, quickly was elected as the youngest county judge ever in Hidalgo County. When he was elected to the House of Representatives in 1948, he was its youngest member. In the House, he endeared himself to Texas conservatives by insisting that the U.S. should drop an atomic bomb on North Korea. Young Lloyd’s notion of international politics was simple. He believed we should arm Francisco Franco, Chiang Kaishek, and any other right-wing dictator who professed to be what he described as “anticommunist.” Running in the 1970 Senate primary against the liberal Yarborough, Bentsen missed no opportunity for a smear. He claimed, for example, that Yarborough was antisouthern because he had opposed Nixon’s appointment of G. Harold Carswell to the Supreme Court. When Senators Ed Muskie of Maine and Harold Hughes of Iowa came into the state to campaign for Yarborough, Bentsen castigated them as “ultraliberal” outsiders. During the final weeks of the increasingly dirty campaign, Bentsen’s television commercials showed scenes of rioting in Chicago during the 1968 convention. “That was the violence in Chicago spawned by the supporters of Eugene McCarthy during the Democratic convention,” Bentsen said. “Senator Ralph Yarborough endorsed McCarthy for President. Did he represent your views when he backed McCarthy?” More scenes of rioting, and then Bentsen again: “That was violence in Washington during the [Vietnam] Moratorium last fall. Senator Yarborough endorsed the Moratorium. Did he represent your views on these demonstrations? I don’t think his actions represent the viewpoint of the people of Texas. That’s why I am running for United States Senator.” \(His running mate Dukakis, as a Massachusetts Democrat, had, of course, fervently supported the antiwar movement. According to biographers Richard Gaines and Michael Segal in Dukakis and the Reform Impulse, the young Duke “subordinated all else to the antiwar and reform crusade” in the late ’60s; he also led a pro-McCarthy slate of local pols in Brookline against the supporters of Lyndon Yarborough tried to fight back, but Bentsen crushed him by 100,000 votes and then beat George Bush in the general election. Two years later, when Bentsen was asked by researchers for Ralph Nader whether he didn’t think it was unfair to associate Yarborough with riots in Washington and Chicago, he replied, “Let me say this. I don’t believe there was a distortion of facts in that ad. It was a tough ad. And it is an ad that I am not happy with, frankly.” In 1976 Bentsen faced Phil Gramm, before Gramm’s switch to the GOP, and after winning the primary, decided to run for the presidency as well as for reelection to the Senate. His apparent plan was to fight George Wallace to a standstill in the Southern presidential primaries, and then during the convention in New York, to win the bacicroom support of such party titans as Chicago mayor Richard Daley and AFLCIO boss George Meany. In theory, a Bentsen victory was possible because while no one much liked him, nobody hated him either. After his lame showing in the Mississippi caucuses, the Austin AmericanStatesman concluded, “When you finish fourth behind Sargent Shriver in the Deep South in Democratic precinct caucuses, you’re in a heap o’ trouble, boy.” Bentsen dropped out of the race after a second poor primary showing. In Washington, Bentsen became a leading supporter of “Little Oil,” the independent producers based mostly in Texas, Louisiana, and Oklahoma, who have long been prominent in presidential politics through their huge contributions. The Little Oil men traditionally stuck with the Democrats, especially during the days of LBJ, and they played a major role in pressuring the Democrats under Jimmy Carter into largely abandoning efforts to regulate the prices of natural gas, and later oil, insisting that the market should set energy prices, not the federal government. Having intimidated Carter, they then jumped to Reagan, who promised them even more to abandon all regulation of the energy industry. Since 1980, they have supported the Republicans, but over the last four years the Little Oil crowd has become restive, even angry. Having persuaded both parties to let oil and gas prices ride the market, they soon found that the glut in world production sent prices tumbling. Now they want protection in the form of an oil import quota and tax incentives from the market they once praised. Bentsen naturally is a keen advocate of the domestic oil industry. \(Dukakis, who comes from Massachusetts, where consumers would suffer badly from the rising prices caused by an oil import quota, ha _s opposed such During the late ’70s, Bentsen served as head of the congressional Joint Economic Committee, which under the late congressman Wright Patman had had a populist tone, and in the hands of William Proxmire, a progressive stamp. But by 1979, well before Ronald Reagan was converted to the cause, the same committee under Bentsen’s leadership warmly embraced a version of supplyside economics. Whether, as one committee staffer put it, Bentsen was “sincerely wrong” rather than a paid tool of business interests hardly matters. The effect was tax legislation that, in the early ’80s, virtually exempted some of the nation’s largest corporations including General Electric and General Dynamics from paying anything at all. Years later, according to Donald Regan, the President himself was shocked to learn what his ideology had wrought in terms of corporate tax avoidance. Bentsen later supported the tax reform bill of 1986, which corrected some of the earlier legislation’s most egregious giveaways. As a businessman politician, Bentsen has supported the idea of a regulatory budget under which Congress would tell each agency how much its regulations cost the public every year, effectively hobbling federal activism to protect consumers and the environment. He has voted against food stamps for striking workers; against busing for school integration; for the MX missile; for the highway lobby against mass transit; THE TEXAS OBSERVER 5