Connally: About Men BY LOUIS DUBOSE ill OHN CONNALLY WAS, to borrow from the New York Times Magazine, “about men.” So were the politics of the era in which he moved in and out of public life. Connally once told a Time reporter that his father, John Connally Sr., was a man to be feared and admired. Connally told of his father taking a horsewhip to local bullies who had harassed his sons, then challenging them to either leave his boys alone or to invite their fathers back so they, too, could get acquainted with his whip. Connally Sr. was a cowboy, farmer, grocer, butcher and finally, in the Depression, when steady work was most scarce, Wilson County Clerk. His sons accompanied him in 1936 when he campaigned in the German, Bohemian and Polish communities in the county, and James Reston Jr., in his masterful Connally biography, Lone Star, suggests the campaign made an impression on John Jr. If Lyndon Johnson, like Elvis, achieved what he achieved to please momma, John Connally walked away from the hardscrabble of the Hill Country determined to please or impress his father. His politics were purely patrilineal, with the lines on his family tree running from Lyndon Johnson to Sid Richardson to John Kennedy to Richard Nixon. When Connally had graduated from the University of Texas Law School and Lyndon Johnson was trying to find his way around the U.S. House of Representatives, East Texas oilman and New Dealer J.R. Parten, who was also a member of the University of Texas Board of Regents, recommended Connally to Johnson. Connally became, as Andrew Kopkind wrote in the New Republic 20 years ago, LBJ’s “bag man,” which Kopkind observed is not a dishonorable thing to be in politics, particularly in a state like Texas where there was no party machinery. It was not until 1982, after all, when Jim Mattox, Ann Richards, Jim Hightower and Garry Mauro ran a somewhat coordinated camDemocrats realized they could run a statewide slate. In a state where politicians have “their own mechanisms, their own men,” Connally became Johnson’s man, known for years as LBJ, Lyndon’s Boy John. Connally ran Johnson’s unsuccessful 1941 U.S. Senate campaign before learning the intricacies of vote counting as it was then Research assistance by Miguel Rodriguez. For more on Connally’s career, see TO’s August 24, 1979, special issue. practiced in Texas. Connally allowed his candidate’s South Texas vote count to be sent to Austin early after the election, and as Congressman Jake Pickle is quoted in Reston’ s biography, “as soon as the opposition knew our total the thing began to erode.” W. Lee “Poppy” O’Daniel’s East Texas vote totals trickled in, his lead grew, and O’Daniel won by a slim margin. To Connally’s credit, Reston wrote, “he did not come to the practice of vote stealing and election fraud comfortably.” But he finally did. In 1948, Connally himself went to Jim Wells County after the polls closed to tell Alice Precinct Judge Luis Solos “if I can get 200 more votes, I’ve got it.” In 1951 Connally moved on to work for millionaire oilman Sid Richardson, where he learned politics as it is practiced by those who pay for it. Concerned about whether the federal or state governments would prevail in the fight over oil rights in the Tidelands, Richardson contributed $1 million to Dwight Eisenhower’s presidential campaign and, according to Reston, picked up Eisenhower’s $200,000 tab at the Commodore Hotel in New York, where Ike stayed when he returned to the United States. When Richardson died, Connally was named executor of the Richardson estate, for which he earned $750,000. CONNALLY came to know John F. Kennedy in 1956 when Connally served as vice chair of the Texas Delegation at the Democratic Convention in Chicago. Connally jumped on the end of the train of Southern states lining up behind Kennedy’s vice presidential bid, which was beaten back by Estes Kefauver who eventually ran with Adlai Stevenson. Though Connally had cultivated Kennedy’s favor in ’56, as manager of Johnson’s presidential campaign at the 1960 convention he was again Lyndon’s Boy John. Connally convinced the Johnson camp to go public with a statement about Kennedy’s health. Kennedy suffered from a glandular disorder known as Addison’ s disease and Connally sensed the race was close enough that raising questions about Kennedy’s health could swing the nomination to Johnson. It was hardly an act of political nobility and in the end it backfired. Yet after the inauguration, when Kennedy asked House Speaker Sam Rayburn about cabinet appointments, Rayburn suggested Connally, who was practicing law in Fort Worth, and Kennedy brought Connally to Washington. He only stayed six months as Secretary of the Navy before returning to Texas to run for Governor. Although after the assassination, Connally’s obsession with populist rival Senator Ralph Yarborough was no longer a news story, Connally’ s preoccupation with Yarborough and his determination to publicly humiliate him while Kennedy was in Texas was shameful. Connally, with firm support from his wife Nellie, refused to invite the Yarboroughs to a dinner honoring the Kennedys at the Governor’s Mansion. “I won’t have those people in my house,” Nellie Brill Connally reportedly said of the Ralph and Opal Yarborough. Connally’s insistence that Yarborough be seated on a lower platform, away from the President at an official dinner, somehow suggests the ritual practices that establish dominance in primate colonies. Had Kennedy known the depth and bitterness of the feud he was stepping into in 1963, he might have stayed in Washington. \(Connally ended up on top when he convinced Lloyd Bentsen to challenge Yarborough in the 1970 Democratic Primary that ended Yarborough’s Connally’s real mandate as governor didn’t come from his defeat of Don Yarborough in the 1962 Democratic primary runoff. Once Connally was shot while riding in the car with JFK in Dallas, he could do no wrong and easily defeated Don Yarborough in 1964. “He needs to come back here and get himself shot once every six months,” Lieut. Gov . Bob Bullock said years later of the public’s fondness for Connally. Connally had emerged from the 1964 election a national hero, with polling numbers not even Ann Richards will ever achieve. But he would preside over a backward state with only 2 percent of its blacks attending integrated schools and with Mexican Americans and blacks, who made up one-fourth of the state’s population, comprising a huge underclass. Texas ranked 33rd in per capita income, 44th in adult literacy and last in expenditures for child welfare services. It included the largest pool of poor people in the United States and was handicapped by one of the nation’s weakest public education systems. With the political capital he had acquired, from his years with LBJ, from his ride in Dallas with JFK, from his ascendancy over Ralph Yarborough and his trouncing of Don Yarborough, Connally was in a position to “reinvent government” in Texas. As Ronnie Dugger wrote in these pages at the end of Connally’s last term in 1968, Connally not only missed the opportunity, he never pursued it. 6 JULY 2, 1993 1.1
You May Also Like
The documentary in Falfurrias is sinister and spiritual.