Page 14


A Maury Maverick Sr. at La Villita, San Antonio, Courtesy Maury Maverick Photograph Collection, C.A.H. 1952. Parten is just above Maverick. Arkansas, when H.L. Hunt was simply a gambling-house operator there. His lawyer in Louisiana was a colorful young man, Huey Long. Parten chose Long to be his attorney in those days not because of politics, but because he liked him. The fact is Parten did not have much use for politics in the early days of building his business he was an oil man, and he focused on his business. When he did think about government, he viewed it as the enemy. Parten cut his teeth in politics fighting federal involvement in the oil and gas industry. The big oil companies wanted the federal government ‘to enforce production quotas on oil producers, in order to limit supply and raise prices. Smaller, independent oil men like Parten feared an alliance between big government and big oil that would restrict opportunity for small, independent oil companies. They fought attempts at any regulation by either the Texas Railroad Commission or Washington. Parten first made his mark in politics battling federal regulation and Big Oil. When, in 1935, the Democratic National Committee asked the chairman of the Democratic Party of Texas, Myron Blalock, to raise money from Texas for Roosevelt, Parten led the effort with great success. He said he wanted President Roosevelt to know he “had friends” in Texas. Parten’s antagonist during this period was Secretary of the Interior Harold Ickes, one of the most progressive voices in the Roosevelt Administration, and later Parten’s valued colleague. Ickes objected to Roosevelt about Parten, saying that Parten seemed to have “a complex” when it came to any form of regulation of the oil and gas business. Parten did have a fixation about both big government and big business. Parten understood, better than did many 1960s liberals, that both big government and big business could treat citinstitution public or private big enough to be insulated from its customers can lose accountability. Parten began as a Democrat cut from the same cloth as Jefferson and Brandeis, who distrusted “big” anything. Major Parten’s politics changed somewhat after he helped finance and quarterback Jim Allred’s candidacy for governor of Texas in 1934. Allred became one of the most progressive governors in the history of Texas, and ap pointed Parten to the U.T. Board of Regents, where the Major lobbied successfully for increased University funding. Parten spent half his time on university business from 1935-1941, but received his own higher education in reactionary politics when he resisted unsuccessfully attempts by right-wing regents appointed by the next governor, Pappy O’Daniel, to fire progressive U.T. president Homer Rainey and two liberal economics professors. Parten was an educated man who was not frightened by ideas. He did not consider himself an intellectual, and certainly he did not subscribe to the cynical defeatist currency of leftist intellectuals, who feel more comfortable complaining about things than rolling up their shirtsleeves to take political power. But Parten also took offence at the tendency of certain conservatives to label any progressive idea “communist.” Harold Ickes subsequently recruited Parten to move to the Washington he had battled, to fight against the railroad and maritime interests and mobilize the oil industry to increase production and get oil up to the East Coast. After the war, Parten returned to Texas a statesman, but still a fighter. He bankrolled Homer Rainey’s campaign for governor in 1946. He lost that fight, but it marked the emergence of a statewide progressive coalition that fought the Shivercrats for a generation. In January 1952, Rayburn asked Parten to find an opponent to run against Governor Alan Shivers, whom Rayburn could not abide. The Major worked to recruit Ralph Yarborough, whom he had known when Yarborough was a young assistant to Jimmy Allied. For years afterward, Yarborough turned to Parten time after time to finance his campaigns, right through his successful special election to the United States Senate in 1957. In his later years, Parten participated in politics mainly as a donor, and he certainly had an impact. Though he lost his political hero with the death of Sam Rayburn, Sissy Farenthold and others would not have made the impact they did without the financial support of a handful of wealthy, progressive donors, led by Parten. In my early days of raising funds, I recall someone telling me that progressive Democrats would suffer more than the Republicans because of limits on campaign contributions. It seemed a paradox, since there were so many wealthy Republicans. Yet because so many Republicans with high net worths can be counted on to try to protect their pocketbooks, the small number of Democratic donors who are capable each need to contribute so much more. And so they did. Parten was the most influential donor in Texas politics for a period of decades. He was not the 26 THE TEXAS OBSERVER DECEMBER 4, 1998