3. 40. Ralph Yarborough campaigning on courthouse steps, Denison, Texas. 1954. “That always boggled my mind,” said Nowlin, now a federal district judge in Austin. “His name was on the ballot every two years for many years, many elections.” Indeed, before serving as U.S. senator from 1957 to 1971, Yarborough ran unsuccessfully for governor \(back when Texas 1952, ’54, and ’56. Even before his name became commonplace on Texas ballots, Yarborough made headlines. In the 1930s, as an assistant attorney general under mentor James Allred, Yarborough pursued big oil companies that neglected to pay royalties on oil pumped from public lands. His legal victories channeled millions of dollars into the state’s Permanent School Fund, which continues to help fund public schools. As a senator, and privately until his death in 1996, Yarborough achieved dozens of policy successes. He was the only Southern senator to vote for the 1964 Civil Rights Act and one of three to support the Voting Rights Act of 1965. He co-authored the Cold War G.I. Bill. He helped President Johnson pass much of the Great Society legislation. Yarborough was renowned for his support of environmental legislation and was directly responsible for the creation of Guadalupe Mountains National Park, Padre Island National Seashore, and Big Thicket National Preserve in Texas. An affable campaigner renowned for his populist style and 18 THE TEXAS OBSERVER SEPTEMBER 21, 2007 his ability to cross-reference a library of books in his head, Yarborough became an important progressive role model. His campaigns were a classroom for some of the most successful Texas liberals of the last three decades. Yarborough proved that Texans would elect an unabashed liberal, someone who, as Ronnie Dugger, The Texas Observer’s founding editor, has remarked, had “hard-gut conviction.” Fifty years after his election to the Senate and 11 years after his death, Yarborough’s legacy remains relevant in this deeply red state, especially to younger liberals who may have never heard his name uttered in their Texas history classes. Yarborough campaigned wearing a suit when the primary elections were held in the summertimeand he wouldn’t take his jacket off. Campaigning meant preaching politics from the steps of every county courthouse. Yet Yarborough thrived. He did it with wit, passion, showmanship, and compassion. “The old campaign was sweat and grit and shoe leather,” said former Yarborough aide Joe Pinnelli. Pinnelli met Yarborough during one of his campaigns for governor, when Pinnelli was a young boy in Stephenville. He watched as the women in the house fried chicken in anticipation and, around lunchtime, a motorcade pulled up. “The very distinctive thing that I remember, being 8, is that he came to me and shook my hand, and he said, ‘How old are
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