Bud Kennedy

August 19, 2014

‘Texas Governor Claims Frameup’ — but that was in 1917

Some of the comments by the last governor facing criminal indictment sound awfully familiar.

The governor swore he didn’t do it.

Angrily, he called the criminal indictment a “frameup,” and any accuser an “infamous liar and scandalmonger.”

In 1917, Gov. Jim “Pa” Ferguson denounced “crooked politicians” and vowed to fight his indictment on nine counts accusing him of taking or misusing about $140,000 in public money.

Freshly indicted, on July 27 he announced his campaign for a new term and predicted victory by 100,000 votes.

The next day at a town picnic in Walnut Springs, near his Bonita Vista ranch, some in the crowd laughed at him.

“Laugh now,” he replied, according to The Dallas Morning News account.

“You had better, for it’s your last chance. You are going to be buried deeper than a sledgehammer can fall in a month.”

For nearly the next 100 years, Texas governors managed to avoid a criminal grand jury indictment.

Ferguson’s indictment and eventual impeachment and resignation bear only little resemblance to the criminal case against Gov. Rick Perry.

Ferguson fell out of favor in Austin because of bickering with University of Texas officials. He mocked research as “costly experiments to prove that wool will not grow on an armadillo’s back.”

The cases against Ferguson were eventually thrown out when judges and lawyers agreed they should have been filed in his home Bell County. Nothing was ever refiled after the Legislature barred him from future office, even though his wife, “Ma” Ferguson, later ran for governor and won.

But some of the news reports sound awfully familiar.

Travis County Attorney John W. Hornsby issued a statement defending the honor and principle of a grand jury.

And although the indictments didn’t involve a veto, the impeachment charges did.

In his response, Ferguson defended pocket-vetoing nearly the entire university appropriation — he kept one employee to meet constitutional requirements — as an “exercise of official discretion.”

(By the way, Ferguson’s lead lawyer in the impeachment case was former Fort Worth state Sen. W.A. Hanger, later a Ferguson critic as the 1920s kleagle of local Klavern No. 101 of the Ku Klux Klan.)

On the front page of the Star-Telegram, Ferguson’s indictment was reported alongside another front-page headline: “County Agrees to Build Road to Camp Bowie.”

The next year, barnstorming the state campaigning for re-election to an office he could not legally win, Ferguson came up with his most quoted line.

On July 13, 1918, in a speech in Comanche, Ferguson said:

“Jesus Christ was indicted and crucified and arose again. I have also been indicted, and I have been crucified and on [election day] I shall rise again.”

The News’ editorial page responded:

“The difference is that Christ faced his Judge unafraid and opposed no objection … while Mr. Ferguson crouched behind all the technicalities the lawyers could pile up to preclude a inquiry into the charges.”

But that was years ago.

Bud Kennedy's column appears Sundays, Wednesdays and Fridays. 817-390-7538

Twitter: @BudKennedy

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