Lt. Governor not much of a shortcut

T. Whitfield Davidson was elected lieutenant governor on Nov. 7, 1922, but the second highest office in the Lone Star State turned out not to be a short-cut to the top rung on the political ladder.

The twenty-eighth lieutenant governor of Texas has a lot of company in the history books.  Of the 44 men who have held the Number Two job in the state government, only a baker’s dozen spent even a day as governor.

In the beginning, the junior governorship looked like a sure-fire steppingstone.  Although all did not follow the same path, five of the first seven lieutenants reached the summit.

James Pinckney Henderson had been in charge of the newly annexed Republic just three months, when he took a leave of absence to lead Texas troops in the war with Mexico.  His second-in-command, Albert C. Horton, kept the home fires burning for six months until the warrior governor returned, and never again sought public office.

After serving a pair of two-year terms, Horton’s successor was the first lieutenant governor to ask the voters for a promotion.  But John A. Greer did not make it to election day dying of natural causes on the campaign trail.

When Gov. Peter Hansbrough left office 28 days early to fill a vacancy in the U.S. Congress, James W. Henderson filled in until the inauguration of the permanent replacement in December 1853.  A month as governor was plenty for the stand-in, who preferred his old seat in the state legislature.

Rather than seek reelection as lieutenant governor in 1855, Dr. David C. Dickson tried to oust his boss.  But Gov. Elisha M. Pease withstood the challenge and sent the sawbones back to private practice.

Hardin R. Runnels is remembered as the one and only politician to beat Sam Houston at the polls.  But his victory over the Hero of San Jacinto in the governor’s election of 1857 was also the first by a former lieutenant governor.

Houston won the 1859 rematch with Runnels but resigned 15 months later rather than swear allegiance to the Confederacy.  Lt. Gov. Edward Clark had no such qualms and finished Sam’s term only to lose the gubernatorial contest of 1861 by 124 votes.

The razor-thin win was sweet revenge for Francis R. Lubbock, whose defeat by Clark two years earlier was the first for an incumbent lieutenant governor.  Lubbock stepped down after two years as Civil War caretaker and was captured with Confederate President Jefferson Davis at the end of conflict.    

Lieutenant Governor John M. Crockett gladly gave the keys to Fletcher S. Stockdale in 1863 and went home to Dallas to run the Rebel munitions factory. Gov. Pendleton Murrah ran off to Mexico in June 1865, leaving Stockdale to fend for himself until the northern army relieved him of his responsibilities in August.  Stockdale was omitted from the list of governors until 1946, when the legislature ordered his portrait hung in the capitol.

There was no job security for the next lieutenant governor, removed along with his superior as “an impediment to Reconstruction” by the occupation forces.  George W. Jones spent the rest of his life campaigning for governor, twice as the Greenback Party candidate (1882 and 1884) and once as a Populist (1898).

Disenfranchised former Confederates finally got the vote back in 1873 and put one of their own in the governor’s mansion.  Richard Coke changed addresses three years later, moving to Washington and leaving his running mate in charge.

Richard Hubbard served out the new senator’s term, but powerful opponents kept him off the ballot in 1878.  He stayed a loyal Democrat in spite of the snub and in 1885 was appointed U.S. minister to Japan by President Grover Cleveland.

Joseph D. Sayers, Hubbard’s lieutenant, waited 17 years before seeking the governorship.  Under the guidance of Col. Edward House, the behind-the-scenes genius responsible for Woodrow Wilson’s presidency, he took the prize away from two other former lieutenant governors.

Of the 18 lieutenant governors that followed Sayers, just one became governor.  He was William P. Hobby, the newspaperman-politician that owed his elevation in 1917 to the impeachment and removal from office of Gov. Jim Ferguson.     

Twenty-four years and seven lieutenant governors later, resignation again resulted in a change at the top.  After winning (some said “stealing”) a special senate election, W. Lee “Pappy” O’Daniel went merrily off to Washington and left Coke Stevenson to clean up his mess in Austin.

Three more lieutenants wound up governor.  In 1947 Allan Shivers succeeded Beauford Jester, the only Texas governor to die on the job, and stuck around until 1957.  Preston Smith did it the hard way in 1968, besting nine fellow Democrats and a pesky Republican for the right to follow John Connally.  And, of course, Rick Perry, the ninth understudy who was waiting in the wings when George W. Bush went to Washington.

Need a speaker with a Texas twist?  There’s none better than Bartee Haile!  Contact him at

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