A true giant of the Republican Party passed away on Saturday, May 29, 2011. Former Texas Governor William P. “Bill” Clements forever changed the political landscape of the Lone Star State, and the current success of the modern Republican Party of Texas can be attributed in large part to his election as Governor.
Clements began his professional career as an oilman and founder of SEDCO, the largest offshore drilling company in the world. In 1971, Clements served as the United States Deputy Secretary of Defense under President Nixon, and continued under President Ford until 1977. In 1978, Bill Clements stormed on to the Texas political scene. He challenged former state party chairman and legislator Ray Hutchison in the 1978 Republican primary. His ’78 primary campaign was unlike anything Republicans had seen before. It was well-financed, well-organized, and Clements himself proved to be a tenacious campaigner. He won an overwhelming primary victory but was a decided underdog against former Texas Attorney General John Hill in November. He went on to win election as the first Republican Governor of Texas since Reconstruction by a margin of less than 17,000 votes.
As a result of his ascension to the Governor’s Mansion, the Republican Party became a major force in Texas politics. Clements was able to appoint numerous, long-time Republicans and even some conservative Democrats to key positions which successfully changed the direction of government. His victory also established a beachhead for the Republican Party to challenge long-standing Democratic officeholders. Having a Republican governor also provided a major assist to President Ronald Reagan’s efforts to take Texas in 1980, which he successfully accomplished. Although he lost re-election in 1982, the determined Governor made a political comeback in 1986 when he defeated Mark White in a rematch. As a result, he was the longest serving Governor in Texas’ history until another Republican claimed that honor – current Texas Governor Rick Perry.
Governor Rick Perry offered the following statement upon the passing of Governor Clements. “Anita and I are deeply saddened today as our state and nation have lost a true pioneer, and a larger-than-life entrepreneur, public servant and, most of all, a Texan. Gov. Clements was a mentor and someone I admired and respected greatly. As the father of the modern day Texas Republican Party, Gov. Clements is responsible for the growth, success and election of Texas Republicans in every corner of our state. Today, Texans and Americans have lost a leader whose leadership, service and patriotism were unparalleled. Anita and I send our deepest sympathy to Rita Crocker Clements and the Clements family during this difficult time.”
Marta Greytok, former Chairman of the Texas Public Utility Commission, gave the following statement on the life of Bill Clements. “Governor Clements was the warrior who slew the tantamount and forever changed the face of the Republican Party of Texas. I was honored to be appointed to the Public Utility Commission and ultimately to serve as its Chairman by Governor Clements. He was a true Texan – very direct and very strong in his committments and he expected the same out of others. I have had the privilege of staying in communication with him over the years, both in the interim between his two terms in office, and then since his retirement. We will miss him greatly – Texas needs more leaders like Bill Clements.”
Former Texas Secretary of State and past Republican Party of Texas State Chairman George Strake remarked, “Bill Clements truly changed the life of Texans. He had unlimited confidence in himself and was multi-talented. He was as nice as could be when he wanted, and tough as a boot when he needed to be. There is no doubt about it, he was the motivating force to get the Republican Party of Texas on the map. Even though he was a Republican and leader of our party, he still wanted to be known also as the Governor of all Texas and that’s exactly how he led. I was honored to serve as his campaign chair for Governor in 1978, and to be state party chairman when he was re-elected in 1986. He was a real trailblazer for the Republican Party and Texas will never be the same because of his involvement for the party.”
State Party Chairman Steve Munisteri stated, “I was a UT Young Republican phone bank and campus volunteer when Governor Clements was first elected. His campaign generated enthusiasm among young Republicans and grassroots volunteers on college campuses and across the state. His inauguration brought an overwhelming joy felt throughout the Republican Party as history was made. Looking back, we now realize the true historic importance of his election, as it became a significant factor in Texas turning Republican in subsequent years. Governor Clements continued his support of the Republican Party after his retirement, and even just last year he served as a sponsor for a very successful Dallas fundraiser for the party. He was a great man, and I will always be grateful not only for his financial assistance that he provided to the RPT during my early months as Chairman, but more importantly, for the contribution that he made to the state. On behalf of the Republican Party of Texas, I would like to express our sincerest condolences to his wife Rita, and the rest of the Clements family.”
For the official obituary, click here. A memorial service will be held at St. Michael and All Angels Episcopal Church on Thursday, June 2, 2011 at 4:00pm.