Governor backs education - but which governor?
The governor has made it a goal to be sure that education, and higher education in particular, is very much on the front burner of state lawmakers.
He has called for much more investment in the state’s research universities, to attract and groom the brainpower to attract satellite businesses, and to get a much larger share of the research grants from the federal government and other interests.
That story could have been written with great accuracy – but in 1963, not 2011.
The governor we’re talking about here was first elected as the state’s chief executive in 1962 -- almost a half century ago. His name was John Bowden Connally.
A political protégé of and former top congressional aide to Congressman Lyndon Johnson, Connally had been named Secretary of the Navy in 1961 -- the first year of the presidential administration of President John F. Kennedy and Vice-President Lyndon Johnson.
The Russians in 1957 had beaten the United States into space, with the launch of Sputnik, the first man-made satellite to orbit the earth. The Cold War was on, and the United States had put the pedal to the metal to do the research needed to catch up with and blow past the Soviet Union’s scientists.
Rather than have government do the research itself, the federal government decided it would be quicker and smarter to subsidize universities and other entities already set up to do such research.
Connally came home from Washington to seek the Democratic nomination for governor in the 1962 election, against the sitting governor, Price Daniel Sr., Texas Atty. Gen. Will Wilson, and progressive Don Yarborough -- who had the same last name as the state’s equally progressive senior senator, Ralph Yarborough.
In announcing his candidacy, Connally said making the state’s universities first-class was his top priority.
“We should be the strongest state of this nation,” Connally said. “Together, we can make Texas first in the nation in education, in industrial growth, in the broadening of job opportunities, and in the exercise of state responsibility to all people.”
Connally beat Yarborough in a runoff, and survived a harder-then-usual battle against a Republican as Texas neared the end of a century-long period of Democratic dominance.
In 1963, as governor, Connally talked about what had driven him.
“As I viewed the contracts for research in my former role as Secretary of the Navy, it was astounding to me how concentrated those contracts were,” Connally said. “They were concentrated (on the east and west coasts) because of the capacity of certain institutions and research complexes to handle adequately the research task.
“In short,” Connally said, “a concentration of brainpower made the difference.”
In 1963, Connally convinced the Legislature to pass a sizeable tax increase to boost university salaries to attract that top-notch brainpower to Texas. Connally convinced legislators to raise taxes by more than $35 million. In today’s dollars, that would be about a quarter of a billion dollars – at a time when the state’s population was about 10 million, contrasted to 25 million today. On a per-person basis, the quarter billion then would be equivalent to about $625 million today.
Later that year, on Nov. 22, 1963, President Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas as he rode in a limousine with the top removed. Connally, who was riding in the same car, was seriously wounded.
Lyndon Johnson became president. Connally gradually healed, and breezed to re-election in 1964, as Johnson won the presidential election in a landslide, sweeping in a large Democratic congressional majority with him.
Education spending in Texas, and higher education in particular, got a huge boost. A&M and UT got a large infusion of state and federal money for higher education and research.
As Connally envisioned, not only did that have the effect of putting UT and A&M on the map as hot spots for research and advanced degrees. It added momentum to other state universities, and the research spending and graduate programs attracted a spinoff of private-sector computer research and development.
It made Austin and Texas the Silicon Valley of the Southwest – called by some the Third Coast, in competition with the brainpower institutions on the East and West Coast.
It also went a long way toward meeting the requirement of the 1876 Texas Constitution that the state “shall . . . establish, organize and provide for the maintenance, support and direction of a University of the first class.”
So how are Texas legislators and Those In Control doing in 2011? We’ll take a look at that next week.
Contact McNeely at firstname.lastname@example.org or (512) 458- 2963.