AUSTIN, Texas — Former Gov. Bill Clements, a Dallas businessman who shattered the image of Texas as a one-party state by becoming its first Republican governor in more than a century, died Sunday (May 29, 2011). He was 94.
Not content to be the millionaire founder of a worldwide oil-drilling company, Gov. Clements sought to transfer his success in the business world into a successful career in politics.
In his first try for office, in 1978, he won the governorship of the nation's third-largest state. Although he lost his bid for re-election four years later, he staged a stunning comeback in 1986, beating incumbent Gov. Mark White in one of the closest races for governor in state history.
Gov. Rick Perry hailed Gov. Clements as "the father of the modern-day Texas Republican Party."
As the state's chief executive, Gov. Clements established a reputation as an efficient, businesslike manager. But his second administration was marred by his involvement in the Southern Methodist University pay-for-play football scandal.
Gov. Clements helped broaden his party's appeal among voters in the state and made it possible for hundreds of other Republicans to win local and state offices.
Before being elected governor, he had been active in Republican Party affairs for several years, and his business experience led President Richard Nixon to appoint him as deputy defense secretary in 1973. He served in the post until 1977, when Democrat Jimmy Carter became president.
Until the 1978 race, no Republican had won the governor's office since Reconstruction. Gov. Clements upset Attorney General John Hill in one of the closest elections in state history. His margin of victory was fewer than 17,000 votes out of 2.4 million cast.
"They took my candidacy very lightly, as kind of a joke," Gov. Clements recalled later. "I don't think Mr. Hill ever did wake up to the fact that he had a very serious race on his hands."