Preston Smith (governor)

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Preston Smith
Governor Preston Smith.jpg
40th Governor of Texas
In office
January 21, 1969 January 16, 1973
Lieutenant Ben Barnes
Preceded by John Connally
Succeeded by Dolph Briscoe
35th Lieutenant Governor of Texas
In office
January 15, 1963 January 21, 1969
Governor John Connally
Preceded by Ben Ramsey
Succeeded by Ben Barnes
Member of the Texas State Senate from District 28 (Lubbock)
In office
Preceded by Kilmer B. Corbin
Succeeded byH.J. "Doc" Blanchard
Member of the Texas House of Representatives from District 119 (Lubbock)
In office
Preceded byHop Hasley
Succeeded by Waggoner Carr
Personal details
Preston Earnest Smith

(1912-03-08)March 8, 1912
Corn Hill (now Jarrell), Texas, U.S.
DiedOctober 18, 2003(2003-10-18) (aged 91)
Lubbock, Texas, U.S.
Resting place Texas State Cemetery (Austin, Texas)
Political party Democratic
Ima Mae Smith
(m. 1935;died 1998)
Alma mater Texas Tech University
ProfessionEntrepreneur; politician

Preston Earnest Smith (March 7, 1912   October 18, 2003) was the 40th Governor of Texas from 1969 to 1973, who previously served as the lieutenant governor from 1963 to 1969.


Early life

Smith was born into a tenant farming family of thirteen children in Corn Hill, a town in Williamson County, Texas that has since been absorbed into nearby Jarrell. [1] [2] [3] The family later moved to Lamesa, Texas, where Smith graduated in 1928 from Lamesa High School. In 1934, he graduated from Texas Technological College (now Texas Tech University) in Lubbock with a bachelor's degree in business administration. [2] Staying in Lubbock, he founded a movie theater business and invested in real estate. [2] [4]

Political career

Preston Smith (second from left) with state House Speaker Gus Mutscher, former President Lyndon B. Johnson and Lieutenant Governor Ben Barnes in Brenham, August 17, 1970. Gus Mutscher, Preston Smith, Lyndon Johnson, and Ben Barnes.jpg
Preston Smith (second from left) with state House Speaker Gus Mutscher, former President Lyndon B. Johnson and Lieutenant Governor Ben Barnes in Brenham, August 17, 1970.

Smith was first elected to the Texas House of Representatives in 1944 and then to the Texas State Senate in 1956. He won the Senate seat by defeating in the primary the incumbent Kilmer B. Corbin, the father of actor Barry Corbin. In 1962, Smith won the lieutenant governor's race, securing majorities in all but 16 of the 254 counties to defeat the Republican O.W. "Bill" Hayes. [5]

In 1968, Smith was elected governor, a position he held for two two-year terms. He succeeded the popular Democratic Governor John B. Connally, Jr., who later switched to the Republican Party in 1973. To win the governorship, Smith first defeated Don Yarborough in the 1968 Democratic runoff election. Several other candidates, including Dolph Briscoe, a large landholder from Uvalde in the Texas Hill Country, and former Texas Attorney General Waggoner Carr, also of Lubbock, were eliminated in the primary.

Smith's inauguration on January 21, 1969, had what was called "the flavor of the South Plains." The Texas Tech University marching band led the parade just behind the marshal and the color guard. A mounted masked Red Raider rode with the band. Governor and Mrs. Smith, both Tech graduates, followed in an open convertible. Other Smith family members rode in the parade, followed by the new lieutenant governor, Ben Barnes. The band of Lamesa High School, Smith's alma mater, was the first among the high school groups. Before the oath taking, the first to be televised in Texas history, Smith had been feted with a $25-per-place victory dinner in the Austin Municipal Auditorium, now the Long Center for the Performing Arts. [6]

Smith twice defeated Republican nominee Paul W. Eggers, a tax attorney from Wichita Falls and later Dallas, and a close friend of U.S. Senator John G. Tower. In the high-turnout general election of 1968, Smith received 1,662,019 ballots (57 percent) to Eggers' 1,254,333 (43 percent). In the general election of 1970, Smith, who had been unopposed in the Democratic primaries, received 1,197,726 votes (53.6 percent) to Eggers' 1,037,723 (46.4 percent) - still the highest midterm year turnout in past 50 years. [7] The state switched to four-year terms in 1974, two years after Smith left office.

In 1971 and 1972, Smith was embroiled in the Sharpstown scandal stock fraud scheme, which eventually led to his downfall. Smith lost his third-term bid for the governorship of Texas to Dolph Briscoe of Uvalde in the Democratic primary in 1972. He ran a distant fourth in the primary, behind Briscoe, women's activist Frances "Sissy" Farenthold of Corpus Christi, and Lieutenant Governor Ben Barnes, formerly of Comanche County.

Among his appointments, Smith in 1970 named Paul Pressler of Houston, a former state representative, as judge of the Texas 133rd District Court in Harris County. Pressler, who later switched to the Republican Party, subsequently became known as a prime leader in the Southern Baptist Convention Conservative Resurgence which began in Houston in 1979. [8]

He appointed former State Senator Grady Hazlewood of Amarillo and Austin as a regent of Hazlewood's alma mater , West Texas A&M University in Canyon. [9] In 1969, Smith named state Representative Randy Pendleton of Andrews to head the Office of State and Federal Relations in Washington, D.C. [10]

Later life and attempted political comeback

In 1974, Smith joined banker Stanton Leon Koop (1937–2008), a native of Pampa, in forming the West Texas Savings Association in Lubbock. In 1986, Koop moved to Dallas, where he was affiliated with Great Western Mortgage Company, until his retirement in 1994.

In 1978, at the age of sixty-six, Smith again entered the Democratic gubernatorial primary against his intraparty rival, Governor Briscoe. Both Smith and Briscoe lost in the primary to former Texas Supreme Court Chief Justice John Hill, who in turn was narrowly defeated in the general election by Republican Bill Clements.

Lubbock Preston Smith International Airport Lubbock Preston Smith International Airport IMG 0261.JPG
Lubbock Preston Smith International Airport

Toward the end of his life, Smith worked as a political liaison officer for Texas Tech University. After his death in Lubbock, the airport was renamed in 2004 in his memory as Lubbock Preston Smith International Airport.

Graves of Governor and Mrs. Preston E. Smith at Texas State Cemetery in Austin, Texas Preston Smith monument, Austin, TX IMG 2191.JPG
Graves of Governor and Mrs. Preston E. Smith at Texas State Cemetery in Austin, Texas

Smith termed himself a "conservative Democrat"; although he was generally supportive of President Lyndon B. Johnson, he refused to support his party's nominees for president in 1980 and for governor in 1982. Instead of voting to reelect President Jimmy Carter and Mark White in the gubernatorial race, Smith cast his ballot for Ronald Reagan and Bill Clements, respectively. [2]

On October 18, 2003, Smith died at age 91 in the Texas Tech University Medical Center in Lubbock after being hospitalized for pneumonia. He is interred with his wife, the former Ima Mae Smith (1911–1998), at the Texas State Cemetery in Austin. [2]

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  1. Stiles, Matt (October 18, 2003). "Former Gov. Preston Smith dies". The Dallas Morning News. Archived from the original on February 20, 2005. Retrieved September 5, 2020.
  2. 1 2 3 4 5 Robison, Clay (October 18, 2003). "Ex-Gov. Preston Smith, 'proud Texan,' dies at 91". Houston Chronicle. Archived from the original on October 20, 2003. Retrieved September 5, 2020.
  3. "New Corn Hill, Texas". Texas Escapes. Retrieved September 5, 2020.
  4. Slaughter, George. "Smith, Preston Earnest (1912–2003)". Texas State Historical Association. Retrieved September 5, 2020.
  5. Charles Ashman, Connally: The Adventures of Big Bad John, New York: William Morrow Company, 1974, p. 22
  6. "1969: Smith's inaugural celebration to have flavor of South Plains". Lubbock Avalanche-Journal . January 27, 2017. Retrieved April 3, 2017.
  8. William H. Brackney, Historical Dictionary of the Baptists, p. 455. Lanham, Maryland: Scarecrow Press, 2009, ISBN 978-0-8108-5622-6 . Retrieved September 30, 2013.
  9. "Robyn Followwill-Line, "Grady Hazlewood"". Amarillo Globe News, May 19, 2000. Retrieved April 17, 2010.
  10. "Randall George Pendleton obituary". Retrieved December 17, 2010.
Party political offices
Preceded by
John Connally
Democratic nominee for Governor of Texas
1968, 1970
Succeeded by
Dolph Briscoe
Texas House of Representatives
Preceded by
Hop Halsey
Member of the Texas House of Representatives
from District 119  (Lubbock)

Succeeded by
Waggoner Carr
Texas Senate
Preceded by
Kilmer B. Corbin
Texas State Senator
from  District 28 (Lubbock)

Succeeded by
H. J. "Doc" Blanchard
Political offices
Preceded by
Ben Ramsey
Lieutenant Governor of Texas
January 15, 1963–January 21, 1969
Succeeded by
Ben F. Barnes
Preceded by
John Connally
Governor of Texas
January 21, 1969-January 16, 1973
Succeeded by
Dolph Briscoe