Former Texas Governor Mark White, who died last week, was the most active correspondent with The Texas Pilgrim over the years. When I clicked the “publish” button for each monthly issue, I could count on his rapid response with an often lengthy e-mail of commentary and questions on the policy issues, frequently disagreeing with what I had written or at least challenging my thinking. Of course, this is one of the purposes of a blog, so we would spar back and forth, sometimes for several days, and it became an exercise I welcomed each month, for Mark was a man of ideas and we could disagree without being disagreeable.
I first met him when he was elected Texas Attorney General in 1978 and, although we were on opposite ends of the political spectrum and I didn’t support him in his campaigns for Governor in 1982 and 1986, which he fully understood, we remained friends ever since. In fact, we were scheduled to meet for lunch soon to discuss some education issues that surfaced from a recent issue of The Texas Pilgrim.
It has been said this week that he was the most consequential education Governor in Texas history and I think there is a good case to be made for that claim. His bold and courageous leadership in the crafting and adoption of House Bill 72 set the stage for the subsequent efforts over the past 35 years for standards and accountability-based education reform and gave Republican Governors who followed a measure of political cover for advancing the reforms.
I also have some history with Mark in commercial banking reforms. In 1986, when I was CEO of a Houston bank holding company, Texas was facing an economic crisis that threatened the viability of hundreds of Texas banks. Several of us who were involved with the state banking organizations went to him for help in changing Texas law to allow branch and interstate banking to assist with access to capital from outside the state. To his credit and against stiff opposition, he stepped up to lead the effort to do so by placing the issue on his agenda for a special session of the legislature in which the measure was adopted, no doubt saving a significant number of Texas banks and salvaging the state’s recovery efforts.
His other major legacy is the leadership he provided in advancing Texas as a haven for technology development which was critical in the diversification of the state’s economy. He brought together a coalition of business interests, government, and higher education to create an environment welcoming to the “high tech” culture that significantly moved Texas forward toward the 21st century.
A good man. Well done, Mark. God speed.