AUSTIN, Texas — Former Texas Gov. Bill Clements, who in 1979 became the state’s first Republican elected governor since Reconstruction, has died at 94, his family said.
Clements, whose belief that state government should operate like a big business helped change the face of Texas politics, died Sunday after what his family said was a brief stay at a Dallas-area hospital. Family members said Clements had been ill for several months and grieving the death of his son, who was shot and killed by a neighbor last year.
“It is somewhat fitting that he died Memorial Day weekend since he so appreciated the opportunities he had to serve his state and country,” Clements’ family said in a statement.
Clements served two terms as governor despite losing his first re-election bid. The Texas House honored him with a moment of silence Sunday on the chamber floor.
“As the father of the modern Texas Republican Party, Gov. Clements is responsible for the growth, success and election of Texas Republicans in every corner of our state,” Texas Gov. Rick Perry said. “Today, Texans and Americans have lost a leader whose leadership, service and patriotism were unparalleled.”
Clements, a Texas oilman, saw his first term in office as a major change in the way the state operated.
“It is the largest business in Texas and yet we run it like it was a soda water shed — or a barbecue stand,” Clements said shortly before turning over the chief executive’s job to Democrat Mark White, a lawyer and part-owner of a barbecue firm who upset Clements’ re-election bid in 1982.
Clements came back four years later to defeat White as governor and served until 1991.
The politic beginnings for Clements include his heading of Richard Nixon’s 1972 presidential campaign in Texas. He served as deputy secretary of defense for the U.S. Department of Defense from 1973 to 1977.
At the urging of his wife, Rita, a former national GOP committeewoman he called his “secret weapon,” Clements decided to campaign for governor in 1978.