The Ferguson Couple: The Troubles and Challenges of Politics
For many people, politics is both a source of trouble and an avenue of opportunities. For a politician, the benefit derived from holding a political office always exceeds the cost of maintaining it. Few persons in history succeeded in refurbishing their political interests to suit public needs. Fewer were able to relinquish their political interests to public interests. In history, most persons in the political arena manipulated in one way or another pubic interests to create atmosphere of political disillusion, corruption, and even civil revolt. In this paper, the author will give the reader a short background of a couple’s life: the life of a politician. These two individuals were situated into different political atmospheres to which they might or might not intend to create.
James E. Ferguson: The Impeached Governor of Texas
James Ferguson was born in Salado, Texas. At an early age, he traveled widely to the Old West in order to find opportunities. Failed in his venture, he returned to his home and began searching for jobs. On December 31, 1899, he married Miriam A. Wallace, a simple educated woman. In the 1900s, James Ferguson began to launch several election campaigns; most of which were unsuccessful.
With ambition on his mind, he worked hard to convince the voters of his integrity and passion for governance. There were times when campaign funds were drawn from his pockets because some of the local leaders refused to finance his campaigns. His efforts were finally paid off when, in 1914, he was elected governor of Texas. He ran under the banner of the Democratic Party. His term of office was from January 1915 to August 1917.
He was then reelected in 1916. After assuming the office for the second time, Ferguson made unpleasant political moves that cost him his office. In the same year of his reelection (term of office started on August 1917), he vetoed the funds for the University of Texas. He argued that a university with professors of questionable integrity should never be supported by the state. According to him, in order to remove the veto, some faculty members of the university should resign (those with questionable integrity). Essentially, this move became a wedge to his impeachment. The House of Representatives of the State of Texas filed 21 charges against him. Convinced of his innocence, he refused to resign. The Senate found him guilty on 10 of those charges. He was then removed from his office and declared ineligible to hold any public office in Texas.
In 1918 however, Ferguson ran again for governor but was defeated by W.P. Hobby (this was in violation of the senate ruling). After the sensational defeat, his political fortunes never regained prominence (Cardenas, 166). In 1920, he was nominated as presidential candidate of the American Party. The result was a disaster. The only votes cast for him were from his home state (roughly 10% of the total votes in Texas). He got 0% votes from other states.
In the following years, he was heavily involved in political campaigns; most of which were done to improve his political career. In 1922, he ran for the US Senate with a simple platform of government. However, he lost to E.B. Mayfield. That ended James Ferguson political career. The remainder of his life was spent supporting campaign bids of his wife who was twice elected governor of the state of Texas.
His impeachment, together with his political defeats, characterized James Ferguson’s career. However, he accomplished some notable achievements. Here are some: 1) improving the railway system of Texas, 2) increasing the allocation of funds for secondary and tertiary education, 3) improving investment climate in Texas and 5) tackling controversial ethnic issues. It may be safe to assume that his political defeats shadowed his achievements as governor of Texas (Garraty, 251). In any case, however, his wife was more successful than him in the fields of politics and public policy-making.
Miriam Ferguson: The First Female Governor of Texas
Miriam Ferguson was born in Bell County, Texas. After her husband’s removal from office as governor, she became politically involved in important issues in Texas. Resolved to avenge her husband’s fall from office, she ran for governor under the banner of the Democratic Party.
Her campaign slogan thrilled the voters (she was nicknamed as “ma” and her husband “pa”). At important political meetings, she argued that she would follow the lead of her husband to show political integrity (Garraty, 257). This was against the express advice of her associates. After long campaigns and political intrigues (which her enemies directed to her), she won the election. She was elected as the first woman governor of the state of Texas. This was a sensation during that time. A woman was never expected or dared to run for a political office (a stereotype which characterized woman at that time). Miriam Ferguson removed that stereotype by successfully beating his contender. In addition, the close association between her and her husband proved decisive. All decisions of the office of the governor were seen as the creations of the couple.
Like her husband, she was a staunch conservative. She prohibited the spread of terror groups in her state (the most famous of which was the Ku Klux Klan). She even attempted to regulate vices in Texas by increasing sales tax on cigarette and alcoholic products (sin taxes). She was against all forms of ethnic violence, although most of her policies regarding this issue were never successful.
Her first administration was characterized by political intrigues. Many times, she was accused of receiving bribes from “pardoned” individuals (100 pardons were granted per month) and kickbacks from state sponsored projects. This led to her defeat in the 1926 and 1930 primaries. Before the 1932 elections, she won the Democratic nomination over R.S. Sterling (who was seeking another term as governor of Texas). Orville Bullington, the strong Republican candidate was defeated.
Controversies M.A. Ferguson Faced
Here are some of the accusations that M.A Ferguson faced while she was governor of Texas (Morison, 405-406):
1) Successful bidders of highway contracts were usually companies that promoted the Ferguson Forum (a newspaper owned by the Ferguson couple). The issue was elevated to the Texas House of Representatives but failed to prove anything;
2) She was accused of receiving bribes from pardoned individuals. This issue was never proven because most of the pardoned individuals denied it. This controversy led to the amendment of the pardon law which deny the governor full power to grant pardon without the aid of the Board of Pardon and Parole;
3) Her stance as a conservative infuriated many interest groups who seek to liberalize the state of Texas both from the social and economic spheres. Although this can be considered a non-formal controversy, the issue was consistently carried by her enemies in ethnic communities (and in religious denominations).
Contributions of M.A. Ferguson
Regardless of the controversies that M.A Ferguson faced during her terms as governor of Texas, she had some notable contributions. Here were as follows: 1) establishing the University of Houston via House Bill 194 as an academic institution, 2) creating a network of state highways throughout Texas, 3) promoting the values of education to the youth and children, and 4) reducing the influence of terror groups in Texas. All of these were accomplished in only two separate terms as governor of the said state.
Her accomplishments though, like her husband, were overrun by political accusations; most of which were never proven to be true (Morison, 406). However, unlike her husband, she was more successful in the field of politics, having been elected twice as governor and wielding political influence greater than that of her husband. It may be safe to assume that M.A. Ferguson was more politically powerful than her husband during their lifetime.
It seems that the political failures and successes of the Ferguson couple can be attributed to their political inflexibility. While satisfying particular interest groups, the couple neglected others. By so doing, the fortunes of politics shifted from time to time, whenever which interest group was the most influential. Between James and Miriam Ferguson, the late was the more successful precisely because she was able to abide by the interests of the conservatives (which was the dominant group in the 1920s). However, James Ferguson was the instrumental medium in which M.A. Ferguson won the governorship of the state of Texas. Clearly, a simple comparison of success or failure cannot be assumed to be of full value in their case.
Cárdenas, J.A. All Pianos Have Keys and Other Stories. Intercultural Development Research Association. NY: Macmillan Publishing Company, 1994.
Garraty, J.A. The American Nation: A History of the United States Since1865. NY: HarperCollins, 1991.
Morison, S.E. The Oxford History of the American People. NY: Oxford University Press.