MOUNT PLEASANT, Texas –– Wherever my wife and I travel these days, I cannot help but think of individuals I’ve either met while working in journalism or those about whom I have some knowledge.
We came to this northeast Texas community in search of a grocery store to buy some, um, groceries. I told my wife that this is the hometown of one of the great all-time Texas politicians.
Bill Ratliff was a state senator from Titus County. He was a Republican lawmaker who was held in the highest esteem possible by all 31 of his Senate colleagues. Democrats respected him as much as his fellow Republicans.
Sen. Ratliff was what I have called a “reasonable Republican” who knew how to work across the aisle. Both parties have become so polarized these days that bipartisanship has become a four-letter word.
In 2001, though, the rarest of events occurred in the Texas Senate.
Gov. George W. Bush was elected president in 2000. Because of that vote-counting matter in Florida, Texas Gov. Bush’s election was not a foregone conclusion until a month or so after Election Day. The U.S. Supreme Court stopped the ballot recount in Florida, Bush was leading at the time by 537 votes, Florida’s electoral votes went to Bush — and he was elected president.
Then Bush quit the Texas governorship, elevating Lt. Gov. Rick Perry to the Big Office. That meant the state needed a lieutenant governor to preside over the Texas Senate. To whom did the Senate turn? For the first time in state history, senators elevated Bill Ratliff to the lieutenant governor’s office, a post he held while at the same time serving as state senator during the 2001 Texas Legislature.
He served in that capacity until 2003, when David Dewhurst was elected lieutenant governor.
Ratliff had a nickname among his Senate colleagues, who called him Obi-Wan Kenobi, the wise being from “Star Wars.” Indeed, Ratliff once said of his own Republican views: “I am a Republican because I agree with the Republicans at least 51 percent of the time.”
He was unafraid, therefore, to agree with Democrats when the time — and the cause — was right.
Sen./Lt. Gov. Bill Ratliff is now 80. I wish he was still serving his beloved Texas.