Tag Archives: Mark White

Ross Perot: This man stood tall

My journalism career enabled me to cross paths with a lot of interesting, provocative and even great people over the length of its time. I want to include Ross Perot as being among the great individuals I had the pleasure to meet.

Perot died today of leukemia. He was 89 years of age. He died peacefully in Dallas, where he built his fortune and lived most of his adult life.

He wouldn’t have remembered me had anyone thought to ask. But I surely remember the time I had the pleasure of meeting him and visiting with him about one of his pet issues in that moment: the quality of public education.

He had mouthed off about how Texas was more interested in producing blue-chip athletes than blue-chip students. The Texas governor at the time, the late Mark White, challenged Perot to craft a better education system for Texas. Perot took up the challenge and led the Perot Commission to create a system that set certain achievement standards for all Texas public school students.

He then launched a statewide barnstorming tour to pitch his findings to business leaders, politicians, civic leaders and, yes, media representatives; I was among the media types Perot met.

He came to Beaumont and delivered a stemwinder of a speech to a roomful of the city’s movers and shakers.

As an editorial writer and editor for the Beaumont Enterprise, I had the high honor of meeting later with Perot along with other media reps at Lamar University.

That was in 1984. Little did we know at the time he would become a political force of nature as well, running for president twice in 1992 and 1996. At one time prior to the 1992 fall election, Perot actually led public opinion polling that included President George H.W. Bush and a young Arkansas governor, Bill Clinton.

He finished third that year. Clinton got elected. Bush served his single term and disliked Perot for the rest of his life, blaming him for losing the 1992 election to Bill Clinton. President Bush is gone now, but my own view is that Perot — contrary to popular notions — did not deprive a chance at re-election. He took roughly the same number of votes from both Bush and Clinton, meaning that Bill Clinton was going to win the election anyway.

Still, Ross Perot was a player, although he was prone at times to acting a little squirrely. He also was a patriot who loved his country and gave back many millions of dollars of his immense personal wealth to make his community and country better.

I am grateful beyond measure that his path crossed mine if only for a brief moment in time. Take my word for it, this man made a serious impression on those he met along the way.

Time of My Life, Part 11: This banty rooster stood tall

There once was a time when public figures embraced the attention of newspaper editorial boards, of those who sought to help guide their communities’ future.

I was able to play a small part in that relationship. One such figure thrust himself onto the Texas public stage by popping off about what he saw as the abysmal quality of public education in the state.

I had the chance to meet this man up close. Man, what a time!

H. Ross Perot built a fortune in technology. In 1983, he sounded off publicly about his belief that Texas was more interested in turning out more “blue chip athletes” than “blue chip scholars.” He lamented the poor quality of public education in Texas.

Gov. Mark White picked up the challenge that Perot implied and said, in effect: OK, buster, if you think you can develop a better plan for educating our kids, I’ll appoint you to a commission to lead that effort.

Perot accepted the challenge and led the Perot Commission, a blue-ribbon panel of business and civic leaders and educators.

I arrived in Texas in the spring of 1984 to write editorials for the Beaumont Enterprise. Not long after I took my post, Perot issued his report to the public. His recommendation, in short, called for standardized testing of public school students; it set a minimum standard for passing before students could advance to the next grade. The plan included a provision known as “no pass-no play,” meaning that if a student didn’t maintain a 70 percent academic average he or she would be ineligible to participate in extracurricular activities.

Perot then launched a statewide barnstorming tour to sell the plan to a public that had never seen or heard such a thing. Perot came to Beaumont to speak to a group of civic leaders.

Let me just say this about H. Ross Perot: The man is able to totally command a room despite his short stature. I had never been in the presence of someone who had that kind of charisma. The room was mesmerized by his presentation. He made a tremendous pitch selling the merits of the plan he would propose to the Legislature.

Later, after his talk, I got invited to meet with Perot along with a handful of other media representatives. We gathered at the John Gray Institute on the Lamar University campus in south Beaumont. I wasn’t exactly star-struck by the man, but he certainly did impress me with the detail he was able to deliver with his pitch.

Gov. White called the Legislature into special session later that year and it approved House Bill 72, which enacted the public education reforms recommended by the Perot Commission.

Yes, indeed, those were the days when public officials didn’t view the press as the “enemy of the people.” They sought us out, answered our questions forthrightly and enabled us to report on — and comment on — the content of their ideas.

Texas loses a consequential public figure

Mark White has died at the age of 77.

This man’s name might not ring as many bells as it once did, but his passing from the scene allows us to bid adieu to someone I consider to be one of Texas’s most consequential and important public servants.

White served as Texas governor for a term between 1983 and 1987. But what a term it turned out to be!

On his watch, the state enacted something that has become a blessing and a curse to educators, students and parents throughout the state. No pass-no play became law during Gov. White’s term.

Its genesis is a story all by itself.

Flash back for a moment to 1983. A Dallas billionaire, H. Ross Perot, popped off about the quality of Texas’s public education. He said the state was more interested in producing blue-chip football players than it was in producing blue-chip scholars.

That message got quickly to White’s desk, and to the governor himself. I’m just guessing about this, but my hunch is that Perot’s remarks angered the governor.

He called Perot out. He said, in effect, “OK, buster, if you think you can do a better job of crafting public education policy, then why don’t you lead a blue-ribbon commission to craft one? You can present it to the people of Texas, and then to the Legislature, and we’ll see if it works.”

Perot accepted the challenge. The Perot Commission met for weeks and came up with no pass-no play. Perot then took off on a barnstorming tour of the state to sell it. I arrived in Beaumont in the spring of 1984 and Perot came to Beaumont to make his pitch. Suffice to say that Perot could command a room in a major way.

White then summoned the Legislature to Austin for a special session and it enacted the no pass-no play legislation, known as House Bill 72. It changed fundamentally the way Texas educates its public school students.

Here’s the Texas Tribune story on White’s death.

HB 72 has taken many forms in the 30-plus years since its enactment. The framework remains essentially the same: students have to pass certain mandated tests in order to advance to the next grade and then to graduate from high school.

HB 72’s success has been a matter of intense debate ever since.

White is the last former Democratic governor to pass from the scene in Texas. “Mark’s impact on Texas will not soon be forgotten, and his legacy will live on through all that he achieved as Governor,” the current governor, Republican Greg Abbott, said in a written statement.

I’ll go along with former Lt. Gov. Bill Hobby, who served with Gov. White, and who described White as “one of Texas’s greatest governors.”

The very notion of enacting such a huge overhaul of the state’s public education system puts Gov. White on a pedestal he need not share with anyone.

Feingold seeks revenge against guy who beat him

Russ Feingold wants his old job back.

He wants to return to the U.S. Senate and he is going to run against the individual, Ron Johnson, who beat him six years ago.

Feingold is a Democrat; Johnson is a Republican. They want to represent Wisconsin in the Senate. Given the poisonous climate in Washington these days, it’s an excellent bet the two of them aren’t exactly close.

I heard today about Feingold’s decision to run for the Senate and I thought about two Texas foes who fought each other twice electorally back in the 1980s. I know they disliked each other.

Bill Clements became the first Republican elected Texas governor since Reconstruction. He defeated Democratic Gov. Dolph Briscoe in 1978.

Then came 1982 and Clements sought re-election. He ran into Democratic Texas Attorney General Mark White. He lost his bid for a second term.

Clements cooled his jets for four years and then decided to try once again. He ran against White in 1986 and scored a mirror-image victory over the Democratic incumbent.

They had built considerable hard feelings toward each going back to the 1982 campaign, which was understandable if you ever met Gov. Clements. He was an irascible fellow, but could be charming in a kind of surly way. Clements spoke bluntly, often in harsh tones, but he, as they say in the world of print journalism, was “good copy.”

Feingold and Johnson come from the farthest reaches of their respective political parties.

This campaign, assuming they both get nominated, should be fun to watch.


Everyone hates these tests; why do we have them?

Standardized testing has been a big part of Texas public education for the past three decades, dating back to the Perot Commission’s recommendation to reform the state’s education system.

You recall the Perot Commission, yes? It was headed by Dallas zillionaire H. Ross Perot, who in 1983 popped off about how Texas was more interesting in producing blue-chip football players than developing blue-chip academic scholars. Then-Gov. Mark White challenged Perot: If you think you can do better, why not produce some recommendations on how we can improve public education?

Perot accepted the challenge and headed the Perot Commission, which came up with a series of reforms, including some standardized testing that required students to pass if they wanted to graduate from high school.

It’s been a rocky journey ever since.

We’ve had TAKS, TAAS, TEAMS and now STAAR tests.

Obviously, I haven’t talked to every one of Texas’s 325,000 public school teachers, but I’ve visited with a lot of them during my 31 years living and working in Texas.

Every single teacher I’ve talked to hates the testing regimen. You can say the same thing about the parents of students; they hate the tests, too. Ask a student? You’ll hear it from them, too; they hate the tests.

My question, thus, is this: If everyone hates these tests, why do we still have them?

Panetti deserves to be executed? No way!

Some time back, I declared my opposition to capital punishment.

Scott Louis Panetti offers a textbook example of why the punishment as applied in Texas is barbaric.

Panetti committed an awful crime in the early 1990s. He shot his in-laws to death. His guilt is beyond doubt.

But it gets a whole lot trickier from there.


He represented himself during his 1995 trial and during testimony he sought to call — get ready for this — John F. Kennedy and Jesus Christ as witnesses.

Panetti, you see, is a lunatic. He suffers from acute schizophrenia. He’s nuts. Panetti doesn’t deserve to die for this crime because he quite likely didn’t know what on God’s Earth he was doing when he killed his mother- and father-in-law.

He’s set to die in Dec. 3 in the death chamber in Livingston, Texas.

Some officials, including former Gov. Mark White, have written a letter asking for clemency. “We are deeply troubled that a capital sentence was the result of a trial where a man with schizophrenia represented himself, dressed in a costume,” the letter stated. “We come together from across the partisan and ideological divide and are united in our belief that, irrespective of whether we support or oppose the death penalty, this is not an appropriate case for execution.”

The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals, however, isn’t known for exhibiting compassion regarding capital punishment cases. My guess is that the court will dismiss the request, perhaps suggesting that Panetti was faking his lunacy.

Panetti’s craziness appears real to me. He shouldn’t die for the crime he committed.