I’ve given some thought to the Texas statewide officeholders who are leaving public life at the end of the year.
Who will I miss the most?
It’s a close call. Comptroller of Public Accounts Susan Combs can be an interesting and delightful interview subject. She’s full of one-liners and has put me in stitches on more than one occasion in the years I’ve known her, first when she was elected agriculture commissioner and then as comptroller.
Combs finishes second, though, to Land Commissioner Jerry Patterson.
Patterson burst onto the state’s public attention by being known as the “gun guy,” a state senator who authored the state’s concealed-carry bill in the mid-1990s. He wanted the state to make it legal for Texans to pack heat under their jacket, provided they pass a test that demonstrates they know how to handle a firearm.
He is proud of his Marine Corps service and the tour of duty he served in Vietnam. He campaigned actively on that service. Indeed, his job as land commissioner put him in charge of the state’s veterans home loan program, which he administered with great pride.
Patterson also has a tremendous self-deprecating streak. The first time I met him, he introduced himself to me as a guy who finished in the “top 75 percent of my class at Texas A&M University,” where he said he “managed to cram four years of college into six years.”
Texas doesn’t have quite the colorful cast of characters inhabiting public offices that it used to have. Too many of them have taken themselves more seriously than they take their responsibilities. Gov. Rick Perry is Exhibit A. I won’t miss Perry in the least.
Jerry Patterson, though, reminds me a bit of the old-school Texas pol who is unafraid to poke a little fun at himself. We need more — not fewer — like him in public life.