At the dawn of the new millennium, one individual embodied the confluence of social and economic conservatism that drove the Republican conquest of state government. Born in Beloit, Wisconsin on September 19, 1943, Thomas Craddick later earned bachelor's and master's degrees in business administration from Texas Tech University. The Midland resident decided to run for the Legislature in 1968 while a Ph.D. candidate, beating his high school government teacher in the Republican primaries. Craddick thus became one of only nine Republicans then serving in the 150-member House of Representatives. He has represented Midland in the House ever since.
Craddick displays a relentless drive both as a businessman and a politician. As an undergraduate at Texas Tech University, he formed a business partnership with his finance professor Dr. George Berry and with Coley Cowden, the son of a powerful and wealthy Midland family, launching a seven-store gas station/car wash chain called Scrub-a-Dub. The threesome used profits from that enterprise and bought 7-Up and Dr Pepper bottling plants and invested in duplexes in the Midland area. By this point he was only in his mid-20s and entering graduate school.
Craddick’s intensity made him wealthy, but sometimes difficult to know. As a graduate student in Texas Tech’s business school, he staked out a library table as his personal workstation and was startled one day when he found fellow student Nadine Nayfa of Sweetwater sitting there. Nayfa, the child of Lebanese immigrants who ran a dry goods store, was pursuing her teaching degree. As Craddick recalls:
"I really spent a lot of time at the library and in the student union . . . I would just leave my books over at the library on a certain table and I really never took them back to my apartment . . . So I had all my stuff stacked on a table over there and one day I came over and Nadine was sitting at the table and I told her 'You're sitting at my table,' and that is how we met.
Nadine Craddick remembers the encounter slightly differently.
"I was in the library and I was very young, very new to the school, when I sat down at his table and somebody’s books were there, but I did not know which was his table, so to speak. And he came back and informed me that I was sitting at his table and that I needed to move, and I think he took my pencil and broke it, or maybe, I took his pencil and broke it."
From such unromantic circumstances, an enduring relationship flowed. “I built a car wash with some other people and she was involved in sorority rush and her lodge was next door to the car wash we built,” Tom Craddick said. “And so one summer she was out there for pre-rush and I was working in the car wash and I saw her one day and asked her for a date. What is interesting, she fell asleep on our first date but other than that it worked out pretty well.”
Before his 25th birthday, Craddick told a friend that he wanted to leave any children he might have a million dollars. He was already well on his way toward his financial goal when he ran a successful campaign against two-term Republican House incumbent Frank Cahoon in the 1968 primaries. Craddick entered the race as a Republican even though his father was a Democratic precinct chair at the time.
"[A]ctually both parties offered me a chance to run on their ticket. And the Democratic chairman in Midland County wrote my announcement because he thought I was going to run as a Democrat and I ran as a Republican. I went before this [Republican] candidate’s committee and at that time I weighed 75 pounds more than I do today. And the main question, they said, was that they didn't think I could win because, one, I was Catholic and they did not think I could win in that community and, two, they thought I was too young to run [at age 25.] And the third question was, 'Can you lose 20 pounds in order to look better on television?' So I lost 75 pounds. I met that goal, but the other two I didn’t work too well on."
Craddick ultimately won because he worked harder than his opponent, running a retail door-to-door campaign. With a master’s degree in business administration already in hand and a Texas House seat awaiting him, Craddick never finished his dissertation. His life dreams had seemingly been met well before he hit 30. “I wanted to make a bunch of money and I wanted to go into politics and I was doing both,” he told Texas Monthly.
While he learned the legislative ropes, he expanded his business empire by entering the oil business, eventually forming Mustang Mud, a firm that supplied lubricants for oil drilling. He adopted a political goal he chased as resolutely as he did wealth. Craddick devoted himself to building the Republican Party and, along the way, his power base. Republicans were an oddity when Craddick first arrived in Austin in January 1969. In 33 years of uphill struggle, Craddick dedicated himself to deconstructing the Democratic Party.
As detailed in an earlier post, Craddick took a lead role among the "Dirty Thirty" reform coalition who forced the "Sharpstown" bribery investigation that weakened top Texas Democrats like state House Speaker Gus Mutscher. In 1975 Speaker Bill Clayton, then a Democrat, appointed Craddick to chair the House Natural Resources Committee, making Craddick the first Republican committee chair in 100 years. Craddick subsequently chaired the Public Health Committee under Speaker Gib Lewis and the House Ways and Means Committee under Speaker Pete Laney.
By the 1990s, Craddick’s long-held dreams of a Texas Republican majority began coming true. George W. Bush became governor in 1994 as the party made steady gains in the state House and Senate and in the Texas congressional delegation. Bush benefited from holding the governor’s mansion during a national economic boom fueled by a high-tech bubble in the mid- and late 1990s and became increasingly popular as his term went on.
By the time of Bush’s re-election in 1998, his triumph seemingly presaged a multi-hued GOP in which blacks and browns would add color to what had been a monochromatic monolith. Bush carried what was an unprecedented, for a Republican gubernatorial candidate 40 percent of the Hispanic vote that year. Looking ahead to the 2000 presidential campaign, he aimed at expanding the GOP base to include African Americans and Mexican Americans. Craddick also sought to solidify the Republican hold on Texas, but his approach differed sharply from that of the purported party leader.
As a House member, Craddick opposed affirmative action in state contracting, voted against a state holiday honoring late civil rights leader Martin Luther King, Jr., and fought against a state hate crimes bill numerous times. On the King holiday vote, Craddick, four other Republicans and a House Democrat voting against the measure insisted that their “no” votes be recorded even though the measure was passed on a voice vote. Craddick would seek support from disaffected Democratic black and Latino House members in his later speaker races, but in building the GOP caucus, he did little recruiting in minority communities and focused more on securing the overwhelmingly white Republican base and forming a firm alliance between fiscal and social conservatives.
Craddick remained hard to know. “He is not a good old boy,” a Texas Monthly article noted. “He does not play golf . . . He doesn’t drink or smoke or even partake of coffee. . . . He rarely does lunch. He does not go out much at night.” Nevertheless, Craddick commanded loyalty from fellow Republicans at least in part because of his access to wealthy Republican donors such as James Leininger of San Antonio. Although the Catholic Craddick could be more accurately described as a business conservative rather than a member of the Republican Party’s religious right, he astutely followed the GOP donor dollars. He formed a tight alliance with multi-millionaire James Leininger, who expressed his fierce pro-school voucher, pro-tort reform, anti-gay rights and anti-abortion politics by providing the most conservative Republicans an endless flow of cash.
Leininger, who grew rich manufacturing hospital beds, also owned the Promised Land Dairy, and was part owner of the National Basketball Association’s San Antonio Spurs. He holds personal wealth estimated at $340 million. Probably more than any other Texan, he has bankrolled the GOP’s rise in Texas since 1994. The Houston Chronicle estimated that Leininger’s campaign donations to conservative Republicans reached $550,000 in 1997 and that the total take in 1998 probably exceeded that amount. More than a million dollars of the $10.3 million raised by Republican Lieutenant Governor candidate Rick Perry before the 1998 general election came from a loan guaranteed by Leininger and two other businessmen.
The firm alliance between culture warriors like Leininger and businessmen like Craddick proved formidable. To Craddick, the differences between the social and fiscal conservatives in the GOP paled compared to the liberal/conservative split in the old Democratic Party.
"I do not I think the division in the Republican Party is like it was in the Democratic Party because the Democratic Party was the party, so you have a conservative aspect and you have middle-of-the-road aspect, then you have the liberal faction in there. But the Republican Party today has a conservative faction, plus there are some who are more conservative than others. But you don't have a liberal faction, so you kind of go from the middle of the road to conservative."
In spite of Craddick’s disavowals, the Republican Party would soon divide among social conservatives focused on issues like gay rights and abortion, fiscal conservatives determined to reduce the size and power of state government, business conservatives who still expected tax breaks and subsidies from Austin, and libertarians who wanted less government regulation of business but also less government intrusion in private matters like sexuality and drug use.
At times, these multiplying Republican factions brought to mind the classic English political philosopher Thomas Hobbes’ description of humanity in its state of nature: a war of all against all. Yet these tatterdemalion subsets shared a common villain they blamed for all social ills.
Social conservatives expressed nightmare fears of activist judges sanctioning the mass murder of the unborn, public school teachers promoting homosexuality and witchcraft, leftist professors indoctrinating students with warmed-over Marxism, and a sick popular culture promoting orgiastic self-indulgence. Business conservatives dreaded the power of the leviathan state that punished success with confiscatory taxes, smothered innovation with suffocating regulations, and sabotaged profit margins by promoting the efforts of labor unions, consumer advocates and trial lawyers. Conservatives in Texas didn’t share the same list of social evils, but behind these ills lay a common bête noire: a mythic “big government” supposedly captured by liberal interests.
The more shrill opponents of an activist state government drowned out the voices of those pragmatic conservatives dominant in the 1950s and 1960s who preferred lower taxes and less regulation but who still wanted to fund quality roads, schools, universities and hospitals as necessary means to economic growth.
Late 20th- and early 21st-century Texas conservatives at times seemed more united by what they opposed than by their common values. Building a movement on ever-multiplying Venn diagrams of resentment invited instability. In fact, according to Thomas Frank (a non-academic commentator on the current political scene holding a history Ph.D.) modern conservative activists have reduced the concept of freedom to the right to accumulate capital. The state, through taxation and regulation, is seen as intrinsically an enemy of that freedom. Many modern conservative leaders, like Gov. Rick Perry’s friend and GOP anti-tax activist Grover Norquist, believe that government functions best when it functions not at all.
“Believing effective government to be somewhere between impossible and undesirable, conservatism takes steps to ensure its impotence,” Frank writes. More to the point, Frank quotes a 1920s conservative whose attitudes reflect the philosophy of many conservative ideologues in the 21st century. “If public officials are and remain inefficient, the public will sicken of incompetence and rely exclusively upon corporate enterprise.”
Michael Phillips has authored the following:
White Metropolis: Race, Ethnicity and Religion in Dallas, Texas, 1841-2001 (Austin: University of Texas Press, 2006)
(with Patrick L. Cox) The House Will Come to Order: How the Texas Speaker Became a Power in State and National Politics. (Austin: University of Texas Press, 2010)
“Why Is Big Tex Still a White Cowboy? Race, Gender, and the ‘Other Texans’” in Walter Buenger and Arnoldo de León, eds., Beyond Texas Through Time: Breaking Away From Past Interpretations (College Station: Texas A&M Press, 2011)
“The Current is Stronger’: Images of Racial Oppression and Resistance in North Texas Black Art During the 1920s and 1930s ” in Bruce A. Glasrud and Cary D. Wintz, eds., The Harlem Renaissance in the West: The New Negroes’ Western Experience (New York: Routledge, Taylor and Francis Group, 2011)
“Dallas, 1989-2011,” in Richardson Dilworth, ed. Cities in American Political History (Washington, D.C.: CQ Press, 2011)
(With John Anthony Moretta, Keith J. Volonto, Austin Allen, Doug Cantrell and Norwood Andrews), Keith J. Volonto and Michael Phillips. eds., The American Challenge: A New History of the United States, Volume I. (Wheaton, Il.: Abigail Press, 2012).
(With John Anthony Moretta and Keith J. Volanto), Keith J. Volonto and Michael Phillips, eds., The American Challenge: A New History of the United States, Volume II. (Wheaton, Il.: Abigail Press, 2012).
(With John Anthony Moretta and Carl J. Luna), Imperial Presidents: The Rise of Executive Power from Roosevelt to Obama (Wheaton, Il.: Abigail Press, 2013).
“Texan by Color: The Racialization of the Lone Star State,” in David Cullen and Kyle Wilkison, eds., The Radical Origins of the Texas Right (College Station: University of Texas Press, 2013).
He is currently collaborating, with longtime journalist Betsy Friauf, on a history of African American culture, politics and black intellectuals in the Lone Star State called God Carved in Night: Black Intellectuals in Texas and the World They Made.