Robert Douglas “Bob” Bullock, legislator, secretary of state, state comptroller of public accounts, and the thirty-eighth lieutenant governor of Texas, was born on July 10, 1929, in Hillsboro, Texas. He was a third generation Texan, the son of Ruth Mitchell and Thomas Austin (ne Abbott) Bullock, a Hillsboro city engineer and manager. Bullock graduated from Hillsboro High School in 1947 and then Hillsboro Junior College in 1949. He married Amelia J. Hooks of Itasca in 1950; they had two children—Lindy and Robert Douglas, Jr. The couple divorced in 1978. Bullock joined the United States Air Force during the Korean War and served from 1951 to 1954. He earned a B.A. from Texas Tech University and a law degree from Baylor University (in a joint degree program) in 1958. Bullock married Austin native Jan Felts Teague in 1985.
While a law student at Baylor, Bullock was elected state representative from Hillsboro in 1956. He resigned in October 1959 to practice law and later served as general counsel of the Texas Automobile Dealers Association. Gov. John Connally appointed Bullock to fill a vacated seat on the Texas State Historical Survey Committee (now Texas Historical Commission) in 1963. He left to practice law but returned to state service in 1967 when he was appointed by Atty. Gen. Martin Crawford to head up the newly-formed Antitrust and Consumer Protection Division. On his watch, the state won an antitrust case against major U.S. pharmaceutical manufacturers, brought suit against “bait and switch” deceptive trade practices, and filed a lawsuit alleging price-fixing against national booksellers and distributors.
Bullock joined Preston Smith’s gubernatorial campaign in 1968, using the personal voter contact and follow-up practices he perfected in his own legislative races to help Smith win. He served as general counsel and appointments advisor to Governor Smith who appointed him secretary of state in 1971. As secretary of state, Bullock instituted major election law reforms including instituting the first state-financed party primaries and broadening campaign finance disclosure requirements. He opposed and successfully testified that a state law preventing students from voting where they attended college was designed to frustrate voting by minority students in majority Anglo counties. After minority groups won a lawsuit allowing Spanish-speaking voters access to translators, Bullock and Governor Smith advised Atty. Gen. Crawford to dismiss an appeal or they would testify against it. When Martin appealed a decision on single member legislative districts because it would work hardships on election officials, Bullock announced it would not. He recommended purging voter rolls every two years and setting up a computerized voter registration system to be centralized at the secretary of state’s office. Bullock pledged to lower consumer insurance rates when Governor Smith nominated him to chair the State Insurance Board. He was opposed by Lt. Gov. Ben Barnes and the insurance lobby, and the Texas Senate voted against confirmation.
Bullock ran for comptroller of public accounts in 1974 against eighty-one-year-old Robert S. Calvert who had served twenty-five years. Bullock pledged to modernize the office, make it more efficient, better serve the taxpayer, collect taxes more efficiently and audit more aggressively. Calvert withdrew, and Bullock won the general election and three more terms.
Bullock turned the comptroller’s office from green eyeshade bookkeepers into economists, accountants, and researchers using cutting-edge technology to reduce costs and improve productivity. He issued the first ever monthly city sales tax rebates, updated payroll procedures to pay employees statewide on time, installed a toll-free taxpayer line, instituted an employee grievance program, initiated quarterly revenue estimates to lawmakers, and closed business tax loopholes. Bullock wrote the nation’s first Taxpayer Bill of Rights, developed a statewide accounting system, and opened state and national audit field offices. He made headlines with “Bullock Raiders” swooping down to close and sell inventory of businesses delinquent in remitting sales taxes. Bullock became the first elected state official to adopt an equal employment opportunity program and instituted an affirmative action program, hiring and promoting record numbers of women and minorities. In 1975 he became the first southern statewide elected official to endorse the federal Voting Rights Act, expanded to include protection of Hispanic voters.
Bullock gained a reputation as a driven, hard-drinking perfectionist, but few argued with his successes in revolutionizing the comptroller’s office with innovative, efficient, taxpayer-friendly programs and initiatives that drew national attention and national awards. Travis County grand juries in fall 1979 and spring 1980 considered allegations of official misconduct in record keeping and travel reporting but did not return indictments.
In 1979 Bullock was treated after a heart attack, which he said “came as a great surprise to people because they didn’t think I had one.” He entered treatment for alcoholism with Dr. Joseph Pursch in California in 1981, returning in time to begin work with the Legislative Redistricting Board. Bullock was the only state official outside the legislature with computers capable of drawing redistricting maps. He challenged the Democratic “good ole boy” establishment to work with Hispanic and African-American groups, helping them draw districts that could—and did—elect more minority legislators.
Bullock served as finance chair on the legislature’s Select Committee on Public Education (SCOPE) in 1983. The committee, chaired by H. Ross Perot, was created after the legislature failed to pass bills revising school finance laws. Much of the committee’s work was passed in legislation, House Bill 72, which included a new school finance plan, teacher pay raises, more teacher accountability, and the “no pass no play” rule making classroom success a priority over extracurricular activities. In 1984 property poor school districts filed Edgewood ISD v. Kirby, alleging the public school finance system discriminated against property poor schools and their students. The legal battle would continue almost a decade and expand into facilities funding, with plaintiffs later claiming the SCOPE school funding plan Bullock had recommended would have avoided a lawsuit if the legislature had sufficiently funded it.
As comptroller, he reduced the number of tax forms, streamlined others, developed systems for taxpayer rapid deposit and direct deposit to pay state employees, and initiated a taxpayer grievance procedure. Bullock won national recognition for helping counties and cities modernize and streamline financial management practices and created special phone lines and publications for hearing, speech, and visually-impaired taxpayers and employees.
When Bill Hobby announced he would retire as lieutenant governor, Bullock ran for the office and won. Legislators in 1991 faced a budget shortfall from a sluggish economy and an ultimatum to produce a school finance bill that would pass supreme court muster. Bullock recommended a state income tax to replace state sales and property taxes, but drew little public or legislative support. Lawmakers adopted agency performance reviews and performance-based budgets first recommended by Bullock as comptroller, cut spending, froze hiring, raised some taxes, redrew legislative districts, consolidated environmental agencies, and overhauled the franchise tax.
Bullock led in creating Texas A&M International University at Laredo, which offered the first advanced degrees and doctoral programs in South Texas. Bullock also proposed, and got passed, a constitutional amendment that requires voter approval for a personal state income tax and requires that any such tax be dedicated to reducing school property taxes and funding public education.
In January 1995 Bullock and House Speaker Pete Laney launched unprecedented public access to state government by linking legislative information systems to the Internet through Texas Legislature Online. Led by Bullock and Sen. Bill Ratliff, lawmakers in 1995 also completed the first major rewrite of the Public Education Code since 1949, giving school districts more local control and including zero tolerance discipline programs, charter schools, and raising the minimum pay scale for teachers. In the 1997 session Bullock and Sen. Teel Bivins crafted the school facilities funding program to support school districts selling bonds to build, expand, and repair their campus buildings.
Beginning at the comptroller’s office, Bullock had worked for better water and sewer service to the economically depressed colonias along the Texas border. He continued that work by helping push and pass a constitutional amendment to issue more water development bonds for the area.
Bullock again was elected presiding officer of the Texas Senate in 1997, though the Republican Party held the first majority since Reconstruction. After a prolonged state and national drought, Bullock urged lawmakers in 1997 to come up with a statewide water plan. They passed Senate Bill 1 to improve the management, conservation, and protection of the state’s water supplies through regional water planning. It increased the power of the Texas National Resources Conservation Commission to oversee water transfers, conservation, quality and diversion efforts. Bullock also led in advocating better care for elderly Texans in long-term care facilities, with legislation requiring stronger industry regulations, minimum care standards, and background checks for caregivers.
With his family at his side, Bullock announced in June 1997 he would not run for re-election: “I will leave the office with no ill will to anyone, none, but only admiration and respect and love for the people of Texas who made this all possible for me. Only death will end that love affair with Texas.”
He died on June 18, 1999, from congestive heart failure complicated by cancer, at his home in Austin. During his life, Bullock earned numerous honors and awards, including the Santa Rita Award given by the University of Texas System Board of Regents in 1996 and the Lifetime Achievement Award given by the Texas Daily Newspaper Association in 1998. Bullock’s most public and lasting monuments are the Bob Bullock Texas State History Museum, opened to the public two years after his death, and the revitalization, after years of neglect, of the Texas State Cemetery where he was laid to rest on June 20, 1999. He was survived by his wife, Jan Teague Bullock; his children, Lindy Bullock Ward, Robert Douglas “Bobby” Bullock and Kimberly Teague; grandson, Grant Bullock Robinson, all of Austin, and his brother, Tom Bullock of Brenham.