By: Phillip L. Fry

Type: General Entry

Published: 1976

Updated: July 21, 2021

The office of chief executive in Texas, if the earlier history of the area is considered, is older than the union of the American states and earlier by almost a century than the presidency of the United States. Although most historians settle for the year 1691 and the appointment of Domingo Terán de los Ríos as the beginning of Texas as a political entity, several support the year 1523, when the royal governor from Spain was Francisco de Garay (see SPANISH TEXAS, MEXICAN TEXAS, and COAHUILA AND TEXAS). The long list of gobernadores, presidents, and governors provides a colorful index to the history of the state, and even though the basic duties of the chief executive have changed little since the Constitution of 1876, the personalities and politics of these officials have left their imprint on both the form and the function of state government. The following list of governors since the state was annexed to the United States, with dates of tenure in office, shows that most served more than the two-year term set by the Constitution of 1876. In 1972 voters approved the extension of the office to a four-year term that took effect in 1975.

The office of governor of Texas as it exists today was established by Article IV, Section 1 of the Constitution of 1876. As a state office it was first established by the Constitution of 1845 and superseded the office of president of the Republic of Texas. The governor was elected and served for two years. His salary was set by the constitution at $4,000 yearly, and since 1856 the governor has had the use of the executive mansion. To be elected governor, a person had to be at least thirty years old, a United States citizen, and a resident of Texas for at least five years preceding the election.

The major executive powers of the governor are to execute the laws of the state, extradite fugitives from justice, serve as commander in chief of the military forces of the state, declare martial law, appoint numerous state officials (with the consent of the Senate), fill vacancies in state and district offices (except vacancies in the legislature), call special elections to fill vacancies in the legislature, fill vacancies in the United States Senate until an election can be held, submit the budget to the legislature, and serve as ex officio member of several state boards.

The legislative powers of the governor are to call special sessions of the legislature and submit the topics for legislation at such sessions, recommend measures, and submit emergency matters for consideration of the legislature at any time, sign or veto legislative acts, and veto specific items in itemized, general appropriation bills (see TEXAS LEGISLATURE). The judicial powers are to grant or deny recommendations for clemency and remissions of fines and forfeitures made by the Board of Pardons and Paroles; revoke a parole or conditional pardon and grant one thirty-day reprieve in a capital case at his own discretion; and, with the consent of the legislature, grant reprieves, commutations of punishment, and pardon in cases of treason (see JUDICIARY).

Of the governors since statehood, only four, Edmund J. Davis, William P. Clements, Jr., George W. Bush, and James Richard "Rick" Perry have been elected as Republicans. W. Lee O'Daniel was the only governor who was not a voter at the time of his election, having refused to pay the required poll tax. James E. Ferguson was the only governor to be impeached, although Sam Houston was removed when he refused to take the oath of allegiance to the Confederacy and James W. Throckmorton was removed by the military. The youngest has been Dan Moody, who was thirty-three years old when elected. Three were born north of the Mason-Dixon line: Lawrence S. Ross (Iowa), O'Daniel (Ohio), and Bush (Connecticut). A large number of early governors were soldier-statesmen from the South. Sam Houston had served as governor of Tennessee and president of the Republic of Texas (twice). Miriam A. Ferguson was the state's first female chief executive, and she and Clements were the only governors elected to nonconsecutive terms (Elisha Pease was appointed provisional governor almost ten years after serving two elective terms). Ann W. Richards, the second woman to be elected governor, was elected in 1990. She lost the election in 1994 to George W. Bush, who became governor on January 17, 1995. In 1998 Bush became the first governor elected to consecutive four-year terms.

While the state's highest executive office often has been regarded as a stepping-stone to high national offices, few former governors have actually been successful in gaining them. Since 1876 only three, Coke, Culberson, and O'Daniel, have served in the United States Senate after their governorships; Ireland, Campbell, Moody, Allred, and Stevenson failed in bids for the United States Senate, while James Ferguson was defeated for the United States Senate as well as for nomination as president on the American (Know-Nothing) party ticket. Sam Houston had already served in the United States Senate before becoming governor, and Price Daniel resigned his seat in the United States Senate to become governor. John Connally was appointed secretary of the treasury of the United States after his term of office, having served as secretary of the navy before his election, thus becoming the only Texas governor to hold high national office both before and after his term. Connally switched to the Republican party after serving as governor and unsuccessfully ran for nomination as president in 1980. In 2000 George W. Bush became the only Texas governor to have been elected to the nation's highest office. When he was inaugurated as the forty-third president of the United States on January 20, 2001, he was succeeded as governor of Texas by Rick Perry, who had been lieutenant governor. For the most part, however, Texas governors returned to their previous occupations after stepping down, content to accept posts at the state level when they stayed in public life; several retired into obscurity.

No definite pattern is discernible in the political experience, educational background, or occupation of those attaining the office of governor. Among those who had previously held elective office, several had served as state attorney general or as a county attorney or district attorney. Former legislators and others who served in some capacity in state or local law enforcement or regulatory agencies were also successful. Most governors of Texas received at least some higher education from Texas institutions, while several held degrees from such schools as Harvard University, the College of William and Mary, Virginia Military Institute, and the University of Virginia. In occupation or profession, the largest number have been lawyers, most of whom received legal training in Texas. No college professor or small-town merchant has ever been elected, but the occupations of those outside the legal profession have ranged from newspaper editor to flour manufacturer to housewife.

The religious background of candidates has played an important part in the elections for governor. All governors of Texas since annexation have been Protestants, mostly Baptists and Methodists, and only a very few have not been Masons. Although the proportions of church members in the state's total population have changed very little in this century, with the Catholic Church annually reporting almost as many members as the Baptist Church, no Catholic has been elected chief executive since annexation.

Both the place of birth and the residence at the time of election have also been important in determining who was elected. More governors have come from East and Central Texas than any other geographic area; in the 1960s and 1970s Preston Smith (Northwest), John Connally (South), and Dolph Briscoe (Southwest) were the first governors to come from their respective areas. Near the turn of the century the city of Tyler was the state's political stronghold. For many years the official residences (at the time of gaining office) for governors and other state officials were in East Texas, but by mid-century the central portion of the state claimed a higher percentage.

By tradition and general acceptance the governor has been the party leader in the state. The convention of rank-and-file delegates in each party, often called the "Governor's Convention" and held in September, gives the party's nominee an opportunity to put his own campaign promises into the state platform, as well as to secure control of the party machinery. Exceptions to the governor's control of the party have been few, and mostly since 1920, when Pat M. Neff gave the convention a free hand in writing a platform and selecting the state executive committee for the Democrats. Ross Sterling suffered loss of control to the opposing Ferguson-dominated convention in 1932, which put Mrs. Ferguson back in office. Another example of weak party leadership was O'Daniel, who seemed indifferent to party matters. By 1944 a large split had separated the Democrats, with former governors Moody and Allred each heading opposing forces that clashed over national and state Democratic policies. Moody, leader of the "Texas Regulars," and Allred, a "New Dealer" supporting President Franklin D. Roosevelt, clashed first at the national convention, with Governor Coke Stevenson trying to restore some unity by appeasing both factions. Allred and his forces won control at the state convention, severing the governor's hold almost completely.

Stevenson's separation from party control was a clear warning for future governors, however. Beauford Jester was able to steer his administration through a middle-of-the-road era that in effect gave leadership in the party back to the chief executive, a leadership all governors have enjoyed since. Allan Shivers demonstrated his control by leading a successful bolt from the Democratic ticket which supported Adlai Stevenson in the general election of 1952. He was supported in this remarkable move by his attorney general, Price Daniel, who ruled that Texans could write in the names of Dwight D. Eisenhower and Richard M. Nixon "without losing status as Democrats." Not coincidentally, Daniel later pursued the Tidelands Controversy to its conclusions during the administration of Eisenhower, who had been noncommittal about the Tidelands before the election, while Adlai Stevenson was known to be unfavorable to the Texas position. Price Daniel was aided at his convention in 1956 by Lyndon B. Johnson, who undercut liberal party activists to bring the divided Democratic party under Daniel's control.

Many governors have enjoyed long tenure and fairly strong party control. The Sharpstown Stock Fraud Scandal possibly kept Preston Smith from the third term that his three predecessors had enjoyed, however, and the rise of the Raza Unida party as a political force large enough to draw votes away from the Democratic contender in 1972 almost threw the election to the Republican candidate. In 1978 William P. Clements, Jr., was the first Republican to be elected governor in over 100 years; however, he had some difficulty working with the largely Democratic legislature.

The office of governor is probably not as strong in Texas as in some other states. Legally, at least, the governor has little power over certain administrative functions and has no removal power over important elected officials. His privilege of legislative veto may be his strongest executive weapon. Politically, however, the governor has been an influence on the decisions of state government at almost all levels. See also GOVERNMENT, POLITICAL PARTIES, and ELECTION LAWS.

Fred Gantt, Jr., The Chief Executive in Texas (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1964). Stuart MacCorkle and Dick Smith, Texas Government (New York: McGraw-Hill, 1964). Caleb Perry Patterson et al., State and Local Government in Texas (New York: Macmillan, 1940). Ross Phares, The Governors of Texas (Gretna, Louisiana: Pelican, 1976). Dick Smith, A Layman's Guide to the Texas State Administrative Agencies (Austin: Bureau of Municipal Research, University of Texas, 1945).

The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this entry.

Phillip L. Fry, “Governor,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed August 15, 2022,

Published by the Texas State Historical Association.

July 21, 2021