Making history: On Hillary Clinton, Luci Baines Johnson and Sissy Farenthold

Jul 27, 2016

Originally published July 27, 2016
Originally appeared in the


Good morning Austin:

Last night, Hillary Clinton made history becoming the first woman to be nominated for president of the United States by  a major party. I spoke yesterday with two Texas women who were in Philadelphia for the occasion who know something about being witnesses to history and about making history – Luci Baines Johnson and Sissy Farenthold.

“Daddy always said America’s greatest untapped resource was its women. We just tapped into it,” said Johnson, who arrived in Philadelphia yesterday and sat with the Texas delegation last night.

Remarkably, for the daughter of one of the most consequential Democratic presidents in American history, this was only the third Democratic National Convention Johnson has attended.

She was there, at 13, at the Los Angeles Convention in 1960 when her father sought the Democratic presidential nomination and ended up as John F. Kennedy’s running-mate.

She was there was at 17 in 1964 in Atlantic City, where her father was nominated for a full term. She recalled, at 17, hosting a clam bake on the beach to divert the press, before her father’s arrival, while he attempted to hammer out a compromise on the seating of the Mississippi Freedom Democrats challenging the legitimacy of the regular party’s all-white delegation.

“That was my last convention,” Johnson told me.

It was not for a lack of interest.

“I’ve watched them all as a consumer. I’m a public service junkie and political junkie. I watched them all on television.”

She had not attended one in person since 1964 for a simple reason. She had not been asked.

“I never turn an invitation down,” she said.

This year Ben Barnes extended the invitation.

“I was honored to have the invitation extended and I wouldn’t have missed it for the world.”

Barnes, a former Texas speaker of the House and lieutenant governor, is an éminence grise in Democratic political circles in D.C. and Austin

From a 1979 Texas Monthly profile of Ben Barnes by Richard West:

Barnes was anointed the heir apparent in a remarkable Texas political dynasty that began in the thirties: Sam Rayburn, Lyndon Johnson, John Connally, Ben Barnes. At a Barnes fundraising bash in August 1970, Johnson, mixing gospel lyrics with a World War II slogan, told the 3000 cheering guests, “Where you lead us, we will follow,” and “We have enlisted for the duration,” ending the paean with a prediction that “Ben Barnes will someday be the next president of the United States from Texas.” Other important Texas politicos agreed. At Ben Barnes Day at San Antonio’s HemisFair, U.S. Ambassador to Australia Ed Clark said, “I would not be surprised if history records that between now and 1980 the U.S. would have two presidents from Texas and I have you in mind, Mr. Barnes.” Robert Strauss, while treasurer of the national Democratic party, said, “He is the best politician I have seen in my career. There is nothing to keep Lieutenant Governor Barnes from any elected post he wishes.” Nothing, it turned out, but Sharpstown.

Enter Sissy Farenthold, who will turn 90 on October 2.

When Farenthold was elected to the Texas House in 1968, she was the only woman in the House. Barbara Jordan was the only woman serving in the Texas Senate.

Four years later, Farenthold ran for governor.

From University of Texas Law School history of Farenthold.

In 1972, as the political fallout from the Sharpstown Bank scandal resonated across the state, Sissy Farenthold launched her first campaign for governor. She hadn’t planned to run for the office, in deference to U.S. Senator Ralph Yarborough, the leader of the liberal wing of the Texas Democratic Party. But when he decided not to run, she entered the gubernatorial race.

Farenthold’s campaign was buoyed by the bank scandal and the ethics reform movement she had led in the Legislature.

“Our present state leaders have run Texas like a cash register,” she said in a TV campaign ad. “The governor profits from the Sharpstown stock swindle. The lieutenant governor makes a fortune on private deals with special interests. Another candidate is a banker who is a back-up man for the big-business interests. It’s time to take Texas from the special interests.”

Farenthold competed against three candidates in the Democratic primary for governor, including a favorite of the state Democratic machine—Lieutenant Governor Ben Barnes, a protégé of former Governor John Connally. Barnes commanded the state Senate during the Sharpstown scandal. He was not implicated in the case, but his association with the politicians linked to the scandal tainted his reputation. The other candidates were Governor Preston Smith, who had profited from the stock deal, and Dolph Briscoe, a businessman who was not in state government at the time.

Farenthold shocked political observers when she outpolled Barnes and Smith, and forced Briscoe into a runoff election. Briscoe defeated Farenthold in the runoff with 54 percent of the vote. But “That Woman,” as critics called Farenthold, had established her political drawing power with 46 percent of the vote.

As remarkable as her run for governor was, it was not even Farenthold’s most significant contribution to political history that year.

More from UT:

This heightened role for women at the convention, which was held from July 10-13 in Miami Beach, Florida, came as they were entering a new period of political activity. About a year earlier, the National Women’s Political Caucus had been founded at a conference in Washington, D.C. And Brooklyn Congresswoman Shirley Chisholm was running for the presidency, the first African American from a major political party to run for the position.

Farenthold was recruited to run for the vice presidency when Chisholm, who didn’t have the votes to win the presidential nomination, turned down the Caucus’s offer to back her as vice president. Farenthold had attended the convention as the leader of the Texas delegates for U.S. Sen. George McGovern, who went on to clinch the party’s presidential nomination. But it wasn’t the first time her name had been mentioned for the vice presidency. Before the convention, a handful of students from Baylor University in Waco, Texas, had circulated a national petition to nominate her, and they brought 2,000 “Sissy for VP” posters to Miami Beach.

The campaign for vice president was a rushed three-day affair. A team was quickly formed. Farenthold’s campaign committee officers were Drue Pollan, Bob Bass, and Larry Patty, all Texans.  Former Texas Observer editor Larry Goodwyn, who was at the convention to support presidential candidate Terry Sanford, became Farenthold’s speechwriter.

Her announcement to the media gathered in the lobby of the Doral Hotel, headquarters for the McGovern campaign, addressed gender head on: “One avenue open to victory is unique to my candidacy. As a woman, I alone could appeal to the women of all parties. By November 1972, the women voters of this country will outnumber the men by a margin of 8 million votes. Women will probably remain the voting majority for the rest of the century. I believe it is time this majority has representation at all levels of government, including the Democratic Vice-Presidential nominee.”

After the announcement, Farenthold, U.S. Rep. Bella Abzug of New York, Gloria Steinem, founder and editor of Ms. magazine, and Betty Freidan, author of “The Feminist Mystique,” met in the ladies room of the hotel to choose who would nominate her on the convention floor. The ladies room was the only place where they could avoid the mostly all-male press corps, Farenthold said.

The group decided that Steinem would nominate Farenthold. Fannie Lou Hamer, the African-American organizer from Mississippi whose protests at the 1964 Democratic National Convention forced the state to end the practice of sending a white-only delegation to the national convention, would second the nomination, while Allard K. Lowenstein, a former U.S. representative from New York who led the 1967 “Dump Johnson” movement, would provide the third nomination.

Farenthold received 407 votes, coming in second to U.S. Sen. Thomas Eagleton in a field of seven candidates. She received little support from the 171 members of the Texas delegation, led by Dolph Briscoe, Farenthold’s competitor a few months earlier in the Democratic gubernatorial primary.

Farenthold was not the first woman nominated for vice president by a major party, but she was the first whose nomination was voted on by the delegates.

“I had a call from Judge Sarah T. Hughes,” Farenthold said. “She said you’re not the first woman. Her name was put in nomination but they withdrew it because they didn’t want to aggravate the men.”

It was also Hughes, a federal judge in Texas, who swore in Lyndon Johnson as president of the Unite States on Air Force One after the assassination of President Kennedy – the only woman in history to have sworn in a president, the job usually of the chief justice of the Supreme Court, a position not yet held by a woman.

From an oral history interview with Hughes from the LBJ Library.

Sarah T. Hughes — Interview I — 11
F: You’ve known Congressman Rayburn for–
H: Yes, I had known Congressman Rayburn for a number of years. As a matter of fact, you
know my name was placed in nomination for Vice-President in 1952 and I had to get Mr.
Rayburn’s consent to have it placed in nomination. He was the chairman, you know, and
he wouldn’t recognize anybody unless he knew what they were going to say.
F: Let’s go back and pick that up for a moment. Who put your name in nomination and why?
H:You know, I think this is more about me than it is about President Johnson.
F: But we’re getting a world of President Johnson–a lifetime.
H:I  was president of the National Federation of Business and Professional Women Clubs at
the time. We had been active in supporting women for public office. In that year a
movement had started to get the name of a woman nominated for Vice-President in both
the Democratic and Republican parties. And at the national convention in 1952, the
national convention of Business and Professional Women Clubs, the convention endorsed
Margaret Chase Smith’s Republican nomination and endorsed me for the Democratic
nomination. Then they passed the hat around and collected a little over a thousand dollars
to be spent by the two candidates for Vice-President.
F: That’s quite a Vice-Presidential kitty, isn’t it?
H:It is. Most Vice-Presidents don’t even have any kitty.
She [Mrs. Smith] was unable to go to the Republican convention because her
mother was ill at the time, so I had the whole thousand dollars to spend for myself. I don’t
think I ever had more fun than at the Democratic convention. I had a platform and a press
conference. I visited some of the delegations and I’m glad it wasn’t finally put to a vote
because I only had 2 1/2 votes.
F: Who placed your name in nomination?
H: A woman–and I can’t think of her name–from Montana.
F: Did you get a man to second or did you–
H: I couldn’t get any man to second. I had another woman from Idaho to second the
nomination, and Mr. Rayburn would only permit the nomination if I would immediately
withdraw it. So as soon as the nomination was made, he recognized me to go on the
platform and withdraw it.
F: The Republicans then didn’t get a woman that year?
H: No.
F: Are you the first woman of a major party–
H: No, I’m not the first. As a matter of fact, another woman was nominated at the
Democratic convention–what is her name? She was a committeewoman at the time and
national vice-chairman of the Democratic committee. She’s very active this year–
F: India Edwards?
H: India Edwards, yes, her name was placed in nomination.
F: And she withdrew?
H: And she withdrew. We were both very gracious auki
From Farenthold’s Wikipedia page:

Farenthold was the third woman whose name was put into nomination for Vice President of the United States at a major party’s nominating convention. The first was Lena Springs, who was not a public official and whose 1924 nomination was a gesture of affection. The second was India Edwards in 1952, whose nomination was also a gesture of gratitude for her influence over Harry Truman. At the Democratic National Convention in 1972, Farenthold came in second to the presidential nominee’s choice, U.S. Senator Thomas F. Eagleton of Missouri. She garnered more delegate votes (404.04) than then-U.S. Senator Mike Gravel of Alaska, Senator Birch Bayh of Indiana, and future U.S. President Jimmy Carter of Georgia, among others.

Farenthold said that the vice presidential nomination caught her by surprise. She said came together because of the National Women’s Political Caucu, and three students from Baylor who had worked on her gubernatorial campaign.

I went on antibiotics I had kind of walking flu.. I was not well,  to put it mildly.

It was an open race for VP. It was totally new and it was never tied again. And I think there is probably sense to that because they (the president and vice president) work together.

She said she won some votes from delegations when women seized the moment.

In the instances of two delegations, the chair went off to visit different people and women took over, because I couldn’t understand why I carried Oklahoma and Arkansas – Carl Albert and Dale Bumpers – wandered off while this mundane weird process was going on.

(John Kenneth) Galbraith told me to move acclamation, that was the proper thing to do . That’s what Mrs. Clinton did with Obama in ’08.

And that’s what Bernie Sanders did with Hillary Clinton last night.

Farenthold watched the convention last night from the Texas delegation hotel.

Farenthold did not come to Philadelphia for Clinton and her historic moment.

I’m here actually to meet the Bernie Sanders people here from around the country. I am interested in the idea that they intend to carry on. There was talk of this when Obama first came and then it sort of disappeared, dissolved. But the Sanders people are saying that’s what they are going to do , so that is the reason basically I came to meet them.

Farenthold was a Sanders designee on the convention’s Rules Committee. She hasn’t actually met Sanders, though she once passed him in Washington, and called out a question of concern to which he offered a gruff response and kept going.

She was drawn to Sanders by the issues.

The issue he brought to the foreground that have been there that have not been talked about. I have been concerned ever since I’ve read the economist (Joseph) Stiglitz, at least the last five, six, seven years, on the inequality that’s grown with time, and nothing was being said about it, and the issues he brought were very much right now but they weren’t being discussed, or being discussed but not in an in your face right out in front.

I mean the thing about wages and how people on minimum wage are on food stamps, and those jobs – you can say the recession is part of it – but those jobs used to be for teenagers, but people are trying to hold together families on that, two or three jobs. That’s something that needs to be addressed.

Farenthold backed the Sanders campaign like many of his supporters did.

With those $27 checks, yes I was involved in that way and I went to the things I could in Houston, but everything was done with a computer and I’m near illiterate with the computer so I miss things. I’m a telephone person.

Farenthold said she is happy about Clinton’s history-making, even if she wasn’t her candidate.

“She’s a very able person.” said Farenthold, who said she met her once – at the 1984 Democratic Convention in San Francisco, when she ran into Bill and Hillary. She had met Bill once before and remembered him as exceedingly polite.

Luci Baines Johnson feels a kinship for Clinton, that they’ve led “parallel lives,” same age, crossed paths, same political priorities.

She appreciated that, back during the 2008 primary campaign, Clinton rose to LBJ’s defense in the debate about the centrality and genuineness of his history-making on civil rights.

And what about Trump?

My mother always focused on the positive and there is so much more for me to be for for Secretary Clinton. That is where I want to spend my energy, applauding her diverse experience. There is no substitution for experience in terms of your ability to make the difference in your ability to make the difference for positive change.

She has a reputation for working as a senator across the aisles and bringing persons of diverse position to recognize that you want one position, I want another, that compromise doesn’t mean compromising your principles. It means finding common ground. She has a lifetime of trying to work together to try find common ground, to try to make positive progress, And I am frightened by those who want to focus on pitting Americans against each other.