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Senators Ralph Yarborough and John Tower Decline Gubernatorial Run (1968)

KPRC-TV

Sound | 1968

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  •  Newsman Ray Miller 
  •  During a press conference at Austin’s Commodore Perry Hotel, Senator Ralph Yarborough explains why he will remain in the United States Senate 
  •  Senator John Tower addresses speculation of a gubernatorial bid 
  •  Miller comments on the possibility of Congressman George H. W. Bush entering the race. Bush unsuccessfully ran for Senate in 1970.  
 
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  • About the video
  • Ray Miller Ray Miller
  • Ralph Yarborough Ralph Yarborough
  • John Tower John Tower
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In this segment for Houston’s KPRC-TV, newsman Ray Miller reviews developments in the 1968 Texas gubernatorial race. Senators Ralph Yarborough and John Tower were considered potential primary candidates. Statements made by both men on January 13, however, went against such speculation. At a press conference at Austin’s Commodore Perry Hotel, Yarborough officially announced his decision not to run for governor. In his address, he said, “I consider it a high duty to remain in the Senate, pushing the progressive legislation in which I believe.” Across town, Tower told reporters that a gubernatorial bid from him was possible but “very unlikely.” Tower was in Austin to attend the State Republican Executive Committee meeting at the Driskill Hotel. Miller correctly assesses that the 1968 race nevertheless saw “no real shortage of candidates,” with ten in the Democratic primary and three in the Republican. Democrat Preston Smith ultimately defeated Republican Paul Eggers in the general election.
Newsman Ray Miller (1919 - 2008) began his broadcasting career in 1938 in his home town of Fort Worth. He relocated to Houston soon thereafter, where he joined KPRC Radio. When KPRC purchased Houston’s first television station in 1951, Miller adopted the burgeoning medium, eventually winning a Peabody Award. In 1969, Miller created The Eyes of Texas, a regional television series examining all things Texas. On the air for 30 years, the series became Houston’s longest-running local television program. Miller retired in 1979, serving as news director at both KPRC Radio and KPRC-TV for over 40 years. During his decades-long tenure at KPRC, Miller mentored a number of journalists, including Dan Rather and former US Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison. 
 
After retiring from television production, Miller became a local historian, writing several books and travel guides about historic attractions in Houston and Galveston. He also worked with the Harris County Historical Commission to secure markers for numerous sites. 
United States Senator Ralph Webster Yarborough, known as "Smilin' Ralph," represented Texas from 1957 through 1971. Yarborough was born in Chandler, Texas, in 1903 as the seventh of nine children, and went on study at the Sam Houston State Teachers College as a young man before attending the University of Texas at Austin, where he graduated from the law school in 1927.
 
In 1931, Yarborough began a short but notable career as an assistant attorney general.  As an expert in Texas land law assigned to represent the interests of the Permanent School Fund, Yarborough won a number of cases against major oil companies such as Magnolia Petroleum and Mid-Kansas, through which he was able to guarantee that public schools and universities receive revenues from Texas oil. This litigation has since brought billions of dollars to public education.
 
In 1938, Yarborough decided to run for attorney general but lost; it would take another 12 years for him to run for any kind of office again. In the interim, he served in the Texas National Guard and the U.S. Army during World War II. In 1952, running against conservative incumbent R. Allan Shivers for the governorship, Yarborough lost his second race. He continued this losing streak against Shivers in the 1954 primary and then again against Senator Marion Price Daniel, Sr. in 1956. In 1957, however, he was able to win Daniel's vacated seat in the Senate next to Lyndon Baines Johnson.
 
In the Senate, Yarborough pursued a progressive agenda, first refusing to sign the Southern Manifesto against desegregation and then being one of only five Southern senators to sign the Civil Rights Act of 1957. For the environment, he pushed through a bill to elevate Padre Island to the status of National Seashore.  For education, he introduced the first Bilingual Education Act in 1967, which was signed into law a year later.  He worked to expand healthcare funding and to extend the G.I. Bill to Cold War veterans. In 1969, Yarborough chaired the Senate Committee on Labor and Public Welfare.
 
Aside from his legislation, Yarborough is also remembered for riding in the 1963 Dallas motorcade in which President John F. Kennedy was assassinated. The story goes that, being at odds with several of the other politicians on the President's tour, Yarborough originally refused to share a car with Johnson, who was friends with his rivals. This so outraged Kennedy that on the morning of the motorcade he took Yarborough aside and threatened to end their friendship if Yarborough did not cooperate. The Senator conceded and ended up just two cars behind the President when he was fatally shot that afternoon. When interviewed about that day, Yarborough described it as "the most tragic event of my life."
 
In 1970, Yarborough lost his seat in an upset election against Lloyd Bentsen. While he ran once more for office, he did not win again.
 
In 1996, Yarborough died at the age of 92. He is buried in Austin at the Texas State Cemetery.
John Tower was born in Houston on September 29, 1925, to Beryl and Joe Tower. His father was a Methodist minister, so Tower spent his childhood in various Texas towns. He graduated from Beaumont High School and enrolled in Southwestern University in 1942. The next year, however, he joined the Navy to serve in World War II.  Following the war, Tower was discharged as a seaman first class and completed his studies at Southwestern, earning a degree in Political Science. He earned his graduate degree from Southern Methodist University and also attended the London School of Economics.
 
Tower identified as a Republican and lost his first political campaign for state representative in 1954. He also lost the 1960 election for the Texas Senate in 1960 to Lyndon B. Johnson. Johnson was simultaneously elected Vice President, however, and Tower won the special election for his vacated Senate seat the following year. He was reelected in 1966, 1972, and 1978. Tower was the first Republican senator to be elected from Texas since 1870, and many considered this the beginning of two-party politics in Texas. Most notably, Tower was skilled at guiding legislation through Congress, working in the interest of economic growth, small businesses, energy, agriculture, and transportation. He also assisted on Republican presidential campaigns and headed the Tower Commission on the Iran-Contra Affair in 1986.
 
Tower married Lou Bullington in 1952, and they had three daughters. His second marriage to Lilla Burt Cummings lasted from 1977 to 1987. He earned an honorary doctorate degree from Southwestern in 1964 and was named a distinguished alumnus in 1968. The Tower-Hester Chair of Political Science at Southwestern and The John Goodwin Tower Center for Political Studies at SMU are both named in his honor. He died in a plane crash in Georgia on April 5, 1991