There are at least two compelling reasons to read a newly released book entitled “In the Governor’s Shadow,” about former Texas governors James and Miriam (aka Ma and Pa) Ferguson. In this account, author Carol Wilson of Temple weaves a lesson in Texas history into the story of this famous native Bell County pair in a way that enlightens and entertains.
James “Jim” Ferguson entered Texas politics in 1914 armed with a great deal more gumption than qualification. Ferguson gained an immediate and lasting appeal from the rural constituency, a group that became the lifeblood of his influence, but the green governor’s political inexperience and failure to rein in his insatiable lust for power soon put his office in jeopardy. Although Jim Ferguson’s actions and motives were often suspect, only those closest to him knew the depths of the secrets that allowed him to win the governorship with an absence of legitimate credentials. Those secrets finally saw the light of day under the weight of two investigations into Ferguson’s conduct, the second of which led to his ousting. The resulting transcripts, of more than 1,000 pages, supplied the author with a bounty of evidence and a starting point for an in-depth, three-year probe into the behavior of both Fergusons.
Jim Ferguson’s 1917 impeachment singularized him as the only Texas governor to suffer such a fate. However, the cloudy and somewhat technical details of the misconduct that facilitated his banishment remained contestable in the minds of his supporters. The disgraced governor’s yen to reclaim political muscle, and the means he was willing to employ to secure it, led him to take some bold, if not ridiculous, actions. One such exploit was substituting his wife’s name on the 1924 primary ballot for governor to circumvent the disqualification penalty that prohibited his own participation.
Miriam Ferguson’s success in that 1924 election distinguished her as the state’s first female governor, but her husband’s heavy involvement ultimately attached a murky burden of scandal to her legacy. Even so, she was re-elected in 1932. Inarguably, both Fergusons had a significant impact on political history in Texas because they had the ability to get elected amid interminable rumors of wrongdoing. While many Texans believed that rumors of sold pardons constituted the bulk of the evils that plagued the Ferguson terms, that subject and others raised serious debate over the pair’s integrity.
With this comprehensive telling, the Ferguson legacy, long clouded with imprecise controversy and ambiguity, may finally find clarity and closure.
Publisher: University of North Texas Press
Publication date: 1/15/2014