Ernest Angelo, Jr.
|Ernest Angelo, Jr.|
Angelo (left) and Senator John Tower
|Preceded by||Edwin H. Magruder, Jr.|
|Succeeded by||Gaylian Thane Akins|
|Preceded by||Fred Agnich|
|Succeeded by||Timothy Lambert|
|Born|| March 7, 1934|
St. Paul, Minnesota
|Spouse(s)||Betty Lou “Penny” Pendergraft Angelo|
|Children|| Ernest Eugene Angelo|
Helen Marie Kisner
|Residence|| Bogalusa, Washington Parish|
|Alma mater|| St. Paul's School (Covington, Louisiana)|
United States Air Force service
Ernest Angelo, Jr., known as Ernie Angelo (born March 7, 1934), is an American oilman and Republican politician who served from 1972 to 1980 as mayor of the West Texas city of Midland and was in 1976 the co-manager of the presidential primary campaign in Texas for Ronald W. Reagan, who challenged sitting U.S. President Gerald Ford.
With a 2–1 margin among voters in the state's first binding presidential primary, Reagan won all ninety-six delegate spots at stake. Coupled with a victory five weeks earlier in North Carolina, the historic Texas upset revived Reagan's floundering campaign and made it possible for him to contest U.S. President Gerald Ford, for their party's nomination, a selection made at the 1976 Republican National Convention held in Kansas City, Missouri. Without the Texas triumph, which occurred on May 1, 1976, and follow-up victories on May 4 in Indiana and Georgia, Reagan could have been forced out of the race for the nomination. And without Angelo and his two co-chairmen, Ray Barnhart of Pasadena, Texas, in suburban Houston, later the director of the Federal Highway Administration, and Barbara Staff, chairman of the Council of Republican Women's Clubs of Dallas County, at the helm that year, Reagan might have become viewed as a non-entity with little credibility four years later, when he went on to win the presidency by a wide margin of electoral votes over the Democrat Jimmy Carter, who had unseated Ford in the 1976 election.
Angelo was born in St. Paul, Minnesota, to Ernest Angelo, Sr. (1894–1971), and the former Helen Marie Moran (1895–2003). The senior Angelo was a college professor at West Virginia University in Morgantown, West Virginia and the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis-St. Paul before he accepted a position with the Louisiana Department of Agriculture and Forestry in Bogalusa in Washington Parish. The junior Angelo hence grew up in Bogalusa and in Covington in St. Tammany Parish in the New Orleans suburbs. He graduated in 1952 from the Roman Catholic St. Paul's School in Covington and then entered the petroleum engineering program at Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge, from which he graduated in 1956. Thereafter, he served briefly in the United States Air Force followed by eight years in the Air Force Reserves.
After he graduated from LSU, Angelo took a position from 1956 to 1962 with Gulf Oil in Crane, Texas, south of Odessa. He and his wife, the former Betty Lou "Penny" Pendergraft, who grew up in Galveston and Houston, made their home in Midland, halfway between Fort Worth and El Paso. The couple has four children, Ernest Eugene Angelo of Carmel, Indiana; Helen Marie Kisner, married to Frank Kisner, a retired lieutenant general in the Air Force; Patricia Louise Angelo of Lewisville, Texas, and Clifford Angelo (born Father's Day weekend 1973), a consultant and entrepreneur.
From 1962 to 1964, Angelo was affiliated with Sohio Petroleum. In August 1964, Angelo began his own company, Discovery Exploration in Midland with partners Don L. Sparks and Charles Webb Farish.
Midland's "Mr. Republican"
Angelo joined the Young Republicans while a student at LSU. In Midland, he continued his association with the Republican Party. In 1968, Angelo made the first of two unsuccessful runs as a Republican candidate for the Texas State Senate, having lost to Democrat W. E. "Pete" Snelson, then of Midland. Snelson had unseated long-term Senator Dorsey B. Hardeman of San Angelo in the Democratic primary. In that same 1968 general election, Tom Craddick of Midland, was elected at the age of twenty-five to the Texas House of Representatives. In 2003, Craddick began a six-year stint as House Speaker, the first Republican speaker since Reconstruction. Craddick still serves as the senior member of the Texas House, but he was toppled as Speaker in 2009 by a combination of Moderate Republicans and Democrats, who were organized by the still-sitting Speaker, Joe Straus of San Antonio. Craddick and Angelo have been neighbors since the early 1970s. The two oilmen are godparents to the other's children.
The 96-0 Reagan landslide made impressive headlines and followed thereafter with four more at-large Reagan delegates chosen at the state convention. Angelo said the victory was possible because the party was allowed to write its own rules. Some 420,000 voted in the Republican primary in which Reagan polled 278,300 votes to Ford's 139,994. In the Democratic primary, two candidates easily outpolled Reagan, and a third nearly matched him. Jimmy Carter received 736,032 votes; U.S. Senator Lloyd Bentsen, a favorite son for President and a candidate for senatorial reelection, polled 343,033 votes, and George Wallace, the governor of Alabama, drew 270,798 votes. Carter, Bentsen, and Wallace hence polled some three times as many votes as Reagan and Ford combined. The 1976 primary was the first election in Texas in which counties with at least 5 percent Mexican-American ethnicity were required to use bilingual ballots.
While he co-managed the Reagan campaign, Mayor Angelo was chosen to be a national committeeman, a position that he retained for twenty years. After Reagan became president, Angelo tried again for the Midland-based state Senate seat, but he lost in 1982 to the Democrat William “Bill” Sims of San Angelo in Tom Green County, 52,868 (47.9 percent) to 57,522 (52.1 percent). This race occurred about a decade before the region between Midland and San Angelo moved strongly into the Republican camp. In that same year, Bill Clements of Dallas, the first Texas Republican governor of Texas since 1873, and Houston oilman George Strake, Jr., the GOP candidate for lieutenant governor and later the state party chairman, were crushed in an avalanche of Democratic votes. It was the last year through at least 2018 that the Democrats in Texas would win all of the statewide races, including judgeships. Angelo noted that the poor Republican prospects in Texas in 1982 were attributed to a downturn in the national economy, as Democrats rebounded nationwide in President Reagan's first mid-term election.
Angelo said that his defeat by Sims was a “blessing” because he needed to work full-time after 1983 on his business, and his being a state senator would have been too time-consuming to protect his company during a slump. Angelo recalls Clements' defeat by Mark White in 1982 as his own most personally disappointing election loss. Only two years earlier, his most exhilarating victory had been that of Reagan over President Carter just four years after Angelo, Barnhart, and Staff had worked to resurrect Reagan in the Texas primary.
The political organization Americans for Prosperity credits Angelo with "the courage to buck the Republican establishment and support Ronald Reagan. The rest is history. [Angelo should] write a book so we can know more of the details. Ernest Angelo had courage ... Had it not been for Ernest Angelo and Texas in 1976, Reagan may not have become President."
Election as mayor
Angelo's entry into municipal politics was not the result of personal motivation but instead a plea from two friends and fellow businessmen, his neighbor Tom Craddick and Craddick's predecessor in the legislature, former Representative Frank Kell Cahoon, who had been the only Republican in the Texas House of Representatives in the 1965 legislative session. Mayor Edwin H. Magruder, Jr., who had an impressive World War II record, did not seek a third two-year term in 1972.
Craddick believed that the leading candidate for mayor, Mayor Pro Tem Pat M. Baskin, a former chairman of the Midland County Democratic Executive Committee, would use the office to try to unseat Craddick's bid for a third term in the House in the 1972 general election. Angelo agreed to run for mayor if Cahoon would seek one of the at-large city council seats. The deal was struck, and both ran and won. Angelo recalls his having defeated Baskin by 150 votes out of some 10,000 cast, a plurality of votes in a system that did not require a runoff election. Angelo considered his opponent to be on the left side of the Democratic Party, but later Baskin switched parties, as West Texas moved increasingly away from the Democrats. Baskin subsequently served as a Republican state court judge. Angelo recalls that Baskin was "a gentleman," popular by virtue of his friendly personality and his involvement in community theater.
Mayor Angelo soon found himself involved in the details of municipal matters. He recalls that Midland was low on financial reserves with less than $300,000 in its unappropriated surplus general fund. He and the council hence called for a sales tax election coupled with a lowering of city property taxes even though such a measure had been rejected a year earlier in 1971. No funds were spent to advertise the tax measure. Angelo and the council took on the responsibility of informing voters of the fiscal problems facing the city. The measure passed easily, and Midland prevailed strongly economically throughout the 1970s.
Under Angelo, the city modernized Midland International Airport. Though it is used by neighboring Odessa, the airport is entirely the possession of the City of Midland. When the University of Texas of the Permian Basin became a four-year institution, plans had been to merge Midland and Odessa junior colleges on the Midland campus under a common community college district. Odessa voters, however, voted down the proposal, reflecting longstanding divisions between the two municipalities of common size and different focus in neighboring Midland and Ector counties. Angelo presided over the building of a new central fire station and Midland Center, a civic meeting facility which opened downtown with a large clientele. The first shopping mall, developed by the Simon Company of Indianapolis, Indiana opened during Angelo's tenure. Federal block grants were employed to upgrade Midland streets and to pave the remaining dirt and gravel roads within the city. Angelo said that the city manager, the late James W. Brown, and his assistant, Fred Poe, carried most of the burden of administrative details and provided continuity during his years as mayor. There were some problems with planning and zoning, but the water and sewer infrastructure proved more than adequate.
Angelo worked with four at-large council members, and he had the power to break ties. Now, the Midland City Council has six single-member districts with the mayor able to vote on all matters though his vote might not usually be needed except to break a tie. Angelo said the decision by the U. S. courts to require single-member districts in legislative elections has not been productive, at least in Midland. In the single-member concept, council members tend to be focused only on the parochial nature of their districts, rather than the well-being of a city as a whole. Mayor Angelo won again in 1974, 1976, and 1978 with token or no opposition. He did not run in 1980 and was succeeded by Gaylian Thane Akins (1933–2005), also a petroleum engineer in Midland. Angelo jokes that he took office during a downturn in the West Texas oil industry and “my leadership and the Arab oil embargo got Midland booming”, as greater demand developed for drilling West Texas petroleum. Under the Angelo administration, Midland property taxes became the lowest among the twenty-five largest population centers in Texas. In later years, Texans found that tax rates themselves were less critical in calculating their payments than the rising assessed values of their properties.
Angelo recalls a trip to Midland by U.S. Senator John Tower in 1975, when Angelo informed Tower that he would be working in the forthcoming campaign to draft and nominate Reagan. Angelo recalls Tower as having told him that supporting Reagan would be "a dumb thing to do." At the time, all Republican U.S. senators except Jesse Helms of North Carolina and Paul Laxalt of Nevada were committed to Ford. Tower blamed Ford's defeat in Texas on "Dixiecrats ... the Reagan organization, aided by former Wallace leaders, made a concerted and obviously successful effort to get the Wallace vote in the Republican primary. In addition some section of Ford’s defense and foreign policy alienated some voters who may otherwise have cast their ballot for the president.”
None of the Ford supporters from Texas were delegates to the national convention in Kansas City. Angelo recalls Tower as having "begged" him to allocate a delegate slot for the Senator. Angelo said that Tower could be a delegate if he were committed to supporting Reagan, an impossible condition for Tower because of his longstanding commitment to President Ford. Tower hence was not a delegate to the 1976 convention because Angelo was mindful that a close convention contest could have been decided by a handful of delegate votes. Angelo said that he always personally liked and admired Tower though they disagreed on some issues: "John was the best extemporaneous speaker and solid as a rock on most issues." As time passed though, Tower alienated the conservative wing of his party with his support for abortion and opposition to Reagan's Strategic Defense Initiative. Tower did not seek a fifth term in 1984 and was succeeded by Phil Gramm, a former economics professor at Texas A&M University in College Station.
Angelo recalls having attempted to mediate a political dispute between Tower and his 1972 intraparty rival, state Senator Henry C. Grover of Houston, the party's gubernatorial nominee against Democrat Dolph Briscoe of Uvalde. Grover wanted to install Angelo as state party chairman to replace the Tower partisan, George Williford of Austin. Angelo arranged a meeting in a Houston hotel between Tower and Grover, and the two got into a shouting match and nearly came to blows. "Hank was his own worst enemy. He couldn't get along, let personal things interfere in the political realm," recalls Angelo. In retrospect, Angelo theorizes that the 1972 division within the Texas GOP delayed the election of the first Republican governor, Bill Clements in 1978, beyond what otherwismay have been possible.
Angelo's tenure as mayor corresponded partly with that of Jim Reese in Odessa. When veteran Democratic U.S. Representative George Herman Mahon (1900-1985) of Lubbock retired, an open election developed for the seat in 1978. Reese entered the Republican primary; so did 31-year-old George W. Bush, son George Herbert Walker Bush, the man would become vice president two years later. Bush won the primary and then lost the general election to then Democrat (later Republican) Kent Hance, subsequently a Texas railroad commissioner, the chancellor of Texas Tech University, and a particularly successful lobbyist but never a governor or U.S. senator. Angelo stayed out of the Reese-Bush primary, for he had developed good relations with both men.
In the 1980 Republican presidential campaign, Angelo again worked for Reagan, having been the deputy Reagan-Bush chairman under Governor Clements as well as campaign manager of the 1980 general election campaign in Texas. At the 1984 Republican National Convention in Dallas, Angelo was chairman of the National Advisory Board for Reagan-Bush. He was chairman of the Texas delegation in 1980 and 1984.
In 1996, Angelo stepped down as national committeeman and was succeeded by Timothy Lambert of Lubbock, a social conservative active in the homeschooling movement. Angelo remains committed to Republican affairs as an insider with comparatively little public attention focused upon him. He has been a fund-raiser for former Railroad Commissioner Michael Lawrence Williams, a conservative African American originally from Midland, who in 2012 lost a Republican primary for the United States House of Representatives for Texas' 25th congressional district, after previously indicating that he would seek the U.S. Senate seat vacated by the retiring Kay Bailey Hutchison.
Angelo is affiliated with the Texas Society of Professional Engineers as both the Permian Basin president and the state director. In 1973, he was named "Permian Basin Engineer of the Year." In 1981, he was appointed to the National Petroleum Council by then United States Secretary of Energy James B. Edwards, a Republican former governor of South Carolina. He served on the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board under Governor Clements, on the Texas Parks and Wildlife Commission under Governor George W. Bush, and as chairman of the Texas Public Safety Commission under former Governor Rick Perry.
n 2008, Angelo garnered the John Ben Shepperd Award for Outstanding Texas Leadership, an honor named for the former state attorney general who called both Gladewater and Odessa home. Angelo that same year became a member and director of the Trigon Uranium and the Intercontinental Potash corporations.
Angelo has been a steadfast supporter of Governor Rick Perry, who turned back a determined intra-party challenge on March 2, 2010 from U.S. Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison before he defeated the Democratic nominee, former Houston Mayor William Henry "Bill" White. Angelo said that many in the oil industry in Midland supported Perry "to ensure the pro-business climate continues. Midland has a reputation of being a conservative pro-business community."
Angelo is still active as an oilman in Midland. He and his wife reside in the same house on Stanolind Avenue that they bought c. 1970. The Minnesota native who was reared in Louisiana is an adopted West Texan describes Midland as "a very open community ... where people can excel in any endeavor." He attributes the political climate in Midland and West Texas to the oil and natural gas industries: "These are people with a can-do entrepreneurial independence who suiespport a conservative philosophy of government."
In 2012, Angelo was a leading supporter of Christi Craddick, his neighbor Tom Craddick's daughter, who won election to the Texas Railroad Commission and reelection in 2018.
- Ron Calhoun, "Reagan forces gearing for North Texas campaign," Dallas Times Herald, December 21, 1975, p. F1.
- Billy Hathorn, "Mayor Ernest Angelo, Jr., of Midland and the 96-0 Reagan Sweep of Texas, May 1, 1976," 'West Texas Historical Association Yearbook Vol. 86 (2010), pp. 77–89.
- Ernest Angelo, Jr.: Managing Partner, Discovery Exploration. thecb.state.tx.us. Retrieved on March 10, 2011.
- Austin: Texas State Archives, 1976 Republican presidential primary returns.
- The Laredo Morning Times, May 2, 1976.
- State of Texas, Archives Division, General election returns for state Senate, November 2, 1982.
- Ernest Angelo shaped history, helped launch Reagan's Presidential bid. Americansforprosperity.org.
- Shanna Sissom, "Magruder led a charmed life in peace and war", January 12, 2011. Mywesttexas.com. Retrieved on March 8, 2011.
- John Tower, Consequences: A Personal and Political Memoir (Boston, Massachusetts: Little Brown and Company, 1991), pp. 42, 118–119.
- Ernest Angelo, Jr., B.Sc.. investing.businessweek.com. Retrieved on March 10, 2011.
- "The Leadership Committee: Michael Williams for U.S. Senate," Williamsfortexas.com, accessed October 18, 2010.
- Gov. Perry Appoints Angelo to Texas Public Safety Commission, January 10, 2005. governor.state.tx.us. Retrieved on March 10, 2011.
- "Midland's Ernie Angelo named Shepperd Institute's outstanding "Leader of the Year", Midland Reporter-Telegram, September 26, 2008.
- Kathleen Thurber, "Gov. Perry raises more than White in Midland, statewide," October 5, 2010. Midland Reporter-Telegram. Retrieved on March 20, 2011.
- Ernest Angelo office. manta.com. Retrieved on March 10, 2011.