Preston Smith

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Preston Earnest Smith

40th Governor of Texas
In office
January 21, 1969 – January 16, 1973
Preceded by John Connally
Succeeded by Dolph Briscoe

35th Lieutenant Governor of Texas
In office
January 15, 1963 – January 21, 1969
Governor John Connally
Preceded by Ben Ramsey
Succeeded by Benjamin Barnes

Texas State Senator for
District 28 (Lubbock)
In office
1957–1963
Preceded by Kilmer B. Corbin
Succeeded by H.J. "Doc" Blanchard

Texas State Representative
for District 119 (Lubbock)
In office
1945–1951
Preceded by Hop Hasley
Succeeded by Waggoner Carr

Born March 8, 1912
Williamson County, Texas
Died October 18, 2003
Lubbock, Texas
Resting place Texas State Cemetery at Austin
Political party Democrat
Spouse(s) Ima Mae Smith
Children One son and one daughter
Alma mater Texas Tech University
Occupation Businessman
Profession Businessman; politician
Religion United Methodist

Preston Earnest Smith (March 7, 1912 – October 18, 2003) was the 40th governor of his native Texas, with service for two two-year terms from 1969 to 1973. He earlier served as the lieutenant governor from 1963 to 1969 and as a member of both houses of the Texas State Legislature.

Smith was born into a tenant farm family of thirteen children in Williamson County near Austin. The family later moved to Lamesa in Dawson County on the South Plains, at which Smith graduated in 1928 from high school. He thereafter graduated from Texas Tech University in Lubbock and launched a theater business in the middle 1940s.

After service in the Texas House from 1945 to 1951, Smith served six more years in the state Senate from 1957 to 1963. He won the Senate position by unseating Kilmer B. Corbin, the father of actor Barry Corbin. In 1962, Smith won the lieutenant governor's race, securing majorities in all but 16 of the 254 counties to defeat the Republican O.W. "Bill" Hayes.[1]

In 1968, Smith was elected governor to succeed the popular Democratic incumbent John B. Connally, Jr., who in 1973 switched affiliation to the Republican Party. To win the governorship, Smith first defeated fellow Democrat Don Yarborough in the 1968 Democratic runoff election. Eliminated in the primary that year were Dolph Briscoe, a rancher, businessman, and philanthropist from Uvalde and former Attorney General Waggoner Carr, also of Lubbock, who two years earlier had lost the race for the United States Senate to Republican John Tower.

On January 21, 1969, the day after the swearing-in of U.S. President Richard M. Nixon to his first term, Smith took the oath of office. His ceremony, replete with the Texas Tech band, was the first to have been televised in Texas history.[2]

To claim the governorship, Smith twice defeated Republican nominee Paul William Eggers, a tax attorney from Wichita Falls and later Dallas as well as a confidant of Senator Tower. In the high-turnout general election of 1968, Smith received 1,662,019 ballots (57 percent) to Eggers' 1,254,333 (43 percent). In the low-turnout general election of 1970, Smith received 1,197,726 votes (53.6 percent) to Eggers' 1,037,723 (46.4 percent).

In 1971 and 1972, Smith was caught up in the Sharpstown bank stock fraud scheme, which may have caused him to lose his bid for re-nomination in the 1972 Democratic primary. He lost the nomination to Dolph Briscoe, who then defeated a strong Republican challenger, Henry C. Grover, an intra-party rival of John Tower, who nevertheless won his own third term in the Senate that year. In 1978, Smith again lost a bid for the Democratic gubernatorial nomination, as did Governor Briscoe. Instead John Luke Hill defeated them both but then lost the general election to Republican Bill Clements.

Much later in his career, Smith was the political liaison officer for Texas Tech University. After his death in Lubbock, the airport was renamed in 2004 Lubbock Preston Smith International Airport.

References

  1. Charles Ashman, Connally: The Adventures of Big Bad John, New York: William Morrow Company, 1974, p. 22.
  2. 1969: Smith's inaugural celebration to have flavor of South Plains. Lubbock Avalanche-Journal (January 27, 2017). Retrieved on April 3, 2017.