New Braunfels Herald Zeitung (Newspaper) - March 10, 1991, New Braunfels, Texas
Page 6A Hefald-Ze/fung, New Braunfels, Texas Sunday, March 10, 1991Clayton Williams concedes mistakes, may run again
EDITOR’S NOTE — Clayton Williams came from nowhere to almost make Texas political history in one of the state’s rowdiest and most expensive gubernatorial campaigns. In his J first extensive interview since the November defeat, Williams looks ' back at what went right, what went wrong and what lies ahead.
By MIKE COCHRAN and CHIP BROWN t* Associated Proas Writers
MIDLAND (AP) — Conceding he •made serious blunders, Clayton Williams insists the Texas governor’s race was more colorful than dirty and says he may run again.
• “I’m not ruling it out but I’m not ruling it in,” the Midland oilman-rancher said. “Fate will determine that.”
While gracious in defeat, the feisty, shoot-from-the-hip Republican had a •.zinger or two for Democratic oppo-! ;nent Ann Richards, the media and the \• state’s trial lawyers.
*; Williams said he emerged from the
• ‘governor’s race much wiser, less ‘•wealthy, more humble and not even •^remotely bitter.
% "I don’t hold grudges,” he smiled. t;‘‘Life’s too short.”
*• He said it was his sense of humor •‘.that carried him through the tumultu-
• Jous campaign. And he admitted it was I‘his crude attempt at humor — a joke ‘•comparing the weather to rape — that ^^contributed to his downfall.
• ; “This is my recommendation to
I ‘anyone running for governor: For cry-|ang out loud, never, ever talk about the
II Making his first political race at age >57, Williams insisted from the outset
Hie was not a politician, and his cow-\ Jboy charm, candor and openness were '•refreshing and endearing to many Texans.
But he admits now it was that same candor and quick wit, often too quick, that got him in trouble and eventually doomed his candidacy.
“Instead of being political, I was pretty up-front,” he said. “In the field of politics, any attempts at levity can get you cut off at your knees ...
"I didn’t know I was such a bad fella until I ran for governor.”
Granting his first interview since the November election. Williams met two reporters at his Midland office, an airy, plush suite in his GayDesta National Bank.
It is decorated with photographs, paintings, bronzes and other mementoes reflecting his hunting, fishing, ranching and oil activities. Included are spectacular wild-game trophies.
With little urging, he recounted the 1990 blitz of a Republican primary field that included former congressman Kent Hance, Secretary of State Jack Rains and Dallas attorney Tom
Clayton Williams may seek reelection
Luce. In the general election, polls indicated Williams led Richards by as much as 17 percentage points at one time.
With a voter turnout of 3.9 million, he lost by 100,000 votes.
A post-mortem indicated there was no single turning point in the campaign, Williams said. But he said his “worst mistake” was the weather joke. Thai was when he suggested that bad weather is like rape; if it’s inevitable, just “relax and enjoy it.”
When an aide told him his comment had created a problem, Williams disagreed.
“Oh, no,” he recalled saying at the time. “I was just joking.”
He labeled as “serious mistakes” his refusal to shake hands with Richards when their paths crossed late in the campaign, and then calling her a liar.
“She accused me of laundering drug money and I just had to call her hand on it,” he said. “I’m sure there are people more dedicated to fighting drugs than I am, but not a lot. Looking back, I shouldn’t have let that get to me ... I called her hand and it cost me for doing it.”
Williams had been angered by Richards’ reference to a newspaper report which said federal agents were investigating allegations a Houston loan broker, who also had done business with Williams’ bank, was laundering drug money.
Williams said another probable mistake was his refusal to debate Richards, a decision apparently made by advisors afraid he might misspeak under pressure.
“I have a good sense of humor and an instantaneous wit and ... a debate's one thing we probably would have
done better than people expected.”
In something of a paradox, Williams said Icing a front-runner for over a year probably worked against him at the end because of a peculiar American trait. Said he:
“It’s very American to shoot at whoever’s ahead, and I was ahead for along time.”
Perhaps more likely, two events in the critical latter stages of the campaign may have been, if not devastating, at least the proverbial final straw.
One involved a constitutional amendment he said he didn’t understand. But more injurious, Williams volunteered almost casually that he paid no taxes in 1986, a time, he said, when he was almost broke.
It was a concession of no wrongdoing, but vigorously reported and widely misunderstood.
According to Williams, Cinny Kennard of WFAA-TV in Dallas reported the story in such a way as to make it appear he dodged his tax payment — “like I’d done an illegal act.”
That was not the truth, he said.
“I paid all the taxes I ever owed. I didn’t pay any taxes in ’86 because I didn’t make any money.”
Worse yet, he said, CNN picked up the early WF A A account and repeated it throughout the weekend, a “barrage” never corrected and never retracted.
In Dallas, John Miller, news director of WFAA, said:
“We were simply reporting what every other television station and newspaper in the state was reporting that day, that Williams had admitted he paid no income tax in 1986.”
Later that night. Miller said, WFAA changed the wording slightly to clarify the fact that Williams owed no taxes in 1986. The second newscast ended with further explanation of the issue and pointed out that Williams paid other taxes he owed.
“It’s possible that CNN took the early version,” Miller said, although he was unaware that the network picked up either report.
While professing to be no “political expert,” Williams said he was told that voters often tune out the campaign until the final stages, and events then take on special significance.
“Most people don’t give a dam, so they stan paying attention the last couple of weeks before the election. And all the rest of the battles are really minor compared to that.”
It was earlier in this same critical period, Williams maintained, that the Houston Chronicle published “front page headlines” alleging “wrongdoing” at his Midland bank.
Later, he said, when the newspaper had to “back it down and say, well, it didn’t happen,” the story was buried
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on the “back pages.”
He said his campaign suffered from “active bias’’ and the Chronicle and WFAA stories “are two examples that I don’t mind putting right on top of the table.”
Chronicle Managing Editor Tony Pederson said the newspaper stands behind the facts of the story, none of which ever were shown to be inaccurate.
There was no retraction or clarification on the “back pages” or elsewhere, he said.
Williams also said he made “strong enemies’ ’ when he attacked the state’s trial lawyers, whom he said had made Texas the most litigious state in the nation.
“It’s poisoning the business climate,” he charged.
Furthermore, he said, he alienated the teachers’ union and numerous state workers “because I believed in cutting back state government.” His stance on such issues hurt him politically but those were “positions that I thought were right.”
Williams acknowledged that the Richards camp probably succeeded in goading him into making damaging statements. And he said he probably would have been more at ease running
against a male opponent such as Atty. Gen. Jim Mattox.
“It would have been a different campaign,” he said of Mattox, whom Richards defeated in the primary. “Of course, I don’t know the outcome.” Williams pointed out that he has spent most of his life in a “total male environment,” one that included Texas A&M, a military school. And then he went on to make his fortune in the oil and ranching business.
“Ann didn’t really make me feel uncomfortable,” he recalled. “I just think that a male-on-male is one battle and a male and female is another.” Aside from the handshake-liar episode, and Richards’ “liberalism,” Williams had scant criticism of his former opponent.
“We fought a hard campaign with totally different philosophies,” he said. “She is a liberal. Her appointments bear that out. I ani a conservative. My rhetoric bears that out.” And the campaign was not the dirty, mudslinging affair characterized by the media and others, he maintained.
“It was colorful. It wasn’t nearly as muddy as some other races. It just made for good writing. This was a colorful man-woman, conservative-liberal race where both candidates
have distinct personalities.
“It wasn’t that dirty ... It was hard fought.”
What’s more, he said, he supports Richards and hopes she can provide the leadership to guide Texas through difficult times.
But he would have done things differently.
“If I had been governor, my approach would have been battling to decrease the size of state government rather than increasing taxes.... Taxes are going up and our income is level. That can mean only one thing to any economist, even an Aggie. Your standard of living is going down as you increase taxes.
“And I am on the other side from that.”
He was disappointed that legislators rejected the lottery referendum supported by Richards.
“The people of Texas should have the right to vote for what they want or don’t want,” he said. “A referendum makes an end run around the politicians in Austin and returns the power to the people.
“I like that.”
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