AUSTIN, Texas- Former Texas Gov. Mark White, a Democrat who championed public education reforms that included the landmark “no-pass , no-play” policy for high school athletes during his single word in office, has died. He was 77.
The former governor, who opposed kidney cancer for years, died Saturday in Houston shortly after waking up and feeling uncomfortable, according to his wife, Linda Gale White, and his son Andrew White.
“He cared about Texas deeply, ” his son told. “He realized that this wasn’t about getting re-elected. This wasn’t about being popular. This was about attaining Texas a better place.”
White was governor from 1983 until 1987. He was Texas’ us attorney general where reference is defeated incumbent Gov. Bill Clements, Texas’ first Republican governor since Reconstruction who expended a then-record $13 million on his re-election campaign. Clements came back to beat White four years later.
White’s education reforms included pay raises and competency exams for educators, class sizing limits for elementary schools and the creation of the state’s high school basic skills graduation test. White also pushed through a$ 4 billion taxation hike for colleges and highways.
In a 2011 interview with The Associated Press, White said he tried to model his education platform on what his mother, a former first-grade teacher, talked about she experienced in the classroom.
“It was all designed around what a first-grade teacher needs, ” White said. “It was probably the broadest-based education program in modern U.S. history . … I was very proud of what we accomplished.”
White appointed Dallas billionaire Ross Perot who operated for president as an independent in 1992 to lead a special panel on education that developed some of the key changes. The no-pass , no-play initiative, which barred students from playing school sports unless they are failing a class, was a politically tricky and unpopular move in a state crazy about its high school football. It had to survive a challenge in the country Supreme Court.
White underestimated the passionate resistance to no-pass , no-play that triggered protests and a few menaces of violence.
“It was horrible, ” White said in 2011. “I misread the intensity of it until I assured it for myself in West Texas. My security people guessed I should go by myself: ‘Here’s my firearm. You go.'”
A state district judge blocked the provision before the country Supreme Court ruled it was a legitimate function of the state’s objective to provide quality education. But White still had to defend the rule during his losing campaign in 1986.
“Leave it alone, ” he implored state lawmakers as he left office in 1987. “Let’s be real: Anyone who can analyze a playbook can analyze a textbook. Americans didn’t get to the moon on a quarterback sneak.”
White also pushed Texas to move further from its agricultural roots and ties to the oil economy by actually attempting to attract new industries. During his term, dropping oil prices worldwide shook the state’s economy.
White considered himself the symbolic leader of new breed of Texan who espoused the emerging epoch of high technology and alerted the state’s residents they would not find their own future at the bottom of an oil well.
White noted his was the first generation raised after World War II, and he grew up in the shadow of the Cold War and the towering skyscrapers in booming Texas cities.
On his inauguration day, White dramatized his opposition to what he called the “privileged class” by walking a block in a cold rainfall to the Governor’s Mansion. Once there, he employed gold-painted bolt cutters to cut a chain that had been strung across the front gate and shouted “Come on in, ” to adherents. Several hundred did, forcing White to stop them at the stairs leading up to the master bedroom.
White fought with many of the same issues that have faced Texas governors for generations. Drought beset West Texas, and a Christmas freeze in 1983 wiped out citrus harvests and the majority of members of the winter veggies in fields that normally utilized thousands of workers.
Plunging oil prices walloped the state economy, and drug smuggling on the border resulted White to implore the federal government to help control the border with Mexico. White also pushed for Texas’ seat belt law, which went into effect in 1985.
White grappled with staggering unemployment on the Mexico border that was blamed on the poor economy, the devaluation of the peso and immigration.
“I learned it’s a lot harder to govern the state when the price of oil falls to$ 9 a barrel, ” White said in 2011.
Despite the fighting state economy, White pushed for and won the big tax increases he needed to pay for education and roads, violating a campaign pledge not to create taxes. The taxation increase cost him politically.
“I asked for a taxation increase and told, ‘Blame me, ‘ and you did, ” White told state lawmakers on his way out of office. “So much for intestines and glory. Whatever happens in the next four years, don’t blame me.”
As governor, White supported the state’s use of the death penalty. While Texas executed 20 inmates during his administration, White afterwards said the death penalty was most distasteful thing I had to do” as governor.
By 2009, White had reservations about capital punishment. He advised lawmakers to reconsider its use and health risks that the country could send an innocent person to their demise. White worked with the Innocence Project on behalf of wrongfully convicted inmates.
Mark Wells White Jr ., was born in Henderson on March 17, 1940. His family moved to Houston where he attended public schools before attending Baylor University, where he earned degrees in business administration and law.
After several years as an deputy attorney general, White went into private practice. He was appointed secretary of state by Gov. Dolph Briscoe in 1973 and was elected state attorney general in 1979.
After returning to private law practice, White made a last stab at public office by operating for governor again in the 1990 Democratic primary but was defeated by Ann Richards, who went on to become governor. He also went into private business as proprietor of a security company.
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