Tribpedia: David Dewhurst

Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst is just the third Republican since Reconstruction to hold the seat in Texas. First elected to the post in 2002, he is in now in his third term, having served longer than all but two of his predecessors.

In July 2011, he announced his candidacy for the U.S. Senate seat being vacated by Kay Bailey Hutchison. A year later, he lost a GOP runoff to former Solicitor General Ted Cruz by an unexpectedly wide margin in an expensive and rancorous campaign.

Dewhurst was born Aug. 18, 1945. His father, a highly decorated Army Air Force squad commander in World War II who flew several bombing raids over Europe, was killed by a drunken driver when Dewhurst was 3 years old, forcing his mother to work two jobs as a secretary to support her sons.

After attending the University of Arizona, where he played on the basketball team, Dewhurst joined the Air Force, served in the CIA and worked in the U.S. State Department. Returning to the private sector, Dewhurst and a partner in 1981 purchasedFalcon Seaboard, an independent electric company specializing in cogeneration plants. In the ensuing years, Dewhurst acquired all the stock, and by the 1990s, the company had become a diversified energy company, which was sold toCal Energy in 1996 for$226 million and the assumption of about $600 million in debt. Dewhurst joined the board of directors. His wealth has been estimated at about $200 million.

Before running for office, Dewhurst was a major contributor to Republican candidates and served as finance chairman for the Republican Party of Texas.

Dewhurst began his political career in 1998, winning the race for Texas land commissioner, the first Republican to hold the job in more than a century.  

Following George W. Bush’s election as president — which elevated Lt. Gov. Rick Perry to the governor’s office — Dewhurst defeated former state Comptroller John Sharp in the race to replace Perry, winning with 52 percent of the vote.

During his one term as land commissioner, Dewhurst reduced the agency’s workforce and budget. He also certified low-interest loans for veterans. Following the Sept. 11 attacks, Perry appointed him as chairman of the Task Force on Homeland Security.

In his first legislative session, Dewhurst helped steer a major tort-reform package and budget cuts.

In 2006, he led the way in introducing Texas’ version of Jessica’s Law, which imposes harsher penalties on child molesters. Part of the law, which had allowed for the death penalty for crimes other than murder, was struck down by the U.S. Supreme Court.

Dewhurst guided an increasingly right-leaning Legislature to more conservative positions on issues like redistricting, overhauling school finance and more stringent voter ID requirements.

During the 2011 special legislative session, following a regular session marked by historic budget cuts in the face of massive shortfalls, Perry added an “anti-groping” bill to the agenda. The bill, a Tea Party favorite, was filed in reaction to what many perceived as intrusive overreach by the Transportation Security Administration in regard to passenger searches and pat-downs. A letter from the U.S. Department of Justice warned that the bill might violate federal law and lead to a cessation of flights into Texas had effectively killed an earlier version of the bill. The bill never made it to law, and angry members of the House and Senate accused Dewhurst of caving in to the federal government. Dewhurst denied the charge, but found himself under attack from an unexpected direction — his right.

In the 2012 U.S. Senate race, Dewhurst’s 3 main challengers in the Republican primary ––former Dallas Mayor Tom Leppert, former ESPN college football analyst Craig James and Cruz — continued to hit him from his right. Though politically and personally closely aligned with Perry, Dewhurst didn’t align himself with the Tea Party as the governor had, but his conservative credentials were nonetheless considered sufficient to assure his front-runner status.

Legal challenges to the redistricting map drawn up under his watch in the 2011 legislative session pushed the primary vote from March into May 2012, with runoffs scheduled for July 31. Although Dewhurst was the top vote-getter, ousting Leppert and James, he pulled down 45 percent to Cruz’s 34 percent of the vote, forcing a runoff. Despite Dewhurst’s vast personal fortune, superior name recognition and support from Perry and nearly all the state senators, Cruz managed to turn strong state and national Tea Party support, energized campaigning and a dynamic debating style into a stunning runoff victory, beating Dewhurst by nearly 14 percentage points.

Still the lieutenant governor, Dewhurst remains one of the most powerful people in state government. He continues to have the power to guide legislation and appoint senate committee chairs, but both he and Perry have suffered considerable setbacks recently. And there’s some restlessness in the ranks: Attorney General Greg Abbott has a considerable war chest and is widely thought to have his eye on the governor’s office, and Jerry Patterson, who holds Dewhurst’s old position as land commissioner, let it be known –– on the night of the runoff –– that he’s running for lieutenant governor in 2014.

Images

Republican candidates for lieutenant governor from left, Land Commissioner Jerry Patterson; state Sen. Dan Patrick, R-Houston; Agricultural Commissioner Todd Staples; and Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst take their places for a debate at KERA studios in Dallas on Monday, Jan. 27, 2014.
YouTube video still from David Dewhurst: Listening Leader political ad.
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