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Slideshow: Photographer Captures Texas' Democratic Days

While photographer Scott Newton is best known for his iconic images of rock stars, he made a living photographing Texas politicians for three decades.

Ann Richards on longhorn, 1988.

Newton was 200 yards away photographing an event with the state’s slate of Democratic candidates when he saw then-state treasurer Ann Richards sitting on a longhorn steer. He grabbed his cameras and ran toward her.

“All I know is I turn around and Ann was sitting up there — they just put her up there. She saw me running and said, 'Scott, don’t you dare take my picture,’” he said.

This image, he said, conveyed Richards at her best.

"She was a hoot. She was not only the best politician I ever shot as far as understanding what it is you needed and providing it for you,” he said. “She is just naturally a hilarious person."
Portrait of Ann Richards, Garry Mauro, Jim Mattox and Jim Hightower, 1982.

This photo — what Newton refers to as the “gang of four” shot— shows Richards shortly after she was first elected state treasurer along with newly minted Land Commissioner Mauro, Attorney General Mattox and Agriculture Commissioner Hightower.

“It was an idealistic time,” Newton said. “They were all coming in together.”
Portrait of Jim Hightower with bull, 1981.

A quest to illustrate Hightower’s “No More Bull” slogan during his 1982 campaign for agriculture commissioner took Newton to the YO Ranch in the Hill Country west of San Antonio.

Newton said that before the photo shoot, he knew exactly the image he wanted — Hightower standing with a bull in the background.

“We all got in the pen and he was shuffling by like bulls do, but he wasn’t posing,” Newton said.

As the animal began to notice his company in the enclosure, that changed.

“We’re telling [Hightower], 'no, he’s not charging you, no, he’s not charging you,’ while I’m moving trying to keep him in this position,” he said. “Soon after that he started getting a little bit menacing and we had to get out of there."
Portrait of Pete Laney in a West Texas cotton field, 1998.

While photographing politicians, Newton said he was constantly on the lookout for ways to distill a whole array of information about a candidate’s character and ideals into a single, appealing image.

In this shot, taken for Laney's re-election campaign, the then-Texas House speaker stands in a cotton field shortly after sunrise, surrounded by the primary crop of his district near his hometown in Hale County.

“They grew cotton. That was his district, that's him,” Newton said. “He was quite a leader. He manned the Alamo for the Democrats, essentially — when he went down that was the end of the Democrats in this state."

Laney, who was speaker from 1993 until 2003, when Republicans took the majority, was the last Democrat to hold that office. He had served in the House for more than three decades when he announced he would not seek re-election in 2006.
Portrait of Temple Dickson, 1988.

For Newton, this image of former state Senator Temple Dickson is an example of what he strived to capture for every politician he photographed.

"I tried to find a shot that was rough hewn with lots of character that didn’t look conventional,” he said. “Of necessity political stuff is usually heroic, and so what I try to do is avoid the outright heroic, this is more of a character study."

Newton took the photograph as they were transitioning between set-ups during a portrait session for the Dickson's initial bid for Texas Senate in 1988 after finding him resting with his legs up on the desk. 

 “It was absolutely genuine; he wasn’t posing,” he said. "It was him."

The Sweetwater Democrat was a trial lawyer who had served in the state House, where he wrote a 1969 law holding local and state governments legally accountable for negligent acts.
Ann Richards with Dolly Parton, 1982.

As they were driving to a photo shoot in Austin for her first state treasurer campaign, Newton said, Richards got word that Dolly Parton was at the Driskill Hotel and wanted to meet her.

Newton accompanied her when she decided to swing by the hotel.

“When they laid eyes on each other, it was from about 50 yards away and they both squealed and ran toward each other like they were old friends,” he said. “When they saw each other it was really just — I was glad I was in the room. I’m glad I got a picture, so that everybody else could be in the room."

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Politics Ann Richards Texas Democratic Party