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John Ben Shepperd: Gulf Coast Press Association

April 6, 1957

Gulf Coast Press Association (Richmond, Texas)

I tell you truly, it’s good to be a private citizen again—one of the nine million laughing, bragging characters who inhabit the great State of Texas. Texans continue to amaze the world with their energy and expansive living. They are drilling 25,000 oil wells a year, running 292,000 farms and 11,000 factories, carrying 14 billion dollars in life insurance, keeping 2 and l/4 billion on deposit in their 980 banks and getting a substantial part or the 500 million embezz1ed in the U. S. annually—some would have you believe we have been getting all of it.

Of course, our losses are big too. We’re pumping 7 and 1/2 million acre feet of water out of the ground every year, losing 75% of all the water that goes into our rivers and streams, watching 722,000 acres of valuable top soil blown away each year—and believe you me, most of it blows through Odessa. Of course, it makes better Americans—you’ve always heard that everyone ought to have a little soil and I guess it’s true even if it’s in our eyes, nose and hair. Another great loss in Texas is keeping 165,000 students in college.

But we have a lot of fun. We catch 140 million pounds of fish each year, start 1,800 forest fires, have about 1 million teeth pulled, pay 2 and 1/2 billion dollars in federal taxes and seriously injure a farm resident every half minute.

We manage to stay pretty busy too. We’re running about 70,000 corporations and 121,000 business establishments, including 154 independent shoeshine parlors, 58 turkish baths, 20 detective agencies, 31 diaper services and an unknown number or uranium sitting ditches. On top of that we lend more than 3,000 dog heads to Austin every year to be examined for rabies, indict some 15,000 fellow citizens, commit about 350,000 major and minor crimes, pluck more than 8 and 1/2 million Yankee tourists and pick about 4 million bales of cotton. It’s easier to pick a tourist than to pick cotton. More fun, too. I’ve tried both and I know. 1956 tourist pickings were down 7.9% or $32,636.753.00 under 1955, but those that came stayed 4 days longer and spent 18¢ per person per day more–which illustrates another axiom—you can’t milk a cow on the run.

You can learn a great deal of vital information from statistics. For example, the Federal Government now owns 1.5% of all the land area of Texas, and 754,000 acres of it is devoted to wildlife refuges, while offices for federal employees have been crowded onto a mere 227 acres. This proves that the bureaucrats are giving the country to the birds.

No sir, I never get tired of talking about Texans and the things they do. Progress never stops. Every year about 25,000 Texas farm people migrate to the city and the census bureau says that’s the trend all over the country. Besides the people who have left the farm in the last five years, some 3 and. 1/2 million horses and mules have made the supreme sacrifice to make room for tractors. In 1940 every farmer could feed 11 people, the bureau says; now he can feed 20. But that’s no way to get rid of those dead mules.

They call Texas the land of the big rich and I guess they’re right. If all the minerals, crops and livestock in a given year were divided up among us, we’d each get 7/8 of a cow, l/4. of a hog, 4 pounds of pecans, 104 barrels of 0il and 1/80 of a jackass.

But our greatest wealth is our people. 80% of all Texans were born in the state and in 1946 for the first time in our history, there were more peop1e in Texas than there were cattle. That’s because the people can live without water. At least 2/3 of them can –the other 1/3 are teetotalers and worried about the drouth. It’s so dry I understand there’s a bill in the legislature to let in wetbacks, just to get the moisture.

About 60% of our Texas citizens are church members, but only’ about 5% are tithers and the average Protestant minister makes only $4,000 a year. More than half of all Texans are women and in the presidential election last year, for the first time in Texas history, the women’s vote equalled [sic] the men’s. That cut down the teetotalers among the men. They’re smoking 8 and 1/2 million packs of cigarettes a year and consuming a 100 million dollars worth of alcohol.

The stork is making more stops in Texas than he used to—maybe too dry to fly over—he’s making about 120 stops out of every possible 1,000 eligible homes and, of course, a few that ain’t eligible. Every 16th child born in the United states is a Texan and Texans are born four times as fast as they die. That mightly discouraging to the rest of the country.

Texas has enough wealth for everybody to be born with a silver spoon in his mouth—however, this would be over-gilding the lily since the little tike’s share of the national debt when he arrives is $1,625 and his tax bill for this year is $600.

Every cloud has its silver lining though. The chemical elements in the human body today are worth slightly more than a dollar which is 14 cents more than they were worth 20 years ago. So that only makes new born babies $2,224 in debt.

However, the increased value of chemical elements in the human body is not included in the 3 billion dollar investment of the chemical industry in Texas.

372,000 Texans are working for the government—or I should say are on the public payroll—119,074 are federal employees; 52,757 state and 201,123 local governmental agencies.

Each person in Texas uses 67 1/2 gallons of water per day for domestic purposes, but this doesn’t include the water it takes to make the coffee consumed by the 372,000 Texans on the public payroll.

1/3 of all our women over 14 are working nowadays, 10,000 of them in the state government, and they make up 36% of all the automobile drivers in the state. Seems more than that when you get on highways. Of those 1,388,000 women drivers,118 are old ladies 85 years of age. But it you think that’s something, 249 women who have drivers’ licenses listed their age as over 85 and I can tell you from observation, that’s also their driving speed.

The average married woman nowadays is 3 years younger than her husband and lives 6 years longer, so the average widowhood is 9 years. There are about 150,000 bachelors in Texas and twice as many widows. All of which means that if you or I were a woman over 85 and had that kind of competition, we’d move pretty fast too.

At lease [sic] I know I have found my crowd when I’m back with the Gulf Coast Press Association.

Since you honored me with this spot on your program in Brenham in 1954, lots of things have happened. Your papers and communities have continued to grow and I have become a statesman. A statesman is a successful politician—a successful politician is one who quit.

Someone asked program chairman, Jack Shannon, why he invited an old broken-dawn politician to talk here. Jack told them there were two reasons. First, he’ll come when you invite him and second, he’ll do it for nothing.

There are a number of things I would 1ike to think with you on for a few minutes.

First, our legislative program. Vern Sanford has brought you a detailed report on the status of TPA’s Open Door to Good Government Bills. I’m frankly disappointed that these bills haven’t already been enacted into law. I would hate to think that the newspapers of Texas are not powerful enough to overcome the objections of a handful of greedy politicians, both in and out of the legislature, who for some reason feel that we shouldn’t have laws prohibiting secrecy in government, a full disclosure of the financial affairs of mine and your public offices and laws that would prevent a reoccurrence of the sordid mess in Duval County.

We should all bear in mind that these are good bills and that there is a real and actual need for them. We should also bear in mind that if we really want these bills we can get them—if we are willing to work. As a matter of fact, if those in this room would give a day’s time this next week, we could get 75% of them passed within ten days.

What is the opposition to our proposed legislation?

We are having to combat the apathy and indifference on the part of many legislators, Many have ties back home with local machines or would be machines who had rather operate behind closed doors and under the table.

We are catching our proportionate part of the general confusion that exists in Austin—the morale and. spirit of legislators is at an all-time low. This, in my opinion, can be turned to our advantage. What better answer to a critical public than to be able to show that legislation of this type has been passed.

The specific objection is made that these bills are proposed with a selfish interest—that is, some will require payment by local governmental bodies to papers for certain publications. We should bear in mind that only 1/3 of the bills recommended would and that the amount of money involved here won’t hurt any local governmental body, nor will it enrich any of you.

In any event, we mustn’t let this make any difference. The same criticism is levelled against business men when they advocate a general tax cut; against lawyers when they seek to amend procedural laws or get increases in judge’s salaries; against banks when they want to make additional loans or close on Saturdays; against farmers when they want soil conservation or flood-control—and so on ad infinitum.

Another criticism, and by the way a more fundamental one, is that these proposed measures tend to take power away from local governmental bodies and put the State of Texas in the position of telling localities how to run their business. This is important in a state like ours that puts great stock—at least when convenient—in the theory of local autonomy

We then have to answer the fundamental question—do the means justify the result? If we answer that question in the affirmative, we must undertake the job of convincing our legislators.

When you consider Duval County, the Port Arthur Communist crisis, the Veterans’ Land, Insurance Promoters, the closed doors of too many local governmental bodies, all plus the fact that our antiquated laws not only permit but invite corruption, we actually can reach only one conclusion—our present system has failed in these matters and for the sake of the future of Texas, we are going to have to make changes.

Governmental wise, Texas and the nation are in one of their most critioa1 periods. This year government will take 119 billion dollars from the pockets of taxpayers. The federal government 86 billion; state and local. 33 billion. Taxes in total have doubled in 7 years. Government is now taking 1 dollar out of each 3 of national income.

This is far past the point that historians and students of government have set as the line of demarcation between democracy and socialism.

Thinking people agree that not only must the trend be stopped, but it must be reversed. One of the most effective ways this can be done is to be sure that we get a dollar’s worth of value tor every tax dollar we pay. What better way can we insure this than to insist on a full disclosure of all financial matters and the abolition of the closed door in government.

What else can we do? As citizens and newspaper men and women we can work to put more responsible people in our government—individuals who appreciate the value of freedom, free enterprise and the tax dollar. Men and women who can and will execute policies consistent with our basic beliefs of economy, efficiency and integrity—office holders dedicated to the fundamental concept of getting and keeping government out of business and undertaking only those services that government should perform, leaving other things to individual and private initiative.

The greatest fault of the American people is our materialism and lack of real concern for good government. Half of us are trying to buy all the good things of life with money and the other half is trying to vote them into existence.

But who can open up a safe deposit box and file away a title to a Texas sunset? Who can lay gold on the counter and buy the look of trust and innocence in a child’s eyes? Can anybody dig into his pocketbook and buy a good conscience or a lifetime of proud accomplishment? No man can trade hard cash for the companionship of a true friend, or purchase at any price the love and devotion of a good woman. And all the money in all the treasuries of the world is not worth the sound of a mother’s lullaby or the laughter of a free man.

Because freedom is old, not young; yet it is horn anew in the first cry of a free man’s son;
It is not a living thing, yet it dies if we do not love it;
It is not weak, but strong; yet it must be defended;
It is light, yet it weighs heavy on him who is without it;
It is without price, yet it dearly costs the one who sells it;
It is not small, but great; yet once lost, it is never, never found again.
To be born free is an accident;
To live tree is a responsibility;
To die free is an obligation.

[Note: The views expressed in this speech were those of John Ben Shepperd, and do not necessarily represent the views of the John Ben Shepperd Public Leadership Institute or the University of Texas Permian Basin.]