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by Tom Pauken    Thu, Jan 5, 2006, 01:11 PM

Clayton Williams Jr.
Longtime Texas journalist Mike Cochran is writing an authorized biography of the colorful Texan Clayton Williams, Jr., which is expected to be completed this spring and published in the fall. The likely publisher is the Texas A&M Press.

Cochran was with the Associated Press for 39 years, opening its Ft. Worth bureau and covering West Texas throughout much of his career. He also was a senior reporter for the Ft. Worth Star Telegram for more than four years and is the author of a book on the Cullen Davis murder case entitled Texas v. Davis.

While Cochran’s biography will highlight Williams’ business career as one of Texas’ most successful entrepreneurs, it also will cover in detail Claytie Williams’ unsuccessful campaign for Governor in 1990.

I was working for a Dallas venture capital company at the time and volunteered to help in the Williams campaign. I liked Claytie Williams personally and thought that he would make a good governor for our State. He was a Goldwater/Reagan conservative and a man who was not afraid to make tough decisions as a businessman – a trait that I thought would serve him well as Governor.

I helped Claytie prepare for his debates with his Republican primary opponents in which he did well. He defeated Kent Hance who was the early favorite and whose campaign was managed by Karl Rove. (Yes, that’s the same Karl Rove.) Williams won the Republican primary without a runoff. He went into the general election campaign with a 20 point lead over Ann Richards.

Then, the professional handlers took over. Volunteer advisers were pushed aside by the highly paid, politically hired guns; and Clayton Williams’ attention to the race was diverted by a tragic private air crash which killed a number of the key executives in his energy business. Meanwhile, his "hired guns" were giving him bad advice in a campaign that he should have won easily.

First, they sent Williams off on a weekend camping trip at his ranch with capitol political reporters in a "getting to know one another" session designed to show off Claytie as a "working cowboy". The journalists got some great stories over the campfire as Claytie made some off the cuff remarks and jokes which would have been better left unsaid. The comments landed Williams in big trouble politically once they hit the front pages of Texas dailies. The weekend at the ranch "PR campaign" turned out to be a bad idea.

The advisors made some other bad calls during the course of the general election campaign. Yet, even with all of his problems, Williams maintained a narrow lead over Richards until the very end of the race. Williams’ handlers persuaded the candidate not to shake Ann Richards hand at a final debate the two had at the Lakewood Country Club in Dallas. I was in the back of the room at the time, and one of the campaign "hired guns" asked me what I thought. I told him that I thought they had just lost the election.

The campaign aide had a shocked look on his face and walked away from me. Unfortunately, I was right; and Claytie Williams lost narrowly to Ann Richards. The sad thing about the "handshake incident" is that it was so unlike Claytie Williams who is one of the most gracious and down-to-earth people you will ever meet. It is too bad he followed some bum advice from his political consultants on that occasion. Had he followed his instincts and been his usual gracious self with Ms. Richards, he probably would have been Governor of Texas.

Had Williams won, the history of Texas and American politics would have been very different over the past decade. Claytie Williams would have run for re-election as Governor of Texas in 1994. George W. Bush likely would never have been elected Governor of Texas or President of the United States. What a difference a failed handshake made.

Since his political defeat, Clayton Williams, Jr. has gone on to even greater success in the energy business. But, what I like about Claytie Williams is that he is a real Texan in the best sense of that word. Claytie is gracious to people of all walks of life; and, if he gives you his word, you can take it to the bank. I really look forward to reading Mike Cochran’s story of this Texas giant, -- a man I am proud to have known in my lifetime. Now, more Texans will get to know the real Clayton Williams, Jr.

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