About Preston Smith, Governor
Preston Earnest Smith (March 8, 1912 – October 18, 2003) was the 40th Governor of Texas from 1969 to 1973, who earlier served as the lieutenant governor from 1963 to 1969.
Smith was born into a tenant farming family of 13 children in Williamson County near Austin. The family later moved to Lamesa, the seat of Dawson County on the Texas South Plains, where Smith graduated from Lamesa High School in 1928. He thereafter graduated from Texas Technological College (now Texas Tech University) in Lubbock and built a movie theater business by the middle 1940s.
Smith was first elected to the Texas House of Representatives in 1944 and then to the Texas State Senate in 1956. He won the Senate seat by defeating in the primary the incumbent Kilmer B. Corbin, the father of actor Barry Corbin. In 1962, Smith won the lieutenant governor's race, securing majorities in all but 16 of the 254 counties to defeat the Republican O.W. "Bill" Hayes, the running-mate of gubernatorial candidate Jack M. Cox of Houston.
In 1968, Smith was elected governor, a position he held from 1969 to 1973. He succeeded the popular Democratic Governor John B. Connally, Jr., who later switched to the Republican Party. To win the governorship, Smith first defeated Don Yarborough in the 1968 Democratic runoff election. Several other candidates, including Dolph Briscoe, a large landholder from Uvalde in the Texas Hill Country, and former Texas Attorney General Waggoner Carr, also of Lubbock, were eliminated in the primary.
Smith then twice defeated Republican nominee Paul W. Eggers, a tax attorney from Wichita Falls and later Dallas, and a close friend of U.S. Senator John G. Tower. In the high-turnout general election of 1968, Smith received 1,662,019 ballots (57 percent) to Eggers' 1,254,333 (43 percent). In the low-turnout general election of 1970, Smith, who had been unopposed in the Democratic primaries, received 1,197,726 votes (53.6 percent) to Eggers' 1,037,723 (46.4 percent). Smith's terms were still two years each. The state switched to four-year terms in 1974.
Smith was embroiled in the Sharpstown scandal stock fraud scheme of 1971 and 1972, which eventually led to his downfall. Smith lost his third-term bid for the governorship of Texas to Dolph Briscoe of Uvalde in the Democratic primary in 1972. He ran a distant fourth in the primary, behind Briscoe, women's activist Frances "Sissy" Farenthold of Corpus Christi, and Lieutenant Governor Ben F. Barnes, formerly of Comanche County.
Among his appointments, Smith named former State Senator Grady Hazlewood of Amarillo and Austin as a regent of Hazlewood's alma mater, West Texas A&M University in Canyon. In 1969, Smith named state Representative Randy Pendleton of Andrews to head the Office of State and Federal Relations in Washington, D.C.
Later life and attempted political comeback
In 1974, Smith joined banker Stanton Leon Koop (1937–2008), a native of Pampa, in forming the West Texas Savings Association in Lubbock. In 1986, Koop moved to Dallas, where he was affiliated with Great Western Mortgage Company, until his retirement in 1994.
In 1978, at the age of sixty-six, Smith again entered the Democratic gubernatorial primary against his intraparty rival, Governor Briscoe. Both Smith and Briscoe lost in the primary to former Texas Supreme Court Chief Justice John Hill, who in turn was narrowly defeated in the general election by Republican Bill Clements
Toward the end of his life, Smith worked as a political liaison officer for Texas Tech University. After his death in Lubbock, the airport was renamed in 2004 in his memory as Lubbock Preston Smith International Airport.
Smith termed himself a "conservative Democrat"; although he was generally supportive of U.S. President Lyndon B. Johnson, he refused to support his party's nominees for president in 1980 and for governor in 1982. Instead of voting to reelect President Jimmy Carter and Mark White in the gubernatorial race, Smith cast his ballot for Ronald Reagan and Bill Clements, respectively.
Smith died in Lubbock. He is interred with his wife, Ima Mae Smith (1911-1998), at the Texas State Cemetery in Austin.