Ernest Angelo

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Ernest Angelo, Jr.
Mayor Ernest Angelo of Midland, Texas, 1972.jpg
Ernest Angelo (1972)
Mayor of Midland, Texas
In office
1972–1980
Preceded by Edwin H. Magruder, Jr.
Succeeded by Gaylian Thane Akins
Texas Republican National Committeeman
In office
1976–1996
Preceded by Fred Agnich
Succeeded by Timothy Lambert
Personal details
Born (1934-03-07) March 7, 1934 (age 80)
St. Paul, Minnesota, USA
Nationality American
Spouse(s) Betty Lou “Penny” Pendergraft Angelo
Children Ernest Eugene Angelo

Helen Marie Kisner
Patricia Louise Angelo
Clifford Angelo

Residence Midland, Texas
Alma mater St. Paul's School

Louisiana State University

Occupation Oilman

Ernest Angelo, Jr., known as Ernie Angelo (born March 7, 1934), is an American oilman and Republican politician who served from 1972–1980 as mayor of the West Texas city of Midland and was in 1976 the co-manager of the Ronald W. Reagan Texas presidential primary campaign.

With a 2–1 margin among voters in the state’s first binding presidential primary, Reagan won all ninety-six delegate spots at stake. Coupled with a victory five weeks earlier in North Carolina, the historic Texas upset revived Reagan’s floundering campaign and set him firmly on the road to contest with President Gerald R. Ford, Jr., the party’s nomination at the convention held in Kansas City, Missouri. Without the Texas triumph, which occurred on May 1, 1976, and follow-up victories on May 4 in Indiana and Georgia, Reagan could have been forced out of contention for the nomination. And without Angelo and his two co-chairmen, Ray Barnhart of Houston, later the director of the Federal Highway Administration,[1] and Barbara Staff of Dallas County, chairman of the Council of Republican Women's Clubs of Dallas County,[2] at the helm that year, Reagan might have become viewed as a non-starter with little credibility four years later—when he went on to win the presidency by a wide margin of electoral votes.[3]

From 1976 to 1996, Angelo served as the Republican national committeeman from Texas, a position which made him an automatic member of the Republican National Committee.[3]

Background[edit]

Angelo was born in the state capital of St. Paul, Minnesota, to Ernest Angelo, Sr. (1894–1971), and the former Helen Marie Moran (1895–2003). The senior Angelo was a college professor at West Virginia University in Morgantown, West Virginia and the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis-St. Paul before he accepted a position with the Louisiana Department of Agriculture in Bogalusa, the largest city in Washington Parish, one of the "Florida Parishes" of the far southeastern section of Louisiana. Angelo, Jr., grew up in Bogalusa and in Covington, the seat of St. Tammany Parish in the New Orleans suburbs. He graduated in 1952 from the Roman Catholic St. Paul's School in Covington and entered the petroleum engineering program at Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge, from which he graduated in 1956. Thereafter, he served briefly in the United States Air Force and was in the Reserves for eight years.[3]

After LSU, Angelo took a position from 1956–1962 with Gulf Oil in Crane, south of Odessa, Texas. He and his wife, the former Betty Lou "Penny" Pendergraft, who grew up in Galveston and Houston, made their home in Midland, halfway between Fort Worth and El Paso. The couple has four children, Ernest Eugene Angelo of Carmel, Indiana, Helen Marie Kisner, married to Frank Kisner, a retired lieutenant general in the United States Air Force, Patricia Louise Angelo of Lewisville, Texas, and Clifford Angelo (born Father's Day weekend 1973), a consultant and entrepreneur.[3] From 1962–1964, he was affiliated with Sohio Petroleum. In August 1964, Angelo began his own company, Discovery Exploration[4] in Midland with partners Don L. Sparks and Charles Webb Farish.[3]

Midland's "Mr. Republican"[edit]

Angelo joined the Young Republicans while a student at LSU. In Midland, he continued his association with the Republican Party. In 1968, Angelo made the first of two unsuccessful runs as a Republican candidate for the Texas State Senate, having lost to Democrat W. E. "Pete" Snelson, then of Midland. Snelson had unseated long-term Senator Dorsey B. Hardeman of San Angelo in the Democratic primary. In that same 1968 general election, Tom Craddick of Midland, was elected at the age of 25 to the Texas House of Representatives. In 2003, Craddick began a six-year stint as House Speaker, the first Republican speaker since Reconstruction. Craddick still serves as the senior member of the Texas House, having been replaced in 2009 by Joe Straus of San Antonio. Craddick and Angelo have been neighbors since the early 1970s. The two oilmen are godparents to the other's children.[3]

The 96-0 Reagan landslide made impressive headlines and followed thereafter with four more at-large Reagan delegates chosen at the state convention. Angelo said the victory was possible because the party was allowed to write its own rules. Some 420,000 voted in the Republican primary in which Reagan polled 278,300 votes to Ford’s 139,994. In the Democratic primary, two candidates easily outpolled Reagan, and a third nearly matched him. Jimmy Carter received 736,032 votes; U.S. Senator Lloyd M. Bentsen, a favorite son for President and a candidate for reelection, polled 343,033, and George C. Wallace of Alabama drew 270,798 votes. Carter, Bentsen, and Wallace hence polled some three times as many votes as Reagan and Ford combined.[5] The 1976 primary was also the first election in Texas in which counties with at least 5 percent Mexican American ethnicity were required to use bilingual ballots.[6]

While he co-managed the Reagan campaign, Mayor Angelo was chosen national committeeman, a position that he retained for 20 years. After Reagan became president, Angelo tried again for the Midland-based state Senate seat, but he lost in 1982 to the Democrat William “Bill” Sims of San Angelo in Tom Green County, 52,868 (47.9 percent) to 57,522 (52.1 percent).[7] This race occurred about a decade before the region between Midland and San Angelo moved strongly into the Republican camp. In that same year, Bill Clements of Dallas, the first Texas Republican governor since 1873, and George Strake, Jr., a Houston oilman, the GOP candidate for lieutenant governor, and later state party chairman, were crushed in an avalanche of Democratic votes. It was the last year through at least 2010 that the Democrats in Texas would win all of the statewide races in Texas, including judgeships. Angelo noted that the poor Republican prospects in Texas in 1982 were blamed on a downturn in the national economy, as Democrats rebounded nationwide in President Reagan's first mid-term election. Angelo said that his defeat by Sims was a “blessing” because he needed to work full-time after 1983 on his business, and being a state senator would have been too time-consuming him to protect his company during a slump. Angelo recalls Clements' defeat by Mark Wells White in 1982 as his most personally disappointing election loss. Only two years earlier, his most exhilarating victory had been that of Reagan over President Carter, four years after Angelo, Barnhart, and Staff had worked to resurrect Reagan in the Texas primary.[3]

The website Americans for Prosperity credits Angelo with "the courage to buck the Republican establishment and support Ronald Reagan. The rest is history. [Angelo should] write a book so we can know more of the details. Ernest Angelo had courage... Had it not been for Ernest Angelo and Texas in 1976, Reagan may not have become President."[8]

Election as mayor[edit]

Angelo’s entry into municipal politics was not the result of personal motivation, but a plea from two friends and fellow businessmen, his neighbor Tom Craddick and Craddick’s predecessor in the legislature, former Representative Frank Kell Cahoon, who had been the only Republican in the Texas House of Representatives in the 1965 legislative session. Mayor Edwin H. Magruder, Jr., who had an impressive World War II record, did not seek a third two-year term in 1972.[9]

Craddick believed that the leading candidate for mayor, Mayor Pro Tem Pat M. Baskin, a former chairman of the Midland County Democratic Executive Committee, would use the office to try to unseat Craddick’s bid for a third term in the House in the 1972 general election. Angelo agreed to run for mayor if Cahoon would seek one of the at-large city council seats. The deal was struck, and both ran and won. Angelo recalls his having defeated Baskin by 150 votes out of some 10,000 cast, a plurality of votes in a system that did not require a runoff election. Angelo considered his opponent to be on the left side of the Democratic Party, but later Baskin switched parties, as West Texas moved increasingly away from the Democrats, and served as a Republican state court judge. Angelo recalls that Baskin was "a gentleman," popular by virtue of his friendly personality and his involvement in community theater.[3]

Municipal matters[edit]

A view of downtown Midland, Texas, taken from West Ohio Avenue (2008).

Mayor Angelo soon found himself involved in the details of municipal matters. He recalls that Midland was nearly broke, having less than $300,000 in its unappropriated surplus general fund. He and the council hence called for a sales tax election coupled with a lowering in city property taxes even though such a measure had been rejected a year earlier in 1971. No funds were spent to advertise the tax measure. Angelo and the council took on the responsibility of informing voters of the fiscal problems facing the city. The measure passed easily, and Midland prevailed strongly economically throughout the 1970s.[3]

Under Angelo, the city modernized Midland International Airport. Though it is used by neighboring Odessa, the airport is entirely the possession of the City of Midland. When the University of Texas of the Permian Basin became a four-year institution, plans had been to merge Midland and Odessa junior colleges on the Midland campus under a common community college district. Odessa voters, however, voted down the proposal, reflecting longstanding divisions between the two municipalities of common size and different focus in neighboring Midland and Ector counties. Angelo presided over the building of a new central fire station and Midland Center, a civic meeting facility which opened downtown with a large clientele. The first shopping mall, developed by the Simon Company of Indianapolis opened during Angelo’s tenure. Federal block grants were employed to upgrade Midland streets and to pave the remaining dirt and gravel roads within the city. Angelo said that the city manager, the late James W. Brown, and his assistant, Fred Poe, carried most of the burden of administrative details and provided continuity during his years as mayor. There were some problems with planning and zoning, but the water and sewer infrastructure proved more than adequate.[3]

Angelo worked with four at-large council members, and he could vote to break ties. Now, the Midland City Council has six single-member districts with the mayor able to vote on all matters though his vote might not usually be needed except to break a tie. Angelo said the decision by the U.S. courts to require single-member districts in legislative elections has not been productive, at least in Midland. In the single-member concept, council members tend to be focused only on the parochial nature of their districts, rather than the well-being of a city as a whole. Mayor Angelo won again in 1974, 1976, and 1978 with token or no opposition. He did not run in 1980 and was succeeded by Gaylian Thane Akins (1933–2005), also a petroleum engineer in Midland. Angelo jokes that he took office during a downturn in the West Texas oil industry and “my leadership and the Arab oil embargo got Midland booming”, as greater demand developed for drilling West Texas petroleum. Under the Angelo administration, Midland property taxes became the lowest among the 25 largest population centers in Texas. In later years, Texans found that tax rates themselves were less critical in calculating their payments than the rising assessed values of their property.[3]

Political matters[edit]

Angelo recalls a trip to Midland by U.S. Senator John G. Tower in 1975, when Angelo informed Tower that he would be working in the forthcoming campaign to draft and nominate Reagan. Angelo recalls Tower as having told him that supporting Reagan would be a "dumb thing to do."[3] At the time, all Republican U.S. senators except Jesse Helms of North Carolina and Paul Laxalt of Nevada were committed to Ford.[3] Tower blamed Ford’s defeat in Texas on "Dixiecrats ... the Reagan organization, aided by former Wallace leaders, made a concerted and obviously successful effort to get the Wallace vote in the Republican primary. In addition some section of Ford’s defense and foreign policy alienated some voters who may otherwise have cast their ballot for the president.”[6]

None of the Ford supporters from Texas were delegates to the national convention in Kansas City. Angelo recalls Tower as having "begged" him to allocate a delegate slot for the senator. Angelo said that Tower could be a delegate if he were committed to supporting Reagan, an impossible condition for Tower because of his longstanding commitment to President Ford. Tower hence was not a delegate to the 1976 convention because Angelo was mindful that a close convention contest could have been decided by a handful of delegate votes. Angelo said that he always personally liked and admired Tower though they disagreed on some issues: "John was the best extemporaneous speaker and solid as a rock on most issues."[3] As time passed though, Tower alienated the conservative wing of his party with his support for abortion and opposition to Reagan's Strategic Defense Initiative.[10] Tower did not seek a fifth term in 1984 and was succeeded by Angelo's friend, Phil Gramm, a former economics professor at Texas A&M University in College Station.[3]

Angelo recalls having attempted to mediate a political dispute between Tower and his 1972 intraparty rival, state Senator Henry C. Grover of Houston, the party's gubernatorial nominee against Democrat Dolph Briscoe of Uvalde. Grover wanted to install Angelo as state party chairman to replace the Tower partisan, George Williford of Austin. Angelo arranged a meeting in a Houston hotel between Tower and Grover, and the two got into a shouting match and nearly came to blows. "Hank was his own worst enemy. He couldn't get along, let personal things interfere in the political realm," recalls Angelo. In retrospect, Angelo theorizes that the 1972 division within the Texas GOP delayed the election of the first Republican governor, Bill Clements in 1978, beyond what would have otherwise been possible.[3]

Angelo's tenure as mayor corresponded partly with that of Jim Reese in Odessa. When veteran Democratic U.S. Representative George H. Mahon of Lubbock retired, an open election developed for the seat in 1978. Reese entered the Republican primary; so did 31-year-old George W. Bush, son George Herbert Walker Bush, the man would become vice president two years later. Bush won the primary and then lost the general election to then Democrat (later Republican) Kent Hance, subsequently a Texas Railroad Commissioner, the chancellor of Texas Tech University, and a particularly successful lobbyist but never a governor or U.S. senator. Angelo stayed out of the Reese-Bush primary, for he had developed good relations with both men.[3]

In the 1980 Republican presidential campaign, Angelo again worked for Reagan, having been the deputy Reagan-Bush chairman under Governor Clements as well as campaign manager of the 1980 general election campaign in Texas. At the 1984 Republican National Convention in Dallas, Angelo was chairman of the National Advisory Board for Reagan-Bush. He was chairman of the Texas delegation in 1980 and 1984.[11]

In 1996, Angelo stepped down as national committeeman and was succeeded by Timothy Lambert of Lubbock, a social conservative active in the home-schooling movement. Angelo remains committed to Republican affairs as an insider with comparatively little public attention focused upon him. He has been a fund-raiser for former Texas Railroad Commissioner Michael Lawrence Williams, a conservative African American originally from Midland, who in 2012 lost a Republican primary for the United States House of Representatives, after previously indicating that he would seek the U.S. Senate seat vacaated by the retiring Kay Bailey Hutchison.[12]

Angelo today[edit]

Ernest Angelo, Jr. (2006).

Angelo is affiliated with the Texas Society of Professional Engineers as both the Permian Basin president and the state director. In 1973, he was named "Permian Basin Engineer of the Year." In 1981, he was appointed to the National Petroleum Council by then United States Secretary of Energy James B. Edwards. He served on the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board[4] under Governor Clements, on the Texas Parks and Wildlife Commission under Governor George W. Bush,[4] and as chairman of the Texas Public Safety Commission under Governor Rick Perry.[13] In 2008, Angelo garnered the John Ben Shepperd Award for Outstanding Texas Leadership, an honor named for the former Texas Attorney General who called both Gladewater and Odessa home.[3][14] Angelo that same year became a member and director of the Trigon Uranium and the Intercontinental Potash corporations.[11]

Angelo has been a steadfast supporter of Texas Governor Rick Perry, who turned back a determined intraparty challenge on March 2, 2010 from U.S. Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison before he defeated the Democratic nominee, former Houston Mayor William Henry "Bill" White. Angelo said that many in the oil industry in Midland support Perry "to ensure the pro-business climate continues. Midland has a reputation of being a conservative pro-business community."[15]

Angelo is still active as an oilman in Midland.[16] he and his wife reside in the same house on Stanolind Avenue that they bought about 1970. The Minnesota native who was reared in Louisiana is an adopted West Texan who exerts great pride in the city of which he served as mayor. He describes Midland as "a very open community ... where people can excel in any endeavor." He attributes the political climate in Midland and West Texas to the oil and gas industry: "These are people with a can-do entrepreneurial independence who support a conservative philosophy of government."[3]

In 2012, Angelo was a leading supporter of Christi Craddick, his neighbor Tom Craddick's daughter, who won election to the Texas Railroad Commission.

References[edit]

  1. ^ "United States Department of Transportation: Ray A. Barnhart, Federal Highway Administrator". Federal Highway Administration. Retrieved March 10, 2011. 
  2. ^ Ron Calhoun, "Reagan forces gearing for North Texas campaign," Dallas Times Herald, December 21, 1975, p. F1
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s Billy Hathorn, "Mayor Ernest Angelo, Jr., of Midland and the 96-0 Reagan Sweep of Texas, May 1, 1976," West Texas Historical Association Yearbook Vol. 86 (2010), pp. 77–89.
  4. ^ a b c "Ernest Angelo, Jr.: Managing Partner, Discovery Exploration". thecb.state.tx.us. Retrieved March 10, 2011. 
  5. ^ Austin, Texas: Texas State Archives, 1976 Republican presidential primary returns
  6. ^ a b Laredo Morning Times, May 2, 1976.
  7. ^ State of Texas, Archives Division, General election returns for state Senate, November 2, 1982
  8. ^ "Ernest Angelo shaped history, helped launch Reagan's Presidential bid". americansforprosperity.org. Retrieved March 10, 2011. 
  9. ^ "Shanna Sissom, "Magruder led a charmed life in peace and war", January 12, 2011". mywesttexas.com. Retrieved March 8, 2011. 
  10. ^ John G. Tower, Consequences: A Personal and Political Memoir (Boston, Massachusetts: Little Brown and Company, 1991), pp. 42, 118–119.
  11. ^ a b "Ernest Angelo, Jr., B.Sc.". investing.businessweek.com. Retrieved March 10, 2011. 
  12. ^ "The Leadership Committee: Michael Williams for U.S. Senate", williamsfortexas.com, accessed October 18, 2010
  13. ^ "Gov. Perry Appoints Angelo to Texas Public Safety Commission, January 10, 2005". governor.state.tx.us. Retrieved March 10, 2011. 
  14. ^ "Midland's Ernie Angelo named Shepperd Institute's outstanding "Leader of the Year", Midland Reporter-Telegram, September 26, 2008.
  15. ^ "Kathleen Thurber, "Gov. Perry raises more than White in Midland, statewide," October 5, 2010". Midland Reporter-Telegram. Retrieved March 20, 2011. 
  16. ^ "Ernest Angelo office". manta.com. Retrieved March 10, 2011. 
Preceded by
Edwin H. Magruder, Jr.
Mayor of Midland, Texas

Ernest Angelo, Jr.
1972–1980

Succeeded by
Gaylian Thane Akins
Preceded by
Fred Agnich
Republican National Committeeman from Texas

Ernest Angelo, Jr.
1976–1996

Succeeded by
Timothy Lambert