Want Gov. Ann Richards to send herself to the...


December 28, 1992|By THEO LIPPMAN JR.

SOME TEXANS want Gov. Ann Richards to send herself to the Senate when Lloyd Bentsen resigns to become secretary of the Treasury.

Governor Richards can't take this seriously. She must know the history of such self-promotions. Nine times in the past, governors have, in effect, appointed themselves to the Senate, and eight times they have then been defeated when they ran for election to the office.

The one exception was A.B. "Happy" Chandler, whose name I left out of last Monday's column about senators who resigned to take higher office. I was thinking about higher political office, and I forgot that Happy quit the Senate to become baseball commissioner.

That was in 1945. Happy had resigned the governorship of Kentucky in 1939 in order for his successor to appoint him to a vacancy caused by the death of one of Kentucky's senators. Happy had run against the other one, Alben Barkley, in 1938 and lost.

In 1940 he won a special election to serve out the term and in 1942 won a full six-year term.

But in 1944, Kenesaw Mountain Landis, who had been baseball commissioner since 1920, died. The major league owners picked Happy for the job, in part it was said because he had been one of the most outspoken advocates of continuing baseball during World War II.

He and the owners didn't get along. He went against them to integrate the game, which probably didn't hurt him as much as his politician's nature. He rewarded his friends and punished his enemies, unlike the even-handed Landis.

So in 1951, his enemies among the owners fired him.

He went back into Kentucky politics. He was elected governor again in 1955. His baseball days behind him, he re-focused on an old political goal -- the White House.

In 1944 he had sought the Democratic vice presidential post that went to Harry Truman, with the well-known results. In 1948 he tried to get President Truman to select him, but Harry chose for his running mate Happy's old adversary, Senator Barkley. So Happy sided with the Dixiecrat challenger to the president that year. In 1956 he was a presidential favorite son nominee at the Democratic National Convention. He got Kentucky's 30 votes and 6 1/2 others. That was his high water mark.

Unable to succeed himself in 1959, he announced that if his hand-picked candidate won the governorship, he would seek the presidential nomination in 1960. His man lost, so he didn't.

As they say, only embalming fluid cures political ambition, and Happy ran for governor again in 1963 and 1971, flopping. In 1968 he wanted to be George Wallace's third party running mate, but George's Kentucky supporters vetoed him.

Headline writers know how to summarize a life. When Happy died last year, all the headlines I saw on his obituaries referred not to his 20 years in public office but his six years as baseball commissioner.

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