Former Democratic Governor of Texas Mark White has died Sunday at 77 years old.
From 1983-1987, White was known for being an education policy mogul for the state of Texas, constructing the controversial “no-pass, no-play” legislation whereby high school athletes weren’t allowed to partake in sports if they had failed a class. This was politically complex and somewhat revolutionary in a state with a die-hard high school football tradition and has since been adapted by other states in similar situations, such as Florida.
But he didn’t stop there with education reform. Basing his philosophy off what he learned from his first-grade teacher mother, White implemented reforms that increased teachers’ pay and required competency tests, created class size limits for elementary schools, and introduced a general basic skills test for high school graduation. Furthermore he pushed through state congress a $4 billion tax hike for schools and highways.
“It was probably the broadest-based education program in modern U.S. history,” White said in a 2011 interview with the Associated Press. “I was very proud of what we accomplished.”
Of course it didn’t go as smoothly as anyone implementing reforms first envisions. Interestingly, White appointed Dallas billionaire Ross Perot to lead a special panel on education that developed some of the key changes. The state’s passion for high school football pushed the “no-pass, no-play” legislation all the way to its supreme court. Texans were not happy if their school’s best player was kicked off the team for grades, and detest for the legislation grew violent.
“It was horrible,” White said. “I misread the intensity of it until I saw it for myself in West Texas. My security people thought I should go by myself: ‘Here’s my gun. You go.'”
The legislation eventually led to his defeat in 1986, but even in a losing effort White fought for what he believed was best for the state of Texas, and in doing so he left his mark.
“Leave it alone,” he implored state lawmakers as he left office in 1987. “Let’s be real: Anyone who can study a playbook can study a textbook. Americans didn’t get to the moon on a quarterback sneak.”
“He cared about Texas deeply,” Andrew White, one of the former governor’s three children, said Saturday. “He realized that this wasn’t about getting re-elected. This wasn’t about being popular. This was about making Texas a better place.”
White also traversed the dangerous grounds of an economic downturn during his tenure office.
“I learned it’s a lot harder to govern the state when the price of oil drops to $9 a barrel,” White said in 2011.
After his breaking of a campaign pledge to not raise taxes angered lawmakers on his way out of office, White doubled down on his accomplishments and wished the those still in control the best of luck, but said they could no longer use him a scape goat.
“I asked for a tax increase and said, ‘Blame me,’ and you did,” White told state lawmakers on his way out of office. “So much for guts and glory. Whatever happens in the next four years, don’t blame me.”
The former governor, who fought kidney cancer for years, died Saturday in Houston shortly after waking up and feeling uncomfortable, according to his wife, Linda Gale White, and his son Andrew White.
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