Price Daniel, Sr., had a distinguished career serving Texas and the nation. By 1952, he had already served as an army officer, Texas House Speaker and attorney general. At the age of 42 in 1952, his political career was only beginning with his election to the U. S. Senate.
With his inauguration in January 1953, he jumped into his new position. He pushed through legislation giving coastal states the mineral rights to coastal waters, legislation he made a priority in his 1952 election. While in the Senate, he also pushed through strict new laws regarding illicit drug use.
In 1956, he decided to return to Texas and run for governor. It was a crowded field and a close contest, with Daniel challenged by liberal and conservative candidates. Daniel won the initial Democratic Primary and narrowly defeated former Judge Ralph Yarborough in the Democratic runoff. He resigned his Senate seat and began his tenure as governor in January 1957.
Daniel’s years as governor were years of looking ahead. He worked to modernize the state in many ways. He approved new highway construction. He pushed ethics reforms for state officials and lobbyists, and with Lyndon Johnson, helped bring NASA’s space center to Houston. History was one of his great passions, and he spearheaded an effort to create the State Library and Archives Building in Austin to house the state’s important records and documents, dedicated in 1962. Looking at the growth of cities and the demands of farmers and ranchers, Daniel also moved to create more water projects to increase the state’s supply. By the time he left office, dozens of reservoir projects were already planned.
In spite of the state’s oil wealth, Texas faced serious money problems in Daniel’s third term. In 1961, the legislature proposed a 2% sales tax to make up for the funding shortfalls. Daniel had fought the sales tax in his years in the legislature, but he realized that the state needed new sources of revenue to meet the demands of a modern state. The legislature passed the tax, and Daniel allowed it to become law without his signature. The sales tax was very unpopular. In 1962, Daniel lost the Democratic Primary in his bid for a fourth term to Secretary of the Navy John Connally, who went on to become governor.
In 1967, Lyndon Johnson, now president, still looked to Daniel for his expertise. He was named to a position on the National Security Council as head the Office of Emergency Preparedness. Johnson also named Daniel as a liaison between the White House and the nation’s governors.
Daniel’s family became deeply involved in politics as well. His younger brother, William, served three terms in the state legislature and later served as territorial governor of Guam from 1961 to 1963. His eldest son, Price Daniel, Jr., deeply admired his father. By the time he was 12 in the 1950s, he was making speeches and campaigning for his father. In 1968, he was elected to the same legislative seat his father held and eventually became Speaker of the House by 1976, just as his father had years before.
In 1971, Gov. Preston Smith named the former governor and Senator to an unexpired position on the Texas Supreme Court. With this, Daniel had now served in all three branches of state government. He was elected to a full term on the court in 1972 and re-elected in 1974. He decided not to seek re-election in 1978.
When he retired at the end of his term in January 1979, he capped a remarkable four decades of elected service. He worked as a private attorney afterward, providing free service to the Alabama-Coushatta tribe. He hoped to enjoy a quiet, peaceful retirement at his ranch in his native Liberty County. But it was not to be.
In 1981, Price Daniel, Jr. – respected citizen, attorney, and father of three — was shot and killed by his wife in a bizarre incident. The scandal shocked the entire state. And the entire Daniel Family was left in deep mourning.
The elder Daniel was deeply hurt by the loss, for the bond between a father and his son is unbreakable. His health declined in the years afterward. Price Daniel, Sr., died on his ranch of a stroke in 1988 at the age of 78.
Daniel was widely honored for his service. Baylor University named its public service award after the former governor and senator. A prison unit in Snyder is named after him. The Price Daniel State Office Building is located near the State Capitol in Austin. His home is now a museum.
Personal Note: Happy Birthday, Kaleb. Love, Dad.
Ken Bridges is a Texas native, writer and history professor. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org