"While the G.O.P. generally adheres to its eleventh commandment -- Never speak ill of another Republican -- Democrats eat their own with relish. After fractious primaries, Democrats will limp into the general election having spent most of their money defeating each other."
That's a passage from Time magazine, but it's not about this year's Democratic presidential primaries. It's about the bitter battle in the 1990 Texas Democratic gubernatorial primary runoff between Ann Richards and Jim Mattox. The 1990 governor's race was one of the ugliest -- and most fun to watch, in a spectator sport kind of way -- in Texas history. State Treasurer Richards and Attorney General Mattox first had to stave off former Gov. Mark White to make it to their runoff. Mattox, known as "the people's lawyer," tried to sink Richards with allegations of drug use but failed. Richards went on to whip Republican Clayton Williams in a bruising general election campaign.
I was one of the reporters stuck -- er, assigned -- to Mattox in the runoff, and he was a marvel to watch in action at the end of an era in which Democrats dominated Texas politics. The "general" was especially adept at working with unions, which still were a major political force in Texas. He was dogged, determined and ruthless when he thought it was necessary. As the runoff with Richards neared its climax, Mattox grew increasingly obsessed with pressuring the press corps to write more about his foe's alleged foibles. He'd rant. He'd rave. And he made headlines nationwide in doing so. But when it was all over with, he made peace with Richards and poured his energy into rebuilding party unity. It was time to get back to the business Mattox really loved -- helping his fellow Texans and looking out for the little guy.
That's the image of Mattox that popped into mind when news broke Thursday of his death at his home outside Austin. Some of the darkest moments I've witnessed covering politics came during that 1990 runoff. But Mattox's compassion for working people and their families provided some of the warmest moments I've witnessed, too.
-- John Gravois