John Sharp was always one of my favorite politicos. A conservative Democrat who held office until, Sharp served as a state representative, state senator, Railroad Commissioner and state comptroller. He was well-thought-of until he ran against his old Texas A&M roommate, Rick Perry, when they ran for lieutenant governor.
We had a chance to hear Sharp again at the recent Texas Press Association mid-winter conference and trade show at Moody Gardens in Galveston. He was the speaker at our closing luncheon.
Like a lot of Texans in 1998, I cast my vote for George W. Bush for governor, but crossed the aisle to vote for Sharp for lieutenant governor. A lot of other Texans did the same — out of more than 3½ million votes cast statewide, fewer than 60,000 separated the two. But there were not enough of us to negate Bush’s substantial coattails as Karl Rove’s Republican Party surged throughout Texas at that point in time.
No one feels too sorry for Sharp — he ended up as Chancellor of the Texas A&M University System. He is currently working with Gov. Greg Abbott to oversee the state’s disaster response efforts in the wake of Hurricane Harvey.
Sharp did a heck of a lot of good during his time in various offices. He is remembered as creator of the Lone Star Card, which cut down on food stamp fraud significantly and became a model for changes at the federal level. He created the Texas Performance Review, an ongoing audit of state government; a website for the comptroller’s office, the first in the nation; and the Texas Tomorrow Fund, a pre-paid college tuition plan for parents.
In helping Texans recover from the hurricane, he has deployed the Texas Forest Service, Task Force 1 and Task Force 2, all parts of the Texas A&M system. County Extension Agents also pitched in to assist by determining the needs of all the damaged areas.
He said there were still people who are just now returning to their properties, so cleanup has seemed slow to some. Sharp also helped Texas make whole the schools that were damaged by the hurricane, making sure they didn’t lose funds if students had to temporarily relocate to a different district.
We visited briefly before his talk and I told him I was from Gillespie County. He said in one of his statewide office races, he won every county in the state — except Gillespie, the Grand Old Party stronghold.
My favorite story he tells is from his early days in the State Capitol when he was hosting a fundraiser in Brenham. He had a keg of beer, just like those that can be found at every event in Gillespie County, but one woman took offense. She chastised him for having beer at a public event and told him having alcohol was “un-Christian.”
“Well, ma’am, if I remember my Sunday school lessons correctly, Jesus’ first miracle was turning water into wine,” he said.
“Yes, and I would have thought more of him if he hadn’t had done that,” the woman told him.
He laughed, remembering that episode, and said that the woman, then in her 80s had most likely gone on to meet her maker by now. She was a tough customer.
Another funny beer-related story from 2015, with Sharp in the A&M Chancellor’s seat, was when the University of Texas announced plans to sell alcohol at their football games. Sharp quipped, “Our athletic program has not reached the point where we require the numbing effects of alcohol.” Even Longhorn fans have to appreciate that humor.
With Sharp speaking in front of a crowd of journalists, one of course asked if he was considering running for office again, perhaps as a U.S. Senator?
“I can’t stand either party right now,” Sharp said. “I’m too conservative to win as a Democrat and I ain’t near crazy enough to win as a Republican.”
Man, I wish there were more folks like John Sharp back in Texas politics.