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Ben Barnes (on right) with House Speaker Gus F. Mutscher, Governor Preston Smith and former president Lyndon B. Johnson in Brenham, August 17, 1970.

Ben Barnes (born April 17, 1938) is an American politician and lobbyist, who was once the Speaker of the Texas House of Representatives and the Lieutenant Governor of Texas. He was a vice-chair [1] and top fund-raiser of the John Kerry campaign, being one of only eight persons who raised over $500,000 for Kerry [2].


Personal life

Barnes was born in Gorman in Eastland County, Texas, on April 17, 1938, and named "Benny Frank Barnes". His parents, B.F. Barnes and Ina B. Carrigan, had another son twenty-one months later, Rick Barnes. The family moved to Comanche County, where Barnes graduated in 1956 from De Leon High School in De Leon, Texas. After high school he enrolled for one semester at Texas Christian University in Fort Worth, followed by a semester at Tarleton College in Stephenville, Texas. That spring he married his high school sweetheart, Martha Morgan, and at age twenty began studying at the University of Texas at Austin.[1]

Barnes and his third wife, Melanie, reside in Austin with their two daughters Elena and Blaire, who were adopted from Romania and Russia, respectively. Barnes has two children from his first marriage, Greg and Amy. He has four grandchildren: Ashley Mathis, Ben Barnes, II, Kelly Barnes, and Katherine Mathis.

Political career

While a student at The University of Texas, Barnes worked at the Texas State Health Department. After discovering some financial irregularities that led to the indictment of the state health commissioner, Barnes became interested in politics. He went back to his home area of the state and ran for state representative, when he was barely 21 years old and pulled off an upset victory. Advancing quickly through the Texas legislature, by 1963, Barnes was chairman of the powerful Rules Committee. The U.S. Junior Chamber of Commerce recognized Barnes as one of the "Ten Outstanding Young Men in America" in 1965.

Barnes served as state Speaker of the House in Texas from 1965-1969. The position opened when Governor John B. Connally, Jr., named Speaker Byron M. Tunnell to succeed the retiring Ernest O. Thompson on the Texas Railroad Commission. Barnes was chosen by House members to succeed Tunnell and hence became the youngest Speaker in Texas history. He was also U.S. representative to the NATO Conference in 1967, and United Nations Representative to Geneva, Switzerland, in 1968. Barnes served as lieutenant governor from 1969–1973, often called the most powerful position in the Texas state government because the lieutenant governor can block a governor's agenda from being considered by the Texas State Senate.

While Speaker of the Texas House of Representatives and later Lieutenant Governor, Barnes was instrumental in enabling numerous sons of both Democratic and Republican politicians to avoid serving in Viet Nam, one of them being George W. Bush. Barnes has said that he did this on his own initiative, as a political favor without being requested. Barnes further states:

"I did make the call to the National Guard on George W. Bush's behalf, and he did jump ahead of others in line. Considering how many young men were on the waiting list at that time, there is absolutely no way Bush could have gotten into the Texas Air National Guard so quickly unless he had special help. All those who claim that Bush got into the Guard without having any strings pulled on his behalf are just flat wrong. Those are the facts..."
"I want to make clear how ashamed I am of what I did. I thought at the time that I was simply doing political favors, but as I got older, I came to realize I'd been playing God. For every privileged boy like George W. Bush that I helped, another young man was shipped to Vietnam. In the years since, I've wondered about the fates of those anonymous men, who were possibly killed or injured in Vietnam because of the strings I pulled. No one should have that kind of power, and I'll always be sorry that I used it in the way I did."[2].

Sharpstown scandal

In 1971, Barnes was caught up along with the Democratic Party in Texas in the political fallout of the Sharpstown scandal, though he stated he had no knowledge of the involvement of several state senators and no charges were filed against him. The scandal contributed to an unsuccessful run for governor and Barnes's exit from public office.

Real estate empire

During the seventies and eighties Barnes developed a multi-million dollar real estate empire which included the development of such projects as Southwest Parkway and Barton Creek Country Club in Austin. Like his former mentor John Connally, he entered bankruptcy following the collapse of the real estate bubble in the mid-1980s.

Lobbying career

By the late 1990s, Barnes had become a millionaire lobbyist working for GTECH Corporation, a company that operated lotteries in 37 states including Texas. The Texas lottery was losing money, in part because of a lucrative deal in which Barnes received 3.5 cents for every ticket sold – more than $3 million per year.

Since leaving elective office, Barnes has become a successful business executive and civic leader. He is the founder of the Ben Barnes Group, a business consulting and lobbying firm. He has served as a consultant, director or chairman of more than two dozen companies, including SBC Communications, American Airlines, Dallas Bank and Trust, Grumman Systems Support Corporation, Laredo National Bank and the Barnes/Connally Partnership.

The Ben Barnes Group has made millions of dollars by acting as the go-between, bringing special interest groups and companies together with highly-placed Democratic officeholders. The Center for Responsive Politics has listed Barnes as the third largest all-around Democratic donor in America from 1999 to 2004.

Awards and volunteering

In 1995, The University of Texas named him a Distinguished Alumnus. In addition to his corporate work, he also serves on the board of several non-profit organizations, including the Boys and Girls Club, the national group Patient Privacy Rights, and is vice-president of the LBJ Foundation.


Barnes is the author of the book Barn Burning Barn Building: Tales of a Political Life, From LBJ to George W. Bush and Beyond (ISBN 1-931721-71-8), which was first published in 2006.

External links

Texas House of Representatives
Preceded by
Ben Sudderth
Member of the Texas House of Representatives
from District 73 (De Leon)

Succeeded by
Richard C. Slack
Preceded by
O. H. Schram
Member of the Texas House of Representatives
from District 64 (De Leon)

Succeeded by
Lynn Nabers
Political offices
Preceded by
Byron M. Tunnell
Speaker of the Texas House of Representatives
Succeeded by
Gus F. Mutscher
Preceded by
Preston Smith
Lieutenant Governor of Texas
Succeeded by
William P. Hobby, Jr.


  1. ^ Barn Burning Barn Building, Ch. 1
  2. ^ "Barn Burning Barn Building: Tales of a Political Life, From LBJ to George W. Bush and Beyond", Bright Sky Press, 2006 (ISBN 1-931721-71-8)


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