Ben Barnes (politician)

Ben Barnes (politician)

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 [] and top fund-raiser of the John Kerry campaign, being one of only eight persons who raised over $500,000 for Kerry [] .

Personal life

Barnes was born in Gorman, Texas, on April 17, 1938 and named "Benny Frank Barnes". His parents, B.F. Barnes and Ina B. Carrigan, had another son 21 months later, Rick Barnes. He graduated from DeLeon High School in 1956. After high school he enrolled for one semester at Texas Christian University in Fort Worth, followed by a semester at Tarleton College. That spring he married his high school sweetheart, Martha Morgan, and at age 20 began studying at The University of Texas at Austin. [Barn Burning Barn Building, Ch. 1]

Barnes and his third wife Melanie live 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, son Greg and daughter 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 becaqme 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.

harpstown 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. 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.

In 1999, Barnes claimed that while Lt Governor of Texas he had "personally interceded" with Texas Air National Guard officials to get George W. Bush into the Guard. It was later discovered he was Speaker of the Texas House of Representatives at the time of this alleged intervention. At that point he stated he didn't use his political influence but rather his friendship with a General to get it accomplished.

Barnes repeated the claim in the U.S. presidential election, 2004. His daughter Amy claims that he told her in 2000 that he didn't intercede on Bush's behalf and that he was only saying these things to promote his book and help get Kerry elected since he was so heavily involved in the Kerry campaign.

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

* [ Biography] from "Texas Monthly Talks" hosted at the KLRU website.


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