Texas House Speakers Oral History Project -
Billy Clayton. House of Representatives Speaker's Member file for 64th Legislature, Texas State Library and Archives Commission; #1990/187-64.
The 64th Legislature's regular session, January 14 to June 2, 1975.
The 65th Legislature's regular session, January 11 to May 30, 1977; the 65th Legislature's 1st called session, July 11 to July 21,1977; the 65th Legislature's second called session, July 10 to August 8,1978.
The 66th Legislature's regular session, January 9 to May 28, 1979.
The 67th Legislature's regular session, January 13 to June 1, 1981; the 67th Legislature's 1st called session July 13 to August 11, 1981; the 67th Legislature's 2nd called session, May 24 to May 28, 1982; the 67th Legislature's 3rd called session, September 7 to September 9, 1982.
Born in Olney in September 1928, Bill Clayton spent most of his childhood in Springlake, later attending Texas A&M University where he earned a bachelor's degree in agricultural economics. His father's heart attack brought Clayton back to Springlake where, in 1950, he started running the family farm.
He became politically active in the local Democratic Party and was selected to serve as a delegate pledged to presidential candidate Lyndon Johnson in the 1960 Democratic National Convention. In 1962, when Jess Osborne retired from the state House of Representatives, Clayton successfully ran for representative, serving his Panhandle district, including Lamb and surrounding counties, for the next twenty years.
Clayton's fellow House members dubbed him "Mr. Water" because of his heavy involvement in irrigation, water acquisition and conservation issues. He also frequently represented West Texas in numerous regional and national water conferences.
Clayton first won the House speakership in 1975 and in 1979 became the first person to win three consecutive terms in that office (Marion DeKalb Taylor served three non-consecutive terms in 1859, 1863, and 1873.) He became the first person in Texas history elected to a fourth term. As speaker, Clayton expanded the use of computers by legislators and their staffs and improved Capitol press facilities.
Clayton also increased the role of the standing House committees, directing them to research legislation between regular sessions. Furthermore, he gave those committees additional oversight responsibility and power over state agencies under their jurisdiction. He also reformed House rules to allow members to file bills before sessions were called.
Finally, Clayton steered through the Legislature passage of a sunset law creating a commission that reviewed the status and work of state agencies at set intervals. The commission was then empowered to make recommendations to the Legislature regarding particular agencies, including whether they should continue to operate.
The so-called "Brilab" scandal, in which the FBI accused Clayton of accepting a bribe from a contributor, forced the speaker to fight corruption charges in 1980. Clayton was found not guilty in the fall of 1980, and was embraced by members of the West Texas jury. He then was elected to one more term as speaker. Clayton, who suffered a heart attack in 1968, opted to not run for re-election in 1983. Although he hinted that he might run for state Land Commissioner in 1982 and began to raise money for the race, he ultimately decided against running for that office. In 1985 the longtime conservative Democrat switched to the Republican Party. In 1989 Governor William P. Clements, Jr., appointed Clayton to serve as a Texas A&M University System regent.
In 1991, Clayton suffered a mild stroke. Nevertheless, he earned a master of business administration degree from the University of Texas at Austin a year later. He served as president of Capital Consultants, an Austin political and business consulting firm and, with his son Tommy, operated a farm and vineyard in Springlake. Clayton died at the age of 78 on January 6, 2007 in Lubbock.
– Interviewed by Michael Phillips