Texas House Speakers Oral History Project -
Reuben Senterfitt (official portrait). Carrie Frnka Estate Collection, Texas State Library and Archives Commission; #2002/130-.
The 52nd Legislature's regular session, January 9 to June 8, 1951.
The 53rd Legislature's regular session January 13 to May 27, 1953; and the 53rd Legislature's first called session, March 15 to April 13, 1954.
Born in San Saba County in Central Texas on June 18, 1917, Reuben Senterfitt came from a ranching family and graduated as valedictorian at San Saba High School in 1935. He later earned a law degree at the University of Texas at Austin, where he edited the Texas Law Review.
Senterfitt first won election to the state Legislature in 1941. In his first year in the House, he co-authored a bill that created the M.D. Anderson Hospital in Houston, which became one of the leading cancer research institutions in the country. The Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor, launching United States involvement in World War II, during Senterfitt's first session as a state representative. He enlisted in the United State Navy, serving in the South Pacific while he continued to represent San Saba County.
In 1949 Senterfitt sponsored legislation that created the veterans' land program, designed to allow former servicemen to buy land at low interest. He also assisted Speaker Durwood Manford in creation of the Legislative Budget Board and the Texas Legislative Council and vocally supported both the state's pay-as-you-go constitutional amendment mandating balanced biennial budgets and the Gilmer-Aiken education reforms.
Senterfitt served seven terms overall, culminating in two consecutive terms as speaker. He became only the second person to serve two consecutive terms in that office, following Coke Stevenson who presided over the House from 1933 to 1937. As speaker, Senterfitt secured passage in 1953 of the bill allowing construction of the Dallas-Fort Worth turnpike.
During his speakership, Senterfitt also instituted the use of a unified budget. Prior to 1951, the Legislature had enacted separate biennial appropriations bills for different departments, such as the judiciary, state hospitals, and universities and colleges, as well as special-purpose appropriations bills. At Senterfitt's insistence, however, however, the 52nd Legislature implemented a new system in which biennial appropriations had to be consolidated into one general appropriations bill.
Founder of the law firm currently known as Senterfitt, Childress & Shook, he practiced law in San Saba County for fifty years. Senterfitt unsuccessfully sought the Democratic nomination for governor in 1956, but subsequently served as city attorney for San Saba and county attorney for San Saba County. A life fellow of the Texas Bar Foundation and past president of the San Saba Chamber of Commerce, he currently lives in San Saba with his wife Pat.
- Interviewed by Patrick Cox and Michael Phillips