Bill White's Servant Leadership: Part One

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“Whosoever will be chief among you, let him be your servant.” – Matthew 20:27

From Bill White's speech at the Texas Democratic Party convention.

Bill White leads his life with one focus: fulfill the promise of humble servant-leadership in everything he does. From an op-ed he wrote for the Texas Democratic Party's “Meet the Statewides” series:

Being elected means being a public servant. Public servants must maintain an open mind to the thoughts, concerns and experiences of their customer, the constituent. If we value humility in service and listen to what our fellow Texans tell us, we as a state will move quickly along in the effort to make real progress.

Humble servant-leadership is not just listening to what people have to say, but using the information obtained to set priorities and reorder them when need be. It is this humility that allows the elected official to be true to the spirit of the democratic progress. It is this humility that allows the CEO to be true to their team and customers.

Recently, Rick Perry and his Republican cohorts have jumped on a quote from White's stump speech, making the (foolish) political calculation demanding an apology for a quote they don't understand will somehow help their campaign. The chief concern is White's use of the term “master” in describing Rick Perry. This story originally ran in a blog post on the Dallas Morning News, and reads as follows:

During remarks to a group of African-American leaders having lunch at a Dallas Luby's, Bill White said he wanted to be a servant of the people, while Gov. Rick Perry wanted to be something else.

“I'm here on a job interview,” White said at the forum sponsored by state Rep. Barbara Mallory Caraway and The Elite News. “We need a governor who's a servant, as opposed to Rick Perry, who wants to be treated as master.”

Those comments were picked up by Talking Points Memo, among others. However, his remarks aren't particularly newsworthy. In fact, it's far from the first time Bill White has ever used the phrase. In addition to the video clip above, take a look at how Bill White has repeated this message for months:

“We need as our governor somebody who is a servant, not a career politician who’s acting as if they’re in control and they’re the master,” White said.

“If a governor ever acts like he owns positions on state boards and commissions, and appointees are expected to serve his personal re-election agenda, then surely it is time to find a new governor. We need a governor who understands that he should serve as a humble servant rather than a demanding master.”

“We need somebody who will be a servant and not think they are the master of the state,” White said.

Bill White believes in humble servant leadership – and he's going to talk about that to everyone, in front of everyone. Bob Moser of the Texas Observer touched on this aspect of Bill White's messaging shortly after the primary, and even wrote a column back in March titled, “Preach, Bill, Preach.” I'll let Moser close out Part One; stay tuned for Part Two shortly.

Preach, Bill, Preach

by Bob Moser, Texas Observer


You wouldn’t know it to listen to him, most of the time, but White does have a visionary streak. It famously surfaced in the summer of 2005, when Hurricane Katrina drowned New Orleans. Mayor White threw open his city to more than 250,000 refugees, galvanized more than 24,000 volunteers to help them, and told groups who’d booked conventions in Houston to take their money elsewhere. Suddenly, a city known for its cold-blooded capitalism was transformed into a national symbol of compassion. As he personally welcomed victims of the storm, White kept repeating a variation of Matthew 25:35: “For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat. I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink. I was a stranger and you invited me in.”

That’s the side of Bill White—the Methodist Sunday-school teacher side—that needs to emerge in this campaign. He’s running against a devilishly cunning politician who might not have a vision for Texas, but who sure as shootin’ conveys one. Perry’s version of “Texas values”—frontier-style individualism and up-by-your-bootstraps self-sufficiency—connects at a gut level with many Texans’ view of themselves.

White has flashed glimmers of an alternate vision that could effectively tap into Texans’ better angels. You could hear it in his victory speech on primary night when he said, “Our elected officials should be humble public servants, who use the power of the state to serve the people and not simply to perpetuate themselves in office.” You could hear it the week after the primary, when White went on Dallas’ AM gospel station, “Heaven 97,” and answered a question about how to reintegrate criminal offenders into the community thusly: “Remember the words of the scripture: ‘When I was hungry, you fed me; when I was naked, you clothed me; when I was in prison, you visited me.’ Right? It takes a lot of committed action from people to give people hope and regain a life. It’s not just a matter of a program; it’s also those of us reaching out to these offenders one-by-one and seeing that somebody’s made in the image of God.”


About Author

Phillip Martin

Currently the Research and Policy Director for Progress Texas and the Texas Research Institute, Phillip Martin writes occasional long-form pieces for BOR that promote focused analysis and insight into Texas politics. Born and raised in Austin, Phillip started working in politics in 2003 and started writing on BOR in the summer of 2005. Phillip has worked for the Texas Democratic Trust, the Texas Legislative Study Group, and now the Progress Texas family. He is a lifelong Houston Astros fan, a loyal Longhorn, and loves swimming at Barton Springs Pool.

1 Comment

  1. Bible thumpers…
    …usually need to spend less time thumping their Bibles and more time reading them and prayerfully pondering the words.

    Sheesh.  I've a got a scripture for the Texas Republican Party: almost all of Matthew 23!!! (which ironically also contains a passage on servant-leadership)

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