Congressman Ted Poe (TX-02)

People ask me all the time, “Do you miss being a judge?” Usually my answer is, “No, I enjoy representing the good folks of southeast Texas in Congress,” but sometimes a case comes along that makes me wish I was back on the bench. Sunday, June 8th was one of those days. As I turned on the news and learned that some outlaw set fire to the Texas Governor’s Mansion, my first thought was I hope they send him to my court, my second thought was – get a rope.

Of course we all know that everything is bigger and better in Texas, but as the news made headlines across the country so did a little Texas history. Our governor’s mansion is registered as a National Historic Landmark and is the oldest governor’s mansion west of the Mississippi and the fourth oldest in the country. Because Texas has the unique distinction of being an independent country and a state, the history of our governor’s residence really started with the first home of the President of the Republic, however that home was short lived.

Nine years after annexation in 1845, the Texas Legislature appropriated $14,500 to build a governor’s mansion. The mansion was completed June 14, 1856 and Texas' fifth Governor, Elisha Marshall Pease and his family were the first residents. The historic Austin home beneath the oaks at the corner of 11th and Colorado has housed 43 Texas Governors, and two future Presidents, in its 151 years.

One of the unique aspects of the Texas Governor’s Mansion is that its structure has remained virtually unchanged. Under Governor Oscar Colquitt, an addition to the rear of the home was completed in 1914 and renovations over the years have left that floor plan intact for nearly a century. The Greek Revival architecture of the home, with its vast porches and floor-to-ceiling windows are all original to the home’s initial construction, making it the oldest executive residence in the United States to function in its original configuration. I told you everything is better in Texas.

After getting over the fact that I wasn’t going to get to try this case and charge this villain with everything from arson to treason, I started thinking about my first visit to the mansion when I was ten years old. One of my heroes, as you all know, was General, President, and Governor Sam Houston – and I couldn’t wait to walk through the halls that he walked and imagine that I was him. I remember standing at the foot of his bed thinking it was huge, thinking that General Sam really was larger than life.

I was relieved to learn that Sam Houston’s custom mahogany bed and most of the historical furnishings were previously removed for the renovations and spared from the fire. I support the efforts of Governor Perry, the Friends of the Governor’s Mansion and all Texans that want to see the Governor’s Mansion rebuilt and restored to its former glory. And, I envy the judge that tries the outlaw that recklessly destroyed part of our great state’s history.

The last scoundrel to desecrate a Texas landmark got nine years in the penitentiary. Back in 1989, a man by the name of Paul Cullen poisoned the great “Treaty Oak.” Of course, I promptly volunteered to try that case as well.   The Treaty Oak is the famed site in Austin where Stephen F. Austin signed a boundary treaty with the Lipan Apache Indians and is thought to be more than 500 years old.

In a deliberate effort to destroy the tree in some kooky scheme, Cullen poisoned it with enough pesticides to kill a hundred trees. And as most criminals do, he bragged about his crime which resulted in his swift arrest and incarceration. The nation was stunned that we sent him to prison for trying to kill a tree. But this was no ordinary tree, it was a symbol of Texas.

Fortunately for the Treaty Oak, she survived the attack and while she may not stand as mighty as before, she continues to hang in there as a symbol of strength and perseverance. We rebuilt the Capitol after it was destroyed by fire in 1991 and the Mansion will live to see another day as well. As for the traitorous arsonists, well that is yet to be seen. There’s a reason for the saying – “Don’t mess with Texas!”

And that’s just the way it is.