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The Texas Blue
Advancing Progressive Ideas

Speaker Pete Laney, Then and Now

In the fall of 1971, Hale County Democratic Party chairman Pete Laney called a meeting of the County Executive Committee. At that meeting he submitted his resignation as county chair and announced that he was running for State Representative, District 85. The seat was held by Rep. Ralph Wayne, who was retiring; Laney ran against Delwin Jones of Lubbock and won. Jones later was elected as State Representative in District 83 and became one of Laney’s best friends and strongest supporters even though he was elected as a Republican.

Laney found a mentor and friend early on in the late Billy Clayton of Springlake. Clayton represented the House district adjoining District 85 on the west. When Clayton became Speaker of the House, Laney found himself on (and many times chairing) the most powerful committees in the House.

Though not one to carry many bills or give flowery speeches from the floor, Pete quietly developed relationships and gained the respect of House members who would later support him in his bid for Speaker of the House. In 1993 Rep. Laney sought and was elected to the position of Speaker of the House of Representatives of the State of Texas. In discussing that race with Pete on one occasion, he made two statements to me which failed to materialize. He said that he wanted to serve at least two terms, and that at the end of them he would not go back on the floor.

Laney eventually served 5 terms as speaker, earning himself the reputation of being fair and nonpartisan in his committee appointments and the way he conducted business in general. He enjoyed strong support of Democratic and Republican House members each session as he was re-elected speaker. After the Republicans gained enough seats to elect a Republican speaker, he went back on the floor for two sessions to serve the interests of his district, though they surely were not his most enjoyable sessions with all the partisanship and bickering taking place.

In December of 2005, Speaker Pete Laney announced his retirement as State Representative for House District 85, but one could hardly classify his life as one of retirement. When he announced his retirement, I asked him, “What are you going to do now?”, to which he replied, “ I’m going to try to raise a cotton crop,” which he has done. He had a good cotton crop in 2006 and another good one in 2007.

I also asked if he was going to do any lobbying and he answered, “No, I don’t like lobbying, but I am going to do some consulting.” Though he did not lobby the Legislators during the 2007 session, he did and still does maintain an office in Austin.

One activity that Pete has become involved in after leaving the Speaker's office has been helping newly elected representatives learn the system and better represent their districts. He makes no differentiation between Republican and Democrat; if they needed his council, he was willing to help. Joe Heflin, who replaced Pete as District 85 Representative, said, “Pete was critical to my success during my first session. His understanding of the politics and procedures of the House was very helpful to me and other new members as we worked through the session.”

Young people have always been a priority for both Pete and Nelda. They strongly support the 4-H program in Hale County and across the state. He has been given just about every state and local award available for his support of 4-H and other youth programs. As testimony to their commitment to youth, a multi-million dollar activity center is being constructed on the campus of Wayland Baptist University in Plainview, which is to be named “The Pete and Nelda Laney Center.”

Among the many interests Pete pursues, flying has to be near the top of the list. A long time pilot and airplane owner, he stays involved in those activities. I met him recently at a fly-in he helped sponsor at the Hale County Airport, honoring a long time fixed-base operator who had retired and sold his business. The first thing he said was, “I came out early to get my part over with because I have a grandson playing ball in Lubbock this afternoon.”

Therein lies the hub of a majority of Pete Laney’s post-legislative activities — most of his attention now revolves around his grandchildren. Pete and Nelda have three children: Jamey and her husband Ronald Phillips of Lubbock, Texas, have four children, Austin age 7, twins Grant and Gavin both age 4, and Holden age 1; their son J. Pete in Austin has a son, age 2, named Clayton; and their other daughter, KaLyn, also lives in Austin and is not married.

When not spoiling his grandchildren, the Speaker still maintains some involvement in activities from before his retirement. He is on the Board of Directors of the Scottish Rite Hospital in Dallas. He is chairman of the Ranch and Heritage Association national advisory board in Lubbock and chairman of the Committee for Cotton Research, Inc., a supporter of cotton research. He also serves on the board of the Hale County State Bank in Plainview, a position he has held for many years.

Laney’s longtime goal involves youth involvement in public service. He is working to take the youth of Texas to Austin and introduce them to state government and its processes, instilling in them the need to be actively involved in public service. Whether through a foundation or other means of support, this could grow into a massive project and a great legacy to a great Texas statesman.

Pete Laney on Film

In the summer of 2006 we were fortunate enough to secure an interview with Pete Laney for our documentary on Six Man football in Texas ( and ended up using some footage in the film. Mr. Laney was kind enough to spend almost two hours patiently answering questions from a novice filmmaker raised in Lubbock many (way too many) years ago. It was a wonderful experience for me and in late 2007 after we completed the film I added a post to the film crew blog about that interview.

Your readers might be interested in another story about Mr. Laney and how he could make anyone in any arena feel comfortable and a part of something meaningful.


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