Gus Mutscher, Texas House speaker who resigned amid the Sharpstown stock fraud scandal, dies at 90

Former Texas House Speaker Gus Mutscher. (Blinn College, Blinn College)

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Gus Franklin Mutscher, a former Texas House speaker who resigned after being convicted in the Sharpstown scandal, died on Sunday, according to Memorial Oaks Chapel in Brenham. He was 90.

Gus Mutscher was the Speaker of the Texas House of Representatives from 1969 to 1972.

Gus Mutscher was the speaker of the Texas House of Representatives from 1969 to 1972. Credit: Legislative Reference Library

When Mutscher’s relationship to the Sharpstown bank was investigated, a group of 30 lawmakers known as the “Dirty 30” formed to target Mutscher and call for his resignation. The lawmakers were a coalition of Democrats and Republicans led by state Rep. Frances “Sissy” Farenthold, D-Corpus Christi. The Dirty 30 also disapproved of Mutscher’s heavy-handed approach to leadership.

The Brenham Democrat was first elected to the House in 1960 and kept his seat for six legislative sessions. Mutscher worked in various roles before becoming speaker, including serving on the Legislative Budget Board and the Texas Legislative Council as well as chairing the Legislative Redistricting Committee and vice chairing the Appropriations Committee. As a member of the Legislature, Mutscher backed bills improving air and water quality, providing additional services for Texans with intellectual disabilities and prioritizing public and higher education.

Mutscher was born in William Penn, an unincorporated community in Washington County — the same region he represented in the Legislature. He graduated from Brenham High School and attended Blinn Junior College in Brenham on a baseball scholarship. He later enrolled in the University of Texas at Austin, where he earned an undergraduate degree in business administration.

When he wasn’t in office, he spent much of his time in Washington County, working cattle, mending fences and chasing down escaped bulls, according to an obituary from the Memorial Oaks Chapel. He was a diehard Dallas Cowboys fan, regularly driving to Irving wearing a “Tom Landry” fedora to catch the football games.

Mutscher rose to the role of speaker in 1969, after being elected to his fifth term in the House. It was in 1971, during his second session as speaker that he became embroiled in what is widely known as the Sharpstown stock fraud scandal.

A Houston banker, Frank Sharp, had granted profitable stock purchases to state lawmakers; in exchange, legislators passed banking legislation that Sharp and his business and his business benefited from. Mutscher helped shepherd the banking bills in the House.

From left: Gus Mutscher, former Texas House speaker; Preston Smith, former governor; Lyndon Baines Johnson, former U.S. president; and Ben Barnes, also a former Texas House speaker, in Brenham on Aug. 17, 1970.

Gus Mutscher, former Texas House speaker, meets in 1970 with Preston Smith, former governor; Lyndon Baines Johnson, former U.S. president; and Ben Barnes, also a former Texas House speaker. Credit: Texas State Library and Archives Commission

After a jury convicted Mutscher of conspiring to accept a bribe, he agreed to resign. He was sentenced to five years probation but later was cleared on appeal. He was succeeded as speaker by Rayford Price, who helped usher in changes to the House’s rules on operations as a response to the scandal. As a result of the reforms inspired by the scandal, lawmakers today hold open meetings, must disclose campaign finances and operate under a Public Information Act.

The scandal became a way for Republicans and moderate and liberal Democrats to gain more power in the Legislature. Conservative incumbent Democrats lost in the elections following the scandal and were replaced by less conservative newcomers.

Mutscher returned to the political sphere in 1976 after he was appointed to fill a vacancy as the county judge of Washington County. He went on to work as president of the County Judges and Commissioners Association of Texas and the National Association of Regional Councils.