Fresh out of college, Dan Goeb couldn’t get the job in television he wanted, so he started out selling — first Paper Mate pens, then school rings, yearbooks, uniforms and graduation caps and gowns to schools and colleges from Pennsylvania to Florida.
He was quickly a success.
“I was the top salesman out of 300 in the company one year,” he recalls of the school ring company. “I was making $35,000 in 1972 in sales, very good money at the time. … At 24, they promoted me to an assistant general manager.”
Decades later, that successful upstart — now known as state Sen. Dan Patrick — is still selling, this time running to persuade GOP primary voters to select him to become the next lieutenant governor of Texas over three others, including three-term incumbent David Dewhurst. And Patrick says he is doing it the only way he knows.
“By telling people what I stand for,” the two-term senator and Houston radio talk-show host, 63, explained on a recent afternoon. “All things are possible if you work hard. … I’m a roll-up-your-sleeve kind of guy who has been at the top and at the bottom of the bottom. I’ve always been able to relate to people at both ends of the spectrum because I’ve been there.”
In a race in which the four candidates are fighting one another over who is the most conservative, Patrick is pitching himself as the “authentic conservative,” underscoring a strident low-taxes, less-government mantra. By most polls, he has been running second behind Dewhurst, who was considered vulnerable after a stunning loss to tea party darling Ted Cruz in last summer’s runoff for a U.S. Senate seat.
Since joining the state Senate in 2007 as an outspoken and ultraconservative freshman who declined to follow the time-honored rule of generally keeping quiet during his first year in office, Patrick has continued to ruffle feathers, even those of fellow Republicans.
“He’s not part of the Austin club,” said supporter and tea party activist Chip Lyons of The Woodlands, echoing sentiments of others at recent candidate forums. “He’s cut of the right conservative mold to move Texas forward.”
Heavyweight conservative activist Michael Quinn Sullivan, president of Texans for Fiscal Responsibility, agrees: “He has established a record of advocating for practical, reform-minded policies supported by Texans, even if opposed by the special interests in Austin.”
His outspoken support of putting the brakes on rising property taxes, preserving gun owners’ rights, stopping illegal immigration, reforming the business tax structure and advocating for charter schools and public education reforms has given him cred with the limited-government groups and drawn endorsements from a long list of conservative Republicans, including former presidential contender Mike Huckabee. But it has earned him enmity from opponents in both parties who claim he is less interested in solving problems than he is in political gain for himself. One example they cite is his working for additional education funding last spring, only to then vote against the state budget.
Patrick is unfazed by the criticism, saying he speaks his mind and votes his principles. “I’ve always believed that our role in life is to impact the world we live in and make it better,” he said. “I’ve never gone to work one day in my life and not enjoyed it.”
That was the case even as a boy, growing up in blue-collar East Baltimore in one of the city’s signature, three-story brick and stone row houses, the son of a newspaper circulation man and a bookkeeper. His father, a Marine who served in the South Pacific during World War II, started driving a delivery truck for the Baltimore Sun and eventually rose to become circulation manager, Patrick said.
News got in his blood early. As a teenager, Patrick worked at a corner newsstand, selling the Sun, The New York Times, the Washington Post, the Philadelphia Inquirer and other papers from before dawn until midday. By ninth grade, he wanted to be a radio disc jockey. “I still have my school project on that,” he notes proudly.
“I remember thinking, why does my dad have me out here? I’m freezing,” Patrick said. “But he wanted me to be like him: Work hard and make something of yourself. It shaped my life.”
He worked during college as an overnight deejay and in ad sales, and he continued to tinker with a career in music that began in high school when he played guitar and piano in two bands.
Graduating with an English degree from the University of Maryland in Baltimore County— the first member of his family to complete college — Patrick wanted to become a television anchor. But those jobs were few and far between, and low-paying to boot, and he took the sales job instead — and he was a hit.
In 1977, he switched to television — as a sportscaster and weatherman at a Scranton, Pa., station from which conservative talk show host Bill O’Reilly had recently departed. As part of that job, his boss suggested he take an on-air name, something other than Goeb. A station anchor was named Scott, his middle name, so he he chose a name of a relative.
Dan Patrick was born.
After a stint at a Washington station, Patrick moved in 1979 to KHOU-TV in Houston, where he legally changed his name years later when he took a step to run for political office. After a few years on the air, Patrick quit to go into the restaurant business, operating a small chain of sports bars. But he soon went broke, leaving creditors with hundreds of thousands of dollars in bills — for which opponents have harshly criticized him for stiffing his debtors, a charge Patrick denies.
“That was the lowest point in my life. I was at the bottom of the bottom,” he said, defending his eventual exit from bankruptcy. “I had to start all over, give up everything except my car and house. … That taught me there’s a thin line between the people living under the bridge and the people who are driving over it.”
Down to just one struggling restaurant, Patrick bought an almost broke radio station in the Houston suburb of Tomball, opting to carry the syndicated Rush Limbaugh show at a time “when nobody knew who he was.” The show became a hit, and Patrick would later buy another station in Dallas — eventually switching from sports talk to politics and launching his legislative career.
In 2006, he won his Senate seat with 69 percent of the vote. He quickly got a Capitol nickname: “Microphone Mouth,” as his Senate colleagues sometimes referred to him during his freshman year for his frequent habit of voicing his opinion.
In the years since, after being re-elected with 86 percent support, while Patrick has mellowed some, he has continued speaking his mind, as in a May 2012 exchange in which he accused Sen. John Carona, R-Dallas, of spreading rumors that Patrick was separated from his wife and might divorce — charges that Carona denied.
“I’ve never been shy about sharing my dislike and distrust of you,” Carona wrote in an email to Patrick that was made public. “Put bluntly, I believe you are a snake oil salesman, a narcissist that would say anything to draw attention to himself.”
Patrick said the two have patched up their differences. “It was a misunderstanding. Both of us were wrong. We have forgiven each other,” he said.
Corona did not return a call for comment.
Patrick’s speak-his-mind style has continued during the campaign, as he has suggested that he would not appoint Democrats to as many committee chairmanships as Dewhurst has — if any. They now head six of 18, picked by the lieutenant governor based, in part, on seniority.
Divorced and married a second time for 38 years, Patrick has two grown children — his son is a judge, his daughter a nurse — and one grandchild (with two more on the way) and now lives in suburban Cypress, northwest of Houston. To many, Patrick is known for his fundraising for a charity for children with disabilities — $16 million since the 1990s — and as the author of a best-selling Christian movie and a book.
After Patrick and other senators last year openly criticized Dewhurst’s leadership — a lack of it, they said — Patrick confidently predicts that his chances of winning the primary, either outright or in a runoff, are good. If not, he says, “whatever is left in my life, my focus will be on ministry work.
“I feel called to run … with my conservative Christian message,” he said. “I’ve lived a full life … had several successful careers and know that all things are possible if you work hard.”
PATRICK ON PATRICK
On his music career: “I played in a Beatle band in high school and 18-piece Motown orchestra, Little Nate and the Deltones, in high school and college. We made a record, but it didn’t sell. I was told in high school that I looked like Paul McCartney.”
On people he admires: “I most admire my father. In a public sense, I admire Ronald Reagan for his conservative principles and what he did and Jesus Christ as part of my faith.”
On his memory of the 1963 assassination of President John F. Kennedy: “I was working in a newsstand. … All the people came out of Mass, and I was the first one to tell them that Jack Ruby had shot (Lee Harvey) Oswald, because I had the papers. I can still see the shock and horror on their faces. That was my first interest in giving people the news.”
One fact that might surprise people: “In the ’90s, I decided I wanted to be a pastor. … I talked with my pastor. … He said, ‘I recommend you be a Christian leader where you are. I thought about it. He was right.”
One thing he’s not good at: “Fixing a car.”
On his first gun: “A bolt-action Japanese Arisaka rifle that my dad captured and brought home after the war. He gave me the gun and a (Japanese) flag.”
This is the third of four American-Statesman profiles of Republican lieutenant governor candidates.