"Bill Ratliff was elected the 40th lieutenant governor of Texas by his colleagues in the Texas Senate on December 28, 2000, thereby filling the vacancy created when Rick Perry succeeded George W. Bush, the new president-elect of the United States, as governor. In addition to serving as lieutenant governor and as president of the senate, Ratliff, a Republican from Mount Pleasant, continued to represent the First Senatorial District in Northeast Texas, a constituency he was first elected to serve in 1988.
Over the course of his career, Ratliff built a reputation for tackling tough issues, including public education, the state budget, and a comprehensive reform of Texas’ tort laws. During his first term in the senate, Ratliff passed a bill that allowed communities throughout Texas to levy a one-half cent sales tax, contingent on the approval of local citizens, to encourage economic growth, and he helped draft the first bill in Texas to improve deplorable conditions in the South Texas colonias. In his freshman term, he was also involved in resolving differences between the house and senate regarding workers’ compensation legislation.
Appointed chair of the senate committee on education in 1993, Ratliff served as the senate’s leader on public education legislation for the next four years. In 1994, he drafted a revision of the entire Texas public education code on his laptop computer, and his proposal passed both houses the following year. An advocate for stronger school standards, Ratliff developed one of the first and most comprehensive public school accountability programs in the country. From 1996 to 2000, he served as chair of the senate committee on finance.
Ratliff’s election to the lieutenant governor’s office represented the first time that senators had been called on to fill a vacancy in that post, a duty assigned them by the Texas Constitution. During his tenure as lieutenant governor, Ratliff adopted the leadership philosophy of letting “the Senate work its will.” He also continued his longstanding bipartisan approach, in one instance appointing a Democrat to take over for him as chair of the finance committee, and he was noted by observers for the fair and evenhanded manner in which he carried out his new responsibilities.
While presiding over the senate, Ratliff’s most significant accomplishment, in his own view, was helping to draft and pass a $113.8 billion biennial budget at a time when economic conditions had turned sluggish. Other significant legislative achievements in 2001 included the creation of a state-subsidized health insurance plan for teachers and other school employees, the extension of Medicaid coverage to hundreds of thousands of children, and the adoption of a number of reforms in the criminal justice system. After his term as lieutenant governor, Ratliff returned to the senate for one additional legislative session and served as chair of the senate committee on state affairs.
Born August 16, 1936, in Shreveport, Louisiana, Bill Ratliff moved to Texas as a young child and graduated from high school in Sonora. He holds a degree in civil engineering from The University of Texas at Austin, which named him a Distinguished Alumnus in 2004. The following year, he was honored with the John F. Kennedy Profile in Courage Award. Ratliff has also won a number of professional accolades and has served as state and national president of the American Consulting Engineers Council.
In addition, Ratliff has played a prominent role in community affairs in Mount Pleasant. He and his wife, Sally Sandlin Ratliff, have three children, Bess, Bennett, who served in the house of representatives in the 83rd Texas Legislature, and Thomas, who was elected in 2010 and again in 2012 to the Texas State Board of Education. Bill and Sally Ratliff are also the grandparents of eight grandchildren."
- Research Division of the Texas Legislative Council. (2016). Presiding Officers of the Texas Legislature, 1846-2016
. Austin, TX: Texas Legislative Council.