White was born in Henderson, Texas to parents Mark Wells White, Sr., and Sarah Elizabeth White. White attended Baylor University in Waco, Texas, and was a member of the Tryon Coterie Club, now Phi Delta Theta (Texas Lambda Chapter). He graduated from Baylor Law School in 1965. After spending time in a private practice in Houston. White then served as the state's assistant attorney general. In 1973, White was appointed as Texas Secretary of State under Governor Dolph Briscoe. White also served in the 36th Infantry Division of the Texas National Guard.
Career in Texas Politics
White served as Secretary of State until 1977, when he resigned to run for state attorney general, a position he served in until 1983. In the 1978 general election, White defeated Republican James A. Baker. White polled 1,249,846 votes (55.13 percent) to Baker's 999,431 votes and (44.08 percent). As the state's chief enforcement officer, he co-chaired the Federal-State Enforcement Coordinating Committee and was a member of the Governor's Organized Crime Prevention Council. On the national level, he was elected Chairman of the Southern Conference of Attorneys General in May 1981.
White sought to improve education, transportation, water resources, and law enforcement. White also focused on taxes in order to lure new industry to Texas. Education was an essential factor for White. When he took office, Texas was ranked as one of the lowest performing states for the Scholastic Aptitude Test (SAT) as well as having some of the nations lowest teachers' salaries. After taking office, White immediately appointed a committee on Public Education, called a special session of the legislature in 1984, and worked with lawmakers to pass the Educational Opportunity Act (EOA). Through White's work, Texas saw the desired results. SAT scores increased by twelve points, Texas first graders improved in statewide tests and teacher salaries increased by $5,000.
By focusing on education, White was able to make Texas a "state of the future" with regard to its most important resource, its children.
White declined to seek a second term as state attorney general, choosing instead to seek governorship in 1982 against fellow Democrat Bob Armstrong. Armstrong was the outgoing state Land Commissioner. White faced Bill Clements, Texas' first Republican governor since reconstruction in the general election. In November 1982, White defeated Clements over concerns about the governor's poor economic numbers and lack of support from minority groups. White received 1,697,870 votes (53.2 percent) to Clements' 1,465,537 (45.9 percent). In 1982 Texas Democrats swept all the statewide offices led by U.S. Senator Lloyd Bentsen (who won a third six-year term to the Senate) and William P. Hobby Jr (Hobby was first elected lieutenant governor in 1972) both of whom carried the Democratic Party's statewide banner. As the state's forty-third chief executive from January 18, 1983 to January 20, 1987, White worked to "preserve and enhance... resources so that Texas would not fall back, but go forward as a state of the future." His main concerns were the economy and education. By focusing on Texas' resources, White was able to work on many problems facing the state in the early 1980s. The Texas economy during the early and mid-1980s was volatile. The price of oil declined and pushed Texas into a recession. This led Governor White to "lay the groundwork for a more diversified economy--one less reliant upon the...swings of a single industry."
Among White's appointments was Elma Salinas Ender as the first Hispanic woman to serve as judge of a district court in Texas. From 1983 until her retirement in 2012, Ender was judge of the 341st Judicial District, based in Laredo.
Through his diligent work as Governor of Texas, many of the problems of the present and future were alleviated. White served as governor during Texas' sesquicentennial in 1986 and oversaw a number of the celebrations concerning that anniversary. He also made a cameo appearance in the popular CBS drama series Dallas.
A perfect highlight to Governor White's commitment to education, Mark White Elementary school opened in Houston, TX in 2016.