Comic Relief

Charles Finnell, Democrat, Holliday, 53.

His true peers are not members of the Legislature but rather Thomas Chippendale, George Hepplewhite, and Duncan Phyfe: Like these names, that of Charles Finnell has become synonymous with “furniture”—a term that in Capitol parlance refers to those members who, by dint of their inactivity or incapacity to grasp what is going on, are no more consequential than their desks, chairs, and spittoons. It is no sin to be furniture; not everyone can be a star. But…desks wear out, chairs cease to be comfortable, spittoons and inkwells pass into history, and in time, they are all replaced. Charles Finnell, however, lingers on. And on. And on. To be here so many years—28 and counting—and to achieve so little; now that is a sin.

He did achieve some notoriety in the late eighties by spending the entire $40,000 budget of his House General Investigating Committee without holding any investigative meetings. (His explanation was that he had traveled frequently to Austin to investigate matters himself.) Oddly, his legislative interests, such as they are, seem to be related to various forms of travel: trains (he has championed railroad-crossing-safety legislation for years), planes (he has tried, unsuccessfully, to prevent state employees from using the frequent-flier mileage they accumulate while on state business), even horses (he passed an anti–horse theft bill this year). This session he added rental cars to the list. Irked that the only cars available at the Wichita Falls airport had Oklahoma plates, he proposed a bill that would make it illegal to rent cars to state employees that were not registered in Texas: “People aren’t excited to see a state regulator coming down the road in another state’s car,” he explained to the State Affairs Committee, which swiftly dispatched his bill to the nearest black hole. He tried to add his proposal to another measure as a floor amendment, only to have the representative from Texarkana point out that the airport there is in Arkansas, so what is a poor state employee to do? Oh, well, a little comic relief is welcome now and then.

Finnell actually had a chance to do something this session. Speaker Laney appointed him to the budget-writing Appropriations Committee, giving him the opportunity to influence the state budget. Instead, he dumbfounded the committee staff by taking their briefing handouts and promptly tossing them in the trash. Inquiries about Finnell’s contribution to the appropriations process produced this response from a House insider. “He had a light bulb that shined on him replaced.” It sounded all too familiar. “A sheep in peacock’s clothing,” we wrote in 1973, when Finnell made the first Worst list. “[He] seems to have no guiding principle except self-admiration.”

Tags: POLITICS

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