Death of a Fixer

WHEN I WAS A SOPHOMORE AT THE University of Texas in 1977, my grandfather, a prominent Houston attorney, came to Austin to give a lecture to the university’s law students. After his speech, my grandfather told me he wanted to introduce me to someone. He led me toward a large biscuit-faced man who wore a tentlike suit and a grin that one might term bumpkinish. For a moment I wondered if he was someone my grandfather had once hired as a fishing guide. “Who is he?” I whispered. My grandfather murmured back, “His name is Ed Clark.” I asked what Ed Clark’s profession was. In fact, Clark was at that time service on UT’s Board of Regents; but that was no the reply my grandfather gave me. Instead he said, “He’s a very, very powerful man.”

Clark greeted us with a disarmingly high-pitched warble. Almost immediately he began to giggle, and I looked at the oversize cherub whose hand I was shaking and thought, “Powerful?” At that moment, my grandfather informed Clark that I was a fine young student who might want to attend law school. Without missing a beat, Clark nodded and said, “Well, you just send him our way. We’ll make sure he gets in.”

He spoke these works with the easy self-assurance of an El Paso weatherman predicting a dry spell. Looking up at Clark’s face, I now discerned a steadiness in his voice and a sort of elegant deviousness in his eyes. Then and there, I realized that what stood before me, buried beneath all that hayseed amiability, was the human essence of power. Leaving campus that afternoon, I had no doubt in my mind that if I wanted to go to law school at the University of Texas, Ed Clark would fix things for me.

That had been Clark’s reputation for nearly half a century in Texas politics: He got things done, usually without leaving so much as a fingerprint. If you were Governor Jimmy Allred in 1935 and you needed someone to massage a few recalcitrant anti-New Deal state legislators, you called on your chief political adviser, Ed Clark. If you owned a chain of stores and needed to get

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