Inside The Lobby

ON A FINE SPRING SATURDAY morning in mid-May, nine days before the
end of the legislative session, Bill Abington sat in the Senate gallery
and nervously puffed on his cigar, awaiting the final vote on a bill
that was as important to him as any he could remember.

His intelligent, pale-blue eyes moved from the list of 31 Senators in
his hand to the men themselves, 30 feet below him, as he tried to
predict the outcome for the one-hundredth time.

The measure in question was the compulsory oil and gas unitization
bill, and as director of the 3000-member Texas Mid-Continent Oil and Gas
Association, he personally felt responsible for its passage or defeat.

As he gazed around the gallery, Abington spotted the Exxon boys,
Gaylord Armstrong and Wade Spilman. Armstrong is a strapping 6’ 3”
Austin attorney with reddish-blond hair who used to travel with Ben
Barnes and looks enough like him to be kin; Spilman is a former House
member, attorney, and the acknowledged expert in oil and gas, insurance,
and alcoholic beverage law among the lobbyists. Their company had worked
so hard for the bill’s passage that during the recent committee hearings
it was referred to as “the Exxon Bill.”

As Abington continued to gaze at his list, he couldn’t figure out why
he felt something was wrong. On paper everything looked good.

The bill had easily passed the House earlier in the year by a vote of
103-36. Thirteen Senators, three short of a majority, had co-signed the
bill when it was originally introduced. Senator Jack Hightower, a
teetotalling, hard-shelled Baptist from Vernon who was the bill’s
sponsor on the floor, was regarded as an expert and able leader.

Abington was growing impatient as the Senate plodded through regular
business. Part of the trouble was that you couldn’t depend on anything
this session. It was so different. His great friend Ben Barnes,
who knew how to run the Senate, was gone. Gus Mutscher, a
little slow but always reliable, was a convicted man now living in
Brenham. Even ole Preston looked good at this point. You don’t miss your
water till your well runs dry.

Abington had worked long hours for months on this bill. Now, what was
done was done. It was up to those 31 politicians milling around below
him who, within the hour, would pass or kill the bill for two more
years. Abington settled back in his gallery seat to wait.

Bill Abington is a prominent member of a group of a hundred or so men
and a few women who make up the “Third House” of the legislature. Highly
paid, thoroughly acquainted with legislators and legislative procedure,
they are known, for better or for worse, as The Lobby.

Basically, a lobbyist is a person with no official government
position who attempts to influence government decisions and policy.
Lobbyists traditionally try to influence legislatures, but may work with
the executive branch as well. The name originated during Andrew
Jackson’s first presidential term, but the popular use derived from
persons who, since they were not allowed on the floor, literally hung
around in lobbies of legislatures, collaring members for lunch after adjournment.

To lobby successfully requires a great deal of energy from a man who
must wear many different hats. Lawyer. Educator. Entertainer. Friend and
companion. And if the occasion arises, procurer.

A good lobbyist does five fundamental things: 1. Makes clear who he
represents; 2. Makes clear what his interest is; 3. Makes clear what he
wants to do and why; 4. Answers questions; 5. Provides enough back-up
material and information so politicians can make a judgment.

He also never asks a legislator to vote for or against a bill; this
is considered bad form. He explains his position on the bill, answers
questions, and, if he is smart, warns how it might hurt back home in the
next election.

A good lobbyist has a well developed system of seeing that people in
home districts who are interested in legislation are contacted and, in
turn, ask politicians to vote for the bill in question.

The Texas State Teacher’s Association ( TSTA), Texas Trial Lawyers,
and the Texas Medical Association are the recognized experts at this
“grass roots lobbying.” In a town of 50,000, the TSTA will have 300
lobbyists and husbands (or wives) who, upon command from lobbyist L. P.
Sturgeon, can flood the legislature with letters or themselves.

The smart lobbyist has this manpower working for him and remains
above the nitty gritty of pressure tactics. He is just the good guy who
offers information, buys lunches ever so often and, when the vote is
near, puts his arm around shoulder after shoulder and says, “This bill
is coming up and we need the vote. I sure hope we can count on you.”

Many lobbyists are former members of the legislature, and are hired
not for their knowledge of the client’s business, but because they know
legislative procedure and the legislators themselves. Of course, being a
lawyer helps, but is not essential.

This past session, six freshmen lobbyists were members two years ago:
Ralph Wayne, Texas Mid-Continent Oil and Gas; Ace Pickens, Texas Medical
Association; Gerhardt Schulle, Texas Association of Realtors; James
Slider, Lone Star Steel; Joe Golman, Dallas Chamber of Commerce, Dallas
Community College, and the National Association of Theatre Owners; J. P.
Word, Texas Association of Taxpayers.

A few lobbyists learned the ropes as administrative assistants to
governors or other Capitol officials. Howard Rose (Padre Island
Investment Corporation) was Gov. John Connally’s first administrative
assistant. Weldon Hart (Texas Good Roads Association) was the top
assistant under Gov. Shivers. Dan Petty, (the University of Texas
System’s Director of Public Affairs) served under Gov. Preston Smith.
Buck Wood was the Secretary of State’s Director of Elections before
taking his present job as lobbyist for Common Cause.

To become chief legal counsel for the Texas Railroad Association was
almost inevitable for Walter Caven. He grew up in Marshall, which at
that time was the shop town for the Texas and Pacific Railroad. His
father was an attorney who represented the railroads, so it wasn’t
surprising that after serving one term in the House in 1949, Caven went
to work for the Railroad Association.

Former members who have secured profitable niches representing their
clients before the Legislature are many. A few prominent ones are:
Reuben Senterfitt, former speaker of the house (utilities); Terry
Townsend (trucks); Bill Abington (oil and gas); Johnnie B. Rogers
(insurance); George Cowden (insurance); Searcy Bracewell (Houston
Natural Gas, Gulf States Utilities, etc.); Dick Cory, Jep Fuller,


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