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