Split Personalities

With the never-ending school finance crisis entering its umpteenth round, Governor Ann Richards and Lieutenant Governor Bob Bullock appear to be on a collision course. Richards has decided that the educational problems of public schools should be considered along with their funding problems. Bullock has decided just the opposite. The result is a Capitol stalemate that threatens to delay indefinitely a special session to solve the mess.

More than a difference of opinion but still less than a feud, the rift between Richards and Bullock has been growing steadily wider since she failed to embrace his call for a state income tax last spring. Bullock grouses that Richards has avoided taking a position on tough issues like school finance, spending, and taxes, leaving the dirty work to him. Now that she’s taken a position on educational quality, he’s mad about that too.

One reason for Bullock’s anger is practical politics. It’s going to be hard enough to pass any school finance plan in a Legislature divided over how much it should cost and where the money should come from. Quality issues will only make matters worse. Richards has explored the idea of making state aid for school districts partly dependent on how their students perform in the classroom—an idea that is anathema to many education groups. School districts, ad ministrators, and teachers want their funding guaranteed. But Richards knows her political future may well depend upon getting a school finance plan that has more public support than the current “Robin Hood” plan does. She wants to be able to say that the money will make schools better, not just costlier. Richards and Bullock look at politics from two different perspectives—outside the Capitol in her case, inside the Capitol in his—and until one of them changes, their split is likely to grow even wider.

Big Business

The biggest Texas winner on Super Tuesday was the business lobby—a loose coalition of interest groups advocating tort reform at the expense of personal injury lawyers. The success of business-backed candidates in key legislative and judicial races across the state signaled that business, if not yet ready to reclaim the political clout it once had in Texas, at least has stopped the erosion of its inßuence.

Plaintiff’s lawyers were zero for two in Supreme Court races. They backed a challenger to Supreme Court judge Jack Hightower in the Democratic primary, but Hightower won easily with65 percent of the vote. In a Republican primary race to pick an opponent for Democratic incumbent judge Oscar Mauzy, some plaintiff’s lawyers got behind perpetual candidate Charles Ben Howell in the hope that he would be a weaker challenger to Mauzy than Craig Enoch. But Enoch got 59 percent of the vote.

Business went head-to-head with plaintiff’s lawyers in two state Senate races and won both. In West Texas, where two Democratic incumbents were forced to run against each other by a court-drawn redistricting plan, rancher Bill Sims of San Angelobeat plaintiff’s lawyer Tem-ple Dickson of Sweetwater almost two to one in a race that was supposed to be nip and tuck. In the Rio Grande Valley, business-backed incumbent Eddie Lucio fended off former legislator Juan Hinojosa, who had plaintiff’s lawyer support.

The battle will resume in the fall, when Mauzy’s Supreme Court race and at least three Senate races will find business and plaintiff’s lawyers on opposite sides. If business keeps winning, they should be able to pass long-sought limitations on damages and out-of-state plaintiffs’ right to sue in Texas.

Top Spin

The Bill Clinton campaign has already started the spin on why their man has a chance to beat George Bush in Texas. “We got almost twice as many votes as Bush did,” says state campaign director Robin Rorapaugh. Meanwhile, Austin cocktail party circles are abuzz with talk that Clinton’s Texas campaign chairman, land commissioner Garry Mauro, will be sitting pretty if Clinton gets the Democratic nomination. Secretary of the Interior? The environmental speaker at the Democratic convention? Whoa, says Mauro: “It hasn’t even been discussed.”

Tags: POLITICS

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