Ask not what Senator Eddie Lucio’s bills do for the public; ask what they do for him. Lucio is a poster child for the kind of legislator whose primal urge is to please his friends, punish his enemies, and promote himself.
What, do you suppose, lay behind his proposal to restrict the 206th Civil District Court in Hidalgo County to family law and juvenile justice cases? A suddenly skyrocketing divorce rate in the Rio Grande Valley? No, just an old-fashioned political vendetta. The judge of the 206th, Joe B. Evins, had once presided over a grand jury investigating Lucio’s finances. When Lucio’s bill ran into trouble in the House, he resorted to a series of dirty tricks:
• Arm-twisting To pressure legislators from the Valley into helping his court bill pass the House, he held their bills hostage by stalling passage through the Senate. When folks supporting a hospital district bill back home called Lucio to complain about the slowdown, he blamed it on the lieutenant governor. They called Bullock and learned the truth.
• Reneging To get his bill out of a hostile House committee, Lucio agreed to an amendment delaying the change in the court’s caseload until after Evins’ retirement. Then he went back on his agreement, only to have chairwoman Senfronia Thompson of Houston take the bill back in her committee.
• Backdooring A desperate Lucio next tried to tack his bill on to one of Thompson’s bills without her consent. Thompson, who does not suffer fools gladly or otherwise, wrote Lucio, “I am not in a position to continue exposing my committee or other colleagues to your personal problem.”
When he wasn’t scheming against his enemies, he was scheming for his friends, namely liquor and gambling interests. He used a parliamentary maneuver to achieve the fatal postponement of a bill toughening the legal definition of drunk driving. To help a defunct Valley racetrack, Lucio tried to authorize offtrack betting at the facility. He said that his proposal was a local issue, but respected senator Bill Ratliff would have none of that: “This creates betting parlors in the state of Texas.”
To assuage South Padre Island tourist boosters, Lucio came up with yet another clunker, this time to require that the public school year start after September 1. Never mind that it’s better for students and teachers alike to begin earlier in order to complete the fall semester before Christmas. But statewide concerns lie far beyond Lucio’s field of vision.