The Devil and Bob Bullock

Can a womanizing, alcoholic, emotionally unstable elected official become one of the most powerful and feared figures in state government? A generation ago, before blogs, YouTube, and the 24-hour news cycle, one did.
Illustration by C. Payne

The clock on the wall of the comptroller’s office said it all. It ran backward. “True story. The clock didn’t run this way,” Bob Bullock said in a 1995 interview, circling his index finger in a clockwise motion. “It ran backward.”

Backward” was a polite way of describing the comptroller’s office when Bullock arrived after the 1974 election. He found an aging staff of bean counters in green eyeshades making journal and ledger entries with lead pencils and keeping tallies with antiquated manual adding machines. The most evident bow to modern technology was in the intake room, where a dozen or more workers sat on stools around a table opening mail—checks from taxpayers—with an electric letter opener. Once opened, the checks made their way slowly into the books and into state bank accounts. Crates of unopened checks were stacked nearby, awaiting processing that took weeks. The slow pace was costing the state dearly in interest that would have been earned had the money been promptly deposited.

Well before he took office in January, Bullock had key staff members ready to walk through the door with him. Randall Buck Wood would be his general counsel, and Don

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