The Ten Best and (Sigh)…The Ten Worst Legislators

Could any public body, anywhere in the world, be quite like the Texas legislature?

All politics is applesauce.
Will Rogers

It will come as no surprise to connoisseurs of Texas politics that Mr. Rogers first uttered these words not long after addressing the Texas legislature. If the late American humorist could have returned to the Capitol this year, chances are that he wouldn’t have changed his opinion much—although, given the changing times, he might have expressed himself in stronger language. The sight of the Texas legislature in action is not likely to inspire perorations about the democratic process at work. For once, however, appearances were deceiving: the legislature was better than it looked, and far better than anyone—including us—thought it would be back in January.

Every session of the legislature has its unique, shaping influences. Four years ago the dominant force was the Sharpstown scandal; in 1973 it was the reform movement. This year it was constitutional revision—not so much as an issue, but as the fundamental element in the “atmosphere of the session.

The legislators came to Austin in January—many of them still worn out from the physical, intellectual, and emotional ordeal of the six-month Constitutional Convention of 1974—and found themselves confronted with a new crop of complex and difficult issues that wouldn’t go away. There was the unfinished business of a new constitution, of course, not to mention utility regulation, school finance, strip mining, property tax reform, prison reform, authorization for a superport… .The lobby was out in force as usual, sometimes to oppose bills, sometimes with its hand out: truckers wanting to ease highway load limits, builders seeking to cut back fire escapes on new construction, doctors, pharmacists, nursing home operators, ranchers, barbers, trial lawyers, and just about everybody else who could think of a way to let the state help them earn another buck. Fortunately, the ill-fated Constitutional Convention had a salutary effect upon legislators: it gave them a seriousness of purpose and even a quality of statesmanship which carried over to this session. If the people of Texas didn’t get a new constitution for their $3.5 million, they at least got a better legislature, and that legislature made a start toward solving some of the state’s thorniest political problems.

The lawmakers finally agreed on a new constitution and produced major legislation in two other areas that badly legislation in two other areas that badly needed attention: school finance and utility regulation. Both bills turned out to be true compromises and workable efforts — but their ultimate fate will depend upon Governor Dolph Briscoe. Under the school finance bill, his office must come up with recommendations for property tax reform (without which the inequities of the

Tags: POLITICS

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