Behind the Lines
RARELY DOES A WRITER PARTICIPATE as a major actor in the events he reports, although from time to time writers of more ego than effectiveness posture as characters injected into the dramas they cover, much as coloring is injected into an apple to make it red. Last spring Griffin Smith, Jr., a senior editor of Texas Monthly, had an opportunity to watch and participate from the inside during the reexamination of the laws concerning controlled substances (generally known as drugs).
A more unlikely expert on drug legislation would be hard to imagine. In the first place, Smith’s favorite drug happens to be wine, and his Austin home is filled with case after case of Rhines and Burgandies, each bottle catalogued according to region and year and each case carefully stored for use over the next decade. When one drinks wine with Smith, one is assured of knowing not only that it is the right wine, but that one is drinking it precisely when it should be drunk. The cellarmaster in a monastery would extend no more devotion to his wine.
Smith extends this sense of organization, order, and detail to his collection of records (classical and rock); to his map of Texas with towns where he has eaten barbecue [“The World’s Best Barbecue,” April, 1973] marked with red dots (every bit the match in thoroughness for a military briefing map); to his exploration of Texas and the world in general, where his wanderlust has taken him to 50 countries, but not so quickly or haphazardly that he cannot remember every hotel he has stayed in and what he ate and drank at each. He has driven across North Africa with New York Knick basketball star Bill Bradley, hitchhiked from Cairo to Capetown, dined with “Papa Doc” Duvalier.
Through all this exploration Smith has somehow managed to keep his vision and his intellect focused on a set of principles of order and procedure the likes of which have not stalked the English-speaking world since Burke. Smith can only be called a conservative, although today he would disassociate himself from those who drag that respectable old political persuasion through reactionary, know-nothing mud. He was Director of Research in the 1970 gubernatorial campaign of Republican Paul Eggers and voted enthusiastically for Barry Goldwater in 1964. Smith also happens to be a lawyer, the grandson of a chief justice of the Arkansas Supreme Court.
Lawyer Smith came to see the Texas drug laws as a grave abuse of the power of the state, and methodically set about to correct its reactionary excesses with the same precise intelligence Edmund Burke used to dismantle the revolutionary excesses of the French Revolution. He was appointed counsel to the Senate Interim Drug Study Committee in 1971 and produced a study of drug laws (Marijuana in Texas) and a model drug law, both of which drew national praise.
During the past legislative session Smith found himself drawn time and again into the legislative process to help rescue drug law reform. He didn’t see his own model act become law, but he was instrumental in seeing law signed that places Texas among such states as Mississippi and Wisconsin with reasonable drug statutes.
Smith points out in his article “How the New Drug Law Was Made” that legislators with courage and understanding laid their careers on the line for legislation they could not fully understand, but did so knowing that the current laws were unjust and ignorant. We ran in our last issue an account (“The Laredo-San Antonio Heroin Wars”) of the tremendous toll in death and suffering associated with the smuggling of heroin into Texas. We cannot ignore such exploitation and such crime. The old laws were doing little to prevent it. Supporting reasonable laws regarding close to 250 substances in the place of laws of questionable effectiveness and doubtful compatibility to our Constitution and Bill of Rights seemed to Smith to be the only option.
Political consultant Smith repeatedly astounded the more enthusiastic (and often least informed) drug reformers by the conservative sources of his positions. Smith can always be counted to get through the woods on his own path, but to get through them all the same. In the last six months he accompanied a majority of our legislators through the trackless woods of drug reform. Whether we have emerged in a clearing or are only poised for more brambles and thickets only time will tell.
In the process, author Smith gained a healthy respect for the politicians he worked with, as well as a precise understanding for some of the pressures they worked under. His account reflects well on the maturity and responsibility of the best of them, and provides valuable insight from the perspective of a participant into how this important law was passed. Smith claims he has enough material for a book. Perhaps he will write it some day.
AFTER OUR FEATURE ON THE TEN best and ten worst legislators (July, 1973) a flood of appreciative phone calls came in, many from grateful fellow legislators of the ten worst. The San Antonio Express rather gleefully devoted front-page space to reprinting almost all of the comments on Wayland Simmons and Glenn Kothmann, that city’s contribution to the ten worst, in a column entitled “Our Bums.”
In response to the list, Lt. Gov. Bill Hobby wrote an unconvincing letter to The Corpus Christi Caller-Times lauding Sen. Mike McKinnon, whom we had pointed out introduced precisely two bills all session, neither of which passed. Lt. Gov. Hobby’s definition of leadership obviously does not agree with ours.
One kindly legislator included on our furniture list came by to insist that he was indeed distinguishable from the chairs and desks in the House chamber, but that he had learned long ago that you learned more by listening than by talking. The gentleman could well he right, and if he had shared a little of his acquired knowledge with the rest of the House, which surely could have used it, perhaps he would have made the ten best list. Such is the knowledge of the silent.