Texas politics has seen its share of backroom deals, but for sheer brazenness, it’s hard to top the recent play by nineteen Democratic senators that effectively repealed the brand-new Senate redistricting plan and substituted their own creation—a nifty feat, considering that the Legislature was not in session at the time. The senators, led by Bob Glasgow of Stephenville (the same fellow who orchestrated a backroom deal last spring that legalized beer sales at Texas Stadium), offered their revised plan as a settlement to a lawsuit flled by the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund. MALDEF contended that the plan adopted by the Legislature did not comply with the Voting Rights Act. In the settlement MALDEF got two new districts that could be won by Hispanics. All this was done with the cooperation of attorney general Dan Morales, who was supposed to defend the bill that had been passed by the Legislature and accepted by the governor. Instead, he agreed to the settlement.
The issue, of course, is not the result—the legal issue of whether Hispanics were entitled to more representation was a close call—but the motive for the backdoor process. The settlement gives Glasgow a dis- trict with fewer Waco Republicans—a timely change, since he faces a reelection challenge from Republican senator David Sibley of, yes, Waco. A lobbyist for plaintiff’s lawyers attended key meetings to discuss the settlement; that could explain why the new plan imperils the reelection chances of two Democrats who often voted against plaintiff’s lawyers, Eddie Lucio of Brownsville and Bill Sims of San Angelo. Another senator whose district was obliterated by the settlement, San Antonio Republican Cyndi Krier, just happens to be regarded as an archenemy by Lieutenant Governor Bob Bullock.
So the Democratic senators were able, by signing a letter, to push through a plan that they could not have passed on the Senate floor. A bill must have the support of two thirds of the Senate (21 votes) in order to reach the floor for debate; that margin was impossible due to Republican and conservative Democratic opposition. Unless the plan is tossed out by the Justice Department (unlikely) or a federal court (more likely), it’s a done deal.
One major shift in Texas politics resulting from the long legislative battle over spending and taxes is a decline in the political power of state universities in general and the University of Texas in particular. Both Ann Richards and Bob Bullock care more about public schools than higher education. With money likely to be tight for the foreseeable future, UT offlcials have set-tled on an unfortunate strat-egy to bring in more state money: increase graduate student enrollment. Under the formulas used to fund all state universities, graduate students are regarded as more expensive to teach—and thus earn more state dollars—than undergraduates. The result: worse faculty-student ratios (a key statistic in rating graduate schools) and more graduate students (who will doubt-lessly be used to relieve full-time faculty of the burden of teaching undergraduates).
A jury has determined that Robert Sakowitz did not loot the family store, as claimed by his nephew and plaintiff Doug Wyatt, but society-savvy Houstonians have also returned verdicts on the other major players in the very public lawsuit that ended in mid-October. The big winner: civil rights and criminal attorney David Berg, who is sure to attract more ritzy clients with his take-no-prisoners approach. As Robert’s lawyer, he characterized Doug’s mother (and Rob-ert’s sister), supersocialite Lynn Wyatt, as frivolous and made Doug apologize to Uncle Robert on the witness stand. In the process, Berg managed to have his client reveal a previously undisclosed humble side. Slight- ly tarnished: Lynn Wyatt. Berg’s characterization won’t stick, but no one else had ever suggested she was anything but perfect. Biggest surprise: Oilman Oscar Wyatt, who settled an ear-lier lawsuit with Robert, didn’t testify for Doug, his stepson. Mimi Swartz