The Ten Best and The Ten Worst Legislators
Nineteen people you voted for and one you didn’t.
What went wrong with the 67th Legislature?
Why, at sundown on the final night of the session—usually a time of frenetic last-minute bill passing—were members wandering aimlessly about the House and Senate chambers? Why did the session’s four most important issues—congressional redistricting, water planning, college construction, and property tax reform—come hopelessly unglued that last day? Why did the session fail?
The answer, curiously, is that it didn’t. The unresolved business will be taken care of in July and August, and what difference, really, does two months make? The truth is, this was one of the smoothest—and most productive—sessions in years.
Indeed, it is hard to remember such a something-for-everyone session. The Legislature raised the interest ceiling, but it also raised the welfare ceiling. It declared war on drugs, but it also okayed the sale of low-cost generic drugs. It did knuckle under to the governor on wiretapping (among other things), but it at least made that odious law more palatable by setting a 1985 expiration date.
The reason that all these bills passed while the big issues bogged down is simple. Although there is occasional squabbling between liberals and conservatives, city and country folk, and Republicans and Democrats, Texas is enjoying an era of good feeling, caused mainly by the state’s robust economic health. A rising tide lifts all boats; all the diverse factions are caught up in the larger consensus that things are basically okay as they are. And any proposal that threatens the existing order—say, an earmarking of the state surplus for water projects—makes people nervous.
Unfortunately for those who like their politics steeped in conflict, the current atmosphere in the statehouse is more redolent of study, hard work, and—can it be?—agreement. Almost every piece of major legislation that passed was the product of a behind-the-scenes agreement: interest rates were passed by a coalition of banks, auto dealers, and retailers; products liability was hammered out between trial lawyers and their victims at Speaker Billy Clayton’s insistence; and generic drugs passed because this time the Texas Medical Association agreed to let it.
In fact, the only contentious voice was the governor’s. Unlike last session, Clements got just about everything he wanted. But like last session, he showed no real leadership on issues outside his personal agenda. (Fighting crime is fine, but it hardly constitutes a vision for Texas’ future.) Meanwhile, the Senate descended into near-terminal gentility with the departure of feisty veterans Bill Moore, Babe Schwartz, and Tom Creighton. Minus that trio, it became more than ever a reflection of its presiding officer, and to say that Bill Hobby is low-key is like saying Eddie Chiles is slightly upset. Hobby was content, like Clements, to focus on a few items—albeit weightier ones like education and finance. He was no match for the governor when they clashed over tough issues like wiretapping. And as for the House under Clayton…well, more on that later.
As always, our criteria in selecting the Ten Best and the Ten Worst did not include political philosophy—which is less and less important in a consensus state—but did place a premium on technical skill. A good legislator understands power and uses it skillfully but without malice, he sees the big picture, and he has unassailable integrity. The qualities that define a bad legislator are more elusive. We have always held that stupidity may be forgiven so long as it is not accompanied by aggressiveness; the very worst legislators are those who have power and misuse it.
To determine the Best and Worst, we talked to almost two hundred people, including legislators, Capitol press, legislative aides, lobbyists, and state agency scouts. The final list represents a consensus of the votes of the Capitol community, tempered by our own observations.
In addition to the legislators who reached the pinnacles and the depths, a few deserve honorable mention. In the Senate, the absence of Moore, Schwartz, and Creighton let senators shine who had been overshadowed in the past; three were John Traeger of Seguin (a workhorse who passed more than sixty bills), Peyton McKnight of Tyler (the heir to Moore’s Senate tough-guy title), and Carl Parker of Port Arthur (who plays the clown but is nobody’s fool). In the House, Gerald Hill of Austin was a superb chairman of the Elections Committee and a force in redistricting. Tim Von Dohlen of Goliad preformed a nearly impossible feat: he drew up and passed a House redistricting plan that got over 120 votes. Bennie Bock of New Braunfels and Stan Schlueter of Salado did yeoman’s service on the nuclear waste and redfish bills, respectively.
Both the Best and the Worst lists underwent tremendous turnover in the last two years. Among the white hats, only Ron Coleman, Lloyd Doggett, Bob McFarland, and Craig Washington repeated. John Bryant and Bob Davis had to be content with special awards. Grant Jones lost his place when the Senate Finance Committee fell apart around him. Nub Donaldson quit to become a lobbyist, and Lance Lalor left—why would anyone do a thing like this?—to become a Houston city councilman. Babe Schwartz lost his race for reelection.
The black hats did not have a single repeater. Bill Hollowell of Grand Saline just couldn’t match last session’s performance for rural demagoguery on the Appropriations Committee. And though Senator Bill Meier of Euless looked like a real comer with his sneak attack on money market funds (the session’s single dirtiest trick), he just didn’t carry enough other lobby trash to make the list. Of the rest, two had the good grace to retire, and one had the bad fortune to get beaten, but most just had the excellent sense to keep quiet. Thank heaven for small favors.
THE TEN BEST
Billy Clayton, 52, conservative Democrat, Springlake. So outstanding in his fourth term as Speaker that he caused us to set aside the tradition that presiding officers are ineligible for the Best and Worst lists. It wasn’t just that he ran the House evenhandedly, or that he sponsored some of the most significant legislation to pass the House in years, or even that he made a miraculous comeback from his Brilab trail of a year ago; what above all else earned Clayton his place among the Ten Best is the way he understood and used power.
Against all advice, announced early that he wouldn’t run for reelection, thus making himself a lame duck; then proceeded as if he held a lifetime appointment. Operated on the theory that influence is like a savings account—the more you use it, the less you’ve got—and used his office to direct rather than demand. Retained control of the House by waging peace; on controversial issues, brought opponents together behind the scenes to work out their differences, avoiding bitter floor fights where he could be forced to choose between autocracy and anarchy. Result: bills that in years past had divided the House sailed through with little dispute; it took two days debate school finance in 1979 but less than two hours in 1981.
If Clayton had one whip among his carrots, it was the possibility that he could intervene in redistricting to punish his enemies; instead, he intervened to rescue them. Told Dallas County legislators he would not go along with a plan to get rid of his longtime nemesis and rival for Speaker, John Bryant. A grateful Bryant admitted, “He’s probably fairer than I would have been.”
Sponsored a substantial campaign ethics bill as an outgrowth of Brilab, during which he was acquitted of conspiracy following his failure to report or return a $5000 cash contribution. Among old practices now outlawed: failing to disclose personal use of campaign funds, accepting cash donations in excess of $100, and holding campaign fundraisers during a legislative session. Also sponsored a controversial (and unsuccessful) plan to set aside part of future state surpluses for water projects, nicknamed the Slosh Fund by people who didn’t understand it, which apparently included everyone but Clayton.
The best gauge of Clayton is that after four terms as Speaker, he cannot be said to have a personal enemy in the House. The small amount of grumbling is mostly cynicism—the conviction that Clayton wouldn’t have been so fair in redistricting or so concerned with ethics had he not planned a statewide race (probably for land commissioner) in 1982. Even if that’s true, so what? Politicians ought to want to do good things so they can be elected, and they ought to be elected for doing good things. That’s not a weakness; that’s a strength.
Ronald Colman, 39, Democrat, El Paso. First rule of the Texas House: outsiders don’t win. Exception that proves the rule: Ron Coleman.
Urban, liberal, partisan to the core, non-team member Coleman got things done against all precedent and logic by dint of sheer natural ability and hard work. Which was doubly remarkable because this session he wasn’t just the leader of the serious opposition, he was the serious opposition. Retained his effectiveness by working outside the limelight whenever he could; maneuvered others into fighting his battles for him; kept the Clayton team off balance by engineering a surprise attack that kept most legislation from reaching the House floor during the first sixty days—thus reducing the number of bad ol’ bills he’d have to fight. After that, not a day passed that Clayton’s minions didn’t fret over what Coleman might have in store for them.
A superlative legislative mechanic; spent most of his time fixing other members’ bills. His own legislative agenda consisted largely of cleaning up last session’s bill to fund an El Paso urban park (saving taxpayers about $24 million in the process). But many a bill left the floor carrying a little Coleman baggage in the form of corrective amendments.
In particular, played guardian angel to urban school districts; single-handedly defended the gains he won for them last session against the predations of a ruralleaning appropriations committee. The committee’s formulas favored rural districts; Coleman pointed out the oversight to Clayton, who pointed it out to the committee chairman, who (doubtless remembering bloody school finance battles of yore and realizing that the last thing any bill needs is hostile Coleman waiting to snipe at it on the floor) hastily accepted a Coleman-written amendment to the appropriations bill.
Tinkered with the bill even further on the floor. Wanted to add $200,000 for deaf infants; craftily proposed to take it from funds earmarked for Capitol construction. What member dared vote against him? Deleted a provision forbidding the Parks and Wildlife Department to accept donated land; used a point of order to kill a rider allowing schools to teach religion; slew outright a $2 million porkbarrel amendment by wily veteran Bob Davis of Irving.
As unique in style as he is in impact. Acerbic, earthy, plays the cynic at times. In debate, agile as an Olympic gymnast. A stranger to pedantry; never opens his mouth without sounding relentlessly right.
Admits to being pledged to Gib Lewis as Speaker for next session, so could conceivably even end up on the team. We doubt it, though—he’s never been one to suffer fools gladly.
Lloyd Doggett, 34, Democrat, Austin. It’s easy to find people who don’t agree with Lloyd Doggett, and it’s easy to find people who don’t like him, but it’s well nigh impossible to find anyone who doesn’t respect him. Assessments of Doggett range from “incredibly good” to “has four times the guts of any other state senator” to “adds immeasurably to the caliber of the Senate” to “so honest you could play craps with him over the telephone”—and most of those accolades come from his adversaries.
An indefatigable crusader for consumer causes and a critic of greedy business interests, but no Don Quixote. Supported the interest rate bill and showed a new willingness to compromise for the sake of winning, as when he exempted the all-powerful real estate lobby from his bill requiring political action committees to reveal their donors. In fact, he now draws criticism from both sides—from hard-core liberals who call him too accommodating and from conservatives who say he’s too rigid—which is probably the best indication that he has mastered the realities of legislative politics.
Still eminently worthy of the title Killer Bee; feared far and wide as a slayer of legislation. Intimations of a Doggett filibuster in the works were enough to make some opponents so nervous that they compromised even when he didn’t have the votes to beat them. Actually staged only two cursory filibusters (the Medical Practices Act and wiretapping), but used the threat of a talkathon to work the session’s most startling transformation: turning the funeral industry’s mandatory embalming bill into a pro-consumer measure.
Passed a weighty program of Sunset and ethics bills (the latter were mostly cannibalized into Billy Clayton’s ethics package), but his primary role was to be the lightning rod of the Senate, the one who stayed out in the storm when his colleagues went scurrying for cover. The only legislator willing and able to take on both the governor (insisted that Clements share authority over the state’s criminal justice fund) and the Speaker (his delaying tactics left Clayton’s beloved water fund fatally impaled on a point of order); even had some harsh words for the lieutenant governor after Hobby scheduled the wiretapping debate for the one time (Saturday morning) when a filibuster wouldn’t imperil other Senate action. That, however, was Hobby’s only safe course, for otherwise no one doubted that somehow, some way, Lloyd Doggett would have killed it dead.
Ray Farabee, 48, conservative Democrat, Wichita Falls. The compleat senator. Operates on a different level from everyone else, even the good ones: acts not as a representative of a single district but as a trustee of an entire state.
Nowhere was his overriding concern with public policy more evident than in final negotiations over the state budget, when Farabee stood his ground against House members bent on destroying social programs. Single-handedly fended off attacks on welfare and prison appropriations. Overcame objections to state-funded birth control counseling by exploiting House members’ moralistic impulses (“This program is one of the best controls against abortion and child abuse and, frankly, in the long run, welfare”). When the House wanted to stonewall the court decree to end overcrowding in state prisons, Farabee responded with calm appeals to logic (“We should be as concerned about overcrowding as the court is”). On the twelfth day of combat, the House abandoned the siege.
Not a do-gooder but a do-righter. At the same time that he was fighting for better prisons, Farabee was passing law-and-order bills to improve the management of the Board of Pardons and Paroles and to relieve the burden on the Court of Criminal Appeals.
Follows Senate protocol as though he wrote it. Never grandstands, never claims credit where none is due (he soft-pedaled the effect of his bill implementing teacher competency tests while House supporters were trumpeting it as an educational millennium), never shows disrespect for his colleagues. Inherited the chairmanship of the powerful State Affairs Committee from defeated Senate pooh-bah Bill Moore and, to no one’s surprise, put an end to the panel’s reputation as a burial ground for legislation.
Back in 1977 we said of Farabee, then making the Ten Best list for the first time, “…there is something about this soft-spoken, scholarly-looking senator that sets him apart—an air of inner strength, or incorruptibility, which suggests that a true legislative craftsman may be in the making.” Consider him made.
Susan McBee, 34, conservative Democrat, Del Rio. Unilaterally disproved the axiom that absolute power corrupts absolutely. As chairman of the omnipotent Committee on Calendars, brought democracy to a fiefdom that in the past has known only tyranny.
The committee’s seemingly routine function—scheduling floor debate on bills already cleared by other committees—conceals the fact that Calendars is a treacherous Strait of Hormuz that every bill must navigate in order to reach the House floor. Before McBee’s tenure, one word of disapproval from any member of Calendars was enough to relegate a bill to oblivion. Last session’s chairman, Tom Massey of San Angelo (now blessedly retired), kept the House in continuous turmoil by using his position to scuttle bills for reasons wholly unrelated to merit: personal enmity for the sponsor, opportunity for deal-making, whim.
McBee’s dilemmas: How to make Calendars less than almighty but more than impotent? Equally difficult, how to soothe the sensitive egos of committee members faced with the prospect of losing their life-or-death power over all legislation? Her solution: give them the power to wound but not to kill. Anyone on Calendars could blackball a bill for one week; after that, the majority ruled—seeing Calendars vote was as unlikely a development at the Capitol as an oil tax increase.
Next to Billy Clayton, McBee was most responsible for creating the spirit of rapprochement that pervaded the House this session. Succeeded not so much because of her rules as because of her personality: never sensational, never equivocal; the sort of legislator who regards minding her own business as her most important accomplishment. Showed her mettle early in the session during an election appeal by casting the swing vote in committee for a Republican challenger against a conservative Democrat—one of the most courageous and independent acts of the session. But the best measure of McBee’s virtuoso performance is that after a session in the most visible, most tempting, most often abused job in the House, she had received exactly one complaint—a call from Tom Massey.
Bob McFarland, 40, Republican, Arlington. A touch of class. Plays the legislative game the way Joe DiMaggio played center field: gracefully, instinctively, making the hard ones look easy.
Unmatched for breadth of ability; no one is as close to the top in so many areas. An outstanding committee chairman (Constitutional Amendments), a powerful advocate (won House passage of two of the session’s most controversial bills—manufacturers’ liability for defective products and college construction funding), a technician of the first rank (helped negotiate a difficult products liability compromise), and a skilled strategist (helped formulate the successful counterattack to a redistricting plan that gutted Republicans).
But more than talent accounts for McFarland’s stature in the House: he is the member who comes closest to being what other members regard as the ideal legislator. A litmus test of what is fair, reasonable, and good politics; never seeks refuge in ideology. The proposed constitutional amendment to lift the ceiling on welfare spending, a desperately essential bill, could not have passed without him. First helped persuade Bill Clements not to oppose it, then lobbied suspicious Republican colleagues to get the necessary votes on the floor. For this and other efforts, the Black Caucus gave him its award for the legislator who most advanced its causes.
Is regarded as one of the most unflinching and trustworthy of legislators and carefully cultivates personal qualities that enhance his reputation. Carries himself ramrod straight, like a statue looking for a pedestal; talks, both on and off the microphone, in a calm baritone that resonates proficiency rather than passion. Has learned the lesson that in the heat of battle, how you say something can be as important as what you say. “There’s something about McFarland,” says one lobbyist, “that always has a soothing effect on the House.”
Conducted himself outside the Legislature as he did in it, even in a moment of iniquity. Arrested for DWI at 2 a.m. one night in April (he had just flown back to Austin from an evening of Speaker’s race politics at Billy Bob’s Texas nightclub in Fort Worth), McFarland actually won points in the eyes of the macho Capitol crowd by declining to offer the usual excuses and denials. Said McFarland: “I guess I had one too many.”
Bill Messer, 30, conservative Democrat, Belton. The ablest young legislator to come along in years. In just two terms, has established himself as the point man for those who subscribe to the theory that what’s good for business is good for Texas. Far ahead of his sophomore classmates in influence, achievement, and intuitive understanding of the subtle tides and rhythms of the House.
Some would say there is nothing intuitive about it; they attribute Messer’s meteoric rise to astute coaching from father-in-law, veteran petrochemical industry lobbyist Harry Whitworth. But Messer is no lobby lapdog. Said a lobbyist who worked with him: “He lets you know whose bill it is. Either you take it the way he wants it or you find a new sponsor.” A case in point: as sponsor of the controversial interest rate bill, Messer informed banks that he wouldn’t go along with their craving to pile extra fees and charges on large commercial loans.
Messer’s six-hour floor battle to win House passage of the interest bill merits the Oscar for the best performance of the session. His strategy was to defuse potential opposition by preparing consumer-oriented amendments to his own bill, which he parceled out to his supporters and accepted without debate, thus appearing to be the soul of reason. Said a respected liberal: “He made it easy for me to be for that bill.”
Sponsored other important pro-business legislation, including a bill to tighten eligibility for unemployment benefits and a stillborn proposal to allow companies to self-insure for on-the-job injuries, but maintained his credibility by not advancing blatant special-interest trash. Few conservatives have kept such a close eye on the line that divides defensible public policy from just helping your buddies.
Like Democrats Phil Gramm and Charles Stenholm in the Texas congressional delegation, Messer considers philosophy more important than party and doesn’t hesitate to say so. Sided with Republican efforts to unseat Dallas liberal congressmen Jim Mattox and Martin Frost; when U.S. House majority leader Jim Wright of Forth Worth came to a private meeting on their behalf, Messer responded with a ringing denunciation of the national Democratic party that left Wright red-faced and speechless.
Not a mossback—voted to eliminate the ceiling on welfare payments and to give Prairie View A&M a share of the Permanent University Fund—but still viewed by die-hard liberals as their most dangerous adversary in the House. It doesn’t help them sleep any easier to know that Messer is already being touted as a future Speaker.
Pete Snelson, 58, conservative Democrat, Midland. Not flashy, but a devotee of Grover Cleveland’s maxim that honor lies in honest toil. Involved in more worthy projects than any member of the Senate this session, and in no unworthy ones. Regards special-interest legislation and bad ol’ bills as untouchables; in the words of a business lobbyist, “It’s awfully hard to find any flies on Pete.”
Took over as committee chairman of Education, a frustrating area of policy that is a legislative Big Thicket. Other senators have wasted whole careers trying to find a way out of the swamp; Snelson not only kept his bearings but actually emerged with a few alligator hides. Passed the best social legislation of the session, an early childhood intervention program to help children with learning disorders achieve normal development. Also shepherded school finance and a “back-to-basics” curriculum bill. Walked the session’s shakiest tightrope over bilingual education. With Texas under a court order to expand the program, Snelson knew the Legislature had to respond with a bill to keep the schools from falling into the clutches of the federal judiciary; at the same time he opposed any program that didn’t have the primary purpose of turning Spanish speakers into English speakers. Under threats from bilingual proponents to abandon their bill and leave Texas at the mercy of the courts, Snelson found a compromise, building a bridge while everyone else was sill staring at the chasm.
As if that weren’t enough, Snelson took on the added burden of redistricting the Senate; his plan managed to satisfy 24 of the 31 pickiest people in the universe. Succeeded because his virtues are straight out of Psychology Today: openness, honesty, no hidden agenda.
Said by Senate insiders to be Bill Hobby’s personal choice as the best in the Senate this session, which figures: Snelson mirrors Hobby’s strengths and weaknesses. He is someone with total integrity and sweeping policy interests, but he has no taste for hand-to-hand combat; he may not sponsor bad bills but neither does he fight them. It’s time he—and Hobby—got started.
Craig Washington, 39, Democrat, Houston. How to do justice to Craig Washington? Only by saying that he had the best session of any legislature in recent memory, a session for the ages. Washington is that rarest of political animals, an idealist without illusions. He’s tough, shrewd, dauntless, but blessed with an uncanny grace of manner, an ability to disguise the seriousness of his work with charm. A spellbinding orator who never pontificates or harangues, he wins admirers even when he loses battles.
Started the session with a hoard of political chips he won by supporting Billy Clayton during his Brilab trial and later in the Speaker’s race against John Bryant. Still had enough left at the end to win significant concessions for urban Democrats during the redistricting struggle. Never ducked a tough issue in between: fought against raising interest rates and astounded consumer spokesmen along the way with his quick mastery of complex credit laws; resisted the worst of the law-and-order bills; put the sole floor amendment on Clements’s wiretapping bill; attacked the only abortion bill to reach the floor.
Unwavering in his concern for the downtrodden, but never parochial; few legislators could boast such a far-ranging program. Much sought-after as a sponsor of business legislation, because his mere association with a bill helped lend it legitimacy; brought the question of pari-mutuel betting to the House floor for the first time in twenty years; sought to rescind the governor’s authority to approve paroles. No less impressive in defeat than in victory; hushed the House with an I-know-I’m-gonna-lose-this-one-but-someday-you’ll-know-I’m-right speech on the doomed parole bill.
Has a unique knack for getting members to do something just because they know it’s right. His proposal to abolish the constitutional ceiling on welfare spending passed without a single opposing speech. Gave a one-man show on how to amend the appropriations bill—winning more money for the deaf, for welfare recipients, and for abused children—when he faced down Republican heavyweight Bob Davis in a memorable head-to-head duel. After Davis complained that a child-abuse caseworker had unduly harassed one family in his district, Washington warned members, “For lack of one apology by one caseworker, this entire appropriation will be lost. Then who will hear these children’s cry?”
But no list of accomplishments can fully capture Washington’s mastery of the House floor. One had to be there to feel his full impact: the sheepish grin on a member’s face as he realized he could not avoid the trap into which Washington’s questions were leading him; the admission Washington coaxed from the sponsor of an anti-abortion bill, who confessed he wasn’t terribly concerned whether his bill was constitutional or not; the pleasure other members took in a masterly Washington stroke, as when he killed a bill allowing magistrates to carry guns wit the inspired ploy of amending it to extend the same privileged to legislators.
Washington wants to run for the Senate, which obligingly drew him a district. But during redistricting he took a stand of great political courage that could hurt his chances. Fighting to save the seats of white liberals from Republicans, Washington went against the political tide by urging that minority voters be split up to maximize their influence, rather than packed together to maximize minority representation. “What counts is not black faces or white faces but votes,” Washington said. If his courage costs him a Senate seat it will be the people of Texas who lose.
William Wayne Justice, 61, Democrat, Tyler. Involved in more major issues than anyone else—crime, education, redistricting—and victorious on every occasion. A Best by one measure only: his overwhelming impact on the session. Did more to shape the appropriations bill than any member of the budget committees; did more to shape legislative districts than any member of the redistricting committees. And he did it all without once setting foot in the Capitol.
The catch, of course, is that Justice is a member of the federal judiciary, not the Texas Legislature. But no one who walked the halls of the Capitol during the closing days could have doubted his impact on the session. The Senate was at an impasse over his bilingual decree. The entire state budget was stymied by a dead-lock over his order to shape up the prison system. A conference committee worked frantically to fund college construction, spurred by reports that black colleges were considering a suit in his court to break up the Permanent University Fund. Dozens of legislators pored over redistricting maps drawn to stand up to the inevitable challenge that will be brought in his court; the lawsuit, rather than political philosophy or party, was the factor that most shaped redistricting from beginning to end.
But Justice’s real impact on the legislative process is like an iceberg—90 percent below the surface. Yes, the Legislature did something for prisons and bilingual education that it otherwise might not have done, but because it did that, it failed to do other things. Judges do not have to deal with the fundamental fact of public affairs—the finite pot—and so do not have to consider that if more money goes to prisons, less money goes to something else. In order to satisfy Judge Justice and still stay within state spending limits, the Legislature was forced to cut back on mental health and public education and at least a dozen other areas scattered throughout the budget. They have to make the tough choices; he doesn’t. Were Justice in the Legislature, he would never be able to legislate as effectively as he does from the bench.
THE TEN WORST
Larry Browder, 41, conservative Democrat, Coldspring. A dismaying example of the sort of smarmy, glad-handing politician who perpetuates the booze-and-buffoonery image of the Legislature. Never missed a party; seemed more interested in keeping up with the social calendar than the bill calendar. Said a disappointed Clayton ally: “We expected more of him. His lifestyle has affected his reputation.”
Regarded service in the Legislature as a cornucopia from which he could extract goodies. Upon entering Austin restaurants, looked not for a table but for a lobbyist to pick up the tab. Constantly reminded lobbyists who had failed to contribute to his campaign of their sin of omission. Said a veteran business lobbyist: “When I see him out dancing, I head for the other side of the room.”
Tried to be a good ol’ boy but was more boy than good. Sponsored some of the session’s most puerile bills, including one to abolish Austin as a city and replace it with a district governed by the Legislature. (Browder fumed that while Houston and San Antonio entertained legislators lavishly, Austin gave them only cookies, crackers, and parking tickets.) No less silly were his game and fish bills, which legalized everything short of dynamiting fish and stripped the state of its regulatory authority; when state biologists protested, Browder responded with a bill to slash their agency’s budget.
Actually displayed some talent during occasional lapses into seriousness. Unlike Senate wit Carl Parker, however, Browder never figured out when humor was called for and when it wasn’t. He tried to joke away the most hard-fought issue of the session—raising the ceiling on interest rates, which he fought—but the joke ended up on him. His facetious, dilatory amendment had no place in the middle of a lengthy floor fight and contributed to a subsequent vote by weary House members to shut off debate before more worthy amendments could be offered. “He’s done some things a first-termer just ought not to do,” said a former legislator, “and other things a tenth-termer ought not to do.”
Lanell Cofer, 31, Democrat, Dallas. A Hall of Fame Worst. Enjoys a nearly universal reputation as hostile, vindictive, and just plain dumb—the representative other legislators least like to deal with.
Grabbed the spotlight early in the session with a proposal to ship Texas Rangers and state funds to Georgia to help solve the Atlanta child murders. Stalked out of the governor’s office in a huff when he informed her that he couldn’t legally send Texas lawmen into another state uninvited.
Got her chance for revenge during committee hearings on the nefarious wiretapping bill, the foundation of Clements’s war-on-drugs program, and flubbed it. Cofer, an avowed foe of wiretapping, begged and pleaded to head the special subcommittee studying the bill until Billy Clayton finally gave in—but not before extracting a promise that she wouldn’t use her position to kill the bill. So she tried to use her position to kill the bill. Filibustered her own committee by offering 31 separate amendments, then withdrawing each one whether or not the committee was inclined to accept it—prompting an ally to walk out in disgust. Next, tried to hold a vote at an unannounced meeting, in violation of House rules. That didn’t work either. In the end, the committee approved the bill, and because of Cofer’s monkeyshines an opportunity for opponents to clean it up had been lost forever. A staffer working on the bill confessed, “We might have been in trouble with someone who knew what they were doing.”
Just awful in floor debate. Other members shudder when she approaches the microphone, especially if she’s on their side. Muddled debates on raising the welfare ceiling and requiring parental consent for teenagers’ abortions with pointless, uncomprehending questions. When one legislator attacked as “legalized burglary” the wiretapping bill’s provision allowing covert entry, Cofer took him literally and launched into a triage on the contents of police property rooms.
A time bomb in the midst of an already delicate Dallas redistricting situation. Flaked on both Republicans and Democrats so often that one side took to delegating a member to “baby-sit” her during critical stages in the bill’s formation. But when the explosion finally came, it was Cofer who got hurt. In the last move of a marathon floor fight, Oak Cliff freshman Steve Wolens offered a surprise amendment that would remove him from another representative’s district and pair him instead with Cofer. Her shrillest protest couldn’t stem the ensuing landslide; she got buried 106-28, amid laughter and applause.
Buck Florence, 44, conservative Democrat, Hughes Springs. A case study in the arrogance of power. Tried to operate the legislative machinery for his own ends but kept getting caught in the gears. Said a high-ranking member of the Speaker’s team: “He misused leverage worse than anyone in the House.”
Motivated by spleen rather than principle: carried on a session-long vendetta against his former law partner serving as consultant to Attorney General Mark White on the Howard Hughes estate case; threatened to decimate the AG’s budget unless White dumped him—even though the case had reached a particularly sensitive point and the lawyer knew far more about it than anyone on White’s staff. But to Florence a possible windfall of millions of dollars for the state treasury was of no consequence compared to the opportunity for personal vengeance. When White refused to knuckle under, the controversy reached the House floor in the form of an amendment that would have written the consultant out of future cases, but the House wrote Florence off instead.
As chairman of Judicial Affairs, turned the traditionally neutral committee into a battleground. Held hostage until the final weeks of the session all bills granting individuals permission to sue the state, bewildering colleagues who had expected them to be approved pro forma as usual. (The House leadership suspected that Florence was delaying all in order to camouflage his determination to kill one.) Took shortsighted aim on judges’ salaries. His logic: their pay is far more than beginning teachers’. More to the point, as judges pointed out, is that it’s not far more than beginning lawyers’—which is why there is growing concern in the legal profession that inadequate salaries make it difficult to attract good lawyers to the bench.
Shameless in floor debate: would check his dignity with his hat if he could serve his cause with buffoonery. Never spoke to merits; Demagoguery was his Muse. Opposed a motion to restore mass transit funding with “I rise to speak against this Republican amendment”—a reference to the fact that the proponent happened to be a Republican—but later voted with Republicans on truly partisan issues like redistricting. Attacked a minor bill authorizing a routine fund transfer from one mental health unit to another because a ruling by Judge Wayne Justice had made the shift necessary; lost 122-11, to a chorus of hoots from his colleagues.
Fired missiles at minnows: “There occasionally comes to this House a Senate bill that cries out to be killed. Such is the case with Senate Bill 1237.” And what was Senate Bill 1237? Interest rates? Wiretapping? No, just a hotel-motel tax increase for Houston. The House walked over him, as usual; by the time the session was over, Florence’s back had more footprints than the sands of time.
Bill Heatly, 68, conservative Democrat, Paducah. The once-mighty Duke of Paducah, spiritual heir to the Bourbon kings of France, of whom it was said, “They learn nothing and forget nothing.” A relic of the Legislature’s old days and, alas, old ways, when people thought policy was something you worried about when you bought insurance.
Once reigned unchallenged as suzerain of the state budget; still retains a peerless understanding of the appropriations process but uses it only to reward friends and punish enemies. Never looks at the forest, only at the trees—primarily his family tree. Raged and rampaged to fatten salaries and expense allowances for part-time district attorneys, a category that includes his two sons, and raised a ruckus in three committees before losing. Despite defeats that come more often than they used to (though not often enough), Heatly still remains so adroit at raiding the pork-barrel that, as was once said of meat-packing baron Philip Armour, he knows how to use all the pig except the squeal. Slipped in a $6.2 million bonus for a drug rehabilitation program in his rural West Texas district; senators opposed it, reasonably enough, on the grounds that the drug problem is in the cities and that’s where the money ought to be spent. That provoked a classic lesson on you-got-yours-I-get-mine politics, Heatly style:
HEATLY: As far as it bein’ out in the boondocks, people out there need assistance, too.
SENATOR: Mr. Heatly, everybody in the state knows why it was put out there. It’s because of you, Mr. Heatly.
HEATLY: The same was done for you, that upper-level college you got.
Still regarded with affection by many around the Capitol—by conservative Democrats who see him as the last link to a legendary past; by liberals who share his loathing for Republicans; by lobbyists who profit from his loyalty for old friends. But increasingly he is seen as an anachronism, and an embarrassing one at that.
Members were not amused at revelations that Heatly had intervened to block sanctions against a nursing home where eight employees were later indicted for murder; they were shocked at Heatly’s suggestion, in a public committee hearing, that Attorney General Mark White fire a lawyer who had questioned state health officials about Heatly’s intervention; and they positively cringed when, in front of a gallery full of third-graders, Heatly took the microphone to present a jar of “red-ass salve” to a colleague. Even the Appropriations Committee, which is prone to regard him as a patron saint, began to focus on his feet of clay. Said a committee member: “He’d walk in and say, ‘I talked to so-and-so last night, he’s a good man, we ought to raise his appropriation.’ Every time he talks to someone it costs the state a couple of hundred thousand dollars.”
Perhaps the most poignant moment of the session came on Speaker’s Day when, with almost three hundred former House members gathered in the chamber for a reunion, Heatly took the microphone. “All these old men,” Heatly said to the current House, “they’re the ones who saved Texas. Let’s not give it away.” That is how Bill Heatly would like to be remembered, but it shall not come to pass.
John Leedom, 60, Republican, Dallas. The greatest contribution to negativism since the minus sign. A freshman who has never figured out that the role of a freshman is to learn and not teach. Won’t let another senator blow his nose without telling him what’s wrong with his handkerchief.
His fundamental error: he saw the Senate as a debating society when in reality it is a very exclusive club. An unwritten code governs what is, and is not, accepting conduct, and anyone who hopes to succeed in the Senate had best abide by it.
• Never act as though you know more than another Senator. But Leedom contested uncontested bills in committee, looking for hidden meanings that weren’t there, implying that he knew bills better than their sponsors. One colleague walked out on him during doesn’t-your-bill-do-so-and-so queries; on another occasion a subcommittee chairman interrupted pointless interrogations by gaveling the bill to passage.
• Never waste the Senate’s time. This applies particularly to freshmen—except, apparently, Leedom. One senator so lost patience with Leedom’s off-the-subject questions in floor debate that he raised a parliamentary objection, something senators never invoke against full-fledged members of their club.
• Never resort to ideology unless it is the issue. When lobbyists went to talk to him about a bill to change the way harbor pilots are appointed and regulated, all Leedom wanted to talk about was why the state shouldn’t regulate pilots at all.
• If you don’t have anything to say, don’t say it. When Leedom opposed funding of centers for battered women with the argument that it would speed the breakup of families, the bill’s sponsor told him he was living in a fantasy world.
• If you don’t know what you’re doing, don’t do it. But Leedom, it an effort to squirm out of a redistricting plan that will force him to run against another senator, proposed a plan that resembled the Caribbean islands: noncontiguous parts of districts floated free, a clear violation of law. When it was plotted on the map, the audience broke into laughter.
It is true that rules are made to be broken, and no senator can achieve greatness without breaking them. Lloyd Doggett, for example, frequently wasted the Senate’s time—but always for a strategic purpose. Pete Snelson left no doubt that he knew more about bilingual education than his adversaries—again, for a purpose: to wear down their resistance to compromise. Ray Farabee has found things in bills that sponsors either didn’t know about or wouldn’t tell. But Leedom had no purpose and achieved no result—except his own expulsion from the club.
Mike Martin, 29, Republican, Longview. Only miracles could have turned him into a decent legislator; he believed in them, but in his case, no one else did. Had only one bill in his legislative program—to require that creationism (the biblical theory of man’s appearance on earth) be taught alongside evolution in the public schools—and displayed no hint of interest in anything else.
On the Worst list not because of his views (Walter Mengden of Houston carried a creationist bill in the Senate with no adverse consequences) but because of his utter lack of substance. Like a bit actor who blows his only line, Martin messed up his one assignment. Didn’t get around to filing his bill until the last day possible under House rules, thereby assuring that it wouldn’t be heard in committee until there was too little time left in the session to pass it. Later tired to convert his bill into an amendment but didn’t know how—leaving himself easy prey for a point of order by Craig Washington that killed it once and for all.
Pathetically ignorant of politics and the legislative process. His first act in Austin was to “fire” the staff of the committee chairman he defeated last November, not realizing that chairmanships do not pass by inheritance. Proposed what maybe be the most preposterous floor amendment of the session—a plan to let each of the 150 members of the House appoint one teacher to a committee that would then draw up teacher competency tests.
Tangled with Washington in committee over welfare spending; afterward told a hometown reporter that Craig had threatened to get him beat in the next election. Oops—all committee meetings are recorded, and the tape revealed no such threat. Washington said, “There are two cardinal rules in the Legislature—you don’t lie on a member and you don’t lie to a member—and he broke both.”
House members found a remedy for Martin’s shenanigans: they shunned him as they would a leper. The House floor is a gregarious place that sometimes resembles the New York Stock Exchange on busy days, but weeks passed with no one stopping by Martin’s desk—by happy coincidence, situated by itself at the far right of the chamber—where he sat hunched over his mail all day. Most lobbyists avoided him as well; said one, “How can you talk to someone who’s carrying the round-or-flat bill?”
But Mike Martin is no joking matter. The merits of his bill aside, he is a full-blooded representative of a growing and dangerous political tribe, the single-issue politicians who don’t really care about politics at all. Are Martin’s constituents—and the state—better served by someone who spends all his energies on creationism or by someone who divides his efforts among interest rates, public school finance, consumer protection, and soaring property taxes on residences? The answer should be obvious: in politics, as H.L. Mencken wrote, man must learn to rise above principle.
Ken Riley, 34, Republican, Corpus Christi. The bullyboy of the freshman class in the House. Conducted a session-long seminar on how not to succeed in legislative politics: cuddle up to the lobby, insult your colleagues, flout the conventions of the House, design your legislative program for you personal benefit.
Broke the unwritten commandment against holding campaign fundraisers during a legislative session; saw nothing wrong, he said, with asking people for money at the same time they are asking you for votes. Billy Clayton alluded to Riley’s breach in presenting his campaign reform package, which finally put the commandment into the law books.
Riley fouled his own nest by feuding constantly with the rest of the Corpus Christi delegation. Sat mutely through a meeting with Corpus judges and law-makers to discuss creating new local courts, then without warning introduced a bill that ran directly counter to what the others had agreed upon. Filed a bill to raise the drinking age to nineteen—a proposal that had already been introduced by another Corpus legislator, Arnold Gonzales, who promptly charged Riley with thievery. Antagonized Corpus’s other legislator, Hugo Berlanga, by providing the decisive vote in committee to pass a tax administration bill that was damaging to Corpus Christi, then admitting afterward that he’d never read the bill. Later went berserk when the House Redistricting Committee released its Nueces County plan; called committee member Berlanga a “racist, pompous ass” because the plan split an Anglo community in Riley’s district. But the political effect of the bill was to help Riley and hurt Berlanga.
That left only Senator Carlos Truan uninsulted, and Riley soon took care of that. To embarrass Truan, he surreptitiously passed a resolution honoring Billie Pickard, a fellow Republican whose nomination as a Pan American University regent had just been blocked by Truan amid much controversy. The stunt was trademark Riley: gratuitous (Pickard doesn’t even live in his district), contemptuous (Riley had exploited House courtesy, which allows all members to pass noncontroversial resolutions routinely), and sneaky (when asked whom the resolution honored, Riley refused to say, violating the legislative understanding that when asked the right question, you have to ’fess up).
Made enemies outside the Legislature as readily as inside. When police groups backed a bill to impose badge and uniform restrictions on private security agencies, Riley, who owns one, retaliated with a bill against moonlighting cops. The rest of his legislative program was mostly lunges at headlines, from impeaching Judge Justice to allowing prayer in the public schools.
Wants to run for the Senate against the lackluster Truan. It figures. Corpus Christi has had such an unbroken line of nonrepresentation since the fifties that there’s a saying around the Capital: “If Corpus could find a worse senator, they’d elect him.” Riley may be in for life.
Chris Semos, 45, conservative Democrat, Dallas. A holdover from the pre-reform era of Ben Barnes and Gus Mutscher, when Speakers were lions and everyone else had better be a docile lamb. Semos was. Times have changed, but not Semos, and events have finally led him to the slaughter.
As head of the Dallas delegation, should have taken the lead in that city’s redistricting effort. Instead, refused to call delegation meetings or draw plans, leaving a power vacuum into which titans like Republican Bob Davis and Democrat John Bryant inevitably rushed, in a struggle so acrimonious and so evenly matched that it threatened to rend not only the delegation but also the entire House redistricting plan, right up to the moment of its passage. Meanwhile, Semos dutifully followed whichever side showed an inclination to appease his only desire: making two of Oak Cliff’s three seats safe for white legislators, a nifty trick since Oak Cliff is two-thirds black.
A four-term committee chairman (Business and Industry) who wields no clout in the House. Takes no controversy like a cat takes to water; when he can’t avoid it, spends his time assuring both sides that everything will turn out all right rather than hammering out compromises. It’s probably just as well, since he still doesn’t understand legislation: has spent the last two sessions trapped in a struggle between CPAs and bookkeepers, but still can’t seem to grasp the difference between the two. Hates for anybody to be mad at him but gets mad himself if someone testifies against one of his bills.
Suffers from the unfortunate anatomical anomaly first observed in William McKinley: he has the backbone of a chocolate éclair. Stands firm for only one thing—the interests of the Texas Restaurant Association, of which, as the owner of a Greek restaurant, he is a member. Made his committee a graveyard for bills opposed by the TRA, such as requirements for practicing truth in menus and for providing medical equipment in case a patron should choke.
The entire citizenry of Dallas might well have choked over one of Semos’s maneuvers. In order to feather the nest of the Texas Sesquicentennial Commission (dedicated to the wholly uncontroversial goal of celebrating Texas’s 150th birthday in 1986; chairman: Chris Semos) extracted $50 million from an urban park fund earmarked for his hometown. The money will wind up in Austin instead, used to construct a sesquicentennial museum. Will there be space for legislative fossils?
E. L. Short, 55, conservative Democrat, Tahoka. A regular passenger on the line of least resistance. Rides wherever the train of events carries him, even when it heads back in the direction from whence he came.
The kind of legislator who was more dangerous as a friend than as a foe; supported his causes as a rope supports the man it hangs. His main sin: he broke more vows than Henry VIII. Promised colleagues to support their bills and then, like old glue, wouldn’t stick.
To cope with Short’s frequent reneging, the Senate had to learn its own version of new math. Senate practice requires the assent of two thirds of the 31 members before a bill can reach the floor for debate—using standard arithmetic, 21 votes. But when Short was included, senators recomputed the number as 22. One who didn’t—and paid the price when Short reversed himself—confronted Short afterward, only to be told, “Don’t give up on me. I might be with you next time.” On another occasion, Short explained away his last-minute switch with “Yeah, I told you I’d vote for that bill, I just didn’t tell you when.”
If Short had been playing coy—holding out, say, for a favor in return for his support—he would have at least earned some grudging respect along with the resentment. But there was no method in his madness other than a proclivity to crater under political pressure.
Not since O. Henry have Short stories been so in vogue. Broke up a committee hearing on the farm and ranch security program with the comment “In my opinion we ought to pass this legislation for good or bad.” On the floor, responded to a question about whether a proposal violated the sate constitution with “I’ve been here a long time, Senator, and I don’t know that we’ve gotten too involved with the constitution.” Then there was the time Short fled the Senate floor to avoid a pivotal vote on the redfish bill—only to run into a lobbyist stationed outside the chamber for just such an eventuality. Short ducked into the members-only rest room—but the lobbyist followed him in to make certain Short wouldn’t linger through the roll call.
Such antics have earned Short a reputation among hard-boiled types as the worst member of the Legislature. That’s too harsh: he is, after all, without malice or guile, just a politician unsuited to hardball—the sort of man who would make a good city councilman back in Tahoka but will never contribute much in Austin.
Carlos Truan, 46, Democrat, Corpus Christi. A legislature klutz who has made a career out of doing the right thing in the wrong way, with a net effect of zero. Plays the game as though he expects to lose and seldom surprises himself. He still views the Legislature as the closed shop it was ten years ago, when he was a member of the Dirty Thirty opposition and didn’t have a prayer of passing a bill. Consequently, doesn’t do his homework, doesn’t learn the rules, and doesn’t have a prayer of passing a bill. Blames others when he loses, but most of his wounds are self-inflicted.
Not only the senator to get run over during the session, but the only one to throw himself under the wheels. Valiantly tried to filibuster a bad ol’ bill that could have restricted public access to beaches, but had to surrender prematurely when he made an obvious procedural goof. What’s worse, his blunder came at the suggestion of another senator—who, unlike Truan, did know the rules and deliberately led him down the primrose path. Few senators would be held in such low esteem as to be offered a parliamentary Trojan horse; fewer still would take it.
Sometimes ended up losing even when he won. Mishandled a nomination controversy by refusing to wait until after a public hearing before rejecting a Clements appointee—his prerogative as a senator, but a bad political move that led to a lashing by his hometown papers. (Forewarned by Truan’s error of judgment, Senator Hector Uribe of Brownsville let McAllen mayor Othal Brand have his full say before busting him.)
After three sessions, still doesn’t understand how the Senate works. Got trapped in the embarrassing position of having to kill his own bill, not once but twice: the first time because of a devastating floor amendment; the second because he had overlooked a parliamentary device that sent the dying bill not to the Senate’s graveyard by to its intensive-care unit, where it was restored to life and set for automatic passage the next day. Only a committee clerk’s alertness kept the bill—and the amendment—from slipping through.
Truan’s defenders, who include just about everyone who believes that having your heart in the right place is exoneration for all shortcomings, urge the additional defense that he passed the bilingual educational plan, one of the session’s major bills. Overruled: if Truan had not been in the Senate, Attorney General Mark White and the leadership would have seen to it that a bilingual bill passed anyway (indeed, they were prepared to run around him with a House bill) because the state needed some response to Judge Justice’s court order. As for good intentions, they are said to pave the way to places far worse than the Ten Worst list.
<!– Captions to photos of legislators
One finger means yes, two means no. You can bet
The folks in the foreground weren’t voting on whether to hold a special session. Too bad; they’ll be back for one anyway
Clayton: emerged from Brilab’s glare a reformer; won over old enemies by waging peace.
Coleman: a professional non-team player.
Doggett: a lightning rod for controversy.
Billy Hall, Laredo. He (1) promised early in the session to sponsor a bill allowing the Texas Department of Corrections to purchase a new prison site but (2) didn’t file the bill until the session was almost over—so late that (3) when he finally did get around to it, he had to beseech his colleagues for a relaxation of House rules just to file the bill; however, (4) by that time TDC had discovered that it didn’t need legislative permission and (5) had already bought the land.
The motive behind the redfish bill. Commercial fishermen, fighting to prevent a ban on catching redfish and speckled trout, said the real reason for the bill was that John Connally plans to raise redfish in captivity and doesn’t want any competition.
Truth in Lending Award
Senator Betty Andujar, Fort Worth, Defending the proposed 24 per cent interest rate ceiling during Senate debate, she explained, “We’re not sticking it to anyone who isn’t borrowing money.”
Truth in Purchasing Award
Senator Dee Travis, Dallas. Asked whether the huge campaign treasury he collected from business lobbyists was responsible for his anti-consumer stance, Travis answered, “No one has to pay me to work for business. I do it for free.”
Truth in Absentia Award
Senator Dee Travis, Dallas. One week after passing a resolution seeking an amendment to the U.S. Constitution allowing school prayer, Travis fought a proposal to restrict campaign fundraising with the argument that it’s wrong to legislate morality.
Rookie of the Year
Senator Kent Caperton, Bryan. A true moderate; a man with a homing instinct for the middle. Caperton knew when to compromise (as when he worked with two other senators to develop a balanced low-level nuclear waste bill) and knew when to stand firm (as when he continued to press for a work furlough program for prisoners despite Bill Clement’s veto threats). Best House freshman: Terral Smith, Austin, an independent Republican who did some of the best committee work of the session cleaning up the governor’s law-and-order package.
Bill “Senator Applecheek” Sarpalius, Amarillo. Young, innocent, naïve, nice, and so well meaning. Once during a committee meeting he mentioned Boys Ranch, where he grew up as an orphan. “Is that like Boys’ Town?” asked Tati Santiesteban of El Paso, deadpan. “Yes, I guess it is,” answered an earnest Sarpalius, never catching on that his colleague was referring to a very different kind of institution.
Public Service Award
Elton Bomer, Montalba. For cleansing the Texas Legislature of Fred Head in last year’s election. Runner-up: Jim Turner of Crockett, who defeated Emmett Whitehead. Randy Pennington of Houston was eligible—for defeating Bill Carraway—but Pennington turned out to be worse.
Texas Medical Association. The doctors’ lobby spent more than $800,000 in campaign contributions and tens of thousands more in lobbying fees only to end up killing its own bill, which had been crippled by amendments.
Bill Moore Memorial Award
Bob Davis, Irving. A 1977 Worst and 1979 Best who, like the legendary Bull of the Brazos before him, simply transcends both categories. Beyond moderation, beyond scruple, beyond classification. A certifiable genius at the legislative process, Davis has forgotten more about power and its uses than most members will ever know. What they do know is that he’s capable of almost anything, from the finest legislative craftsmanship to the most violent disruption—and often both at once
Brilliant on the rules, a peerless strategist, riveting in debate. The only member who could—and did—speak against child welfare services or uniform taxation and sound right. One of the Legislatures’s most instantly recognizable figures: strides unabashed through either chamber, hair ruffled, tie askew, radiating authority—a player so avid he raises political gamesmanship to the intensity of a force of nature.
The one member without whom the character of the session would have been irrevocably changed—even though not a single piece of major legislation bore his name. Kept the House in an uproar for weeks with his pro-GOP machinations during redistricting, until, like an army of ants attacking a rhino, the Democratic majority turned and overwhelmed him. Came within a hair breadth of changing the shape of Texas politics for a decade to come. After members heard on the night of the final redistricting floor battle that Davis had been hospitalized for exhaustion, arch-antagonist John Bryant rose to offer a minor amendment on Davis’s behalf. That it passed overwhelmingly was a clear mark of his colleagues’ grudging respect but couldn’t hide the sad truth that arguably the ablest legislator of all had lost the only battle he really wanted to win.
Senator O.H. “Ike” Harris, Dallas. There have been sessions when Ike Harris wouldn’t attend a committee meeting, much less run one. But the onetime Senate playboy swapped the cocktail glass for the gavel and not only ran the Economic Development Committee better than it had ever been run before, but also was a regular at the Finance Committee, which wrote the Senate version of the state budget. He passed the redfish bill, skillfully using a rare parliamentary maneuver to transfer it from a hostile committee to his own. Even more important was what he didn’t pass—namely, the collection of special-interest bills that in the past made up the bulk of his legislative package.
El Franco Lee, Houston. A monument to the old adage that art consists of concealing its own artfulness, Lee combines a country-boy slyness with a calculated Stepin Fetchit style. When he is passing a bill, he deliberately mumbles and stumbles through his lines in a way that makes empathetic members refrain from asking any question. It also, apparently, lulls them into forgetting that he is a first-rate engineer, both by profession and in the Legislature. Lee succeeded in holding up a bill coveted by lending institutions and bond lawyers until they agreed to a prohibition against red-lining (refusing to lend money in inner-city neighborhoods). On two other occasions, his last-minute amendments to his own bills caused uproars in the Houston establishment but went unnoticed on the floor. And that’s just the way Lee wants it.
Frank Collazo, Port Arthur. He got only 2 votes out of 150 for an amendment benefiting big oil on a bill regulating delivery of gasoline to service stations.
Senator Grant Jones, Abilene. Question (to Jones): “Just tell me one thing, Senator. Is the State of Texas giving birth control pills to unmarried girls without their parents’ consent?” Answer: “I think you’ll find they’re getting pregnant without their parents’ consent.”
Prisoner of War Award
John Bryant, Dallas. Former field marshal of the anti-Clayton forces. Outgunned in the Speaker’s race; withdrew his name at the last minute to minimize casualties among his troops. Was stripped of his chairmanship of the House Study Group; quit the field for most of the session, but did stage covert operations to preserve urban Democrats in redistricting.