Politics & Policy

Reporting and commentary on the Legislature, campaigns, and elected officials
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Commonsense Conservatism

Remember the Sherlock Holmes story in which the great detective solves a mysterious death case because a dog did not bark at a thief in the night? The lesson is that what doesn’t happen can be just as important as what does happen—in crime or in the Legislature. (Please, no

Family Man

With his spectacles and bushy mustache, he looks like everybody’s favorite uncle, and appropriately, his niche in the Legislature is to take care of the kids: juvenile justice, safe schools, and adoption laws. In the age of family-values politics, Goodman brings a quiet rationality to issues that have been known

The Bill Doctor

Caught in a real-life episode of E.R., Senator Teel Bivins spent the final week of the legislative session performing triage on bills that were at death’s door. As our story begins, a perspiring Bivins frantically tries to revive Governor Bush’s charter schools program, which is among the 52 bills that

Master of the Playground

Hugo Berlanga said at the start of the session that he was tired. The time had come to do something else. He was burned-out.Mark it down that this burnout had a long fuse. Hugo—he’s a first-name figure—had a session for the ages. Through behind-the-scenes negotiations and timely amendments, he influenced

Special Awards

Best PunGovernor George W. Bush. Explaining at a pre-session gridiron dinner how he had turned a deaf ear to his wife’s entreaties that he purchase new formal wear for the event, Bush said he told her, “Read my lips. No new tuxes.”Going…Going…GoneThe legislative leadership team had a lot more on

Politics & Policy|
June 30, 1997

The Worst of the Worst

Say what you will about Arlene Wohlgemuth (and everybody did), but she will go down in legislative history. Way down. Wohlgemuth was the perpetrator of the Memorial Day Massacre, when in a fit of rage she killed 52 bills and managed to unite a previously divided House—against her.It is the

The One Hundred Club

Most legislators who land on the Worst list do so through ineptitude or blunder. John Shields is different: He actively auditioned for the role. He performed as if he had researched the bad old days and come up with a surefire course of action that the greenest freshman would know

Without Shame

Ask not what Senator Eddie Lucio’s bills do for the public; ask what they do for him. Lucio is a poster child for the kind of legislator whose primal urge is to please his friends, punish his enemies, and promote himself.What, do you suppose, lay behind his proposal to restrict

Zero Zero Zero

Bless his heart, he’s just in the wrong place. The Legislature is not right for him. His conservative beliefs are too extreme, his suspicions are too easily aroused, his learning curve is too flat. The man isn’t dumb. He’s got an MBA from Harvard. They read books there. But he

Radioactive

“If you’ve got me in your sights, I’d like to talk to you before you write anything,” said Kent Grusendorf in the closing hours of the session. He deserved a fair hearing. He is a thoughtful man who was once a fine legislator. But he has become the most radioactive

Dumb and Dumber, the Sequel

Last session, passionate debate raged through the Capitol over which of these two East Texas freshmen was the worst member of the Senate. Given a second chance, Galloway and Nixon showed that they had learned…absolutely zero.“He doesn’t have two sessions of experience,” a Republican colleague said of Galloway. “He’s had

Comic Relief

His true peers are not members of the Legislature but rather Thomas Chippendale, George Hepplewhite, and Duncan Phyfe: Like these names, that of Charles Finnell has become synonymous with “furniture”—a term that in Capitol parlance refers to those members who, by dint of their inactivity or incapacity to grasp what

A License to Be Bad

The best that can be said about him is that he could have been worse—and was, just last session. Faults ranging from pettiness to mendacity, which landed him on the Worst list in 1995 (when we described him as “one of the more dismal products of democracy to reach the

Seldom Right

Before Kevin Bailey erupted this session, sixteen years had passed since the House had seen an outspoken liberal leader in action. An extra two years would have been a blessing. Bailey is a demagogue straight from the old school—disposed to make personal attacks, preferring cliché to argument, always righteous in

Little Miss Perfect

Every Catholic girls’ school has one student who is Little Miss Perfect. To the endless irritation of her peers, she never misses class, always does her homework, raises her hand to answer every question, bosses her classmates around, and is as prudish and humorless as the nuns. But don’t

Why? Why? Why?

Two veteran warriors are facing off, and the House is enjoying it immensely. Kim Brimer of Arlington, a former University of Houston football player and one of Speaker Laney’s chief lieutenants, is trying to pass his sports arena bill, which will let local governments use tax dollars to build stadiums

Play of the Year

Did he change the world? It’s too soon to tell. But this much is certain: Ron Wilson’s bill requiring scholarship athletes to meet regular admissions criteria at state universities was a stroke of legislative genius. Wilson, of course, was trying to make a point about the Hopwood decision, which

Mr. Clout

The best tributes are the unexpected ones. As Senator David Sibley argued for his bill to halt the costly practice of school districts’ granting property-tax breaks to businesses, a seldom heard-from San Antonio Democrat named Greg Luna joined in the debate. “I’m so glad that a senator of your esteem

Voting for the Children

At least he tried. He was the dominant figure in the session’s dominant issue, Governor Bush’s drive for significant property-tax relief, and he drove it farther than anyone thought possible, though not quite far enough. But the mere recapitulation of his role only begins to reflect what Paul Sadler

Politics & Policy|
June 30, 1997

Obi-Wan Kenobi

It is late in the session, and a sticky procedural issue has brought Senate debate to a momentary halt. Senators Teel Bivins of Amarillo and Royce West of Dallas are huddled beside a desk, puzzled about what to do. West, a Democrat, nods in the direction of Bill Ratliff, who

Politics & Policy|
June 30, 1997

Israel Hernandez

Officially, Israel Hernandez is an aide to George W. Bush, but the 26-year-old is used to hearing all sorts of less-than-glamorous descriptions of his job, such as professional schlepper and purse carrier. But while it’s true he totes around the black canvas bag containing the governor’s stuff—personal numbers, signature cards,

Politics & Policy|
May 31, 1997

Lights! Camera! No Action!

GEORGE W. BUSH may have the most power in the Capitol, but when it comes to power over the Capitol, he’s just number two. In one of the strangest rivalries of a contentious legislative session, the Texas Film Commission, an arm of the governor’s office, squared off against the State

Politics & Policy|
May 31, 1997

Out There

For seven days Rick McLaren and his armed cohorts were holed up in their Republic of Texas “embassy” while reporters dug for stories, lawmen kept watch, and the residents of nearby Fort Davis wished they’d all go away.

Politics & Policy|
April 30, 1997

Naval Gazing

As the Navy’s top civilian leader, Texan John Dalton has navigated one scandal after another. He might also be charting a course back home—and to elected office.

Politics & Policy|
March 1, 1997

Out of Control

Democratic lieutenant governor Bob Bullock’s immense power over the Texas Senate has vanished almost overnight. The Republican majority, which everyone said wouldn’t make any difference in how the Senate functions, made a difference after all. When Florence Shapiro of Plano successfully challenged Buster Brown of Lake Jackson, a Bullock ally,

Politics & Policy|
March 1, 1997

Dumped On

It’s almost certain that Hudspeth County will soon be the site of a nuclear-waste dump—but officials in neighboring Presidio County think they’re the ones getting dumped on.

Politics & Policy|
March 1, 1997

Scattered Applause

Everyone at the Capitol that morning in late January knew George W. Bush was at a high plateau, and they were there expecting to witness history being made. Popular and successful after two years as governor, openly discussed already as a potential candidate for national office, he was, on this

Politics & Policy|
February 1, 1997

Fratricidal Black Politics

The Houston mayoral election doesn’t occur until November, but the race to succeed Bob Lanier is already the talk of the town. Three blacks would like to be Houston’s first black mayor, and many blacks—among them Houston Chronicle editorial writer James T. Campbell—think that’s two too many. Former top cop

Politics & Policy|
January 1, 1997

The Honeymoon Is Over

In the last legislative session, George W. Bush’s moderate program won over Bob Bullock, Pete Laney, and other top Democrats. But this time, Bush’s agenda is more partisan, and Republicans are measuring his presidential potential—so Texas politics is going to get ugly.

Politics & Policy|
December 1, 1996

Burning Bush

Before the 1996 election, George W. Bush’s presidential chances were just talk. Now they’re hot. Jack Kemp blew his opportunity to be the undisputed standard-bearer with a mediocre—and, some say, disloyal—performance as Bob Dole’s running mate. The next GOP nominee will almost surely be someone who hasn’t run for president

Politics & Policy|
December 1, 1996

The Customs of the Country

While U.S. citizens can take an unlimited amount of money into Mexico—you will have to fill out an IRS form at U.S. Customs if it’s more than $10,000—you’re allowed to bring back only $400 worth of merchandise every thirty days duty free. (If there are four people in the car,

Politics & Policy|
November 1, 1996

Affairs of State

Mónica García Velásquez, the first female mayor of Nuevo Laredo, is smart, poised, and articulate, especially when it comes to dismissing rumors about her love life.

Politics & Policy|
November 1, 1996

The Spin Doctor Is Out

Being a political consultant had its high points. I helped candidates win elections, traveled around the world, and worked side by side with James Carville and Dick Morris. But campaigns kept sinking to pathetic new lows, which is why I finally had to quit the game.

Politics & Policy|
September 30, 1996

Malled

Wealthy school districts think they’ve found a way to shield millions of dollars from the state’s Robin Hood law. Are they about to get malled?

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