Steve Wolens isn’t much of a sports fan, so he isn’t likely to appreciate a baseball metaphor, but he seemed this session like a Hall of Famebound pitcher who has lost a little of his zest for the game. He still throws his fastball as hard as ever, but the new crop of umpires don’t give him the corners like the old ones did. He doesn’t get along so well with the skipper either, although for many years they were teammates. Nor does he enjoy the road trips, especially now that his wife is in a league of her own. Plug in Republicans, Speaker Craddick, and Dallas mayor Laura Miller at the appropriate places in this scenario, and you have to wonder how long Wolens will stay on the mound.
Make no mistake about it, though: He’s still got good stuff. At the end of the session, he passed the best ethics bill in the history of the Texas Legislature. It bars lawmakers from representing clients before state agencies; it requires the disclosure of referral fees and legislative continuances to delay trials; it sheds light on lobbyists who are related to lawmakers (does the name Christi Craddick ring a bell?); it calls for electronic filing of campaign and officeholder funds and, for the first time ever, disclosure by county and city officials; and it even implants a bicuspid or two in the previously toothless Texas Ethics Commission.
Along the way, however, Wolens had to deal with Craddick weakening his bill, the Senate trying to kill it, and fellow House members complaining publicly that he was negotiating solo, as is his wont. Wolens fought back with a press conference in which he assailed everybody, the theory being that the only way you can pass a good ethics bill is to make it too visible for opponents to kill it. In the end, the bill passed 1338, and Craddick graciously let Wolens’ young son Max bring down the gavel. One of the great legislators of the modern era logged another big win. Now let’s all hope he continues to be a player. And if he doesn’t, he can always manage . . . Laura’s campaigns.