The Ten Best and (Sigh)…The Ten Worst Legislators
Could any public body, anywhere in the world, be quite like the Texas legislature?
All politics is applesauce.
It will come as no surprise to connoisseurs of Texas politics that Mr. Rogers first uttered these words not long after addressing the Texas legislature. If the late American humorist could have returned to the Capitol this year, chances are that he wouldn’t have changed his opinion much—although, given the changing times, he might have expressed himself in stronger language. The sight of the Texas legislature in action is not likely to inspire perorations about the democratic process at work. For once, however, appearances were deceiving: the legislature was better than it looked, and far better than anyone—including us—thought it would be back in January.
Every session of the legislature has its unique, shaping influences. Four years ago the dominant force was the Sharpstown scandal; in 1973 it was the reform movement. This year it was constitutional revision—not so much as an issue, but as the fundamental element in the “atmosphere of the session.
The legislators came to Austin in January—many of them still worn out from the physical, intellectual, and emotional ordeal of the six-month Constitutional Convention of 1974—and found themselves confronted with a new crop of complex and difficult issues that wouldn’t go away. There was the unfinished business of a new constitution, of course, not to mention utility regulation, school finance, strip mining, property tax reform, prison reform, authorization for a superport. . . .The lobby was out in force as usual, sometimes to oppose bills, sometimes with its hand out: truckers wanting to ease highway load limits, builders seeking to cut back fire escapes on new construction, doctors, pharmacists, nursing home operators, ranchers, barbers, trial lawyers, and just about everybody else who could think of a way to let the state help them earn another buck. Fortunately, the ill-fated Constitutional Convention had a salutary effect upon legislators: it gave them a seriousness of purpose and even a quality of statesmanship which carried over to this session. If the people of Texas didn’t get a new constitution for their $3.5 million, they at least got a better legislature, and that legislature made a start toward solving some of the state’s thorniest political problems.
The lawmakers finally agreed on a new constitution and produced major legislation in two other areas that badly legislation in two other areas that badly needed attention: school finance and utility regulation. Both bills turned out to be true compromises and workable efforts — but their ultimate fate will depend upon Governor Dolph Briscoe. Under the school finance bill, his office must come up with recommendations for property tax reform (without which the inequities of the school finance system will never be eliminated), while the utility bill requires the governor to appoint the members of the new utilities commission (who will determine whether utilities are really regulated). Perhaps it is unduly pessimistic to point out (a) that Briscoe is one of the state’s largest landowners and (b) that he publicly opposed comprehensive regulation of utilities.
The performance of the two presiding officers—Lieutenant Governor Bill Hobby and Speaker Billy Clayton—is hard to evaluate. Hobby arrived as an enigma and in two sessions has done little to shed light on his political beliefs or, for that matter, his abilities. For the second consecutive session, he managed to cast himself in the villain’s role on a major legislative issue. Two years ago he dillydallied on the reform bills; this time he played footsie with the lobby on utility regulation until the last weekend of the session. On both occasions, however, Hobby came to life at the eleventh hour and forced workable bills through what had been a reluctant Senate. Did Hobby cave in to public pressure on the utility issue, or did he merely string along the lobby as long as he could? Whichever is the answer, it means that Hobby is either much weaker—or much stronger—than people thought.
On other major legislative issues, his role is much better defined. He was the moving force behind Bob Gammage on constitutional revision and Oscar Mauzy on school finance; they got the credit but Hobby did most of the work, particularly the hard politicking to get the votes lined up. Less to his credit, Hobby let his gubernatorial ambitions influence his stand on two important, predominantly rural issues: water development bonds (which he supported, in an about-face) and property tax reform (which he referred to a hostile committee and then made no effort to salvage).
All too often, however, Hobby did little more than occupy the podium, making no attempt to run the Senate and leaving it to flounder like an orchestra without a conductor. Thus unleashed, senators seemed to vie with each other to see who could pass the most special interest legislation; the result was a massive outpouring of bad bills which slipped through the Senate virtually undiscussed and unnoticed. Hobby either didn’t know or didn’t care; neither speaks well for his leadership.
Clayton made no such mistake; indeed, his forces killed bills with the zeal of true believers. Clayton is a High Plains cotton farmer from Springlake who did his best to live up to the philosophy that the legislature should pass as few bills as possible. Early in the session, virtually the only bills considered by the House were blatant special interest legislation; at the end, the crush of major issues—school finance, utility regulation, appropriations—monopolized the calendar and left little time for anything else. Along the way a lot of bills, good and bad, were interred in committee graveyards—something that happened by design rather than by accident.
In some ways Clayton represented a discouraging throwback to the dictatorial speakerships of Ben Barnes and Gus Mutscher. He contemplated barring the press from the House floor, tried to shut off public access to members’ expense accounts, and secretly monitored legislators’ newsletters. He also twisted the House rules to his own benefit by broadening the Speaker’s power to stack committee membership. Perhaps his biggest mistake was in opening the appropriations process to all committees— allowing, for example, the Health and Welfare Committee to recommend appropriations for state hospitals, and the Higher Education Committee to set expenditures for colleges and universities. On the surface the idea seems a sound one. Why not let those committees determine how much money is necessary in their area? In practice, however, by giving virtually every representative a chance to participate in writing the appropriations bill, the new rules stimulated an unprecedented surge of pork barrelling, logrolling, and tradeouts.
Still, Clayton gets high marks in a number of areas: for making a public disclosure of his finances, even to the point of releasing his federal income tax return; for running the House firmly and fairly; and, above all, for allowing debate on controversial issues to take place in an atmosphere largely free of arm-twisting and threats. Within the framework of his inherently suspicious attitude toward new legislation, Clayton did a good job of grasping the statewide significance of the issues which dominated the session. Under his leadership, conservatism in the House sometimes took on a philosophical meaning; in the past, it often meant nothing more than protecting the special interests and following the lobby. This session, the House actually assumed the role of legislative watchdog—a good thing, too, considering what the Senate was doing.
In choosing the best and worst legislators, we avoided any consideration of their political philosophy. The test of a good member—or a bad one—should be the same whether a person is conservative or liberal. A good legislator is intelligent, hard working, well prepared, and accessible to reason; because of these qualities he is respected by his colleagues and effective in debate. He uses power skillfully but does not abuse it; he is admired, rather than mistrusted, for his strategic ability. As an adversary he is viewed not with fear but with healthy respect.
It is more difficult to summarize the attributes that qualify someone for the Ten Worst list. Stupidity and ignorance by themselves are not enough, nor is ineffectiveness. Some of the worst members have great talent and are very effective; that, indeed, is the problem. Their misdirected efforts earn them the enmity of their colleagues. If a consistent thread joins the worst members, it is their knack for mucking up the legislative process. They are people who, whenever they are noticed, are invariably in the way.
Our list is the result of months of work by the editorial staff. We followed the legislature from beginning to end, in the gallery and on the floor, interviewing legislators, staff, newsmen, lobbyists, political figures who are household names in Texas, and state agency personnel who come in contact with the legislature. The result of our work was a surprising consensus: the same names kept drawing the same reactions from liberals and conservatives alike.
In addition to the Ten Best and Ten Worst legislators, several members deserve honorable—and dishonorable—mention. In the Senate, Bob Gammage (37, Houston) led the fight for the new constitution and also sponsored other significant legislation, including authorization for health maintenance organizations (which passed) and a state alcoholism program (which died in the House). Gammage is a likely candidate for a future Ten Best list if he can learn to do his homework and work the floor; this session his press clippings were better than his legislative technique. Perhaps Gammage was just tired; his workload during the Constitutional Convention would have exhausted two lesser men. Oscar Mauzy (48, Dallas) survived a rocky start this session to retain his usual status as one of the best senators, even allowing for his role as water carrier for the more venal interests of the lawyer lobby. More than any other legislator, he shaped the final school finance bill. Bill Patman (48, Ganado), a maverick who is not a member of the Senate “club,” nevertheless single-handedly managed to stop the most flagrantly bad bill of the session—Bill Moore’s attempt to raise interest rates on small loans. The top Senate newcomer was Ray Farabee (42, Wichita Falls), whose work on the Senate Finance Committee impressed his colleagues. His skill and sensitivity on budget matters proved he has the ability to challenge the system of pork barrel tradeouts that has long been the bane of the appropriations process in both houses.
In the House, two exceptionally able members let ambition cloud their talent: both Craig Washington (33, Houston), who supported Speaker Billy Clayton, and Buddy Temple (33, Diboll), who didn’t, decided not to rock the boat because each would like to be Speaker himself some day. Another highly skilled member who didn’t quite fulfill his promise was Ronnie Earle (33, Austin); he, too, may have his eye on higher office—a district judgeship. Gene Jones (41, Houston) continued to rate near the top in his second term (like Temple, he received honorable mention in 1973); Jones was by far the best member of a mediocre Harris County delegation and one of a handful of members with thorough knowledge of the House rules. Lynn Nabers (35, Brownwood) was one of the stalwarts of the Clayton forces—a tough, savvy figure on the House floor—but removed himself from contention for the Ten Best list by doling out pork barrel projects as chairman of the Health and Welfare Committee. Finally, we were glad to see Jim Nugent (53, Kerrville) abandon most of the sneaky tactics which earned him the nickname “Super Snake” from his colleagues and a place on the Ten Worst list from us in 1973. This session Nugent’s manifest skills and independence brought him close to the top of the list where he could have been all along.
Alas, there were disappointments, too. Chet Brooks (39, Houston), who showed signs of emerging as a force in the Senate two years ago, returned to mediocrity and was found all too often in the lap of the lobby. In the House, one of the most irresponsible performances of the session was chalked up by minority legislators during the floor fight over school finance. Matt Garcia (47, San Antonio), an otherwise able legislator, was back home practicing law when the bill reached the floor for debate. The genesis of that issue, you’ll recall, was the Rodriguez case, brought by Mexican-American parents from the Edgewood section of San Antonio. No bill was more important to minorities; yet their side lost the crucial vote, 74-71, with one Mexican-American (Garcia) and four blacks (Wilhemina Delco, Craig Washington, Sam Hudson, and Senfronia Thompson) being the only House members who failed to record a vote. Bill Hollowell (47, Grand Saline), who once had a reputation as something of a populist, degenerated into a petty, obstructionist demagogue. Hollowell is respected by members for doing his homework, but that only makes matters worse because they often pay attention to him when they shouldn’t.
A special place should be reserved for freshman Calvin Rucker (34, Cedar Hill). Rucker was so bad that he accomplished the near-impossible feat of making his colleagues long for Ben “Jumbo” Atwell, a clear choice for the Ten Worst list in 1973, whom Rucker defeated in the Democratic primary. Rucker tried to undo reform legislation passed two years ago and held a fundraising dinner in the middle of the session for which lobbyists were solicited to buy tickets (almost getting himself into hot water with Travis County District Attorney Bob Smith), but managed to escape the Ten Worst list by spending an inordinate percentage of his time mercifully sleeping in the Members’ Lounge. At least he doesn’t snore.
The best and worst lineup contains few repeaters from last session’s lists. Representatives Neil Caldwell and Ray Hutchison and Senators Babe Schwartz and Max Sherman are once again on the Ten Best list. Senator Bill Meier and Representatives DeWitt Hale, Dan Kubiak, and Craig Washington failed to make the cut. Senator Jim Wallace resigned to take a judgeship and Representative Hawkins Menefee was killed in an automobile accident. Only Senators Glenn Kothmann and Mike McKinnon and Representative Doyle Willis reappear on the Ten Worst list. Five of last session’s worst—Representatives Ben Atwell, Charles Finnell, Lindsey Rodriguez, Henry Sanchez, and Wayland Simmons—failed to return to the legislature this session. Representative James Nugent vaulted to honorable mention and Representative Tim Von Dohlen was simply overshadowed by this session’s worst.
The Ten Best:
Neil Caldwell, 45, Liberal Democrat, Alvin. A popular, eight-term member who briefly held power (as Chairman of the Appropriations Committee in 1973), then suffered the uncomfortable predicament of losing it again (as a supporter this session of losing Speaker candidate Carl Parker). Could have degenerated into a sulking, uninterested back-bencher, as Parker did; instead, he remained a strong force in the House through sheer ability, hard work, and the personal esteem in which he’s held by other members. When he takes the microphone, the usually tumultuous House quiets down to a hush; there is no more incontestable tribute than that. Never castigating, never loses his temper—the legislative embodiment of the Reasonable Man.
Ranks fourth in House seniority but still looks like he’s pushing age 30, making him a most untypical Grand Old Man. Not the liberals’ chief tactician (that role went to Dallas’ Jim Mattox) but more than ever their chief strategist and philosophical Father Confessor. Liberals never made a major move without consulting him; conservatives asked him to carry some of the toughest, most controversial—and important—portions of the appropriations bill in floor debate.
No one in the House understands the budgetary process better than he, and both sides know it. As a member of this year’s Appropriations Committee, he played an important role in patiently eliminating pork barrel deals which proliferated under the new rules that allowed other committees to share in the appropriations process. Liberals and conservatives alike were outraged when Clayton failed to name him among the five House conferees on the appropriations bill; even the Speaker’s allies thought he’d clearly earned it, but the two men’s animosities go back a long way (Clayton once tried to recruit someone to run against Caldwell).
Maintains a sense of humor, which he puts to skillful use in debate. An artist (painting, music, cartoons, sculpture) whose temperament lets him see things sub specie aeternitatis; does any other member hang melancholy Old English gravestone rubbings on his office wall?
Ray Hutchison, 42, Republican, Dallas. One of the Ten Best in 1973 as a freshman, now the consensus choice as the House’s most outstanding member. Has, and displays, more innate intelligence than anyone else there; nobody approaches the lawmaking process more logically, or does more to make rational argument penetrate the often flippant House atmosphere. Has mastered the legislative technique without resorting to Good Old Boy tactics. Manages to outclass his colleagues without making them resent him for it, perhaps the most difficult achievement of all.
An articulate conservative who wins some battles with facts, others with skillful use of complex language (nobody wants to admit they don’t understand what he’s saying)—but almost always wins. Probably the one delegate at last year’s Constitutional Convention most responsible for its failure because of his insistence on a right-to-work provision. He dropped that idea this year, and became the one legislator most responsible for passage of virtually the same document, which will go to the voters this fall; his energetic leadership may yet earn him the sobriquet that Price Daniel, Jr., aspired to have: “Father of the Constitution.”
Expertly handled the volatile Equal Rights Amendment as chairman of the Constitutional Amendments Committee; held hearings far into the night, kept tempers cool and let both sides have their say, then complied with the earnest wishes of his colleagues by bottling up the issue in subcommittee for the rest of the session, rescuing them from the awful prospect of having to vote on so controversial an issue.
Espouses a thoughtful, even progressive brand of conservatism that has been all too rare in Texas politics. Has single-handedly made it respectable to be a Republican in the legislature; denies any ambition for higher office, but if the Republican party needs a gubernatorial candidate, he’s the best thing they’ve got going for them.
Grant Jones, 52, Conservative Democrat, Abilene. Last year’s Constitutional Convention was a sink-or-swim situation for state senators, who were outnumbered 150 to 31 by their House colleagues. Quite a few of them sank. One who didn’t was Grant Jones, largely on account of the same qualities that have kept him near the top this session: fine intelligence, a judicious attitude, and meticulous preparation.
A quiet, hardworking West Texan whose personality is the antithesis of pizazz. Puffs away on his pipe, doesn’t say much, but knows exactly what’s going on. Probably the best-briefed senator of all, and does most of it himself. Staffers on the Education Committee were astonished when they got a glimpse of Jones’ “bill books”—the looseleaf binders in which each senator keeps copies of the legislation pending before the committee; some members just give the books a passing glance and depend on someone else to explain what the real issues are, but Jones’ copies were underlined and annotated like the first draft of a doctoral dissertation.
Willing to tackle tough subjects foreign to his own constituency or personal interests: assigned on five minutes’ notice to a three-man panel considering Gulf Coast land subsidence, the senator from Abilene completely outshone his two Houston colleagues.
Accorded a high degree of respect by the lobby for his insistence on knowing some facts before making up his mind. Said one business-oriented lobbyist: “You can’t just go and say, ‘Hi, Grant. I need you,’ like you can with so many of these guys. He says, ‘Tell me why. Give me the reasons, the arguments on both sides.’” Can’t be bulldozed, a trait which doesn’t endear him to certain high-powered lobbyists who are accustomed to getting cooperation without any back talk; said one such: “I told him what we needed, and he said, ‘Could you get me a memorandum on that?’ Hell, I don’t have time to fool with memorandums for senators.”
Honest, and a gentleman. Not the folksy, backslapping type, but nevertheless has won the admiration of Senate liberals who might have been expected to put him into the deep freeze after he narrowly defeated Tom Moore of Waco, a beloved liberal stalwart, in the 1972 Senate race.
Carries a large legislative program emphasizing fiscal, agricultural, and insurance affairs—with a conservative slant, of course. Author of the bill with the most intriguing title of the session: “The Uniform Minnow Act.”
Jim Mattox, 31, Liberal Democrat, Dallas. As close as anyone has come this session to being “the leader of the loyal opposition.” Unlike many Democratic liberals over the years, who rant in the Members’ Lounge and bitch at Scholz’ but fall curiously silent on the floor, Mattox is an indefatigable fighter who sometimes seems to be in a half-dozen places at once.
The most dedicated and effective political organizer among House liberals since the days of Bob Eckhardt—and, for that matter, a better organizer than Eckhardt. Founded and managed the House Study Group, an association of 63 moderate-to-liberal members who met to discuss legislative strategy every Wednesday at 8 a.m. Just getting the fun-loving liberals out of bed for an 8 a.m. meeting was a stunning accomplishment by itself, but the HSG actually had some influence on the session.
Spurns the mediator role, which he pursued intermittently with little success in 1973. Prefers to be a watchdog and a fighter for liberal causes, a kind of player-coach who both calls the shots and carries the ball. When Representative Tom Uher vowed that a utilities bill would never emerge from the committee Uher chaired, Mattox led a delegation to the Speaker, threatened to tie the floor into parliamentary knots, and won an immediate pledge to release the bill. Well prepared on a broad variety of subjects; can cut through confusion to clarify an issue in floor debate.
Hampered by a strident nasal voice (made more abrasive by the House PA system) and a tendency to sound inflammatory even when he isn’t, both of which make him less-than-persuasive with conservatives without reducing their respect for him as a worthy adversary. Means as much for the liberal side as Hutchison has meant for the conservatives.
An unlikely candidate for the liberal leadership: a former assistant to Dallas’ hellfire-and-brimstone District Attorney Henry Wade and a fundamentalist Baylor Baptist who gingerly sampled his first Brandy Alexander this year.
Has his eye on Republican Congressman Alan Steelman’s seat next year; with a choice between two such quality politicians, Dallas could do a lot worse.
Wayne Peveto, 36, Moderate Democrat, Orange. Best known this session for taking on a politically thankless but badly needed chore, the reform of property tax administration, and doing a superb job on it. With careful preparation and hard man-to-man persuasion, he got 84 cosponsors for the bill by the day it was introduced, thereby insuring that more than half of the 150-member House would take a fatherly interest in its passage.
A successful lawyer who uses his courtroom skills in committee to slice through double-talking witnesses; shredded oil company lobbyists who claimed that the Texas petrochemical industry would pull up stakes and move to Louisiana if the legislature increased their taxes. Made a monkey out of a RiceUniversity economist speaking against a proposed refinery tax by (among other things) forcing the professor to admit that he had been paid to prepare his testimony. Manages to display the tenacity of a bulldog without seeming personally antagonistic.
Won’t back away from tough, controversial issues and wins surprisingly often. One example: led the floor fight to abolish the office of County School Superintendent, once an important position but now an anachronistic sinecure carefully guarded by its well-paid occupants. Was successful in the House, but like so much of his program, his victory was largely snuffed out in the Senate.
His main weakness is a distaste for power politics. When the property tax bill fell under the disapproving eye of Lieutenant Governor Hobby after passing the House more than 3-to-l, he might have rescued it from certain death in subcommittee by threatening to blame Hobby publicly for its failure; but he doesn’t play the game that way.
Popular in his home district and respected by his colleagues: a comer who’s certain to be a star in future sessions.
Aaron R. “Babe” Schwartz, 49, Liberal Democrat, Galveston. The best technician in either house, an expert on everything from the rules to appropriations. Has no equal at passing bills, just as old foe Bill Moore has no equal at killing them. Only Moore can match him in floor debate; when the quality of the Senate began to decline in 1973, the two had to call a cease-fire because no one was left to break up their pitched battles.
A dominant force, as usual, on the Senate Finance Committee and the appropriations conference committee. Had another productive session in the field which propelled him to legislative stardom in the late Sixties—coastal resource management—by passing bills authorizing a superport, establishing an oil spill cleanup fund, providing state sponsorship for the Intracoastal Waterway, and planning for freshwater inflows into its coastal estuaries. He also passed two bills aimed at cutting medical malpractice insurance rates.
Perhaps his most valuable legislative asset is an uncanny sense of timing—the ability to make the right move at the right time. In the middle of an uphill battle to pass a bill establishing a state human relations commission, the Capitol was shaken by a clap of thunder from a storm raging outside; cutting off his impassioned argument in mid-sentence, Schwartz shook his finger at his colleagues, said “The Lord’s talking to you,” and asked for an immediate vote. He won.
A former liberal gadfly turned pragmatist; the mere mention of his name is enough to evoke sneers in some liberal circles. Not a sellout in the classic sense of the word (he is definitely not for sale) but rather a tradeout—someone who swapped conscience for clout. Distinguishes between pragmatism (which he admires) and expediency (which he doesn’t), although only he knows where he draws the line. Still fights some quixotic battles though, such as his campaigns against confirmation of former John Birch Society member Walter Sterling (appointed to the UT Board of Regents) and Hilmar Moore (appointed to the Public Welfare Board); both efforts were doomed to failure. Other losing battles this session: his bills to protect the right to privacy, establish a state-owned superport, and put an end to fraudulent land sales. It is a true measure of his stature that he is respected by his colleagues as much for his failures as for his successes.
Max Sherman, 39, Conservative Democrat, Amarillo. One of the two or three finest public servants in state government, at the top of everyone’s Ten Best list. Conscientious, fair, thoroughly decent; a high-type person in a place that has too many of the other kind. The sort of senator you read about in civics textbooks but seldom encounter in real life.
Served efficiently and impartially as chairman of the Senate Natural Resources Committee, a position that could easily have gotten a less-gifted West Texas conservative at furious cross-purposes with urban environmentalists. Takes the time to make himself aware of bills that are truly important and to treat them accordingly, even if he’s opposed to them—something that too many chairmen (especially in this year’s House) were unwilling to do. Doesn’t run his committee on favors (“I’ll help your bill if you’ll help mine”) or on status (preferential treatment for senior colleagues).
Represents the upper Panhandle, a remote section more like Kansas than the rest of Texas, which often feels ignored by the population centers in the state’s eastern half; its success in getting its needs considered depends heavily on whether it sends effective legislators to Austin. Sherman proved his worth by expertly carrying a water development bond constitutional amendment that environmentally minded East Texans strenuously opposed as a back-door method of financing the Texas Water Plan (since the water for West Texas would be siphoned away from East Texas lakes). Though West Texas senators are hopelessly outnumbered, the proposal sailed through easily, with even deep East Texas Senator Don Adams voting for it: a personal triumph for Sherman, and an indication of the esteem in which his colleagues hold him. (Lieutenant Governor Hobby’s support didn’t hurt, either.)
Has authored some of the session’s most important legislation: a uniform Administrative Procedure Act, the strip mining bill (far superior to the House version), and an energy conservation development fund.
His only fault—if it can be called that—is that he’s not rambunctious enough; a Senate composed of 31 Max Shermans would be the best Senate in the country, but it wouldn’t be any fun to watch. “Sure he’s the best,” said one top Democratic party leader, “but God he’s dull!” The kind of person who might have worked his way through law school selling Bibles—which he did.
Bill Sullivant, 35, Conservative Democrat, Gainesville. An honest, thorough, legislative craftsman who has made a place for himself more by dint of hard work than by any excess of natural talent. Low-key, passive personality; alert but cool, an unusual combination for a successful state representative.
Performed impressively as a freshman in 1973, then rose to prominence during the Constitutional Convention with outstanding work on the finance committee. Teamed with Ray Hutchison to guide the new constitution through the House this session.
First supported Fred Head for Speaker, then helped engineer the bolt from the Head camp that cinched Clayton’s election; was rewarded with the chairmanship of the politically sensitive Environmental Affairs Committee and soon became a rare and endangered species: a House committee chairman who ran things fairly and evenhandedly. Faced with a committee whose members had been handpicked by chemical industry lobbyist Harry Whitworth, Sullivant kept important legislation moving and won the respect of environmentalists and industry representatives alike.
Among the most enigmatic of the rising young members. Ferociously ambitious, with an expansive sense of his own importance; wants to be Speaker, but has so far generated little support. Thoroughly capable; yet no one seems quite sure what makes him tick, and they’re not willing to trust him completely until they do. Maybe it’s just that he’s not a Good Old Boy.
Sarah Weddington, 30, Liberal Democrat, Austin. Best known as the attorney who persuaded the United States Supreme Court to declare most criminal laws against abortion unconstitutional. Continues to be interested in feminist issues like the rape bill (which she handled effectively on the House floor), but is definitely not just a one-issue legislator. Carries a large and diverse legislative program—too large and diverse in the opinion of many liberals, who fault her for spreading herself too thin.
Persuasive and respected in debate. Her best performance on the floor came during the fight over presidential primary legislation—Tom Schieffer’s so-called Bentsen bill. By the time she had finished with Schieffer, it was clear that he was taking things personally, a bad mistake that cost him votes.
May be the hardest working member of the House. Here is a typical performance in the session’s closing days: on the floor one night until a 2 a.m. adjournment; at 8 a.m. the following morning, headed the House Study Group strategy session on malpractice insurance; and at 2 a.m. that night, won approval of an important amendment requiring insurance companies to pre-file their rates with the State Board of Insurance.
Has a knack for making her male colleagues feel at ease in discussing serious subjects, which has helped her win the genuine respect of old-style House members like Clayton and Dick Slack who might have been predisposed to ignore her. Her feminist principles lead her into hopeless battles, such as an attempt to knock out a rider in the appropriations bill prohibiting the use of state money for abortions; surprisingly, these futile efforts have damaged neither her effectiveness nor her morale. Not afraid to work with Conservatives—a trait that has helped her break down prejudices but has also cost her the trust of kamikaze liberals. Has probably overcome more obstacles to reach the Ten Best than any other legislator.
John Wilson, 36, Conservative Democrat, LaGrange. The biggest star of the 64th Legislature, proof that the most underrated members can show convincing leadership under the right circumstances. Came to the House as a hot-headed country boy whom most representatives didn’t bother to take seriously; grew steadily in stature, broadened as a person, came into his own during the Constitutional Convention, and established himself this session as a respected force high on everyone’s Top Ten list. Not bad for a three-year career.
Prepares carefully; presents well-thought-out arguments, and is rewarded by his colleagues’ respectful attention (that may seem like a small thing until you see them cruelly ignore a member who has nothing worthwhile to say; it happens all the time). His influence is all the more remarkable considering he’s not very tall, has an utterly forgettable face, and is completely devoid of charisma. Does it all by sheer irresistible drive, like a tractor plowing a field.
In the best tradition of East Texas rural populist conservatism, spent much of the session fighting large concentrations of economic power—bank holding companies, road builders, utility companies. Led the floor fight in the House for strong utility regulation and passed a tough bill—against opposition from the Speaker—with only 29 dissenting votes, a remarkable achievement. Said one Capitol newsman: “You could put in a very small room the people up here who are really on the public side, and he’s one of them.”
Tenacious and tough once he’s latched on to an issue. Some would even say stubborn: he occasionally gets committed to a position too early, persuades himself with his own arguments, and won’t bend. But given the oversupply of flaky legislators every year, it’s a pleasure to find one who isn’t.
The Ten Worst:
O.H. “Ike” Harris, 43, Republican, Dallas. Good-natured playboy of the Senate set. Has the best job he can imagine: security (a safe district with constituents who’ll let him loaf provided he reminds them now and then that he’s “conservative”), prestige (all the status that a former student body president of SMU could wish for), ego gratification (lots of pretty girls to decorate his office), and influence (every special interest in Texas would love to know him better). Never mind that he’s a double zero as a legislator; that’s not the point.
A sad case of unapplied talent; he’s perfectly capable of being an outstanding member (he’s not dumb), and his colleagues like him, but he doesn’t care enough to try. Sits through committee meetings looking bored and restless, as though he were daydreaming at a sermon. Regards attendance at Senate sessions as a burden to be tolerated for the sake of the after-hours fringe benefits.
Seems to operate on the principle that if you represent enough special interests, eventually you’ll have a majority of the people behind you. Authored some of the session’s sleaziest bills. One would have required citizens to pay for a peek at “open” public records. Another—backed by contractors—weakened state laws requiring fire escapes in new buildings. A third would have delayed, from seven to fifteen years, the time after which uncashed travelers checks would escheat to the state—a strange proposal for someone who harps on the need to save taxpayers’ money, since it would have cost the state treasury $150,000 a year and given the funds to companies like American Express.
Isn’t even interested in Republican party legislation, which he leaves to Fort Worth Senator Betty Andujar. Has a long history of talking like a Republican back home and voting compliantly with the Democratic Senate leadership in Austin. Was the decisive vote this year against a party purity amendment which would have strengthened the Republican primary. Very interested in parties, however—just not the political kind.
Fred Head, 36, Liberal Democrat, Athens. Has anyone fallen farther than Fred Head? Once a serious contender for Speaker, he has now alienated practically everyone in the House; even his former supporters won’t defend him. A toxin in the legislative bloodstream. Not the least bit above using cheap, strong-arm tactics to get whatever he wants. Tried to bludgeon the Dean of the LBJ School of Public Affairs into hiring his former campaign aide as a faculty member at $36,000 a year; unsubtly reminded the astonished Dean that he was “Chairman of the House Higher Education Committee” and gave him a 24-hour ultimatum to comply. Because UT appropriations were subject to Head’s whims, the aide was hired; a few days later, Regent Allan Shivers found out about it and forced him to resign.
Head’s pork barrel performance as committee chairman left other members thunderstruck; it had the wild abandon of Reconstruction carpetbaggers gone berserk. Took huge chunks of money recommended for UT-Austin and Texas A&M, then scattered it willy-nilly among his political allies; at one point, he and his fellow committee members had jockeyed $38 million worth of largesse into (or near) their home districts (much of it in defiance of Legislative Budget Board recommendations). Even tried to shut down the Institute of Texan Cultures in San Antonio by drying up its funds. Head apparently was hoping less-favored members would come submissively and try to make a “deal”; instead, they were repulsed.
Tries to play power politics without understanding what power politics is. Fights some of the right battles (stopping vague, “lump-sum” budgeting at UT) in all the wrong ways (his head-on confrontation was doomed to failure because he hugely underestimated UT’s political clout, an error which practically anyone could have pointed out to him). Made exactly the same kind of mistakes as redistricting chairman last session. Said one retired lobbyist who has watched the legislature for years: “Fred Head uses power less effectively than anyone else there.”
He also consistently abuses it. When the legislature passed an emergency appropriation for colleges and universities early in the session, Head claimed the schools were not supposed to use the money to increase faculty salaries—although the bill clearly permitted it. When he heard that some colleges were granting faculty pay increases, Head was infuriated. He tried to pressure the comptroller’s office into blocking all funds going to the colleges, including physically retrieving the pay warrants. After the comptroller’s office refused to comply with this extraordinary demand, Head voted throughout the session to cut the comptroller’s appropriations.
Petty and venomous toward those who disagree with him. Is considered hopelessly untrustworthy by his colleagues, who have quit trying to make sense of him and now just hold him in icy contempt. Sees them (and the issues) as no more than vehicles for his own immense ambition. Works hard, but with an ulterior motive: “His homework consists of trying to find things that give him leverage on you,” said one of the state’s most powerful political figures. “His whole life is a series of demands on people.”
Having ruined his reputation in the legislature, he seems to be looking toward new fields to conquer: recently moved out of Smith County, his legislative home base, into adjacent Henderson County, which not coincidentally happens to be in the congressional district of aging Wright Patman, a man whose integrity compares to Head’s like platinum to lead. There ought to be a law.
Al Korioth, 46, Republican, Dallas. A classic prototype of the Legislative Mooch. Come mealtime, this mustachioed, walrus-looking representative seeks out lobbyists and forces them to feed him; a favorite technique is to walk into a restaurant or club, gaze around until he sees a lobbyist he knows, then tell the headwaiter, “Put me on his ticket.” The lobbyist, given the choice of buying his dinner or making a scene, usually goes along. Korioth calls this “having a sponsor.” Said one lobbyist who’d been victimized once too often: “There’s a difference between being asked out to eat and refusing to go unless someone else pays for it. He probably hasn’t paid for one meal during the whole session.”
A nonentity on the floor; nobody respects him or pays any attention to him. This doesn’t deter him from traipsing to the microphone constantly. “It’s never anything constructive, just nitpicking,” said one observer. During debate on a bill to control land subsidence near the San Jacinto Monument, he asked, “Are you sure it’s the ground sinking and not the ocean rising?” When not wasting the members’ time on the mike, he chatters away with loud, disruptive comments to anyone within shouting distance of his desk.
Considered one of the lobby’s most reliable water carriers. Is he on the take? Said one colleague: “Why should the lobby pay for it? They get it free.”
Glenn Kothmann, 47, Liberal Democrat, San Antonio. Less than furniture, the closest thing to a non-senator the Capitol has seen since David Ratliff resigned in 1972. Could vanish from the face of the earth and never be missed; indeed, his very presence in the Senate constitutes featherbedding—a practice he may have learned from organized labor, whose implement he is.
Still the densest member of the Senate, though Houston’s Lindon Williams is running him a close race. Introduced exactly one bill: SB 276, to establish a state school for the mentally retarded in San Antonio, a subject which some of his critics consider an entirely fitting choice. Despite the lack of any substantial opposition to the bill (which passed 28-3), it took Kothmann three tries starting in 1971 to get it through.
By the inexorable process of seniority, was selected President Pro Tem this session, an honorary position that entitles the occupant to serve as Governor for a Day. His colleagues looked forward to that occasion (June 28) with irrepressible inner mirth, as though they were watching someone prepare to light an exploding cigar.
Opposes bills of benefit to urban areas with depressing regularity; stalled one in committee that would have given cities more federal funds. His comment on mass transit legislation: “I don’t like new bills; you never know what’s in them.” The lobby regards him as an easy mark.
Very popular in his home district for reasons that elude outsiders. Takes his cues in the Senate from Bill Moore of Bryan, whose mossback view of what’s good for Texas could not be more foreign to the interests of Kothmann’s working class constituents. If, as the saying goes, people get the government they deserve, the residents of southeast Bexar County may be due for a rain of frogs.
Mike McKinnon, 36, Conservative Democrat, Corpus Christi. Like Kothmann, once again a unanimous Ten Worst choice. A TV-station president who seems to have sought public office largely for the satisfaction of hearing other people call him “senator.” Research failed to uncover a single person who claimed to have heard him say an enlightened word on the floor. Usually limits himself to the role of a giggling, chuckling yes-man for obstreperous Senate heavyweight Bill Moore.
Held in unconcealed contempt by many of his colleagues, who have learned the hard way that they can’t rely on his word. One senator called him a “son of a bitch” within earshot of spectators at the State Affairs Committee, adding “you promised me you would vote with me.” Said another: “You can’t trust him. There’s just not enough time up here to keep going back to McKinnon and ask him if he’s still on your side.” Politicians by nature must learn to get along with each other; but many Texas senators seem unable and unwilling to tolerate McKinnon in their midst.
They are not alone. “Wholly lacking in substance,” said one lobbyist. “No redeeming social value,” said another. “A real old-fashioned jerk,” said a third.
Has few legislative interests; his one triumph of the session was a geothermal energy resources bill handpicked and turned over to him by Hobby in an effort to rescue him from deep trouble with environmentalists in his district. Asked on the floor if it would give the state land commissioner authority to lease state lands for geothermal energy production, he replied, “To the best of my knowledge I don’t know whether it does or not.”
An ultra-conservative who believes that the government ought to standardize weights and measures and not much else. Votes his convictions whenever he can figure out how they are reflected in the bills. As a member of the State Affairs Committee, declined to vote one way or the other on the utilities bill. Likes to pore over audit reports of state agencies, then asks nitpicky questions that nobody else knows—or wants to know—the answers to.
Longs to run for lieutenant governor, making him the Senate winner of the Tom Schieffer Award for the member whose ambition most outstrips his talent.
Tom Schieffer, 27, Conservative Democrat, Fort Worth. What you get is even less than what you see.
Arrogant and—what is worse—ambitious. Gained abundant notoriety early in the session as the sponsor of a patently unfair presidential primary bill designed to boost the chances of Senator Lloyd Bentsen. His garbled mishandling of that affair could put him on the Ten Worst by itself, but he wins his spot by conspicuous lack of merit in every field.
“Actually he is furniture,” said one lobbyist. “His mistake was in trying to be anything else.” Said another: “He sits around and acts like he’s thinking. The worst type of person is someone who’s very ordinary and gets it into his head he’s some sort of big shot.” Said a high-ranking employee of a key state agency: “He’s just not very capable. All he can do is turn red in the face and scream at you.”
As chairman of the Local and Consent Calendars Committee, he killed uncontroversial but important legislation sponsored by members he didn’t like. Said one person victimized by Schieffer’s maneuverings: “He really had big britches this session. Every time he let a bill out, he acted like he’d done you a big favor.” After a feud with Comptroller Bob Bullock over the fiscal implications of the presidential primary (capped by a letter from Bullock remarking, “I am sorry if you were offended by the cost of your own bill”), he killed two innocuous bills that were vital to the orderly operation of the comptroller’s office.
The most appalling news of the 64th Legislature may be the fact that Tom Schieffer is soliciting pledges to be Speaker of the House.
G. J. Sutton, 66, Liberal Democrat, San Antonio. Scandalously bad member. Smokes little thin filter-tip cigars and wears natty black suits that make him look like an undertaker—which he is. Has buried, among other things, the morale of the Black Caucus, whose members elected him as chairman out of misplaced respect for his illustrious past leadership of the NAACP.
Was responsible for the single most odious maneuver in this year’s appropriations process: the approval, without a public hearing and in violation of parliamentary rules, of $750,000 to buy a run-down, vandalized foundry, and $250,000 to remodel it into a “state office building.” The foundry is located two blocks from Sutton’s funeral parlor in one of San Antonio’s most decayed neighborhoods, looks like something Generalissimo Trujillo might have designed as a joke, and is on the Bexar County tax rolls (at 100 per cent of fair market value) for $221,852—less than a third of what he expected the state to pay for it.
Had the full support of the Speaker in this nefarious enterprise because Clayton wanted to reward Sutton for his timely support in the Speaker’s race.
Still sees everything in poisoned 1950s battle-rhetoric terms, though old age is beginning to take its toll. Infuriates liberals and conservatives alike by trying to blame his own failures—and they are many—on the “racism” of everyone else. Said one white liberal: “He really thinks any time he doesn’t get exactly what he wants, race is the only reason. This place doesn’t work that way any more.” Even other blacks have nicknamed him “Papa Doc.”
Shocked the Black Caucus by his opportunistic readiness to pursue you-get-yours-I’m-getting-mine logrolling, instead of the team effort they had expected. Has been observed asleep for hours at his desk during House sessions; is periodically awakened by Houston Representative Senfronia Thompson. On the session’s most important issue for minorities—school finance—Sutton slept through large portions of the debate and then voted against the bill that would have most benefited minorities.
Introduced a bill to make his own birthday a state holiday (“Senior Citizens Day”).
Tom Uher, 37, Conservative Democrat, Bay City. The devious, scheming chairman of the House State Affairs Committee. Speaker Clayton’s legislative hit man: his job was to kill bills. The record: 321 bills referred to Uher’s committee; 119 bills reported favorably; 202 notches on Uher’s gun. Because delaying a bill until late in the session can effectively kill its chances of getting through both houses, Uher’s early session record is even more revealing: 254 bills received by mid-April, only 14 reported out. His committee was nicknamed “the embalmers” by disgruntled colleagues.
There are those who will defend Uher’s attitude as just a healthy conservative suspicion about new laws; but there are few who will defend his tactics. Tells members he’ll get a bill out, then finds an excuse to send it to subcommittee—in Uher’s bailiwick, a one-way trip. Tried to kill utility regulation all by himself, but stumbled over his own feet when he said he wouldn’t appoint anyone who favored a utility commission to the subcommittee: there are some things better left unspoken. Was more successful in killing a proposed human relations commission and in bottling up a proposed state-owned superport after assuring their authors he’d give the bills a fair chance.
Consistently votes against efforts to open the political process. “More against change than anyone I’ve ever served with,” said one member. “He doesn’t want things to stay the same; he yearns to return.” Other members say he can resist any argument appealing to reason. Grew more puffed up by the hour with his chairmanship, apparently thrilled that anyone with such modest ability could rise to such heights of glory.
Last session was the prototype of a “cockroach”—someone who gets into things and messes them up. This time he had a chance to mess up more important things. Said one colleague: “When a cockroach gets a chairmanship, it’s gonna make him or break him. It didn’t help Uher a bit.”
Larry Vick, 33, Republican, Houston. The hands-down winner as the most detested member of the House. A loner because nobody else wants to be seen in his company.
Likes to lob big, controversial bombshell issues into the lap of the legislature, not because he expects to solve anything but because he enjoys watching the smoke and fire. Example: his proposal to place a prohibition against busing in the new constitution, a wacky enough idea in any case (considering that any federal court inclined to order busing would make short shrift of a state law against it), and one which he drove into the ground so badly day after day that even the members who deplored busing finally got sick of him.
Sent to Coventry by his colleagues, he subsided somewhat in the 1975 session. “Not as abrasive as he was during the Constitutional Convention, mainly because that would have been impossible,” said a fellow Republican member. Made himself into a buffoon early in the session by flying off to Illinois and North Dakota to lobby for resolutions that would have stalled the Equal Rights Amendment there, getting caught drawing his $12-a-day per diem expenses while he was gone, and then trying to defend his behavior by insisting that he had been on “important state business.”
Carries a negligible legislative program: six bills, four of which dealt with the same subject (insurance). None passed.
Personally, among the sleaziest of members. Used thinly veiled threats to try to force a state law school to enroll one of his aides. Once attempted to have a female sergeant-at-arms fired because she resisted his advances. Some good news: he may not seek reelection.
Doyle Willis, 64, Moderate Democrat, Fort Worth. “You can’t make a list of the Ten Worst and not put Doyle Willis on it,” said a Capitol observer of many years’ experience. A perennial choice, and the only House repeater from 1973.
The archetypal bad member, an aging politico who has learned only enough of the legislative art to twist it to his own crafty ends.
A typical Willis performance:
At a hearing on legislation that would have let the University of Houston escape strict state laws requiring easy access to college buildings for handicapped students, a blind woman student from UT-Austin testified against the bill, speaking movingly on the difficulties she and others had faced getting into buildings that lacked special aids. Willis, in a protracted and emotional series of questions, sympathized profusely with the young woman and assured her of how very, very deeply he agonized over her plight. “Oh, little lady,” he gushed, “we just want to take care of you and all the other little blind children of Texas the very best way we can.” By the time he had finished he was in tears, leaving observers convinced he would fight such legislation to the death.
Moments later, a dry-eyed Willis privately told a lobbyist: “Don’t worry. We’ll get your bill out.”
But why go on? In the words of one lobbyist: “Just say, ‘And Doyle Willis, of course.’ There’s no need to explain.”
The term “furniture” first came into use around the legislature to describe members who, by virtue of their ineffectualness or stupidity, were indistinguishable from their desks, chairs, and inkwells. It is now used, casually and more generally, to identify the most inconsequential members.
The Furniture List for the 64th Legislature:
Jim Clark, Pasadena
Tony Dramberger, San Antonio
Michael Ezzell, Snyder
Tony Garcia, Pharr
Forrest Green, Corsicana
Don Henderson, Houston
Joe Hernandez, San Antonio
Sam Hudson, Dallas
Elmer Martin, Colorado City
Ed Mayes, Granbury
Robert O’Kelley, El Paso
Tony Polumbo, Houston
Don Rains, San Marcos
David Stubbeman, Abilene
Ruben Torres, Port Isabel
Kenneth Vaughan, Garland
Leroy Wieting, Portland
Roy Harrington, Port Arthur
Frank Lombardino, San Antonio
Lindon Williams, Houston
Unidentified Flying Object
Neither the Furniture category nor the Ten Worst list can do full justice to Terry Canales, 29, a sophomore representative from Alice. Nothing can do justice to Canales.
Missed all but three roll calls from January to mid-March; absent for 48 of 177 record votes. When he finally showed up in early April, the Speaker asked to see the credentials of this “stranger in our midst,” and then Canales received a standing ovation.
When the Capitol Press Corps chose him as one of its Top Ten Dumb, he is reported to have replied, “I may be, but there’s no way for them to tell, ‘cause I’m never here.”
Legislation bearing his name is rarer than the Gutenberg Bible. Half of his legislative program was a bill (which never came close to passing) to require staggered terms for the Starr County Hospital directors; the other half, a resolution to impeach his political arch-foe, District Judge O. P. Carrillo.
Has a nice sense of humor, according to a member who once met him.
Special Worse Than Worst Award
The Scene: The Texas Senate Chamber, May 22, 1975. A meeting of the State Affairs Committee, Bill Moore (57, Bryan), Chairman.
Moore has just denounced the House-passed utilities bill, saying he didn’t want to hear debate on it because he’d heard debate on bills like that for 25 years, and has offered his own lobby-written utilities bill as a complete substitute. At the back of the chamber, a utility company lobbyist strides through the door and walks up to a friend, another utility lobbyist. “Everything going according to plan?” he asks. “Yep.” For 25 years, the lobby has depended on Bill Moore to make sure everything goes according to plan. He seldom disappoints them, and then only because he intends to; Moore never does anything accidentally. Last session we gave him the “Special Best and Worst Award” because, we said, “Few men have mastered parliamentary tactics and the art of good-humored gamesmanship as well as he; few men have so scant a legacy of significant public accomplishment to show for their skills. “His wit is legendary, his abilities immense. Without him the Senate would be a husk of its present self; with him, the Senate can bear fruit only by overcoming the impediments he places before it.” This session Moore outdid himself. He dominated the Senate as no other member could, while: walking out on a major public hearing in his own committee, leaving two dozen witnesses waiting to speak; dismissing critics of UT Regent nominee Walter Sterling, a former John Birch Society member, as “rabble rousers”; authoring legislation to raise small loan rates as high as 31.7 per cent a year; passing a bill to hand over to highway contractors more than $ 1 million in interest money that now goes into the state treasury; opposing a government economy commission, an alcoholism treatment program, and the new Constitution; cutting short a hearing on a bill to aid low-income housing with the comment: “Are there any witnesses here against it besides the Chairman?” refusing to discuss amendments to his child care regulations, then tossing the bill into the wastebasket when his colleagues declined to bring it up for immediate debate; and warning that “socialism and communism” lurked in utility commission proposals. It is uncanny how his comments sound outrageous in print, while on the floor they seem lovably eccentric. Last session we wrote: “He is baffling, unclassifiable, larger than life. Of him it could be said, as it was said of the nineteenth century Irish patriot/villain Daniel O’Connell, The only way to deal with such a man is to hang him up and erect a statue to him under the gallows.’” This session we are not so sure about the statue.