The Ten Best and The Ten Worst Legislators
GLORY BEE! The world at last has gotten a glimpse of the Texas Legislature as we have come to know and love it. Thanks to the Killer Bees, the twelve senators who eluded a statewide search for four days after walking out in opposition to an early presidential primary, everybody now knows what we’ve been saying all along: nobody, but nobody, plays hardball quite as hard as our Legislature, nor has so much fun in the process. Imagine, if you can, a dozen gray-flanneled New England congressmen dodging the FBI, or a band of California legislators going underground in Chinatown … impossible.
But the flight of the Bees may have been a last hurrah for the old days and the old ways. The Texas Legislature, in its 132nd year, is going through a belated change of life. The good-old-boy approach to politics isn’t enough anymore; today’s Texas legislator is more at home with semicolons than six-packs. Consider the issues that tested the 66th Legislature: tax relief, new interest ceilings, penalties for usury, manufacturers’ liability for defective products, the dilemma of how to finance and controlled college construction, wage levels for constructing public projects, weakening the consumer protection law, revising workman’s compensation, plus Sunset, the Legislature’s first real attempt to get a handle on the bureaucracy, plus the presidential primary, plus some perennials (school finance, appropriations, property tax administration) and some leftovers (revisions of strip-mining, clean air, and consumer credit laws).
As if that weren’t enough, the Legislature had to deal with the state’s first Republican governor in a century. Bill Clements asked for initiative and referendum, a ban on state income taxes, wiretapping authority for police, and some other goodies; about all he got was increased budgeting authority. Still, as Texas’ best practitioner of political theatrics since John Connally, Clements managed to come out looking good despite getting virtually nothing he wanted, as opposed to his predecessor, Dolph Briscoe, who usually got everything he wanted and looked terrible.
With all this to think about, any legislator who didn’t have a grasp of finance and credit, who didn’t understand the state’s intricate property tax system, who didn’t know the law, was doomed to the sidelines. For some reason, the murkier the waters, the more lawyers seem to be able to see; and with the waters of the session muddied by so many complex issues, lawyers dominated the session. Although the Legislature’s 181-member roster includes only 75 attorneys, our Ten Best list includes 8. Even the other two have attended law school; they are, not coincidentally, the hardest working members of the House and Senate.
Our criteria, as always, transcended any consideration of political philosophy, for both conservatives and liberals use the same standards to judge their colleagues. A good legislator is intelligent, quick to understand, well prepared, open-minded, and independent. He knows the distinction between firmness and fairness and makes good use of both. He is effective because of his colleagues’ respect, not their fear. He thinks about what’s right—and he is smart enough to know he may be wrong. A bad legislator is more difficult to define: indolence, stupidity, and ineffectiveness can be overlooked if a legislator has enough sense to stay indoors during emergencies. It’s the driver who’s so oblivious that he blocks the road who frequently ends up on the Ten Worst list along with, of course, those occasional ogres who take pleasure in running over people.
We did look closely at one nonpartisan issue in making our determinations. This was the first year of the Sunset process, where state agencies must periodically justify their existence. Every agency up for review this year, 26 in all, would cease to exist if the Legislature did not reestablish them. This provided a golden opportunity to make an agency like the State Board of Morticians more responsive to the public and less a creature of the industry it regulates. In contrast to issues like higher interest rates, where it was debatable where the public interest really lay, Sunset was one of those issues with the public interest on one side and taking care of your friends on the other—and we judged it accordingly.
The Best and Worst lists represented a consensus of our own observations of floor and committee action combined with interviews of legislators, staff, Capitol press, lobbyists, and state agency birddogs who keep their noses close to the Legislature. Our Best list includes six liberal Democrats, two conservative Democrats, and two Republicans—disproportionately strong showings by liberals and Republicans, but a dismal performance by conservatives. Perhaps the state’s political talent, like its population, is piling up in the cities and their suburbs, but the more likely explanation is that conservative Democrats lost too much talent through retirement last season: they were like a football team whose best players had graduated—still a couple of years away from a good year. Chances for a comeback are good, because most of the freshman talent had a decidedly conservative Democratic tinge. Ed Howard (42, Texarkana) was in a class by himself in the Senate, and Bill Messer (28, Belton) and John Sharp (28, Victoria) were the best newcomers in the House. All are conservative Democrats. Lloyd Criss (38, La Marque) was the top liberal arrival, and Ed Emmett (29, Kingwood) led the Republicans. The Worst list was more balanced: four conservative Democrats, three liberals, three Republicans.
In addition to the Ten Best and Ten Worst, there were some near-misses in both directions. Three House committee chairmen deserve honorable mention: Gib Lewis (42, Fort Worth) ran the best committee in the House (Intergovernmental Affiars) and was effective on the floor—unfortunately, too often on behalf of the beer lobby; Bennie Bock (42, New Braunfels) orchestrated the first override of a gubernatorial veto since 1941 and guided park programs through the Environmental Affairs Committee; and Bob Simpson (35, Amarillo) deviated from tradition by running the Insurance Committee as something other than an arm of the insurance industry. Down in the trenches, two committee workers were exceptional: losing Speaker candidate Buddy Temple (37, Dibboll), who instead of nursing his wounds tried to find solutions to some of the session’s thorniest problems on the State Affairs Committee; and Lee Jackson (29, Dallas), whose urban Republicanism was a force on both tax relief and Sunset. In the Senate, Pete Snelson (56, Midland) emerged from the pack on Sunset and education, and Ron Clower (38, Garland) finally lived up to his potential by leading resistance to a separate presidential primary.
On the negative side, a couple of dirty tricksters earned dishonorable mentions. Senator Peyton McKnight (54, Tyler) tried unsuccessfully to get a Houston law firm to fire a woman lobbyist who dates one of his political enemies. In the House, Tim Von Dohlen (35, Goliad) earned the title of most distrusted member: once he used his position on the traffic-directing Calendars Committee to hold up a member’s bill, already approved for floor action, for more than a month while he maneuvered to get his own bill on the same subject out of committee; when he succeeded, he slipped his bill onto the House schedule first—only to have his ears pinned back when the House voted to substitute the rival bill.
Four Bests repeated from 1977: John Bryant, Ron Coleman, Lance Lalor, and Babe Schwartz, who extended his winning streak to four sessions. Jim Nugent and three-time Best Max Sherman moved up in the world, to Railroad Commissioner and West Texas State University president respectively. Wayne Peveto, after twice making the top ten for his efforts to reform property tax administration, finally passed what remained of his much-compromised bill—alas, not very much. Lynn Nabers was a first-rate member when he was interested, which wasn’t often; John Wilson, on the other hand, was always interested but never had a chance—he’s running for Speaker against Clayton in 1981. As for Ray Farabee, whom we expected to replace Sherman as the Senate’s best and most independent member, he still could, but first he has to try.
On the Ten Worst list, only Tom Massey was fitted for a second straight black hat. DeWitt Hale, Chris Miller, and Joe Tom Robbins were ineligible; only Hale’s retirement was voluntary. Bob Davis became the first to make the leap from Worst to Best in one session. Charles Evans didn’t come quite that far, but he was much improved in his new role as chairman of the House committee overseeing Sunset. House Appropriations Committee chairman Bill Presnal ran a tighter ship this session under orders from Fleet Admiral Clayton. We wish we could say that Tom Creighton and Clay Smothers were better; actually, others were just worse. And where is perennial Worst Glenn Kothmann? Well, he sent us word that he wasn’t one of the ten worst. So be it: we accept his plea bargain of eleventh.
The Ten Best
John Bryant, 32, liberal Democrat, Dallas. Opposition standard-bearer in the House, the spiritual leader of the Gang of Four, whose fiery conscience was matched only by his temper. Got off to a terrible start: threw a fit at labor lobbyists, usually his allies, for their support of a utility bill he opposed; appeared to mislead the House—that’s legislative parlance for lying—during the tax relief debate; then violated an unwritten code by suggesting his colleagues had been influenced by the timber lobby’s lavish wining and dining.
The average member would have been banished to the back benches, if not by his enemies, then by his friends eager to keep him quarantined. But Bryant had the intelligence and ability to recover, and in the session’s critical final weeks he reemerged as a force—perhaps the force—to be reckoned with.
Realized he was too outgunned to kill business-backed legislation outright; instead shot to maim. Limited the higher ceiling on interest rates to two years’ duration; attached the same time limit to a proposal giving manufacturers of defective products protection against consumer lawsuits. Took a much-criticized bill allowing auto dealers to charge a $25 documents fee and made it more palatable to consumers with a tough disclosure amendment.
Even managed one unqualified triumph: led the successful assault on a loan shark bill authorizing a 300 per cent increase in interest rates on small loans. Functioned as the House apiarist for the Senate’s Killer Bees, marshaling forces against a separate presidential primary and putting the House on record against it while the Bees were in flight.
As the sun set on the last day of the session, the scene on the House floor was almost predictable. There was Bryant, looking red-faced and permanently sad, like someone too long in mourning, maneuvering virtually alone to block adoption of the appropriations bill. And there, clustered around the Speaker’s podium, was fully a third of the House, trying to figure out what to do about him.
Ronald Coleman, 37, liberal Democrat, El Paso. The best all-around member of the Legislature this session. His virtues are straight from a civics textbook: intelligence, industry, independence, fairness, vision, courage, and—a bonus that must have come as a surprise even to Coleman—influence.
As a member of the Gang of Four and one of just eight members to vote against the reelection of Speaker Billy Clayton, he should have been a lonely leper; instead was responsible for the state’s first equitable school finance bill. Persuaded a House committee to substitute his bill, which gave more state money to poor districts and less to rich districts, for a Clayton-backed version that would have done the reverse; then somehow managed to sell the idea to, in order, Clayton, his team, the House, and a House-Senate conference committee. On a list of unlikely achievements, a team outsider passing the most important legislation of the session has to rank alongside Idi Amin rising to become commander of the South African army.
Before the school finance battle, played his usual role as a fly attacking the flyswatter. Handed Clayton forces their first drubbing of the session by getting the House to chop (in the name of fiscal responsibility) more than half of an arguably inflated emergency appropriation for the Railroad Commission; also squelched an attempt to give the Animal Health Commission emergency funds to provide a niche for a Clayton crony. And what did Clayton’s team think of all this? Said one loyalist: “He’s as good as any member on the floor. I wish we had a hundred and fifty like him.”
One of the most effective members of the House in floor debate. Speaks in a rasping tenor voice capable of emotion or unrelenting logic as the moment demands, then distractingly puffs on a thin cigar while his adversary struggles to answer. Put up a memorable fight against a Clayton-backed bill to eliminate the public interest advocate at the Department of Water Resources; his tough questioning so exposed the sponsor’s ignorance that Clayton offered to help Coleman’s one pet bill if Coleman would just lay off.
Not as visible on the floor after winning the school finance battle, perhaps because he didn’t want to endanger what he’d accomplished. That makes him the rarest of all creatures in the Texas political menagerie: a liberal who knows how to win.
Bob Davis, 37, Republican, Irving. Comeback of the year: moved from Ten Worst to Ten Best in just one session, and did it without changing very much. Still one of the Legislature’s most capable members—capable of anything.
The big difference: he switched committee chairmanships, giving up Insurance for Ways and Means, and in the process traded the concerns of one industry for the concerns of the entire state. The move helped Davis shed his image of being beholden to the lobby—though cynics suggested the only real difference was that instead of being beholden to just one, he was now beholden to many. They referred, no doubt, to the controversial tax breaks handed out to corporate farms and timber operators in House Bill 1060, the Tax Relief Act. But in fact HB 1060 was less a Davis bill than a committee bill, the type of consensus product that’s common in Congress but rarely seen in the Texas Legislature; Davis helped shape the final bill and skillfully and defended it on the floor, tax breaks and all. When John Bryant won a preliminary vote to remove timber companies, Davis made one of his now-look-members-this-just-isn’t-good public-policy speeches and turned the vote around. It was Davis at his best.
Davis at his worst still surfaced now and then—most notably when he used a parliamentary ploy to adjourn his committee before they could vote for a bill he opposed. But he later helped pass the same bill with a good amendment—a sign that he has finally learned to draw his sword without throwing away the scabbard.
A presence everywhere: Clayton’s most realistic advisor about what could be sold to the membership, the best in the House on the rules, a devastating opponent on the microphone, and a bulwark in conference committee, where he made certain that House views prevailed on tax reform.
But in the end, what best defines Davis is not his skill but his passion for combat. On the wildest night of the session, after Davis helped break a liberal walkout and two bills he cherished passed the House in bitter floor fights, he stood at the back of the chamber, tie askew, collar open, exulting in the sheer fun of the game. A concerned colleague, remembering that Davis had suffered a heart attack between sessions, came over to inquire about his health. “My pulse rate is up to a hundred and sixteen,” he gloated, “and I haven’t had such fun in years.”
Lloyd Doggett, 32, liberal Democrat, Austin. Leader of the Senate brigade whose determined efforts to sandbag a flood of anticonsumer bills led a disgruntled Bill Hobby to refer to them as the Killer Bees. As a tactician, rivaled Clausewitz. Knew he’d be fighting a defensive battle, so made his opponents struggle for every inch of ground he gave up. His main weapons: filibusters, threats of filibusters, and—in desperation—fleeing the battleground. A selection from Doggett’s primer on legislative warfare:
Principle: the House, with 150 members, is less susceptible to lobby saturation than the Senate, with 31 members. Strategy: use the press to make bills you oppose unpalatable to fair-minded House members. Execution: mount a well-publicized filibuster against a bill weakening the Consumer Protection Act, referring to the proposal as the Consumer Destruction Act. Result: the House sponsor admits the bill needs improvement and includes amendments Doggett could never have passed in the Senate.
Understood perfectly the rhythm of the 140-day session—too relaxed in the beginning and too frantic in the end—and turned it to his advantage. His white tennis shoes became the most celebrated symbol of the session; their presence on his desk warned of his readiness to stand on his feet filibustering for hours. Early in the session the mere sight of them was enough to persuade restless senators to adjourn rather than sit through the night. Later, when a filibuster would mean certain death for the noncontroversial bills stacked up waiting for the Senate runway to clear, Doggett could win in the negotiating room what he had lost on the floor: for example, his last-night threat to talk to death the State Bar’s Sunset bill forced bar lobbyists to accept additional nonlawyers on their board of directors.
Superb at using the power of reviewing gubernatorial appointees: paved the way for the first Senate rejection of a Clements nominee by forcing potential judge Monk Edwards to admit he assumed there was money in an envelope he delivered to then Governor Preston Smith on behalf of Gulf Oil. Rid the state of nefarious bureaucrat Hugh Yantis by invoking senatorial courtesy.
Not a member of the Senate club—oldtimers occasionally slight him by not holding hearings on his bills—and succeeds mainly through hard work and attention to detail; never parties, never relaxes with lobbyists, reads during every spare moment—even in committee meetings. A Texas politician of the modern mold—a pure technician, earnest, a bit dour, like an aging choirboy. Works seven days a week and expects his staff to do the same; once went to his Capitol office on Christmas afternoon and was infuriated to find the building locked.
Jerry, “Nub” Donaldson, 36, conservative Democrat, Gatesville. The House counterpart to emerging Senate panjandrum Bill Meier. Like Meier, was the lead water carrier for the business lobby on his side of the Capitol; unlike Meier, managed not to come out all wet.
In a session dominated by complex, controversial issues, Donaldson handled three of the session’s most contentious bills—raising the interest rate ceiling on home mortgages, giving the Public Utility Commission exclusive authority to set local electric rates, and authorizing auto dealers to charge a $25 documents fee—and passed them all. Accomplished this feat mainly through absolute mastery of the subject matter; as was once said of former New York Governor Al Smith, he “can make statistics sit up, beg, roll over, and bark.” One faltering answer to an enemy question could have aroused the herd instinct of the House to a stampede against him, but Donaldson’s competence kept his votes in line.
Unequaled at judging the effects of hostile amendments in the heat of debate, the most precarious and volatile moments in any bill’s rite of passage. Knows which he can accept so as to defuse the opposition and which he has to fight in order to preserve his bill. May have saved the interest rate bill from decimation when, after losing a preliminary vote against a John Bryant amendment, he judged not to prolong a doomed fight, accepted the amendment, and helped break the opposition’s momentum.
One of the few players on the Clayton team distinguished not by loyalty but by ability. Took a fairly independent voting line. “He’s reasonable about any vote that doesn’t hurt his district,” said a black legislator. In fact, frequently supported key black issues like shoring up the school breakfast program and forcing Texas A&M to end the neglect of its stepchild institution, Prairie View A&M. despite his reputation as a point man for the business lobby, he seldom advocated their position on the microphone except on his own bills and could not be counted as an unquestioning pro-business vote. Sided with Bryant to help kill a loan shark bill; also voted against cutting back consumers’ rights to sue for deceptive trade practices.
A changed man from last session, when he was frequently assailed as being petty, vindictive, and flighty. The metamorphosis was attributed by some to his desire not to alienate any potential votes this session, by others to his desire not to alienate any potential votes next session—when, one frequently hears (though not from Donaldson), he’ll be back as a lobbyist for the savings and loan industry. If he decides to stay, Donaldson, with his technical ability and polyester good-old-boy style, has to be reckoned as a leading candidate to succeed Billy Clayton as Speaker in 1983.
Grant Jones, 56, conservative Democrat, Abilene. The Legislature’s most ardent devotee of hard work; a beast of burden for whom the yoke is reward, not punishment. Spent the session, like Sisyphus in Greek mythology, pushing a heavy boulder uphill; unlike Sisyphus, actually reached the summit—then looked for more boulders to push.
Jones’ record: reformed property tax administration, implemented tax relief, revised the consumer credit code, increased state tuition grants to students at private colleges, and updated state strip-mining regulations. Any two would have made a good session for anyone else; for Jones all five were a mere fraction of his work load, since as chairman of the Senate Finance Committee he was also the chief architect of the appropriations bill.
The only senator who could have filled the void left by retired Finance chairman A.M. Aikin; had the unquestioned integrity and universal respect necessary to hold together the committee’s collection of Senate heavyweights with easily bruised egos. Said one Senate staffer: “Everybody jives and tricks each other except him. He’s the only one you can believe on every issue.” An indication of his colleagues’ esteem came on the first day of the sensitive tax relief conference committee: the other Senate conferees decamped to the floor, leaving Jones alone to bargain with five House members about areas of disagreement.
Played an important role early in the session by standing up to Governor Clements’ demand for wholesale cutting of the budget. Said Jones: “We are a modern industrial state with modern responsibilities. If we are serious about returning power from Washington to those governments closer to the people, then states must not shy away from accepting responsibility.” For a lot of legislators, the statement would have been nothing more than clever rhetoric; when conservative, sober Grant Jones said it, the impending budget battle with Clements was over before it began.
Lance Lalor, 32, liberal Democrat, Houston. A walking refutation of the idea that to succeed in the Texas Legislature you have to be a good old boy. His demeanor on the floor is straight from Isaiah—“Stand by thyself, come not near to me; for I am holier than thou”—but it doesn’t curtail his effectiveness.
Represents a district that epitomizes modern Texas (the Warwick, Rice University, the Texas Medical Center, the Astrodome); fittingly, is the Legislature’s leading urban advocate—a distinction, alas, for which there are too few contenders. In a body where most members’ idea of urban legislations is a bill to improve the firemen’s pension fund, Lalor was able to pass two bills that could have a salutary effect on the quality of city life: one earmarked around $16 million a year for creation of urban state parks, the other would help arrest the decline of older neighborhoods by providing for low-interest commercial loans backed by revenue bonds.
Effective despite the fact that he doesn’t try to be liked, doesn’t care if he’s liked, and isn’t liked; succeeds mainly by doing his homework (he lined up 102 cosponsors for his urban parks bill) while others are sampling Austin’s manifold pleasures. Lalor’s idea of a night on the town is a Wendy’s hamburger followed by reading the bills on the next day’s calendar. One lobbyist who talked to Lalor about a complicated mortgage revenue bond bill was impressed when Lalor asked him about a law review article mentioned in a footnote to another law review article, then was dumbfounded to discover Lalor isn’t even a lawyer.
One of the new breed of liberals who opposes restriction of competition by anyone—particularly the government. Upset more traditional libs (but scored points with conservatives) by carrying the so-called Beneficial Finance bill eliminating the ceiling on the maximum number of offices one loan company may operate. His philosophy made him a natural advocate of the Sunset process: woe to the regulatory agency that wouldn’t accept public members on its board or agree to put its money in the State Treasury. Probably the House member most responsible for whatever success Sunset had.
A full-time legislator, Lalor is still working. At midnight on June 4, a week after final adjournment, Lalor was sitting in his office as usual, poring over conference committee reports from the last week of the session. The 67th Legislature is a year and half away, but for Lalor, it’s time to get ready.
Bob McFarland, 38, Republican, Arlington. The House’s high priest of conservatism, heir to the mantle of Ray Hutchison (who left the House after two sessions on the Ten Best list to run unsuccessfully against Bill Clements in the GOP primary). Has a genius for applying rational argument to the legislative process and making it stick. A strong advocate and mature adversary who doesn’t hate anybody when the fight is over.
Regarded as a comer when the session began; established his arrival beyond all challenge by tackling a bill to reduce penalties for charging usurious interest. Won the admiration of liberal and conservatives alike for his even-handed performance: eliminated the old law’s draconian provisions (the penalty for exceeding the 10 per cent interest ceiling on a thirty-year $50,000 loan was almost $250,000) without letting lenders off lightly. House handicappers had rated the prospects of passage at no better than fifty-fifty; McFarland was so persuasive the vote was 89-40.
Took on an even tougher assignment: finding common ground between defense and trial lawyers quarreling over the right of consumers to sue for injuries caused by defective products. Took the defense lawyers’ bill and became a one man recycling center, turning trash from both sides into a respectable bill he then passed over fierce resistance. In debate, maneuvered like a pool player: one could almost hear the thwock…plop of the ball as he rattled off his argument, racked up the point, and left himself in position for the next shot.
A member’s member who has the qualities colleagues value most: doesn’t play arm-twisting games (he was the only member of the notorious Calendars Committee not at the top of someone’s enemies list) and is straightforward (“He’ll tell you, ‘I can’t go with you on that’; he doesn’t waste my time,” said a liberal member) but not dogmatic (one of the few Republicans who voted to increase child welfare payments).
The most conservative dresser in the House—favors navy suits without a hint of pattern—he walks around the floor absolutely erect, looking exactly like the ex-FBI agent that he is. Retains an uncanny street sense which helps him judge the mercurial moods of the House, but is totally free of the macho ex-cop syndrome: even passed a bill stiffening penalties for police brutality. Said one highly regarded Capitol lobbyist: “He impresses me more than any member of the House.”
Babe Schwartz, 52, liberal Democrat, Galveston. The scene: the floor, Friday, May 25, 11:00 p.m. In an hour, the 72-hour rule will take effect; any bill not passed by midnight is effectively dead. Inside the brass railing, Babe Schwartz is working the floor: telling jokes, slapping backs, counseling with the presiding officer, holding up one finger to signal an aye vote, running over to make certain a potential ally is voting correctly. It is a textbook show of how to pass a bill. There is only one thing wrong: this is the House chamber; Schwartz is a senator.
No, Schwartz wasn’t lost; he was just showing why he belongs on the Ten Best list for the fourth time. He’s a pro: never loses interest, never fails to follow through, never misses a trick, never has an off day; he may go down swinging but he never gets called out on strikes.
As usual, on of the Legislature’s premier bill passers; so versatile that he ranked as one of the top killers as well. Turned around votes during debate to beat a bad ol’ bill letting contractors off the hook for negligence in constructing public projects; also killed in the closing hours a bill he discovered could be used as a vehicle to store nuclear waste in Texas. Tackled the long-standing squabble between commercial and sport fishermen—ignoring the adage that anyone who fools with a fishing bill had better enjoy private life—and somehow managed to pass fish and shrimp conservation bills that made him the hero of both sides.
Godfather of the Killer Bees; spent the session flailing his colleagues for being beholden to the lobby with comments like “If God himself came out here today and told you to vote against this bill, you still wouldn’t do it.” Harangued, threatened, cajoled, and—always—lectured his fellow senators: got away with such constant moralizing by being a charter member of the Senate club. Feuded constantly with the other charter member, Bill Moore of Bryan; by harping on his old enemy’s excesses and taunting him into near-fistfights, Schwartz has neutralized the Bull of the Brazos, who now has trouble passing bills.
Never free of criticism, blamed by a few for running a sloppy Natural Resources Committee, by a few more for not contributing to the negotiations on issues like consumer protection. There is some validity to both counts, but critics ignore Schwartz’ ultimate role: a man to let others solve what they can already see and show them what they cannot.
Craig Washington, 37, liberal Democrat, Houston. The best natural politician in the House, as born to his medium as Mikhail Baryshnikov is to dance. Whether he’s trying to kill a bill, add an amendment, or cut off the enemy’s retreat with a parliamentary maneuver, Washington is the show other members most like to watch.
Provided the House with its one unforgettable moment of the session during debate over his bid to raise child welfare payments. Washington pulled out a bag of clothing and toilet articles purchased at a cut-rate store to illustrate what the current $32.58 a month can buy: a pair of cheap jeans, crepe-sole shoes, two pairs of socks, deodorant, toothpaste, and shampoo (but no food) for $27.27. “You know what that leaves?” he asked. “Pocket change. I want you to look at what you’re giving your children. You’ll see them again. You’ll see them going to the Texas Department of Corrections. Gut up one time, members. We vote on all kinds of rotten things in the appropriations bill. Gut up this one time and you’ll be doing yourself a favor.” The vote: 103-37 for gutting up, the first time the House had voted such a raise in ten years.
Eloquence was only one of his weapons; foremost among the rest was an asset originally observed in Theodore Roosevelt: he had an absolute sense of political pitch that enabled him to strike the notes the chorus awaited. Was the House in a mood to duck an issue? Washington would move to postpone it, as when he scuttled a bill absolving doctors of negligence during emergencies. Was the House disgusted with the Senate? Just after the Senate passed its abysmal version of deceptive-trade “reform,” Washington stalled an anti-union bill by suggesting that representatives should let the Senate cut itself up on the bill first. Was welfare being identified as a black issue? He pointed out that 57 per cent of the kids on welfare are white, only 14 per cent black.
Enhanced his effectiveness by keeping his distance from the Gang of Four. Underscored that he was a member of the House first, a black second, and an ideologue last. Refrained from attacking Clayton and the team; made a seconding speech for the Speaker and praised conservatives like Nub Donaldson from the microphone.
If he had a flaw, it was that he sometimes failed to recognize that there is a larger political arena beyond the House floor. Lost some of his welfare gains by failing to lobby the Senate; also failed to follow up a floor victory to improve permanent funding for Prairie View A&M until it was too late. Could be even better than he is, but to criticize his shortcomings is a little like lamenting that cats aren’t like dogs: there is enough satisfaction in what he is without dwelling on what he is not.
The Ten Worst
Betty Andujar, 66, Republican, Fort Worth. Sigh. We don’t really want to do this. As one old Capitol hand put it, “She’s such a good-hearted gal, you hate to criticize her.” But he did—and so does everyone else.
Her basic problem: she just doesn’t understand. The same theme—her lack of intuitive political sense—runs through every Andujar story. Never was this more evident than during the confirmation hearing for Joe Bishop, nominated to the University of South Texas board of directors. Andujar described him as “not a quality man,” gave colleagues copies of anti-Bishop petitions signed by faculty members, and distributed a letter accusing him of improper personal conduct. If it sounds like Andujar was out to bust him, think again: she was his sponsor! Since Bishop was her constituent, Andujar could have defeated him simply by invoking senatorial courtesy, but she just couldn’t do it: one senator was for him, another wasn’t, it was just too confusing. “There’s a great deal of politics in this,” she complained. What did she expect to find in the Senate?
Political complications always seemed to baffle her. In four sessions, has never learned how to pass a bill. Rarely had the votes lined up in advance; only after she’d tried, and failed, to clear a bill for debate did she go from desk to desk to find out what the objections were. Couldn’t make connections: when a colleague proposed funding battered women’s centers with a $5 increase in the marriage license fee, she thought he was kidding. Very flaky: during the running battle over a separate presidential primary, she’d tell opponents of the idea, “I’m with you this week.” Every senator reneges now and then, but they don’t advertise it in advance.
Despite all the foregoing, we thought that some weight should be attached to the fact that of all the senators, she’s the one who does the least intentional harm. But that was before the last day, when she killed a bill designed to prevent hospitals from denying treatment to emergency patients who can’t speak English. Said Andujar, a physician’s wife: “My solution is they had better learn English. If I were sick in Hong Kong, I would be in trouble.” Just as we had pulled our Worst net out of the water, she jumped right into the boat.
Arnold Gonzales, 40, liberal Democrat, Corpus Christi. The archetypal legislative cockroach: the problem wasn’t what he carried away but what he fell into and messed up. Ruined, among other things, any hope of meaningful Sunset legislation emerging from the House Government Organization Committee, where he was often the swing vote on a closely divided panel. Alas, Gonzales always seemed to be swinging in the same direction: away from the determined coalition of Republicans and liberal Democrats struggling to make Sunset work.
The overriding issue of Sunset—whether licensing and policing agencies like the Real Estate Commission and the State Bar would be run for the benefit of the professions or the public—escaped him entirely. Couldn’t see beyond his personal experience: opposed efforts to merge the perpetually feuding cosmetology and barber boards because he likes to get manicures. Can’t see the connection? Neither could his frustrated colleagues, who had counted on Gonzales as a vote for consolidation. Also reneged on forcing the State Bar to put its money in the State Treasury. “He was a complete toady for the professional groups,” a discouraged committee member sighed. “All they had to do was get a Mexican American professional to call him.” Like a feather pillow, Gonzales retained the impression of the last person to sit on him.
Constantly reminded the House he possesses a PhD, perhaps, the best evidence that education doesn’t equal intelligence. When the discussion got over his head, which was frequently, asked colleagues surly questions like “What makes you think you’re so smart?” The combination of arrogance and stupidity led him to make the worst error of judgment of the entire session: a baseless accusation that a former House member, now a Dallas lawyer, had “lied under oath” to a committee while testifying about one of Gonzales’ bills. Only the intervention of Billy Clayton and other intermediaries saved him from a lawsuit.
Disastrously inept at the legislative game. Asked by a group of veterans to introduce a bill, Gonzales procrastinated until they turned to his hometown Mexican American rival, Hugo Berlanga. Then when Berlanga introduced the bill, Gonzales accused him of stealing it. Spent the rest of the session sniping at Berlanga and Berlanga’s legislation: forbade his staff to speak to Berlanga’s and once rushed to the microphone to interrupt Berlanga and chide him for a mispronunciation, a performance that did nothing for their ability to work together effectively on common local problems. If, after two sessions, Gonzales still thinks that’s how the game is played, it’s time he looked at the scoreboard.
Forrest Green, 57, conservative Democrat, Corsicana. Classic furniture who had the misfortune to get into a position where he was required to do something; sure enough, he couldn’t. Planned to quit after last session but came back at Clayton’s request to take the chairmanship of the Agriculture and Livestock Committee. Why he wanted it remains a mystery.
As idle as a car engine permanently in neutral. Sat by and watched his committee deteriorate into the most inept panel in the House. So many Agriculture and Livestock bills were shot down on the floor that sometimes it seemed as though the committee was conducting a skeet shoot: bill-killers like Ron Coleman and Bob Davis would say, “Pull,” and the committee would send up another clay pigeon. Among the targets: a proposal to regulate plant nurseries, a prohibition against purchase of agricultural land by nonresident aliens, and a ban on meat imports that was so badly drafted it would have prevented Texas beef that was processed out of state from being shipped back in. “When a committee loses that many bills on the floor,” said a veteran legislator, “it means the chairman and the staff aren’t doing their job.”
Virtually invisible outside of committee—except in the House post office where, as an ex-postmaster, he liked to tell employees how to go about their business. Had no influence on the floor, where, said a colleague, “He’d vote against the roll call if he could.” Shunned the microphone as though it contained colonies of fire ants.
True to character, tried to avoid holding a hearing on a farmworkers bill he opposed—but his committee objected. After the hearing Green refused to call for a vote, and without waiting for a motion, sent the bill to its death in a subcommittee and gaveled the meeting to a close. It was the worst abuse of power of the session, and from the unlikeliest source: the one time he was unable to avoid action, he got in trouble.
Bill Hollowell, 50, conservative Democrat, Grand Saline. First served in the Legislature during 1957-1967; it’s changed but he hasn’t. on the Ten Worst list not just for his archaic states-rights rhetoric—when he gets up to speak, members put a small Confederate flag on the podium—but also because his work on the House Appropriations Committee repeatedly required undoing by his colleagues.
Could have performed a true public service by joining the small minority of fiscal conservatives on the committee who resisted logrolling and porkbarreling; instead, wasted his energies trying to inject his prejudices into the state budget. Succeeded in prohibiting the Commission on the Arts and Humanities from spending money on jazz festivals; the restriction was removed on the floor, but not until it became the only piece of legislation all session to be openly condemned as racist. Tried to abolish a federally funded program to encourage the use of food stamps—had he succeeded, the state would have been disqualified from the entire federal food stamp program.
Other programs Hollowell shot at and missed: UT faculty salaries (he described UT’s endowment as a “slush fund”); abortions for welfare mothers who are victims of rape or incest (he made good his threat to vote against the entire appropriations bill if the state was allowed to be, as he put it, a “coconspirator to murder”); the Land Office’s environmental management division (“We don’t need any more management of the environment”); and the state program to combat child abuse. Hollowell was also rebuffed when he insisted that the state provide legislators with free license plates, exactly the sort of excess everyone else knew was out of step in a belt-tightening year.
Once respected—in spite of such antics—for doing his homework, Hollowell showed signs of slipping this session. Railed against an insignificant election bill because he read an analysis saying that before the law could take effect, it would have to be approved by the U.S. Department of Justice. As the bill’s sponsor pointed out, this was nothing new—it’s been happening since 1975, when Congress put Texas under the Voting Rights Act.
Like the chorus in a Greek tragedy, he kept issuing sober precepts of morality that the actors ignored. Opposed a constitutional amendment allowing churches to hold bingo games with “Jesus chased the money changers from the temple. I have no indication that Christ ever changed his mind. I cast my vote for Him.” The House, perhaps with more current information, cast its vote for bingo.
Despite his outbursts, House liberals have a soft spot for Hollowell because he accepts no campaign contributions and its totally free of the lobby. It only goes to show that integrity is not enough.
Tom Massey, 48, conservative Democrat, San Angelo. Public Enemy Number One, the most hated member of the House as the result of his high-handed, arbitrary chairmanship of the Committee on Calendars. In his previous incarnation last session, Massey made the Ten Worst list for his high-handed, arbitrary chairmanship of the Public Education Committee. Unfortunately, Clayton’s solution to the Massey problem was to take last session’s localized disease and allow it to infect the entire House. Massey had the most sensitive job imaginable—life or death power over which bills reached the floor—and proved singularly unfit for it.
Every bill that came to Calendars for scheduling had already been approved by a working committee; yet Massey insisted that his panel was a supercommittee with the right to judge each bill anew and even force amendments—though Calendars conducted no hearings, heard no testimony, made no studies, and under House rules had a purely procedural role. The journey from committee to the floor through Calendars became the most hazardous since Viet Nam’s Route 1 from Hue to Da Nang. The very first bill filed this session was approved by the Agriculture Committee on February 23 and arrived in Calendars the next day. It was never seen again.
Liked to characterize himself as a bill killer whose committee blockaded what he called “bad, sorry bills”; House members, however, characterized him a little differently: “He’s a sorry, no-good liar,” groused a Clayton team loyalist after Massey rescinded a promise to schedule a bill. In fact, it was bad, sorry bills that had the least trouble slipping through Massey’s net; once he even interrupted a hearing to ask a lobbyist if he wanted a bill on the next day’s calendar. Thanks largely to his work, an unprecedented number of bills were overwhelmingly defeated in floor debate; several got fewer than 20 votes out of 150.
So intoxicated with power that he almost lost control of his own committee by claiming to have jurisdiction over local and uncontested bills, which are the province of a different scheduling committee; refused the request of several legislators to look at his committee logs, forcing them to appeal under the Open Records Act, a breach of legislative decorum no less vulgar than spitting on the House floor.
By the end of the session almost no one would deal with Massey anymore. One measure of his standing came on the last night, when Massey, who considers himself something of an authority on water law, tried—with some justification to kill a local Harris County water district bill because he had been excluded from compromise discussions. When the results appeared on the voting board—Massey lost by over a hundred votes—the House broke into spontaneous cheers.
Bill Meier, 38, conservative Democrat, Euless. The most notorious carrier since Typhoid Mary. Carried a legislative program so anti-consumer it did everything but make caveat emptor the eleventh commandment. Passed the session’s most maligned bill, which he claimed would balance the state’s deceptive-trade law; his remedy was about as balanced as the federal budget. Would also have had the second most maligned bill, but critics were silenced prematurely when he couldn’t muster the votes to restrict the consumer’s right to sue for injuries caused by defective products. Handled yet another controversial bill raising the ceiling on home mortgage interest rates.
Masqueraded as one who would advance the cause of conservatism; in fact, his cause was himself. Unlike John Dean’s, Meier’s ambition was not blind. Widely thought to covet the lieutenant governor’s job if Bill Hobby moves on in 1982, and chose his legislation accordingly: his bills were backed by realtors, auto dealers, retailers, and savings and loan associations—prominent groups in every community, a natural statewide constituency. Followed a pattern he’d established as chairman of the fledgling Sunset Commission before the session began, when he gutted recommendations for more public accountability in order to score points with lawyers, CPAs, morticians, and other potential blocs of votes.
It wasn’t just the bills he carried that earned Meier his stigma; it was how he carried them. Unlike House sponsors of the same bills, ignored fair play and compromise; knew which side his bread was buttered on and developed too fond an appetite for the dish. Agreed to negotiate but refused to yield, like a child who reluctantly comes out to play but won’t share his toys. Knew the Senate was “so lobbied it was wrapped,” in the words of a lobbyist who helped tie the bow; once his colleagues had committed themselves to support his deceptive-trade bill, he held their feet to the fire—even though some of them didn’t like the heat. Had Meier budged just a little, his colleagues could have taken credit for improving the bill; instead, House members got the opportunity and made the most of it. Meier’s intransigence won him admirers among the lobby, but some of his colleagues were not so pleased.
The sad thing is that Meier represents a double loss: not just a bad senator but a good one gone to seed. One of the Ten Best in 1973 when we praised him as open-minded, highly accessible, and never dogmatic. My, how things change.
Bob Price, 51, Republican, Pampa. If the Senate were a horse race, nobody would bet on him. Slow out of the gate, weak down the stretch, a nice guy who, true to form, finished last.
Senate staffers and lobbyists collected and swapped Price stories like old coins; most involved his work in committee, where every meeting seemed like his first. In the Human Resources Committee, he professed bafflement at the strange look of bills, with repealed language crossed out and new language underlined—despite the fact that the same procedure is used in Congress, where he served for eight years.
In idle moments staffers amused themselves by listening to a tape recording of Price presenting his bill requiring all public buildings to be accessible to handicapped persons (currently only structures built after 1970 have such a requirement). Not since Ethelred the Unready has lack of preparation presented so many pitfalls—and Price obligingly fell into each one. Asked the cost of his proposal, Price referred senators to the mandatory fiscal estimate attached to the bill. That was, as everyone but Price already knew, precisely the problem: it said no estimate was possible. Next Price offered an amendment that turned out not to be an amendment at all but a staff-written analysis of the bill. Then Price offered to make the bill apply only to buildings constructed in the future—which, as a colleague pointed out, was already the law. Finally Price moved to send his then meaningless bill to subcommittee, only to be told that, not being a member of the committee, he couldn’t make the motion.
Carried some of the session’s strangest bills—one required every agricultural product produced in or shipped through Texas to be labeled “product of the United States”—and cast some of the strangest votes. Remonstrated against, then voted for, a bill to increase interest rates on large bank loans; flip-flopped so many times on one utility bill that a desperate mayor from his district brought a local TV cameraman to Austin to film Price taking the mayor’s side before he changed again.
Actually succeeded in passing some farm-oriented legislation, partly because liberal colleagues appreciated his occasional don’t-take-me-for-granted votes that, at apparently random intervals, put Price on their side (fellow Republicans, however, didn’t; they twice chewed him out publicly) but also because they felt sorry for him. On the day one farm bill was scheduled for debate, Price told backers of the bill, “Everything will be all right as long as nobody asks me a question.” Nobody did, at least not until he was over all the procedural hurdles; then a colleague inquired if he could ask a question now that it couldn’t hurt anything. Sure enough, Price couldn’t answer it.
Senfronia Thompson, 40, liberal Democrat, Houston. The kind of politician who would have fit right in during the heyday of Tammany Hall: concerned only with parochial ethnic issues and tarred with the brush of taint.
For most legislators, trouble with the law means difficulty understanding the statutes; for Thompson it was the real thing. The only legislator to have a run-in with a district attorney over anything more serious than setting DA’s salaries. Investigated—and still under investigation—for charging personal phone calls to her state credit card, including 47 to a Galveston funeral home and 6 to an Oklahoma real estate man. When reports of the investigation hit the front pages, Thompson vanished, going AWOL from the House for nearly two weeks.
Had earlier stretched the edges of propriety by inviting lobbyists to a January fundraiser in violation of the universally observed custom that one doesn’t hit up the lobby during the session. Perhaps it never occurred to her that it’s bad form to ask people for money at the same time they want something from you—but it certainly occurred to lobbyists on the invitation list; one Capitol veteran flatly described the affair as a “shakedown.”
A washout as a member of the powerful Appropriations Committee. Interested only in black issues, especially funding for long-neglected Prairie View A&M and Texas Southern University; viewed other issues not on their merits but according to the you-get-yours-then-it’s-my-turn-principle. Had all the subtlety of an importunate debt collector: colleagues cringed when she shouted across the room reminders such as, “See, Mr. Heatly, I’m voting with you. I’ll expect a vote from you later.” This brazen logrolling worked against her in the end: when the time came to trim the budget to realistic size, she didn’t have the respect, and consequently lacked the clout to defend her ill-gotten gains.
Terrible on the floor: loud, blustering, and usually wrong; one who was not baffled by complexity but rather missed it altogether. Irate over the state’s approval of a dump in her district, she cut out funding (later restored) for regulation of solid-waste disposal sites—ignoring warnings of sympathetic members that without regulation, even more dumps would end up in her district. Opposed a Sunset-inspired proposal to reduce the burdensome training required of shampooers with “If you went to get your hair done, wouldn’t you want someone to recognize all the venereal diseases in your scalp?”
Here is Senfronia Thompson in a nutshell: appointed to the Election Code Revision Committee during the last interim, she attended only two meetings, left both early, showed up once on the wrong day, and then made a big fuss to make sure she was reimbursed.
Bob Ware, 22, Republican, Fort Worth. A freshman, who, by defeating notorious incumbent Tom Schieffer, performed a public service; it was his last. A throwback to a nineteenth-century Thomas Nast cartoon, in which politicians were characterized by large bellies and small minds. Sent lobbyists fleeing with comments like, “You didn’t help me in my campaign, but you can still get right.”
Displayed overwhelming ineptitude in losing an innocuous bill to extend from 500 to 750 feet the distance unmanned walk-up facilities may be located from a bank. The bill had already received tentative House approval by a 69-52 vote; banking lobbyists padded Ware’s cushion by persuading 11 nay votes to switch. What they hadn’t anticipated was that Ware would lose 26 of his aye votes by privately describing his legislation as a “branch banking bill”—as ill-advised as asking in old Salem where the witches were meeting that night. Things went downhill so far and so fast that one member went to the microphone to ask Ware, at 22 the youngest member of the House, “Don’t you want to have your twenty-fourth birthday in the Legislature?” Said one lobbyist thankful to be an uninvolved spectator: “It may not be the worst performance of the session, but it’s got a three-stroke lead.” Nobody caught up.
One of the most stoutly partisan members of the Legislature—a trait that got him in trouble with his fellow Republicans, who were deliberating how to respond to a Democratic legislator’s attempt at overriding a Clements veto. Since the Republicans are still a tiny minority (23 out of 150), they feared a vote along strict party lines would isolate Clements and endanger their own effectiveness; several suggested that the Republicans split their votes, but Ware, ever blind to subtlety, took offense at the slightest prospect of defection. “He suspected the rest of us of being tainted by moderation,” complained an irked colleague.
Has all the earmarks of a one-termer. Told his hometown paper that he voted against a loan shark bill, after previously supporting it, because “it was obvious the bill was going down to defeat”; went on to say he nevertheless supported the bill—thereby negating the political advantage of voting against it. During the banking bill debacle, was warned during debate that he was contributing to Schieffer’s political resurrection. What did the hapless residents of southwest Fort Worth do to deserve such a choice?
John Whitmire, 29, liberal Democrat, Houston. Nicknamed Double Zero: one digit representing his ability, the other his stature in the House. The comic relief of the Gang of Four, though how he wound up in fast company like Bryant and Coleman is one of the more mystifying questions of the 66th Legislature.
Seemed to walk around carrying a “Kick Me” sign. One member, Susan McBee of Del Rio, was so eager to oblige that after two hours of refusing to answer any hostile questions about her bill to cripple the school breakfast program, she made an exception for Whitmire. Sure enough, given the opportunity to help save an important program for Texas children, he launched a series of dumb, pointless questions that benefited neither his cause nor his reputation.
Whitmire approaching the podium was a misguided missile homing in on his own self-destruction. Offered to make peace with Clayton at the start of the session, saying he wanted to be on the team, then took the microphone to rant and rave for a rule to elect the Speaker by secret ballot—a direct attack on Clayton. Not content to quit while he was behind, proceeded to bury himself by going back to the microphone to say he was only kidding, just the sort of humor the Speaker—and the House—appreciate about as much as brucellosis.
Plumbed unexplored depths during debate on the appropriations bill by offering an amendment to eliminate funding for thirteen assistant commissioners of mental health, after admitting he hadn’t read the bill and had no idea what the commissioners did or didn’t do. His justification: “I was bored to death and wanted to shake things up.” A fellow liberal tried to turn Whitmire’s lark into something serious by proposing to transfer the funds earmarked for the bureaucrats’ salaries to child welfare. Whitmire opposed it. Craig Washington took the microphone to explain patiently to Whitmire, like a parent attempting to reason with a petulant child, that the substitute would help pass his amendment: “They’re trying to help you, John.” Whitmire still opposed it. The substitute passed anyway. Eventually a House-Senate conference committee restored the positions, as everyone, except possibly Whitmire, knew all along they would.
Never was Whitmire’s lack of standing in the House more evident than on the final Friday of the session. With the House scoreboard clock showing 11:59 p.m. and the 72-hour deadline on considering new bills about to take effect, Whitmire stepped forward with a non-controversial local bill providing pay raises for Harris County probate judges. The one universal legislative courtesy is that anyone can pass a local bill—anyone, that is, but Whitmire. As the voting board flashed red, a disgusted Houston legislator cursed himself for not suggesting that somebody else present the bill. “I should have kidnapped him,” he muttered. Preferably at the start of the session.
The Three Worst Killer Bee Jokes
Killer Bee Senator Gene Jones of Houston ended his telephone conversations with “I’ve got to buzz off now.”
The Killer Bees hid from police at evangelist Lester Roloff’s controversial children’s home, because that’s the only place the state won’t inspect.
After the Department of Public Safety failed to find any of the missing senators and arrested Gene Jones’ brother, the DPS became known as the Bumble Bees. State representatives who supported the senators became known as the Houseflies.
Worst Sense of Timing
Craig Washington had just completed a stirring appeal to the House on behalf of Sam Hudson’s bill to allow conjugal visits for prison inmates. Supporters of the bill sensed that things had swung their way; it was time to vote, now, before the mood evaporated. But Hudson couldn’t resist the lure of the microphone: “All I have to say, members, is three little words.” The House waited expectantly. “Please vote for this bill.”
During a discussion of the same bill, someone asked Ed Emmett of Kingwood, “What’s the Republican position on conjugal visits?”
Replied Emmett: “Why, missionary, of course.”
First prize to Senator Carl Parker of Port Arthur, for asking a woman reporter to pick a number between one and eight. She guessed five. “Wrong,” Parker replied. “If you’d been right, I’d have taken off my clothes. Now you take off yours. Let’s go, baby.”
Second prize to Senator Carl Parker of Port Arthur, for answering a woman reporter’s question about a bill with “I’ll tell you if you kiss me.”
Special “Fiscal Responsibility Stops at the Wellhead” Award
House Energy Resources Committee chairman Joe Hanna of Breckenridge, when asked during debate why the Railroad Commission needed a $581,000 emergency appropriation he was proposing, replied, “It’s not my prerogative or duty to question what it takes for them to do their job.”
The session involved so any issues almost everyone found something to do. It was hard to be furniture—the term for the most insignificant members—but a few managed: in the Senate, Bill Braecklein of Dallas and Lindon Williams of Houston; in the House, 1973 Worst Charles Finnell of Holliday and 1975 Best Bill Sullivant of Gainesville. Perpetual furniture Jim Clark spent the session running for mayor of Pasadena (he won); it was weeks before anyone missed him. Pointer Sisters look-alike Lanell Cofer of Dallas escaped the furniture list mainly by being the most-noticed member of the House.
During the first four months of the session, Fred Head went home to Athens (394-mile round trip) almost every night including 25 journeys by chartered plane—costing taxpayers $3620.80.
Don Cartwright of San Antonio, “the Pillsbury Doughboy,” a name that resulted from the happy marriage of Cartwright’s cherubic face and his sponsorship of a bill to treble interest rates on small loans.
Room at the Top
We have traditionally considered the presiding officers—Lieutenant Governor Bill Hobby and Speaker Billy Clayton—ineligible for either list. This is unfortunate for Clayton but a blessing for poor Hobby.
Clayton once again was an evenhanded Speaker who let the House find its way on every vote. He tried to avoid bloodbaths by getting opposing sides together for negotiations before issues came to the floor. His only albatross: Tom Massey, his choice as chairman of the Calendars Committee.
Hobby was hampered from the start by the retirement of four key conservative senators. Short on loyal hands, he turned to the lobby for help in passing a separate presidential primary; they wanted no part of it. Still hoping for their support, he helped the remaining conservatives break liberal filibusters to get business-backed bills passed; the lobby took but it didn’t give. Hobby had lost control: of the liberals, by siding openly with the conservatives; of the conservatives by courting them so desperately. Finally he found a ploy to pass his primary bill—and that’s when the Killer Bees (Hobby’s own words come home to haunt him) walked out. Lesson: in politics, it’s never good to want something too much.
A Legislative Lexicon
The Legislature, like any club, has developed a descriptive language all its own. Among the more popular expressions:
Bad ol’ bill n. A bill that, in the eye of the beholder, is utterly without redeeming social value. “Members, this is a bad ol’ bill,” is the nuke of legislative rhetoric.
Crater v.i. To renege on one’s promises under pressure; a sudden and total cave-in. “He really cratered when his mayor showed up.”
Dog and pony show n. A staged event designed to appear real, in which participants follow a set script. Senate meetings held for the sole purpose of denouncing the missing Killer Bees were this session’s classic example.
Downside n. The unsavory aspects of a proposal. Usually well hidden and little publicized, as in a bill purporting to expand the Tarrant County civil service system. Buried deep in the bill was the downside: if a referendum on the expansion failed, the entire system would be wiped out.
Flake v.i. To drift away by degrees from a previously stated position. “Senator, I may have to flake on that presidential primary bill.” In contrast to cratering, flaking may serve to enhance the flakor’s bargaining position with the flakee.
Gang of Four n. The hard core of opposition to Speaker Billy Clayton, viz., John Bryant of Dallas, Ronald Coleman and Luther Jones of El Paso, and John Whitmire of Houston. Blamed, like their Chinese namesakes, for all the regime’s troubles.
Grandfather v.t. To exempt current practitioners from the effect of a law. Frequently designed to give those already in business a competitive advantage, as in a bill (later vetoed) that put tough restrictions on new pawnshops and grandfathered old ones.
Green board n. A favorable outcome for the matter under discussion. Refers to the electronic voting board in the House chamber, where a green light beside a member’s name signifies he is voting “aye” and a red light signifies “no.” Usually heard in the interval between the start of voting and the flashing of the final tally: “That’s a green board, friends.”
Heat n. Intense pressure. Can be applied by the leadership, influential folks back home, even the press. “Senator Blackhart has really been taking the heat on this bill to quadruple interest rates.”
Lib n. Derisive term applied to a liberal who would rather make an eloquent, quixotic speech against a bill than kill it quietly in committee. Anyone who talks openly about “right and wrong” is a suspected lib.
Linoleum Club n. The otherwise nameless junk-food dispensary in the basement of the Capitol. The primary source of sustenance for legislators who don’t go to real clubs for a free lunch on the lobby.
Lobster n. A lobbyist willing to pick up the tab. “Let’s go to the Quorum. I’ve found a lobster.” syn SPONSOR
One Hundred Club n. Informal designation for a group of House members whose proposals have been rejected with more than a hundred votes against. Charter member was Don Rains of San Marcos, whose bill to regulate plan nurseries lost 19-106.
Pissing match n. A spiteful, petty test of egos usually characterized by A killing B’s bills and B retaliating in kind. Can bring the entire legislative process to a halt, as occurred four days before adjournment, when Dallas House members responded to a bill’s death in the Senate by holding up over a hundred Senate bills in the House.
Red Square n. An area of the House floor where most of the desks are populated by liberal members. “Are you voting with Red Square on this one?”
Sleazy adj. Extremely unsavory, morally offensive, lacking in merit or character. Has replaced low rent as the universal legislative pejorative. Additional contempt may be conveyed by drawing out the first syllable, as in “The honorable member from San Antonio is a sleee-zy sumbitch.”
Team, the n. The Speaker’s support in the House. Includes both staunch and occasional loyalists; hence, has little significance except to opponents, who blame it for their legislative shortcomings. “I can’t get any bills passed because I’m not on the team.”
Traveling light adj. Without a legislative program; therefore, free to resist the leadership without fear of retribution. Not to be confused with furniture, members whose lack of a legislative program betrays their standing as little more than the desks and chairs they occupy.
Walk v.i. To leave the floor as a means of avoiding a vote. Usually a sign of cowardice, but may be used to help a cause by not satying around to vote against it. “If you can’t vote with us, will you walk?”
Water carrier n. A legislator who uncritically sponsors bills and amendments drawn by lobbyists; a faithful servant of the lobby.
Work v.t. To persuade, bargain, threaten, solicit, or beg, when done by a legislator. When done by others, known as lobbying. “I’ve got to work the floor for the Speaker.”