Inside The Lobby
ON A FINE SPRING SATURDAY morning in mid-May, nine days before the end of the legislative session, Bill Abington sat in the Senate gallery and nervously puffed on his cigar, awaiting the final vote on a bill that was as important to him as any he could remember.
His intelligent, pale-blue eyes moved from the list of 31 Senators in his hand to the men themselves, 30 feet below him, as he tried to predict the outcome for the one-hundredth time.
The measure in question was the compulsory oil and gas unitization bill, and as director of the 3000-member Texas Mid-Continent Oil and Gas Association, he personally felt responsible for its passage or defeat.
As he gazed around the gallery, Abington spotted the Exxon boys, Gaylord Armstrong and Wade Spilman. Armstrong is a strapping 6′ 3″ Austin attorney with reddish-blond hair who used to travel with Ben Barnes and looks enough like him to be kin; Spilman is a former House member, attorney, and the acknowledged expert in oil and gas, insurance, and alcoholic beverage law among the lobbyists. Their company had worked so hard for the bill’s passage that during the recent committee hearings it was referred to as “the Exxon Bill.”
As Abington continued to gaze at his list, he couldn’t figure out why he felt something was wrong. On paper everything looked good.
The bill had easily passed the House earlier in the year by a vote of 103-36. Thirteen Senators, three short of a majority, had co-signed the bill when it was originally introduced. Senator Jack Hightower, a teetotalling, hard-shelled Baptist from Vernon who was the bill’s sponsor on the floor, was regarded as an expert and able leader.
Abington was growing impatient as the Senate plodded through regular business. Part of the trouble was that you couldn’t depend on anything this session. It was so different. His great friend Ben Barnes, who knew how to run the Senate, was gone. Gus Mutscher, a little slow but always reliable, was a convicted man now living in Brenham. Even ole Preston looked good at this point. You don’t miss your water till your well runs dry.
Abington had worked long hours for months on this bill. Now, what was done was done. It was up to those 31 politicians milling around below him who, within the hour, would pass or kill the bill for two more years. Abington settled back in his gallery seat to wait.
Bill Abington is a prominent member of a group of a hundred or so men and a few women who make up the “Third House” of the legislature. Highly paid, thoroughly acquainted with legislators and legislative procedure, they are known, for better or for worse, as The Lobby.
Basically, a lobbyist is a person with no official government position who attempts to influence government decisions and policy. Lobbyists traditionally try to influence legislatures, but may work with the executive branch as well. The name originated during Andrew Jackson’s first presidential term, but the popular use derived from persons who, since they were not allowed on the floor, literally hung around in lobbies of legislatures, collaring members for lunch after adjournment.
To lobby successfully requires a great deal of energy from a man who must wear many different hats. Lawyer. Educator. Entertainer. Friend and companion. And if the occasion arises, procurer.
A good lobbyist does five fundamental things: 1. Makes clear who he represents; 2. Makes clear what his interest is; 3. Makes clear what he wants to do and why; 4. Answers questions; 5. Provides enough back-up material and information so politicians can make a judgment.
He also never asks a legislator to vote for or against a bill; this is considered bad form. He explains his position on the bill, answers questions, and, if he is smart, warns how it might hurt back home in the next election.
A good lobbyist has a well developed system of seeing that people in home districts who are interested in legislation are contacted and, in turn, ask politicians to vote for the bill in question.
The Texas State Teacher’s Association (TSTA), Texas Trial Lawyers, and the Texas Medical Association are the recognized experts at this “grass roots lobbying.” In a town of 50,000, the TSTA will have 300 lobbyists and husbands (or wives) who, upon command from lobbyist L. P. Sturgeon, can flood the legislature with letters or themselves.
The smart lobbyist has this manpower working for him and remains above the nitty gritty of pressure tactics. He is just the good guy who offers information, buys lunches ever so often and, when the vote is near, puts his arm around shoulder after shoulder and says, “This bill is coming up and we need the vote. I sure hope we can count on you.”
Many lobbyists are former members of the legislature, and are hired not for their knowledge of the client’s business, but because they know legislative procedure and the legislators themselves. Of course, being a lawyer helps, but is not essential.
This past session, six freshmen lobbyists were members two years ago: Ralph Wayne, Texas Mid-Continent Oil and Gas; Ace Pickens, Texas Medical Association; Gerhardt Schulle, Texas Association of Realtors; James Slider, Lone Star Steel; Joe Golman, Dallas Chamber of Commerce, Dallas Community College, and the National Association of Theatre Owners; J. P. Word, Texas Association of Taxpayers.
A few lobbyists learned the ropes as administrative assistants to governors or other Capitol officials. Howard Rose (Padre Island Investment Corporation) was Gov. John Connally’s first administrative assistant. Weldon Hart (Texas Good Roads Association) was the top assistant under Gov. Shivers. Dan Petty, (the University of Texas System’s Director of Public Affairs) served under Gov. Preston Smith. Buck Wood was the Secretary of State’s Director of Elections before taking his present job as lobbyist for Common Cause.
To become chief legal counsel for the Texas Railroad Association was almost inevitable for Walter Caven. He grew up in Marshall, which at that time was the shop town for the Texas and Pacific Railroad. His father was an attorney who represented the railroads, so it wasn’t surprising that after serving one term in the House in 1949, Caven went to work for the Railroad Association.
Former members who have secured profitable niches representing their clients before the Legislature are many. A few prominent ones are: Reuben Senterfitt, former speaker of the house (utilities); Terry Townsend (trucks); Bill Abington (oil and gas); Johnnie B. Rogers (insurance); George Cowden (insurance); Searcy Bracewell (Houston Natural Gas, Gulf States Utilities, etc.); Dick Cory, Jep Fuller, Buck Buchanan (Beer); Robert Hughes (independent auto dealers); Gene Fondren (Texas Auto Dealers Association).
The way lobbyists work is as varied as the clients they represent. Where they work most effectively is long before the session begins, in campaigns a full year before the legislature convenes. For instance, there are 414 wholesale beer distributors in Texas who are members of the Wholesale Beer Distributors of Texas. When a man becomes a candidate for the House or Senate, these men find out one thing: Does he drink an occasional beer or is he high tenor in the Baptist Church choir who denounces demon rum every Sunday?
It doesn’t matter if he is a Commie-Red-Pinko-Symp or worships the spirit of Joseph Goebbels. Will he vote wet or dry? A study on the candidate’s background is sent to their chief, Turner Keith, who studies each candidate’s profile carefully before deciding yea, nay, or who cares.
A major change in lobby techniques has occurred in this area in recent years. Previously, the lobby looked at the field of announced candidates and picked out one to support. Today, a strong grass roots organization such as the TSTA will actually recruit a young man or woman to run, particularly if the incumbent has proven an irritant.
With the crack of the gavel convening the new session, the lobbyist begins the endless round of gratuities. They drop by member’s offices daily, offering to buy lunch, drinks, or just to chat. Those legislators who respond to flattery are shamelessly backslapped. Those who are fiercely independent are treated at arm’s length. Lobbyists know how busy most legislators are and they are always there to hold hands, lift spirits, run messages—being everything from page to lawyer.
One of the bright, new lobbyists explains why this daily contact is important: “Even when nothing is happening that affects my client, I have to keep circulating because inevitably the time will come when it is critical that I know this or that particular member.
“It’s like being a fireman. You spend a lot of time polishing the brass and revving up the engine because it has got to work when the bell rings.” But this same lobbyist is critical of how some industries play the game. “The railroads have eight to ten men down here all session and they are all assigned certain people to take to lunch every day. John Eck of Southern Pacific has asked Hawkins Menefee every day for lunch, and here it is the last day of the session, and Hawkins ain’t been yet. It’s not a personal thing but the Hawk just doesn’t want to spend his noon hour with a railroad lobbyist.”
It is doubtful if any member has ever changed a vote because of two or three meals. Days and nights of constant dinners, parties, attention, favors, and celebrations do, however, create bonds of friendship and companionship in what for many legislators is a lonely town. It is terribly hard to vote against a friend, and to some extent, everyone is influenced by that personal touch. The sole reason for all this effort on the lobbyist’s part is indeed to make a friend of the legislator, to gain access to his office, and once there, to make his pitch.
Lobbying is much more sophisticated today than it was in the 1950’s. Bourbon, beefsteaks, and blondes were three formidable weapons in the lobbyist’s arsenal then. Not far out South Congress Avenue were two of the better whorehouses in Texas; many of the girls were working their way through UT and were not your average hookers. Hattie’s and Peggy’s were lively on a Sunday night, and lobbyists gladly followed along to pick up the members’ tabs.
Today, the few hookers are free lancers whose business is going down. One young lady interviewed said, “Yeah, I get an occasional legislator or businessman but they’re older and just get drunk and pass out. I still get the hundred bucks though, don’t you worry about that.”
Because it’s expensive and, more importantly, because of the Sharpstown scandal’s effect on such ostentation, junketeering has been throttled the past few years. Gone are the days of lobby-paid trips to Keeneland Race Track in Lexington, Ky., and mass migrations to Matamoros or Juarez under the auspices of inspecting the state’s coastal lands or Texas Western College. This year, unless you wanted to view the Houston Ship Channel courtesy of the Chamber of Commerce, it was stay in Austin and gut it out.
Gifts to legislators have also dropped off sharply. No longer is there a flood of turkeys, transistor radios, packages of imported cheeses, whiskey, etc.
For the legislators and for most of the lobby, the 1973 session was just unpleasant and exhausting. As a lobbyist from Houston put it: “It was an isometric session. You pulled and strained as hard as you could and got nowhere. There was never a game plan, but you kept going back everyday hoping you could catch hold of what was going on.” Reuben Senterfitt, the powerful lobbyist for the utility industry, was overheard saying, “I did okay this time, but I dreaded every day going to the Capitol and doing business.”
What was going on was an attempt by 77 new House members and 14 new Senators to deal with confusion, distrust, and two presiding officers who chose to preside rather than lead; and to try in the process to pass some legislation.
In the spirit of ree-form, Speaker Price Daniel, Jr. announced he would be speaker only one term. The immediate and continuing result of that pronouncement was that an immediate speaker’s race was created, and from the first day forward, trust among House members was minimal at best. This, in turn, meant no floor leadership. If the speaker doesn’t provide strong direction, it must come from experienced, respected members on the House floor. Those who tried were suspected of cutting deals and furthering their own cause.
In the Senate, things weren’t so bad. A slightly smaller percentage of freshmen, a lighter work load, and experienced men chairing crucial committees helped. Lt. Governor Bill Hobby didn’t. To campaign and be elected lieutenant governor in a state whose Constitution makes him the most powerful presiding Senate officer in any of the 50 states, and then to disavow and turn away from this authority, is a waste.
No one, however, accused either chamber of laziness. House and Senate members began with a mole-like diligence, burrowing through Saturday meetings as early as March and attending non-controversial committee meetings that often lasted until the early morning. By the session’s end, the unfortunate result was a totally exhausted legislative membership. So many House members were vowing not to run again that the turnover in 1975 may be 25 or 30 more than the normal average of 47.
Despite problems, changes, and realignments of old political alliances, work was accomplished, bills passed and defeated, and in the end, there were definite winners and losers among the lobby.
The reason many thousands of dollars are spent lobbying the legislature is because the stakes are enormous. Almost without exception, every industry and business is affected by decisions made every two years in Austin. The basic rule for the lobbyist is that money is the root of all lobbying: Keep the client from paying it out; pave the way to bring it in.
For the men representing the major industries—oil and gas, beer and liquor, utilities, chemicals, railroads, trucks, sulphur—the overriding task is to avoid taxation. This they did and, therefore, were winners.
Other associations had specific battles to fight: Kill this bill, pass this one, amend this one. Some did and some didn’t.
One spectacular fight, one in which there were definite losers and winners, involved Bill Abington, the lobbyist for Texas Mid-Continent Oil and Gas Association, whom we left waiting in the Senate gallery for a key vote. Abington’s battle contained all the elements of a good novel: forceful characters, strong developing plot, a large purse at stake, and a smashing dramatic climax.
In one corner: Texas Mid-Continent Oil and Gas Association, made up of 3000 members of almost all the independent and major oil companies in Texas, and considered the strongest industrial lobby in Texas; the Texas Manufacturing Association; 12 major Chamber of Commerce groups; four environmental groups; 32 Texas newspaper editorial endorsements.
In the other corner: Senator Peyton McKnight, Tyler; several independent oil men, notably Wesley West of Houston and Robert Payne of Dallas; the Permian Basin Petroleum Association, a small association of independent oil men headquartered in Midland.
At issue was the passage of the oil field unitization bill (HB 311). Unitization is a complicated concept, but basically the bill would have allowed 75 per cent of the operators in a given oil field to require all operators in that field to pay for, and share proportionately the benefits of, secondary recovery methods in fields where normal drilling could no longer efficiently recover oil.
Senator McKnight’s opposition to the bill was well known. His view was that the voluntary unitization law in Texas was already working in over 400 fields and that this new bill would force smaller oil operators with good producing wells into unitization with a larger field of less productive units. The energy crisis (used by supporters to gather votes for the bill) is a phony issue, McKnight claimed, because, 1) the only way to solve the crisis is to find more oil reserves and increase the capacity of existing refineries and, 2) the secondary recovery method is not guaranteed to work and may not contribute a thing.
The Mid-Continent Oil and Gas boys made their first mistake early in the session. McKnight felt his position was hopeless, so he offered to work out some amendments to the bill which would help protect the small operators. Mid-Continent refused to discuss compromise with McKnight (as it later turned out, a big mistake).
The lobby had no trouble in the House. Opposition was fragmented; the bill’s sponsors, Dave Finney of Ft. Worth and DeWitt Hale of Corpus Christi, were both veteran, respected leaders. One seemingly innocuous amendment was tacked on involving a relatively inexpensive severance compensation program for laid-off oil workers. This was done because of the successful work of the president of the Texas Oil and Chemical Union, Morris Aikins, and resulted in shifting 15 to 20 labor votes in the House. More importantly, Senator D. Roy Harrington of Port Arthur, a labor man, then changed sides and supported the measure. The bill passed the House 103-36, thus strengthening the confidence of the lobby.
McKnight dug in for an all-out battle. His strategy was to delay consideration of the bill as long as possible, giving him time to explain the bill point-by-point to other Senators. As the only oil man in the upper house, his words carried much weight.
He insisted on a full presentation of testimony before the Natural Resources Committee and those hearings lasted over a month. When the bill arrived from the House, he insisted on hearings on the House amendments, then presented a series of unsuccessful committee amendments that took two more weeks. When the bill’s sponsors tried to get it out of committee, McKnight surprised the committee with a rule requiring a transcript of all hearings prior to final action, delaying passage for another week.
McKnight had another opponent, one that really curled his socks. Lt. Gov. Bill Hobby broke his trance, and for the first and only time during the session, actively worked the floor for a major bill, urging his colleagues to vote “aye.” Hobby needlessly tweaked McKnight’s nose by refusing to re-refer a minor bill from an unfriendly to a more favorable committee, a common Senatorial courtesy usually granted from the floor.
McKnight fought back, refusing to back down to the presiding officer. He announced that “Billy Hobby may well have an East Texas opponent next year.”
The climax came on that spring Saturday morning with the vote Bill Abington had been awaiting a long time. Greg Hooser, Sen. McKnight’s aide, noticed that all 31 members were present, very rare for a Saturday. As he looked around the gallery, he also noticed that the oil and gas lobby was all there, including Mr. Abington himself. Then it struck him that this must be the day, the final try to shake McKnight’s hold on the bill and to bring it out of committee for a vote. But Hooser remembered one of the recently adopted joint rules. It stated that no house bill could be brought up except on regular House bill days (Wednesday and Thursday) without a two-thirds vote of both Houses. It seemed unlikely to Hooser that such votes could occur in both Houses this morning.
Senator Jack Hightower stood up and moved to take up House Bill 311, the unitization bill. McKnight objected, citing the new joint rule. To Hooser’s amazement, Lt. Gov. Hobby overruled McKnight. Then followed a series of personal privilege speeches by fellow Senators. Senators Bill Patman and Max Sherman objected to the ruling, but the dean of the Senate, A. M. Aikin, spoke in support of Hobby.
Once again, Sen. Hightower moved to suspend the regular Senate rules and take up H.B. 311 for a vote. This required a two-thirds vote, 21 members out of the full 31 present. Secretary of the Senate Charles Schnabel began calling the role in his steady baritone: “Adams?” “Aye.”; “Aiken?” “Aye.”; “Andujar?” “Aye.”; “Blanchard?” “No.”; “Braecklein?” “Present.”
Braecklein was the first surprise, and the first hint that McKnight might win. A wealthy man from Dallas, Braecklein had many friends in the oil business, but he thought McKnight’s arguments rang true.
The vote continued down the list. The final vote: 17 for, 13 against, one present. The lobby had needed 21 votes. The bill was dead, short by four votes. McKnight had won. Knowing the personal battle he had waged against the measure since January, his fellow Senators mobbed McKnight and congratulated him on his victory.
Upstairs, Bill Abington, defeated, tucked away his pen and quickly made his way out of the gallery and toward the elevators. He suddenly felt tired; the only bright thought that occured to him was that the session’s end was only nine days away. Despite all the money, pressures, and manpower, this time the lobby had lost. What happened?
They were overconfident. The early success in the House helped many lobbyists forget that the legislature had repeatedly defeated the bill since 1949. Overconfidence led them to refuse to compromise, the biggest mistake of all. They also put too much reliance on their early legislative commitments. Getting 13 Senators to co-sponsor the bill in January did not necessarily mean the rest would follow. Because of the complexity of the bill, some Senators couldn’t cast a vote on its merits and had to rely on the judgment of McKnight.
The oil and gas lobby did not move quickly enough. They were caught off guard time and time again by McKnight’s tactics. Each day that passed was a small victory for him because, as the session drew to a close, his colleagues did not want their own bills stymied by a potential McKnight filibuster.
McKnight proved that one Senator who had enough skill, and would fight hard enough, could defeat, for better or for worse, the largest industrial lobby in the State.
Although Abington was a loser, the lobbyist who was the biggest winner was probably Buck Wood, a first-term lobbyist for Common Cause, a citizens’ group which was focusing its attentions on the legislature for the first time. Wood pushed his programs through against the opposition of practically every other lobbyist and many of the legislators themselves, although the strong support of Speaker Daniel and his team helped immensely.
Legislative reform was top priority for the 5500 members of Common Cause. With a new governor, lieutenant governor, attorney general, and speaker of the house, and with a legislature pledged to reform, Wood knew that it was now or never to put an end to the practices that had allowed the Shapstown scandals and which in his eyes subverted the democratic process.
Wood was hired in September, 1972. By late November he had drafted five bills that focused on ethics of legislators and state officials; lobby registration and reporting of expenditures; campaign finance reporting; expansion of the open meetings law; enlarging the public’s access to government information. On December 5, a full month before the session, copies of the bills were mailed to House and Senate members as part of Speaker Daniel’s reform package.
The first bill passed the House on February 8, and the rest followed in rapid succession. The Senate received them with less than total enthusiasm, and Lt. Gov. Hobby announced that no action would be taken until his own citizens conference convened in mid-March.
When it became clear that passing the bills would require the same grinding drudgery that must accompany the typical lobbyist’s bill, Wood settled down to it, ushering the bills from subcommittee to full committee.
After countless hours of work and untold committee meetings, the key reform bills came right down to the wire on the last day of the session. Only one key aspect, a proposed Ethics Commission, bogged down hopelessly in a House-Senate conference committee and had to be abandoned for the sake of passing the whole ethics bill.
Besides the ethics bill, Common Cause secured its other goals: an improved open meetings law; tightened controls over campaign contributions and expenditures; easier public access to government records; and, most importantly for the lobby, tightened control over lobbyists and their spending.
Almost all lobbyists hated this part of the reform package (HB 2). It will require them to report expenditures while the legislature is not in session. Lobbying expenses can no longer be reported under a lump sum but must be categorized. Also, individual members of organizations must now report their expenditures on lobbying. These new requirements rankle some of the lobby, but by and large they still leave the lobby with plenty of room.
One should not get the impression, however, that the old guard is completely moribund. Against Harry Whitworth of the Texas Chemical Council, the environmentalists and their legislative package didn’t have a chance. If bringing up the nine reform bills didn’t start a lobbyist spluttering, with indignation, certainly the mention of the major environmental measures would. Virtually all the business and industrial lobby stood in ranks solidly against these bills, making their passage next to impossible.
Harry Whitworth entered the starting gate at the session’s beginning riding a mule instead of his customary thoroughbred. In 1963, he had spotted a tall, red-haired, rough-edged House member named Ben Barnes and decided he was unique. As head of the powerful Texas Chemical Council, Whitworth had entreés, money, and information, all of which he gladly shared with young Ben.
Barnes’ capacity to learn astounded even his most ardent admirers, and in 1965 he was suddenly elected Speaker and was on his way. Whitworth had displayed his most valuable talent: choosing an unknown out of the gaggle and staying hitched to him.
In January, 1973, Barnes was building shopping centers in Brownwood and Whitworth was awaiting the beginning of a new session as he had done for many years. He had always performed well. The chemical industry flourished, and because of his efforts, they paid no special state taxes.
There were two bills that Whitworth had to kill this session: 1) H.B. 205 by Hawkins Menefee of Houston, which would have allowed any Texan to file suit to stop pollution of the air or water—a privilege now belonging only to the state and to those who suffer specific provable damages from the hands of the polluter. It also would have allowed suits against state agencies by persons who believed their clean air and water standards were not set high enough or were not well enough enforced. 2) H.B. 646 by Carl Parker of Port Arthur, which would have set state policy on the environment and would have created an umbrella environmental protection agency to which all state agencies would have to submit environmental impact statements on planned projects. The new office would have the authority to veto projects that would harm the environment.
Whitworth’s work was cut out for him. The first thing was to decide who would also find this bill disastrous. That impact statement had to be a nuisance for lots of folks. He began by calling John Terrell, lobbyist for the Texas Association of Builders. Old John didn’t like it at all. Certainly cities would be affected, so Whitworth forewarned the executive director of the Texas Municipal League (TML), Richard Brown. Almost every mayor and city official in Texas belongs to the TML, and it has clout.
The next step was to find a freshman House member, unknown, conservative, unscarred, to work the floor. To Whitworth, Pete Laney from Plainview seemed ideal. Pete put out a farm and ranch journal and was a farmer up in the Panhandle. Whitworth was interested in farming, and soon the two were old friends. Whitworth never asked him for anything regarding the bill, but only to study it carefully and assay how much it might hurt the farm and ranch business.
Joining Whitworth, the homebuilders, and the Texas Municipal League in opposition were the Texas Water Quality Board, Texas Mid-Continent Oil and Gas, Texas Independent Producers and Royalty Owners, and West Central Texas Oil and Gas Association.
On May 2, after two crippling amendments were added, Rep. Parker angrily pronounced his bill dead. Pointing to the lobbyists in the gallery he said, “I see the vultures up there waiting to pick the bones. They have done their work well in representing their clients.”
The Houston Chronicle reported that the noise of the lobby leaving the gallery was so great after Parker admitted defeat that Speaker Daniel told the House to stand at ease until quiet was restored. Watching the phoning and commotion was Mr. Whitworth, as serene and secure as a moo-cow.
A similar fate killed Rep. Menefee’s bill almost exactly a month earlier. A crippling amendment won passage and the bill never saw the light of day.
Sadly enough, the 63rd Session passed only a few environmental reform measures, one the endangered species act. Mrs. Char White, chairwoman of Environmental Action for Texas, no doubt wishes Harry Whitworth was one of those critters included on the list under her new law. But Whitworth’s still very much around and, although not in the cat bird seat, still a winner.
Another winner this session, as at every session he participates in, was Frank C. Erwin, Jr., a man few people have ambivalent feelings about. Depending on your point of view he has either single-handedly ruined the University of Texas or he has pulled it up into the 20th Century.
He is a complex man: emotional, mean as a rattlesnake in a sleeping bag, defiantly loyal, shy but unfailingly polite with women. He is what used to be known as a gentleman of parts, a man who is as much at home with Puccini’s Turandot as he is passing statehouse gossip with the coarsest representatives.
Since 1965, Frank Erwin has presented the huge UT System’s budget before the House Appropriations Committee and the Senate Finance Committee, as well as testified for or against bills affecting the UT System.
He has a brain as sharp as an awl, and as the Appropriations Committee chairman makes his way through the several-inches-thick budget, it’s very clear that Erwin has done his homework. Erwin’s participation began in 1965 when one of Governor John Connally’s aides recommended vetoing funds for UT’s Memorial Museum. Erwin was appalled that such a thing could occur to his beloved UT.
That year the appropriation for the UT System was $77 million. Erwin has lobbied for UT every session since, and, for the 1974-75 biennial, the UT System will receive $427 million, a 453 per cent increase over 1965. Even with new institutions added in, it is an impressive figure and a credit to Erwin’s skill.
“There was a considerable difference in the House Appropriations Committee this time. Many committee members were new and were unfamiliar with the institutions and their backgrounds,” said Erwin.
“However, I think the appropriations bill is exceptionally good, considering the no-new-tax constraint and flexible welfare situation the committee had to work under.”
He concluded: “Gov. Briscoe gave us no leadership or help whatsoever. He has expressed interest in vocational education, which is fine, but he has made no pitch for higher education, either general or academic instruction, medical or dental units.”
The Coordinating Board of Colleges and Universities introduced five bills to denude UT’s power. None was enacted. There were 35 or so unfriendly bills introduced, mainly by freshmen members. All failed.
Erwin and UT are used to being number one. Railroads, on the other hand, are not. If his friend and fellow power-lobbyist Bill Abington was left holding the bag, Walter Caven had the other half. Chief legal counsel for the Texas Railroad Association since 1959, the tall, patrician-looking, blue-eyed Caven had the dubious pleasure of having a much sought-after bill become Gov. Briscoe’s first veto.
Caven’s bill would have authorized special railroad agents to be peace officers, carry weapons, and move from one county to another with no legal hassles. There was no indication of trouble and Caven was confident. When Sgt. Julius Knigge of the Houston police department, lobbyist for the Texas Municipal Police Association, found out about these about-to-be 150 new peace officers, however, he fired off a letter to Gov. Briscoe protesting that for the first time private industry would have its own police force.
That’s all it took. In a press release announcing the veto, the Governor agreed that it was a problem and a study would be the best thing.
Unique among the big four industrial lobbyists, Caven has manpower to aid the cause. The major railroads in Texas—Missouri Pacific, Santa Fe, Southern Pacific and Katy—send down between four and ten lobby-drones during the session to do the dirty-collar work. Each drone is assigned three or four House members a day for lunch. Mr. Caven looks after the Senate.
Caven vehemently disapproves of Price Daniel, Jr. (“I haven’t said anything to him except hello since the session started and I don’t intend to”), calls lobby reform a false issue, and thinks the present lobby law was adequate and only needed to be enforced.
One of the strongest lobbies in Austin is the Texas Trial Lawyers. The 1100 members are by profession advocates and persuaders; their business is to sell juries. They sell legislators, too. Phil Gauss has been the executive director since 1949 and has had two pieces of legislation on the front burner for a long time. They finally passed this session.
The two long-awaited bills: 1) A bill making comparative negligence part of state tort law, passed last session and vetoed by Gov. Smith. It made it this time and was signed into law on April 9. 2) A bill providing for voluntary first-party insurance. If you choose to pay an additional $25-$35, this add-on insurance will provide up to $2500 in automatic payoffs for injuries and loss—no law suit necessary.
Much of TTLA’s strength comes from their political arm, LIFT (Lawyers Involved For Texas). Headed by attorney Wayne Fisher of Houson, LIFT contributes heavily to Texas House and Senate races.
Name any interest you want and it’s a safe bet their concerns are represented by an association or lobbyist in Austin. Below is a random sampling of persons and associations which for better or worse hang around the Capitol:
AFL-CIO—The labor movement in Texas has always had the numbers and the money. The increasing urbanization of Texas may give the labor unions the added political muscle they have missed, although union membership is not picking up rapidly. Secretary-Treasurer Harry Hubbard leads a five-man lobby delegation that worked for passage of collective bargaining for public employees (failed) and an upward revision of workmen’s compensation payments to injured workers (passed).
Texas Brewers’ Institute— Chief legal counsel Dick Cory is the lobby’s acknowledged expert on the drafting and constitutionality of legislation. A former House member for 16 years and participant in two previous constitutional revision studies, Cory had an easy session, putting out brush fires and worrying about a future tax bill.
Texas Automobile Dealers Association— An organization of 1450 franchised new car dealers in Texas headed by former Rep. Gene Fondren. On the job for little over a year, Fondren knows the legislature’s whims and, along with Cory and attorney Wade Spilman, ranks among the most competent drafters of legislation.
Texas Manufacturers Association—Six thousand members representing 3,000 firms make up this widespread organization headquartered in Houston. Their ability to raise money has declined as has the prestige of the executive director, Jim Yancy.
National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML)—By taking polls, appearing on TV and radio shows, and by persistent lobbying, state director Steve Simon provided valuable assistance to the already excellent groundwork done by former State Senator Don Kennard’s Senate Interim Commitee on Drug Abuse. The combined efforts of the Kennard program and the activities of NORML bore fruit on the last day of the session, when the penalty for first possession of marihuana was reduced from a felony to a misdemeanor.
Joe Golman—One of the busiest individual lobbyists in Austin, Golman represents the Dallas Chamber of Commerce, Dallas Community College, and the National Association of Theater Owners. Golman is a popular former House member from Dallas who will commute from Dallas to the Austin office between sessions to keep abreast of legislative business which may affect his clients.
There are many, many more, ranging from the powerful Texas Medical Association to the many other medical-related lobbies; to Allen Commander’s efforts to work for the University of Houston in the shadow of Frank Erwin’s got-it-down-pat work for UT; to shrimpers and oystermen and every delegation and individual who visits Austin at one time or another.
The lobby is hardly a monolithic body, although its major members share certain basic interests and a certain common folklore. When it comes right down to it, the business of lobbying is the business of petitioning the government: it’s trying to right wrongs, achieve a special good, or just to get what you can.
Lobbyists will swear up and down that democratic government could not go on without them, particularly as the world, and governing, become more complex. Most legislators will agree with them. The legislators know how difficult it is to keep informed on issues.
The methods that the lobbyist use are pretty much standard; it is the ends that are different from lobbyist to lobbyist. The danger comes when some lobbyists spend too much time around power, and come to equate the public interest with their own.
In the meantime, Bill Abington of Texas Mid-Continent Oil and Gas is preparing for another session—perhaps a tax session, perhaps the constitutional revision session this spring, perhaps the next regular session. If he could just figure a way to get around Senator McKnight . . . .