A Lone Star and Some Long-Distance Runners

Early reviews on freshmen city council members continue to trickle in, and top marks are going to none other than, uh, Dick Smith. While other members gather headlines, Smith has remained quietly in the woodwork, building respect and trust among all factions on the council and gaining points with City Hall watchers.

Though he was thought to be little more than fellow Republican John Leedom’s silent partner following the election, Smith has proceeded to vote all over the ideological ballpark and to impress council observers with his careful homework and pragmatic, even-handed approach to council issues. What’s more, Smith, a 37-year-old attorney, has the alarming habit of keeping his mouth shut if he doesn’t have anything substantive to say.

“If you’re talking about sheer smarts, Dick is far and away the brightest one on that council,” says a CCA operative who has known Smith for several years.

Smith is quickly proving that Republican conservatives are a different breed from the old-style Democratic conservatives who have dominated Texas politics since creation. Smith breaks with the old conservative stereotypes most dramatically on environmental issues. “I don’t know where this talk of my connection with Leedom came from,” Smith now says, with a laugh. “I bet we spent all of ten minutes together during the campaign. If there are different parts of the Republican Party, I suspect John and I represent two of them which are pretty nearly opposites.”

If Smith’s environmental concerns make his zoning votes rather predictable, he is ferociously independent on other matters. Recently, when the council adopted a new method of nominating and appointing members of city boards and commissions, Smith was the lone council member to vote against the proposal.

The only problem some observers see is that “Dick is just such a nice guy. He has a great mind for politics, but he may not have the guts,” said one. And it’s true that Smith, not particularly articulate or charismatic, sometimes seems too easy to ignore. Which is a shame, because if you listen to what he says, he makes more sense than most city politicians.

Recently, when asked the usual “what-is-the-biggest-problem-facing-Dallas-city-government” query, Smith bypassed the verbal theatrics normally offered by council members to such broad questions, and cut right to the core. “One thing I’ve noticed is a tendency on the council to come in Monday, read the agenda, vote and that’s it. There doesn’t seem to be initiative and it seems like sometimes people are talking on things they are not prepared to discuss.” Amen.

Far be it from the capitol rumor mill to lie dormant, just because statewide elections are four long years away. If you believe what you hear from Austin, there’s already a humdinger of a gubernatorial race going on.

Prevailing theory has it that Dolph Briscoe will not seek another term in ’78, which would open up the field to any ambitious pol willing to let himself be talked about. Lt. Governor Bill Hobby is said to be all but officially announced and filed for the primary that year, with Attorney General John Hill not far behind. Insiders say you can never count out irrepressible State Comptroller Bob Bullock, and, don’t kid yourself, former House Speaker Price Daniel, Jr. isn’t going to stick with the retired life for long.

The prospect of a Demo primary including these four heavies is scintillating, but, in reality, not likely. Bullock, most feel, would be foolish to take on Hobby and/or Hill, and he’s smart enough to see that sooner or later. Daniel, talk has it, will play wait-and-see with Hobby and Hill, possibly making a move for the lieutenant governor’s spot or the attorney general’s post when Hobby and /or Hill decide to run for governor.

On the Republican side (as if it mattered) state chairman Ray Hutchison, the GOP’s most popular and respected legislator in years, still is thought to be the minority party’s best shot. Hutchison would make a good candidate, but the Republicans could suffer another embarrassing defeat at the hands of a Hobby or a Hill if they don’t cough up big money (which they didn’t in ’74 when Hutchison toyed with running).

But the Republicans are in better spirits these days than they have been in for several years. Hutchison’s election to the party chairmanship has spawned a new optimism in the wake of two years of Watergate depression. It’s possible a Republican candidate such as Hutchison could scare the wits out of the Democratic challenger, and more importantly, help Republican legislative candidates in local races.


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