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Cries and Whispers

Political rumors tend to improve in off-election years, possibly because the politicians, sources of 90 per cent of all decent political gossip, feel a bit more garrulous without an encounter with the electorate at hand. Here is a sampling of current political intelligence, plus the inevitable political stupidity.

Many Republicans, notably Marvin Collins, are touting Republican Congressman Alan Steelman for a run at Lloyd Bentsen’s Senate seat, which is up in 1976. Observers are having trouble finding rhyme or reason for such a gamble by the young congressman, save stark fear at having to face yet another uphill re-election fight in his Democratically-gerrymandered 5th Congressional District.

Almost all the hot Democratic properties in town are eyeing Steel-man’s 5th, most notably liberal State Rep. Jim Mattox and conservative County Commissioner David Pickett. Pickett is said to have been interested in a congressional run in the 5th as early as 1974, but backed out of the primary when former Democratic county chairman Earl Luna decided to make a go at it.

Speaking of Bentsen, the current theory on his flagrantly premature presidential candidacy is that the Texas solon is actually angling for the vice-presidential nomination. Said one pundit: “That’s got to be it. If he’s really running for president, his campaign has already peaked.”

1976 could be a weird presidential year in Dallas County: with more court-ordered busing on the way this summer, George Wallace suddenly becomes a larger factor. The Wallace organization is not as pervasive or sophisticated as it needs to be to control the county, but if there’s one issue that could push the “regular” conservative Democrats over to the Wallace camp, it’s busing. Not to mention Republicans ….

On the state level, the murmurs are still mostly unintelligible, and will probably remain so until this fall. However, there is substantial talk of Republican opposition to State Senator Bill Braecklein in the 16th District. Up and coming Republican attorney Tom Pauken is taking a long, hard look at the 16th, a marginal Democratic district at best.

City Councilman George Allen is still rumored to be sizing up Jim Tyson’s seat on the county commissioners court, which is up in 1976. Which makes Tyson’s occasional swing votes with Republican County Judge John Whittington something of a mystery to observers. Said one court source: “Those Republicans aren’t going to help him with the blacks in his district come next year.”

Tyson is apparently trying to build something of a power base himself, by refusing to jump into either Roy Orr’s or Whittington’s hip pockets. A workable ploy, if you can explain it to your voters.

Amid the power shake-down on the new court, County Auditor George Smith is more than holding his own. Sources indicate if Whittington has a trusted ally on the 4th floor of the Records Building, it is the quiet, bookish auditor. Which means the courthouse may well be in for the sort of power pattern which has emerged during the past four years at City Hall: the elected head becomes more and more titular, as the superbureau-crat absorbs the day to day power.

While power alignments on the commissioners court appear to be stabilizing, members of the new City Council are just beginning to give one another the once-over. Republican John Leedom came on strong in the early weeks of the new term, scoring some points by one-upping Mayor Wise on the financial disclosure issue. But according to some sources, the outspoken conservative may be coming on too strong. His admonition that the council should not accept federal Community Development Funds until the federal budget is balanced, and similar statements, have turned some colleagues off.

If Leedom has begun to talk himself into a corner, no other council member is making the noises of a would-be powerbroker. That may be because powerbrokering involves knowing where your votes are and are not, and this council still includes as many mysteries as known quantities. There are two camps emerging: the “populist liberals” – Adlene Harrison, Garry Weber, Lucy Patterson, and the “establishment conservatives” – Leedom, Bill Nicol and L.A. Murr. In the middle are Mayor Wise, George Alien, Willie Cothrum, Republican Dick Smith and Rose Renfroe. Ren-froe, despite her avowed conservatism, is expected to stick with the populist bloc most often (see page 44); Allen, despite the pressures of representing his new all-black district, is expected to toe the establishment line on the “biggies.” Smith seems to be out to prove he’s not a carbon copy of Leedom, and will be unpredictable at best. Wise and Cothrum are probably consciously staying in the middle of the road, understanding, like Tyson, that power can be derived from fickleness.

If observers of the City Council think the past council had a penchant for 6-5 votes, just wait. Not only are 6-5 splits expected on most major issues, but on this council, it will rarely be the same six or the same five.

Environmentalists are worried about substantial talk that realtor Art Martin has the inside track on the chairmanship of the City Plan Commission. The environmentalists will most likely nominate Olive Shapiro to challenge Martin, but at least one source close to both the commission and the council says Martin already has five council votes in the bag.

Martin is not considered by envi-ronmentalists to be sympathetic to their causes. Some worry that the Plan Commission’s controversial approval of a bank-office development in the middle of the Turtle Creek corridor earlier this year might become a habit under a Martin-chaired commission.