Lobbyist rookie of the year honors for 1981 go to H. Ross Perot, the Dallas electronics magnate whose War on Drugs campaign has hit Austin like Sherman hit Atlanta.
Not one of the 181 legislators in the Texas House and Senate has escaped from the Perot dragnet. He has flooded their mailboxes with literature on the evils of drug use.
He has hounded them in their Capitol offices, and he has stalked them on the floor of the House and Senate chambers.
There are hints, however, that Perot has other motives for keeping his profile high in the state capital. Legislators and lobbyists have been buzzing recently that the War on Drugs resembles a political campaign more than a lobby effort. It’s just possible, they say, that Perot is testing the waters for a possible run for the governor’s office in 1982.
Perot would run as a Re-publican, of course, and that would leave the current occupant of the governor’s mansion free to take on Democratic Sen. Lloyd Bentsen. As a Democrat, Bentsen has his troubles with the New Right. But Gov. Bill Clements’ conservative credentials are still in order.
“The thinking of the governor is that he paid $7 million for that office, and he’s not about to give it up to a Democrat,” says John Duncan, executive director of the Texas American Civil Liberties Union.
The ACLU has filed a complaint with the Texas Secretary of State’s office over Perot’s lobbying tactics.
“If state officials went after Perot on these lobby irregularities as much as Perot wants them to go after suspected drug dealers, we have enough evidence to put H. Ross Perot in jail for 180 years,” Duncan says.
Perot’s mistake was beginning his lobby effort before he was a registered lobbyist. His first War on Drugs letters went to the homes of all House and Senate members on Dec. 19, a month before the Legislature convened.
State law requires lobbyists to register with the Secretary of State within five days of commencing lobby activities. Perot didn’t register until Jan. 20, a clear violation of state law.
During his lobby campaign, Perot has put together a remarkable grass roots organization in a very short period of time. He’s established War on Drugs committees in most major cities, and he’s recruited PTA mothers as freelance lobbyists. They’ve stormed the capital on foot and through the mail, gaining experience that will come in handy during election time next year.
State Democrats, reeling from setbacks in 1980 state races, are still fighting among themselves about who is going to run for governor in 1982. When they finally do mount a candidate, observers say he’ll have trouble matching Perot’s momentum.