IT’S THAT TIME AGAIN. They’re back, making laws and raising hell. The Texas Legislature is in full swing for its 69th session, causing many to retell that old joke about the Statehouse gang: “The Texas Legislature meets every two years for 140 days. The state might be better off if they met every 140 years for two days.”
And then there’s the oft-quoted warning about our lawmakers: “Nobody’s life, liberty or property is safe while the Legislature is in session.” Taken together, these two old saws reveal how many Texans regard their solons: as buffoons, wastrels, and in some cases, crooks. For too long, too many of us have used such stereotypes to rationalize our apathy and ignorance about state government. Since we “know” they’re clods and con men, we don’t need to know anything else about them. So we arrive at a political paradox: the otherwise informed Texan who can get wrapped up in a Senate clash in North Carolina and can spot every variation of Gary Hart’s signature but is totally in the dark about the men and women who, every two years, go to Austin to make our laws. Our schools did not just change this year; they were changed by people most of us would have a hard time naming. Our taxes did not just go up automatically; those same strangers voted the first major tax bill in 13 years. They did it, and more, speaking for us-and most of us don’t know who to damn and who to thank.
Starting with the thanks, let’s be grateful that anything ever passes the Legislature at all. The Texas Legislature is a funnel with a huge top and the tiniest bottom imaginable. The burden of meeting every other year (Texas is one of only eight states, and the only large state, to maintain a biennial session) means that oodles of bills get introduced and almost nothing gets through the funnel. In the 1983 regular session, 3,891 bills were introduced in the House and Senate. Only 1,134 (29 percent) made it into law.
And if few of our statesmen resemble Einstein, Churchill or Solomon, consider: These men and women run our state, with its $17.6 billion budget, for the princely sum of $600 a month, plus an additional $30 per diem in expenses while in session. It’s still possible to make a small fortune as a lawmaker, but to do it legally, you need to start with a large fortune. Since 1896, 21 amendments to raise legislative salaries have been put to the voters; only four have passed, the last one 10 years ago. Ask the executives of a major company to plow deep for $600 a month, and you’ll be in search of excellence for a long, long time. And as for prestige, state legislators are hardly household faces. As Rep. Lee Jackson of Dallas puts it, “People don’t invite you to the Dallas Country Club and say, ’Meet my friend. He’s a legislator.’“
Still, there are bright spots in the gloom, especially in the Dallas delegation. Put myths and stereotypes aside and spend some time with Steve Wolens, Patricia Hill, Jesse Oliver or Al Granoff. (Does one of them represent your district?) You’ll come away convinced that such men and women, like many of their Dallas colleagues, are intelligent, capable and sincere.
Around the state, the Dallas delegation has a great reputation as a cohesive, effective team working for Dallas-most of the time. Largely free of the internecine warfare that plagues a delegation like Houston’s, where reps from silk-stocking districts don’t even speak to their inner-city colleagues, the Dallas delegation works in harmony-most of the time.
The Dallas group is remarkably stable for a big-city delegation. Two of our senators, Oscar Mauzy and Ike Harris, have served since 1967. Ten of our representatives have served four or more terms. In the 1984 elections, only three of our state reps drew opponents, and only one, Mesquite Democrat Charles Gandy, was unseated (by Republican Bill Blackwood). In politics, those who stay around get ahead; as a result of their political longevity, men like David Cain, Fred Agnich and Ray Keller have risen to head powerful committees.
Of course, not all is sweetness and light. On such issues as redistricting, the delegation splits predictably along party lines. The same happened on a vote to create a state human rights commission. Every Dallas Republican voted against the commission; every Democrat present-with the exception of the ultraconservative Carlyle Smith-voted for it.
But deeper fault lines may split the delegation. Some local Democrats were incensed when Republican Bill Ceverha, known for his Moral Majority views, openly campaigned against Democrat Charles Gandy, thus violating an unspoken commandment: Thou shalt leave thy neighbor’s district alone.
Then, too, even some of our veteran representatives have not weathered a session as stormy as the 69th may be. As D goes to press, Texas faces a budget shortfall of more than $1 billion. The state is under court order to improve the prison system, although there’s no money for the task. Also, we’re sorely in need of a comprehensive water plan. The money-raising solutions are all controversial: horse racing, a lottery, an end to the blue laws, increases in numerous “user fees” and deep cuts in state university budgets. As for another tax increase, that will come over the dead body of Gov. Mark White, who does not want to run for re-election in 1986 with two tax hikes on his record.
In the meantime, Dallas is in fairly good hands. Three cheers-no, make that two- for the Dallas delegation in Austin.
SEN. JOHN LEEDOM, R-16 (Parts of Dallas, Collin County); 63; third term; married, six children; president/founder of Wholesale Electronic Supply Inc.
Along with Rep. Fred Agnich, Leedom is the “Dr. No” of the Dallas delegation and functions as an ideological guru for younger conservatives like Bill Hammond and Steve Wolens. Leedom, a Dallas City Councilman from 1975 to 1980, is a hard-line conservative known for his inflexibility when it comes to political compromise. He was successful last session in engineering increases in various types of state fees which had not been increased in 40 years.
Committees: Economic Development; Education; Intergovernmental Affairs-vice chairman
Current concerns: Better management of the state treasury. As chairman of a senate committee study of funds management, he’ll attempt to carry several bills aimed at broadening investment avenues for state funds and converting assets into cash flow.
Proud of: His passage of legislation that increased state fees ranging from hunting licenses to auto title fees, the first such legislation since the Thirties.
A friend says: “John is perceived as being more unreasonable than he really is. He’s a bright guy. He could work a little more within the system.”
A critic says: “Leedom is a flake, a Neanderthal, hardheaded. He says no matter how bad the problem, government shouldn’t try to correct it. Government, to him, should just disappear.”
REP. GWYN SHEA, R-98 (Irving); 47; second term; married, three children; businesswoman.
Shea is low-profiled and has a reputation as a solid right-winger-largely a party-line voter. (The Young Conservatives of Texas gave her a perfect 100 percent rating for the 1983 legislative session.) Some say she learned a lot working in former state Rep. Bob Davis’ office several years before deciding to run for his vacated seat. But most say her education was deficient, particularly in Fundamentals of Political Compromise 101.
Committees: Insurance; Ways and Means
Current concerns: Clarification of a portion of the education bill that she feels has been misinterpreted to require additional paperwork for teachers, raising the minimum drinking age to 21 and supporting capital punishment for mass murderers.
Proud of: Her fight in ’83 to defeat a bill (it passed the House, but failed to get to a vote in the Senate) that would have allowed labor unions to sue the state without the Legislature’s permission.
A friend says: “Gwyn’s very low-profiled, but she knows how to handle herself very well. A solid conservative representative.”
A critic says: “She’s falling in with the ’No-Government’ crowd.”
REP. BILL BLANTON, R-99 (Farmers Branch, Carrollton); 60; fifth term; married, four children; businessman.
Blanton is not regarded as one of the delegation’s more effective lawmakers, but as chairman for Budget and Oversight of the Public Education Committee, he has a key post in the educational area. A hard-line conservative, he was one of three Dallas lawmakers to receive a perfect 100 percent rating by the Young Conservatives of Texas for his voting record.
Committees: Appropriations; Local and Consent Calendars;Public Education
Current concerns: Introducing legislation that would permit parents to teach their children at home and supporting legislation that would give cities control over the issuance of private liquor licenses in dry areas.
Proud of: “I can’t point to any landmark bills I passed in ’83.”
A friend says: “Bill Blanton’s fate is uncertain, since he opposed the education package.”
A critic says: “Blanton is ineffective. He doesn’t do much.”
REP. FRED AGNICH, R-114 (North Central Dallas, Preston Hollow); 71; eighth term; married, two children; oil and gas producer.
Known for his love of the high life, Agnich is solidly entrenched in his Republican district; he has drawn no opponents for the past five terms. Agnich is one of the “ABC boys,” along with Blanton and Ceverha, who can be counted on to vote against any tax increases, most expenditures and almost any new state agencies. “My main strength is in killing bad legislation,” he says. “Ninety-five percent of what we pass is either bad or unneeded.” It’s rare that he votes for any centralization of power; hence the shock in ’83 when he engineered an overhaul of the state’s chaotic game and fish laws, stripping counties of much of their control over fishing and hunting seasons and strengthening the Parks and Wildlife Commission.
Committees: Environmental Affairs-Chairman; Energy
Current concerns: “Peeling back expenditures and avoiding another tax increase,” and slapping poachers with civil, as well as criminal, penalties. He’ll also seek to water down “right-to-know” legislation that forces companies to inform employees of the potential hazards of their products.
Proud of: His vote against House Bill 72, the education reform package, on the grounds that an increased sales tax was not the proper means of funding the reforms.
A friend says: “He probably got most of his fire out in his earlier years, but he’s still very active behind the scenes. He’s steady and fair, but you don’t want to cross him.”
A critic says: “He’s been bitten and bruised. If he really believes in something, he’ll still say ’damn the torpedoes,’ but he doesn’t say it much anymore.”
REP. BILL CEVERHA, R-112 (Richardson, North Dallas); 48; fifth term; married, two children; real estate sales, Henry Miller Co.
This former KDFW newsman is not at all bothered that he introduced fewer than 15 substantive pieces of legislation in ’83. Like his soulmate Fred Agnich, Ceverha sees his mission as stopping the growth of Big Government and keeping the state out of the citizens’ pocketbooks-but not, it seems, out of their bedrooms. Ceverha introduced an anti-homosexuality bill last session that would have revived the state’s sodomy laws, which were recently declared unconstitutional. During testimony, Ceverha listed Dallas shopping malls, bookstores and bath houses that he said were hotbeds of gay activity. Also a staunch anti-abortionist, Ceverha offered an amendment that would have cut family planning funds by $12 million and prohibited state contracts with organizations such as Planned Parenthood. On the vote, Ceverha was trounced 111-32. Still, he soldiers on: “You can spend your career, if you’re black, talking about racism. But if you talk about the rights of unborn children, you’re some kind of fanatic or kook.”
Committees: State Affairs-Vice Chairman; Ways and Means
Proud of: The legislation he carried during four terms that would have killed the blue laws. “That’s a blatant example of lobby-written law that doesn’t benefit the people.”
Current concerns: Working against the compensatory education segment of the school reform bill, which he says penalizes suburban school districts. He also wants a compromise on the open-container problem, whereby drivers convicted of DWI would face stiffer penalties if driving with an open container.
A friend says: “He’s a crusader, and like most crusaders, he’s not much good at coalition building. He doesn’t have the most conciliatory style. But the only difference between him and a liberal like John Bryant was that Bryant had better press.”
A critic says: “Very verbal, dogged and dogmatic. He’s terribly primitive for a place like Richardson. You’d think he was from some little West Texas town.”
REP. LEE JACKSON, R-113 (Lake Highlands, White Rock, Northwest Garland), 35; fifth term; married, two children; executive vice-president, Halstead and Associates.
Lee Jackson may be one of the few legislators to find a faint silver lining in the clouds of this cash-strapped 69th Legislature. “We do have unprecedented problems,” says Jackson. “But some of us who voted through the Seventies against programs we thought were poorly conceived don’t see this just as a disaster. Now, maybe, there will be enough pressure to force people to be realistic.” Along with his deskmate, Steve Wolens, Jackson is generally considered the best and brightest of the Dallas delegation. He can articulate the conservative ideology with the best of them, right down to the quotes from Burke. A genuine fiscal conservative, Jackson wonders aloud about the “counterproductive self-interest” of labor unions and their “willful refusal to pay attention to economic facts.”
Committees: Business and Commerce-Chairman; General Investigating; Ways and Means
Current Concerns: Working to harmonize the interests of suburban and urban school districts in the wake of HB 72. “The suburban districts feel they have lost some local control and are being punished for problems the urban districts have.” Also, he has proposed a bill that would create a Texas World Trade Council.
Proud of: His bill that would change the prevailing wage law that now forbids undercutting wages on construction projects. Jackson got the bill to the floor in 1979; with 15 new Republicans in the House, he’ll try it again this time.
A friend says: “Lee is the jewel in the crown of the Dallas delegation. He’s moving up in the power structure.”
A critic says: “Lee can be a little self-righteous at times. Hewouldn’t win any popularity contests.”
REP. PATRICIA HILL, R-102 (Park Cities, North Dallas); 39; second term; married; civil trial attorney at Baker, Smith and Mills.
Although Hill is a conservative thinker, she is not known as a party-line voter. She voted in favor of educational reforms, contrary to the wishes of many of her constituents, and led a strong fight against a bill that would have allowed the billboard industry to circumvent the Dallas sign ordinance by requiring cities to financially reimburse companies required to take down their billboards. (The bill passed both houses, but was vetoed by the governor.) Hill was the only freshman legislator appointed to the powerful Sunset Commission last session.
Committees: State, Federal and International Relations; State Affairs; Ethics
Current concerns: Passage of her bill to outlaw corporate noncompetition agreements, which she claims discourage competition in a free economy. “I am interested in almost anything, since I sit on committees hearing a wide variety of issues.”
A friend says: “Pat’s a dynamo, a good member. She’s ambitious and has real potential.”
A critic says: “She’s probably just happy to be here.”
REP. BILL HAMMOND, R-109 (Northeast Dallas); 37; second term; married, two children; owner Dallas Tent and Awning Co.
Hammond is a moderate conservative who gained respect quickly as a freshman legislator during the 1983 session. He’s not afraid to step across party lines to work with Democratic liberals when the need arises.
Committees: Financial Institutions; Public Education
Current concerns: Ensuring that last year’s educational reform bill is not gutted in the 1985 session, repealing blue laws and tightening the state’s fiscal management. Will also propose an alternative homestead law bill.
A friend says: “Bill is a rising star. The only thing he lacks is experience.”
A critic says: “Sometimes he seems to think that a smile and a handshake are all he needs. He should toughen up.”
REP. RAY KELLER, R-104 (Duncanville, Cedar Hill, DeSoto, Lancaster, South Dallas County); 34; fourth term; single; owner of Keller Properties, Keller Construction and Keller’s Primrose Ranch & Cattle Co. in Athens.
Keller’s solid work in legislating sweeping prison reform has caused his political star to rise-rumors persist that he’ll soon be moving up the political ladder. His reputation as a conservative made him a perfect choice as the sponsor of radical legislative reforms for the Texas Department of Corrections. Keller is intelligent and has a reputation as an honest hard worker.
Committees: Law Enforcement-Chairman; State Affairs
Current concerns: Monitoring the progress of the prison-reform package and continuing to study the TDC system. He plans to introduce legislation that will offer alternative types of incarceration, permit private enterprise to build and run minimum-security prisons and improve internal management of Texas prisons.
A friend says: “Ray’s ambitious, and he doesn’t mind raising hell when he thinks it needs to be raised. He could just get up there at the microphone and mumble, and things would get done.”
A critic says: “Keller can be awfully rude and arrogant at times.”
REP. ANITA HILL, R-101 (South Garland, Rowlett); 56; fifth term; married, two children; legislator.
“I would list myself as a housewife, but I asked my children for a food processor this Christmas and they said, ’What for?’” That’s Anita Hill. She’s self-effacing and quiet; she limits herself and within her sphere, she’s effective. A self-described “shrinking violet” early in her career, she surprised her colleagues a few sessions back by leading a much-publicized boycott against an all-male Austin club that had turned her away. Still, she’s seldom found haranguing the House from the front microphone. Focusing on what she calls “family” issues, Rep. Hill does her job and goes home. You won’t find her on the town with Paul Ragsdale and Al Granoff.
Committees: Cultural and Historical Resources-Vice Chairman; Local and Consent Calendars; State Federal and International Relations
Current Concerns: Child abuse. Plans to file a bill increasing the statute of limitations on incest from three to five years, so that allegedly abused children will have longer to report the crime.
Proud of: Her bills toughening standards in nursing homes, allowing two unannounced inspections by state officials. She also tried to mandate sprinkler systems-not just smoke alarms-in nursing homes, but lost.
A friend says: “She’s a person of principle and integrity. She’ssteady, concerned about Garland. She has no higher ambition andserves because she wants to.”
A critic says: “She doesn’t take anything away, but she doesn’t add much either. She’s there forever, but you never hear her name. If she wanted to stop something, she couldn’t do it.”
SEN. IKE HARRIS, R-8 (Dallas County); 52; 10th term; married, two children; attorney.
As dean of the Senate, Harris is one of the Legislature’s more powerful lawmakers, and perhaps the most influential Republican in the Senate. Over the years, Harris has been controversial and thought to be a bit lazy. However, his image underwent a metamorphosis last session when he became the first legislator in 50 years to shepherd a parimutuel wagering bill through the Senate. (It later foiled to pass the House.)
Committees: Economic Development-Chairman; Finance; State Affairs
Current concern: Legislation he’ll be introducing on altering thesecurities commission process, altering the insurance code to liberalize investment possibilities of life insurance companies.
Proud of: Successfully carrying the parimutuel wagering billthrough the Senate last session.
A friend says: “Ike is extremely influential. He’s friendly, sociable and is a solid business-oriented legislator.”
A critic says: “Ike is powerful, but he’s tied in with some negative[lobby] interests.”
REP. PAUL RAGSDALE, D-110 (South Dallas); 40; eighth term; single; sociologist. For years, Paul Ragsdale has built an image as a flashy, fast-talking, street-smart party animal who loves to raise a glass or four between pungent (and often unprintable) quotes. It’s all true, but there’s another Rags-dale. Behind the flippant facade is a quick, intuitive mind; he’s a keen student of state politics who has worked his way onto the Speaker’s team without scrapping his liberal beliefs. For years, Ragsdale has been the lone member of the Dallas delegation (make that the entire Legislature) who has pushed for rational gun-control legislation, the loneliest of lonely fights in a state like Texas. Ragsdale admits that he “segregated” himself from the white majority during his early terms in the House, but he soon learned that was not the road to influence. “Things change, you know,” Ragsdale says. “I was once called a black militant, when all I wanted was the right to go in somewhere and get a job.”
Committees: Regions, Compacts and Districts-Vice Chairman; Public Education
Current concerns: As always, Ragsdale will carry his ever-unpopular gun bills, trying to reduce the number of Saturday Night Specials, but he will also work to ensure that the state’s budget is not balanced on the backs of the poor.
Proud of: His work on redistricting. Ragsdale drew the Dallas district boundaries approved in the last legislative session and made all but one (Charles Gandy’s Mesquite district) virtually GOP-proof barring large population shifts. He says Republicans should not look to win any more local Democratic seats: “If they didn’t get you this time, they won’t.”
A friend says: “He has ideals and principles, but he’ll work with you. And he really takes care of his constituents.”
A critic says: “Paul has come as far as anyone, but he still feels that if you’re against something he wants, it’s because he’s black. That implied racism is a tool he uses masterfully.”
REP. SAM HUDSON, D-100 (Near North Dallas, Love Field area, parts of Oak Cliff); 45; seventh term; married, six children; attorney.
In the eternal human dichotomy between the head and the heart, even Sam Hudson’s friends would say he is blessed with much more of the latter than the former. Hudson introduced almost 100 pieces of legislation last term (including meaningless consent calendar items) and passed just two of them, giving him perhaps the worst efficiency rating of the entire House. He also missed the crucial vote on horse racing, which failed by two votes. But over the years, Hudson at least has operated by a clear and unwavering standard: If one of his constituents has a problem, he introduces a bill to solve it. But Hudson, who once went on a month-long hunger strike to dramatize the plight of the poor, believes it’s better to file and fail than not to file at all. “I try to make legislative redress for people’s concerns,” he says. “If that amounts to more than 100 bills, so be it. If I say this person’s concerns aren’t important, that amounts to playing God with human needs.”
Committees: Rules and Resolutions-Chairman; Criminal Jurisprudence; Liquor Regulations
Current concerns: “The same as before. Various and sundry efforts for the common man and the consumer.”
Proud of: His bill authorizing the incorporation of food co-ops and other co-ops; his attempts to get conjugal visits for spouses in prison; his part in mandating single-member districts for community college board elections.
A friend says: “He cares, he really does. And there’s not a mean bone in his body.”
A critic says: “Is Sam serious? He’s completely ineffectual, the John Leedom of the Dallas black contingent.”
SEN. OSCAR MAUZY, D-23 (Parts of Dallas County); 10th term; married, three children; attorney.
Public moods come and go, but Oscar Mauzy, it seems, is forever. After 17 years as leader of the Senate’s liberals, he knows the system inside out. He closely monitors what the House passes and can quickly mobilize his progressive faction against “bad” bills. He might deny it, but Mauzy has grown a shade more moderate in recent years, possibly because conservative Grand Prairie was added to his district. Chamber of Commerce types now see him as more approachable, but he’ll still draw the liberal line in the sand. Mauzy was pushing for a better education system long before Ross Perot and Mark White got into the act; some think he may wage one more big fight against any weakening of the education reform package, then call it quits in ’87.
Committees: Jurisprudence-chairman; Administration; Education
Current concerns: “I’m going to be trying like hell to hold onto as much of the school reform as we can.” He also wants total reform of the state’s criminal and civil court system, including nonpartisan election of trial judges. He hopes to find new sources of state revenue “if the House will send us a bill.”
Proud of: His sponsorship, on the Senate side, of the senatorial, congressional and legislative redistricting plans-all of which were held to be constitutional.
A friend says: “Oscar has always idolized Harry Truman, and he’s a lot like Truman. He shoots from the hip and tells it like it is. He really got his second wind last session.”
A critic says: “He hangs on too long on some issues. And although he’s known as pretty liberal, he’s really traditional on some things. He’ll quit committee meetings promptly at 5 p.m., even if someone’s come all the way from El Paso to testify
REP. JESSE OLIVER, D-lll (Central Oak Cliff); 40; second term; married; attorney. Perhaps no Dallas legislator in recent years has gained respect faster than Jesse Oliver. Even rock-ribbed conservatives will grudgingly admit that Oliver, originally a Paul Ragsdale protégé, is a most gifted legislator with a bright future. He’s transcended black-white animosities; he’s one of those rare liberals with the respect of the business community; and he has a mind that penetrates like a laserbeam to the ramifications of proposed legislation. Some of hissupporters worry that money problems (he’s forced to neglect hisone-man law firm while in Austin) may force Oliver to seek greener pastures.
Committees: Public Health; Insurance
Current concerns: Fighting wholesale attempts to dilute HB 72.He can go for minor corrections, but would rather “live with the bill as it is than lose it.”
Proud of: A bill he co-sponsored (with Patricia Hill) that wouldhave forced out-of-county patients to pay more for services in Dallas County hospitals. “Last year, we spent over $12 million on non-residents.”
A friend says: “He’s articulate, a potential leader. He’ll be greatif he stays.”
A critic says: “Jesse’s good, but he’s got to toughen up. He gets frustrated trying to chop through that bureaucratic jungle.”
REP. AL GRANOFF, D-108 (Pleasant Grove, Southeast Dallas); 36; second term; single; attorney (specializes in personal injury and worker’s compensation law).
Generally considered the most liberal representative in the Dallas delegation, Granoff replaced powerful liberal John Bryant in 1982. As a freshman, Granoff quickly gained a reputation as an effective legislator who did his homework, despite his penchant for nightlife. Although he is Jewish, Granoff is the only Dallas member of the House Mexican-American Caucus.
Committees: Criminal Jurisprudence; Law Enforcement
Current concern: Institutional care (“Who do we separate from society?”)
Proud of: His successful effort to pass House Bill 1114, which raised the fines for overweight trucks and slapped fines on shippers who force truckers to take on overweight loads.
A friend says: “Al’s the kind of guy who can make five cocktail receptions in one evening and maybe stay up until 4 a.m. watching a belly dancer. But if he’s got a committee meeting at 7 the next morning, he’ll be there. He’s always very well-prepared, and he knows the issues.”
A critic says: “I think Al’s having a good time.”
REP. DAVID CAIN, D-107 (Oak Lawn, East Dallas, Fair Park, Lakewood); 37; fourth term; married, two children; attorney.
Cain is regarded as the Dallas delegation’s most powerful Democrat. He holds power behind the scenes as a member of House Speaker Gib Lewis’ team and up front as chairman of the House Transportation Committee. That’s quite a change from the days of Billy Clayton, with whom Cain never quite clicked. Although he is a “player” on Lewis’ conservative team, Cain has largely retained his credentials as a progressive.
Committees: Transportation-chairman; Urban Affairs
Current concerns: Working for passage of legislation he is cosponsoring to repeal the blue law, acting on highway wear-and-tear studies commissioned by his Transportation Committee, and trying again to pass legislation detailing indigent defense counsel guidelines.
Proud of: Passage of his condemnation bill that forces developers to share in the costs of bringing roads to their projects.
A friend says: “David is quiet, well-liked and quietly effective.”
A critic says: “Cain has inherited some of the influence of (John) Bryant and (Ron) Coleman, but he’s not a force as they were.”
REP. STEVE WOLENS, D-103 (West Dallas, North and Central Oak Cliff); 34; third term; single; attorney.
Steve Wolens quickly gained a reputation as one of the best debaters in the House; an argument with Wolens leaves opponents feeling like they’ve been blasted with flak made from ground-up law books. Other legislators may dislike waste in government; Wolens regards a bloated budget with the loathing that most people reserve for necrophiliacs. On other issues, he’s unpredictable, neither automatically liberal nor conservative.
Committees: Appropriations, Urban Affairs-chairman for Budget and Oversight
Current concerns: Wants to establish some kind of midterm review board for checking on agency spending. “We have less than three months to deal with a $30 billion budget. By the time we find out about misuse or waste, we’re out of session.”
Proud of: His total revision of the state’s antitrust laws; his successful fight against attempts to weaken the Texas Deceptive Trade Practices Act.
A friend says: “He can have a half-hour meeting in 10 seconds. He looks, analyzes, tells you where he stands and won’t waffle.”
A critic says: “He seems to think that the Legislature is a debating society, and the guy who’s the most logical wins. It doesn’t always work that way
SEN. TED LYON, D-2 (Southeast Dallas County, East Texas to Tyler); 37; two terms in House; 2nd term in Senate; married, two children; attorney.
“I’ve passed pretty much everything I’ve tried to pass during the last few years,” says Lyon, a young man on the way up. Few expect Lyon to be satisfied for long with his current position, but for the time being, he’s caught in a political dilemma: State-wide, the Democratic hierarchy leans leftward, but Lyon has to do a more conservative balancing act in his weirdly drawn district. But he’s still a tenacious fighter, if not a kamikaze. He works at finding ways to get things done.
Committees: Administration; Intergovernmental Affairs; Natural Resources
Current concerns: Maintaining state services without a tax increase. Also, the Parks and Wildlife Commission comes up for “sunset” review this time; Lyon, an ex-cop and friend of hunters, will be there to guard its budget. He’ll also fight what he calls “unacceptable” cuts in college and university budgets.
Proud of: His bill making Texas credit card interest rates the lowest in the country; and his bill allowing videotaping of children’s testimony in custody and abuse cases.
A friend says: “He’s an efficient legislative player. When he gets interested in something, he usually wins.”
A critic says: “He was better as a member of the House. Then, he was idealistic and concerned. Now, he’s more of a practical politician.”
REP. CARLYLE SMITH, D-106 (Grand Prairie, West Dallas County); 45; sixth term; married; architect, engineer.
Despite more than a decade of legislative experience, Smith’s effectiveness took a nosedive last session when he openly opposed Gib Lewis in the race to replace Billy Clayton as House Speaker. Smith lost, but he never seemed to know when to stop his criticism of Lewis, which continued all session. If Lewis was for, Smith was against. Now Smith is alienated from the Dallas delegation and the House leadership, socially and professionally. “There is a vacuum in challenging the prevailing will of the Speaker, his lieutenants and the premier lobbyists in town,” he says.
Committees: Retirement and Aging; State Affairs
Current concerns: Passage of open container legislation and minimum drinking age of 21 and heading off pari-mutuel wagering and the move for passage of a homestead exemption bill.
Proud of: The fact that he passed any legislation. “I didn’t expect to pass anything last session, especially since I openly opposed the Speaker.”
A friend says: “Carlyle is out there on his own. He’s not persuaded by reasons of pragmatism. He’s apparently decided these are the wilderness years-he’s a voice in the wilderness.”
A critic says: “Carlyle couldn’t pass a bill if he wanted to. He does a tremendous disservice to his district.”
THE UNELECTED LEADERS: AUSTIN LOBBIES PAC A PUNCH
“Money still greases the wheel.”
The newspapers in recent months have been laced with stories claiming that even the lobbyists are growing weary of an ever-increasing need to stock the campaign chests of our state lawmakers. So weary, we’re told, that some support legislative attempts to limit the amounts that Political Action Committees (PACs) can give state officeholders.
While some might support such limits, don’t count on things changing soon. With campaigns becoming more costly-even a race for a seat in the Texas House of Representatives can easily cost from $20,000 to $100,000-officeholders these days are more dependent than ever on special-interest money. In fact, a study conducted by Common Cause revealed that 50 to 80 percent of the money raised by the average state lawmaker comes from Austin-based PACs.
What all this means is that the special interests, be they oil, real estate or taxpayers’ associations, collectively have our Legislature’s attention. Sometimes, that money can buy something as subtle as ensuring a speech from a legislator or the quick return of a phone call, but it may also buy a vote. While many PACs do have their ideological leanings, a recent study by The Wall Street Journal shows that many special-interest groups function as non-partisan sugar daddies, spreading Financial largesse on both sides of the street. It’s not unusual to find a PAC backing a liberal incumbent and a conservative challenger, or vice versa. AUTO PAC, which represents new-car dealers, gave Democratic Sen. Ted Lyon of Rockwall $2,000 in the 1982 election, lavished $4,500 on his challenger, Bill Clark, and, covering all the bases, tossed a spare $500 to long-shot Republican Leonard Davis.
Some legislators, including Dallas Rep. Bill Hammond (a moderate Republican) prefer more ideological purity along with the PAC money. “It makes me mad that a lobby like the Texas Medical Association will support liberals if they vote right on one or two of their pet issues,” Hammond says. “Then these guys can go off and be Communists on the rest of the votes, and it doesn’t matter.”
But deplore the situation as we may, the average lawmaker needs lobby money to survive, unless he has great wealth of his own. A well-to-do businessman from an affluent district (say, Fred Agnich) may not have to scramble to finance campaigns-especially if, as with Agnich, he usually runs unopposed. But a young attorney like David Cain, who represents a poor, inner-city district, frankly admits that he couldn’t survive without PAC contributions. Faced with accepting PAC money (and the possible strings attached) or dipping into his own pockets, the average legislator has little choice.
But, despite their obvious biases, effective lobbyists are a valuable source of information for lawmakers, who find themselves buried in about 4,000 proposed pieces of legislation in the course of only a few months. Even with the help of legislative aides and the influential House Study Group, which provides digests of bills and arguments pro and con, lawmakers can be forced to turn to lobbyists. “Let’s face it,” says one representative, “the lobbyists always know more than we do.”
“A good lobbyist is an advocate, but he’ll also tell you the arguments on the other side,” says Rat Hill, a second-term representative from Highland Park and North Dallas.
Some of the lobbyist’s methods are ethical, some of them downright illegal. Since lobbyists are not allowed on the floor when the Legislature is in session, they must work behind the scenes before issues come to a vote. Lobbyists probably spend most of their money entertaining legislators, who are more than glad to supplement their miserable per diem allowances with a free meal and a couple of drinks. In Austin, many a political seed germinates over a bourbon and water at the Quorum Club, Cloak Room, Broken Spoke or The Headliners Club. And, particularly when a crucial vote is in the offing, participants at those wine-and-dine sessions might be influential folks from the home district who just dropped by to let the lawmaker know how they feel about an issue.
On the sly, some lobbyists provide credit cards for certain legislators during the session. In some cases, they give legislators club membership numbers for free meals and drinks. They invite legislators to speak to conventions meeting outside the country, and they take legislators on hunting and ski trips. Sometimes the wife and kids go along.
But lobbyists often work in more subtle ways, commonly called “related compensation.” Say, for example, the real estate industry needs a bill passed, and they want a certain senator in their column on a specific vote. If he’s an attorney, two or three large real estate firms may suddenly ask him to represent them in a pressing legal matter. Or his son in college may get a summer job in a real-estate office. Maybe his business partner gets hired as a consultant for a state-funded study. (Insiders estimate that some lobbies spend anywhere from $500,000 to $3 million in actual miscellaneous expenses to get a major piece of legislation passed.)
During the 1985 session, we’ll be seeing more and more “hired gun” lobbyists: lawyers who work for anyone willing to pay them a hefty fee. Many of these lobbyists may be employed for only one session by a coalition of individuals and groups who are pursuing a single issue. These “superstar” lobbyists have been unkindly received by the traditional trade associations, such as the Realtors, bankers and doctors, who represent an established constituency. (Says one lobbyist of the superstars: “You could get the Bill of Rights repealed if you paid them $100,000”)
But no matter who does the lobbying, it still takes money and contacts to get things done in Austin. It takes an understanding of the issues and an awful lot of back-slapping, hand-holding, and, unfortunately, filling some outstretched hands.
“Lobbyists are just like any other profession,” says one lobbyist of nearly two decades. “You find every kind. Some have enormous integrity, and some tend to use anymeans they can.” -Eric Miller