In 1997, when state regulators proposed that “grandfathered” industrial facilities, exempt from the Texas Clean Air Act since 1971, finally be required to follow the law, Governor Bush quickly counterattacked. His staff pressured the T.N.R.C.C. to create a “voluntary” program instead – and to ask major utilities, oil and gas refineries, and other big polluters please to do better. Meanwhile, his legislative allies went to work to create a permitting system to validate the subterfuge. It looks likely that some version of that shell game will pass this session (S.B. 766 is on the House Calendar at press time) – allowing the Governor simultaneously to expand the degradation of Texas air yet campaign on the claim he did something about air pollution. Said Pete Altman of the public interest group SEED, “The record strongly suggests collusion between the Governor’s office and industry to stave off closing the loophole and instead devise a sham voluntary policy to greenwash the problem.”
Wondering what’s the payoff? Public Research Works, an Austin-based non-profit, has recently issued two reports on the campaign contributions of grandfathered air polluters. The first, “Follow the Money” documents $10 million in contributions over a six-year period: Bush received more than half a million from forty-three of the Top 100 polluters, Lite Guv Rick Perry also got a bundle ($278,000), and every single senator and representative currently in office received contributions from polluting company PACs.
“Follow the Money” has been followed by “Dance With Who Brung You,” showing that the Governor’s “exploratory” presidential campaign has raised more than $316,000 from PACs, individuals and law firms with connections to the Top 100 grandfathered polluters, from March 4 to March 31 alone. Normally, such contributions to a statewide officeholder during the legislative session would be against state law, but the Guv’s loot is currently governed by federal regs, so he says he gets to keep it. Asked about the conflict of interest and whether Bush would return the funds, Bush campaign spokeswoman Mindy Tucker said no and added, “He’s the first Governor … to come up with a way to get industry to cut down on pollution.” And Willie Sutton robbed banks in a voluntary program to reduce inflation. The P.R.W. reports are available on the internet at www.foree.com/prw.nsf.
Sure, they all say they support the right to bear arms. But it’s only after a gruesome mass murder – like the April 20 shootings in Colorado – that the gun lobby really knows who their friends are. While the bodies were still in the hallways, National Rifle Association spokesman Charlton Heston speculated that had there been someone with a gun there to meet the two assailants, the massacre might have been avoided. Yet as The New York Times reported later, there indeed was an armed security guard on the premises.
Not to be outdone, Gun Owners of America president Larry Pratt cheered for more armaments. Pratt shared one of his favorite stories, about a Mississippi assistant principal who whipped out his own gun to face down a gunman on campus in a 1997 incident. “Some have said that [the principal] should not have had a gun at that school, but there are children alive today who are glad he did.” Pratt also dredged up Lampasas state representative (and beacon for gun defenders) Suzanna Gratia Hupp’s story. After surviving the 1991 Luby’s killings in Killeen, Hupp toured the country telling America how restrictive state laws prevented her from carrying her handgun into the restaurant. She was elected to the House in 1996 with help from Pratt’s G.O.A., the outermost fringe of the gun lobby.
As news of the Colorado death toll reached Texas, the Legislature, led by Hupp, passed the Second Amendment gut-check with flying colors. While the normally steadfast Colorado Legislature was killing two pro-gun bills and Florida was postponing another, the Texas House Civil Affairs Committee was passing a key piece of Hupp’s pro-gun legislative package. Hupp’s H.B. 1716 restricts cities and counties from suing gun manufacturers for negligence. The committee, chaired by Houston Democrat Fred Bosse, voted out the bill (actually the Senate companion, S.B. 717) scarcely twenty-four hours after the Columbine High shooting started. Afterward, citing a poll conducted prior to the shootings, Hupp told the Houston Chronicle that Texans saw through these “slimy little lawsuits” as nothing but a “back door to gun control that will put gun manufacturers out of business.” Hupp also has bills to arm judges, remove notification requirements for concealed weapons, and allow concealed weapons on college campuses. Hupp told the Austin American-Statesman that in light of what happened in Colorado, it might be time to arm teachers, too.
The Governor, meanwhile, held a press conference of his own. In the face of the body count and the national spotlight, Bush flinched. But only a little. Bush said he supported instant criminal background checks at gun shows, a hot-button issue for the gun lobby. Federal law does not provide for such checks, because the dealers in question are unlicensed. Conservative Democrat Bob Turner suggested Bush’s reaction had been a little “knee-jerk.” But it was also pretty safe – a House committee had just voted down the only gun-show bill hours before the governor’s press conference. The bill’s sponsor, Houston Democrat Debra Danburg, observed that the Governor hadn’t done a thing to support the background check initiative before the Columbine massacre, and committee Republicans on the committee killed her bill.
It’s a long shot, but Bush may still have to face the music on gun shows. McAllen Democrat Juan Hinojosa, chair of House Criminal Jurisprudence, has promised to try to revive the issue as an amendment to a gun bill currently in his committee. “We’ll see if he [Bush] really supports it,” Hinojosa told the Austin American-Statesman. Bush can hardly be blamed for hedging his bets – everyone from The New York Times editorial board to the White Christian Minuteman is waiting to see what he’ll do.
THE MIGHTY FALLETH.
Mary Risinger of Midlothian and Downwinders at Risk checked in at deadline to report that Maurice Osborn, town mayor and p.r. executive of toxic-waste incinerating TXI, was defeated May 1 by councilman David Setzer, who opposed special tax breaks for the cement kiln industry and developers. Osborn (see “Waiting to Inhale,” April 16) was endorsed by Congressman Joe (Smokestack) Barton and state Rep Jim Pitts. He lost 455—400.