Political Intelligence



Whether you’re a woman or a U.N. treaty, you can expect about the same treatment from Jesse Helms, should you be unlucky enough to wind up in front of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee he has chaired since the War Between the States. Lost in the brouhaha over Helm’s scuttling of the Nuclear Test Ban Treaty is his mistreatment of another international convention: The United Nations Convention to Eliminate All Forms of Discrimination Against Women. Helms has been sitting on the treaty since Clinton submitted it to the Senate in 1994, following the huge international women’s conference in Beijing. Losing patience with the aging North Carolina Republican, ten Democratic Congresswomen, including Dallas’ Eddie Bernice Johnson, crashed a meeting of the Senator’s committee in late October. Bearing placards pasted with blown-up copies of a long-unanswered letter from California Democrat Lynn Woolsey to Helms about the treaty, the women stood at the rear of the room in silent protest. Helms admonished them to “act like ladies.” When they insisted on being women, he had the Capitol police escort them from the room.

“One-hundred and sixty-two other countries have ratified this treaty,” Johnson told Political Intelligence, “and we feel that a person that still thinks that women have no rights shouldn’t be blocking passage of it…. We’re less than ninety days to the twenty-first century and we have a Neanderthal-minded person standing in the way of women’s rights.”

It hasn’t been a good month for women-Neanderthal relations in the nation’s capital. Helms is also blocking Clinton’s nomination of former Illinois senator Carol Moseley-Braun as ambassador to New Zealand. Helms said he was waiting for a personal apology from Moseley-Braun, who in 1993 successfully campaigned against a renewal of the design patent for the insignia of the United Daughters of the Confederacy (where the real ladies meet). The design contained the Confederate Flag, a symbol dear to Jesse’s heart, but one which Moseley-Braun argued was not worthy of the “federal imprimatur” that renewal of the patent would have given it


Scarcely five months after Governor Bush rammed a $1.3 billion property tax cut through the legislature, his fellow Republican, Senate Finance Chairman Bill Ratliff, has announced that the state will probably not be able to meet its transportation funding obligations without a tax increase. Ratliff speculated that a five-cent increase in the state gasoline tax, already at twenty cents per gallon, might be necessary. “George W. Bush squandered away a record surplus in a record amount of time,” said state Democratic chairperson Molly Beth Malcolm. According to the state comptroller’s projections, many taxpayers will not see the Governor’s tax cut reflected on their property tax bill, because of rising valuations across the state. Everyone with a car will notice the extra nickel a gallon, however. It might comfort some Texans to think of it as a campaign contribution to Bush 2000, as the governor campaigns in other states on his tax-cutting record.


According to a report by Joan Lowy of the Scripps Howard News Service, Governor Bush met privately with a dozen conservative Christian leaders in Washington in late September, to reassure them that — his carefully constructed media image notwithstanding — he is a social conservative. According to participants at the meeting, Bush repeated his position that abortion would not be a litmus test for Supreme Court nominees, but stressed that his track record of pro-life judicial appointments in Texas clearly demonstrated his philosophy. Because of the advanced age of several justices, the next President may have a chance to fill as many as three Supreme Court appointments, which could place Roe v. Wade in jeopardy. Michael Farris of the Home School Legal Defense Association told Scripps Howard that Bush “expressed the preciousness of human life at all stages,” touching on euthanasia as well as abortion.

In the ninety-minute Q & A session, Bush also hit homosexuality (no, he wouldn’t appoint an openly homosexual candidate to office, but neither would he fire anyone who came out later); the U.N. (he strongly supports “U.S. sovereignty,” which may sound vague, but is a right-wing buzz-word for a Pat Buchanan-style foreign policy); and education (home schooling: good; Department of Education: bad). Farris’ positive appraisal of the Governor’s performance revealed almost as much about the state of the conservative Christian movement as it did about Bush’s right-wing credentials. This political season has seen a new pragmatism settling over a movement whose hallmark has always been a legendary intransigence, but which by many indicators is now waning, if not in numbers, then in the cohesion of its message and strategy. “He’s not rising out of the social conservative ranks, so he’s not going to be 100 percent harmonious with us, but the question is whether he is reasonably harmonious. The answer is yeah, we thought he was,” Farris told Scripps Howard. Thus far, the Governor is finding the middle of the road not so inhospitable.


Not only did the play Corpus Christi get terrible reviews, but now its author has ended up in the unfortunate company of Salman Rushdie. Although not as official as the Iranian government’s death sentence on Rushdie for the publication of The Satanic Verses, Terrence McNally has also committed heresy, according to a group of British fundamentalist Moslems. Muslim cleric Sheik Omar Bakri Muhammad said the playwright should be apprehended and put to death for depicting Christ as a homosexual. Moslems view Christ as a prophet or messenger from god. The threat, or fatwah, will be enforced only if McNally, who lives in New York, travels in Moslem countries. The play has yet be performed in McNally’s hometown, Corpus Christi — known for its right wing Catholic high clergy.


Another category where Texas ranks dead last in national statistics is in the number of children who have no health insurance. (Texas is also last in keeping low-income kids enrolled in Medicaid, since welfare reform laws were passed in 1996.)

Families USA, a national health care consumer watchdog group, studied the twelve states with the highest rates of uninsured children and found that since the welfare system was reformed, 193,400 Texas children have fallen off the Medicaid rolls, representing a 14.2 percent decline. At the same time, the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP), designed to provide low-cost coverage to children whose parents earn too much to qualify for Medicaid, has not yet been implemented in Texas. The CHIP program, which brings in three federal dollars for each state dollar spent, could have been implemented by an executive order in 1997, but Governor Bush opted to appoint a committee to study health care needs, delaying the program for two years. In the 1999 legislative session, the Governor unsuccessfully fought to keep the eligibility levels for children so high that only 300,000, rather than 500,000, of the state’s uninsured children would have been covered. The program will not be implemented until 2000. “The state has the money and the legislative approval to conduct an aggressive public education campaign to tell low-income parents that their kids can still receive Medicaid, and to tell middle-income parents that their kids can be enrolled in CHIP,” said Ann Dunkelberg of the Austin-based Center for Public Policy Priorities.


Nine protesters from the Alliance for Democracy, Public Campaign, and United for a Fair Economy were arrested by Capitol police in Washington after they unfurled a thirty-foot-long banner that read “Stop Crimes Against Democracy: End Campaign Finance Corruption Now” under the Capitol rotunda. Among those arrested was former Observer editor and publisher Ronnie Dugger, one of the founders of the national Alliance for Democracy. On the day the protestors were arrested, Minnesota Senator Paul Wellstone promised to attach campaign finance provisions to legislation moving through Congress. “I’m going to keep bringing to the floor of the United States Senate an amendment that says we’re going to deal with campaign finance reform,” Wellstone said at a Capitol steps rally organized by the three groups.


Reeves County Commissioners in Pecos allocated $20,000 for a court fight to keep nuclear waste out of neighboring Ward County, and Rick Jacobi is pissed. Jacobi, vice-president of operations for Envirocare, a Utah-based waste disposal company trying to move into Texas, attacked Reeves County Judge Jimmy Galindo, complaining that the judge opposes waste in all forms. “He was opposed to [a nuclear waste site in] Sierra Blanca. He was involved in opposing a sludge disposal operation scheduled for Reeves County. I think he just kind of reacted without thinking,” Jacobi said.

Galindo thinks he’s thinking. “This issue is not about opposition,” he told the Odessa American. “It is about environmental hazards. If you talk to ordinary people in West Texas, the overwhelming majority of them will respond the same way I do. We don’t want West Texas to become a dumping ground. We don’t want our home to become a dumping ground for the nation.” For Jacobi, who attacked the Judge for his “knee-jerk reaction” to Envirocare’s waste dump proposal, the problem is education. “If he could learn more about it, he could support the project,” Jacobi said. “We’ve talked at length. His inclination is just to be opposed to it.” Jacobi, a former executive director of the Texas Low Level Radioactive Waste Disposal Authority, left the agency to work for Envirocare after the Sierra Blanca project was canned. Envirocare was scheduled to announce its preferred Texas site on October 1, but delayed its announcement until it further studies the results of test wells drilled in Ward County.