Three Cheers for Irony
Another Round with Al
State Rep. Al Edwards (D-Houston) was first elected to the Texas House in 1978. Early in his career, he sponsored the bill that created the Juneteenth holiday in Texas, and more recently, has been the driving force behind the perpetually soon-to-be constructed Juneteenth memorial on the Capitol grounds. You would think a 27-year incumbent Democrat with those civil rights credentials would be so revered in his district that he could serve in the House as long as he wanted. Not Edwards, though. He’s had to run for his political life this spring against two strong primary challengers, and now faces a runoff. A peek at his record the past three years tells you why.
Edwards, you may remember, was the author of last session’s most notorious piece of goof-ball legislation: the sexy cheerleader bill, or as Rep. Garnet Coleman (D-Houston) dubbed it, the Bootylicious Bill. It would have outlawed cheerleading routines deemed too risqué. The bill made national news, and landed Edwards dozens of interviews, including an embarrassing turn on Comedy Central’s satirical The Daily Show. He also created a stir last session over the Juneteenth memorial. Edwards, who is chairman in perpetuity of the commission overseeing the project, garnered much criticism when a mockup of the proposed memorial included a figure that looked remarkably like—you guessed it—Al Edwards. When asked about the statute last year, Edwards told the Observer, “It might look like you, it might look like me, it has to look like somebody.” Indeed.
None of that, however, seems to have gotten Edwards in as much trouble with his constituents as his vote for the Republican tax bill last spring that would have increased taxes for most of his constituents. He was the only Democrat in the House to vote for the bill. Recently Coleman (D-Houston) says he heard Edwards at a campaign event taking undue credit for a bill he didn’t pass—legislation that created the Children’s Health Insurance Program. “He said he put the CHIP program together,” Coleman says. “This is claiming to have written legislation that he clearly didn’t write. It’s amazing how he stretched the truth—I’m using that term politely.” Edwards didn’t return calls for comment.
As you may have noticed, Coleman isn’t a huge fan of his fellow Houston Democrat. Coleman says he didn’t actively campaign against Edwards, but he is leaving the option open in the weeks before the April 11 runoff. “I don’t think working against an incumbent on principled issues isn’t outside the realm of good taste,” Coleman says.
Edwards remains in a strong position heading into the runoff, having garnered 48.2 percent on March 7. He faces the second-place challenger, Borris Miles, who got 32.8 percent. Edwards’ only worry is that third-place finisher Al Bennett (19.1 percent) might now support Miles. So it’s likely Edwards will be back at the Capitol next session for another crack at the Bootylicious Bill.
According to the Web site of the Center for Ethical Leadership at the LBJ School of Public Affairs at the University of Texas at Austin, our nation needs “ethical and imaginative leaders at every level” and the school intends to “self-consciously promote” the development of these leaders. So, whom did the Center select to deliver the opening address for the annual Center-sponsored Student Leadership Conference? Gen. Richard Myers, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, from October 2001 to September 2005, and an architect of U.S. military policy in Afghanistan and Iraq.
On March 2, the day of Myers’ speech, The Daily Texan published an op-ed by Craig Adair, an LBJ student who noted the obvious: “The University of Texas is fortunate to have the clout to attract visitors of such status as General Richard Myers,” wrote Adair, “but his visit reflects a grave contradiction that, if not properly addressed, raises disturbing questions about our educational institution as well as the moral fabric of our country.
“I’m not advocating censorship or denial of General Myers’ right to speak freely on matters of politics and policy that affect us all,” he continued. “I believe we need more healthy and spirited debate in this country, not less. But I am saying that to practice ethical leadership is to unequivocally condemn—not condone—torture, manipulation, and artifice (not to mention wars of aggression), especially when those acts result in or perpetuate the deaths of tens of thousands of innocent people. Deference to human rights, respect for others, and truthfulness are the real marks of ethical leadership.
“I would welcome Myers’ visit to UT under any number of banners—leadership, public policy, or military quagmires, for example. I do not welcome the denigration of academic integrity and further erosion of our country’s moral standing and security that his visit constitutes under the guise of ‘ethical leadership.'”
On the night of Myers’ speech, a group of about 50 demonstrators held signs and chanted outside the auditorium; eventually they moved their protest inside. Though the bulk of the seating had been reserved for Leadership Conference participants, the University of Texas Police Department permitted demonstrators to hold signs and banners lambasting the general in the back rows.
As for the General’s speech, Iraq and Afghanistan were marginal issues to what Myers considered to be the real meat of the night. After commenting on the banality of post-military life and how Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld is “tough” yet “intellectually curious,” he dedicated the bulk of his loosely-organized speech to adjectival buzzwords and presented life advice to soldiers and students alike. His first lesson of the night: “Integrity is the key to being an effective leader.” Second lesson: Try to “make the world a better place when you go to work.”
Let’s hear it for the alligators, turtles, more than 200 species of songbirds and waterfowl, and the lovely Spanish moss-covered cypress trees of the only honest lake in Texas (TO, July 8, 2005 and August 25, 2005), Caddo Lake. And let’s hear it for the folks who’ve worked so hard to keep it honest. As we reported last year, just as a long-anticipated wildlife refuge for Caddo Lake was about to become a reality, disturbing developments were afoot. Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison had moved to strip away between 1,000 and 2,000 acres from the 12,000-acre refuge under the guise of “economic development,” in the form of an industrial park. (The U.S. Army had planned to turn over the entire acreage that had been occupied by the Longhorn Ammunitions Plant to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to be included in the Caddo Lake National Wildlife Refuge.) The “economic development” was a pet project of Marshall attorney Sam Moseley and Marshall businessman Tommy Whaley. As critics noted, that development would conflict with ecotourism projects already underway in northeastern Texas. Meanwhile, as controversy over the industrial park project grew, Senator Kay backpedaled, put the proposed land giveaway on hold, and said she would wait to hear what the public wanted. Well, the people have spoken, at least in the form of a decision from Harrison County commissioners. Earlier this month the commissioners voted 3-2 to immediately transfer all the remaining property from the now defunct munitions plant “for the sole intention of the Caddo Lake National Wildlife Refuge.” On March 1, the headline on the Marshall News Messenger Web site read: “Industrial Park—Dead in the Water.”