Political Intelligence


The five-year lockout at Pasadena’s Crown Petroleum refinery finally ended January 17, when workers ratified a new labor agreement with the company. Employees are expected to return to work early this month.

The dispute began in February of 1996: After a month of unsuccessful bargaining, managers asked union members if they intended to strike. The workers said no, and management escorted them out of the building shortly thereafter. The company alleged that workers had committed various acts of sabotage, which workers denied.

In the years that followed, PACE (the Paper, Allied-Industrial, Chemical and Energy Workers, formerly known as the Oil, Chemical, and Atomic Workers) Local 4-227 allied with other union members across the country to boycott Crown and also with environmentalists who sued the company over violations of Clean Air Act standards.

The 1996 lockout affected 260 workers, a third of whom have since resigned. The new agreement enables 161 employees to return to work, though most likely fewer than that will take Crown up on the offer, since some have taken other jobs.


We’re not exactly sure why the January issue of Bloomberg Markets arrived in our office, but we were interested to read its article on Richard Rainwater, the down-on-his-luck Fort Worth billionaire. As Bush-watchers may recall, Rainwater is a friend of George W. and was a partner in the Texas Rangers deal. His company, Crescent Real Estate Equities, has received all sorts of favors from the state. (As the Houston Chronicle’s R.G. Ratcliffe reported in a kickass 1998 story, the teacher retirement system sold three office buildings to Crescent on the cheap. University and school system trust funds invested $20 million with Crescent after Bush became Governor. Various Bush actions and proposals, such as vetoing the Patient Protection Act of 1995, did benefit or would have benefited Rainwater’s business interests. And so on.)

Rainwater has lucked into the right friends ever since he roomed with the profound-pocketed Sid Richardson Bass at business school. But his business fortunes have not been so hot over the past few years: The depressed real estate market that gave Crescent its start no longer exists, and Rainwater’s forays into other lines of business have not succeeded.

Consider, for instance, the consequences of Rainwater’s decision to dabble in the field of psychiatric care. In 1997, Bloomberg recalls, Crescent acquired the real estate assets of Magellan Health Services, a behavioral health company whose directors included Rainwater’s wife, Darla Moore. Then Crescent turned around and leased the facilities to Charter Behavioral Health Services, a company jointly owned by Magellan and a Crescent affiliate. Crescent charged such high rent that “they basically sucked all the operating income out of Charter,” according to one investment analyst. Throw in the 1997 Balanced Budget Act, which reduced reimbursements to psychiatric hospitals, and what you get is the situation unveiled in 1999 by 60 Minutes–which reported that Charter’s cash-strapped operations were imperiling the patients.

Charter Behavioral filed for bankruptcy last February, and Crescent is selling off the hospitals. In the meantime, Rainwater sidekick John Goff is doing his darnedest to “rebuild our credibility.” Rainwater is still able to raise plenty of money, and Bloomberg seems to see that as an encouraging sign. With W. in the White House and investors seemingly untroubled by television expos?s, surely credibility is just around the corner.


To date, no one has been held accountable for the death of Pedro Oregon Navarro, who died after being shot 12 times by Houston police officers in 1998. Harris County grand jurors indicted only one of the officers involved–for trespassing–and he was later acquitted. In a civil rights lawsuit filed by Oregon’s family, a judge ruled that the city could not be held liable for his death. On the other hand, as the Houston Chronicle reported January 21, the civil rights suit did reveal that the police tactic that led to Oregon’s death–barging into his apartment at night without a warrant–is typical procedure for narcotics investigators with the department.

As it turns out, investigators elected to forego the use of a search warrant not just in the Oregon case, but in every single one of 432 drug-related investigations conducted by the Southwest Gang Task Force between 1994 and 1999, according to court documents. In deposition, former Houston Police Chief Sam Nuchia said officers were instructed to “go to the line, into the gray area” when it came to searches, seizures, and arrests.

Also deposed was Kim Ogg, former head of the mayor’s anti-gang office, who said the department’s “zero-tolerance” crime-fighting policy encouraged officers to rely on racial profiling rather than target past offenders. Ogg met with some City Council members and Police Chief C.O. Bradford in 1997 to suggest changing the policy, but no action was ever taken.

Meanwhile, in Travis County, a December 2000 grand jury report expressed concern about infringements of civil liberties during drug investigations. “Although we were told that ‘sting’ buys and other undercover arrests are legal,” the grand jurors wrote to Judge Jon Wisser, “there are concerns about entrapment issues as well as the use of questionable probable cause circumstances such as ‘appearing nervous’ (emphasis added) or having a tail-light not working.”


In the poorly charted waters of public official conflict-of-interest law, Senator Chris Harris may be the legislature’s most intrepid explorer. Over the years, the Arlington attorney has paddled the murky waters on behalf of clients ranging from bail bondsmen to private nursing homes. If he has occasionally crossed the frontiers of ethical behavior (see, for example, “Senator Harris for the Defense,” TO April 16, 1999), his Senate colleagues have been discreetly forgiving. On January 9, during the session’s first meeting of the Texas Senate, the Lewis and Clark of Texas ethics law was elected President Pro Tempore (the guy who’s in charge when everyone else in the state is off campaigning for President) by his fellow Senators–inspiring 12 of them to stand, one after the other, and offer, with mixed results, their own perorations in honor of the nominee. Excerpts follow.

From Senator Jane Nelson. “Sometimes it is traditional for the nominator to compare the nominee to some great figure of the past. Being a former English teacher, I thought about comparing Senator Harris to some great literary figure. Jason in Homer’s Odyssey comes to mind because he was a real tough guy. But in keeping with the times, I thought it might be more appropriate to think in movie terms… The movie that I thought might best capture the essence of Senator Harris’ personality is one that coincidentally stars one of Austin’s rising stars. It’s Miss Congeniality… Sandra Bullock has nothing on you, Senator.” [Editor’s note: if you don’t recall a character named “Jason” appearing in The Odyssey, you’re not alone. Nelson may have been thinking, in movie terms, of the “real tough guy” in Halloween.]

Senator Gonzalo Barrientos. “Honest [sic], straightforward, tough, Texan, that’s Chris Harris. Comes to mind when you think about Chris Harris that if he had been a Democrat, his name would have been Francisco Pancho Villa. Villa was a Democrat.”

Senator Eddie Lucio. “I really don’t know who I can compare him to. Some of us want to compare him to Grumpy of the seven dwarfs. I don’t want to do that. I look at him as Mel Gibson in The Patriot, because of his love for Texas… I know that he and his lovely wife, Tammy, are frequent visitors of the border and I think we had a wonderful time in Matamoros not too long ago.”

Senator Royce West. “Don’t cross him, as with other Members of this body. Because once you cross him you will be on his bad side.”

Senator Judith Zaffirini. “Today, as I second the nomination of Chris Harris, I will quote Attila the Hun. Attila the Hun wrote, ‘When Huns find themselves with a weak leader, they become confused and ineffective. Huns desire to be led well.’ We are not Huns, we are Senators, and we are your friends, as you so very well know… Last year on your birthday, I gave you a copy of Victory Secrets of Attila the Hun. As you assume your new duties, I will present to you, Leadership Secrets of Attila the Hun. Senator Harris, you will write a better book.”

Senator Florence Shapiro. “I know that you are up to this task, my friend, for you are your own cliché.”

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Published at 12:00 am CST