On the last balmy night of an unusually warm December, State Representative Elliott Naishtat was walking out of Miguel’s La Bodega, an upscale Spanish restaurant and tango bar in downtown Austin. Naishtat is not a tango man, nor does he frequent tony restaurants. The Democratic state rep from north central Austin had been to Miguel’s to practice one of the more peculiar legislative arts: grazing.
Austin is a movable feast for the politically connected, and Elliott Naishtat is a man in motion, perhaps the best grazer in a city where legislators – in particular those with big social service agendas – might not survive without the complimentary broccoli, baby carrots, crackers, chips, and queso served up at fundraisers and receptions.
“Legislative mooching? I wrote the book on it,” Naishtat said as he walked north from Miguel’s toward the Paramount Theater, from one fundraising event to the next. He then recommended a visit to his Capitol complex office, where he would explain in more detail.
One week later, Naishtat could be found seated behind his desk, dressed in jeans and Lamar Alexander flannel. His office is something of a legislative maquiladora, where last session an overworked young staff and a small cadre of interns churned out nearly 100 bills that passed. In the works for this year, says Naishtat, are “a clemency bill that I have been working on since Karla Faye Tucker was executed, a bill that would provide an HMO ombudsman for consumers, a life-without-parole bill that would provide juries an alternative to capital punishment, a gun safety bill that will again make me the number one target of the N.R.A., a domestic violence bill, a bill making [Heisman Trophy winner] Ricky Williams an honorary Texan….” It was only when Naishtat stopped to observe that he will once again have a “full plate” that the interview turned back to the subject under investigation.
“I admit it, I can graze with anyone with any group at any time.” Naishtat said. “I can graze with the Consumers Union and I can graze with the Farm Bureau.” When told the Observer possessed information about his “pre-legislative” grazing, Naishtat became reflective and admitted that he’s been grazing for years. “It can probably be traced back to my days with VISTA in Eagle Pass. On those few occasions when I was invited to dine at the homes of the few wealthy people in Maverick County, I would take a doggie bag and fill it before I left.”
Asked where the best fare can be found in Austin, Naishtat smiled and, ever the politician, said that such inquiries are unseemly. “I just don’t want to get into comparing one group to another.” Asked about other House members who might compete with him, Naishtat again demurred: “I just don’t want to name names.”
Although the cost of the food he consumes at broccoli banquets may well surpass the paychecks he draws on his $7,200 annual legislator’s salary, Naishtat doesn’t feel obliged to declare his grazing to the Texas Ethics Commission. “Even when a lobbyist takes a legislator out for dinner, reporting is not required — except by the lobbyist,” Naishtat said. “Grazing, or legislative mooching as you called it, is a way for legislators to get by.”
Naishtat did make one distinction. “I’m a great moocher, but I’m not a very good schmoozer,” he said. “They are related. But schmoozing takes a little more effort. I mooch but I don’t schmooze. And I never take a doggie bag to a reception or a political fundraiser. I don’t think it’s appropriate.”
Whither Big Hair
Is big, blonde, Texas hair a thing of the past? It is in Boerne, where these days, fifty-dollar haircuts are just like fifty-dollar haircuts anywhere else — only more so. Early last year George Garcia, an occasional stylist to the stars who has done hair on five continents, opened a studio called “George and Company” (the “company” being his longtime partner Richard Lange) in Boerne, within the town’s “Shoppes on Main” complex. “It’s only three rooms, but it’s furnished in antiques and we have an outside courtyard and a cappuccino and wine bar, and a little tea room for the ladies,” says Garcia, who still styles hair for Fabio and Charo when he’s in Los Angeles. “I was afraid I’d be here doing, you know, little blue-haired ladies with curlers and such, but we find that they’re very, very fashion conscious, and very much into health and exercising, and they read all the fashion magazines so they know what’s in and what works, so with a consultation and their knowledge and my background, it makes for a lot of fun and excitement when we’re working together.”
Garcia’s first experience of Texas hair came in 1979, when, as one of Glenby International’s élite corps of traveling stylists, he was sent on assignment to the Foss Brothers Department store in San Antonio. “San Antonio was like, way back then, no fashion at all,” says Garcia, who was obliged to confront numerous “teased-up” heads of hair before moving on to other locations “out in the field.”
After years of travel, Garcia and Lange recently returned to San Antonio, opened a salon and, just as they were plotting yet another move (this time back to California to work with Paul Mitchell in Beverly Hills), “We were invited here [Boerne] to do makeovers for a health fair, and we never left,” says Garcia. “What I’ve found here in Boerne is … they’re moving in from California, even South America, Mexico City — oil people are coming here and buying property. They’re very fashion conscious, so when they read about us and come to see our studio, it’s quite what they’re used to, and they no longer have to travel to Houston, Dallas, and New York to get their hair done.” Low-maintenance, short-to-medium length haircuts are popular, he says.
A hair salon might seem like a good place to monitor local sentiment regarding notorious scandals, yet Garcia notes that the Clinton-Starr follies don’t seem to have made much of an impression on fashionable women of the Hill Country. “Actually, we’re quite amazed … the clientele here in the Boerne area are more concerned with fashion — and looking good!”
The Millenium: Et 2 K?
It comes as no surprise that certain millennial religious sects have seized on the Y2K computer problem as the harbinger of doom. And of course the right-wing survivalist types hardly needed another reason to head for the hills with their dried goods, ammo, and Dobermans. But would you believe that Y2K is also the sign the left – at least the new agey, lifestyle-politics left – has been waiting for?
While for the most part, the alternative press (this publication included) has been reluctant to examine the issue, Utne Reader editor Eric Utne has gone Y2-Krazy, granting the topic considerable space in his bimonthly magazine and putting together a widely-distributed booklet, Y2K Citizen’s Action Guide: Preparing yourself, your family, and your neighborhood for the year 2000 computer problem and beyond.
“As we prepare for Y2K, something surprising and unexpected and quite wonderful is going to happen,” Utne explains in the introduction to the Citizen Action Guide. “Possibly for the first time in our lives, we will begin to know what it means to live in a real community.” For Utne, the millennium bug is our London Blitz, the defining event that will finally teach us to rely on one another, “to knit webs of affiliation, care, and mutual support,” and in the process, usher in the new culture in which we all truly want to live.
The Guide is a preparedness buffet, whose contents range from extremely sober and pragmatic evaluations of likely impacts, to jargon-filled discourses on “inner preparedness” and the “emotional challenge” of Y2K. Hardest to digest was the contribution from Doc Childre and Bruce Cryer of the Institute of HeartMath.
Founded by Childre in 1991, the Institute researches “intui-technology” – the development of intuition and the “mind’s fuller capacities” achieved by “aligning the heart with the mind.” The Institute does a brisk business in seminars and training (their clients include Motorola, Hewlett Packard, and the U.S. military) and book sales, offered through their website. The Institute’s contribution to the Guide (the only section that is copyrighted) offers just a taste of the HeartMath program, which, by a stroke of good fortune, is completely adaptable to the unique demands – on internal self-management, family, social, and organizational climates, etc. – posed by Y2K.
Metaphysical mathematics aside, the Guide is a sobering read. It surveys the very real issue of the state of government computers (the Social Security Administration, for example, believes it has worked out its bugs, whereas Medicaid and Medicare are not even close) and the billions (yes, billions) of dollars being spent by banks, utility companies, and large corporations in a race against the clock to update their systems. Among the government agencies in the not-prone-to-panic category who are now Y2K-threat believers is the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, which has reportedly warned nuke operators (who as a group have been slow to act on Y2K) that they will not be allowed to operate without demonstrating their Y2K compliance. No nukes in the new millennium? Utne might be on to something after all.
The Bush Beat
“No one is going to threaten the Governor of the State of Texas.”
Was that George W. nobly defending Harlingen against an invasion of Central American radicals? Making a stalwart stand against yet another West Austin onslaught of Silicon Valley carpetbaggers? Gearing up for the O.U. game?
Nope. The Governor was just letting those pesky Canucks know that he isn’t about to get weak-kneed over the rights of foreign nationals accused of crimes in Texas.
In early December, a delegation of Canadian citizens came to Austin to oppose the execution of Stanley Faulder, who in 1975 had not been accorded his consular rights (as required by international treaty) when he was charged with a Gladewater murder. The Canadian protest was seconded by the U.S. Department of State – understandably uneasy that foreign governments might begin according similar treatment to U.S. citizens who get in trouble while abroad. But the Governor stood tall against these impudent foreigners and feds, warning them sternly, “If you’re a Canadian and come to our state, don’t murder anybody.” (Rumors of hundreds of dejected Canadian criminals fording the Red River into Oklahoma could not be confirmed at press time.)
The Bush-Who-Would-Be-President undoubtedly accumulated some hard-right points with his uncompromising stand against the Northern invaders, but he may have lost others in another late-year foreign policy foray. The Governor took a three-day tour of Israel at the invite of the conservative National Jewish Coalition, and looked altogether fetching in a yarmulke at the Wailing Wall. He used the occasion to backtrack on yet another immigration issue – the vexed question of whether non-Christians are allowed into heaven.
Recall that when he first ran for Governor in 1994, Bush casually told an interviewer that he believed the only avenue to the Promised Land is a declared belief in Jesus Christ. Chastened by the negative
reaction from non-Christian potential voters, the Governor went to family friend Billy Graham for advice and has since officially ceded salvation credential confirmation to the heavenly Border Patrol. Upon returning from his Jerusalem photo-op, he told reporters, “My faith tells me that acceptance of Jesus Christ as my savior is my salvation, and I believe that,” but added, “I have also made it very clear that it’s not the governor’s role to decide who goes to heaven. That’s God’s role.”
God was not available for comment.
In the aftermath of Bush’s waffling, it remains unclear whether he believes Jews, Muslims, Buddhists etc., indeed have a right to the afterlife – or just a ticket to the celestial lottery. Does Israel have a divine claim to the West Bank, or should it stand in line behind Palestinian Christians? And what about those Canadian visitors – can they appeal for divine clemency on religious grounds?
Those who supported a stay of execution for the late Karla Faye Tucker found out the answer to that last question: no.