Page 11


The Texas Observer MAY 24, 1968 A Journal of Free Voices A Window to The South 25c May the Lobby Hold You In the Palm of Its Hand Dallas A prominent Texas state senator, speaking to the League of Women Voters in Irving, a town suburban to Dallas, assured the ladies that the lobby is hardly noticeable at all in Austin. The legislature, he claimed, goes about its business with barely any sense of the lobby’s presence. Naturally a powerful senator has a position all his own, immune, perhaps, from the pressures of the Third House. For the freshman legislator, however, and his wife, the lobby seems as ubiquitous as urban smog. It does much to contaminate the atmosphere of Austin. Lobbyists start to soften and fatten up a candidate as soon as he looks like a winner. Campaign contributions pour in. Invitations arrive from names never heard of. The new legislator receives a brochure at Christmastime, urging him to choose a gift for himself from a wide selection of Revere Bowls, electric heating pads, cocktail glasses, and other bounties, courtesy of one lobbyist or another. These attentions continue throughout his term of office. This, of course, is no different from business, where companies frequently express their thanks to top customers. It’s good public relations. The client is generally free to accept the gesture with no obligation incurred. Some legislators, sadly, are not so free. They run for office with decent motives, fight hard to win, arrive in Austin rife with enthusiasm, eager to justify their voters’ confidence and fulfill themselves, only to find that they’re quickly caught in a strange, stultifying, Pavlovian trap. The name of the game is defer-and-demand. There are lobbyists who are masters at it. Some lawmakers seem commendably able to take a poverty vow and live on the $400 a month before taxes plus $12 The writer is the wife of State Rep. James H. Clark, Jr., Dallas, a conservative one-term member of the Texas house of representatives who was renominated in the recent Democratic primary. Mrs. Clark is an Observer contributing editor. per diem during the session that the state provides. Others have outside income. There are still some, unhappily, who fall prey to patronizing, paternalistic lobbyists, who are all too willing to pick up breakfast, lunch, and dinner checks, not to mention an occasional apartment bill. It all seems terribly gracious at the time, but the price is high. The legislator pays with his own integrity. Small wonder that he needs the cigar-and-bar camaraderie of the lobby to bolster his sagging selfesteem after a day of voting right, the team way, the establishment way, the Lee Clark lobby way. In moments like these, lobbyists are usually quite practiced at puffing up the legislative ego and giving it an aura of imagined independence. This is by no means true of all the house of representatives. There are among its members many morally and mentally able men, but too often they fail, I’m afraid, to assert themselves with sufficient force. As a result, the house suffers from decadence of the spirit, acquiescence in the status quo, miserliness of the mind that hoards pety prerogatives and yields up its real power to the lobby. There’s a general refusal to risk anything, even things that are valueless. There are countless legislators who would never condone this decadence, much less contribute to it. Nonetheless, they’re engulfed by the environment, and no doubt discouraged by it. There are others who savor the system and are remarkably candid about their position. My husband was punching his voting button against an especially odious piece of legislation when he noted on the electronic board that a colleague seated close by was recorded for it. He turned to the man and asked how on God’s earth he could vote for such a thing and still keep his dinner down. The legislator, stumpy and smoke-infested, walked over, hoisted his arm around my husband’s shoulders and affirmed with a certain pride: “I’m just a political whore, boy; that’s what I am, a political whore.” THE LEGISLATURE may seem at times an ethical brothel, but strangely enough, the church is held dearer than ever. The first week we were in Austin, I attended a luncheon where I was seated across from a lovely-looking woman who introduced herself as a senior legislator’s wife and asked by way of getting to know me: “Well dear, are you a Methodist or a .Baptist?” I had to confess that I am neither one, but rather belong to the United Church of Christ. I added in a flash of fortuitous afterthought that they were currently trying to arrange a merger with the Methodists. That seemed to make everything all right, or half all right anyway. Even the Representatives Wives Club is infiltrated by the lobby and subverted to the purposes of the Third House. Since most lobbyists are former legislators, their wives have access to the women’s organization as long as they wish. At the suggestion of their husbands, they use this privilege to treat legislative wives to ting them in the lobbyist’s debt, and also to keep an ear cocked for what’s going on. A freshman legislative wife, then, goes to the club luncheon, a little bewildered and eager to meet somebody else in the same boat and share her experience. What does she find? A bevy of lobbyists’ wives bent on transcribing her every word for the benefit of some barely understood entity like the beer industry or the railroads or the natural gas people. The freshman wife comes to understand these special interests very well before she’s finished. I ran into their pervasive operation, for instance, at the florist, where I was trying to arrange flowers for the Representatives Wives’ Club spring tea. I chose centerpieces and corsages along the lines suggested by the chairman and was getting set to settle with the florist for the cost. To my surprise I found that a certain lobbyist’s wife had taken care of everything. I felt like a little girl of twelve whose greataunt had arranged a birthday party for her but wanted the child to