Something’s broken down Austin I remember my relief a few years ago upon returning to the United States from a student exchange visit to South America. One of my companions, worse for wear from six weeks without meat \(there was a precious little heat in the dormitory, said appreciatively, “I’m so glad to get back to a country that works!” So was I. But, now, six years later, I’m not so sure this country is working. Our water runs, we have adequate heat and enough to eat, but, just the same, this country doesn’t work anymore. Witness the Texas Legislature. The Texas system, with its weak governorship and its penchant for legislating via constitutional amendment, has never been every efficient. Still, it managed to be somewhat responsive to the needs and wishes of the people of the state. But somewhere along the line, the legislators lost touch with the electorate. That’s not to say they’re unresponsive to the people who elect them. They’re nothing less than servile to those who give them money for their campaigns, those who pay for the receptions they have for the home folks once they get elected and for the sumptuous appreciation dinners to which our legislators have grown so accustomed. Our lawmakers are quite attentive to the people who reward them for their good works with bank stock and merchandise and trips to Bermuda. THE LOBBY runs, the Texas Legislature; so let’s cut the cant from the Texas Constitution that says “All political power in inherent in the people, and all governments are founded on their authority, and instituted for their benefit.” It sounds suspiciously new leftist to me, Power to the People and all. The Legislature already has redistricted representatives and congressmen, but there’s still the Senate, I think Texas 22 The Texas Observer ALL THINGS CONSIDERED Fl npr National Public Radio MondayFriday 4:00-5:30 on KUTFM 90.7 mHz IReflections should stop being hypocritical and reapportion the Senate along the lines of special interests rather than population. Cartoonist Danny Garrett and I designed the redistricting plan on the cover of this issue. Under the Observer plan, there’s a senator from insurance rather than a senator from Waco. There’s a loan shark senator and an O&G senator, a hard liquor senator and a senator from Dow. The beauty of this plan is that each special interest gets only one senator rather than a piece of 15 or 20 senators. Again, being realistic, we have given certain individuals, people who time and time again have demonstrated their ability to influence legislation above and beyond the abilities of most mortals, we have given these individuals, Frank Erwin, Frank Sharp, Bill Heatly and a few others, their own senators. Perhaps this is revisionism on the Observer’s part, but to actually bring the political power back to the people would take radical action, and the Legislature doesn’t seem up to that. It would take redistricting bills that give adequate representation to the state’s urban areas, bills that take pains to set up districts with a community of economic and ethnic interests. It would take single member districts that give minority groups a chance to elect their own representatives, and the Legislature is determined to have nothing to do with single member districts. A democratic system would have to allow anyone to run for office, whether he is rich or poor or a member of La Raza Unida. The House and Senate have shown what they think about such a radical idea. When the courts ruled that Texas’ primary filing fees, the highest in the nation, were unconstitutional, the Legislature passed a bill making some of the fees even higher. In addition to encouraging just anyone to vote and to run for office, we would have to discourage the influence of the lobby, and the House and Senate are not about to do that. Sen. Oscar Mauzy this session introduced a stringent lobby registration and control bill, and it didn’t even get a vote in the Senate. Sen. Jim Wallace likewise failed in his attempt to prohibit the appointment of lobbyists or their partners to state agencies. Why, Sen. Mike McKool couldn’t even pass a resolution that would have put the Senate on record against confirming nominees to state regulatory agencies when they have a substantial conflict of interest. Then, too, we’d have to drastically revise the Texas Constitution to make the legislative process work again. It would mean annual sessions and year-round standing committees with staffs, and all of that would cost money. EVEN WITH a streamlined government, with new electoral laws and zealous regulation of the lobby, the Legislature might not work. With Texans electing only one representative rather than a slate of them, they still might not know or care who their representatives are. And we’d be right back where we started, with a few special interests getting through to legislators, because nobody else bothered. Television might help some. I would guess that what television has done for the Vietnam War it could do for the Texas Legislature. If a significant number of Texans could actually hear Bill Heatly mumbling into the House microphone about a $7 billion appropriations bill, if they could watch Gus Mutscher vindictively gaveling his opposition to silence, if they could see the quality of the debate on public issues in the House and Senate, they might get interested enough to elect some honest, intelligent men and women to the statehouse. The FCC is requiring that commercial television stations dedicate one hour of prime time each evening to non-network shows. The Texas Legislature, in a macabre sort of way, is much more amusing than reruns of “Dating Game” or “Gunsmoke.” I can remember when I was in high school in Houston, the school board meetings broadcast live were the greatest show on television. It was so good, in fact, that the school board had it taken off the air. There probably aren’t very many commerical television stations that would find a nightly program of taped highlights of the legislative day as important a use for the public airwaves as the “Beverly Hillbillies” and “Hee Haw.” Still, the Public television stations might give it a try. Surely the Texas stations could scrape together enough foundation money or private contributions to place a couple people full time at the Texas Legislature next session. A nightly dose of that circus would really bring the government to the people, and I don’t think the present government could stand the exposure. K.N.
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