OBSERVER A Journal of Free Voices A Window to the South April 13, 1973 250 Austin From that moment in July of 1969 when Frank Sharp and Gus Mutscher reached their “tacit understanding” in the dinette of Mutscher’s hotel suite, the 63rd Legislature was destined to be a reform session. In reaction to the stock fraud scandal, Texas voters elected a reform governor and a reform lieutenant governor, a reform House and a reform Senate. It was the House that lost a speaker, the smiling Mr. Mutscher, to the scandal. Consequently, the House has been the governmental body most anxious to prove it has mended its ways. The newly-elected House speaker, Price Daniel, Jr., put together a package of reform bills before the session began, thus becoming the bull goose reformer of the legislative session. Now, reform is a broad word. It can mean asking legislators, pretty please, not to take any more bribes or it can mean tossing a senator out on his ear for refusing to name one of his clients in a financial disclosure. When everyone from the most earnest, penurious freshman legislator to the shrewdest insurance lobbyist is talking in glowing terms about REEform, the term becomes meaningless. One shining morning in March six Apache Belles from the Tyler Junior College marching team appeared in the House gallery. They turned their gold lamed posteriors to the brass rail overlooking the House floor and pertly displayed hand-lettered placards which spelled out R*E*F*O*R*M. There you have the 63rd in an East Texas pecan shell. IN VIEW of this apparent mandate for reform, one might think legislators could get together and pass some legislation. The trouble is, legislators are politicians and politicians are a jealous, bickering, ambitious lot. As Babe Schwartz says, “All the House members want to be senators and all the senators want them to go away.” If Dolph Briscoe doesn’t covet a higher office, he wants at least another term as governor. He doesn’t want one of his possible opponents taking all the credit for reform. Briscoe, being a bit slow on the draw, waited until the 70th day of the 140-day session, but he finally got around to endorsing Daniel’s proposals for public financial disclosure by state officials. Briscoe’s press conference came well after Rep. Fred Agnich had convinced the House to entomb the disclosures in sealed envelopes, not to be opened by the proposed ethics commission unless a majority of the commission decides there is probable cause to believe a public servant has done something sneaky \(Obs., March financial statements should be filed with the secretary of state rather than with an ethics commission as prescribed by the House. Briscoe put his seal of approval on another House-passed measure that would restrict House-Senate conference committees on appropriations and taxes to resolving the differences between House and Senate bills. Daniel’s response was to be more-reformist-than-thou. Pointing out that most of his package already had passed the House, the speaker said he was “ready for some company” in his difficult battle for reform. Lt. Gov. Bill Hobby’s big push for ethics, a special Citizens Conference on Ethics and Government, also came late, so late that Daniel and many members of the press interpreted it as a stalling tactic rather than a sincere effort. By the time the conference convened March 20-21, most of Daniel’s nine bills had been rushed through the House and were being given exceedingly thorough reviews by Senate committees. Daniel allowed as how he was “getting kinda tired of” waiting around for the Senate. The Senate obviously was not going to pass the Daniel bills as hastily as did the House. The upper chamber lumbered along
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