A onversatio with the Texas Research League ;V. Austin The other day, having spent several hours in the State Reference Library delving into the history of the Texas Research League, I decided to walk over to their headquarters and make a few direct inquiries about the League’s membership, finances and philosophy. It’s not a long walk at all from the Capitol to their offices: several blocks through an Urban Renewal wasteland of parking lots so new you can still remember the neighborhoods they once were. Other than state office buildings, and a couple of beautiful little limestone structures spared as remembrances of things past, the modest two story red-brick-and-glass office building which houses the TRL is the only structure standing for several blocks around. My plan was to find out what kind of response the League makes to inquisitive strangers who show up in their office. “I’m interested in research on Texas,” I announced to the receptionist. “Can you give me some literature that describes what y’all do?” She produced copies of the League’s 1972 and 1973 annual reports and a folder bearing the title “Citizen Research in Texas Government.” Sitting down, I opened the 1972 report and began to read the Message from the Chairman. “Twenty years ago,” it said, “a few farsighted and public-spirited Texans conceived the idea of a privately supported, citizen controlled, nonpartisan research agency to study the problems of state and local government and the agencies created to deal with these problems. Thus was born the Texas Research League.” Well, I knew better than that. According to records in the secretary of state’s office, the TRL grew out of an existing agency called the Texas Economy Commission which was chartered on June 19, 1950. In a story written on June 13, 1950, the same day that the commission held its organizational meeting in the chamber of the House of Representatives, The Austin Statesman reported that “Governor Shivers, who appointed the 600-odd member unofficial agency, outlined his views in a talk at its opening session. . . . Gov. Shivers and others pointed out the work of this statewide commission, representing every segment of Texas economic life, does not conflict with the work of the Legislative Council, studying state administration. The council likewise has voted to stay out of the area which the commission will study.” And what might that area be? Taxes. The Statesman noted that the commission “started its program with a detailed study of taxation.” Two year later, in July of 1952, the Commission became the Texas Research League. Putting down the League’s annual report, I couldn’t help but wonder if they were as loose with their statistics as they appeared to be with their history. The league’s 1973 report did nothing to reassure meon that score. The back cover proclaimed that “Support from public-spirited citizens [TRL gives that phrase a real workout] , representing the full spectrum of community interests, is a unique part of the league.” Arranged around this assertion were seven pictures of the lawyers, bankers, railroad representatives, utility honchos, et al, who apparently represent the full spectrum of community interests, in the Texas Research League’s objective understanding of that concept. I’ll eat the League’s report in the Capitol rotunda if any of those 22 white men is black, female, chicano or worth less than $100,000. “Can anyone join the League?” I asked the receptionist. “Sure.” “And I’ll be on the same list as the rest of the members? I mean, you don’t have different classes of members or something?” “No. Maybe you’d like to talk to our business manager, Mr. French. He can tell you more about this than I can. “Okay,” I said. I had no intention of joining even if they’d let me, but I had a few questions I wanted to ask French. I couldn’t believe that they’d let just anyone join. There had to be some kind of catch. You just don’t get a membership list like the Research League’s by opening your doors to the masses. There are 842 entries on the TRL’s current list of subscribing members. About 500 of those are corporations, 200 are banking institutions, By John Muir 100 are individual entries and the rest include an assortment of law firms, architectural partnerships, professional associations, and the like. Fifty of the members are listed in a box accompanying this article. Those are just the industrial corporations with 1972 sales of $1 billion or more. The list doesn’t include the utilities, railroads, insurance companies and retail stores which belong to the league and are just as big. Mr. French confirmed the fact that I could join the League if I wished, but that there would be a minimum contribution of $50 required of me if I intended to join as an individual or $125 if I wished to join as a business. “Does the League have many members like me?” \(I couldn’t imagine French assured me that the TRL was a very broad-based o rganization. College professors and housewives were two groups he mentioned specifically which I had not previously detected in my perusal of the membership list. We talked for a while about research in general before I returned to the question of the League’s composition. “Why,” I asked, “is Del Monte a member of the Research, League instead of someone else?” “I don’t know if you’d believe it or not, but Del Monte isn’t a very large contributor to the league,” he said. “Sure, I’d believe it. But that’s not my point. My point is who the league members are, and in Zavala County, for instance, they’re Del Monte Foods, Inc., and the Chaparrosa Ranch. It’s hard to accept your version of the League’s broad-based support in view of who its members actually are.” “The League represents the interests of all Texans,” countered French, “but if you’ve got a big slice of the pie you’ll be protected more than some little guy who’s just got a small slice of the pie. That’s just the way things are.” Finally something that rang true. I thought about pulling out my pen and asking -him to repeat it, but figured that might be rude. As it turned out, however, our conversation was over anyway. Walking back to the library I found myself staring incredulously at passage after passage in the league’s reports. “By ascertaining public policy trends in advance, alternatives can often be suggested for meeting service needs in a manner that will lessen the pressure for new taxes.” How does one determine what a public policy April 12, 1974 7
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