House proceeds, Senate impedes Austin The only remaining question concerning utilities regulation this session is, can the Texas Lege once again snatch defeat from the jaws of victory? On May 16, the House passed a better-than-decent regulation bill. Most observers called the bill “strong,” which it certainly is compared to the Senate’s version; some called it “tough”; and the utilities lobbyists called it “radical, outrageous, punitive,” and a lot of other stuff. The sponsor of record was Rep. Lyndon Olson of Waco, but the bill was actually written and floor-managed by Rep. John Wilson of LaGrange. Wilson and the House put on a fine and unusual show. Wilson knew his onion, every single layer of it, and argued evenly and knowledgeably against most of the amendments brought up to weaken the bill. The House members, for once united in trust of one man, followed his lead on every amendment. Wilson accepted a couple of improving amendments, by Rep. Jim Nugent of Kerrville and Rep. Ray Hutchison of Dallas, among others, but he had his act so well together that those who want sound utilities regulation had little to kick over. Rep. Lane Denton of Waco did lose on an amendment to have natural gas regulated at the wellhead. At one point, Wilson was prepared to accept a Nugent amendment when Rep. Latham Boone of Navasota Bob Wieland Sen. Bill Moore pointed out a possible hooker in the idea. “You’ve convinced me, Mr. Boone. Move to table,” said Wilson, stepping off the front mike amid a roar of laughter. It was very much a one-man show for five hours, with Housies of every political persuasion prepared to take Wilson’s word on what was good and what was bad just because he knew so much about the subject. SEN. BILL Moore of Bryan later charged that the anti-regulation faction had joined in voting for Wilson’s H.B. 819 with the idea that the bill was so radical that it would surely die in the Senate. In fact, many of the 29 members who wound up voting against the bill because they are opposed to regulation on principle \(or that was what you wanted. Rep. Bob Maloney of Dallas, a Republican, told Wilson he thought 819 was a good regulation bill, if you wanted regulation. Maloney voted against it. The bill provides for a three-member Public Service Commission to be named by the governor for six-year terms. The commission would regulate intra-state phone rates and most water, gas, and electric utilities. Cities could exercise an option to retain local regulation, if the The growth of John Wilson Austin When the newly-elected Rep. John Wilson of LaGrange arrived at the state capitol in January, 1973, he didn’t exactly take the town by storm. “Christ,” said Rep. Carl Parker of Port Arthur, “he looked like he come in on a load’a cordwood.” “I wrote him off as just another rural conservative,” said Rep. Neil Caldwell of Alvin. “Another good ol’ boy from the country, not too bright.” BUT JOHN Wilson is a rural conservative with a very strong populist streak. He doesn’t like big banks and he doesn’t like big utilities and he thinks big business can’t see past its profit-motivated nose. Wright Patman and Ralph Yarborough would be proud of him. Of course, he does represent his district, as they say around the capitol, and those country Germans and Czechs have no use for land-use planning, or even school finance reform, as long as the property-tax system is as inequitable as it is today. Wilson is no tiger on social issues prison reform is not a top priority item in his district. But when Rep. Lane Denton word “independent” to describe John Wilson, one can safely assume that he is independent. One old friend also described him as “sentimental,” meaning sensitive to other people’s feelings. Wilsori is close to Rep. Mickey Leland, a black representative from Houston’s Fifth Ward who is not ordinarily simpatico with rural conservatives. “Wilson is able to use those practical, country, shitkicker smarts,” said one capitol observer, “plus he is sophisticated enough to see how complicated . things really are. He’s also a bulldog. He’s got a one-track mind when he’s off on something like utilities. He’s an emerging force [ in the House] .” Parker said, “He’s improved like 200 percent. He’s got a talent for seeking out and listening to good, smart people. He’s like a sponge: he absorbs information and ideas.” Caldwell said, “He’s really bright. He’s got an excellent grasp of some really complicated issues. He works hard, he’s solid, he’s intellectually honest. He has turned out to be the most pleasant surprise.” All hands agree that John Wilson is “a corner.” John Wilson himself is going so seriously into debt by being in the Legislature that he’s worried about whether he can stick it. Wilson, 36, is the son of an Air Force colonel and survived the normal amount of moving from place to place when he was a kid. But the rest of the Wilson clan, ranchers and farmers all, centered around West Point, Texas, and Wilson always considered that his home town. He went to the University of Texas and became an architectural engineer. He joined an engineering firm in Houston after his graduation and spent a year doing too much snorting around the bright city lights at night,. and working in a tiny office all day. He developed an ulcer and decided that wasn’t the life for him. He thought about going back to the University for a June 6, 19 75 3
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