Page 3


A sign in Silsbee Dan Green MI* airiema *iimairaft iraft e aisiaim i ammam emmi Mis ilicarama l aw OBSERVER A Journal of Free Voices 500 A Window to the South May 7, 1976 Hardin County politics Feelthy pictures and a grand jury investigation Kountze It’s springtime in the Big Thicket. With the blooming of the swamp buttercups and the scarlet pimpernel comes the gaudiest of all April’s childrenprimary politics. In Hardin County, the southeastern corner of the Thicket, the politics are uglier than climbing hemp-weed, peskier than, the green-brier, and nastier than an acre of poison ivy. This year’s contest features blackmail photos from a Mexican whorehouse and a held-over grand jury investigating alleged irregularities in the handling of DWI and hot check cases. Readers should not look for any redeeming social value in this story. It’s not about significant issues or the forces of good and evil. This is your basic, unadulterated power struggle between penny-ante politicians in a rural Texas county. The main characters are County Judge Emmett Lack, a born-again Christian who recently held a press conference to apologize for having feet of clay, and Dist. Atty. Stanley Coe, who taped to the courthouse wall some pictures of a man alleged to be Lack cavorting with some ladies of the night in Nuevo Laredo. While neither man could be said to have a machine, they do head up the two reigning factions in this sparsely populated county of 30,000 souls. Buddy Moore, the editor of The Kountze News, explained that elections in Hardin swing thither and yon. The split is “almost 50-50. There’s no clear mandate and it’s hard to analyze what people want,” he said. There are two interpretations of the present brawl. Lack and his allies, including Buddy Moore, say that the judge is the victim of a blackmail plot cooked up by Coe and/or the sheriff and/or another county commissioner to force him to withdraw his support of Coe’s and the sheriff’s May primary opponents. Coe and his friends, including the biggest paper in the county, The Silsbee Bee, say that Lack’s blackmail charge is simply a red herring to draw attention away from a grand jury investigation of questionable doings in Lack’s county court. The origin of the bad blood between Coe and Lack has long been forgotten. Part of Lack’s problem is that his family didn’t move to Kountze until he was a year old. He is a parvenu in a county that takes pride in its old familiesboth the descendants of the outlaws who found the Thicket on the run and the Protestant farmers who settled on the fringes of the forest. “The main problem in Hardin County,” said Lack, “is that we’ve got to get some of the old families out of politics.” That most definitely includes Stanley Coe, whose father was a local judge. “The Coes think that God ordained them to be sons of bitches over everyone,” Lack said. “Stanley Coe has hated me since I was five years old.” Houston Thompson, a lawyer from Silsbee who is Lack’s main political strategist and financial supporter, thinks that some of the old families dislike Lack because he doesn’t have a high school education. \(Lack has been known to say that he