All the news that fits Newsletters sent to constituents by members of the Texas House of Representatives have never been noted for their style or verve, but this fall they’re going to be a particularly dull lot. The House administration committee, which oversees such things, has forbidden legislators to use artwork or photos of themselves in the post-special-session mail-outs. No real loss there, but the committee has also seen to it that members won’t say too many tacky things about the “tax relief amendment” appearing on the November ballot, either. It’s the committee’s province to keep direct political commentary out of the newsletters, since they are paid for out of members’ contingency funds and state law bars the use of public money to influence elections. Of course, it’s never bothered anybody that these newsletters are routinely used by incumbents to preen themselves before the electorate at taxpayer expense. Even the rule that forbids dissemination of the letters within the 90-day period before an election has been relaxedto enable members to pass the word on the wonderful work of the special session, the period was shortened to 45 days before the November 7 general election. What the committee, chaired by Clayton ally Pete Laney, cannot abide is the wish of some members to convey to their constituents a critical judgment of the speaker’s tax package, rather than merely promote themselves as usual. Said one disgruntled Capitol staffer: “The Clayton House administration committee has gone further than any other committee. Clayton doesn’t want any explanation of why a member voted `no’ on HJR 1 [the ‘tax relief amendment].” This censorshipor the threat of ithas some representatives in a tizzy. The chance that they might offend Clayton or Laney has inspired much caution and self-censorship in the letters’ drafting. When the Observer inquired of one member’s aide whether censorship of her boss’s mail-out was a possibility, she replied, “Are you kidding? We didn’t say anything about HJR 1.” Republican Rep. Frank Gaston of Dallas killed his newsletter after seeing the bowdlerized version in print. “What finally came out of the printshop was well below my standards,” he said. “I don’t know if the problem was with my staff, the printshop, or the committee. But I think it was Laney. . . . I do know I attempted to get guidelines in writing .. . after a personal call to Pete Laney, he assured me I could do what I wanted to do. But by the time my people got the newsletter ready, the rules had changed.” Another Republican, Rep. Joe Robbins of Lubbock, can tell you that the problem goes beyond Laney’s handling of commentary on the special session. Robbins is running for a State Senate seat against an old-time Clayton buddy, E. L. Short, and Robbins’s staff had to revise his newsletter four times at the insistence of the House printshop before they got it “right.” “Outrageously tacky,” said a sympathetic aide from another office. It’s all quite a contrast to the treatment Burying mom and pop Most people looking at a family business in operation would beam with satisfaction, seeing in it the very heart of America’s free enterprise system. Service Corporation International, however, looks on such a scene differently. This Houston-based firm, the largest chain operator of funeral parlors and cemeteries in the United States and Canada, has noticed that the florist industry is “highly fragmented,” meaning that it’s made up of a lot of mom-and-pop enterprises, and SCI executives see nothing admirable about it. What’s needed, in their view, is for an acquisitionminded, growth-oriented chain like accorded the speaker’s own newsletter and his “The Speaker Reports,” a weekly PR sheet paid for from the contingency funds of the speakership. That slick item is sent to all House members, the press, and anyone else who wants it. Cunningly laid out to be quickly slapped on a oneor two-column paste-up and topped by a photo of Mr. Speaker, the report is a ready-for-print boon to lazy editors. As for its content. here’s what readers of a newspaper using the report dated September 9 would learn from Speaker Clayton: “. . . the tax relief amendment . . . is one of the most important precedent-setting pieces of legislation passed by the Legislature in many years.” –Vicki Vaughan theirs to move in and consolidate all of these little competitive fragments’ under one corporate umbrella. And that’s exactly what SCI has set out told. Houston Business Journal reports that the cash-rich SCI already has opened flower shops in several of its 170 funeral homes, and it has bought up seven full retail flower shops that were independent units before. This is just the beginning, as SCI is looking for more flower shops to grab. “No one has put together a chain of any size in the florist business,” says corporate president B. B. Hollingsworth, adding, “We are in the early stages of this, but we can see the impact on first-quarter earnings.” 13 THE TEXAS OBSERVER
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