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Texans In Philly Underwhelmed By Sam Attlesey Philadelphia DURING THE MIDDLE OF TEDDY KENNEDY’S rhetoricrattling remarks to Democratic activists from acoss the nation, a man sitting in the visitor’s section of the convention hall here became overcome with the emotion of the moment. “Impeach Reagan, impeach Reagan, impeach Reagan,” he screamed, shattering momentarily Kennedy’s spell. The small bank of Texas delegates sitting below the shouting stranger kept their attention glued to the Massachusetts senator, however, and when Kennedy concluded his message with the words Democrats long to believe “Our day is coming again” the Texans were on their feet, waving “Viva Kennedy” and “Teddy once more in ’84” signs and chanting, “We want Ted.” But for the most part, the voices of Texas were either silent or wrapped in frustration during the recent Democratic mid-term conference in the City of Brotherly Love. For the first time since the days of Lyndon Johnson, a Texas Democrat was not prominent on the national scene. There was no LBJ or Lloyd Bentsen seeking the presidency, no Robert Strauss or John White running the show. Oh, there was some parochial pride. Several of the 38 Texas delegates or alternates sported Jim Wright in ’84 bumper stickers, and one of the more popular campaign buttons proclaimed, “Wait in the weeds gang,” a veiled reference to a possible Strauss bid in 1984. Those were not serious trial balloons, however, compared to the unabashed presidential positioning by Kennedy and six other hopefuls. About the only Texan doing any real string-pulling was Wills Point wizard Gordon Wynne, who once again was the behind-the-scenes producer for the Democratic gathering. Wynne, who has produced every mini-conference and national convention since 1974, likened this meeting to a national mid-term audit. Texas Democratic Party Chairman Bob Slagle thought it was a mid-term pain in the butt. Even before the convention started, Slagle was doubting whether the get-together would be worth anything more than a chance to eat seafood at Bookbinders, and he was blasting National Party Chairman Charles Manatt for making the conference “too sterile.” Manatt wanted to keep the convention as harmonious as can be when two or more Democrats get together, but for most Democrats that was almost undemocratic. Manatt, however, had to live up to the theme of the conference “With Fairness to All.” He managed, despite Slagle’s protestations. Slagle didn’t even allow the Texas delegates to throw a party or co-host a reception, saying he wasn’t about to spend good Texas Democratic money to “dignify a farce.” Liberals such as Billie Carr of Houston and Millie Bruner of Dallas called the meeting a “teddy bear conference” highlighted by “pre-digested pap.” Noting the lack of a national spotlight being trained on a Texan, Slagle said he was somewhat relieved. “Because of Texans being on the national scene, Texas has been raked over for money ever since 1960. For 22 years, people have dragged money out of the state like it was going out of style because a Texan was on the national scene,” said Slagle, explaining that Texans now can finally concentrate on getting their own Democratic house in order. Slagle didn’t even listen to the “magnificent seven” presidential hopefuls’ pitch to the convention, saying he wasn’t going to waste time on the 1984 race when Texans had to first get rid of Republican Gov. Bill Clements in November. But other Texans acknowledged that they came to Philly on a presidential shopping expedition. Going into the mini-convention, the presidential pecking order had Kennedy and former Vice President Walter Mondale as the clear frontrunners. The second team was Sen. John Glenn of Ohio and Sen. Gary Hart of Colorado. The third-string scrubs were Sen. Alan Cranston of California, Sen. Ernest Hollings of South Carolina, and the invisible candidacy of former Florida Gov. Reubin Askew. Despite some elaborate boiler-room techniques, wining and dining of delegates and carefully crafted speeches, that is the order the candidates left in when all the shouting and partying was over. “Kennedy had the emotion, and Mondale had the organization,” one Texas congressman said, summing up the showing of the two frontrunners. Many of the Texans returned home still shopping for the best presidential candidate, while Strauss said he was not at all certain the 1984 nominee would come from one of the seven out-front hopefuls. The presidential beauty contest drew most of the media attention, but Democrats did adopt resolutions calling for the nuclear freeze and limits on President Reagan’s tax cuts. New ideas, however, were as scarce as kind words for Reagan during the 3-day meeting. Speeches from Democratic officeholders concentrated on new and different ways to say bad things about Reagan and Reaganomics. Even campaign buttons focused on that theme. U.S. Rep. Martin Frost of Dallas wore a button that proclaimed, “I’ve been trickled on.” Jim Hightower, the Democratic nominee for Texas agriculture commissioner, may have come up with the most original way of attacking Reagan. Hightower, while serving as a panelist for the food policies workshop, polished up his populist pitch by telling concerned farmers that Reagan is following a “toad agriculture policy.” “When you get up in the morning and eat a toad for breakfast, nothing much worse can happen to you for the rest of the day,” Hightower said. “And that is what Brother Reagan is doing to us.” But beyond a few good one-liners like that, a presidential beauty contest that may mean nothing at all, a heaping helping of anti-Reagan rhetoric and a seemingly endless round of free drinks, food and fellowship, Slagle and the other complaining Texans may have been right about the mid-term conference. One could make a defensible argument that the Democrats would have been just as well off if they had followed the lead of their fallen leader, Jimmy Carter, who bypassed the meeting and went fishing. Rhetoric will not impeach Reagan, and there is some question whether it will have much of an impact in defeating him and his fellow Republicans. D Sam Attlesey is a political writer for the Dallas Morning News. 18 JULY 23, 1982