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PRIVATE INVESTIGATIONS By Geoffrey Rips NEVER LET IT BE SAID that the importance of language is lost on the Texas Legislature. In this the year of the discouraging word “shortfall” that before was seldom heard, it is heartening to see that the traditional rhetorical power of understatement, so well honed throughout Texas oratory, has not gone the way of the 23C gallon of gas. Witness Grand Saline Rep. Bill Hollowell’s HB 1216, “relating to the designation of emergency interim successors to assume the powers and duties of unavailable legislators in the event of enemy attack.” “Unavailable,” as defined by the bill, means “dead.” Pure Texas understatement. And in considering language, consider Gib Lewis, awash in a sea of allegation, innuendo, and misplaced modifiers. Had Gib been more glib, his problems would have been behind him like so much spilled milk money. But Lewis is beset by dangling participles in a world in which smooth politicians and lobbyists ride book-length similes and metaphorical embellishment to legislative glory. Now the Speaker is trying to get a grip on things. Just the other day, Lewis, acting swiftly, managed to avert what he thought was another scandal hard upon him. It seems that on the morning of Good Friday one Clayboy Eldridge, a junior high English teacher from Plano, finding himself in the grip of a holiday with no lesson plan to follow, took it upon himself to lobby for the proposed 24% raise in teacher’s pay. Always having been an original thinker, Eldridge devised an original plan of attack. Thinking the teachers associations and organizations and federations had somehow fallen short in an area just burning for didactic invention, Clayboy Eldridge decided that there could be no better way to show the need for higher Ronnie Dugger: “Heard’s accounts of the Bees in hiding are the pure gold of real history.” Bryan Woolley \(Dallas Times “It ought to, be right beside the Alamo books.” “The Miracle of the KILLER BEES: 12 Senators Who Changed Texas Politics” by Robert Heard Honey Hill Publishing Co. 1022 Bonham Terrace, Austin, Texas 78704 $7.95 plus $1.03 tax and shipping teacher pay -than to show the pitiful state of the education of the leading graduates of the Texas system. And what better example could he choose than that of the Speaker of the House himself, Gib “far and few between” Lewis? Clayboy decided that during study hall \(he observed the regimen even on holithe Speaker, point out the rhetorical abuses and grammatical inexactitude of his public pronouncements, and thereby convince the speaker who despite himself, Eldridge was convinced, was a good man that there needed to be more money for more and better teachers across the land. Too excited to eat his ham and cheese, Clayboy Eldridge spent the lunch hour diagraming sentences he would use to sway the Speaker of the House. When the bell for study hall would have sounded, had it not been a holiday, Clayboy picked up the phone and called the Speaker’s office. Now Gib Lewis just happened at that moment to be walking by his secretary’s phone, pacing out the distance of a putting green he was thinking of having installed as part of the renovation of his offices. Since the staff had already left for the day, Lewis decided, between strokes of an imaginary putter, to answer the phone himself. “Hello, there,” said Gib. A throat cleared itself at the other end, then Clayboy Eldridge’s voice came on, saying, “House Speaker Gib Lewis, please.” “Why this here is the Speaker,” the Speaker said. “Clayboy Eldridge here, Mr. Speaker,” the teacher said, using his most assertive voice. “I am a teacher of English, seventh and eighth grade, sir, here in Plano.” “Yes, Mr. Eldridge, what can I do for you, sir?” Gib said, his toothy smile present in his voice. Eldridge hesitated, screwed up his courage, then said, “Mr. Speaker, it’s about your dreadful syntax . . .” “My what?” Gib was instantly enraged. “Now you listen here, my friend. It’s not my sin tax. That’s Governor White’s idea. I have never and will never have any part of sponsoring a tax on luxuries. Whoever told you such a thing was filling you up with lies. Which paper you readin’?” Clayboy Eldridge tried to interrupt, saying, “But . . . but . . . but.” But it was no use. Gib finished his tirade and hung up. Eldridge put down the receiver, went to his bookshelf, pulled out a worn copy of Ivanhoe, and began to develop his lesson plan for the following week. IT MAY HAVE BEEN impossible for Clayboy Eldridge to cross the wide frontier of Gib Lewis’ brow, but elsewhere the issue of language is enjoying an importance in this legislative session that is unparalleled. Just recently state Rep. Bob Simpson testified on behalf of his bill that would establish a procedure by which the poet “lariat” \(pronounced by Simpson as if he were describing a member of a pep squad as clever a turn of phrase as there may by writers and legislators, as opposed to blue-haired members of poetry societies. But why stop there? A state renowned for baroque invective and rhetorical flourish should have the temerity to go further. In 8th century China, applicants for coveted civil service positions were required to write poetry as part of their exams. A few centuries later, candidates for many high public offices in Japan engaged in poetry contests to determine the winner of such offices. Imagine a Li Po or a Tu Fu debating a tax increase. Those high school government classes so often seen sitting in disappointed silence in the legislative galleries would be joined by English classes whose emotions would rise and fall with turns of phrase. Imagine the poetry of Governor Mark White: Peach blossom on Town Lake. So many currents to choose from. Blossoms cannot fight upstream. Or of Lieutenant Governor Bill Hobby: Gray clouds over Houston. No one to take tea with. Who will pour? I will pour. Or of Comptroller Bob Bullock: So goes the year, goes the month. Every day less. My purse lighter, I drive more swiftly. Or of Speaker Gib Lewis: Friends take leave too soon. Soon enough Berlanga with them. Will the great dome support me? A sea of paper now between us. What else have I forgotten? THE TEXAS OBSERVER 23