Some Ethics Ruminations Writing about this session’s ethics legislation was, I must confess, uncommonly dull and laborious, partly because there’s no breath of scandal except for Speaker Lewis’ trivial memory lapses to fan reformist fire. More to the point perhaps is a growing realization that the political process I’ve watched for the last four months is so intrinsically a roulette wheel set up to spin out winners and losers a wheel, moreover, that tilts with the weight of cash that any ethics legislation with the slightest chance of passing seems mere tinkering. I found myself agreeing, maybe for the first and only time, with Hale Center’s own Pete Laney. “All the legislation in the world will not stop lying and cheating,” he has said. “I don’t know that you could draw legislation tight enough that it couldn’t be circumvented to some extent.” Rep. Laney, chairman of the House committee that must approve all campaign-finance legislation, has said he believes “the best way to have an ethical Legislature is to have ethical people elected.” But that begs the issue. Ethical people cannot effectively function in a political atmosphere corroded by the symbiotic connection between exorbitant amounts of money and political power. When the stakes get so high, the perfectly proper commitment to staying in power merges all too quickly and completely into what one political philosopher has called “that particular deformation of political life which consists in the inability to consider a question on its merits because one’s attention is directed to the consquence of giving a particular answer.” A question, related to the philosopher’s insight above: why is there no robust code of professional ethics for politicians, codes resembling those for other ,professions? Doctors and lawyers have elaborate ethics codes, not because their professions are innately more noble than the politician’s ., but because, I suppose, their clients need to be protected. It would seem that a politician is also concerned with “client” interests. And yet perhaps there’s no elaborate code because a politician’s professional activity is directed more toward trying to stay in office than toward meeting client needs. It may be time to acknowledge the obvious: that our legislators are indeed professional politicians who need not only a code of ethics but a decent wage $30-40,000 a year is Bob Slagle’s suggestion. A decent salary might eliminate, for one thing, some of the more ‘egregious conflicts of interest legislators get themselves into. Max Sherman, the governor’s legislative liaison and soon-to-be president of the LBJ School of Public Affairs, says no. Using California as an example, he says a full-time legislature with respectable salary, credit cards, expense accounts, automobiles is wasteful and inefficient. It creates more problems than it solves, he insists. My friend Jim Short, a Houston lobbyist who represents all the “wrong” clients, agrees. He argues that a parttime legislator is closer to the people, can better understand the problems of the workplace. \(Of course, the parttime legislator must also depend on the lobbyist to understand other more Maybe they’re right, and maybe I should remember what Billy Porterfield, the sage of Dallas, has said that “cynicism often passes for wisdom, but it isn’t the real thing.” Still, I’m thinking, there must be a better way. J. H. BOOKS AND THE CULTURE West Texan Knows Much And Tells It TEXAS’ LAST FRONTIER FORT STOCKTON AND THE TRANS-PECOS, 1961-1985 By Clayton W. Williams Edited By Ernest Wallace Texas A&M University Press 457 pages. $19.50 McGregor CLAYTON Williams begins this history of Fort Stockton with its establishment as a frontier outpost in 1859. He ends it with the murder By Richard Phelan of its county sheriff as he sat at his desk in the courthouse in 1894. Mr. Williams was born at Fort Stockton in 1895; thus, he has written the first 35 years of his town’s history and lived the rest of it himself a neat arrangement. And a simple, straightforward story. The fort was established as a garrison from which Indians could be fought. Then civilians came to sell goods and services to the military. The fort owed its location to the great Comanche Spring, one of those rare and copious outpourings of water in the desert which made many acres of it bloom through irrigation. It was on the stage route, or one of them anyway, between San Antonio and El Paso. It still is, the present route being Interstate 10. Fort Stockton’s early history, then, is of Indian fights and raids, dogged pioneers, stagecoach holdups, ranching, farming, feuds, and fringe incidents of the Civil War. Richard Phelan is the author of Texas Wild and a frequent Observer contributor. 14 MAY 20, 1983
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