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State of Change BY LOUIS DUBOSE Austin THE POLITICAL tide that carried Ann Richards and Bob Bullock to victory also swept a number of progressive down-ballot candidates into office. Because it did, the Legislature will be a better place. While most progressives have long since written off the House, a few, like Austin political consultant David Butts, have maintained that the House is only a few elections away from being a reasonably decent legislative body. This was one of those elections. The election of Austin businesswoman Sherri Greenberg, who replaces Republican Terral Smith, and of Senator Gonzalo Barrientos ‘s legislative counsel Elliott Naishtat, who defeated a do-nothing Republican, will make a difference. As will the election of Leticia Van de Putte, who prevailed over unlikely Republican underachiever Bart Simpson, to take the San Antonio seat vacated by Orlando Garcia. In Houston, Richards’s voters helped elect Ken Yarbrough and Kevin Bailey. Both prevailed over Republican incumbents who won Democratic seats in 1989. Yarbrough’s opponent, Ken VanderVoort, was one of those famous-for-nothing representatives, best known as the Republican most frequently mistaken for Doyle Willis. But Charlie Hartland, whom Bailey defeated, was one of the young Ayatollahs of the Christian right. And Sue Schechter captured the Houston seat held since 1976 by Brad Wright, best known for his homophobic opposition to AIDS-prevention legislation last session. Schechter was described as an enlightened candidate with a background in women’s issues. In District 81 in Wichita Falls, John Hirschi, a good-government Democrat and Common Cause activist, defeated Republican Tom Haywood to replace John Gavin, who has represented the interests of the insurance companies. Look for Gavin, hoary head, florid face, and glad hand, in the lobby. And in the Valley, Rene Oliveira reclaimed the seat he lost in 1986 to a lesser candidate, Eddie Lucio, who moves on to the Senate. The House elections could have been better. Kay Taebel could have prevailed over Ken Grusendorf and struck a blow for equitable education and good manners. And someone might have defeated George Pierce, Jeff Wentworth, or Alan Schoolcraft, the trio of San Antonio reactionaries who helped keep the state’s public school system in court. Democrats picked up three seats in the House, where they will hold a 93-57 advantage. But the House is full of bad Democrats. What is notable about this election is the quality of the candidates elected and the banana slugs they replaced. Across the rotunda the good news is that Bob Bullock will preside in the Senate. Bill Hobby was an enlightened and fair lieutenant governor particularly in his last years in office. He was, one lobbyist said, “as good as any converted Tory could be.” Bob Bullock need not be converted. He is one of those rare public officials who has a vision of the state as a commonweal. Some of the losses in. the Senate occurred in the primary, particularly when Hector Uribe missed his wake-up call and was defeated by Representative Eddie Lucio. And Art Brender, the Fort Worth civil rights lawyer, lost last spring to Mike Moncrief, in a race to replace Fort Worth Senator Hugh Parmer. Moncrief, who comes from big money and the far right of the Democratic Party, now replaces the progressive Parmer. And the District Six seat, occupied since 1981 by Kent Caperton, now goes to Democrat Jim Turner, a former House member with a conservative voting record. Turner is an unlikely hero, but a hero he is nonetheless, having defeated Richard Smith, a House member whose ugly disposition complements his voting record. The best news in the Senate is Peggy Rosson’s cakewalk in El Paso, where she .defeated Republican Frank Lozito. THE BIGGEST BLOW to progressive forces was Ag Commissioner Jim Hightower’s upset loss to Rick Perry. The , formula was simple: a Lee Atwater campaign and a Michael Dukakis response. Hightower never anticipated what so much consistent negative television can do. The day after the election, TDA employees gathered around Hightower in his ninth-floor office as he attempted to make some sense of what happened. “This was not a referendum on you or what you have accomplished,” Hightower said. It was not, he maintained, a referendum on keeping pesticides out of the food chain and off the backs of farmworkers. It was not a referendum on farmers markets or co-ops, or any of a number of entrepreneurial projects the TDA has put in place during Hightower’s eight-year tenure. What this was about, Hightower said, was money and the power of negative campaigning. He was right. Perry spent more on a negative ad campaign in four of the state’s major media markets than Hightower spent on the entire campaign. Ads with a flag burner superimposed over an image of Hightower, Hightower shaking hands with Jesse Jackson, and the Hightower TDA under investigation by the FBI appealed to the worst instincts of the worst voters. And somehow, the ads didn’t have a great deal to do with agriculture in the state of Texas. Hightower said that by the time he recognized the effect of the negative campaign, which went on the air three weeks before the election, it was too late. He personally tried to raise money, but found that most funders believed the polls, which showed him comfortably ahead of Perry and Ann Richards closing on Clayton Williams. The money moved to the governor’s race, and five days before the election Houston pollster Richard Murray released a poll that showed Perry and Hightower in a dead heat. “There is no place in government like this place,” Hightower told some 50 employees crowded into his office. And there isn’t. Stnne outside the TDA never quite understood what this was all about. One writer who never got it was Roddy Stinson, the San Antonio Express-News columnist who writes with all the insight and grace of an AM radio talk show host who doesn’t quite understand the difference between provoking and annoying. Stinson has waged an ad hominem newspaper war against Hightower for several years without ever explaining why. Maybe Stinson didn’t get it because he never spent a December night in the San Jose labor camp at Hereford, where migrant farmworkers who winter there will tell you that before the ag department began to seriously regulate aerial pesticide applicators, farmworkers in the Panhandle fields were often sprayed with agricultural chemicals. Or that workers were required to re-enter fields still “hot” from pesticide applications. Or perhaps Stinson never talked to the farmworkers in the Rio Grande Valley who had abandoned the migrant stream to grow organic produce in a TDA pilot program that spent no tax money, yet found entrepreneurs in a class of people who had previously owned nothing but their cars and their clothes. Or perhaps Stinson never visited Medina, a town within his newspaper’s circulation, where an apple-processing co-op was recently transferred from the TDA to local owners. The once-moribund town has a number of new businesses which resulted from the recent “apple booth.” And it could be that Stinson never met with Hill Country truck farmers who gathered in the TDA office in San Antonio, only a few blocks from the Express-News office, to draw up articles of incorporation for a vegetable co-op that now provides central market sites and higher earnings in the place of individuals selling their produce from the backs of pickup trucks at giveaway prices. But, then, maybe Roddy Stinson just didn’t have anything else to write about. Sometimes it’s hard to tell. 0 THE TEXAS OBSERVER 17