This is Texas today. A state full of Sunbelt boosters, strident anti-union ists, oil and as companies, nuclear weapons and power plants, political hucksters, underpaid workers and toxic wastes, to mention a few. 4 i i= it* 4490, s4 d -_ 31 N vi i t ..1 . fik,.44 1,\\.* aft 4 41.1-i l lt. ‘ -414f , MI5 . ii IrA ile . .1,1. -4kckg ‘ 1/0, 1. IN 24 BUT 6 DO NOT , DESPAIR! nom ,THE TEXAS lop server TO SUBSCRIBE: Name Address City State Zip $27 enclosed for a one-year subscription. Bill me for $27. 307 West 7th, Austin, TX 78701 . tionable dealings must by now assume the man is a hopeless sleazebag. Actually, he’s a helluva hard guy to dislike. If you met him, you’d enjoy hangin’ out with him: he’s kind and he’s fun. I have always suspected he is a fundamentally decent, well-intentioned person. But I do not know how to account for his repeated violations of ethical conduct, whether they were illegal or not. I used to describe him as “ethically-challenged” and once, in a fit of exasperation, observed that he has the ethical sensitivity of a walnut. He just didn’t get it. The trip to Ruidoso in 1984 on the racing lobbyists’ tab. The trip to Pebble Beach on the taxpayers’ tab. The trip to South Africa as a guest of the South African government. The time in 1986 he had reimburse his political campaign fund for $25,000 he had “mistakenly” used to purchase stock for his company’s retirement program. “Just one of those dumb things,” said Gib, with one of his Alfred E. Neuman grins. The time he failed to report his business interests held jointly with lobbyists because he “ran out room on the paper.” The time he had Parks and Wildlife stock his ranches with fish and game and then defended himself by saying, “I have been he’pin’ Parks and Wildlife for 17 years: if they owe anybody a favor they owe me a favor.” This is a prime example of the the Extenuatin’ Circumstance School of Texas Political Ethics. Since I doubt Gib Lewis ever intended to be corrupt, he was honestly indignant and hurt when people accused him of it shame-onthose-who-think-evil was his usual reaction. But by the end, there just weren’t any more excuses. He was actually indicted in 1991 for the same damn thing he had to plead “no contest” on back in 1983 failure to report. In ’83 it was failure to disclose business interests he held jointly with lobbyists in ’91 it was failure to report a gift of money from lobbyists. Even the D-U-M-B defense wouldn’t work. I don’t know why he did it. Anyone with his record who couldn’t see that letting lobbyists pay for an $800-a-night hotel room in Mexico was going to look terrible, whether it was illegal or not, has, well, the ethical sensitivity of a walnut. In his own way, in his own context, in his own time, Gib Lewis was a good speaker. Which is to say, that by the values of a time mercifully past, he was a fine “members’ speaker.” He was largely non-partisan, fair to Republicans, fair to just about everybody. He tried to make sure the members didn’t have to vote on issues that would cost them politically the stuff they really hate, like abortion. He did not invent, but he certainly carried to a fine art the tactic of dodging controversial and costly issues until whatever the problem was had festered so long the courts had to intervene and declare whatever-it-was unconstitutional. This clever ploy enabled enabled all the pols to blame the damned old interfering federal judges for whatever costly remedies they were then forced to undertake. The tactic is sinfully irresponsible, but it sure makes life a lot easier for pols, and that’s who kept re-electing Lewis speaker. The best I ever saw Gib Lewis do was in the wake of sine die night of the 69th session, 1985. The indigent health care bill died in the waning moments of the session, killed by Republican Rep. Bill Ceverha of Dallas, a notorious meanie. Mark White called a special session for the next morning. The Senate passed the bill in 30 minutes. The House, with the governor’s aides all over the floor, referred the bill to the Health Committee chaired by another Republican right-winger Brad Wright. Gib Lewis came into the committee room and stood directly behind Wright, like a rather menacing cigar-store Indian, as the committee took up one conservative amendment after another. The message was clear no Democrat was to vote for any of them at the expense of the Speaker’s personal displeasure. The Republicans then introduced a noxious substitute bill on the floor and the good bill’s sponsor, Jesse Oliver, moved to table. The motion passed 73-71, but the Republicans called for verification and got a 71-71 tie. Gib Lewis always wielded a mean gavel he has broken them innumerable times but I never heard him hit a lick as hard as he did that afternoon. The vote was stuck at 71-71; the vote was held open, arms were being twisted clean out of their sockets but it was still tied. The Speaker, by custom and common sense, almost never votes it’s bad form. Suddenly Lewis said, “The chair votes Aye” and whacked the gavel down so hard it sounded like the crack of doom. And that’s why poor people no longer die on the streets outside clinics and hospitals in this state. But aside from a very few such shining hours, Lewis’s unprecedented 10-year tenure as Speaker was marked not so much by his ethical bloopers as by a dated Texas concept of what government is for to create a healthy bidness climate. It was Lewis’ habit, motivated by his desire to prevent “his” members from having to vote on anything tough, to work out accommodations in which all the affected parties were represented. And by all, I mean every lobbyist with a stake in the outcome. It was the era of the “done deal,” lobbyists for corporate special interests sitting down with the elected representatives of the people on an equal footing to hammer things out. In fact, the lobbyists often appeared to have more clout than the legislators, so that the only party not represented in the back room was the public. That’s why we so often got government of the monied special interests, by the monied special interests and for the monied special interests. And Gib Lewis honestly never saw anything wrong with that process. He thought he was doing the right thing. He was wrong. 4 FEBRUARY 14, 1992
You May Also Like
The Texas Rangers are tasked with investigating corruption and crimes by public officials. Those officials are rarely held accountable.