The Kind of Light That Shines on Texas COMETIMES IT’S A FINE thing to travel, if only in the cinema, where you can hold your own world up to the honest light reflected off the screen. At the very least it provides a different perspective. In Pedro Almodovar’s urbane comedy High Heels, the Madrileiia protagonist played by Victoria Abril kills her stepfather to save her mother, then, after being abandoned by her mother, who leaves to pursue a career as a torch singer in Mexico, marries her mother’s second husband, who as a paparazzi journalist had written about her mother’s career. After her mother returns from Mexico City the protagonist kills her own husband \(her mother’s current son-in-law and ex-huscourt magistrate who forced himself upon her in the dressing room of a drag club where he danced undercover and under the pseudonym “Lethal,” that she is pregnant, he responds that they must marry. “We’ve created life,” he says. “We’re a family.” Recently I achieved a certain shift in perspective, or at least a critical distance, by stepping back and writing about Texas politics for an out-of-state publication, as we in this editorial office are sometimes called upon to do. Looking at Texas, “from a distance” as Nancy Griffith might sing, it occurred to me that we, too, are a family. This came to me as I set out to describe the members of the extended political family who have been investigated or prosecuted during the last 15 years by Travis County District Attorney Ronnie Earle. Consider the list put together for a sidebar to a Houston Chronicle article written by R.G. Ratcliffe, the reporter who perhaps has done more than any one journalist to advance the story of Earle’s latest indictee: Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison. Begin in 1977 with Democratic Associate Supreme Court Justice Don Yarbrough, who, when convicted of perjury, fled to Grenada to take up the study of medicine. In 1978 and 1980, there was Bob Bullock, the then-hard-drinking state comptroller who only changed his ways after attending “drunk school.” Before his matriculation, the insider debauchery at the comptroller’s office had become the stuff of legend, much of which was chronicled by Bullock’s former aide and protg, Bill Collier, in one of the most extraordinary acts of personal and political betrayal by which any writer ever turned a profit: Bob Bullock revealed in the pages of Texas Monthly. Then in 1981 Earle went after Republican Representative Mike Martin, who in one of the more creative crimes of that decade hired himself shot and lived to lie about it. Like the Supreme Court justice who set out to heal himself in the Caribbean, Martin was convicted of perjury. In 1982 there was Democratic State Treasurer Warren G. Harding, who was not so corrupt as the 29th president of the United States, by whose sullied name our Warren G. advanced his political career toward, if not Teapot Dome, at least indictment and a plea bargain with Ronnie Earle. Three years later came Democratic Attorney General Jim Mattox, whose attorney, Roy Minton, taught Ronnie Earle a lesson or two in litigating. Mattox also tendered a defense that many confused with a political campaign, and I for one believed that verdict day was election day and my vote would serve to repudiate Mobil Oil, Fulbright & Jaworski, and a score of bankers, bullies and bastards that Jim Mattox Was taking on. The jury must have believed the same thing, voting to exonerate Mattox. If he is indeed the overachieving “hero child” of our extended family, then in the same terms of the 12-stepping psychology of substance-abuse rehabilitation, the rest of us are enablers. The next big-time indictee was former Democratic Speaker Gib Lewis, who accepted the largess of the big-money lobby one time too many when he took off for a 1987 lobby junket to the tony Mexican resort of Las Hadas, with the “boys,” Toni Barcellona and someone identified in the Dallas Morning News as Chrissee. In the end, Lewis offered up a no contest plea to a misdemeanor in lieu of a felony, and no one really noticed when he officially moved into the corporate lobby. Not, however, before delivering one of the most remarkable farewells in the history of public life, even as it is practiced here, placing the blame for his ethical and legal entanglements where it belonged: “You’ve cost me a lot of money, a lot of time and a lot of embarrassment and probably a political career. Why should I do anything for the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, which .has repeatedly over the years absolutely destroyed my ass. … I mean, you all, got my ass indicted on a goddamn speculative deal. You have never showed me any goddamn consideration at all. … I don’t need you son of a bitches and apparently you all don’t need me up here.” Which brings us to the current indictee, the state’s junior Senator, who would likely never have been indicted at all were it not for her inability to get along with her Republican siblings. It was reports of her pinching and hitting her office help, stories that first came out of the U.S. Senate campaign of Republican Congressman Jack Fields, that turned the press on to her brief tenure at the state Treasury. So, it was while writing about us with more restraint and detachment than we generally practice here that I suddenly understood as if everything had been illuminated by a “clear and blue” light, like the quality of illumination. Ronnie Earle sometimes attributes to the light of justice: We all work, live, litigate and are prosecuted together; were we to file jointly, the IRS might even consider us a family. Perhaps a slightly dysfunctional family, like the one that victimizes Victoria Abril in Almodovar’s High Heels. But a family, nonetheless. And the good and diligent Ronnie Earle is not a prosecutor, after all. He is, rather, a therapist. Would that we could all be healed. Before we create life. L.D. Trying Kay Who will prosecute Kay Bailey Hutchison? “He [Travis County D.A. Ronnie Earle] needs to bring in a prosecutor from another county, with experience in putting on documental whitecollar prosecutions,” said one Austin lawyer w,ho has worked at the top level of several state agencies. “Otherwise they lose it because they just don’t have the experience.” Hutchison dismissed Washington lawyer John Dowd and hired UT law professor Michael Tigar and Dick DeGuerin. DeGuerin, of Houston, recently represented Branch Davidian leader David Koresh; Tigar recently represented John Demjanjuk, accused of being Nazi guard Ivan the Terrible. Corrections In Dagoberto Gilb’s book review, “The Crazy Life,” August 20, “non-Mexicans” should have read “non-Mexican-Americans.” We regret the error and note that there were several editing changes in the text with which the author disagreed. Due to a typesetting error, in the book review “The Color Line,” September 17, we incorrectly stated that W.E.B.DuBois died in China. He died in Ghana. In Political Intelligence, September 17, we reported that Lynn Nabers is running for the Railroad Commission. Mary Scott Nabers is a commissioner and is seeking election. 4 OCTOBER 15, 1993
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The Texas Rangers are tasked with investigating corruption and crimes by public officials. Those officials are rarely held accountable.