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THE BACK PAGE She Means Business “I am running as the voice of the business community in the Senate” Jane Nelsons explanation of her departure from the State Board of Education to run for the Senate in 1991 must have pushed Fort Worth Star-Telegram reporter Joe Cutbirth closer to the place he now occupies as a hired spokesman for the Texas Democratic Party “We businesses are getting eaten alive by state government now in areas like workers’ comp health insurance fees and all the prepaid fees and taxes” Nelson told Cutbirth. Back in the real world, the Senate had just completed a fairly successful three-term assault on the civil justice system, and even readers of the Star-Telegram knew that the business community had gotten about all it wanted when it picked apart the state’s workers’ compensation laws. Democratic Senator Bob Glasgow, whom Nelson would defeat, wasn’t exactly a land-reform communist. In fact, the business-community moderate probably lost because he was compelled to carry a tax bill for Bullock. So Nelson won, and left the Board of Educationwhere she had helped the Christian Right keep textbook publishers in line. The Senator from Flower Mound has done as she promised. Last session she voted for a voucher system that would use taxpayers’ money to pay for private , school tuition; against a bill that would have required utilities to refund to ratepayers taxes that were collected but never handed over to the government; for an amendment to scrap the state’s air emissions and vehicleinspection program; and for measures that made it more difficult for foreign nationals to sue companies in Texas courts \(regardIn one embarrassing moment on the Senate floor last session, Nelson found herself torn between far-right ideology and the success the right had achieved through the con servative anathema of central control. Nelson agreed with the principle of local control of textbook adoption, but she also knew that the religious right on the State Board would select doctrinally sound textbooks, while a few local school boards might stray from the God and Country mandate. So she stood up, swallowed her principles, and made the argument for, well, continued state control of the adoption process. Her small transgression must since have been forgiven. Nelson’s largest contributor in 1997 is Dr. James Leninger, a right-wing Daddy Warbucks from San Antonio who gave about a million dollars to Republican candidates during the last election cycle. Ten thousand of that million went to Nelson. And, the Eli Lilly and Koch Oil & Gas PACs provided Nelson the imprimatur of the right-wing members of the national business community who invest in local elections. Nelson’s campaign finance filings at the Ethics Commission suggest that she’s still the same girl who six years ago promised to be the voice of the business community, although these days “business” for Senator Nelson is likely to be the health-care businesswhere Leninger, a physician and medical-supply magnate, gets a two-for-one split on his investment. Nelson received the requisite $1,000 checks from workaday business lobbyists like Robert Johnson, Gordon Cain, Rusty Kelly, and Jack Gullahorn. But more than $25,000 of the $193,900 she raised \(in from health-care PACs. And Nelson even got $100 from Montie Hassie, her former state board colleague with whom she shared a small scandal in a large Houston hotel. The two board members had their hotel rooms paid for by the Texas Association of School Boards. “I’ll do whatever I can to save the taxpayers money,” Nelson said \(even if it entailed accepting favors from a group that lobNelson is currently sponsoring a bill that would require minors to have parental \(or After repeatedly failing in previous sessions, this year it might pass. But her attempt to get initiative and referendum on the ballot as a proposed constitutional amendment now appears to be all but dead. That is, the “dollar democracy” process by which special interests govern from the “grassroots” they fertilize with expensive media campaignsseems doomed. Nothing that is opposed by the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund, the National Organization for Women, the NAACPand the Texas Chemical Council, the Eagle Forum and the National Federation of Independent Businessesgets out of the Texas Legislature. MARCH 14, 1997 32 THE TEXAS OBSERVER