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MOLLY IVINS Wanna Buy a Duck? Scratching for something encouraging to about last monthi’s Texas primary: To the surprise of many, more Ds than Rs voted in the thing, but since the turnout was so pathetic \(13 percent of eligible voters oucN not much joy there For some reason, I seem to be short on moral indignation at the moment Let me just say: Tut tut you slackers. The most interesting race was the Republican primary for attorney general, and let me confess that I had a dog in that fight. I was root ing for former state G.O.P. Chairman Tom Pauken, on the grounds that he would be the most entertaining guy to put up against former state A.G. Jim Mattox. Pauken is sort of the Texas leader of the political Christian right, and is as mean a campaigner as the state has ever produced meaner, many would maintain, than Mattox. But Pauken got squeezed out by Railroad Commissioner Barry Williamson and former Supreme Court Justice John Cornyn, who are now in a run-off. Of course, Pauken was cut off from party money by Governor George Dubya, on account of Pauken had seriously crossed him by trashing his tax plan last year, successfully turning enough Republican legislators against it to defeat the plan. However, Williamson has high entertainment potential. Consider this delirious postelection statement: “The attorney general has the authority and moral obligation to be an effective crime fighter,” Williamson said, according to the Austin AmericanStatesman. “It’s important to the people of Texas that their children are safe, that children can go to school and be educated without fear. We’ve lost thirteen children in Plano to heroin, and that’s got to stop.” All of which is dandy political rhetoric, but has absolutely nothing to do with being attorney general of Texas. The A.G. is the state’s civil lawyer and spends his time collecting child support payments from deadbeat dads and representing exciting agencies like the State Board of Plumbing Examiners, when they manage to get themselves sued. I suppose the A.G. could step right up and stop heroin dealing if he ran across a smack sale somewhere, but it’s not his job and it doesn’t happen much around the A.G.’s of fice, at least the last time we checked. When Williamson was questioned about the relevance of his git-tuff-on-crime, he replied, “Don’t tell me I can’t take this office where it hasn’t gone before.” This caused John Young, opinion-page editor of the Waco Tribune-Herald, to observe: “OK. And we won’t tell the Public Utility Commission it can’t invade Libya.” Young also has a sterling suggestion for world betterment: We should get a duck. Remember the old Groucho Marx quiz show in which, when a contestant said the “magic word,” down from the ceiling would drop a duck puppet, honking and squawking? Young suggests that we get a duck for A.G. candidate debates, and every time one of them says “crime,” the duck can come down quacking like a berserker. This is such a good idea that I think it should be extended to all candidate debates. Whenever a politician tells an obvious whopper, the duck will appear. An attorney general can have a major impact on the state; Dan Morales certainly distinguished himself by extending the Hopwood decision all over creation and, in another direction, by winning a major tobacco settlement. Mattox, who is still campaigning as “the people’s lawyer,” was in fact a populist attorney general, going after deadbeat dads, successfully suing big insurance companies, winning major consumer fraud cases, and generally standing up for “the little guy” against big corporations and other malefactors. He probably would have been a great A.G. if he hadn’t gotten sidetracked by a weird legal charge commercial bribery on which he was later acquitted. In fact, I should have thought about Mattox’s unpleasant brush with the law while in o ;’fice before I started cheering for the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision that Paula Jones could proceed with her lawsuit while Presi dent Clinton is still in office. The charge ate up Mattox’s time and energy, and he is a man of enormous energy. It’s now obvious that Clinton’s life is being eaten by his legal problems, his famous ability to “compartmentalize” notwithstanding. Setting aside all the other issues in the Jones-Lewinsky predicament, it is not a good thing to have the guy with his hand on the wheel distracted by all this personal mess. Many legal scholars are now questioning both the Supreme Court decision and the independent counsel statute for precisely this reason. I figure that as long as we’ve got lemons, we might as well make lemonade and see if we can’t learn something from this stupid scandal about how not to do it next time. Our problems with the economy, health care, education, Social Security and a few other things deserve the president’s full-time attention. Back to the drawing board. Molly Ivins is a former Observer editor and a columnist for the Fort Worth StarTelegram. Her new book, You Got to Dance With Them What Brung You, has just been published by Random House \(the write to her via e-mail at [email protected] star-telegram. com . ANDERSON & COMPANY COFFEE TEA SPICES TWO JEFFERSON SQUARE AUSTIN, TEXAS 78731 512-453-1533 Send me your list. Name Street City Zip 14 THE TEXAS OBSERVER APRIL 10, 1998