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LEFT FIELD House of Bad Hair Not since Craig Washington arrived with a full-blown Afro in 1973 has any man in the State House really used his hair to make a political statement. This session, conservative Republican Talmadge Heflin’s tonsorial excess is a statement of some kind but nobody seems certain what the rotund Republican from Houston is trying to say. If you can be said to “spin” bad hair, he’s even done that recently, appearing in dreadlocks on the day the House voted to make dreadlocked Heisman Trophy winner Ricky Williams an honorary Texan. After Ricky Williams Day, Heflin went straight, but he has yet to cut his hair. “All I’m saying,” Heflin told Left Field, “is that I got one bad haircut and I decided I’m not going to pay somebody to make me look bad. Anyone who thinks I’m now a liberal Republican can watch my light to see how I vote.” Heflin’s colleague Dennis Bonnen believes there’s more to it than Heflin wants to admit. “Talmadge has the hair of a great philosopher, of a truly great thinker,” Bonnen said. “If you look back in history you’ll see where that haircut came from.” Talmadge Heflin Bonnen, a Republican in his second session, hasn’t changed his hairstyle; instead, he has forsaken hair. Whereas he arrived last session with a respectable prep-school cut, this time he’s gone soccer hooligan. “I didn’t have a choice,” Bonnen said, perhaps referring to the potential in Heflin’s leonine mane. “I just gave in to baldness.” Bonnen claims it’s also practical. During the session, he said, he only showers once every two weeks, and having no hair to wash makes his life easier. Perhaps the most drastic intersession Dennis Bonnen makeover is Tommy Merritt’s abandoning of his 1950s flat-top for the straightback, no-part look of a young M.B.A. working the floor of the New York Stock Exchange. “He did that,” Bonnen said, “so he would look more like Jack Nicholson. And I’ll tell you something else about Tommy. He has Jack Nicholson’s personality.” Merritt hasn’t hired an agent, but leaning into an intense discussion with a fellow Republican at the back rail, he does bear a resemblance to Jack Nicholson until he speaks. “Naw,” the East Texas Republican Tommy Merritt Jack Rehm said. “That’s not true. I looked more like Nicholson when I had the flat-top. In fact that all started the day I wore my purple sunglasses on the floor, because I was trying to draw some attention to the importance of my purple paint bill you remember, painting property lines purple. Everybody started telling me, even the pages were calling me Jack.” Left Field’s recollection of the purple paint bill is a little vague, but we remember the flat-top well surely both are better off consigned to our state’s hairy history. + Free Odessa Americans! * Every spring, as winter oil consumption falls off and the Internal Revenue Service comes knocking, the Odessa American gives something back to its beleaguered readers: the annual R. C. Hoiles award, which honors “the resident of the Permian Basin whose accomplishments best personify libertarian ideals.” Born in Ohio in 1878, R.C. Hoiles was the father of what is now the Freedom Communications chain, which he started with the Southern California Orange County Register. It has since grown to include over sixty newspapers \(including the two dozen magazines, and several radio and television stations, all at least nominally aligned with the libertarian philosophy though not necessarily the political party. The Register, Hoiles’ flagship, remains one of the most conservative papers printed in the English language. Freedom chain employees attend occasional seminars on libertarian thought, and most editors in the chain “make an effort to adhere to the basic guidelines” of the philosophy, according to Ken Brodnax, editorial page editor at the Odessa American. Nevertheless, “I don’t think that they all necessarily understand, you know, the intricacies involved in it,” he said. To help educate the fuzzy-headed, Odessa American publisher Bill Salter invented the annual R.C. Hoiles award, which has since spread to other Freedom papers. The winner, according to the paper’s website, will be “above all… devoted to the ideals of capitalism and free enterprise, realizing that an economic engine runs the most efficiently without all those sticky ‘additives’ that government insists on providing.” Oil-patch libertarianism can get particularly intricate. To get right to the source, Left Field tracked down last year’s award winner, Don Williams. Williams, eighty-six, owns an oil equipment supply company in Odessa, where he has worked in the oil business since the early 1930s. “They were looking for a libertarian in the true sense of the word,” Williams said of his selection. “That’s someone that doesn’t want any more gov ernment than he has to have and wants the government to keep their nose out of their business and to abide by the Constitution,” he explained in his soft, lifetime-smoker’s rasp. When Williams worked in the oil fields in the early thirties, earning less than five dollars per day, there were no “goodies” like unemployment insurance or workman’s compensation. “When you got your pay, that was all; and sometimes if it didn’t play out, you didn’t even get that,” he said. Of course, oil was selling for ten to twelve cents a barrel in those days. Things improved, Williams recalled, when the Railroad Commission came along and placed limits on production, driving the price up. It’s here that the Odessa school of libertarian thought admits a certain looseness of doctrine. Regulation of production is not strictly free-market per se, Williams admitted, “but at ten cents a barrel, nobody could make any money.” Such philosophical dilemmas must be grappled with regularly on the Odessa American’s editorial page, especially lately, as tough times in the oil patch have tested Odessa’s libertarian mettle. Take the recent spate of oil company mergers, which have led to severe layoffs in the Permian Basin. “We haven’t said anything about that … what these private companies are doing is really their own business and it’s not our place to say really whether it’s right or wrong,” Brodnax said. The paper has seen fit to editorialize about excessive taxation of the industry, and yet it’s not just the taxes that hurt local producers, Brodnax conceded, it’s also the foreign oil glut. How about some import restrictions? Sorry. “Hey, this is the market, you know, operating, and one of the tenets of libertarian philosophy is that you let the market take care of the problem and you don’t do it with artificial tariffs,” Brodnax explained. That’s one opinion he keeps to himself, since, he said, “it wouldn’t be a very popular stance with a lot of people around here.” You can’t get too far ahead of the people. “Obviously we’re sympathetic to the fact that people are losing their jobs, but you know, that’s a fact of life out here.” + THE TEXAS OBSERVER 5 MARCH 19, 1999