Page 32


Editors: Nate Blakeslee, Karen Olsson Managing Publisher: Charlotte McCann Circulation Manager: Candace Carpenter Graphic Designer: Julia Austin Poetry Editor: Naomi Shihab Nye Development Director: Susan Morris Intern: Chris Womack Special Projects: Jere Locke, Nancy Williams Contributing Writers: Gabriela Bocagrande, Robert Bryce, Louis Dubose, Michael Erard, James K. Galbraith, Dagoberto Gilb, Paul Jennings, Steven G. Kellman, Lucius Lomax, Jeff Mandell, Char Miller, Debbie Nathan, John Ross. Staff Photographer: Alan Pogue Contributing Photographers: Jana Birchum, Vic Hinterlang, Patricia Moore, Jack Rehm. Contributing Artists: Jeff Danziger, Beth Epstein, Valerie Fowler, Sam Hurt, Kevin Kreneck, Michael Krone, Gary Oliver, Ben Sargent, Gail Woods. Editorial Advisory Board: David Anderson, Chandler Davidson, Dave Denison, Bob Eckhardt, Sissy Farenthold, John K. Galbraith, Lawrence Goodwyn, Jim Hightower, Maury Maverick Jr.. Kaye Northcott, Susan Reid. In Memoriam: Cliff Olofson, 1931-1995 Texas Democracy Foundation Board: Molly Ivins, D’Ann Johnson, Jim Marston, Bernard Rapoport, Geoffrey Rips, Gilberto Ocafias. The Texas Observer \(ISSN 0040-4519/ 2000, is published biweekly except every three weeks during January and profit foundation, 307 West 7th Street, Austin, Texas 78701. Telephone: E-mail: [email protected] World Wide Web ‘DownHome page: . Periodicals Postage Paid at. Austin, Texas.. Subscriptions: One year $32, two years $59, three years $84. Full-time students $18 per year; add $13/year for foreign subs. Back issues $3 prepaid. Airmail, foreign, group, and bulk rates on request. Microfilm available from University Microfilms Intl., 300 N. Zeeb Road, Ann Arbor, MI 48106. Indexes: The Texas Observer is indexed in Access: The Supplementary Index to Periodicals; Texas Index and, for the years 1954 through 1981, The Texas Observer Index. POSTMASTER: Send address changes to The Texas Observer, 307 West 7th Street, Austin, Texas 78701. VOLUME 93, NO. 1 A JOURNAL OF FREE VOICES SINCE 1954 EDITORIAL iv The Business of the Lege is Business W Day three of new legislator school includes a panel on media relations. “Don’t do anything in Austin you wouldn’t want your mother to know about,” one veteran of broadcast journalism advised the nine novitiates. Rodney Ellis, the Houston Democrat and new chairman of Senate Finance, further admonished the new members that their spot in the limelight was fleeting. “Each session, work out an agenda of what you want to get done, because you may not get to come back,” he told them. “Then at least you can say, ‘When I had the juice, I did something with it.” What Ellis didn’t say was that those with the most juice, particularly those on an ideological mission \(and there are a couple in this pointed by their fellow partisans. Partisanship is important, particularly in this redistricting year, but it only goes so far as a motivating factor. What they should have been told is that at least half of what the lege does in any session is settle differences between competing business interests, most of whom don’t particularly care which party is in power. It takes strong leadership \(and, usually, a away from these “little bills” \(that is, speinto tackling something big and genuinely in the public interest, like water law or school finance reform in 1997. Or, for that matter, to bring the members together behind big bills that aren’t in the public interest, like tort reform in 1997 or electric utility deregulation last session. Early indications suggest that there may be no such channeling of energies, for good or ill, this time around. Because of the uncertainty of Bush’s accessionand the closefought struggle over leadership in the Senatethe lege appears directionless this session. There seems to be very little “agenda setting” coming out of Austin. One recent poll quoted in the Dallas Morning News asked Texans to name the most important issue facing the state; “Don’t Know,” topped the list at 28 percent, a sure sign that the legislative leaders haven’t been out making the rounds of editorial boards, doing the usual pre-session flogging for tax-cuts, workers’ comp reform, and the like. Add to that the energy drain of redistricting, and the sentiment around the capitol this year seems to be “don’t expect much.” “It’s going to be a good session for chipping at the edges of things and filling in some of the gaps from last year,” one lobbyist said. A good session for “little bills,” in other words. Still, momentum seems to be building around a couple of big-ticket items, foremost of which is health coverage for school teachers and staff. Currently, districts negotiate independently to obtain insurance for their employees, resulting in considerable variation in coverage and benefits from district to district, and, in some cases, outrageously high premiumsor no coverage at all. The push this session will be to provide state-guaranteed uniform coverage. The price tag will be in the billions, but it’s been a long time coming. “It’s going to be a tough sell to get what teachers and staff definitely deserve,” Austin Democrat Elliott Naishtat said. Another big ticket item is pay raises for correctional officers in the state’s badly neglected prison system, where longrunning staff shortages are being blamed for a host of problems, including the recent escape from the Connally unit in South Texas and the mayhem that followed. This is how problems get solved in the Texas lege: In the bizarre calculus of government by crisis control, every Oshman’s store they hit is worth an extra hundred a month for Texas Correctional Officers. The Books & the Culture section is partially funded through grants from the City of Austin under the auspices of the Austin Arts Commission, and the Austin WriterS’ League, both in cooperation with the Texas Commission on the Arts. JANUARY 19, 2001 THE TEXAS OBSERVER 3