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short period of time, drop into a conference, drop into a strategy session, and provide a pep talk to rally the troops. As sophisticated as people are, it really helped. I also think he was very strategic and astute about how to persuade the opponents of reform that change of some kind was inevitable, and it’s in their interest to get on the bandwagon.” Other advocates were less sanguine. After the bill passed the Senate, attorney and reform advocate Raoul Schonemann, who had worked on the original legislation, was quoted in the Houston Chronicle questioning whether the revised bill’s provisions might simply institutionalize the status quo. According to some critics, given the broad consensus behind reform this session, Ellis settled for too little. And had no bill at all passed, it would have been easier for advocates to sue the state of Texas over its flawed indigent defense system \(a suit resulted in a mandate for more rigorous reform. Ellis, though, is an incrementalist, and a politician whose embrace of criminal justice issues stems from personal feelings rather than a professional advocacy background. “I’m a corporate lawyer. In fact I have trouble spelling habeas corpus. But look, but for a few lucky breaks…” he says, his voice trailing off. “I’m very cognizant of the fact that I’m an AfricanAmerican male. There are those who would write off a whole generation of African-American males because such a large percentage of them have been involved in the criminal justice system. Now if somebody’s guilty, they ought to do their time. But I just think there are a lot of people who are in jail because their lawyers ought to be in jail. To a great extent, one’s income determines whether or not they’re [found] innocent.” “The bill is not an end-all,” says Ellis, “but it does have some general revenue in it, and for Texas it’s a much more significant step than the bill Governor Bush vetoed.” 0 ne of two Republican co-authors listed on the indigent defense bill was Arlington Senator Chris Harris, a willful and quick-tempered conservative. This session, Harris also helped Ellis pass the ban on execu tion of the mentally retarded and the hate crimes bill. “He has become a very important ally for me,” Ellis says of Harris. “I think he made a big difference this session helping to get some of those bills out.” Their unlikely alliance dates back to the 1997 session, when Harris and Ellis served together on the Jurisprudence Committee; this year Harris served as ViceChair of Finance under Ellis. According to Capitol insiders, Harris often played bad cop to Ellis’ good cop on budget issues. Their close working relationship was readily apparent in committee meetings, as the two men leaned over to confer with one another or one another’s aides, as well as on the Capitol floor. For a Democrat, Harris is an important friend to have, often serving as a conduit to Republican votes. Where someone like Ellis may not be able to directly persuade an ortho dox conservative like Senator Jane Nelson to vote with him, he may be able to persuade Harris, who in turn is respected by those farther to the right. No one interviewed for this article was inclined to publicly criticize Ellis, but some liberals have privately wondered just what Ellis might have offered in return for Harris’ support of his criminal justice package. Right after the hate crimes bill passed the Senate, Harris’ school district tax abatement bill, which according to the Center for Public Policy Priorities dollars, sailed out of the Finance Committee. But Ellis may well have been in favor of the bill to begin with; he is not hostile to corporate interests. He himself has pushed for tax breaks in the past, and was once hired by the Mexican government to lobby for NAFTA. \(Ellis’ office did not respond Some Capitol observers see the Harris-Ellis partnership as stemming from the type of close working relationship often forged by the state’s budget writers. Though Republicans and Democrats might argue about how much money should be in the budget, they have a shared interest in making the process work once it comes down to nuts and bolts. “Finance has been a very humbling experience,” Ellis says. “A good deal of my time in the Senate I spent defying the powers that be. Then getting up inside the tent, it gave me a sense of just how many things can go wrong if all the moving parts don’t coincide.” Any Finance chair is forced to strike a balance between his individual agenda and his role as head of a committee. “Ellis has tried to do a good job of focusing on things like state employee pay raises and health and human services,” says Eva de Luna Castro of the CPPP, which advocates for the interests of lowand moder ate-income Texans. But Ellis also pushes for programs, like the sales tax holiday, that the Center sees as less beneficial to working Texans, “and that’s where advocates like us are put in a tough place,” de Luna Castro says. Given the state’s shortfall, it wasn’t easy to raise funding for anything this session. “There’s a lot of expectations raised when you do see somebody there [as Finance chair] as being maybe a little more friendly to your issues,” says de Luna Castro. “You get all excited and think, ‘Oh, maybe this time we’re going to make really big progress.’ And then you remember no, there’s still not enough money.” That lack of money shaped the budget process more than any senator did. 1 6/8/01 THE TEXAS OBSERVER 9