Page 13


dal. In January of 1971, on the eve of the inauguration of Gov. Preston Smith and Lt. Gov. Ben Barnes to their second two-year terms, the federal Securities and Exchange Commission announced civil suits against Houston developer Frank Sharp and others for manipulating stocks. To get the banking and insurance legislation Sharp wanted, his manipulation scheme included goosing stock profits for several top Texas officials, including House Speaker Gus Mutscher and several aides, and Gov. Smith, who had bought stock with financing help from Sharp. Then, for the 1972 elections, the Supreme Court ruled that the largest Texas urban counties would no longer elect state representatives from countywide districts, but from singlemember districts. Previously a legislative candidate had to either have the backing of the business cabal that financed the countywide elections, or be independently wealthy and willing to spend enough of his own money to compete. Suddenly a young upstart with a few thousand dollars and enough energy to wear out a few pairs of shoes going door to door could bypass The Establishment and get elected. That change, added to the Sharpstown taint, resulted in not just a new governor, lieutenant governor, attorney general, and House speaker, but also the largest freshman class in the Legislature in the 20th Century-71 House members and 16 of the 31 senators. Between the two chambers, the new legislators also included eight blacks, 12 Hispanics, 17 Republicans, and six women. They replaced some of the standard bourbon-swilling mossbacks who had run things. Though I was in Dallas during the early 1970s covering politics for The Dallas Morning News, I managed to talk my way to Austin so much that I almost lived there. I watched as the wholesale turnover in officials helped bring about, in 1973, what came to be called the “Reform Session” of the Texas Legislature. The new climate of openness was a response to the allegations of what amounted to backstairs bribes. A newly energized and aggressive Capitol press corps helped push the Legislature into opening up the system. The new laws required open meetings, open records, lobby registration, campaign finance disclosure, and other changes aimed at guarding the public trust. The new openness made it much easier for reporters to find out what was going on, even if some older legislators and lobbyists accustomed to working in the shadows found the sunshine uncomfortable. And the single-member House districts turned the lobby on its head. It went from a handful of lobbyists representing major industries choosing the House speaker, and then exercising top-down control with a few phone calls or conversations, to having to personally beg individual legislators for their votes. The new dynamics produced more “hired gun” lobbyists who handled groups of single issues and more team lobbying, as a black lobbyist, for instance, might more easily influence a black legislator than a white one. The From left to right: Dave McNeely, then-Gov. George W. Bush, and Molly Ivins photo courtesy of Dave McNeely MAY 27, 2005 THE TEXAS OBSERVER 9