liked me, so I was golden in Fayette County. He had the ladies of the chicken ranch address postcards endorsing me, and I got about 100 percent of the vote every time.” Ah: the good old wonderful days, when politics was clean and incorruptible! In his first term, Hobby learned the limits of reform the hard way. When he helped lead a serious effort to revise the Texas Constitution. “I believed that we could create a document more appropriate to governing a populous state in the twentieth century,” Hobby says. “I was wrong.” Hobby imbibed a sad lesson about Texans’ “fear of change and innovation. Texas voters will accept change in small increments when they are convinced of the need for it. But multiple changes with strong and credible opposition is going nowhere in a deeply conservative state.” Following his motto”compromise is the name of the game”Hobby broke with history to appoint Republicans to key committee chairmanships. He navigated the rocky transition from Democratic dominance to a two-party state government. Over time, he was considered one of the steadiest and most effective lieutenant governors in history. “Bill Hobby has had more effect on Texas government for a longer time with a better end result than anyone since Sam Houston,” Texas Monthly gushed after he gaveled his ninth and final session to a close. “I could say that he taught me everything I know,” said Gov. Ann Richards, who did her share of squabbling with Hobby along the way. “That wouldn’t be quite true, but damn near.” Hobby’s most memorable momentunfortunatelycame in 1979, when he tried to circumvent the Senate’s unwritten “two-thirds rule.” Hobby wanted to push through an early presidential primary for 1980, which was designed in part to benefit former Gov. John Connally’s disastrous White House run. \(It would also benefit conservative Democrats, who could count on a lot of crossover Connally votsenators who flew into hiding. “I can’t imagine what I was thinking,” Hobby writes. Hobby won election five times without a nailbiter. His toughest challenge came in 1982, when Republicans ran a wealthy Houston oilman named George Strake against him. “Strake came at me with all the usual Republican stuff,” Hobby writes. “I spent too much state money, and I was soft on illegal aliens. Worse than that, the state budget had grown! It certainly had, but not enough.” Somehow, I’m betting that Hobby did not use those exact words on the campaign trail that year. Candidates itching to grow the state budget usually stay quiet about it. But getting out of politics loosens the tongue in amazing ways. While there’s no question whom Hobby supports for governor this year \(sharp criticism of Gov. Rick have at least one spirited disagreement with the Democratic nominee. “Bill White has come out with term limits,” Hobby tells me, “which I’m against. Term limits are pretty silly, really.” From his own experience, Hobby insists that the longer you’re in the Legislature, the more effective you get. “Governing is a complicated business, and on-the-job-training is all most of us get,” he says. “In your first term, you learn the process. In your second term, you have some idea of the process. In your third term, you might be able to accomplish somethingbut not if you’re termlimited.” In its best moments, Hobby’s memoirwritten with his former chief of staff, Saralee Tiedeoffers an unfiltered peek into the unpredictable mind of a man who was once a model of caution, a champion of compro mise. In its most disappointing moments, Hobby veers from politics to the personal. He paints his powerful family in broad, flat strokes that seem designed to reveal little or nothing about them. Hobby has no intention of giving readers a glimpse of his soul, or of anybody else’s. But he dearly loves to let loose about politics. This combination of reticence and outspokenness makes Hobby a curious character in his own story. Readers have to build their own composite character portrait out of his accounts of Senate battles, and out of what Hobby says when he speaks in an unguarded way. The portrait that emergesa little fuzzy and twodimensionalis of one of a traditional gentleman who turns out to have a vicious sense of humor and caustic, free-thinking opinions. If Bill Hobby was never a biggovernment liberal, at least he gave a damn about running government decently and fairly. In his heyday, that got him called a conservative Democrat. Today, it would qualify him as an outright socialist. LI Getting out of politics loosens the tongue in amazing ways. Bill Hobby with Ann Richards, ca. 1977 PHOTO COURTESY BRISCOE CENTER FOR AMERICAN HISTORY SEPTEMBER 17, 2010 THE TEXAS OBSERVER 35
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