‘Stalwart Battler for Justice’: Remembering Babe Schwartz (1926-2018)
Babe Schwartz, a former state senator from Galveston, died last week at 92. He was described by Houston Chronicle columnist Patti Kilday Hart as “one of the most liberal ‘yellow dog’ Democrats ever to serve in the Texas Legislature.”
For those of us who had the good fortune to know him and to watch him perform on the floor of the Senate, he was also a constant delight, swift as a bolt of lightning, who could rhetorically eviscerate an opponent with his rapier wit.
Babe was born in Galveston in 1926, the son of a Polish immigrant father. He attended Texas A&M University and volunteered for the Navy in World War II, serving on a carrier in the Pacific. After the war, he graduated from the University of Texas Law School.
When Babe got to the Senate in 1960, he was pretty much a lone voice in the wilderness. Federal court redistricting orders in 1966 began to dramatically alter the game, as Senate seats were required for the first time to be population-based. The result was an influx of urban progressives.
My law partner Oscar Mauzy was elected to the Senate in 1967 and became a staunch ally for Babe. Others soon followed, such as Joe Christie, Carlos Truan, Carl Parker and Ron Clower. Similar changes occurred in the Texas House as a result of federal rulings requiring single-member legislative districts in the urban counties.With the remaking of the Texas Legislature in the late ’60s and early ’70s, Babe was in his element and a major force. As Lloyd Doggett told the Chronicle, it was “possible to make some genuine state legislative progress in Texas.” Lloyd characterized Babe as “a sharp-witted, sharp-tongued advocate for economic and social justice.”
A somewhat typical quote of Babe’s was relayed by Paul Burka. Babe described a piece of anti-consumer legislation as “a bill written by liars, cheats and thieves for the benefit of liars, cheats and thieves.” This seems a most accurate display of Babe’s rhetorical flourish.
Babe was named four times as one of Texas Monthly‘s 10 Best Legislators, which was a fitting tribute and a true compliment. One of Babe’s signal accomplishments was the enactment of the Texas Open Beaches legislation, certainly one of the state’s most significant environment laws. That achievement was recognized by the city of Galveston in 2016, when they named 15 blocks of Galveston beaches “Babe’s Beach.”
In 1979, Babe was one of the leaders of the Killer Bees in the Texas Senate. That group hid out and broke a quorum in the Senate in order to block legislation they deemed was designed to enable John Connally, a recently converted Republican, to run for president. Lieutenant Governor Hobby sent the Senate’s sergeants-at-arms in a search of the hidden senators. Some sergeants showed up at Ann’s and my house in Westlake looking for the missing senators. They weren’t hiding there, though they would certainly have been welcome.
After his defeat for re-election in 1980, Babe remained in Austin as a lobbyist. I would occasionally run into him and his lovely wife Marilyn at the lunch counter at Nau’s Drugstore in West Austin. He was always gregarious and always spot-on. He should be remembered and revered as a stalwart battler for social justice. It may be a blessing that he does not have to witness the constant depredations of the Trump presidency.