States' rights

New members of the Texas Lege promise to uphold the old seedy standards

I listen to Republican rhetoric about how power should be returned to "the states" with some degree of alarm.

It sounds so good in the abstract--by George, gummint should be closer to the people, those beanbrains in Washington don't know anything about our problems here.

But then one realizes what that means in specific is the Texas Legislature. They want to give more power to the Texas Legislature. Yep, that same old collection of guys with pots on their heads.

I regret to report that familiarity with the Texas Lege does not breed respect. But I am happy to report that many of the new members of the Lege give promise of upholding the old standards.

For example, the new state senator from Carthage is Drew Nixon, who was arrested last year in Dallas with three prostitutes outside his car. He pleaded no contest to a weapons charge. You can tell Nixon will be a great state senator: not one prostitute but three. This is right in the old "Too Much Is Not Enough" tradition.

Overall, the Democrats, who had expected to pick up a couple of seats in the Senate because of redistricting, wound up losing one, for a 17-14 partisan split. Lite Guv Bob Bullock can also call on a couple of Republicans when he's got a have-to deal.

The House also had little change in its profile: net loss of one Democratic seat. Speaker Pete Laney told the press with a straight face that the House has never been out of touch with the conservatism of Texas voters. I'd say so myself.

Actually, there weren't a lot of seats in play this year. Redistricting left the House with a bunch of safe seats on both sides, so nobody did much candidate recruitment.

Among the notable losses:
Tony Parra, who got elected by dragging a large wooden cross around El Paso but never contributed much thereafter. Betty Denton of Waco, who always voted right but earned a reputation as the Carlos Truan of the House. Many a time we have heard a desperate lobbyist plead, "Betty, please don't get up to speak for our side. Please don't get on the mike."

In the Senate, Steve Carriker lost to Republican Tom Haywood, who has Parkinson's disease. In the primary, some vile Repub ran footage of Haywood trembling from his disease, and there was a sympathy backlash that got him the nomination and then the election.

And worst of all, Carl Parker of Port Arthur got rained out in the anti-Jack Brooks follies in the Golden Triangle. Parker, a master legislator, was the trial lawyers' main guy in the Senate, so now they're all suicidal. He will be replaced by Michael Galloway, who is "in investments." What we have here is proof that the yuppies in the Woodlands now outnumber the union members in the Triangle in that district.

It occasionally falls my lot to write political obituaries for brothers fallen in the political wars, and I do so for Carl Parker with special regret.

Twenty-five years ago, when he was in the House, he was known as Captain Tuna, after Charlie the Tuna, an advertising cartoon character who was always trying too hard.

Parker would be a wonderful study for political science students, especially those who might be suffering from feminist correctness. Parker loved to play the role of professional sexist; he could be as crude, raunchy, and obnoxious as anyone I've ever known, but once you learned that he liked smart women who answered back, he was easy to deal with.

Underneath all the bluff and bluster, Parker finally had a heart as good as his brain. Too much testosterone, though.

One advantage of longevity for a journalist is that one can remember someone like Parker at different periods. Early on, he wore the last of the "East Texas afros," a flat-top haircut, and raised hell in the House.

One of his finest hours was the last night of the Constitutional Convention in 1976: the entire constitution, six months of effort, hung in the balance, and the only way to pass it was with a right-to-work provision written into the document, and Parker was a union man, son of a union man. He voted for Texas that night, but his old labor friends would never see it as anything but selling out.

I've seen a lot of politicians under a lot of pressure, but never one under more than Parker was that night. He won't admit this now, but he cried that night.

Just last session, when Parker had started looking old for the first time, heavy and slow, one leg gone bad on him, he still rose on the floor to remind his colleagues they were not there to advance the interests of the insurance industry or of the timber industry or of the oil industry--they were there to represent the people of Texas.

Understand that Parker's moments of nobility were rare; mostly he was a fighter, a battler, who wound up in fistfights or near fistfights about once a session.

One of his best weapons is that he's a moon-faced fellow who looks like he just rode into town on a load of watermelons. Rude, crude, sometimes deliberately ungrammatical, he led many a fool to think he was just a loud, rough guy from the Triangle. I think he's the smartest man I ever knew in the Lege. And he had a hell of a lot of fun doing it.

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