Nothing ventured

The end of the 1999 legislative session proves that, for Gov. Bush at least, it's better to look good than to do good

Coming on the heels of the savage killing of James Byrd Jr., the black East Texan dragged behind a truck in tiny Jasper, the bill was ripe for passage in Texas. Nothing proves that more than the fact that in the House, the bill won the support of Rep. Warren Chisum, a Republican from Pampa who just four years ago described his opposition by suggesting that some gay men provoked assaults by trying to pick up straight men in parks. Chisum had come a long way.

But the Senate, which passed a nearly identical bill in 1995, had regressed. Some of the senators who opposed the bill this time around voted in favor in 1995. Although Bush and Senate Republicans deny it, Democrats deduce that presidential politics motivated the stalemate that caused the Senate to literally shut down one day last month in a failed attempt to hammer out a compromise. To Democrats, the hate-crimes bill fiasco proves that the Legislature--Republican senators, specifically--was more interested in protecting Bush in his presidential bid than in doing what was right for Texas.

Rep. Harold Dutton, a Democrat from Houston, thinks the hate-crimes bill also illustrates how Bush's priorities this session seemed less geared toward Texans' best interests and more toward his own. "You can't worship two masters and expect to be effective at doing both," Dutton says.

In 1995 and 1997, Bush spoke in favor of legislation requiring physicians to notify a parent before performing an abortion on a minor. But only this year, with a Republican presidential primary in his near future, did the governor make signing the bill into law one of his top priorities. "Why was parental notification a 'have-to' this session?" Dutton asks.

Bush's hands-on role in getting the bill passed is not crystal-clear, however. Rep. Dianne White Delisi, a Republican from Temple who shepherded the parental-notification bill in the House, said that when the bill's delicate details needed to be negotiated, the governor left the bargaining to legislators. "I would hope for his sake that the governor was asleep that Mother's Day morning at 2 a.m. when we were hammering out those details," she says.

Bush led the parade of people at the Capitol who appeared obsessed over how the Legislature's every move would play on the national level. But at least one legislator suggests everyone's fixation was a figment of Texas ego. "Nobody across the country is all that interested in what we do here in Texas," Goolsby says in a bold expression of Lone Star sacrilege. "We love ourselves very much in this state. We're real good back-patters here. But I think the rest of the country is more interested in their own states."

Here are the outcomes of other issues the Dallas Observer tracked throughout the legislative session, which mercifully ended May 31:

* As predicted, legislators gave away the store to Southwestern Bell in exchange for the local phone monopolist agreeing to lower its long-distance access fee. Bell over AT&T (and consumers) by a knockout.

* Campaign finance reports of legislators are headed to a Web site near you in spite of arguments by some Democrats that were more disingenuous than ingenious. Fire up those modems!

* Without any opposition, legislators approved a far-reaching bill designed to help clear the morass that delays bringing water and wastewater services to the colonias.

* A bill designed to close a loophole that gave tax breaks to a Republican political consulting firm in Canton, financed by religious right holy father Jim Leininger, stalled in the Senate, where Leininger hired hand Lt. Gov. Rick Perry presides.

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