The casual observer will be forgiven for overlooking Councilman Lee Kleinman's role in Dallas' debate over plastic-bag regulations. With Dallas City Councilman Dwaine Caraway constantly sermonizing against them on the one hand, and with Sheffie Kadane and Rick Callahan's dismissal of any attempt to regulate them as a thinly veiled communist plot on the other, everything else tends to fade into the background.
Make no mistake, though. Kleinman has a very strong opinion on the matter. It's just changed completely over the past several weeks. Check it out. Here's Kleinman at a meeting back in August:
"My wife hates those bags, so I'll be supporting the ban."
His opinion was the same at a January council briefing:
"I think it's important that we recognize this [ban] can work and it can be effective,"
He was more equivocal when The Dallas Morning News contacted him in advance of this week's vote, suggesting that compromise, in the form of the fee-based ordinance that passed today, was the way to go:
"From the citizens, the biggest resistance we hear to an outright ban is it creates an inconvenient situation if you don't have a bag, if you're in from out of town, if you forgot one. And it's low enough that if they don't remember, they pay a dime or whatever."
When it actually came time to vote, however, Kleinman's take had changed completely. Why should the city pass an ordinance it couldn't enforce? he wondered. More than that, why should he, in North Dallas care about something that wasn't a problem in his district -- a statement that was taken as a clear middle finger by his southern Dallas colleagues.
Kleinman wound up voting against the plastic-bag fee he expressed support for just a few days before.
What happened? Did the grocers get to him? Was he just screwing with us? Did his wife do the improbable and change her mind?
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None of the above. Kleinman says he simply listened to his District 11 constituents, who have been giving him an earful about the prospect of a bag ban and how much they hate it. They also hate the idea of a fee.
Democracy, in other words.
Kleinman still shares the goals of the bag banners (e.g. litter reduction, environmental protection, a "culture of clean"), but it's never been an important issue for him like, say, the budget. So at the risk of alienating one important constituency, who on Wednesday evening he was fairly confident was not going to make him sleep on the couch, he changed his vote.
Send your story tips to the author, Eric Nicholson.