Stolen thunder

Tuesday's cartoon in the Chihuahua city paper showed President Ernesto Zedillo bustling toward a particularly frazzled-looking Mexican Everyman, saying, "I must recognize those who have paid the costs of the economic crisis." The frazzled citizen wearily sticks out his hand to say "Muchas..." and then is left alone saying "...gracias" as Zedillo rushes past him toward the United States.

Just thought you'd like to know how the neighbors are feeling.
Kinky Friedman has a racist line that goes: "You know what the last thing Jesus said to the Mexicans was? 'Y'all don't do anything 'til I get back.'" That'd be a lot funnier if every street corner in Chihuahua didn't feature a swarm of children selling Chiclets and washing car windows, if every tourist site weren't crawling with guys hoping to tote bags, and if there weren't a million more Mexicans without jobs, out hustling daily for any kind of work at all, than there were a year ago.

On another topic entirely, "60 Minutes" braved the perils of Texas politics the other night and came up with a peculiar report, implying that Rep. Ron Coleman of El Paso is in bed with colonias developers. Now, that's strange, since Coleman has been fighting to improve the colonias situation for 25 years now. Stranger still, in the "60 Minutes" version of reality, the hero of the long struggle to get anything done about these miserable sores on Texas is, of all people, Attorney General Dan Morales.

You say you don't recall Morales ever playing a leading role on the colonias?

Well, neither does anybody else--except, maybe, for Morales and his political consultant, one George Shipley, aka Dr. Dirt. Shipley, you may be interested to learn, also consulted for Coleman's opponent last time out.

In the "60 Minutes" version, the colonias are still unredeemed collections of misery and squalor. Well, we can't complain about that portrayal as it's still largely true. But those of us who recall all the heavy political lifting that went into the legislation that finally provided water and sewer lines for the colonias (and who do not recall Morales as anything other than one of many assistant lifters) are left feeling... deflated. Anyone who knows dog about the colonias knows that the real heroes are Valley Interfaith, the El Paso Interreligious Sponsoring Organization, and that whole remarkable network of organizers, community workers, and church people who actually shamed the Texas Legislature into doing something about the slums.

And if you're looking for heroes, you might want to consider the people of the colonias themselves, who have worked, organized and learned how to improve their communities. Their struggle and tenacity deserve the highest respect.

As for Morales' peculiar claim that Coleman "threatened" him during a phone call that even Morales' staff admits never took place--my, that is curious.

After a long political struggle, there's nothing to sour the atmosphere like one fellow stepping up and taking all the credit for the work that a whole lot of other people are actually doing. That "60 Minutes" chose to anoint Morales as the lead white hat in all this has caused a whole lot of curdling of the milk of human kindness in the state's southern precincts. My own take is that Morales has been inadequate, at best, as attorney general, and when the history of Texas' colonias is written, he'll be lucky to get a mention.

But all that is beside the main point. As "60 Minutes" reminded us, the misery in the colonias remains a horrific shame on our state.

Let's not spend more than a week or so griping about Morales' glory-hog act before we get back to work on the main problem, OK? When all the colonias have water, sewers, electricity and maybe even paved streets, when the kids there are no longer dying of diseases long since eradicated in Third World countries, when public health there approaches standards considered common in the 20th century, then we can worry about how to split up the credit.

As for Morales, I believe it was Nikolai Gogol who once titled a short story "God Sees the Truth, But Waits."

Editor's note: Texas Attorney General Dan Morales has issued a statement rebutting Molly Ivins' column. We have edited it for space.

In my view, the "60 Minutes" program did a good job of depicting the deplorable conditions in Texas colonias.

Molly Ivins dismissed the personal and financial relationships between Congressman Ron Coleman of El Paso and the developers of substandard housing. She claims that her friend Coleman has been fighting to improve the colonias for 25 years. However, Coleman, whose ties to these developers was clearly documented by "60 Minutes," apparently thinks the better approach is to let taxpayers pay for improvements in the colonias while developers continue to build them. I would characterize such an approach as a taxpayer bailout of unscrupulous businesspeople.

Molly worked hard to portray the "60 Minutes" program as grandstanding on my part. Nothing could be further from the truth. We did not contact "60 Minutes." They contacted us.

I do not agree with Ms. Ivins' attempt at humor by insulting the Hispanic culture. She quoted what she thought was a funny racist statement by another entertainer. Attributing a quote to someone else does not give her license nor acquit her of insulting other cultures.

Just for the record, "60 Minutes" told the truth; Molly Ivins did not.

Molly Ivins is a columnist for the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. Copyright 1995 Creators Syndicate, Inc.