Molly Ivins February 18
AUSTIN, Texas — Admit it. You've been dying to find out, haven't you? What are they up to in the Texas Lege this year?
House Bill 727 by Rep. Bob Turner, D-Voss, establishes the bison by amending the Agriculture Code as follows: "bison are wild animals and indigenous to this state; they are distinct from cattle, livestock, exotic livestock and game animals, and they may be raised either for commercial purposes or for the purpose of preserving the bison species." The effect of this bill would be to recognize the bison.
Artists, however, are about to be unrecognized courtesy of Rep. Jim Pitts, R-Waxahachie, in HB 1216. It amends the Occupations Code by defining artists as either actors or models, eliminating musician, musical director, writer, cinematographer, composer, lyricist or arranger of musical composition. The bill also eliminates "Other," something we have all wanted to do from time to time.
Incidentally, the Occupation Code does not appear to list the occupation of artificially inseminating cows, an honorable calling. Perhaps Turner will sponsor a bill.
According to The Texas Observer, we have some new days coming up:
— "Prayer Day," by Rep. Mary Denney, R-Aubrey, will make the first Thursday in May especially holy.
— Rep. Susanna Gratia Hupp, R-Lampasas, the ferocious gun advocate, is sponsoring a bill to make Sept. 25 "Bill of Rights Day." You might mistake this for a project of the Civil Liberties Union, but you would be wrong.
Hupp wants "appropriate programs in the schools and other public places" to inspire a greater appreciation and understanding of ... the Bill of Rights." She means the Second Amendment; we're talking Gun Day in the schools.
HJR (that's a Joint Resolution) 14 by Rep. Barry Telford, D-Texarkana, would amend the state constitution to include the right to hunt and fish. You may not have been aware that the right to hunt and fish has not, heretofore, been constitutionally protected in Texas. I will defend to the death your right to hunt and fish, but do we have to put this in the constitution?
And now for something useful: Sam Kinch Jr. and Anne-Marie Kilday, both veteran Texas journalists, have written a powerful but easy-reading little book called "Too Much Money Is Not Enough: Big Money and Political Power in Texas." It is published by Campaigns for People and distributed by Little Leaf Press.
It's about the way the system works.
Former Sen. Babe Schwartz of Galveston said of Dick Weekly, head of Texans for Lawsuit Reform, the anti-trial lawyer lobby: "When Weekly gives $100,000 to a senator ... that senator doesn't have a vote anymore ... Weekly has a vote. Anybody who accepts $100,000 from a PAC belongs, body and soul, to that PAC."
You will not be surprised to learn that the top PAC donors in Texas in 1998 were Texans for Lawsuit Reform ($1 million); Vinson & Elkins, the Houston law firm with the golden corporate client list; the Texas Automobile Dealers Association; Southwestern Bell; and the Texas Association of Realtors.
In 20 years, the cost of statewide and legislative races has quintupled, to $121 million, and half of that comes from the same 629 people or PACs who give more than $25,000 each cycle. House members raise 80 percent of their money from outside their districts.
The long, hard work of undoing the influence of money on politics is still in its nascent stage here. House Speaker Pete Laney has made it one of his priorities this session, and since Texas is the Wild Frontier of campaign financing, any reform, no matter how modest, will help.
But ultimately, we are going to realize that the only way to make representative democracy work is through public campaign financing. The people will have to pay for political campaigns so that when folks get elected, they don't owe anyone but us.
The extent of the corruption of the system by big money is blindingly obvious and of course closely tied to the fact that so few people vote. I sometimes think that the hardest part of campaign finance reform is just convincing people that it can be done. There sure are a lot of discouraged Americans around.
Actually, campaign finance reform was on a roll, having won every time it showed up on a ballot, until this last election. Business interests, seeing their franchise on the statehouses in danger, started putting big money into defeating reform. Well, we'll just have to try harder.
Molly Ivins is a columnist for the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. To find out more about Molly Ivins and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate web page at www.creators.com.
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