TERRORISM COMES HOME: On April 28, Sam Hamilton, the state administrator of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS), left his job after receiving numerous death threats, he alleges, from property rights activists. Threats were also made against Hamilton's wife and children.
"He could take the heat," says one FWS employee. "But it got too personal and too nasty." On the job in Austin for about three years, Hamilton was a friendly man. But he didn't make any friends among the anti-environmentalists. Yet the chief property-rights booster, Marshall Kuykendall, the head of Take Back Texas, calls Hamilton's allegations of death threats "a damn lie."
Kuykendall, the most strident leader of the anti-environmental groups, has referred to Hamilton in the past as "a thief." In a brief phone interview last week, Kuykendall said Hamilton was "not leaving because he had death threats. He's leaving because he couldn't do his job. And he couldn't do his job because we have private property here in Texas."
The threats against Hamilton are the latest incident in what appears to be an increasingly militant anti-government crusade. Over the past two years, offices of the U.S. Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management in Nevada were bombed. FWS law enforcement officers in Idaho were recently threatened not by property-rights advocates, but by a local sheriff.
Many of the property-rights advocates, like the right-wing militia groups, are strident opponents of gun control. However, Kuykendall refuses to believe that any of his followers threatened Hamilton. He says the story was "cooked up by folks in the media."
FWS officials say Hamilton's position will probably not be filled. Rather, Jana Grote, the acting field supervisor, will take part of Hamilton's job. Regional officials from the Albuquerque office of FWS will pick up the rest of the slack. Grote says she herself has received threats on a sporadic basis. Now that she is the head of the Austin office, does she worry about her own safety? "It's always a concern," she says. - R.B.
MAYORAL BATTLES MAKE HISTORY IN DALLAS; FORCE RUNOFF IN SAN ANTONIO: Austin voters were spared a municipal election this year, but local elections were held in many Texas cities on Saturday, May 6. In San Antonio, heavily favored mayoral candidate Bill Thornton was forced into a runoff by political maverick Kay Turner. The two led a field of six in the race to replace popular Nelson Wolff, who can't run again because of term limits. Thornton led with 49% of the vote, to Turner's 43%, and was only 68 votes short of winning outright. But it wasn't supposed to be nearly that close.
Thornton is a blatantly pro-developer councilmember who has the support of most of the city's big business establishment. Earlier this year, he led the failed charge to weaken a historic aquifer water quality ordinance that was eventually passed unanimously by the council. Turner, on the other hand, is a long-time activist who was a leader in last year's trouncing of the Applewhite Reservoir proposal.
Thornton has outspent Turner almost 20-1 in this race; as of the May 1 contribution reporting deadline, he had spent $576,000, compared to only $31,000 spent by Turner.
San Antonio City Clerk Norma Rodriguez announced that there would be a re-count because of potential voting irregularities. Turner says Rodriguez and Thornton are allies, and that she would be suspicious of any re-count. Rodriguez, however, claims suspicions are unfounded and inappropriate.
In the San Antonio city council races, all incumbents won handily, except for westside Councilmember Helen Ayala, who has a big lead going into a runoff. Councilmember Howard Peak, the council leader on the aquifer ordinance, faced an aggressive challenge but won 71% of the vote.
San Antonio's daily newspaper, the Express-News, played the mayoral results as a "message of anger" from voters. In stark contrast to Austin's daily paper, Express-News columnists offered blunt analysis of the contents of the angry message. Carlos Guerra's morning-after report began: "I guess you heard that a totally unexpected thing happened to Bill Thornton - and all the well-connected backers who contributed hundreds of thousands to his campaign... Thornton - and his backers - ran into Kay Turner and all those pesky people who opposed one or both of the Applewhite initiatives."
Guerra went on to say he was not surprised at the vote, because of sentiment expressed by voters at his precinct. After reporting on an informal poll won handily by Turner, Guerra quoted one gentlemen at length: "I'm just tired of all these people who run to make more money for some real estate developer. They don't care what it does to the city, what it does to the water... They don't care what it does to anything except what it does for them... I am going to go out of my way to vote for whoever is against them."
Thornton is still a heavy favorite in the May 30 runoff, but victory is by no means assured. A lot will depend on the nature and strategy of Turner's runoff campaign.
Meanwhile in Dallas, Austin native Ron Kirk made history by becoming that city's first black mayor. Kirk, who grew up in East Austin and served as Texas Secretary of State under Governor Ann Richards, defeated nine rivals to win the job with 62% of the vote. His nearest rival, attorney Darrell Jordan, had 24%. Kirk ran on a platform of stopping "the blame game" and ending the "senseless bickering" at city hall. He vowed to cut through polarizing rhetoric and get down to solving the city's problems.
Kirk played down the racial significance of his victory, pointing out that he won support throughout the city. Of Dallas' 14 single-member council districts, Kirk won in all seven that are predominately white, and all five that are predominately African-American. Mayor Pro Tem Domingo Garcia carried the two predominately Mexican-American districts, finishing third with 13%. According to the Dallas Morning News,black turnout was a record 25%. Kirk won 97% of that vote, 42% of the white vote, and 14% of the Hispanic vote. - D.S.
THE HUNGER: Local minister Charles Moore ended a two-week fast last weekend when he received word that participants in a recent international United Methodist bishops conference in Austin issued a statement expressing "concern" for the mistreatment of gays and lesbians.
Moore, the 60-year-old pastor of Austin's Grace United Methodist Church, sent a one-page missive to the bishops, urging them to "declare your concern for homosexual persons... and to call for the removal of all language in the United Methodist documents which discriminates against anyone because of their sexual orientation."
The bishops' response, while not all that Moore asked for, encouraged his supporters. "It was probably the best we could have hoped for," says Jim Rigby, minister at the St. Andrews Presbyterian Church, just south of Pflugerville. "The hope was that they would start to talk about it. There's still a lot of work to be done."
At issue is language in the denomination's Book of Discipline which states that homosexuality is "incompatible with Christian teaching." To the contrary, Moore says, he has anguished over the years at how the church treats gay people. He lists in his statement "a gifted organist, married to cover his true sexuality, beaten senseless in a bar, dismissed without a word; a talented man working among the poor, slapped and humiliated in the presence of his peers on suspicion of homosexuality; a seminary classmate and fellow pastor, openly admitting his sexual orientation, driven out of the ministry to become a church janitor." Moore declares that, by his silence, he helped to perpetuate mistreatment of gays and lesbians, and vows to do so no more.
"It is too late for most that I have mentioned to hear me, but it is certainly not too early to remove the stigma that homosexual persons still face in the church," he writes.
Delegates to the 1992 United Methodist general conference voted to retain the discriminatory language by a more than 3-1 margin. The next conference is set for 1996. - A.B.
BRINGING UP THE REAR: The Institute for Southern Studies in Durham, N.C., recently completed a study showing that states with the most progress in environmental protection have the healthiest economies. According to their findings, Hawaii and Vermont hold the top two spots among all 50 states in both categories. Texas, on the other hand, was listed among the bottom ten states for both economic progress (40th) and environmental protections (49th). Louisiana had the honor of coming in last in both.
The environmental criteria include toxic emissions, pesticide use, energy consumption, and spending for natural resource protection. The economic criteria include average income, jobs, business start-ups, and workplace injuries. - L.C.B.