The Last Don

Bob Bullock: The Crusty Boss of Texas Politics

Writing about Bob Bullock bears an unnerving resemblance to reporting a story on a Mafia don. Everyone has an anecdote, a legend, or an opinion about Bullock, but very few people want to be quoted.

The Democratic Lieutenant Governor, who began his political career in 1957 (the same year the Soviets launched Sputnik), is the most powerful -- and most feared -- politician in Texas. His longevity, volatile temper, encyclopedic knowledge of state issues, and long list of highly placed friends and former employees give Bullock an almost mythic stature. And while Bullock and his supporters will take issue with the mobster analogy, in this era he has become -- choose whatever metaphor you like -- the patrón, the godfather, the boss, of Texas politics. Anyone who wants to get something through the Texas Legislature must deal with Bob Bullock.

Yet, as the 75th Legislature convenes, there are signs that Bullock's power may be waning. The most obvious omen is the ascent of the Republican Party. For the first time since Reconstruction, Republicans hold a majority in the Senate. More personally, the 67-year-old lieutenant governor has begun to consider his own political legacy. In a poignant and telling moment after the funeral of former legislator Harry Whitworth two years ago, Bullock lamented the condition of the Texas State Cemetery and vowed to return it to its original glory. Under the circumstances, it was hard not to see a man looking towards his own final memorial.

Yet, at this moment, no other statewide elected official in Texas has Bullock's stature or power. Some of his power derives simply from his elected position as lieutenant governor, and thereby presiding officer of the Senate. Another aspect of his influence stems from his position as head of the Legislative Budget Board, where Bullock oversees the budgets of all state agencies and appropriates money when the Legislature is not in session. But perhaps his most important, yet least recognized, source of authority is the allegiance of dozens of former employees, who now work at all levels of government and the private sector. His former staffers seem omnipresent, many directing state agencies or wielding influence as lobbyists, lawyers, and consultants. It's a network that Dave McNeely of the Austin American-Statesman says "gives Bullock an information system to rival the Central Intelligence Agency."

The craggy curmudgeon from Hillsboro is also a political survivor. He has never lost an election, and despite two grand jury investigations into alleged wrongdoing, has never been indicted. And he's still a remarkably agile politician, capable of responding to the state's changing political landscape. His abrupt change of direction on tax policy demonstrates how fast Bullock can move. In March 1991, he advocated a state income tax, sticking to his guns despite taking a political beating. "I did what was right," he told a reporter four months after he came out for the tax. "There's no doubt in my mind." Yet only a year and half later, he personally pushed through the Senate a resolution enabling a constitutional amendment requiring voter approval of any statewide income tax. The amendment was adopted and later approved by the voters -- and Bob Bullock had single-handedly made it impossible for any Texas politician to do "what was right" for the foreseeable future.

By all accounts a driven, complex man, Bullock has a legion of admirers. "I think the reason he enjoys so much success," says one longtime Capitol lobbyist, "is that he really does care a lot about the state of Texas. I think because his motives are pure, that's why he enjoys the aura of influence." Similar statements would be made by more than a dozen other people -- yet, even though they were offering grandiose praise of Bullock, most asked that their names not be used. A darker side to Bullock's reputation explains why even his admirers are reluctant to talk. "I think the guy is absolutely brilliant," says another longtime lobbyist. "He's probably the smartest guy I've ever seen. But he's a paranoid, schizophrenic, manic-depressive."

In considering Bullock's character and career, one recurring question is how literally to interpret that admittedly exaggerated description. Bullock's reputation for political explosiveness extends to his private personality. He can be kind and engaging one moment, and a raging tyrant the next. One current staffer says, "there's a lot of paranoia and fear" in the atmosphere of Bullock's office.

His legendary temper has also created rocky relationships with other state officials -- although it is not clear how much of that reflects Bullock's character, how much is calculated. One example was his relationship with former Governor Ann Richards. Richards, herself a recovering alcoholic, had supported Bullock when he gave up drinking; but the two had an uneasy relationship during her term as governor, perhaps because they were still political rivals. Several sources recount an occasion in 1994, when Bullock invited Richards to his office only to scream at her over an issue that a former Richards aide says was of little consequence. "He was so furious that he was screaming at her, and she was dumbfounded," the aide said. "She couldn't understand the force of his anger or the velocity. It was completely out of the blue." The aide attributed the difficult relationship to Bullock's "animosity toward Richards, because Bullock thought she got press that he deserved... There appeared to be jealousy about who was in the spotlight."

Bullock is also said to despise Attorney General Dan Morales, and has reportedly had high-decibel disagreements during recent meetings over tax and finance issues with Comptroller John Sharp.

Altars, Hospitals, and "Drunk School"

Although Bullock the politician sometimes seems invincible, his personal life has been tumultuous and marked by dramatic excess.

He married for the first time in 1950, shortly before he joined the Air Force. He later married Austin realtor Amelia Bullock twice. In 1978, three months after Bullock's divorce from Amelia was finalized, he married Diane Burney, a Dallas socialite. Six months after that wedding, Bullock signed the divorce papers -- while lying in a hospital bed in Houston, where he was being treated for depression.

Two years later, he became romantically involved with one of his employees at the comptroller's office. He defended the relationship in an interview with the El Paso Times, saying, "Yeah, I'm single. Just because somebody works for me doesn't mean I can't date them."

In 1985, he married the former Jan Felts Teague, a striking blonde 20 years his junior. The current alliance has lasted, and seems happy and relatively untroubled, although Teague must inevitably endure the burdens of being a political spouse -- like the public displays of ritual affection. Bullock often cheerfully proclaims her presence at political functions with a practiced phrase, "Well, I may be deaf -- but you can see that I'm not blind."

The lieutenant governor may not be blind, but he has had more than a few other ailments. In fact, Bullock has spent more time in hospitals than Marcus Welby. In 1972 he went to Austin's Brackenridge Hospital initially for treatment of a kidney disorder. He left the hospital a few weeks later minus half of his right lung, from which surgeons had snipped several tumors. Six years later, he was hospitalized for severe depression and was placed on a suicide watch. Press reports at the time said Bullock was being treated with lithium to counteract manic-depressive tendencies.

In April of 1979, Bullock issued a sardonic statement to the Capitol press corps, inviting them to watch an operation on his hemorrhoids. A year after that, he had a heart attack. In 1983, he had surgery on a ruptured spinal disk. (That same year, he was ticketed for driving 106 miles per hour on I-35 near Georgetown in his new BMW.) In 1994, in the midst of a re-election campaign, he went into the hospital for heart bypass surgery. Only a year ago, he broke his wrist while hunting. While recuperating from that injury, he was hospitalized for pneumonia.

Bullock has displayed a stoic sense of humor about his recurrent health problems. In the late Seventies, between numerous trips by their boss to the hospital, Bullock's aides began issuing press statements that began, "If still alive, Comptroller Bob Bullock will address..." His best line came shortly after his lung surgery when he told a reporter, "I'd like just one cigarette -- 60 miles long and thick as a garden hose."

Until he stopped drinking, Bullock favored Old Charter bourbon. In 1978, he was arrested by the Austin Police Department and charged with driving while intoxicated. Bullock joked the next morning with reporters, telling them that he had been drinking "apple juice" that had "been fermented 34 years." And, he reminded reporters, "a charge is not a conviction." Represented by Austin's attorney to the stars, Roy Minton, Bullock eventually pled guilty to the charge and received a year-long probation. In 1979, after he had rear-ended a pickup truck, Bullock told Austin police officers he had had "a couple of drinks." The American-Statesman reported that the officer "smelled liquor on Bullock's breath but added that Bullock did not appear intoxicated."

On September 9, 1981, Austin police officers were called to a house near the Onion Creek Country Club to investigate what they thought was a hostage situation. Press reports said that a man armed with a handgun had been seen entering a taxicab near the house. A few minutes later, police stopped the cab in downtown Austin -- it contained Bullock, but no gun. Bullock was questioned at the police station but was not arrested. The American-Statesman quoted Austin Police Lieutenant Ernie Hinkle as saying, "Bullock had been drinking but was not drunk." Five days later, Bullock was admitted to Betty Ford's treatment center in California -- as he described it later, he had "enrolled in drunk school." It was literally a sobering moment for the hard-drinking womanizer, who often told friends, "You only get so many hard-ons in life, it's a shame to waste any of them."

Today, Bullock says he is embarrassed by his past. "Those were some sad times," he said. "Sad times for my family, for my children... those divorces were very sad. And the excess drinking was a real low point. I hit rock bottom."

The years of drinking and smoking are clearly catching up to Bullock. He walks, talks and moves slowly. He wears a hearing aid in his left ear, and he often cups one or both ears during conversations. His breathing has the rapid, shallow rhythm that characterizes emphysema patients. But like many lifetime cigarette smokers, despite quitting many times, he can't quite kick the habit.

Yet, far from diminishing his aura, Bullock's maladies have only seemed to add to his heroic mystique.

The New Regime

Before last fall's landmark election, as the head of the Senate and leader of an inevitable Democratic majority, Bullock expected unquestioning allegiance from both sides of the aisle. Until this year, he got it. Last session, he exercised what one observer called "almost absolute control of the Senate." This session promises to be different, although to what degree is not yet certain. An invigorated Republican Party, which in Bullock's first session held less than one-third of the Senate's seats, now has a majority.

Bullock has shown signs that he is willing to relinquish some of his power. He has given the prize committee chairs to the GOP -- Republicans lead the Senate's Finance, Economic Development, Education, and Natural Resources committees. In all, Republican senators will chair six of the 15 Senate committees this session.

The day after the November 5 election, Bullock put on a conciliatory face when four key Republican senators -- Teel Bivins of Amarillo, Buster Brown of Lake Jackson, David Sibley of Waco, and Bill Ratliff of Mount Pleasant -- met with him in his office. According to published reports, Bullock asked the four GOP leaders what they wanted and they responded. But the next day, in a speech that drew headlines across the state, Bullock told the Texas Civil Justice League the Republicans were too greedy about committee assignments, and dismissed their demands profanely, saying the Republicans "can just all go to hell... They can kiss my butt."

Afterwards, both sides downplayed the conflict and by January 14, the first day of the session, GOP leaders were cautiously upbeat. "I wish there were more Republican committee chairs," said Sibley, who added that the GOP has majorities on almost all of the committees, and then noted, "We're not unhappy."

In the short term, the Republicans can afford to sound magnanimous. The makeup of the Senate, which Bivins says will foster an increasingly conservative GOP agenda, will inevitably diminish Bullock's influence, at least to pursue even a nominally Democratic agenda. The Republican majority, the first in the Senate since Reconstruction, combined with Bullock's advancing age and sometimes precarious health, make this a pivotal session for the Lieutenant Governor. While he's not in danger of losing his visible power immediately, a behind-the-scenes decline of his authority and effectiveness is increasingly likely. That would surely rankle Bullock -- many things do -- but there is apparently little he can do about it. Bullock has survived long enough to see Texas turn from a state controlled by rural, yellow-dog Democrats to one run by suburban, white Republicans.

The Political Legacy

Bullock was a central player in the state's most important policy debates long before he was elected lieutenant governor in 1990, and his managerial style in the Senate is obviously informed by the decade and a half he spent as an independently elected executive in the state comptroller's office. In the Senate, whether the issue was torts, tobacco, or taxes, Bullock managed the contending parties toward a compromise that he ultimately would approve; most of the negotiating on these issues was conducted behind closed doors. Prior to the 1993 session, for example, Bullock, a group of plaintiffs' lawyers, and members of the Texas Civil Justice League (a tort reform group headed by one of his former employees, Ralph Wayne) wrote a bill granting tobacco and alcohol companies immunity against citizens' lawsuits. Consumer groups argued that the bill was far too generous to the business interests represented by the Civil Justice League, but the bill passed the Senate by a vote of 31-0. Consumer representatives had been excluded from the negotiations, and both Ralph Nader and Joan Claybrook, the president of Public Citizen, tried in vain to persuade Governor Richards to veto the bill.

That move began a series of radically pro-business changes in the Texas civil justice system that are likely to continue. Invoking the perennial argument of the Lesser Evil, Tom "Smitty" Smith, state director of Public Citizen, says that Bullock's decision to push through the immunity bill may have helped prevent the passage of potentially worse legislation -- in the short term. But Smith added, "In retrospect, it was a mistake. It set the tone for the huge bites that were taken out of our civil justice system in 1995 and that we expect will be taken in this session."

During the same session, Bullock engineered passage of a bill that prevents foreigners from filing lawsuits in Texas. Known as the Alfaro Bill, the law gives judges broad powers to dismiss lawsuits that they determine could be tried in other states or countries. The measure had been eagerly supported by chemical companies wanting to limit their liability on a variety of products, including agricultural chemicals no longer legal for use in the United States. In 1990, Domingo Castro Alfaro, a Costa Rican farmworker, had filed a lawsuit in Houston against Shell Oil Company and Dow Chemical, alleging that DBCP, a pesticide manufactured by the two companies, had made him sterile and caused other ailments, also damaging the health of several hundred other farmworkers. (In 1977, after it was conclusively linked to sterility, domestic use of DBCP had been banned by the Environmental Protection Agency, but the companies continued to sell it abroad.) Shortly after Alfaro's suit was filed, the chemical companies appealed to the Texas Supreme Court, on the grounds of forum non conveniens, or "inconvenient court." But the Court ruled the case could continue. Writing the majority opinion, Justice Lloyd Doggett (now a Democratic Congressman from Austin) said the case had "nothing to do with fairness and convenience and everything to do with immunizing multinational corporations from accountability for their alleged torts causing injury abroad." In the wake of the Alfaro decision, Shell, Dow, Exxon, DuPont, and Texaco turned to the Legislature to amend Texas law to prevent foreign plaintiffs from filing any more suits in Texas courts. With Bullock's help, they accomplished their goal last session.

Bullock has also exerted considerable influence over the Texas Natural Resource Conservation Commission (TNRCC). The agency was created in 1993, combining the Texas Water Commission and the Texas Air Control Board. Within a few months of the consolidation, the agency was coming under fire from business interests -- apparently for doing its job. "The lobbyists were mad," recalls one source, a former high-ranking official at the TNRCC, because the agency was denying permits, for environmental reasons, to a number of commercial projects.

Bullock took matters into his own hands, reportedly taking John Hall (at the time, chairman of the TNRCC) to the woodshed. Although in a recent interview Hall denied that Bullock chewed him out, one person close to the situation says Bullock "could be heard yelling all the way down the hallway." Bullock's solution was quickly made apparent. Hall hired one of Bullock's former aides, Dan Pearson (a manager with no experience in environmental issues, but who had worked for 13 years in the comptroller's office) to become the TNRCC's executive director. "He didn't say he was a Bullock guy," says the former TNRCC official. "He didn't need to do that. Everyone knew it."

Since Pearson's appointment to the TNRCC, environmentalists and agency insiders have begun complaining that the agency, which now also includes TNRCC commissioners Governor Bush has appointed, is ignoring its legislative charge: the environment. The agency no longer conducts surprise inspections of industrial facilities, instead thoughtfully notifying facilities a week or two ahead of time that its inspectors will be on-site -- allowing potential violators to temporarily clean up their acts. In addition, enforcement of water quality laws has declined dramatically. A December 1996 study of the agency's enforcement actions for the past two years, done by the Austin-based Texas Center for Policy Studies, found a sharp drop in the dollar value of penalties assessed by the agency for violations of water and hazardous waste laws. The study also charged that the agency has failed to "systematically ensure that the penalties imposed reflect the economic benefit gained by the polluter in failing to comply with the law."

In addition, more than 80 community and environmental groups from around the state are protesting the TNRCC's efforts to limit public input and oversight of industry. In a Dec. 19, 1996 letter to Bullock, Bush, and House Speaker Pete Laney, the groups said the TNRCC has been acting like it has "been given a mandate to eliminate public participation and meaningful enforcement." The groups added that citizens have been "barred from meaningful participation in important decisions regarding pollution in their communities."

While Bullock's power has affected agencies like the TNRCC, his most lasting political legacy concerns the issue that threatens to consume the current legislative session: taxes. Much has thus far been made of the bipartisan cooperation that Bullock has shown with Governor Bush. Bullock has even gone out of his way to praise Bush, as on the first day of the legislative session, when he introduced him as "the great governor of Texas." Two weeks later, prior to Bush's State of the State address, Bullock introduced him as "his Excellency." But if only for pragmatic political reasons, Bush and Bullock are likely to part company when it comes to taxes. Bush is pushing hard for property tax reform this session, an issue that Bullock hasn't exactly embraced, perhaps because of his own bitter experience with the income tax issue.

Asked recently about property taxes, Bullock told reporters that he was only getting a handful of letters on the matter and that most of those were copies of letters sent to Bush. A few days later, he lobbed the tax issue directly back at Bush and the GOP, in a calculated maneuver that may create a tar-baby for the Republicans. In a letter to the members of the Senate, he said that if they wanted tax reform, they would have to restructure Texas' Byzantine school finance system. The three-sentence letter concluded, "This session you have an opportunity to eliminate recapture."

The GOP hates "recapture," the so-called "Robin Hood" system that takes property taxes from wealthy school districts and transfers them to poor districts. But after nearly two decades of highly contentious legal battles over school finance, recapture is the only plan that has proven acceptable to the courts and to the property-poor districts that prevailed in the Supreme Court. For the GOP to find a workable solution in the 140 days allotted to the Legislature will be a contentious, uphill battle -- and Bullock knows it. With that letter and subsequent press statements, Bullock has, for the moment at least, put Bush and the Republicans in the hotseat. They desperately want to be able to say they cut property taxes when they run in 1998 and 2000. But this time around, if they can't come up with a positive alternative to recapture that passes constitutional muster, they'll have no one to blame but themselves.

Money Matters

Bullock's power over legislation attracts money. While earning just $7,200 per year from the state, Bullock easily raises millions of dollars from individuals and political action committees in support of his political machine. That machine is headed by Tony Proffitt -- a former journalist and aide to Congressman Jake Pickle -- to whom Bullock pays $4,500 per month to act as gatekeeper, adviser, and chief political operator. Like many other Bullock employees, Proffitt has been fired several times. "We have had disagreements on policy," says Proffitt. "It's never affected our friendship." Proffitt, Dede Keith, and Leslie Vilas, another longtime Bullock operative, work full time at Bullock's campaign office.

In addition to his pittance as an elected official, Bullock collects a handsome salary -- $156,500 in 1993, the last year he filed his income tax return at the Texas Ethics Commission -- from the law firm of Scott Douglass Luton & McConnico. The Austin firm represents dozens of oil and insurance companies, who often have business before state agencies. The firm hired Bullock in February of 1992 to be "of counsel," although Bullock had not practiced law on a regular basis since leaving the attorney general's office in 1968. Neither Bullock nor members of the firm will reveal how much Bullock is currently being paid. "It's none of your business," says Bullock.

For many years, Bullock filed his personal income tax return with the Ethics Commission, even though it wasn't required. After he took the job with Scott Douglass, though, he stopped. When asked why, he said, "I filed it for years and other public officials weren't filing [theirs], so I just kind of quit filing."

Tom Albright, the firm's managing partner, declined to provide any specifics about Bullock's duties other than to say he "advises other lawyers on the staff. Our lawyers look to him for advice and counsel and we find him to be a very valuable resource in that regard. Beyond that, I don't want to get into specifics."

Albright would not say if Bullock has brought clients to the firm, if he has clients of his own, or how much time he actually spends at the firm. When asked if Bullock has made calls to state agencies on behalf of the firm's clients, Albright said, "I am not aware that he calls any state agencies on our behalf, and I don't know if anyone here asks him to. We have made every effort to avoid conflicts of interest of any kind. We don't ever ask the lieutenant governor to do anything that would be improper."

The salary from the firm helps support a lifestyle that, while not extravagant, is certainly comfortable. Bullock and his wife live in a West Austin home he bought in 1987, currently valued by the Travis County Appraisal District at $244,000. He also owns a 200-acre ranch in Llano County.

While his connections to the law firm raise some questions about his finances, in recent years Bullock has scrupulously avoided any potential legal questions with regard to state travel funds. Whenever Bullock travels, he uses one of the two airplanes he and his wife own. Even if the trip is for state business, he pays for it out of his political campaign account. Over the past two years, Bullock has spent more than $660,000 in political campaign money on the planes. But according to records obtained from the comptroller's office, Bullock has not asked the state to reimburse him for the use of his aircraft at any time over the past four years.

Bullock's campaign leases the planes from him and his wife through a corporation the couple created in January of 1993, called JFB-RDB Inc. The two airplanes, a Beechcraft B-100 and a Cessna 310, have a combined value of nearly $1 million. The campaign pays for all the maintenance and upkeep on the planes. And according to statements filed at the Texas Ethics Commission, the campaign paid JFB-RDB $77,705 in lease payments on the planes in 1996. When asked if he makes any money on the deal, Bullock said, "Not a penny."

He defends the arrangement, saying, "I started in the airplane business because of the grand jury investigation in 1979. I don't think there's anything wrong at all with using campaign money for transportation that otherwise would have to be paid for by Texas."

While Bullock may be saving the state money on travel, he is also using his political position to build equity in an asset that he owns. He may not make any money off the planes right now, but they are not costing him anything either. So he gets to own two planes that may appreciate in value while having his campaign pay all of the expenses. And if and when he decides to sell the planes, he could make a substantial profit.

And of course, campaign money does not fall from the sky; it is donated by contributors who inevitably have interests in state policies over which Bullock exercises heavy influence.

Keeping the planes, Proffitt, and the campaign office costs a lot of money: $1.2 million in both 1995 and 1996. But Bullock raises lots of money. Since January 1, 1995, his campaign has run a surplus: According to Bullock's filings with the Texas Ethics Commission, his campaign currently has nearly $3 million in cash on hand. In the last six months of 1996 alone, Bullock raised $2.47 million, nearly a third of which came in donations of $10,000 or more.

Much of Bullock's money has come from wealthy donors and political action committees. In 1994, while running for re-election, Bullock got $100,000 from Dallas-area developer Daniel Robinowitz, who owns interests in casinos in New Orleans and Colorado. Robinowitz, who also gave $105,000 to former Governor Richards, told The Dallas Morning News that he gave money to Bullock because he is a "stabilizing" force in Texas. Robinowitz added that in the casino debate, he would oppose gambling in Texas -- because casinos here would compete against the casino he was building in New Orleans. Four days after Robinowitz told the Morning News of his opposition, Bullock told the Austin American-Statesman, "I personally oppose gambling. I don't believe that casino gambling represents the future of Texas." (Last session, Bullock had a highly publicized run-in with casino lobbyists who tried to push a bill through the Senate without lining up the necessary votes. Bullock, never one to waste the Senate's time, angrily confronted the lobbyists and declared their bill dead for the session. "I've got a long-term memory," he said later.)

In 1996, Bullock raised hundreds of thousands of dollars from political action committees. The Texas State Teachers Association PAC gave him $35,000. The Texas Auto Dealers Association PAC gave him $25,000. The Texans for Lawsuit Reform Fund gave him $23,700. Bullock got $10,000 checks from numerous PACs associated with large law firms, including Fulbright & Jaworski, Baker & Botts, Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld, and Vinson & Elkins. Chicken magnate Lonnie "Bo" Pilgrim gave him $5,000 in 1996, as did Dallas billionaire Harold Simmons, Fort Worth billionaire Perry Bass, Dallas oilman and football tycoon Jerry Jones, and heavyweight Waco business economist Ray Perryman. And he got $10,000 each from San Antonio-based grocery store owner Charles Butt, Austin-based homebuilder Bill Milburn, New Orleans mining magnate Jim Bob Moffett, and Circle C developer Gary Bradley.

But the cost of his political machine and the big-time money that it attracts doesn't seem to bother him. When asked about the late Barbara Jordan's description of money in politics as "an obscenity," Bullock responded bluntly: "Did she take contributions? It's very expensive to run for public office."

Looking Backward

It's too soon to be writing Bob Bullock's political eulogy, but there seems no denying that the Lieutenant Governor has entered the twilight of his career. Unless Bush runs for -- and wins -- the presidency, Bullock has likely missed whatever chance he had of becoming governor of Texas, a position he once said he has wanted "since the day I was born." Several times he has announced for governor, only to pull out a few weeks or months later. Now, even if he wanted to run for governor, his health might not permit it.

In what may be a bit of sour grapes, Bullock now says he no longer wants to be governor. "Shit, that'd be the worst day of my life," he said, shaking his head and lighting another cigarette. "I like my privacy. I like to go home. I don't want to go home and have the DPS sitting around with a bunch of pistols on, and looking at me like a mule looks at a new gate, wanting to know where I'm goin' and what I'm going to do... I don't want that kind of life."

Governor Bush with his Lieutenant, Bob Bullock
He hasn't yet said if he will run for re-election in 1998. He certainly has the money to mount a campaign. But increasingly, he seems to be focusing more on his legacy than on his political future. He has begun talking about a state museum, where Texas could display the various treaties, artifacts, and paraphernalia collected over the past century and a half. "We neglect, in my opinion, having an adequate place to display the real treasures of this state," he says.

And since the funeral of Harry Whitworth, he's been working on the rehabilitation of the state cemetery. After the funeral, Bullock's staff met with the Texas Department of Transportation, General Services Commission, and other agencies; within a few months, money for an overhaul was provided, and Bullock immediately began flogging his staff. One staffer, Wardaleen Belvin, who now works at the Texas Tomorrow Fund, recalls Bullock saying several times, "I'll be dead by the time you get that completed."

When they do finally lower the last Texas don into his grave -- which will lie about halfway between that of Stephen F. Austin and John B. Connally, a man Bullock detested -- the restless, crusty, get-it-done politician from Hillsboro will likely have a good laugh. He will be able to look to his left and see the new pond, behind which lies a new visitors' center, built to resemble a long house at the Alamo. To his right will be the new Plaza of Memories, a large circular area enclosed by large limestone blocks and newly-planted trees. Peering past his toes, he will see the headstones of several hundred Confederate soldiers, all newly cleaned and lined up razor-straight. And when at last, Bullock lingers long enough to look upward, he will get a glimpse of the newly-trimmed trees and he will likely get the biggest laugh of all.

Because, for all the work surrounding his final resting place, Texans only paid 20% of the
$4.7 million bill. The rest came from the Intermodal Surface Transportation Efficiency Act, a federal program administered by the U.S. Department of Transportation, designed to help move people more efficiently along the federal highway system -- not to trim the trees above dead Texas politicians. But the don wanted it done, and so it was.

But then, that has always been Bullock's trademark: Right or wrong, he has made government work. He didn't always follow the rules. He flagrantly broke some of them. But he got the trees trimmed.

Editor's Note: This story first ran in the January 31 issue of The Texas Observer.

Got something to say? The Chronicle welcomes opinion pieces on any topic from the community. Submit yours now at

A note to readers: Bold and uncensored, The Austin Chronicle has been Austin’s independent news source for over 40 years, expressing the community’s political and environmental concerns and supporting its active cultural scene. Now more than ever, we need your support to continue supplying Austin with independent, free press. If real news is important to you, please consider making a donation of $5, $10 or whatever you can afford, to help keep our journalism on stands.

Support the Chronicle  

More by Robert Bryce
If More CO<sub>2</sub> Is Bad ... Then What?
If More CO2 Is Bad ... Then What?
The need to reduce emissions collides head-on with the growing world demand for energy

Dec. 7, 2007

'I Am Sullied – No More'
'I Am Sullied – No More'
Col. Ted Westhusing chose death over dishonor in Iraq

April 27, 2007

One click gets you all the newsletters listed below

Breaking news, arts coverage, and daily events

Keep up with happenings around town

Kevin Curtin's bimonthly cannabis musings

Austin's queerest news and events

All questions answered (satisfaction not guaranteed)

Information is power. Support the free press, so we can support Austin.   Support the Chronicle