Off the Desk:
Ask and ye shall receive. Austin Interfaith, a political lobbying organization of congregations throughout the city, made a push during the council election season for each candidate to commit to finding $50,000 in funding for the group's English as a Second Language classes. Despite offending Interfaith members on the campaign trail when he refused to answer their questions, and even though he failed to get reelected, Councilmember Eric Mitchell made good on one of the only campaign promises he made during his run. He sponsored a resolution to find the money for Interfaith out of the 1998 CDBG budget, and the measure passed unchallenged at last week's council meeting... - K.V.
"I was so pissed off I could eat dirt. Man it makes me sick every time I think about it." - Jim Bob Moffett, discussing the fraud at the Busang mine, in the June 9 issue of Fortune magazine... - R.B.
Texas Clean Air activists are singing their lungs out over the state Lege's decision to pull the financial plug on companies that burn waste tires for fuel. Senate Bill 1586 went up in smoke in the House Environmental Regs Committee, despite some lawmakers' fierce determination to keep the bill - and the Waste Tire Recycling Program - alive, according to Susan Pitman of the American Lung Association. Burning tires in cement kilns was an important element of SB 1586, despite protests from citizens. What to do with massive piles of old tires across the state has perplexed Texas lawmakers for years. First they decided to pay folks to collect and shred the things. Then there were piles and piles of tire shreds. So legislators decided to pay cement kiln operators to burn the tires, which meant less money for the tire shredders, who didn't exactly fancy getting shortchanged on the deal. Now it looks like we're back to square one with the question of what to do with all those tires. - A.S
When Lt. Gov. Bob Bullock delivered his emotional retirement speech last week, you could almost hear the scrambling of others wanting to take his spot. Amid the daubing of teary eyes and congratulations being extended by Bullock's friends and well-wishers, there was also the notable smell of money, one aspect of Bullock's resignation that hasn't been widely discussed. With nearly $3 million now in the bank, Bullock - even in retirement - has the power to be a kingmaker. Who he favors with his war chest may determine the outcome of next year's race for his seat. And it could determine several other races as well.
And what about General Land Office Commissioner Garry Mauro? With Sharp running for lieutenant governor, Mauro has few choices but to run for governor, but he isn't quite ready to say so. On Monday, he held a press conference hyping his new book Beaches, Bureaucrats and Big Oil. And he's going to promote it during an 85 city tour. But remember, he's not running for governor. At least not yet.
Even if he does, Mauro will likely have to raise - by his own estimate - $15 to 20 million to run a viable race. And that could be difficult if he, not Bullock, is leading the Democratic ticket. And that doesn't answer the question of whether Mauro can actually beat Bush. Says one capitol insider of Mauro: "He's meat."
As for Rick Perry, who also wants Bullock's seat, he may be able to ride Bush's coattails. But Perry is coming from the Ag Commissioner's job and he doesn't have as much legislative experience as Sharp. In addition, Perry will have a harder time garnering the support of GOP senators than Sharp did of corralling the Democrats in the Senate. Several GOP senators, including Bill Ratliff of Mt. Pleasant, are thinking of running for Bullock's seat.
Now for Bullock himself: There won't be another like him for a long time. Who else would be crazy enough to stay in state government for four decades? And there are very few polticians who can claim over that long of a time period to have never lost an election. But Bullock never did. During his speech, Bullock insisted he won't write an autobiography. And he won't work with anyone on a biography. It's too bad. Bullock's life, which has been marked by dramatic excesses and successes, would make a great story. - R.B.
Salamander Live Shot
In Austin, separating music from politics has always been like separating the cart from the horse. It didn't get any easier at the Save Our Springs Coalition's seventh anniversary party at La Zona Rosa Friday night, especially with all the mud from the levee-bending rains. In fact, you might have been mistaken if rain is what you thought that tap-tap-tap noise was. If it was coming from behind the Austin Music Hall, it could have been a bunch of people patting themselves on the back.
Boy, this was a happy crowd of folks. They left all the mud from the weather and the recent campaign outside. They had plenty of reason to celebrate: not only the roof over their heads, but the previous Saturday's elections that swung the balance of power squarely in their favor. Old-timers reminisced about the past seven years of battles in which the mighty greens successfully beat back the evil infidel barbarian horde of developers who wanted to turn the sacred Barton Creek watershed into a subdivision. That night over a thousand people stayed until the wee hours, flying the flag of the Barton Creek Salamander - available on
T-shirts at about $12 a pop (and if you buy a shirt, tonight only, you're also on the mailing list). Plus there was a full bar and Jimmie Dale Gilmore, Shawn Colvin, Ana Egge, and special guests (ubiquitous at events of this nature) Joe Ely and Hal Ketchum. Not bad, even if everything but the stage equipment - every bad KGSR/KUT/KOOP, Shiner-drinkin', four-wheel-drivin', South Austin/West Austin/UT enviro-progresso-hippie-yuppie cliché there ever was, complete with bumper stickers and a rubber salamander - floated down the street. It rained a lot.
Leading the armada and first on the mike was Place 5 victor Bill Spelman, who introduced Gilmore after saying "There were two reasons I moved to Austin: the music and the water." Once he said that, since there was enough water to go around, the music really took over. Gilmore's "Another Colorado" was apropos of the cause, but he said "I don't know too many water songs." So he substituted "Tonight I Think I'm Gonna Go Downtown," "My Mind's Got a Mind of Its Own," "Just a Wave" (another water song), plus maybe half a dozen more and sure enough, nobody complained a whit.
After brief speeches by Mayor-elect Kirk Watson and Place 6 winner Willie Lewis of the thank-you-and-glad-to-be-here variety, Gilmore welcomed old Lubbock crony Joe Ely onstage for something that, like the Ketchum-Colvin and Egge-Colvin-Gilmore permutations that came later, could have been a KGSR Star Set, complete with Townes Van Zandt's "White Freight Liner Blues." Gilmore said Townes could have been haunting the Zona that very night, and he probably was, but Townes wouldn't be signing up for no T-shirt. He'd be drinking beer, tuning his guitar. Politics is a good reason to throw a party, but music is what brings you out in the rain, when even the salamanders stay home. - C.G.
Nobody on council seemed eager to argue over councilmember Eric Mitchell's pet Central City Entertainment Center (CCEC), as approval for three contractors on the project flew through on the consent agenda last Thursday. Southwest Constructors, Inc. will oversee the demolition on the site to the tune of $928,153; Rosengarten, Smith and Associates will pocket $69,062 to handle the environmental site assessment; and Clovis Heimsath Architects are slated to receive $1,078,665 for the architectural planning of the center.
According to Ben Heimsath, Senior Designer for the architecture firm, however, nobody is getting rich off the project. "When it's all finished I'm going to be happy not to lose money on the deal. We've been doing a full court press on a very public project for three years. This has been a big project for too long," said Heimsath.
Apparently the council agrees. The money for the three contractors had already been allocated for these services in the 1994-95 Capital budget, highlighting just how slowly the CCEC has proceeded. Construction is tentatively set to begin December 1998. - K.V.
Full Court Press
The state's three biggest jock schools: The University of Texas, Texas Tech, and Texas A&M have declared that they are not subject to the provisions of SB 1419, the bill authored by Rep. Ron Wilson of Houston and Sen. Royce West of Dallas that would require those schools to use the same grade point average admissions standards for all incoming students, including athletes. The declaration by the schools, reported last week by the Associated Press, has the two Democrats readying for battle. Calling the three schools' contention "wishful thinking," Wilson said the schools use class rankings for admission and those rankings are based on grades. "We will be in court because it does apply to them," he said.
Wilson's bill comes at an interesting time for UT and A&M. UT just began work on an
$88 million expansion and renovation of Royal-Memorial Stadium. A&M just began a
$30 million expansion of Kyle Field and will soon complete work on a new $32 million fieldhouse. Wilson says the spending shows the schools "have misplaced priorities" and that they should be worrying about educating athletes, not "building a better bleacher."
Finally, Wilson says the fight over his legislation is just beginning. If the state schools do not follow the "letter and spirit" of the bill, he said he and West will ask black and Hispanic athletes to boycott Texas schools. And he added that athletic directors at state-supported universities "can rest assured that the eyes of Texas are upon them." - R.B.