The Alfaro Case

Doggett with Erin Hall and Jeanne Starzel of the Texas Chapter of the American Cancer Society

photograph by Charles Steck

Answer No. 3: Dow Chemical and Shell Oil Company jointly manufacture a pesticide called DBCP, which has the noteworthy side effect of rendering sterile the men and women who are exposed to it. Banned in the U.S. since 1977, DBCP is still sold worldwide, including in Costa Rica, where lives Domingo Castro Alfaro, who in 1990, on behalf of himself and several hundred other injured farmworkers, filed a civil suit against the two Texas-based chemical concerns -- in Harris County District Court.

The prospect of facing trial in Texas on charges relating to their activities abroad did not make Dow or Shell, or most of the other Gulf Coast chemical giants, very happy, so they challenged Alfaro's right to sue all the way to the state Supreme Court. They lost, due to an opinion written by then-Justice Lloyd Doggett, holding that the Dow/Shell argument "had everything to do with immunizing multinational corporations from accountability." The chemical companies had the last laugh, though; in 1995, they prevailed upon outgoing Lt. Gov. Bob Bullock to push through legislation, known as the Alfaro Act, that prevents foreigners from filing suit in the Texas courts.

The Alfaro case, Doggett says, got him engaged in the abuses of multinationals, which led him to what is now his biggest single issue and the focus of his first passed legislation -- the international activities of Big Tobacco. The Doggett Amendment, attached to the 1995 appropriations bill for the Departments of Commerce and State, prohibits U.S. embassy or trade personnel from helping to market tobacco in foreign countries. Similar legislation to permanently ban the practice has apparently stalled in the 105th Congress, along with comprehensive tobacco legislation in general, but Lloyd is in no mood to give up.

Whatever one thinks of the latter-day federal craze to punish tobacco companies and criminalize tobacco use, it's hard to argue with Doggett's rationale. Big Tobacco's international market share has exploded in recent years, pushed along by corporate tactics that skirt, and often openly flout, the laws in foreign countries about tobacco advertising, marketing, and health warnings, which are in many places much stricter than anything in the U.S. And diplomats and trade reps have regularly been as eager to open foreign markets to Philip Morris as to General Motors, while turning a blind eye to even the most egregious abuses.

"I do think tobacco is a major killer, and when I was new here [in Congress], knowing other members had already established themselves as leaders on the issue, I looked for an aspect of the issue that I could make my own," Doggett says. "And I saw the international marketing of tobacco as an issue that was serious and not being addressed. It hasn't generated a lot of cards and letters from Austin, but I think it's in Austin's interest."

In this past Congress, tobacco was one of two big issues where Doggett has been on the front lines. The other is campaign finance reform, which many observers (including this reporter) have suspected for years could be Doggett's Achilles' heel. Just as he was in the Texas Senate, Doggett is seen as a "reform" legislator on Capitol Hill, crusading against Newt Gingrich's ethical transgressions, lobbyist gifts to members of Congress, and the pernicious influence of money in campaigns.

But the irony is, Lloyd Doggett is one of the most successful players in the money-driven system we now have, routinely in the upper echelons of well-funded candidates (on top of a personal net worth of several million dollars). In 1994, running against Jo Baylor, Doggett pulled in more money -- nearly a million bucks -- in individual donations (mostly from his fellow trial lawyers) than any other open-seat candidate in the nation; in 1996, despite a six-to-one funding edge over Teresa Doggett, Lloyd held a big-ticket fundraiser, featuring Ann Richards, at the Shoreline Grill on Election Day itself.

This last move was dubbed "reprehensible" by Public Citizen Texas director Tom "Smitty" Smith, but the national reform lobby takes a more sanguine view of such apparent hypocrisies. In the words of Common Cause executive director Ann McBride, members like Doggett "are willing to work against their own interest and in the public interest" for pressing for reforms in the system they've mastered. "They deserve to be commended, not criticized, for their efforts."

Doggett points to two wellsprings for his aggressive fundraising efforts. One is the memory of his 1984 U.S. Senate race against Phil Gramm, where Lloyd's $5.3 million war chest -- an enormous sum at the time -- was only half that of the then-congressman from College Station. "It was an incredible amount of work to raise that much money," he says. "It may have been the hardest thing I've ever done."

The other impetus is a more local fear. "I'm in a system that doesn't work, that produces bad results, that I don't like, but I need to be able to survive in it," he says. "I know that some day, someone in Austin will get their high-tech startup bought out, end up with more money than sense, and decide that it would be fun to be a congressman, and run for my seat. And I want to be ready."

Maybe so, but the immediate political winds in Austin seem to be blowing elsewhere -- witness our draconian, controversial, and now-overturned local campaign finance ordinance. Doggett, though he claims to "not like to take sides in local issues," freely opposed that one on constitutional grounds. Still he doesn't see himself as being particularly vulnerable on the subject. "It's possible that I will face an opponent who makes a strong reform case that I'm part of the problem, but I think the greater risk is that someone will come along with greater resources and no interest in reform. Having made reform such a central part of my agenda, I'll already have been more for anything any opponent might be for."

Obviously, it is possible to run on Lloyd Doggett's left, unlikely though it may be. This is, after all, a rep who supported welfare reform, the unconstitutional Defense of Marriage Act, the Telecom Act of 1996 with its noxious decency provisions, and the recent bankruptcy bill, as well as H1-B, NAFTA, GATT, and fast-track. All the clean-water and pro-choice votes in the world would likely not depress the lingering suspicions of the hard-core Austin left -- who, you may have noticed, votes, swings elections, and knows how politics works -- that Doggett may not be quite as pure as a previous generation of progressives thinks.

But it's also true, as Doggett points out, that "one can argue that Austin has become more progressive over the years, but that's not readily apparent in Pflugerville. There simply aren't any Democratic powerbrokers in Texas anymore, and in Travis County there's no rigid party affiliation, especially among newcomers. Progressives in Austin tend to focus too much on the central city and the traditional Democratic constituencies, and not on the periphery and newcomers, who are as strong on quality-of-life issues as anyone else -- you can't assume they're all right-wing Republicans. The high-tech folks talk about Austin not becoming another Silicon Valley, just as the natives talk about it not becoming another Houston."

Kent Hance

Doggett with Rita Haeker of the Austin Association of Teachers

photograph by Charles Steck

Answer #4: "Hance" is Kent Hance, the former Democratic congressman from Lubbock turned Republican Railroad Commissioner and failed 1990 gubernatorial candidate. Back in 1984, Hance and then-State Sen. Lloyd Doggett were expected to lose to former Rep. Bob Krueger (who had, six years earlier, come within 2,000 votes of unseating John Tower) in the Democratic primary for Tower's now-open seat. But after Hance attacked from the right and Lloyd from the left, the race ended up a dead heat -- until Hance blitzed the airwaves with ads outlining his opposition to amnesty for illegal aliens, a hot issue at the time.

This propelled Hance past Krueger, the favored candidate of most of South Texas, into a runoff with Doggett, and prompted the editorial cartoon captioned 'Hance won and had us deported.' As it turned out, Doggett won the runoff by less than 1,000 votes out of several million cast, prompting him to borrow from the LBJ legacy and dub himself "Landslide Lloyd." Of course, he went on to be trounced by Phil Gramm by nearly a million votes.

In a state full of dramatic political history, the 1984 U.S. Senate race is among the best stories, seemingly involving every known name in Texas politics. (Doggett's campaign consultants were James Carville and Paul Begala; Gramm's opponents in the Republican primary were Ron Paul and Rob Mosbacher; Hance's previous congressional opponent was young George W. Bush; and Krueger went on to a subsequent four-month U.S. Senate term and immolation at the hands of Kay Bailey Hutchison.) "It definitely changed my political life," says Doggett. "It was an extraordinary growing experience."

To date, this is the only election Doggett has ever lost, but his first attempt at statewide organization has left its mark on his current career. "When you go around the Texas [Democratic] delegation, I had a personal relationship with almost every member before I got here." While some of those bonds are with former Lege colleagues and fellow UT alums, others are with veterans of his '84 campaign. "Max Sandlin [from Texarkana] was my coordinator in East Texas; Ciro Rodriguez [from San Antonio] worked on the campaign there."

Of course, the '84 race also did great damage to Doggett's never-warm relationship with the Tory wing of the Texas Democratic Party, as embodied by folks like Krueger, Lloyd Bentsen, Bill Hobby, Mark White, and Gib Lewis. He had already alienated the bidness-as-usual crowd as leader of the storied Killer Bees in the Texas Senate -- whose celebrated disappearance from the Senate floor, engineered to deprive Hobby of a quorum, for four days in 1979 led to a citywide manhunt and a lot of mythmongering, and first propelled Lloyd into the attentions of national observers. (Leo Coco remembers getting a commemorative Killer Bee T-shirt from a friend in the Lege.)

Doggett's aggressive campaigning and victory, however narrow, in the 1984 primary proved, as the 1982 elections of Ann Richards, Jim Mattox, Garry Mauro, and Jim Hightower had suggested, that the Tory Democrats were themselves a foundering enterprise. Though conserva-moderate Dems like Pete Laney survive in the Lege, few new ones have emerged since '84 as credible statewide or congressional, let alone senatorial, candidates. (John Sharp, who was back then a colleague of Doggett's in the state Senate, is the notable exception.) Remember that even such a pro-bidness yellow-dog as Bob Bullock was, back in 1990, seen as a leftward departure from his predecessor Hobby. When Doggett got shellacked by Gramm, Tory fundraiser George Shipley opined that "the blood of the Texas Democrats is on Lloyd Doggett's hands."

The liberal takeover of the party, of which Doggett was the harbinger, does much to explain the current Texas GOP juggernaut, if only because the Tories (pioneered, of course, by Gramm himself) have now all become Republicans. And if the Texas Dems see in November a meltdown comparable to their '94 congressional bloodbath, Doggett's working life in Washington could change quite a bit. The Democrats could, in a worst-case scenario, lose as many as six seats in the Texas delegation; in their best-case scenario, they might pick up two (see map).

Right now, says Doggett, "on the Democratic side, the Texas delegation has a good collaborative relationship -- with certain exceptions, such as environmental issues." His aforementioned historic ties to the individual members "help overcome differences on issues; we do try to help each other in a way that doesn't harm our districts." His colleagues concur. "We all come from different places and many of us see Austin in a different light," notes Ciro Rodriguez. "But Lloyd is viewed with a lot of respect. He's always willing to help out in different ways."

One example was Doggett's leadership of the (ultimately unsuccessful) effort in Congress to restrict the interstate covenant allowing nuclear waste to be transported to Sierra Blanca -- which, believe it or not, had been one of Lloyd's issues way back in the 1984 Senate race. "He was very instrumental in giving Congress the opportunity to debate Sierra Blanca and the compact, instead of it being rammed down our throats," says Rodriguez, who along with the rest of the Texas Hispanic caucus -- including GOP Rep. Henry Bonilla, whose district includes Sierra Blanca -- backed Doggett's amendment, though it was opposed by the other Texans in Congress from both parties. "Nobody told him to do it; he pulled it off and we came along after the fact."

On the GOP side, things get ugly, though Doggett has good words for Lamar Smith and for Kevin Brady from the Woodlands, who, like Doggett, has introduced in the House a federal version of Texas' sunset review of state agencies, Doggett's single most important legislation in the state Senate. He also seems to get on well with Hutchison, whom he first met back in 1974 at the ill-fated state Constitutional Convention, back when Lloyd, Kay, and her husband-to-be Ray were all in the Lege. "There's none of the bad blood there that there is with Phil Gramm, though I think the latter is due to basic political differences" rather than any lingering grudges, Doggett says. "In this business, you have to be a big boy."

These glimmers aside, though, it's clear that the Texas delegation is, in Doggett's words, "a long way from the days of Sam Rayburn"--i.e., a go-along-to-get-along microcosm of an ideologically homogeneous state. With Democratic reps from rural districts more endangered by the minute, the Lone Star caucus is already becoming polarized between GOP Anglos and Democrat ethnics, with Lloyd the odd man out. The balance is likely to shift further with redistricting in 2001, performed by a solidly Republican state government. Texas "will pick up a few additional reps," Doggett observes, "and there will doubtless be some effort to carve up districts to the detriment of Democratic colleagues. It's hard to draw a Travis County district that would make me uncompetitive, but a new Republican seat in Williamson County is possible."

That's assuming, of course, that Doggett continues in the House and doesn't make another bid for statewide office or for the Senate, but Lloyd's own assessment of Texas Democratic fortunes seems to support that assumption. "It's true that Austin is an island of sanity, of concern for democracy with both a little and a big 'D'," he says. "But the fundraising challenges alone make it nearly impossible for a Democrat to win statewide in Texas." Does that mean that a 40-45% showing on Election Day -- what Doggett got against Gramm in 1984, what Victor Morales got against him in 1996 -- is the best the Dems can do? "I'm afraid it might be."

The Tennis Shoes

Answer #5: The tennis shoes are one of several props in Lloyd Doggett's political-theatre repertoire. When in the Senate, he made great use of the filibuster to kill noxious legislation, and during a filibuster, the Senator must remain on his or her feet. So Doggett would don his tennis shoes. Eventually, the very sight of the shoes on his desk signaled that, to avoid a filibuster, senators and lobbyists had to deal with Doggett and his issues. And they did.

Pictures of Lloyd and his tennis shoes are among the most common images of Doggett, appearing on years of campaign materials and throughout his press clippings, and one such image hangs in his Capitol Hill home. The shoes themselves have basically been bronzed.

Like we said, it's easy to be skeptical of a man with his own legend, but it's impossible not to reckon with it. And, as the assiduous use of the shoes makes clear, the Legend of Lloyd did not accrue by accident.

We've all grown tired of comparing Lloyd to Jake Pickle, his predecessor, but the most significant difference between them is this: Jake, after 31 years, became a fixture without ever becoming a myth, while Lloyd has the ear for a good line, the eye for a good prop, and the understanding of modern discount-retail politics necessary to create a personal myth. Neither Lloyd nor Jake are superficial, and both are amply representative of the Austin worldview, but only Lloyd is in any way glamorous, which is an essential attribute of political power in today's America.

Doggett disclaims this, not because it isn't true, but because he doesn't think about it -- one gets the sense that the mythic side of Lloyd, which has made him more than just another well-intentioned liberal, is to him fairly innate and subconscious, or perhaps a separate person entirely. "If Lloyd viewed himself as a legend, he wouldn't work so hard," notes Libby Doggett.

Whether or not, as we asked back in the beginning, Austin is grateful to Lloyd Doggett, he is certainly grateful to us. "My goal has always been to try to do something, not to be somebody," Doggett says. "As I get older, I realize more and more that public service is service, and that you are fortunate to have the privilege to represent other people. I'm very fortunate to have the chance to walk over to the Capitol of the United States and say what Austin would say if it were here."

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