May 16, 2003
Killer D's: The Movie

This is just too weird. Three years ago, an Austin writer named Lawrence Wright penned a screenplay called Sonny's Last Stand about a group of Democratic state representatives who hole up in the Alamo for a few hours to break quorum and beat a bill they hate. Naturally, it was considered too unrealistic to be filmed.

"This is life finally catching up with art, isn't it?" said Port Arthur-bred G.W. Bailey (best known as Sgt. Rizzo on TV's "MASH"), who played a Machiavellian lobbyist at an Austin reading of the screenplay in 2000. "You thought it was obviously hyperbole, dramatic license, that it could happen but it never would."

The 109-page script was inspired by the hyperbole and drama that have defined Texas politics; by the senators who hid out in a West Austin apartment to kill a bill in 1979; and by Rep. Mike Martin, who shot himself to try to win voter sympathy in the 1980s.

"If I tried to put into the screenplay things that really happen, it wouldn't be seen as plausible," Wright, a staff writer with The New Yorker magazine, said from his Tarrytown home Thursday. "In art, I had to tame it to make it more realistic."

He said his plot, with Democrats hiding out in the back of the Alamo for a few hours, was a lot less imaginative than the reality of 51 House members escaping to Oklahoma under the cover of darkness this week. For good measure, though, Wright laced his fictional quorum bust with some Hollywood-style schmaltz, sex and car chases. Start with the lead character, Rep. Sonny Lamb of West Texas, fathering a love child with feisty Rep. Angela Jackson of Houston, who was patterned after Rep. Dawnna Dukes of Austin.

"There were no gathering in my room at all this week . . . no affairs," Dukes swore from Oklahoma on Thursday, though she admitted to catching a glimpse of Rep. Rick Noriega in his underwear during a tornado warning.

Amazingly, it gets even weirder:

Strangely, the lead in "Sonny's Last Shot" was played by an amateur Georgetown actor named Dan Gattis at the 2000 reading. Gattis is now a Republican state representative who wanted to bunk out on the House floor this week to show up the Democrats.

"When I have the thought of how this imitates the screenplay, I kind of grin," he said Thursday. "But the rest of me is not really happy about what's going on."

Wright may try again to sell his work to HBO. As they say, stay tuned.

Posted by Charles Kuffner on May 16, 2003 to Killer D's | TrackBack

So, I spent some time thinking about this over the weekend, and I must admit I have some concerns.

Don't misunderstand. I have little doubt that the Texas Republicans acted in ways that I would find reprehensible. Yet...

I have long opposed the filibuster for its anti-democratic (with a small 'D') nature. Many other groups have also opposed it, including such luminaries of the left as Americans for Democratic Action.

Yet what was this action but the filibuster writ large? This was a group of people saying that they were willing to stop ALL legislation if that was what it would take to stop this awful piece of legislation.

I think we need to tout this as a gain for Democrats, but not for democracy. And I know that it's plausible that this case is unique, or nearly so, for the DeLay backed plan which was nearly unprecedented. But we also need to recognize that, if there was no previous precedent, we've certainly set a dangerous future one.

Or at least that's my take. As an aside, anybody involved with musical theater who would be interested, I think it would be awfully funny if someone put on a benefit show of Oklahoma for the Texas Democratic Party. But that's probably also a bit too esoteric for most...

Posted by: Ron Zucker on May 17, 2003 11:22 PM