The ghost of Gus Mutscher

Man, I’m getting burned out (and more than a little bit bitter) about the whole special session/redistricting thing. I’ve still got one or two more substantive things to say, mostly in response to Kevin’s thoughtful post (note: “thoughtful” doesn’t mean I agree with it), but I don’t have it in me right now. Byron (here and here) and Morat (here and here, being sure to follow the link in the first post to this story and its cautionary words from Bill Ratliff) have been on top of things for me. Go read them when you’re done here.

What I’ve got for now is this op-ed piece by Tony Sanchez’ campaign manager, in which he tries to draw a parallel between Tom DeLay’s Westar problems and the old Sharpstown scandal of thirtysome years ago:

In that scandal, House Speaker Gus Mutscher, an aide to Mutscher and a state representative were convicted of conspiracy to accept a bribe from banker Frank Sharp. Sharp wanted a bill boosting his banking business passed during a special session in 1969. The financial favors he did for lawmakers got the job done. In the aftermath of Sharpstown, voters threw out 50 percent of the Texas House.

It doesn’t take much to convince Texans that something is rotten in Austin. But some — importantly, not all — Republican officials are still somewhat intoxicated by their takeover of all branches of Texas government. Some of these are certainly innocents who are thinking, “Hey, I didn’t do anything wrong. The voters won’t be mad at me.”

But when some of their colleagues accepted so much money from corporate interests that they should probably receive W-2 forms, they had better look carefully at what they are about to do.

They may just want to be able to tell their constituents that they didn’t even vote for the DeLay redistricting bill. They may want as much distance as possible between themselves and the expanding scandals that have helped make this one of the most bizarre political years since, well, Sharpstown.

Scandal is likely to play a part in the political discussion in Texas during the 2004 election year. Texans won’t have seen any real property tax relief. Schools continue to suffer. Hundreds of thousands of children will still be without health care. Local taxpayers will be forced to pick up the costs of health care because Medicaid and Medicare also suffered.

Under more normal circumstances, a process as obscure as redistricting may not capture the attention of Texas voters. But then, few Texans knew the details about Sharpstown. They still sent culprits — and innocents — packing.

I’d like to endorse this view. I really would. Unfortunately, it’s a lot of wishful thinking trying to stretch into a cogent point.

What’s the difference between Texas politics of 1969 and today? In 1969, eveyone was a Democrat. What that says to me is that all of the scoundrels who were ejected from their seats in the ensuing election weren’t knocked off by Republicans – if they were, this wouldn’t be the first year since Reconstruction that the GOP was in control of the House – but by fellow Democrats in the primaries. (No, I haven’t taken the time to look this up, but really, how can this not be?) In order for Glenn Smith’s scenario to take place, you have to assume that not only will something come out of Westar, but that voters will care enough about it to vote out the current scoundrels.

That’s where this falls down. See, congressional redistricting wasn’t the only thing on the plate in 2001. So was Texas Lege redistricting, and that was done by a GOP-dominated state board. Republicans didn’t go from 72 seats in the House to 88 in last year’s election on their good looks and economic stewardship alone, you know. They had many newly favorable districts to work with, which caused some longtime Dems to retire and others to get defeated. I can believe that Westar will turn into something juicy, but I have a real hard time believing that voters in GOP-drawn legislative districts will boot out a bunch of GOP legislators as a result of it.

I suppose it’s possible that a combination of genuine criminality in the Westar case plus a steep decline in Bush’s popularity could lead to a depressed GOP turnout in 2004, which could mean some pickups for the Dems. I ain’t betting on it, though.

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2 Responses to The ghost of Gus Mutscher

  1. Loved this line from one of those 5,000 links you served up:

    “I am more convinced than ever that Texans will be better served if the redrawing of legislative and congressional lines is placed in the hands of men and women whose political futures do not depend on the outcome,” he said.

    Where the eff is this schmoe gonna find that bunch? Pluck them off the street? Truck them in from Ardmore? Pick ’em in a blind draw from your Texas Blogger list? What a laffer…this state doesn’t have 10 people who wouldn’t look at said panel as a chance to stuff their pockets. And neither does any other state.

  2. Charles M says:

    Iowa, unlike the rest of us, has a quasi-independent committee to redistrict. Look here for a short description.

    Washington (state) also uses a non-legislative commission although it is partisan.

    Both seem to work pretty well.

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