Tom "Smitty" Smith Interview, Part 1 of 2

  • DT: My name is David Todd, and I'm here for the Conservation History Association of Texas. We're in Austin, Texas and we're at the state offices of Public Citizens and we've got the good fortune to be visiting with Tom "Smitty" known to near and far as Smitty Smith. He's the Director of the State Office [of Public Citizens] here and has been for almost twenty years now and in that time has represented the public interest in consumer and environmental issues. And I wanted to thank you for taking time to talk about some of those experiences.
  • SS: Thanks for wanting to interview me. I appreciate it. I'm honored.
  • DT: I thought we might start by hearing about how you got started and how you got interested in public interest work, environmental interest in particular.
  • SS: Well, my parents were very much involved in public interest work all of their lives. My father was a social worker and when he retired after years of working with the state, began to lobby for the Illinois Childcare Association as a volunteer for those people who were raising foster children or who were operating small day care centers and so I kind of got the bug early on from my father.
  • When I was in college, I went to school up in Northern Indiana, very close to Gary, Indiana where the steel mills were located and the skies were a wonderful copper color in the late evenings when you-the sun went down because of all the pollution and there were literally black sides to trees from all the particles that blew out of the steel mills. And I was fortunate as a college student to get a job doing air and water sampling at the local university labs.
  • And went out and took samples out of the outfalls of the various steel mills and took the air quality samples that indicated how severe the air quality-the air contamination was from these steel mills. So I learned a lot about the kinds of damage that was occurring to our environment from steel. Those steel mills no longer were able to comply with the-the clean air act that passed in 1970 and are now-have now shut down and the area around that part of the world is beginning to restore. The air is clean and the trees no longer have a blackened side from all the soot that used to come from those plants.
  • When I graduated from college, I joined VISTA, the Volunteers In Service To America, which was the domestic Peace Corps and went to Kingsville, Texas and began to work in the legal aid office down there. And shortly after I arrived I got the lobbying bug. What happened was a woman came to my office who was a food stamp recipient and her husband was a hod carrier someone who carried brick in these sort of "V" shaped pallets up the side of buildings, he was also an epileptic. And he had an epileptic fit one-day while carrying brick and the bricks went flying everywhere and he was immediately fired from the job.
  • And she went to the food stamp office to try and get here food stamps adjusted because they no longer had any income. And she was told that it would be a year before she could get her food stamps adjusted, because once you had been certified, you were locked into place. And I thought this was outrageous and tried and to convince them to change their mind at the food stamp office and was unable to do so. So the lawyers I worked with filed a suit. We went to district court one and went to the appellant court where the case languished for a number of years while briefs and pleadings were developed by the various parties.
  • And in the meantime somebody said, well, why don't you call your congressman and see if he can do something about it. And at that time Kiki de la Garza was Chairman of the Subcommittee in the U.S. House of Representatives that had jurisdiction over food stamps. And he thought this was outrageous and the more he began to talk to people, the more he realized there was a fatal flaw in the food stamp program and there were a number of migrant workers in his district, down the Rio Grande Valley who had come back from various places around the north who had been frozen out of their jobs picking vegetables and no longer had the income they assumed they would have and were also being told by the food stamp offices sorry we can't adjust your allotment even though you have no income, you're fixed for a year.
  • And so we turned out close to a thousand people for a public hearing of his congressional committee in the Rio Grande Valley and shortly there after we got an amendment to the appropriations bill and shortly there after the food stamp laws were changed. And I thought, darn this is easy and, you know, just a couple of months, you know, you know, a little old guy from Central Illinois can come to Texas, change the law and thought, lobbying, it's a great way to go, so I just got the bug. And thought from that point on that a-someone who could organize people, could change the laws relatively quickly and so I've been about that ever since.
  • DT: I understood that you later went to work as a Legislative Aide. Did you get a different or similar view from the inside of the legislative process?
  • SS: And-and what had happened in the mid seventies or-I came back to Texas and I tried to pass legislation that would create the Food Bank Network in Texas. And what I'd read in the civics books and what I had read in the how to lobby a bill into law didn't seem to pan out in reality. So I went to work as a Legislative Aide so I could figure out exactly what was really going on in the Texas Capitol and how policies were being made and began to get some glimpses into how laws and policies were really made. The-the vote trading and the way politics are influenced by money and the-the way committee assignments are dealt out in return for political favors and other communities and have continued to be fascinated by the Texas legislature ever since.
  • DT: Maybe you can talk about some of the personalities, it seems like a very personal game or business.
  • SS: Well I think it's-it-it's-clearly it is a game of personality. Typically the people who are elected to the Texas Legislature are very gregarious, friendly people who are here for often three separate reasons. There are a lot of people who come here because they want to change the world. They've got a-a-a-a-the right kind of policy. The-the minds that really think that there is a-a calling to serve others through being in government, and there's-those are the people who we really want to have here. Then there are the single-issue wonders. The people who say, I'm going to end abortion and, you know, come here on a single issue and find that they're completely bewildered and often times are caught up in various political ploys of the leadership.
  • And then there are the people who are just plain greedy who look at political leadership at-or office as a way to make money and a way to do deals that will end up enriching them down the line. And each of them is a-a very different kind of prototype and requires a different kind of approach. But typically what you see happening is that there are probably a dozen or so people in the House of Representatives who quickly become leaders and often in two or three sessions become chairman and become part of the Speaker's inner council who meet with him on Sunday nights and decide what bills are going to pass and who's going to carry various amendments and so forth.
  • And these are the folks who are best at back stabbing-or backslapping, not stabbing, vote counting and-and whipping the various members into groups that will commit to vote for the legislation. They also typically are the people who can sit down member-with each of the various members of their committees and say, will you vote for this bill, or-or what are you thinking? Are you going to vote for this bill or not? What are your concerns if you're not thinking-if you're not willing to vote for the bill?
  • How can I m-change the bill in ways that would make you want to vote for it? What kind of amendments would you like to see? Who have the capacity to-to put together the deals and those dozen or so people really control the House and are the people that you frequently see on the House floor carrying the Speaker's message to their minions. They're the people who are walking around with their finger's in the air saying, "vote yes," or "vote no" on a given amendment. And you see them walk-work from the front to the back typically in a section they have been assigned.
  • You know going around slapping the backs of members and whispering in their ears if they're on the phone or doing something-rounding up support for a measure as a vote is going down. And they typically are the people who then are called upon to advise the large donor groups on who's been a good boy and who's been a bad boy and who should help-who the various groups of donors should help the most when it comes to re-election time, should that member find themselves in a hotly contested election.
  • DT: Are there some of these Whips that come to mind that are particularly good during the time that you've been lobbying?
  • SS: Well, currently, you know, some of the best you see out there are folks like Phil King, who is chairman of the House Regulated Industries Committee right now, or Dan Branch who is one of the up and coming young starts who was a-a help to governor Bush in the recount in Florida and now is one of the Speaker's go-to men on the floor and typically carries a lot of stuff.
  • Terry Keal who is a Travis County Representative. J-Just a session ago when Pete Laney was Speaker, Glen Maxey who was the first openly gay legislature in the state of Texas who was shunned his first two sessions by many, rose in ten years to a point where he was one of the key lieutenants of the Speaker and one of the people who was typically relied upon to do a lot of heavy lifting and to carry a-and to go round up a lot of folks on the floor.
  • And then there are other people who just are the-are stars simply because of their intellect. Steve Wolens is the most feared debater on the House floor. He's a trial lawyer, a liberal Democrat, but someone who is relied upon by this Republican Speaker and his two Democratic predecessors as the guy that would carry the biggest, hardest, most difficult bills and typically carries them prettymuch by himself without a whole team behind them and masters every nuance and is just devastating in debate and will out talk, out think and out speak every opponent that comes up against him at the back mic and tries to challenge h-a bill that he carries and will typically pass a bill a hundred twenty-three or a hundred and twenty-eight to two or three people, garnering overwhelming majorities simply because everybody knows Wollins knows about it than anybody else and he's smarter than they are and they dare not go up against him.
  • There's one classic moment when a state senator who was a-or a state representative who was football player kind of guy, you know, big of shoulders and, you know, with hands the size of small garbage cans who had played football both in college and then professionally on a debate about a-a bill that would give certain tax breaks to developing a stadium in the Dallas-Fort Worth area got up to him-got up on the mic and said-and Representative Wolens you've never even played a contact sport.
  • And re-and Steve responded and said, Representative Brimer I believe that the-that legislative debate is a contact sport and just-the whole room just sort of fell out because it was clear that, you know, Steve was besting Brimer once again in a war of words that Brimer could never begin to-to keep up with. And, you know, so there are those kinds of leaders as well who have just got the intellectual capacity to overwhelm the House and control it in those ways.
  • DT: You spoke mostly about the House, is the Senate different in the way it runs?
  • SS: The Senate is far different and the Texas Senate is different than almost any other Senate in the United States. I think there are three that are organized like the Texas State Senate is where the Lieutenant Governor actually presides. And it has only been for about the last fifty years that this has been the case, since [19]53. And what-what that-what happens is that the Lieutenant Governor has become the most powerful person in Texas politics for three reasons. They present or they control the legislative budget board which basically develops the budget for Texas and it is the budget that goes out first.
  • The Governor in Texas does not present a budget and the House presents the revenue package typically as opposed to the budget and so the state agencies and all the chairman and board members of state agencies pay a lot of attention and homage to the lieutenant governor because he concerns the purse strings. He also appoints the committees in the Senate and determines the calendar for the Senate debate. So he upon a whim can decide when to take a bill up depending on who's on the floor and that can make a big difference in the passage or defeat of a particular bill depending on how many of the supporters might be on the floor at any given time.
  • The Senate is a far more collegial place than the House. The-the-sort of comparison that I think is frequently apt is that the House is much more like a rough and tumble, a dirt foot-lot-football game where people are tackled. In the Senate there is a-it's a gentleman's debating club, you know, it's the honorable this, the honorable that, people are much more to course, seldom if ever lose their temper or use disparaging remarks and the tenor of debate is generally at a much higher level.
  • People tend to be much more thoughtful, tend to be less likely to get up on a whim and run a bad idea out or have stupid question. And there are several reasons for that, one is that it takes two-thirds of the senators to even bring a bill up on the Senate floor and before a senator can bring a bill up on the floor, he has to bring what's called a green card to the lieutenant governor showing the name of the twenty-one senators who have agreed to debate this bill.
  • So each of the senators in order to get a bill up for debate has to have and gone worked his colleagues and explained the bill enough to get them that this is something they should-that they should debate and so they're often much more familiar with the legislation than they otherwise would be.
  • Another reason is that Senate has a larger staff than the House. Typically each House member will have one staff person, the average Senator will have three and so the amount and research and preparation that each senator has available to him or her when they go on the floor is typically at roughly three times the volume. So they've got thoughtful questions prepared for them, they've got usually a relatively well-organized briefing books on every major piece of legislation that are presented to them by their staff or by their caucus staff that enable them to be really well prepared for major debates.
  • DT: You've talked a little bit about the House and the Senate and the Representatives and the Senators, I was curious if you could talk about the party system works here? I used to be almost entirely Democratic and now it's almost entirely Republican, how do the parties play into this as well?
  • SS: Well, times have changed in Texas in the last four years, pretty dramatically. Typically both the House and Senate were-have been controlled by Democrats since the reconstruction era, the late 1870's and that remained the case up until the turn of this century in the 2001 era, more or less. And what you had within the Democratic Party was a substantial division-then most places might divide Republicans and Democrats. Who had the liberal progressive labor trial lawyer Democrats that often times were urban or minority or lawyers.
  • And then you had what were-have been known at various times as rural Democrats or Dixiecrats or Shivercrats, depending on the era, but were typically the more conservative, pro business, anti-labor, anti-lawyer Democrats who would tend to be the drag anchor on the process. And so the fights tended not to be along party lines, but tended to be along ideological lines.
  • And typically in Texas you have had somewhere in the neighborhood of about thirty members of the House that are progressives and then you've had about seventy-five members that could swing either way and then you had typically about fifty very conservative members who were al-always hard to-to move into your column or into my column to vote on a-a environmental bill on a consumer rights bill. What's happened however in the last decade and most importantly in the last three years is that the control of the House and the Senate have switched from basically the Democrats to the Republicans.
  • There have been a-there has been a very concerted effort to build partisan loyalty within the Republican Party. And when-what ha-happened is that a number of liberal or progressive members of the Republican Party were targeted from their right during the last election cycle and members and-and attack ads were launched in their district claiming that they were soft on homosexuality or soft on abortion rights and putting them in an uncomfortable position of being afraid that there would be a candidate that would run to their right and win.
  • And as a result the fear that the Republican Party would turn on one of its own has been inculcated in the Republican majority. So what you see now typically is the entire Republican Party voting in a block of seventy-eight to eighty-three votes including the four or five members of the Democratic Party who have become the Speaker's key allies on m-measure after measure after measure. And-and Republicans have come to me privately and expressed their fear of breaking the party line and going against the Speaker.
  • I think that will be a temporary phenomenon, but at the moment it has made a dramatic change in the way that politics has been done in Texas. Up until this time-this session it was the-the par-the leadership positions were allocated among Republicans and Democrats roughly among the percentage of the seats held in the House, unlike Congress and most other state legislatures.
  • So when they Republicans had forty percent of the members, they have forty percent of the chairmanship and typically in Congress if the Republicans had the majority or the Democrats had the majority they would take all of the chairman-the chairs of all the major committees and would control legislation in that way. So there's been a tremendous shift in the-the way power is wielded as the Republicans have gained control.
  • DT: One last sort of general question, can you explain how donors and trade groups affect this whole process of legislation?
  • SS: There's an old saying in Texas politics that money talks. And what we see time and time again is that members of the legislature are terrified of a well-financed campaign being waged against them. The price of campaigning varies. But it can run as much as a million dollars for a Senate seat and a couple hundred thousand dollars for a House seat.
  • The vast majority of the money goes into television, seventy-five, eighty percent of it goes into buying TV in order to get name recognition. During the last election cycle the Republican Party chose to wage a significant number of campaigns against marginal Democrats who were in districts that could swing either way.
  • And they won out eighteen out of the twenty-two seats. They did so through-because they were able to put together large sums of both legal campaign contributions, those which were reported according to law and were given to the candidate themselves, but through a series of PAC [Political Action Committee] expenditures, wh-many of which were reported, but then a series of what were called issue ads or we typically know of as attack ads that would feature a-an embarrassing moment of a legislator coupled with some catch phrase that might indicate that person was for an income tax or was-had spoken against business interests, or had a-a moment of weakness where they might have spoken for a woman's right to chose to have an abortion.
  • And as long as the words vote for or vote against or other words that might indicate that this was a-an advertisement urging you to vote in an election were not used, they typically are not considered reportable election expenditures. And this-these unreported contributions often came at the very last minutes of the campaign and w-were widely believed to make an enormous difference in the outcome of the campaign.
  • And as we speak, there is a grand jury investigation going on that may end up in the in-indictment of a number of key players in the Texas Association of Business and a number of the campaign consultants who worked for the majority lea-leader of the House of Representatives, Tom Delay, who are believed to have solicited money at the federal level and from out of states to PACs, they're-were called the Texans for a Republican Majority with the implication that if you contribute we will help you on federal legislation as well as state legislation.
  • And those campaigns contributions then were mixed with illegal corporate contributions in ways that resulted in the change of some of these legislative seats. Bill Hammond, the director of the Texas Association of Business wrote letters to insurance companies for example asking them to contribute to advertising campaigns and saying you won't have to report this since they are not election expenditures direct and then turned around after the election and wrote a thank you letter saying, your contributions have influenced the outcome of the election.
  • Now wh-whether or not all the dots will be connected is clearly a-a-a scheme that designed to influence the election's in Hammond's own words. And it-they probably violated if not the letter of the law, the spirit of the law and as a result of their efforts the control of the House switched from Republican to Democrat. Now the payback clearly has been in the change of congressional districts.
  • And what's ended up happening is with firm control of both the House and the Senate, the districts of-from which the various members of congress are elected have been changed in such a way to cement or to enhance the likelihood that Republicans will win those districts, thus shifting the control of congress perhaps for another generation clearly into Republican hands.
  • And this-it is our beliefs that efforts similar to this may have been waged in at least four other states. And the-their have been resultant-redistricting of their congressional seats as well. So once again what we're saying is that their investment had paid off in ways that no one really understood at the time, except those few who were really planning this kind of a take over, not only in the Texas Legislature, but the U.S. Congress.
  • DT: Can you talk about how the legislature structure and the parties set up and then these donors contributions cooperation might of affected legislation that you were interested in, both making it possible to pass them and maybe some that did not succeed?
  • SS: Well, there are a-a number of stories that kind of talk a little bit about how money and politics are affected. Recently Texas has been involved at a-a-a struggle to clean the air over our cities. Two-thirds of all of us in Texas live in cities in which the air is no longer safe to breathe on a number of days in the summer. And the air-air pollution in Texas comes from a variety of sources. Typically we tend to think of our industrial sources and our power plants as the largest sources of emission, our cars are about half the pollution in the state. And then there are a number of other smaller sources as well. One of the sort of lessons that we have learned however is that as environmental groups, our voices are not enough to develop the plans necessary to come to consensus on how to clear the air over the state.
  • So one of the things we've begun to try and figure out how to do is to use other's leverage over the Texas Legislature to pass air quality bills. And in the mid '90's we had fought time after time to pass legislation that would lead to pollution reductions and failed, and failed, and failed, and failed.
  • And in 2001 the mayor of Houston came out with a study that said on average it's costing us about three billion dollars a year in health care costs to-or the air pollution is costing about three billion dollars a year in health care costs. About a million people in the Houston area, about a million families in the Houston area, so it came out to roughly three thousand dollars per family per year in health care costs that they would not be experiencing were it not for air pollution. And there was a moment in the lobby that session when that study was released when the lobby divided in a very unusual way.
  • Typically the Houston-the Greater Houston Partnership or the Chamber of Commerce had been a-you know, holding hands and singing if we stand together, we'll all make lots of money and all of a sudden the people who had no emissions were turning around and looking at those people who were emitting and saying, wait a minute, you're costing three thousand dollars an employee. We got to do something about this, because it was clear that it no longer were-was it possible for them to economically support these high levels of emissions because it was having a direct and pocketbook affect on them.
  • And Houston has changed; it's no longer a smoke stack city. Roughly two-thirds of these employers there are clean industries, insurance companies, banks, computer companies that don't have large quantities of emissions and they suddenly began to realize that they were being penalized economically for the emissions.
  • So we were able to use that leverage to help pass legislation, for the first time we were able to get the large Chambers of Commerce, the county judges, the city councils to work with the environmental community on a package of legislation that would end up being helpful in terms of cleaning the air over our cities. And so that's one of the lessons we in the environmental community are beginning to learn is that healthcare is a potent issue, economic development is a potent issue.
  • And typically what's happened is we have ceded those issues o-to the powerful industries and assumed that they were the only people who could use the economic development as a tool. And we're now beginning to realize that the reason people move to Texas has been because of quality of life and their now seeing poor air quality as a significant threat and that we can begin to shift the debate in our favor by pointing out that large industries and major employees are no longer moving to Texas because of poor air quality. And that seems to have been working well and it's one of the first times we've begun to shift the debate.
  • DT: How are you making that message get across? What is the vehicle for getting that message across?
  • SS: Sure, there are two ways that's happening. One is that the editorial pages have changed in Texas and you now see the Dallas Morning News running an editorial about once a week or the-castigating leadership for their failure to develop plans to clear the air over Dallas. And that largely is a result of having lost major employers like Boeing and Toyota to other cities who had clean air and having these major employers say to the Chambers of Commerce, we're not moving there because of bad air.
  • But in addition and beyond the editorial boards it-there is a clear network within the ch-within the business community that is beginning to get the message and be-and is anxious and willing to try and come up with solutions to air quality problems.
  • And we in the environmental community are becoming more active in reaching out to the leadership of the business community and presenting the findings of study after study that indicates the impact of air pollution on health and on economic development and are targeting the chairman of the board's of various Chambers of Commerce and sitting down one on one, having meetings with them and discussing the problem and seeing if there's solution we can come up with it. And the reason simply is because we can no longer do it alone. And we're realizing if we're going to win this battle we've got to make friends with unusual allies.
  • DT: You're talking about how you can use leverage about economic development to push some environmental legislation, can you give us an example perhaps with the wind energy and how that might garner support in West Texas?
  • SS: In 1999 the electric utility industry was about ready to be deregulated and we in the environmental community had long been seeking some opportunity to develop a renew-our renewable resources here in Texas. Texas leads the nation in our ability to generate energy with renewables.
  • And what we did was begin to pull together a coalition of the big wind companies in Texas, in those days it was Enron and the Florida Power and Light people and a number of others, I guess all together ten big companies, to sit with us at the table and to develop a plan for-develop a coalition to go advocate for what's called a renewable portfolio standard or a minimum purchase requirement of renewable energy in the Texas legislature. And what that coalition was able to do was to reach into communities that we typically would not be able to touch.
  • They hired Republican lobbyist, they hired the-one of the fundraisers for then Governor Bush, who had done most of his direct mail and was-had worked for Karl Rove, who worked the back channels into Governor Bush's office. They were able to go into the Chambers of Commerce in small West Texas towns and asked that those who were benefiting from Texas's emerging wind industry or might be able to-might be in a position to do so, contact their rural Texas legislators and talk to them about what might occur to the economics of their small town if we were able to develop the wind resources that were just outside the-their-their communities.
  • And those kinds of economic interests were able to work miracles that we were not able to do as environmentalists and they were able to talk to the school boards and the economic development agencies who each have their own organizations that helped in the lobbying effort to pass the Texas's Renewable Portfolio Standard. And that has turned out to be a tremendous economic boom in West Texas and we're going to go back and try and do the same basic program again.
  • What you found in West Texas is after the passage of the Renewable Energy Portfolio Standard that there was a major boom in construction. We built about a thousand mega watts of wind or roughly a billion dollars worth of equipment was placed in West Texas on the tops of mesas and mountaintops in about a year and a half. And it spawned about twenty-five hundred [2500] new jobs directly in the wind industry, about twenty-nine hundred [2900] additional jobs in the cafés and the truck stops and in the welding shops around West Texas.
  • And it enabled communities that had been economically dead for a generation to start to bring their children home, to be able to offer what one mayor said, they're paying family wa-raising wages again. And since the oil had dried up it was the first time that somebody could afford to raise a family in these small communities, working in the wind fields, instead of in the oil fields. And it's our g-hope that we can use the positive experience to argue for an expansion of the Renewable Energy Portfolio's in the-in the next legislative session.
  • But it's had an economic boom not only on the local communities but-in-in terms of jobs, but it has also in m-many communities the wind plants are the largest single tax payers in the community. One little community in-outside of Abilene, at Trent has been able to build a new elementary school for the first time in two generations simply because of the wind plant on the mesa up above the school.
  • In another community outside of Fort Stockton the-it's the largest single tax payer in their counties and their beginning to be able to staff up their hospital, replace some of their fire equipment and do a number of other things that they have not been able to do in over a generation as a result of having some new revenues coming in from these wind turbines.
  • DT: Maybe you can give us another of example of a piece of legislation that has made a significant impact on the environment, but that required some sort of political judo to make it happen?
  • SS: The-when the Clean Air Act was passed in the early 1970s here in Texas and then in Congress. There were a number of plants that were already in operation and the Texas Legislature said-was convinced at that time, told at that time that many of these old plants would be shutting down relatively soon and there was no need to require them to put on expensive pollution control devices.
  • Well, some thirty years later most of these plants were operational and had a significant economic advantage because they weren't having to operate with pollution-controlled devices. And so they began to be known as "grandfathered" plants and they produced about a third of the pollution in Texas. And about the time that we began to stumble on this problem again, the state regulators went to Governor Bush and said we're not going to be able to meet the requirements of the Clean Air Act unless we get these grandfathered pl-power or plants under control.
  • So then Governor Bush instead of calling the environmentalists and the industry into the same room, called up his buddies over at Exxon and Marathon and said, we understand we've got a problem with the grandfathered plants, what do you think we ought to do? Why don't you pull together industry and we'll have a meeting.
  • So they had a secret meeting, actually they had a series of secret meetings, hosted by the Governor's office over in the capitol or one of the-the a-anti rooms at the capitol where the executives of all these companies came and cooked up a voluntary emissions control plan. And they had-were going to publicly pledge to voluntarily emissions, but there'd be no government mandate to do so.
  • Well, there was this wonderful moment when I got a tip one morning from a reporter that the governor was about ready to have a press conference at the Reunion Tower up in Dallas, which is-sits up on a thing that looks like a golf ball sitting on a-on a tee overlooking downtown Dallas with the captains of the industry that were going to announce that their-they were all voluntarily signing on this pledge to reduce the emissions from their grand fathered plants.
  • So I called a buddy of mine, Pete Altman who r-was running the seed coalition at the time and said, Pete, Pete can you go crash the governor's press conference and he's about to announce this voluntary clean up plan for all these grandfathered plants? And Pete had written a study about it so he knew roughly how many emissions were coming from these various plants and who was responsible. So Pete goes to the governor's press conference and I have written up a press released which we fa-fa-emailed up to the local Kinko's and Pete had twenty-five copies or whatever when he got on the elevator.
  • And he rode up there and literally crashed the governor's press conference and with him was a woman by the name of Resa Henderson who worked for Clean Water Action, who was a mom. And so when Governor Bush announced that these captains of industry were going to voluntarily reduce their emissions, suddenly out of the back of the room there came this gale of laughter from a "Tickle Me Elmo" doll and if you squeeze a "Tickle Me Elmo" doll it giggles and when you squeeze the "Tickle Me Elmo" doll, it has this insane laughter.
  • Well everybody kind of looked around and nobody quite figured out where it was coming from so the next time he said the industries have gathered together to voluntary reduce their emissions, once again she [Resa Henderson] squeezed the "Tickle Me Elmo" doll which was up underneath her armpit, nobody was really looking to see if there was a doll up there. And he-the-the governor kind of kept looking around trying to figure out where this was and all the press people were kind of, you know, checking out the room, trying to figure it out.
  • Well the third time he was about ready to say voluntary emissions, you could tell Bush is now afraid to say voluntary emission reduction, but he doesn't know what else to do so he says it again and so suddenly the "Tickle Me Elmo" doll goes off and not only does the-the-the doll giggle, but the press starts to giggle as well.
  • And so the voluntary emission reduction plan quickly had become a joke among the press. They understood how funny it was that, you know, you were going to rely on these captains of industry to reduce their emissions.
  • Pete had quickly made a little chart up in the back and then immediately went out afterwards and had a press conference and showed the total amount of emissions that were coming from these and showed the pledged emission reductions at three percent of the total pollution or less than the width of a marker head-the tip of a marker across the bottom. And the joke quickly became that this was a program that was failing from its onset.
  • And it became one of those issues that dogged then candidate Bush as ran for President around the nation. He began talking glowingly about the voluntary emission reduction program and the press in Texas was all over it and they knew it was a failure from the day one and kept reporting with great glee that maybe we were now up to four percent emission reductions, four and a half percent, you know, even though seventy percent of the u-of the polluters had all agreed they were going to make reductions.
  • So it became sort of a standard joke and it-and it led to the environment being a extremely important issue in the 2000 presidential campaign. And there are all kinds of reporters who trooped to Texas to talk about the environment and to tour Houston which that year had a w-a-w-a worse air quality than Los Angeles and were-was violating the Clean Air Act more frequently than L.A., I think it had a hundred-fifty days where the air quality was so bad that it was unsafe to breathe the air in Houston.
  • They had a day that was so bad that a soccer team literally fell to the ground gagging and several kids had to be taken to the hospital due to respiratory distress largely due to un-permitted emissions from some of the chemical plants that were giving Bush money.
  • So we were able to do a-a tremendous number of studies linking the chemical and refining and power companies' contributions to Bush with his voluntary control plan. We were able to pry out of the Governor's office through a series of lawsuits that literally proved that there had been a series of secret meetings between industry and [George] Bush to create this program and these became essentially the-one of the-the three or four signature issues that dogged Bush throughout his campaign.
  • DT: Earlier you were talking about a certain interplay between energy and air quality and health concerns and I was wondering if you could talk about how climate change worries might also be driving some of your work on energy conservation and reducing air pollution?
  • SS: Well, one of the greatest threats we're facing as a world is global warming. And here in the United States we don't hear nearly as much about it as our friends in Europe do who believe that we're in the middle of a global climate crisis and have seen probably upwards of a hundred thousand people die in the last year due to excessive heat. Here in our country we know most about the Europeans who passed away, but there were tens of thousands of people in Africa who perished this year as well as a number of folks in India and others.
  • One of the-and the World Health Organization has recently come out with a report adding up the total number of deaths due to excessive heat this year. No state is more responsible for global warming than Texas. Were we a nation unto ourselves we would be seventh in the Earth in terms of emissions of those gasses causing global warming.
  • We lead California by a ratio of a-1.5 to 1 in terms of the emissions of those gasses causing global warming. Large portion of them come from our refining industries,our power plants and our cars certainly and a-we have a tremendous responsibility to the rest of the Earth to reduce our emissions of those gasses.
  • One of the stories that I think sort of talks about the power of organizing is the story of how we got then Governor Bush to pledge to reduce the emissions of those gasses causing global warming should he become President. We back in 1990 there had been an interim committee looking at global warming and they had predicted that if we did nothing that we would have significant increases in temperature, rising seas, periods of drought followed by periods of torrential rainfall that were in such quantities that the aquifers couldn't absorb it. And we've seen a lot of those changes occur in Texas in the last decade.
  • In 2000 a study was released that indicated that we could create eighty-four thousand more jobs than we would lose if we would adopt a series of policies here in Texas that would reduce global warming emissions. And we-the average family could save seven hundred dollars a year through energy efficiency.
  • And we took that study and tried to think of images that encapsulated the solutions to global warming so we got a little hybrid car and we got highly efficient compact fluorescent light bulbs and solar cells and wind turbines and went on the road around Texas very quickly, held press conferences with this photogenic red car in front of county court houses across the state, in front of churches, in front of universities and generated about fifteen hundred letters to President Bush or to Governor Bush at that time in the course of about thirty days asking him to develop a plan to reduce the emissions of those gasses causing global warming.
  • And we had filed a petition with our environmental agency here in Texas asking them to enact rules to reduce the gasses causing global warming. And we were using that as a-a way to try and raise the issue while he was running for President. At one of the hearings at-on thep-petition for rule making one of the-the eminent scientists on global warming who is from Texas A&M University, who is a genuine white-haired, slow talking "Aggie" was in town and I said, hey let's go by and see if we can catch up with somebody over in the Bush campaign and explain to them why they ought to happen-why we ought to-why they ought to reduce these emissions.
  • So we went over and visited with them and his campaign staffer was real interested in the issue and it was clear that Governor Bush was and had asked her to ask us some questions clearly indicating he had been reading about the issue, thinking about the issue and had a high level of sophistication about how various gasses like particles might affect the temperature and increased the impact of global warming, which indicated a level of attention to detail most of us didn't think Bush was capable of.
  • About two weeks later when his interview plan came out-or his interview platform came out, there were provisions in there that said he-if he were elected president would pledge to reduce those gasses coming from power plants that caused global warming and those that cause mercury contamination as well as those that cause smog and acid rain.
  • And he's kept his promised and that he-to some extent, he said for sure, I'm going to reduce the emissions that cause acid rain s-s-smog and mercury, but not very quickly, but he recanted his promise to reduce the gasses causing global warming. And the question is why? After the election was over, one of the things that became clear is that West Virginia, a state that had typically been a democratic state had voted for Bush and the counties that had voted for Bush were the coal mining counties where typically the United Mine Workers a democratic union typically had voted republican for the first time ever.
  • And it was that state and several others, but West Virginia was one of the key states that help pushed Bush into the position that enabled him to win the presidency. The payback clearly was the recanting of his position on global warming gasses. When you look and listen later to what Bush has had to say about global warming, among the lines he uses is-are, it's not proven and if we try and reduce the emissions of gasses causing global warming it'll reduce the consumption of coal and that's the backbone of re-en-en-energy industry. Once again showing how money and votes spawn by organized companies can often times out-influence the outcome of a major campaign.