Jordan King Abdullah II appeared on Meet the Press yesterday (Sunday, April  26), and was questioned by moderator David Gregory regarding his views on prospects for peace in the Middle East.  One of the U.S.’s closest allies in that region, the King said “we’re here relaunching an initiative that allows Arabs to reach out to Israel if we can move on the two-state solution, which is critical for stability and peace for our region.”  Pushed by Gregory to talk about other problems in the region, especially al-Qaeda, Abdullah returned to a central point: that all of those problems tie back to the endless conficts between  Israelis and Arabs.  “…the challenge we have in front of American public is connecting the dots.  Any crisis you want to talk about, whether it’s al-Qaeda, Syria, Pakistan, Afghanistan, all comes back to the sore,  the emotional issue that is Palestine and Jerusalem. Any conflict that you pick in the Middle East today, all roads lead back to Jerusalem…,” he said. “So until you deal with the Palestinian issue, it is more difficult to deal with al-Qaeda…Pakistan…all these other problems that you’re facing.”

By now, you may be asking: “What does this have to do with Texas politics?” Texans who supported former Governor and U.S. Secretary of the Treasury John B. Connally for the Republican nomination for President in 1980 may have found the King’s views a bit familiar. In a bold move early in the campaign to demonstrate his grasp of international affairs, Connally made a major foreign policy address in 1979 in which he advocated establishment of a Palestinian state and shared sovereignty over Jerusalem as keys  to peace in the region.  His speech was met by a firestorm of criticism, the departure of Jewish supporters and media response that included an editorial attack by the Wall Street Journal.  Incensed by what he thought was an unenlightened evaluation of his ideas, to put it mildly,  Connally forcefully dispatched his campaign Director of Communications –who happened to be me–to express  his displeasure to then WSJ editor Robert Bartley. Predictably, Mr.  Bartley, now deceased, dismissed my protests as summarily as he did Connally’s peace plan.

Interestingly, the Wall Street Journal did no better by the King’s views than it did Connally’s almost 30 years ago.  A search of today’s edition (Monday, April 27), reveals no WSJ coverage of  his remarks on Meet the Press Sunday morning. Ditto the New York Times.

–Julian Read

News that the Brazos Place in downtown Austin will auction off 20 unsold condos next month at cut-price levels kindles memories among Capitol oldtimers of when the building housed the once-regal Commodore Perry Hotel. Opened in 1950, it was advertised as ‘Austin’s hotel of  distinction…completely air-conditioned…radio and television in every room…home of  the Austin Club…nearest to the Capitol.’  The Commodore quickly became an intriguing crossroads of  Texas politics. Complete with an indoor swimming pool, it was a popular late night  hangout of movers and shakers for smoking, drinking and other pursuits of the flesh.

Longtime Austin attorney, political leader and timeless  insurance lobbyist Will Davis, who still offices in the adjacent Perry-Brooks Building,  remembers the hotel as “a gorgeous facility…one of the most beautiful I ever saw.” He recalls vividly that the hotel was a favorite playground for his long-ago partner and colorful Texas political icon, W.W. (Bill) Heath. “He drank a lot of whiskey, played a lot of poker and had a lot  of fun at that hotel”, said Davis. Heath was riding high in political circles in those days. He served as chairman of the University of Texas Board of Regents for both Governors Price Daniel and John Connally, and capped his career as U.S. Ambassador to Sweden after appointment by President Lyndon B. Johnson. Davis says that as a confidant of the President, Ambassador Heath was a major influence in Johnson’s decision to locate the LBJ Library on the UT campus.

Former Texas Secretary of the Senate Charles Schnabel, who still works the Capitol halls on behalf of his clients, remembers the Commodore Perry as the place where Texas House Speaker Billy Clayton organized and directed his campaign for that office back in 1975. “The walls of that hotel could tell a lot of political stories”, he said. 

The landmark structure struggled after its later conversion into an office building, but was fully renovated and reborn into a modern condo community two years ago.  A major appeal to political types: it still is only a few minutes away from the Capitol.

–Julian Read

You can judge how long the current crop of legislators and lobbyists have been around the Capitol by whether they remember the Linoleum Club. Long before today’s spiffy Capitol Grill in the underground extension, it was the and only place to hang out and find any semblance of  nourishment, no matter how humble. Located in a dungeon-like setting in the basement, it was ground zero for gossip, strategizing and deal-making during legislative sessions.

Retired Texas Senate Sergeant at Arms Carleton Turner is one who remembers:

“My recollections of the Linoleum Club are a mixed lot. It was one of those circumstances that you don’t appreciate until years later. My experience at the “snack bar” was one of a cramped plain-Jane type food service that had a very limited menu. But in hindsight, it was good food, served by a very appreciative staff, that was very fast and tasty. The linoleum label was the result of the decor, which seemed to be linoleum from floor to the ceiling. But although it was nothing fancy, you got good comfort food in a hurry, and you could be seated next to anyone from the Speaker to Austin’s biggest lobbyist. The staff members were all blind,  but that was no hindrance because they knew every step of the kitchen. And although it operated in less than 1000 square feet, it was the best-utilized spot in the whole Capitol”

The Linoleum Club fell victim to the massive renovation and extension of the Capitol following the near-disasterous fire in then-Lt. Governor Bill Hobby’s apartment in 1983. The project was completed in 1995. Speaking of the present-day Grill,  House Administration Committee Chair Charlie Geren is getting applause from the crowd for keeping it open late this season to accommodate traffic for after-hours hearings.

–Julian Read

Texans who admire Austin’s beautiful State Cemetery may be surprised to learn that it was not always so.  Certainly not before the forceful and persistent late Lt. Governor Bob Bullock turned his legendary will on an embarassing historic eyesore almost 15 years ago.

It was May 15, 1994, that Bullock joined a throng of friends and admirers gathered at the Cemetery to say goodbye to  beloved colleague  Harry Whitworth,  a former  state legislator and later dean of  the Austin lobby.  He was upset over the death of a once fellow member in the Texas House of  Representatives, but he was more disturbed by the condition of the Cemetery.   I still remember vividly that Bullock came up to me, grabbed both of my lapels as he was wont to do, and exclaimed: “Julian, this place is a disgrace. And we are going to do something about it.”

Anyone who knew Bullock and is familiar with his unrivalled knowledge of state resources and his forceful style will not be surprised at this account of what followed, recalled by longtime State Cemetery Director Harry  Bradley.

Bradley’s Version of the State Cemetery Rennaisance

“Bullock assembled a group of Texas state agencies: General Services Administration,  Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, Texas Historical Commission,  State Highway Department (TxDOT), the prison system (TDCJ). along with contractors and architects. The Cemetery is a National Historic Site with a state highway running throught it (SH 165, the shortest state highway in Texas). This allowed the state to receive funding from the U.S. Department of Transportation under the Intermodal Surface Transportation Efficiency Act (ISTEA), which funds the renovation of historic sites next to a highway.  The federal money funded 80 percent of  the project.

“Once the money was in place and the plans approved, the work began in early 1995, and Bullock had his dream project underway. Since the project was completed, tens of thousands of visitors have enjoyed tours and lectures at the Cemetery and it has become a historical treasure for Texas.”

This is, of course, a sanitized account of what happened and is lacking some of the colorful language that motivated the partipating parties to get the job done.  A sidelight of the story:  Soon after Bullock decided to renovate the Cemetery, he called Bradley, a longtime campaign worker, into his office and told him of his grandiose plans.  “You’re the superintendent and you make it happen.”.  Bradley kept nodding and saying  yessir. Finally, Bullock said “that’s it…go to work…do you have any questions?”  Bradley replied . “hell, I didn’t know we had a state cemetery.”  Bullock would be proud to know  Bradley is still there, carefully patrolling and nurturing those sacred grounds in his loving stewardship of the Texas treasure.

—Julian Read

Former President Lyndon B. Johnson would turn over in his grave if he knew that  Congress has passed the mind-boggling  3.6 trilllion dollar  Federal Budget submitted by President Barack Obama.  Back in 1964,  he agonized  for weeks on how he could keep his FY1965 federal budget under 100 billion dollars. He had inherited an adminstrative budget recommended to President John F. Kennedy shortly before his death of $102.2 billion.  The revenue estimates were $93.1 billion. That left a deficit of $9 billion. Also seeking a tax cut, he knew that Congress would never grant one with a budget imbalance  of  that size. So as only he could do, LBJ pleaded, cajoled, and intimidated his staff and  Cabinet officers  to find cuts necessaryto reduce the budget to that magic 100 million number.  President Johnson was not to be denied. On January 8, 1964, he announced to Congress that he would present a budget of $97.9 billion–$4 billion less  than the previously submitted total.

Speaking to his budget staff later at the signing of the 1965 budget, he praised them for their historic efforts and took time to talk about his own frugality in cutting White  House expenses.

“Someone told me that the light bill in the White House ran several thousand dollars a month. I challanged Mr. (Jack) Valenti and my maid this morning when I left to turn off all those  lights on those chandeliers when there is no one on the house, Mrs. Johnson had gone to New York and  I was the only one there and I didn’t require that much light”

A few years later, three Austinites who served Johnson in the White House–Larry Temple, , Harry Middleton and the late George Christian  saw his pride in submitting a balanced budget for fiscal 1968.

 What a quaint idea.