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Sunday, December 23, 2007



Published: August 26, 1981

IN April 1975 there was an unseemly brouhaha in the chaste halls of the Colorado Legislature, about what we forget, which produced some quite unmannerly hollering. Some peace-loving member of that body stepped to the front and said, ''Gentlemen, please, you are behaving like a bunch of Texas legislators!'' Whereat they were all so ashamed that concord was restored instanter. We read this in The Rocky Mountain News and have been convinced ever since that Colorado must be a dreadfully dull place.

The original, the awful, the one and only reverse-pattern card for all state legislatures that aspire to decency is on display at 8 o'clock tonight in a ''CBS Reports'' documentary entitled ''The Best Little Statehouse in Texas.'' In truth, it is only a glimpse of that peculiar institution, which is a mercy, because full sight of it at work is enough to gag a maggot. The ''Lege,'' as Texans call it, is also hysterically funny, if you have a stomach as strong as Mike Zunk's. Mike Zunk eats cars for a living.

Whether, or rather how much, of this comes through in the CBS program is difficult for an insider to judge. Larry L. King, a funny man, a fine writer and a semiprofessional Texan, is the guide into the bowels of the State Capitol. Those of us accustomed to The Accent will find Mr. King a man of calm good will as he delves into the making of law in the Lone Star State. But as many of us noticed when Jimmy Carter was President, The Accent (here a rich West Texas twang) often distracts Yankees from the content of what is being said. It is all too easy to dismiss these yahoos as peculiar to Texas and to ignore Mr. King's point that this is your legislature, without couth.

The program follows the fates of two bills, one in the House, the other in the Senate. The House, the more obstreperous of the two, tied itself into granny knots trying to draw a redistricting plan. Meantime, the Senate, in its more sedate fashion, was considering a bill to raise the ceiling on interest rates to 28 percent. The Senator who introduced the bill is on the board of a savings and loan company, and the bill itself was written by a lobbyist: neither fact was considered either reprehensible or unusual.

The beauty of the ''Lege'' is that it always commits its disservices to the public interest with great style. The gang does not disappoint this go-round, even though it was a tame session - not one fistfight was recorded. Representative Craig Washington of Houston provides an endearing summation with the observation that it was a good session because very little really bad legislation was passed. ''No man's life, liberty or property is safe when the Texas Legislature's in session,'' he said. ''So the best thing we'll do for the people is adjourn tonight at midnight.''