meeting but you won't be able to understand
what's going on from what is written there.
For example, last July, a very important decision was made. The commissioners voted on a
retroactive rate policy. It used to be, when a
utility got an increase, they could apply it to
your bill two months after the increase was
approved. Last July, the commissioners decided
to change that policy, one that had been in
effect about 40 years, to let the utility backbill
and collect, all the way back to when they first
started asking for the rate increase. This change
costs us millions of extra dollars. The meeting
that decided this policy was posted in the Texas
Register but the notice didn't say anything
about retroactive rates.
The railroad commission hides behind its
name. There was a bill in the last session of the
legislature to change the name to the Texas
Energy and Transportation Commission, so
people would know what it was. The commissioners killed the bill in committee. They don't
want people to know.
Also, by the time a utility asks the commission to approve a permit, it's already been
done. The hearing is a rubber stamp session.
Sure, somebody can come in and protest, but it
won't make any difference.
BT: How would you change this procedure?
JH: I would go out and hold a press conference in the area well in advance. I'd send out
mailings to farmers, senior citizen groups and
others who might want to have a say. I'd decentralize the office.
My concept of the office is what I believe
to be the original concept of the office-back
in 1891 when it was set up: a watchdog for the
people. Exxon, Houston Natural Gas, Houston
Lighting & Power-they don't need the government's help. They've got lawyers, experts and
technical staff. The people who need help from
the railroad commission are those who pay the
bills, those whose land is going to be stripped,
those who can't get a trucking permit, those
who don't have staffs of lawyers... This agency ought to aggressively get on the side of the
BT: When did you begin to understand the
importance of the commission?
JH: It was when I was editor of the Texas
Observer. I began to see that this was an agency
that could do a great deal for people. This race
is a consistent extension of work that I've done
all along-of books I've written (Hard Tomatoes,
Hard Times; Eat Your Heart Out: How Food
Profiteers Victimize the Consumer) and my
work for Ralph Yarbofough in Washington.
Everything I've done so far has been focused on
the populist notion that too few people have
all the money and power.
OPENING THE DOORS
BT: Why should you be trusted as the
JH: First of all, there are no guarantees in
politics. I'm asking you to risk a vote with me
in that things might get better. You know my
opponent. You know things aren't going to get
better under him.
Secondly, I want to blow open that little
closed office so the people themselves are on
the inside. I want that building open and the
people directly involved.
If I'm elected, these outsiders-the bill payers, farmers, small business people, old people,
working people-will discover, for the first time,
what the railroad commission really means.
That understanding will change the political
environment in which all three commissioners
have to operate.
All three seats on the commission have been
controlled by the industry. So far, there has
been no one with a consumer orientation, no
one whose first response to a rate-increase
request is, "Why should we have to pay anything?"
My concept of what government ought to
be and how it ought to actually work for
people is my whole background. I come from
a populist, small business, farmer background, a
common sense approach, a Jeffersonian sort of
BT: Nugent has implied that he's more qualified for this office, i.e. he is an engineer, a lawyer, and a politician.
JH: That's nonsense. The commission has a
staff of about 700 people. You hire the experts.
Experts are supposed to give policy leaders
trends, data, etc. The job of the railroad commissioner is to make policy, to sift out the experts and try to make a public decision based
on fair judgments and need.
BT: Yet the incumbents depict you, according to the Times, as "a radical with only the
most rudimentary knowledge of the industries
[you] would regulate."
JH: I'll tell you what's radical. Radical is
raising people's utility bills 30 percent a year
every year for the last 10 years, our average in
the state of Texas. Radical is assessing their
rates retroactively without ever consulting
them. Radical is strip mining our land in a rip-
'n-run, fast-buck style without even holding an
area hearing to talk about destroying topsoil
or cutting off an underground water supply in
the process. Radical is denying independent
truckers the right to compete in the trucking
industry. I'm the conservative in the race.
Nugent is the radical. I believe in free enterprise.
I believe in democracy. I believe in consulting
Government requires basic common sense.
You have competing interests that need to be
sorted out and that doesn't take an expert, it
takes judgment and a feel for what people want.
BT: Is that what makes you qualified?
JH: Yes. As a journalist, I'm able to sift
through the nonsense. I'm able to ask a follow-
up question. I'm able to bring in competing
testimony. I'm able to open up the dialogue.
I'm able to hold a press conference and decentralize that office. And as I've been active in
politics and public-interest type work, I'm able
to rally a constituency.
BT: Anything else you'd like to add for
JH: Breakthrough is a good name. It describes what I'm trying to do-break through
this industrial shell that has been built over an
agency that regulates energy prices, energy policies and our transportation.
No other agency has a more powerful effect
on our lives. It's bad enough that we let these
companies monopolize our marketplace, but far
worse that we let them monopolize our government. Democracy assumes that people are going
to take an interest and get involved. We have
not done that with the railroad commission.
And I don't blame people for that. I blame
our political process. It hasn't worked because
candidates haven't come forward to give people
a choice. That's what I'm trying to do.
The effort has already been successful.
People know about the railroad commission.
People are very mad, and if you can tap that
properly, get it organized and to the polls, you
can win in Texas by running on the pocketbook
issues. The people want somebody who's going
to talk sense to them. The question is whether
I can reach enough of them and whether those
I have reached will go out to the polls.
BT: Who has endorsed you?
JH: AFL-CIO, United Auto Workers and
some other unions individually endorsed me:
The United Farm Workers, the steel workers,
the Mexican American Democrats, the Texas
Nurses Association ... We won a straw poll at
the Coalition of Black Democrats' statewide
meeting. The steering committee of the Harris
County Council of Organizations recommended
me to the membership. The Progressive Voters
League in Dallas and PASO. The leadership of
the Texas Farmers Union and the American
Agriculture Movement. Some groups like the
Oak Lawn Democrats and many democratic
.clubs like the Greater Baytown Area Democrats. ACORN. Texas Women's Political Caucus.
Several Young Democratic groups, including
the one here at the University of Houston.
Judith Richards is a free lance writer in
14th COURT OF CIVIL APPEALS
Houston Bar Association (85% of vote)
Harris County Democrats
Harris County Suburban Lawyers (100% of vote)
North Harris County Bar Association (100% of vote)
Pasadena Bar Association (100% of vote)
Harris County Council of Organizations
International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers
International Union of Operating Engineers
International Longshoremen's Association
Area 5 Democrats
Houston Trial Lawyers Association (100% of vote)
Spring Branch Memorial Bar Association
Houston Lawyers Association
Plumbers Local Unions
West End Democrats
Black Women Lawyers Association
CANDIDATE IN FOURTEEN COUNTIES
Paid for by Don Hendrix, Campaign Treasurer; 1 Houston Center; Houston, TX.
ELECT HELEN HOPKINS
JUSTICE OF THE PEACE—Pet. 2
Mature, Experienced, Uniquely
Qualified with a
Record of Community Service
Endorsed by Harris Co. Women's Political Caucus
and Area V Democrats
Iff you would like to help, please call 644-3643
165th District Court
Paid for by Tom Bousquet Campaign
2500 West Loop South, Suite 480, Houston, Tx., J. A. Bousquet, Treasurer