Austin's Cathy Bonner
by Esther Horton
Cathy Bonner, an Austin public relations and advertising businesswoman, will
lobby for the Texas Women's Political
Caucus (TWPC) in the 66th Legislature.
BREAKTHROUGH reporter Ester Horton
talked with her recently about women's
issues in the upcoming session.
Is this legislative session important to
Yes. I think that it's a crucial time in
that we don't really know what to expect
and with the backlash of Proposition 13,
and the state seeming to be more conservative in outlook in human and civil
rights, we want to be careful that we
maintain the gains we've made in the
last few sessions, particularly ERA.
Is Texas targeted as one of the states for
Well, I've heard that Phyllis Schlafly
and the stop-ERA plan is to get 15 states
to rescind their ratification and that
Texas is one of the targeted states. Now,
this was even before the new governor
was elected so they really might feel
that they have a chance now . . .
Texas, of course, has its own ERA in
our constitution , and we want to be very
careful that that's not tampered with
either . . . You see, the real question—
I think we can hold down ERA in committee because I think most legislators
just don't want to vote on it—but crucial
consideration lies with the issue of
initiative and referendum, which has
already been pre-filed (in bills by Sen.
Walter Mengden of Houston in the
Senate and Reps. Carlyle Smith of
Grand Prairie and Donald Cartwright of
San Antonio in the House) . . .
The whole issue of initiative and
referendum we oppose because if that's
allowed, then I think on women's issues
a whole bunch of them are going to be
put on the ballot, everything from ERA
to abortion and gay rights, to all those
issues that seem controversial, that you
could whip up 10 per cent of those that
voted in the last gubernatorial election to
sign a petition to either pass a law restricting or do away with a law that's
What would the State of Texas be able
to do on abortion?
Right now we don't have any restrictive laws, and Sarah Weddington's
game plan was to always try to keep anything from passing. Once you allow anything to be passed, which the Supreme
Court said the state could pass I think in
the second trimester, legislation restricting certain aspects of the procedure, that
just opens the door to more and more restrictive action ... I think what's going to
be proposed is something similar to the
Akron, Ohio ordinance where they made
abortion procedures so restrictive that it
really prohibits . . . many doctors from
Has there been a test case on that ordinance before the Supreme Court?
I don't know . . . Clearly, we think
some of these things are unconstitutional if they are applied across the
board but that's never kept the legislature from passing anything before.
Also, I think there's going to be a
bill passed limiting the use of state funds
for abortions ...
And, of course, the big push across the
nation is that local legislators would pass
initiative calls for constitutional conventions on abortion, and we're against
that because they would want to pass a
constitutional amendment prohibiting
abortion . . .
Do you think the fact that Bill Clements
is going to be governor rather than John
Hill is going to make it tougher going for
feminists this session?
Well, I'd hate to say that across the
I board because I think we have an obligation to give him a chance and to work
with him and his administration on
women's issues . . . The problem is that
we're just fairly ignorant about where Mr.
Clements stands on women's issues.
That's probably our fault more than anything in that most of the organized feminist groups, such as the Women's Political
Caucus, supported John Hill financially
and personally, and we knew exactly
where he stood on women's issues. We
knew that he, within his administration in the past and within his campaign,
utilized women's resources and women's
expertise at a very high level. Many feminists were a part of his campaign so we
felt we had access to him. And we had
very little communication with Bill
Clements . . . There are certain statements that have been made in newspapers
around the state about ERA . . .
About his wife's involvement in recission
I don't know about that. I know that
he stated at some point that he felt that
the ERA was unnecessary, but we know
that Mrs. Clements made the statement
that since the ERA is part of the Texas
Constitution, then as the governor of
Texas, he (Clements) supports the Constitution ... So we hope that we can
work with her in preserving what we have
Are there prominent feminists in the state
who are Republican?
Well, the Caucus has a woman named
Helen Knaggs, who is chair of the Republican caucus (in TWPC), and she's a very
skilled politician and lobbyist . . . and she
will be very instrumental in helping us
with the Republicans. There are other
women in the Caucus that are Republican, though there are not as many
as Democrats and independents.
But we'll be relying on a few of them.
Hopefully, this will be a chance for the
Caucus to bring more women into the
organization that are Republican that
want to be a part of our efforts and can
help up represent these goals to a Republican administration.
What other issues in the legislature this
session will affect women?
There are many issues we're concerned
about, such as the Nurse Practice Act . . .
Nurses in this state do not have to be
licensed to practice nursing, unlike the
majority of other states in the nation.
They have what they call volunteer
licensing, and because the nursing industry is primarily made up of women,
it's an issue that concerns the Caucus.
And also because it speaks to the professionalism of these women and the fact
that people that, say, fail their state
boards or are foreign nurses who have
never taken the state boards are practicing in clinics and nursing homes around
the state. The Texas Nurses Association
has tried for many sessions to change
that, so that you have mandatory licensing of professional nurses . . .
We're concerned with some issues in
criminal justice such as the need for a
statewide treatment program for sex
offenders. . . . We're very interested in
the whole issue of domestic and family
violence, and about what could be done
legally . . . There is talk about having an
omnibus family violence bill presented.
What would that be?
It's really unclear right now, but it
would go into some criminal procedure
and how police respond to calls of
domestic and family violence, reporting
those crimes as specific acts so you can
at least document the need at local
levels, say for a battered women's center .. .
There's also a resolution passed by the
caucus to support a constitutional amendment to expand the Board of Pardons and
Paroles to nine members.
The Board of Pardons and Paroles, of
course, grants pardon and parole for
criminals. Texas has one of the largest
female offender populations in the
country and because of the backlog in the
courts and limited access to
commissioners for pardons and paroles,
the feeling is that a lot of female offenders are hampered in obtaining parole . . .
Those are issues of support that the
Caucus won't take an active role in
probably but certainly will be concerned
Will the Caucus be trying to have some
legislation introduced itself, through
Probably not. Originally we were
really going to push very hard for a Commission on the Status of Women, but the
feeling is now that we don't have a shot
at it. Anything that's going to cost money
is going to be very difficult to get through
this legislature . . .
There are some things that we're very
interested in; for instance, putting money
in the displaced homemakers bill. Last
session a bill passed that set up under the
Texas Rehabilitation Commission several
displaced homemaker centers for women
re-entering the job force in technical
skills and education training, and the
money provided for those centers was
not recommended in the proposed budget
by the Legislative Budget Board. So we'll
be trying to get that money put back
into the appropriations bill.
We'll be trying to make sure that the
program for educational training for
women on welfare-AFDC (Aid for
Families with Dependent Children)-a
program that was passed last session, will
be duly funded again. So we're in kind of
a defensive posture rather than an offensive posture.
What about the composition of the 66th
Legislature? Do you think it's going to be
more sympathetic to women than, say,
the last legislature?
I think it's more conservative. The
House is still rural-dominated. We have a
few friends that we can always rely on,
such as Lt. Gov. Bill Hobby ... We still
have only one woman in the Senate
(Betty Andujar of Fort Worth). She's
a Republican, but she was very much for
the Rape Reform bill (passed in 1975)
and carried it in the Senate. There are 11
women in the House now, so that is an
increase over what we had. I think we had
six or seven last time. But certainly 11
out of 150 is not representative of the
general population, and one out of 30 in
the Senate is certainly a gross under-
So, to summarize, how does it look to
you this session? Does it look like it's
going to be one in which we just try to
hold on, without really gaining anything
Hermine Tabolowski (of Dallas), who
is kind of the mother of ERA, said the
other day that we have to remember that
politics is the art of the possible, and I
think that we've come of age in the
Women's Politicial Caucus to realizing
that at certain times there are certain
things possible and other things that are
impossible. I think what's possible (this
session) is that we remain a political
force strong enough to safeguard the
things we've fought so hard for.
DECEMBER/JANUARY 1979 HOUSTON BREAKTHROUGH