Books offer insight into state politics
Those are the subjects of three recent books published by the presses of the state's two most prestigious public universities.
"The Power of the Texas Governor: Connally to Bush" explores how the one woman and six men who immediately preceded Gov. Rick Perry handled the job.
State Rep. Brian McCall, a thoughtful moderate Republican from Plano, turned his doctoral dissertation at the University of Texas at Dallas into a book for the University of Texas Press. McCall, 50, has served in the Texas House since 1991.
McCall provides a succinct appraisal of the differing leadership and management styles of governors over 38 years, from Democrat John Connally (1963-69) through Republican George W. Bush (1995-2000).
Between Connally and Bush were Democrats Preston Smith (1969-73) and Dolph Briscoe (1973-79), Republican Bill Clements (1979-83), Democrat Mark White (1983-87), Clements' second term (1987-91), and Democrat Ann Richards (1991-95).
Some say the Texas governor is a weak position, but some of the people who have held it dispute that. McCall quotes White as saying that one of his predecessors, Allan Shivers, said "I never thought it was weak. I had all the power I needed."
The book about the people's lawyer details major challenges faced by John L. Hill Jr., one of the most aggressive Texas attorney generals, from 1973 to 1979.
"John Hill for the State of Texas: My Years as Attorney General" outlines some of the major battles Hill undertook, including reforming consumer protections, curbing maverick child care home operations, fighting corruption in Duval county, and cleaning up the Houston Ship Channel.
Hill's first-person account was researched and written by well-respected former capitol newsman Ernie Stromberger.
Sadly, Hill died July 9, 2007, before the book was printed by Texas A&M University Press.
The only person to serve as secretary of state, attorney general, and chief justice of the Texas Supreme Court, Hill would have loved to be included in McCall's book.
Hill ran for governor twice: In 1968, when he finished sixth in the Democratic primary, and in 1978, when he unseated incumbent Briscoe in the Democratic primary. But he lost a very tight general election to Republican Clements. Stromberger, who had worked as press secretary for Hill when he was attorney general, was campaign press spokesman in the gubernatorial campaign.
In 1984, Hill was elected chief justice. He quit after three years, and kicked off an effort calling for appointment rather than election of judges.
The people's water, and the politics surrounding it, has always been serious business in Texas - lifegiving, death-causing, fought over -- and recent drought, growing demand and increased competition for Texas' finite and unpredictable supply has produced some huge political battles.
As with appropriating tax money, the distribution of water is controversial: who gets how much, and why; how much belongs to landowners, under what circumstances; how much should belong to the people of Texas; how much should go for municipal and industrial use, and irrigation; how much stream flow should be reserved for aquatic life and recreation; what you can and can't put into it. All are in this book.
"Water in Texas: An Introduction," from UT Press, was written by Andrew Sansom, a man in a position to know.
Sansom helped found what is now the River Systems Institute at Texas State University-San Marcos - headquartered at Aquarena Springs, the headwaters of the San Marcos River.
Sansom came to that post after a dozen years as executive director of the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, overseeing the state's fishing, hunting and park systems. Earlier, he headed the Texas Nature Conservancy and worked for the U.S. Department of Interior in Washington, D.C. He knows the important roles of water from many different vantage points.
An avid canoeist, fisherman, hunter, and birdwatcher, Sansom knows Texas water resources -- from relatively wet Southeast Texas, with more than 50 inches of rain a year, to arid far West Texas, which averages eight inches a year - sometimes most of it on one day.
Sansom is no stranger to legislative and bureaucratic wrangling over who gets how much water in Texas, and why.
In addition to laying out the elements of what is important in the use, expense, allocation and management of water, Sansom also helps break up what could be a -- pardon the pun -- dry subject with lively prose and 105 pictures, maps and illustrations.