CORRESPONDENCErnLetter From Texasrnby Bill MurchisonrnDon’t Mess With thernTexas ConstitutionrnThe constitution of the state of Texas, myrnfriends, is not what you carry to thernbeach for hght summer reading. Light?rnNot at 90,000 words and 377 amendments.rnAs Dr. Johnson said of ParadisernLost, “No man ever wished it longer.”rnYet longer it gets, election year by electionrnyear, as the sovereign voters tack onrnmore elaborate changes.rnThe constitution was written in 1875.rnTexas had finally struck off the shacklesrnof Reconstruction. A fractious mood wasrnupon the political leadership; Whateverrnthose damyankees and carpetbaggersrnhad done wasn’t going to happen again,rnyou could go to the bank on that. Texasrnacquired perhaps the most strictly controlledrngovernmental structure in thernUnited States, which it retains to thisrnday.rnAnd wouldn’t you know it? That isn’trngood enough for various progressive reformersrnwho want Texas to scratch up arnnew constitution for a new century andrnmillennium.rnThe legislature—which, under presentrnconstitutional stipulations, hadn’trnmet since May 1997—has before it anrnearnest proposal for a document thatrnwould achieve just this lofty end. Itrnwould clear away impediments to dynamicrnaction, as Capt. Henry Shrevernover a century ago cleared the snags inhibitingrntravel on the Red River. Thernproposed new constitution would emphasizernefficiency and Getting ThingsrnDone. It would free us from dalliancernand indecision. (Pssst: This dog is goingrnnowhere. But what an opportunity itrngives us to talk about the joys of constrainedrngovernment and the hard workrnsuch constraint always requires.)rnTexas made its last pass at constitutionalrnrevision in the mid-70’s. Then, asrnnow, the watchword was efficient governmentrnfor changed circumstances. Inrnother words, we don’t live on the post-Reconstructionrnfrontier anymore, why notrnstart acting like it? Perhaps for this reason:rnConstitutions don’t embody just circumstances;rnmore to the point, they embodyrnprinciples brought to bear onrncircumstances. When you achieve deliberately,rnor luck into, the right set ofrnprinciples, it behooves you to grip themrntightiy. Texas voters, in repudiating constitutionalrnchange a quarter of a centuryrnago, decided they liked well enough thernsmall-government principles that allowedrnfor freedom and civility. That’srngoing to happen again in 1999.rnWhat did the men of 1875 actuallyrndo? As the historian T.R. Fehrenbachrnelucidates, theyrnmade it almost impossible for governmentrnin Texas to be burdensomernor onerous in the fiiture.. ..rn[The convention’s] first act was tornreduce its own per diem allowancernto five dollars. Its second was tornvote down a motion to have proceedingsrnprinted, because a publicrnstenographer cost ten dollars arnday. .. .rnThis was an anti-government instrument.rn.. . The dominant spiritrnwas to allow the state governmentrnno real latitude to act. The powersrnof the Legislature were much reduced.rn. . . The executive wasrnequally, or even more, curtailed.rn. . . None of these changes wasrncontroversial; they were what thernpeople wanted.rnAnd still sense they want. Demand forrnbig government in Texas — nowadaysrnour second-most populous state —is nil,rnsave in the earnest reforming circles thatrncry constitutional reform to life at regularrnintervals.rnWorking immediately against reformrnis the perception that there isn’t muchrnwrong with Texas: at least not much thatrngovernmental muscle is likely to ameliorate.rnThe economy has made the transitionrnnicely from oil dependency to diversity;rnhigh-tech and computer-relatedrnindustries are particularly strong. (Withrnit all, Texas remains the nation’s biggestrnoil-producing state.) The treasury is inrnsurplus.rnWhat exactly is government supposedrnto do for us? Improve the governmentrnschools? In fact, these were demonstrablyrnbetter 30 years ago, when governmentrnwas even smaller and cheaper thanrnnow.rnOver a century and a quarter, onernwould expect modifications in the arrangementsrnthose hard-bitten old frontiersmenrndevised. Modifications therernhave been—but sparing in scope and aggressiveness.rnThe reason that the Texasrnconstitution is 90,000 words long is thatrneven minor changes —e.g., abolishingrnthe public weigher’s office in so-and-sorncounty — have to be approved by thernwhole electorate. The framers, to say thernleast, didn’t favor unadvised action.rnConstitutional amendments take uprnmore printed space than the constitutionalrntext. Yet, apart from boredom (nobodyrnever reads the thing), harm to thernvoters is undetectable.rnThe legislature, as our forefathers ordained,rnmeets five months of every 24,rnexcept when a special session is called forrnone purpose or another. (The purposernmust always be specified.) Under therncarpetbaggers, there had been annualrnsessions. No one wanted this to happenrnagain. As one contemporary Texan explained,rn”[T]he more the damn legislaturernmeets, the more Goddamned billsrnand taxes it passes.” The common wisdomrnof Texans, now as a century ago,rnseems to hold that legislators are likernmost houseguests —the faster they getrnout, the better.rnLegislators are notoriously, and deliberately,rnunderpaid. The voters have finalrnsay-so on legislative pay, which, the lastrntime I checked, was $600 a month, plusrn$95 per diem during the five-month session.rnThis is the same state, let it not bernforgotten, that in 1875 wouldn’t toleraternpaying a stenographer. The obviouslyrnold-fashioned idea is that lawmakers arernthere to serve, not to be served. Naturally,rnthis circumstance does not cause seatsrnto languish for lack of occupants. Thernbudget for office expense is generousrnenough, and a lengthy legislative careerrn—there are, perhaps incongruously,rnno term limits—fits a man for service inrnthe large and extensive corporate lobby.rnThe lobbyists have been around forever.rnThey do not exactiy control the legislativernflow in Austin, but the lawmakerrnwho thinks they don’t matter has severalrn34/CHRONICLESrnrnrn