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Texas has special role in Enron saga

Molly Ivens

LANSING, Mich — Here in the home of the Lansing Lugnuts, the local baseball team named after the town’s premier product, is also to be found a unique work of art — a statue of a lugnut on a tall column. Just further evidence of America’s greatness.

Speaking of Americana, you can’t have a scandal in this country without some special input from Texas, that famous (SET ITAL) je ne sais quoi (END ITAL) for which we are so noted. We offer the following delicious details for your delectation.

Last June, Gov. Rick “Goodhair” Perry (he has very good hair) appointed an Enron executive to be chairman of the state Public Utilities Commission, because this is Texas and whom else would you put on the commission that regulates energy companies but an energy company executive?

The next day, Perry got a $25,000 donation from Ken Lay. We might have worried about this, but Perry has cleared up the whole thing. The timing, he said, was “totally coincidental.” We were all greatly relieved to learn this, since some with dirty minds might have thought there was a connection. We are also pleased with the fresh nuances in “totally coincidental.” Just the other day, my dog got into the garbage and ate chicken bones then, totally coincidentally, she barfed on the living-room rug.

In the further adventures of Gov. Goodhair (now also known as “Old Coincidence”), his Enron appointee, Max Yzaguirre, turned out to have a blot on his record. Democrats demanded the public records about the background of the new chair of the PUC, and the records include any brushes with the law, no matter how minor.

In addition to a couple of youthful driving incidents, Commissioner Yzaquirre turns out to have shot a whooping crane in 1989, apparently under the impression that it was a goose. He had to pay a $15,000 fine under the Endangered Species Act, a thing that could happen to practically anybody (in 1994, when President George W. was running for governor, he shot a protected killdeer on the theory that it was a dove). But the Goodhair administration was embarrassed about the dead whooper, so they whited out this interesting information before releasing the commissioner’s forms.

Well, it was some cover-up and probably would have worked, except alert citizens noticed the blank and raised questions and the whole sad story came out. Yzaguirre recently saw fit to resign, thus ending what we all thought was a really fun episode.

Meanwhile, the attorney general of Texas, John Cornyn, announced firmly that he would investigate Enron and all its nefarious doings, which caused the citizenry to rejoice, except for those picky people at the public interest groups who pointed out that Cornyn has received $193,000 in campaign contributions from Enron officials since 1997. Cornyn was prepared to ignore the pesky watchdogs and announced firmly he would so investigate, but, totally coincidentally, he recused himself the next day.

You might think some public officeholder in Texas could investigate Enron without questions being raised over campaign contributions — after all, many members of Congress who have received generous contributions from Enron are now investigating it. But even if we could investigate and prosecute, the cases would likely wind up in the state supreme court and — surprise! — seven out of nine judges on the Supreme Court seem to be Enron beneficiaries, as well. It’s hard to think how we could be having a better time in Texas.

Some Texas pols have taken the unusual step of donating their Enron contributions to the fund to help the fired Enron employees. Most notably Sen. Kaye Bailey Hutchison, who got $99,500, has given $100,000 to the fund, and that’s a big chunk to turn over. Now if President Bush were to return his Enron contributions, over $2 million all told, we could be talking some real progress on health care insurance for the busted employees.


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