INTERVIEWEE: Sissy Farenthold (SF)
INTERVIEWER: David Todd (DT)
DATE: October 4, 1999
LOCATION: Houston, Texas
TRANSCRIBER:: Robin Johnson
REEL: 2033 and 2034
Please note that videos include roughly 60 seconds of color bars and sound tone for technical settings at the outset of the recordings. Numbers mark the time codes for the VHS tape copy of the interview. “Misc” refers to various off-camera conversation or background noise.
My name is David Todd and its October 4, 1999 and we have the pleasure of being in Houston, Texas and in the department of Sissy Farenthold who has been nice enough to spend a little time with us to talk about her work in conservation in Texas and-and indeed around the world. And we’re going to take this chance to thank you for spending the time with us.
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ST: I’m glad you nailed me down because I’ve tried to avoid the past.
DT: Well, what well try and talk more about the past and the future since you know much of what you’ve done is to try and care for the future generations. And, we all appreciate that. I wanted to so is start perhaps with your personal background and maybe you can tell us a little about your parents and or childhood how your interest in conservation began.
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ST: Yes, I don’t even think we had that term when I was growing up in South Texas. I was a native of Corpus Christi, Texas which was on the bay of Corpus Christi and just in front of us are the Barrier Islands in Mustang, so, that was very much a part of my growing up. And, one part of my family had been in that area for about five generations, and so I used to say that my roots, when I started into electoral politics, would say though I lived in Corpus Christi, my roots were in rural Nueces County. And I think that that alone gives you a sense, gives one a sense of protecting the land and maintaining it. And of course in my early childhood we never gave a second thought about clean air. That was a given. There certainly, as were the bays, the bays were clean. That was before shell dredging came in. So, I can look back and see the terrible deterioration. I think the first thing I noticed…I had a native American nurse, and I couldn’t have been more than four or five years old when she’d take me for walks and she’d call the wild flowers, which were lovely down there, god’s flowers. And that has always stayed with me as, you know, looking over…we lived just outside of Corpus Christi and it was before there was any development to speak of. And we’d take horse ride in that area. And, that’s when I first noticed the consequences of oil and gas drilling. Because you’d see what had happened with the land with the salt that had been taken out…the pools of water. But, I must say, I was not…it was a given. That’s how you extracted oil. As a matter of fact, we had to pull the shades down at night because of the burning of the casing head of the gas. But we never thought of that as being wasteful…that was just a given. But I must say, I was conscious of that. And then as, as the years went on, just living on the water, you could begin to see the deterioration, the stuff that swept up on Padre Island for example. The plastics and that kind of thing. And, the bay front was always something we took great pride in. And my first actual endeavor, I guess you would say public endeavor came over a situation with an over and oversized sign. A variance had been given for an oversized sign to Ramada Inn on the shore line. And we took that case to the
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State Supreme court where it was held that a citizen, we used my mother as the citizen, had a right to bring a suit. She had a, as they call it, a justiciable interest, because she owned a lot on Shore Line. And Shore Line is-has been preserved. It had very rigid zoning requirements. But it was being nibbled away with these variances that were being given to hotels. And that was stopped, its still, its not as pristine as I would like to see it today. But it is a tangible product of real citizen efforts that went on back in the mid-60s.
DT: You mentioned your mother, did she have a similar (conservation interest?).
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SF: Well, I can’t say. I think that people that lived in the country, say before the 1930s, really always wanted to get into a town, as they called it, so if she had an interest, except…it was not pronounced…it was a given. It was a given. There wasn’t anything to destroy it, in other words. But she was willing to be the plaintiff in this law suit to stop the city to from doing what it was doing in granting this variance to Ramada. And if we hadn’t had her, we couldn’t have, I don’t think we would have succeeded.
DT: Were there other family members that were interested in (?)
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SF: Well, on my mother’s side, on my mother’s side I would say again, there was this deep love of the country. They’d lived there, they’d had land there. And, they cared for it. But that was a given, that was a given. I think it was only when we saw the deterioration, and it was becoming pronounced by the time I was an adult, that, that we became involved. There also, I have a son, George, that was very involved, he followed me, I think, in many ways on this issue. I have a young cousin, a contemporary of my son, in Dallas, that is carrying on. And a cousin in Corpus Christi that is doing the same thing.
DT: Do you have any thoughts about why these interests sometimes run in families and get passed on from cousin to cousin or generation to generation?
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SF: (talking over DT) I, well, I think, to me it just goes basically back to, back to, and that’s what I say, my roots go back to rural Nueces County, though I never lived in the country, I grew up knowing about it and really caring about it, with a, with a deep love of it. I can’t express it any other way. And it hurts to see things, to see things happen. And I think you can see a real connection. Every time I see a picture of a bird laden with oil, as we saw out of the Valdez, you know those pictures, it stabs you some place, because I think we’re all one.
DT: You mentioned that you grew up in Nueces County and visited some of the Barrier Islands. Can you tell us what they were like when you were growing up?
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SF: There was, well of course, Padre wasn’t open really, until my children, and my children, we’d spend a lot of time out there when my children were small. I didn’t have that opportunity because my parents were afraid something would happened to us, and so on. And so, we didn’t get to the islands. So as an adult going to the islands was a very special occasion for me as well as the children. Now, with, from the time we were there to now, its all been developed. I mean couldn’t believe I think there’s are 7000 people living on the northern tip of the Padre Island now. There’s a golf course and there are houses out there. And I guess something has really just kept me from returning. Because I wanted, I want to remember it as it was which was miles and miles of beautiful white beaches.
DT: Would you see wildlife out there?
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SF: Yes, yes…you would see wildlife. Of course, I don’t want to over romanticize it, because by the time our children were, we were taking them out there would be, what, in the 50s and 60s. Ah, the plastic bottles were beginning to show up, and that kind of thing, and the oil, and the oil. And then in 1972, somewhere I was talking to a German sea captain. And he told me that he had, he had sailed before the war as well as after. And he was telling me that everywhere he went he saw the pollution in the seas…that had not been there before. So it all sort of tied in…you know you could see these things coming. And then when I went to the Legislature, I took an active interest in, in, hopefully conserving bays and estuaries. And, I had a, spent a wonderful day once on Mustang Island with the late Justice William O. Douglas, who cared greatly for the environment. And I think I was in the Legislature then, and he was telling me about the threat of bays, of estuaries, which of course I knew on a small scale, I knew where I came from, the way it was. Because, for example, we actually, in Corpus Christi, had a fresh water lake where the ducks used to come called Tule Lake…and, out where the refineries are now. And, that was totally destroyed. I used to call that area out where the
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refineries are, just a wasteland. Which had been, but when those things were coming in, I must say, you know, we were grateful for jobs, for the economy, because in great part, except for those who lost their land, and many did including parts of my family, Corpus Christi escaped the later part of the depression because of the oil boom. So, oil and gas production and develop was nothing, I mean was something no one questioned, they were grateful for it. It was only later that we could see the devastation that came from it.
DT: You mentioned this sea captain and then William O. Douglas as well. Can you talk about some of the people that may not have been family members but who were mentors, teachers, or people who told you stories that resonated with you?
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SF: (talking over DT) Well, there all different kinds of people from all different kinds of, and one person I was going to mention because we made such an unlikely twosome, was the fire chief, Carlisle. He was the fire chief in Corpus Christi when I was in the Legislature. And, he was an ally because his concern was safety. And he was so concerned about the lack of care of the refineries and all that went on-on the port. So, as I said, you never knew where you were going to find an ally. And, chief, the fire chief would take me down there and show me things. And this is all 30 years ago, but that made a great impression. Another group of people which were of enormous help, were the game wardens of parks and wildlife. And they would show me the places that, where there were real problems with the environment. That meant an enormous amount to me, because some of mine was theory, some of mine was looking but not really being knowledgeable. And I also learned how our system works, because one day one of them told me that they had gotten, and this is when I was in the Legislature, and we would go around and then I would write letters to the appropriate official in Austin about the problems we had and so-forth. And one of the wardens told me that they had gotten a directive from their head office in Austin, not to cooperate with me any longer, lets put it at that. So, one of the things that I really want understood is that, when I was in public office I received so much help from people that were holding positions in government but could not do anything. They had the information and yet it would do them or the issue no interest, it would be do, to be a whistle-blower. And, I was there and able, and I can cite example after example where assistant city attorneys, assistant attorney generals, game wardens and so forth, would bring me the information…
DT: And you would be their spokesperson…
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SF: …that’s right, that’s right.
DT: Can you tell us about some of those instances?
0:16:00 – 2033
SF: Well, when I, I’ve listed them. I’ve mentioned about the, the game wardens. The same was true when I started in on this illegal variance that was given in Corpus Christi to Ramada Inn which was my first ex– , I guess you’d say public endeavor which was about 1965. And the assistant city attorney was sitting next to me in a hearing and in effect saying this variance is illegal but I can’t do anything about it, because the zoning commission wants it, wants it, wants the variance. So I would take that information and as I said, we finally at least prevailed as a citizen. But here was someone that worked within the government, knew it was illegal but was powerless to do anything about it. And then of course, I had the same experience when, with the land commissioner which I jumped in because anything that concerned my district, I was concerned with in the Legislature, whether I was on that committee or not.
DT: And your district was….
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SF: …was Nueces and Kleberg Counties. And of course, it went from Port Aransas down to what we call Ravera(?) Beach, so it was the coast line in, which, of course, I was very very interested in. Well, in any event, with, with the Jerry Sadler ruckus, it was an assistant attorney general that said to me, “he’s lying”, it was as simple as that. And, there’s no need to go into that. But we were able to save a few artifacts that had been taken and actually the…
DT: …from a shipwreck…
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SF: …the shipwreck, a Spanish shipwreck off Padre Island, and able to save some. I think some of them are still up in Indiana at something called Platorio(?) which Sadler had a contract with…saved some of those and actually the Antiquities Commission came out of that effort. So these were things that I probably would have missed had people within the government not helped me. So although I was holding public off–, in the later examples, not the one with the over sized sign in Corpus Christi, though I was holding public office, I would not have had the information without that help.
DT: The people who came to you as whistle-blowers in a sense; what sort of fears did they have for themselves?
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SF: (talking over DT) They had a lot, they had a lot. And the way is that they didn’t really come to me. I would be a t the hearings, I would be at the hearings and I, I guess they knew I’d be responsive to what they were saying to me. And I would check it out and it was always very accurate. But it was not that they came to me so much as I would be there when they were present.
DT: You mentioned earlier that some of your first environmental work was in terms of esthetic issues, like the sign control issue, or in public safety like with your work with the fire chief. And I was wondering if you could talk about those being some of the roots of the environmental movement which I guess came a few years later.
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SF: Yes, you know, and-and one day, I had been down at a city council meeting on this city sign variance and if necessary would take my children who were all small with me and one thing and the other and I walked in our back yard and looked up and realized that we had the biggest mess of telephone lines right in my back yard. And I called the telephone company and told them to come out, that we had to do something about it. I mean, you know, because once you see, I think its like with many issues in the environment, once you see it, you see them every place. And once I saw that mess of the telephone line I had in my back yard, which was going on right at the same time of the sign dispute in Corpus Christi, I would see every telephone pole, I think, that was sort of mangled in the-in the whole community. So, one thing lead to the other and-and also in that instance, people that would help on one issue would have other interests. Now there was, and you asked mentors, in Corpus Christi at the time that I started out in a kind of public way which was the later part of the 6–65 and there after. There were two scientists, Dr. Sutter and Dr. Hildebrand. And, Dr. Sutter wrote for the paper and I think Dr. Hildebrand was out at the university of Corpus Christi. Now, A & M and Corpus Christi, but it was free standing I suppose at that time. They were part of an environmental group. And this, we started a little environment group over this sign business, it was called OPUS, Organization for the Preservation of an Unblemished Shoreline. And that little group, though it was disparaged and one thing and the other, did a lot. And one of the things it did was bring people of like minds together. And from, from those two scientists, I learned about, oh this terrible discharge, and the –the name escapes me now – PCB, that was the first time I heard about PCB.
DT: And what year was that?
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SF: That would be in the late 60s. It was before I went to the Legislature. And it was being discharged into the bodies of water there from the Naval Airbase. I never heard the term PCB. So, you know, I became acquainted with that kind of thing. And I want to cite something now, because it has developed in my mind, I was not working on it when I was in the Legislature, not even after I got out. But the biggest polluter we have, and the least discussed, is the military. I mean it is appalling, you know we can do everything we want with trying to cut down on mileage in cars. Well, one of these sophisticated fighters, in one hour, will consume what our car driving will in a year. So, but if you’ll notice, there’s very little discussion of pollution from the military. And the very first inkling I had of it were the thing of the discharge of the PCBs. And I thank those two, Dr. Hildebrand and Dr. Sutter, they’re both deceased. So, they had a great bearing. And, I don’t think the answer yet, and this is some natural, I guess, manifestation, but down in Laguna Madre, outside of Corpus Christi. I would be taken there because either every year, I think it is, there’s this incredible fish kill. And, and the whole top of Laguna Madre is simply covered with dead fish. And, I don’t know what causes it. But, but these things were ever present. So you couldn’t, if you lived in Corpus Christi and you were, if you wanted to be, you were conscious of the increasing deterioration.
DT: You mentioned Dr. Hildebrand and Dr. Sutter and both of them were professional scientists. And, I wonder if people believed them when they said that these are problems or that these things were even occurring. Since this was the beginning of the movement…
SF: …It was the beginning…
DT: …what were people’s reactions to their charges?
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SF: Well, they were respected, but I don’t think they were listened to. I would say that they wouldn’t meet with the disparagement. For example, when I would go to city hall and my colleagues, on this over sized sign one, we were actually asked at one night hearing, at a night hearing, why weren’t we home taking care of our children. Now they wouldn’t say that to Dr. Sutter and Dr. Hildebrand, but that was, and by the way I think Mrs. Sutter still carries on, I hear. I’m not that acquainted with what goes on in Corpus Christi today. But, no, I don’t think they were listened to.
DT: Speaking of,-of, you know, their kind of, unkind remark about why you weren’t home caring for your kids. I noticed that a number of the people who were involved in early environmental work in Texas were woman.
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SF: No question about it.
DT: (talking over SF) And, do you have any idea why that was? Was it coincidental, or something behind it?
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SF: (talking over DT) Well, and I guess the only thing I can think of, umm, and I wouldn’t want to generalize from my own experience. I know on the oversized sign business, down there, I was on the Museum of South Texas, as it’s now called, I was on that board. And I was asked to go down to represent the museum. I was asked by another woman. And when I went there, looking for like minded people, you know, I found some woman from the League of Woman Voters who were also active in the Presbyterian Church. And that was really the nucleus of this OPUS, this organization. And, umm, there was one woman named Jim Alice Scott that took the brunt of this fight we put on to get that sign taken down. Which, but the way, we didn’t get that sign taken down at that time. It came down later. But it stopped other signs. And, she was an extraordinary woman. And went on to work for desegregation and because of her work in desegregation, her husband lost his job. And, she educated, among other things, educated herself in chemistry for all this PCB business. I mean, she took the technical end and mastered it to the point that she could go before the Water Quality Board, the Railroad Commission and talk the language of their staff. But after he lost his job, she then, she and her husband moved to Colorado and she earned a Ph.D. She was a contemporary of mine, earned a Ph.D. and became a city planner in some Colorado city out there. But, this is what is costs some people to be activists, if you want to call it, to be fully participating citizens. I didn’t have that happen to me, for, well, it just didn’t happen to me. Though, I had some static, you could say. But, it was by-and-large woman. They, I guess, in quotes, had the time.
DT: You mentioned the League of Woman Voters. They have a pretty broad mandate from what I understand for good citizenship, good policy. How do you think the environment got on their radar screen?
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SF: See, I don’t really know. And, umm, they were also into the reform, the reform of the Texas legislative rules and so forth, because I ran into them then. But what I found is that, in many instances, is that they would do the studying, but getting into the fray, so to speak, they’d pull back. I don’t’ want to generalize. For example, two of the woman that were with OPUS, that were League of Woman Voters, later organized my campaign for the Legislature. And when they did that, they had to withdraw, of course, from the League of Woman Voter activities, because it’s non-partisan. But there’s some excellent material gathered by the League of Woman Voters. And, of course, the big impetus, two things I want to mention. One of the real changes that came about, when Ms.– Mrs. Linden Johnson came out for beautification. Up until that point, down in that region, we were a group of meddlesome woman that had no business being down at city council. I mean, that was her work, on billboards and beautification in general, gave our local efforts a legitimacy that we didn’t have before. And that made an enormous, an enormous difference. And then, as you know, in 1970 was the first Earth Day. I participa–, I was in the Legislature at the time, participated in it in Austin. And, umm, then it-it was more or less on the front burner. Probably more so then than today.
DT: How was Earth Day celebrated in 1970 in Austin?
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SF: We had a huge rally. A huge — it was a large rally. And, I’ve forgotten where, I know I spoke at the one in Austin. Bob Armstrong went out to speak somewhere in east Texas. And, I mean, he was in the Legislature then as well. And, I remember that specifically because he had interest in the environment as well.
DT: How many people do you think came to Earth Day?
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SF: Well, more than several hundred. Now most – many of them were students, you see, that — that was where the activism was at that time – was as much or more with students, of course that the case with the Vietnam business and the environment. No, the students turned out big time, so to speak, for that.
DT: What were they concerned about? Do you remember?
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SF: Well, of course, their primary concern was-was-was Vietnam. But, outside of that, whatever the environment entails, they were interested enough to come to an Earth Day. I don’t remember the specifics of that. Though I remember doing my research and probably it was a very dull speech for them, because an open air speech doesn’t lend itself to data particularly, you know. And I had picked up a lengthy article in the New York Times about the way our sea shores were disappearing. And of course, it’s still true. I mean I drive down to Corpus and what was once just a marsh now has apartment buildings on it. And we see that every place. But 1970 was a big Earth Day event in Austin, Texas and other towns and cities in Texas.
DT: Can we go back a few years before Earth Day and talk about what brought you to Austin. And-and your campaign for a seat in the Legislature and why did you decide to run?
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SF: Well those are all – ah – I had been Legal Aid Director for two years…and, what would have been 65 to 67. And, umm, I must say that was, I can only describe it as a soul-searing experience because, umm, it was also the time that it was incorporated into the, so called, war against poverty. And, though I, the Bar guarded zealously what I could do. I was limited to civil actions and consulting and, I found that there was a whole underclass in my community that I was more or less oblivious to. That they had, what I call cluster problems. That many-much of the system really worked against them. And, that many of the problems stem from state policy. Now, of course, we’re notorious as being, and this is when we had welfare – I don’t know what we have now – work-fare or whatever. But I was repeatedly calling Austin – the public – the department – it was then called the Department of Public Welfare, I think. And, the umm, the regulatory agency for, umm, what do you call them – loan sharks. I had problems with what were contract for sales, you know, rather than deeds. They were contracts where you never did develop an equity in the property and you miss your payments and you loose your house. Many of these things went back to state policy. And the only state official that I found was of any help was a man named Frank Miskel(?). And he was head of the, umm, the regulatory agency for the loan sharks. He was the only public official. Now, many of them I didn’t know, didn’t know- didn’t know how to call them. But he was the only one. And he actually sent an investigator down, because, by and large, my clients were
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Spanish speaking. They had been intimidated into signing these contracts by being sometimes locked in a room until they signed them. I found that they would buy furniture from furniture stores in Corpus Christi that would come in big boxes and be broken – be broken furniture. I ran into problems with the local Bar, because I found that some lawyers had low rent houses that were in deplorable conditions. I found, for example, that we had a – a Clara Driscoll Hospital for crippled children which had been created for indigent children, and yet for mothers to get there with their ailing children they had to change bus zones and therefore pay more. I mean, I found so many things that it either took place by neglect, umm, or indifference, I guess, are the kindest terms you could use for the things that I saw. So that after I spent two years there, I – I had studied – I’d even studied the Texas Constitution by the way when I was an undergraduate at Vassar – I was concerned about the state and our government back then. But this two years of Legal Aid gave me a picture of state government that I never, ever had before, and the lack of care, the lack of interest in human beings. So, the night, the night of the filing deadline in 19.., well the election was 68, so it was 68, a friend of mine who had been in law school with me and who had had been on the opposite side in some of these legal aid cases that I had down at the court house, because I was down there for two years – asked me to run for the Legislature – out of the blue. And I said, well I have to ask my husband and I’ll ask my cousin, Dudley Dougherty, who had served a term in the Legislature. And it was getting late in the evening of the deadline and so I talked to both of them and they encouraged me to run. They actually did. And I wouldn’t have done it, at that time, without that support. And, so that’s how I-I literally came to it. I later learned that, I’m going to say I was to be a stalking horse but I was, I think I was put in to see that someone else didn’t get in. But I didn’t know that ‘til later. And by then, I was off on my own. And, then – it was that election in 68 that I said, you know, I had all these men advisors, but the people that did the work were the woman, and they were these woman that I mentioned out of the League of Woman Voters, primarily Jim Alice Scott(?) and Ruth Gill(?), were their names. Both people very concerned about the environment in-in Corpus Christi and its environs. So that’s how I came to the
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Legislature and being a life-long Democrat, never raising a question about the Democratic Party at that time, I did not run for the open seat. I took on the Republican. Now, of course, there was only one Republican from that area at that time, so that meant I had to run three races, the primary, the run-off and then the general election. But I made it through them all.
DT: Can you tell us about your campaign and particularly the environmental parts of your platform?
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SF: Yeah, there were, there were – and one of the things that I used to say was that – work for 68, I mean working to get in in 68, and planning for 78, my god 78 is so gone, gone, gone. But at that time, it looked along ten years ahead. And that was where a lot of the environmental discussions during my campaign were. I had just several issues, one was, of course, civil rights. One was the vote for the 18 year-old. And, of course, the environment. And the interesting thing, of those issues, the one that was usually raised, by people critical of it was the 18 year-old vote. People did not want 18 year-olds to have a vote. Now, the young people were ver—woman got my race started. I mean, we didn’t even have terms, you know the…the term sexism wasn’t even created until 1972, wasn’t even coined. So, umm, and I must say before I got in that race I thought it would be at least 10 years before a woman would be accepted down there. It just wasn’t a given. In the—in Corpus Christi, for any elective office. There had been one woman that held a post in the city council and she had just an –an abominable press. I don’t even know what she was like, but she couldn’t even get through the press. And, umm…
DT: While your talking about the press, can you, you know, discuss the role of the media in-in your campaign?
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SF: (talking over DT) Absolutely essential. I used to say, and I said it to Jane Ellie(?) later on in my first gubernatorial race, the – the media is the conduit to the public. You can stand on the court house steps and say whatever, you know, and come out with whatever data, or whatever. But if its not heard, its meaningless. So its-its very-very important. And I have been on both sides of that. I mean, I’ve been treated with skepticism and I’ve also had support, I would say…supporting what I thought. I-I used to say, in my first campaign, I could say pretty much what was on my mind because people didn’t listen to it. I mean, I think back and think I used to go and quote on the on-on the issue of civil rights. I’d quote Malcolm X’s letter from Mecca, which is an extraordinary thing, he said, you know, our society was bent on racial suicide if we didn’t look at ourselves and do something about it. And I carried that message of Malcolm X all over south Texas, but I don’t think people were listening to me.
DT: Was the Corpus Christi Caller Times helpful?
0:43:53 – 2033
SF: (talking over DT) Yeah, it was…yes, yes it was. I would say it was supportive and, of course, then it was, TV was just beginning. And, you know, that was the era, you as a candidate knew everything about your campaign. There were no consultants. I wrote my own script. I drove myself. And, wrote whatever I was going to say, I wrote it myself, or else, on the back of an envelope. I mean, in the beginning, I was very uncomfortable with all of this. Umm, actually, umm, I had a very difficult time. I never did ask people to vote for me, I’d just say consider it. Because I-I think voting is a very private thing. Its like the discussion of religion, I mean I don’t think that is part of, I abhor what goes on today on that issue. You know, bearing your soul and picking up votes that way. I find it just abhorrent. But, I also find a decision to make a vote a very private thing. So I could never ask. But there is a story about my campaign. Dewitt Hale(?), who headed our delegation, kept saying you’ve got to get out and start campaigning and where’s your picture? And I said, well I don’t have a picture. He said, don’t worry about that. Just take your high school graduation picture. And you have push cards. Now its mostly, much of its TV and all of this stuff, but we had push cards, which meant it had your name and you passed it out. And my husband gave me a dime, that’s when you could make a phone call for a dime. And I took my push cards and took about 200 of them on Saturday afternoon to a mall. And he said – shopping center – when you’re through, call me and I’ll come pick you up. And so I stood there, because the only place I’d put my push cards before had been the Laundromat. I was comfortable there. So, it was a very trying afternoon. Because, you know, you give them the card and then they drop it. And I’d go pick it up because, I didn’t want to see that on the ground. But anyway, I learned to campaign I guess. But that’s where I started. I was a very reticent campaigner.
DT: What would you tell people?
0:46:38 – 2033
SF: I’d just ask them to consider-consider me for the Legislature.
DT: And on what grounds?
0:46:44 – 2033
SF: Well, I mean, all these I was talking about, you know. Civil rights, participation of citizens, environment, you know, our gulf coast that was deteriorating, and so forth. I didn’t know what I’d be into. And so, when I talked to a friend of mine that had served with my cousin, I said, well what do you do in the Legislature? I mean, I had the theory but I didn’t know the day-to-day. And he advised me to keep up with my mail. So that’s all I – that’s the only kind of advise I got.
DT: And when you were looking through mail later on, or through the course of the campaign when you would listen to people who came to hear you, what were they saying? What were they concerned about? Were there any environmental concerns?
0:47:33 – 2033
SF: Uh, it varied. Say the little group of League of Woman Voters, the OPUS group, and it-it broke down very much into the ethnic matter. Now, Corpus Christi is now over 50% Hispanic. It wasn’t quite at 50% when I was there. And those were totally different campaigns. We had a man that-named Lapas(?), I think was his name, was incredible. We would go to Robstown, which, umm, is near by cotton, was in the past a cotton producing area. And for those of us that didn’t speak Spanish he would translate, first for one candidate and then for the other. And that’s the way we would campaign there. Now, those interests were different. There was no concern about the environment – none about the environment.
DT: Did you talk about pesticides in the field?
0:48:37 – 2033
SF: Not, not, no, not at that time. Not at all. And, of course, I later learned there were terrible waste disposal problems in-in-a Robstown. But I didn’t know that ‘til later. But, what I tell you about the old-fashioned campaign is the candidate learns. And I think that’s what’s completely lacking today. Between consultants telling you how to look, what to say, where to go and usually protecting you. I had no protection. And even later on, because I couldn’t afford a lot of television when I ran later for Governor. I went on every talk show. I took questions that sometimes would freeze me. But, I took them. You never know what’s going to come on the telephone. And that exposure sometimes was painful, but was very-very important. And, just as my Legal Aid work had told me a lot about the community that I didn’t know before, often I’d be the only Anglo at a gatherings, and-of Hispanics. Because in the general election I had the support of the GI Forum, and I would see Hector Garcia on human rights issues, Dr. Hector Garcia, who was the founder of the GI Forum, was a mentor of mine. And, so often I would going into places where I’d be the only Anglo. And I could hear, and I listened to what was happening to people. And so, I wasn’t educating the people where I-
0:50:25 – 2033
where I- where I was. I was being educated. And I find that, I continue to find that. And sometimes it’s a little uncomfortable, but it’s important. It’s very-very important. And I think that that is one of the things we don’t have enough of today.
DT: Did you question your-your, sort of, personal convictions about the environment, because the-your constituents’ concerns were about more, sort-of more day to day civil rights?
0:51:01 – 2033
SF: Well, it didn’t-it didn’t take that away. It didn’t. And then, of course, later on, you know, there wasn’t that term either. But the term of environmental racism. And I think a town like Robstown that is plagued with all the-the waste sites. There’s a case going on now over in Sinton, umm, in a very poor, primarily Hispanic area. Lets name names. Browning Ferris dumps their stuff, on all this stuff from oil fields. So there is a relationship. I won’t say, at the time, that I was conscious of it. Certainly by the time I left the Legislature I was, about low income and, umm, environmental degradation. And, I guess when the culmination of that was in 1993, when I went to a world conference on uranium in Salzburg. And there you saw that the uranium came from lands of indigenous people. Testing was done either in colonies or where indigenous people were. And there-there you really see the overall picture of combining the deadliest of manmade creation – this plutonium – you know, from uranium, and seeing what’s its done to-to people without voices. And the…
DT: …And it’s not just an isolated thing?…
0:52:52 – 2033
SF: (talking over DT) …Oh no, it’s every place, it’s every place. We had miners from the uranium, umm, uranium in Namibia that didn’t even know what was wrong with them until they came to this conference in Salzburg, in 93. Now that was, to me, one of the turning points in my life to just be there and hear, and listen. And yet, it had no coverage in this country. Absolutely none. I have the-the proceedings here some place.
DT: We talked a little bit earlier about the media in your campaign. And I guess, in continuing work that you have been involved in. How do you get the media to cover environmental issues?…
0:53:45 – 2033
SF: …You don’t…
DT: …Why don’t they, if they fail to?
0:53:48 – 2033
SF: Well you know, here, and see, we had help from the Houston Post. And I’ll be very explicit about that. There was Harold Scarlet, who wrote a column, that Rex Braun had working relationships with and he must have had with Dr. Quebedeaux as well. Umm, when I worked on the Sadler matter, ah- the Post was very supportive. I – I don’t know why you don’t get support on Nuclear issues.
DT: Do you think that it was a top-down thing, that the Hobbys, the owners of the papers were supportive. Or did there have to be a columnist like Harold Scarlet?…
0:54:33 – 2033
SF: (talking over DT) Well that’s it. I can’t speak. I just, I don’t know that much of the – but I do know that the Post was a responsive newspaper on environmental issues when I was in the Legislature. I don’t even remember the Chronicle on it. I mean I, I don’t even remember it. Also, the Corpus Christi, well – I had the thing too, that I used to call distance liberals, and what that was, was it was very easy if you were the Corpus Christi news paper to talk about environmental degradation maybe in Beaumont, but not so about the port of Corpus Christi. And you get – you get some of that, all over, you know. Of course the Observer was always reporting on these things, the Texas Observer, yeah. And, ah- and it’s very interesting if you don’t, if you – they are the conduit. And I’ll give you an example. When I ran for Governor in ’72, there were towns in west Texas that apparently never heard about Sharpstown. It had not been an issue of discussion in Lubbock, Texas where the Governor came from. And the only contact we had that really worked with the media in Dallas was when Jim – Jim Lare(?) was on the local public television. And he would have us up to speak, because during that time, Ben Barnes was the favorite, of, should we call it for lack of something else, the Dallas establishment. And it was only that public television that we would go up there and talk about Sharpstown. Now, there was a wonderful reporter in the Dallas Morning News named Tom
0:56:36 – 2033
Johnson and he had to give his story to another paper, on Sharpstown. Because there was great protection of Ben Barnes in Dallas. That’s all I can say. There was a lot invested in him. And he’d would probably be as frank as he can be, the first to say it. But anyway, it varies. And, it varies on issues. And I think the most difficult issue, because I think we want to call our eyes to it, is this whole nuclear, the devastation from it, the danger from it. And I think an example of that is the fact that from the time Laurence, who was the New York Times reporter, science reporter, that was given to the either Army – Air Force I guess, on loan, who won a Pulitzer over the beauties of the A-bomb. From that time to mid-80s when two investigative journalists for the Philadelphia Inquirer wrote on nuclear issues…not one Pulitzer had been given on nuclear issues. Now it wasn’t that the Pulitzer’s were ignoring this subject, it was the people weren’t writing about it, because it was behind our curtain of national security. And, so it has not been a generally discussed issue. And I could te—I remember, I did a lot of speaking on college campuses primarily after I left the Legislature in the ‘70s, a little in the early ‘80s, but I lot I used to say I was out singing for my supper. When I’d start talking about – and we had some really close calls about false alerts, now I’m not talking about the Cuban Missile Crisis but these other things – I could just see people’s eyes glazing. Because any time I started talking about the hazards of nuclear. Now we have a devastating report that’s out, put out by the Brookings Institute, called the Atomic Audit, about what it has cost us, not only in the realm – the coin of the realm – but also in the environment. It’s an incredible piece of work. I saw it reviewed one place and bought it. But you don’t have it, you don’t have any discussion of it.
DT: While you’re talking about nuclear issues, and this reaction you get. Can you talk about why people have this sort of sense of disbelief or lack of interest when you try to promote environmental issues? Whether they’re atomic related, nuclear problems, or other issues. We all share the same biology, we all share the same risks, but…
0:59:49 – 2033
SF: (talking over DT) Yeah, I used to say…
DT: (talking over SF)…it seems like a very difficult sell.
0:59:51 – 2033
SF: Yeah, very difficult. I used to say if we could only reach people as the way the-the anti-tobacco people have – only. And I try to draw comparisons you know, and say, well what is the difference? And, of course, one thing is this, and I remember Justice Douglas, when he ended his speech by talking about the most destructive of all pollutions and that it was tasteless, odorless, sightless. And, of course, I think that’s in it. Its no where around, you don’t hear it in a cough. You do with uranium workers, but we don’t. We meaning, out here away from those plants and away from the kind of work. I guess that’s it. Plus, there is, it is, it is a time bomb. It could go off at any time. And that’s the kind of thing we want to push away. That’s all I can say. And then, and that’s why I told this story about the Pulitzer. It has been behind this national security curtain…don’t you write about it, that’s our national security. Now what’s happened, yes the cold war is over. We really haven’t reduced our expenditures in new weaponry. We have maybe in readiness, as they call it. But not new weaponry. We have the same system. The directive of President Clinton a couple of months ago, was that nuclear weapons were still the mainstay of our so-called defense. So we’re still not looking at it. And, you know, I think it was Jonathan Shell(?) said, you know, we have a little time now, it, to me, ought to be priority. But, it isn’t. It isn’t with the people that are running for
1:02:09 – 2033
the Presidency. You don’t hear it, and I don’t know, in Senatorial races or Congressional races. But we ignore it at a terrible risk.
0:01:30 – 2034
SF: But that’s the extent of it.
DT: When we talked earlier, about, umm, your campaign for office, public office, and some of the help that you might have gotten from the media, I was wondering if you could talk about some of the other influences on the campaign, such as the lobbying industry?
0:01:53 – 2034
SF: Oh yeah, and that’s what I was going to mention. And, I – I ran into campaign finance very soon on, because, umm, members of my family were actually the ones helping me. And, my campaign manager, who had been the one to ask me to run, said we need to break these amounts down with other names, because then it looks as if you have more support. And, I guess that was the first place I drew the line. I said, no. We’re going to show what we have, and where it came from. So that was really my introduction in a way to how, how things were handled. You know, better to show it as, instead of $200, show – what would it be – eight $25 contributions from all over, when, in fact, it wasn’t the case. And, umm, the way we raised money for television was to do it at-on the daytime TV shows, which was – took much less. And I had woman friends of mine, woman friends of mine that would pay the $25 or $50 each to say why they were voting for me. So we had all kinds of enterprising ideas for a campaign of two counties. And in the late 60s it worked. Now, I didn’t know until later that the state wide business lobby, which, umm, and I’m trying to think of the-the Dean of the, of the Legislature was, ah, Bill – it escapes me for the moment, anyway he was a very powerful member of the Appropriations Committee. And this Republican from Nueces and Kleberg County has been a thorn in his side, a big one, because he had challenged some of the appropriations. Actually, unbeknownst until later, when he kissed me at the first gathering that this was the little lady that defeated the Republican, I had had help that I didn’t know I had. Umm, but one ex- incident I had, I had a very small office in-a, in an office building. I was a practicing lawyer at the time. And this lobbyist came in to me and told me that he wanted to give me some money. Though he wanted me to understand that it was illegal. And, I hit the ceiling. I didn’t, I think I was, I think in part of it it was indignation, but it was fear too. I didn’t know. I – It was something new to me and I asked him to leave. I, maybe later on I’d have been a little smoother about it, but it just hit me. And, umm, I thought, you know, you’re already compromised before you ever win your office. And, later, the head railroad lobbyist, who had been a grader of mine when I was in law school, laughed, you know he thought it was a big joke. And he took me to dinner, ah lunch one day, and he had a little black book and he said there were over 200 bills that the railroads were concerned with. Which just, I never saw the little black – the interior of the little black book.
0:06:07 – 2034
But he told me then that the lobbyist had come back, and said that he wouldn’t ever go see that woman again. But it was, I can still remember the afternoon. I didn’t know how to deal with it. I just didn’t. And, it – it, but then I saw it all, I saw how it worked, how you’re compromised before you ever get there. So, umm, I had, umm, a couple of other experiences that also taught me how things operate. Ah, I had a lobbyist come in and just start talking to me and he was from a shell dredging company. And, he assumed, ah, since I was from the coast, that I supported that kind of thing. Which I found abhorrent, because I’d heard over the years what it had done. I could see those muddy bays that had been destroyed and so forth. And, he said, in effect, you understand we don’t ask you to carry our shell legislation, we give it to people up the country like in Fort Worth that won’t be bothered by that kind of pressure. And I don’t remember if I told him where I stood on it or not. But I – I acquired information in this way that I probably wouldn’t have, umm, otherwise, because I was not ever part of the team. I mean I think efforts were made, which efforts were made with all incoming Legislatures. For example, the Appropriations Committee Chairman, umm, Heatley(?) was his name, the one I couldn’t remember, the one that kissed me and said I’d defeated the Republican. Heatley(?) called me up to his office within the first two weeks of the Legislative session and had me sign a card supporting Gus Muscher, not for that term, but for the next term. And I signed it. I mean, I didn’t know, I didn’t know what he was doing to me, and to my function as a Legislator, that he was taking all my freedom away for the next time, if I came back.
0:08:33 – 2034
You know, you do these things. I learned. But I think it’s the form of indoctrination that new Legislators get. First they get compromised by the lobby – and I can understand that; you have to have money to run — why intimidate these people, etc. etc. Then, this signing, before you know even what’s going on. And thirdly, during that same period, those first two weeks or maybe even week, I was invited out by a committee chairman, and the chairmen were always part of what they call the speaker’s team. And, told how I would work as a team member, and be helpful to the speaker and to the team and then I could get the legislation I needed and so forth. And it was just a kind of, it was a introduction or indoctrination, I guess. But, as I said, umm, that didn’t last long. I went off the reservation very soon. And I didn’t intentionally do it. It was just that, I found – and I was alone too, in the sense of being the only woman there, and thank heavens for those desk mates that I had that I mentioned earlier; Ed Harris, Curtis Graves, Rex Braun and Nick Nichols. Because I’d asked them and they said, “Oh you went up to Mr. Healey’s and you signed a card, do you know what that means?” No, I didn’t, you know, But, I learned, I learned, … I learned. And then, I think, the really turning point for me, and it didn’t have anything to do with the environment. It was the fact that the Del Rio, umm, I can’t think of that county right now but in Del Rio, the County Commissioners had kicked out the vista workers, because the vista workers, and this was holy week actually, of 1969, just getting into the legislative process. And they had asked the Governor to get rid of them. And they were angry with the vistas, because the vistas, the people were down there registering new voters, primarily Mexican Americans. And, the Governor went along with that. And so I was in a quandary. I didn’t know what I was going to do
0:11:23 – 2034
about it. So I went to the Governor. – I have an earlier story to tell you about the Governor – I went to the Governor. As I did with the speaker over and over again, I never did anything in the house that the speaker didn’t know I was going to do. I always informed him, and kept it on that level and kept, I hope, all my relationships. I never saw any reason for personal enmity, which I saw a lot of in that, in that institution. But I went and I heard the speaker’s, I mean the Governor’s explanation of what he was going to do. Then I went down to my district, Corpus Christi, and I called Jim Deanda(?). Jim Deanda was a lawyer for the GI Forum, and who later was a federal judge. He had been a protégé of Dr. Garcia’s, and I said, Jim I need to talk to you about this because I-I have to make a decision. Well, primarily I was into it, and I found obligated to come out one way or the other and my district was so heavily Mexican-American and they were my constituency. And, anyway, his reasoning prevailed, and that Sunday – it was Easter wee- well, a weekend before Easter – Palm Sunday, one of my sons, it was George Jr., drove me to Del Rio and I participated. I guess I was the only Anglo and certainly the only woman that spoke. I remember Joe Bernal(?) spoke from San Antonio, the state Senator and so forth. And I’ve often said that was a turning point for me and I call it the road to Del Rio. Because, umm, I learned a lot of things in that. Ah, for example, I was
0:13:22 – 2034
marching with my children, with my son anyway. And, Joe Bernal(?), the Mexican-American Senator from San Antonio, and I said what is that up there? Well, there were all these mens – men with guns ah, on this-the top of the court house that had been deputized. And it was a peaceful demonstration. It was a Palm Sunday demonstration were we spoke against, you know, expelling the vistas and the general problems – the general problems Mexican Americans had in the state of Texas. And then we marched to the court house and put whatever the demands were – I’ve forgotten ‘em – on the court house. That was all there was to it. But I saw again, I saw our pictures being taken constantly by the DPS. I saw those people that were deputized and I wouldn’t give up that trip for anything. But it did place me outs- off the team – off the Governor’s list. And the rest of it. But that was okay. And that particular legislator, from Del Rio, made the statement that he’d never let a bill of mine get through. Which is true. But, you know, it depends on what your interests are and where you put your priorities. And, umm, that was a turning point for me and that was Easter – Easter week of 1969.
DT: Where were some of your priorities on some of the environmental things, ah…?
0:15:14 – 2034
SF: (talking over DT) Well, I followed, I followed ah, Rex Braun. He was the one that sponsored legislation and, and, umm, I would support him. Priorities also with, with, actually Carlos Truan, Carlos is still in the legislature, I mean in the Senate, co-sponsored the Human Relations Commission. And, I had been interested in that ever since we had gotten one started in Corpus Christi.
DT: …one of the first ones(?)…
0:15:46 – 2034
SF: Very first. We modeled ourselves in, I did a lot of work on that. On, Louisville one. Our big deal was to try to get minority woman into meter readers, there weren’t any, and to desegregate bowling alleys, and things of this ilk. Again, that was something that began before I was in the legislature. And then tried to carry that through in that, in the next phase of my activity.
DT: Did you get involved much in the open beaches legislation?
0:16:30 – 2034
SF: Oh yes, yes, yes. I was umm, umm, ah, that story about, of course, Bob Eckhardt, was the, was the proponent of that and the-the bill sponsor and all of that. And then, umm, again, Babe Schwartz was the leader on that while I was in the legislature and you see, by the time my first term was over I was, well I was just one of the dissidents, that’s all. I didn’t choose it particularly, but my interests and the speakers interests simply didn’t converge. Especially over the Jerry Sadler, he did not want me to-to move into that. And one of the reasons I learned later, not his reason, but one of the reason I had so many problems getting support to umm, rebuke – and Terence O’Rourke worked on this, did the research on that to censor Sadler. I couldn’t get support in the beginning. And what I learned is he had many of the state Legislators as local council for the general land office. You know, just these-these little things. You wonder why these particular people are so powerful. Well, its really a bread and butter issue I guess you’d say.
DT: You bring up the connection between Jerry Sadler and the General Land Office and the legislature. Could you talk about other examples of relationships between the state natural resources agencies and the legislature?
0:18:14 – 2034
SF: Well, all I ever saw with them, and, was that, they just went their own way. And, there wasn’t, uh, and again, Rex Braun and I’m trying to think, was the man named Yansey(?), that was head of water? I once, once saw him. It was very spooky. It was a dark day and it was on the first floor of the capitol. And he, in effect, was saying, what was I interested in? You know, why was I doing these things? It, it seems like it was, it was a question that some men couldn’t fathom. It had been the same thing at the city council. One would say, well you have everything, why are you down here? I mean, the interest in public matters, just was, for a woman to be interested in public matters was unfathomable to some. And it seemingly was to Mr. Yansey. And I remember, and I don’t think this was an environmental matter. But I had a young legislator sitting across from me that asked me how would Mr. – what did Mr. Butt think about this issue? Well, he assumed that I had come there with the support of HEB, since I was with Corpus Christi. Well, I had never met Mr. Butt and so I had to tell him I had no idea how Mr. Butt felt about that particular matter. So…
DT: What were some of the other environmental issues that your constituents were concerned about?
0:29:59 – 2034
SF: Well, one for example, was concerned about the waste discharge of the Dupont plant over there by, Por- not Port Aransas, but Gregory, Portland, in that area. Umm, there were the discharges, not water discharges, but air, from, ah, the storage plants for grain. And I would always be contacting these respective agencies. I never got any place with them. I mean as, again, they were, all I could tell they were independent fiefdoms. And, umm, I once asked why is there such opposition to annual terms, you know. I think we’re the only industrialized state in the country that doesn’t have annual sessions. And, the same thing about, the salary is kept so low that you either have to embellish your office staff and make arrangements there, or have a full-paying lobbyist job. And so I asked about these annual session, because I took my legislative role as a full-time job. And, you can tell, it kept me involved full-time. And I was told that it was the big agencies and the lobbyists wanted to get the legis- to get the legislature out of town. And, by observation, I – I learned after my second term, we were trying to get together over something, a group of us, say the Dirty Thirty. It was impossible. I mean, just the size of the state, where we all were, what place we’d go to. Because we didn’t feel the legislative intent was being carried out by, I think it was the Department of Education.
DT: Speaking of the Dirty Thirty, and I guess this all revolves around this Sharp’s Town scandal. Can you talk about that issue and then maybe the influence of special interests and developers and … (?) … in the legislature?
0:22:15 – 2034
SF: (talking over DT) Well, and you know how the – yeah—and– that’s where we got our name, ah, the dirty-thirty – was from lobbyists. And I was told this by a reporter. Because after, again, doing the research and, umm, introducing, umm, umm, legislation that Tarrence O’Rourke worked on, ah, the speaker had to vacate the chair while we made some argument, or ‘ruther, and a reporter overheard, umm, a lobbyist coming down, where they would all watch us up there and they were in the galleries, usually, ah, and the lobbyist said, “those dirty-thirty bustards”.
DT: And that’s the full phrase, right?
0:23:10 – 2034
SF: That’s the full – that’s the full phrase. And it was cut to just to “dirty-thrity”, and that’s how we got the name. It was said in complete disparagement. And, umm, there were – there was a lot of money invested in the speaker to keep him there. Ah, for example, one of the biggest issues was – that was the year that it became legal to have liquor by the drink – and, ah, we were biting away at his heals.
DT: This was Gus Mucher?
0:23:45 – 2034
SF: Gus Mucher. And we were doing it – all I had ever asked for, and I had no idea of attacking the speaker, or the Lieutenant Governor, or the Governor – I wanted to know, and it was really from my college days, I think, because I had done my thesis in college on, ah, the history of legislation, how it comes about all the way from the social need through decision in the Supreme Court. And when those two banking bills had come up the prior special session, I had voted for one and not the other. And, between the one I voted for and the one I didn’t vote for, I had gone to Bill Patman, who was in the Senate, who I had total confidence in, and he advised me to vote against the second one. Well the companion bill I’d already voted for, just because I didn’t know any better. There’d been no hearings, it had been pushed through. And, that really bothered me. And, when I came back that next session, and the issue of favored legislation for the Sharp’s Town Bank, was actually a Republican issue. They brought it up, a few Republicans that were there, and for some inexplicable reason, dropped it. It did not want to go into it, I can not tell you why. But it was their issue, but we picked it up, and there were thirty of us that voted for this investigation with the speaker, in his office, listening in his office – whatever hook up they had in there. But, umm, it was, and let me just say there were bills that would have set up something on the state level comparable to the FDIC, without nearly the rigorousness of the FDIC…
DT: …with bank insurance?…
0:25:08 – 2034
SF: …with bank insurance. And it was from that experience that I said that people used their public office for collateral, because they were given stock. And I loved what the Governor said, he said, “Well, he sold that stock, just to pay debts”. And it would have gone, as I said, it was dropped by the Republicans after about two weeks, I don’t know why. But when we first started it was a matter of great disparagement. And, you know, I don’t like the term Kamikaze Liberal. I – I loath it. I don’t like to use it. First, it distorts what Kamikaze actually meant, was a kind of heroic thing. And secondly, I think it depends whether – in your own eyes you succeed or not – depends upon the timeframe you’re giving. You know, so, what you do may – may look hopeless, but the seed may be there for something on. So, ah, in the beginning, and there was the talk, and I don’t think any of us passed any legislation that year. And, I know when the, ah, bill came, which was one of the big things that we’d all be sent up on from Corpus Christi, was to get a state college established. It’s now, over the years, you know, it’s gone through different – first it was a, umm, upper level college, they – they were all the vogue then, junior and senior years, where the junior colleges fed into these. There was a great need in Corpus Christi for such an institution. So we were all sent up there. But I can remember Ronald Bridges(?) whose – was our state Senator, and very close to Barnes, came to me and said, umm, “we’d have more luck with this bill if your name wasn’t on it”. So, all kind of things happened. To me, one of the most despicable things was, I had a son that worked on the Senate side, who was very much of the counter culture. He’s the first one that talked to me about Vietnam. He’s the one that gave me the book on Malcolm – Malcolm X’s autobiography…all these things. And, he told me one night, he’d come over and watched our late sessions when we were into all these debates, he said, you know, they – someone keeps taking my picture – these flashes right in front of my eyes. Well, again, it was someone from inside. The photographer that was that was
0:29:06 – 2034
actually employed by the speaker, or selected by the speaker, came to me, at great risk to himself, and said, “I have been asked to – to – to take photographs of your son”. Now, I did not go to the press with that, because I knew that would fit into the stereotype of the “hysterical mother”. I just, I wasn’t going to do it. But, I went up directly to the speaker and I was angry. I was very angry. And told him it was difficult enough to raise children without having that kind of thing. And he pleaded…you know, just looked at me. And his side kick, Joe Shannen(?) was up there at the speakers – I remember it, because I was so angry, but I was. As I said, I wasn’t going to the press over it. And that summer, he handed me those pictures. I’ve never looked at them. I gave them to a friend of mine and said, “keep them, I don’t want to see them”. So, that kind of thing would happen.
0:30:21 – 2034
SF: …Intimidation, yeah. And, where those pictures were goi – I’m sure they were going to show him as some hippy, you know, and that would – I don’t know what they were going to do with it. But one night our car was stopped on the pretext that it had been stolen in Brenham, Texas, just a coincidence. One time a legislator told me there – that the DPS was tracking my car, they – because they – it was on the radio, you know, on their radio. And, this particular legislator, had one of these set ups, which he wasn’t supposed to have. But I ignored those things. But you ask what happens, and, umm, these are some of the things. Now, I’m sure they were mild compared to some. We had a wonderful legislator that was the youngest son of Governor Allred, Dave Allred, and he is responsible for the Open Records [Act]. He was a reporter. And, umm, I worked with him on that issue. And, of course, that’s very important on environmental matters, very – very important, it’s a – across the board. And, ah, he was just given holy hell by his people back in Fort Worth coming from the speaker to the business interests there. So, you get, you know, you – you – you get – you get fallout, there’s no question about it.
DT: Can you tell about some of the, sort of, some of the environmental issues that you think might have spurred some of the pressures you were getting?
0:32:16 – 2034
SF: Well, and – and, this is very indirectly, but, I had ah, he’s a prominent member of the – what – the Fortune 500, I guess, I guess he’s in Fortune 500 now. He called me from Corpus Christi and said, umm, you give me more problems that all the other dele – all the other members of our delegation. And the reason, you see, this was the way they were getting to me again, was we were trying to topple Muscher over the dry vote. I voted against my District there, in a way, because Corpus Christi’s a tourist place and wanted – wanted the open bars and liquor by the drink. And I voted wet all the time. I mean, I had no scruples about that, that was just the way to vote. But on this particular vote, we went with the drys to show that Muscher had lost his power. So, I had a lot of static. I mean, only from one person, but a very powerful person. And, again, like the – like the game wardens, you know, I just got, just stopped. I couldn’t go in their cars any more, and see these – see these outrages that had been done to our land and our water, where they knew these things were…
DT: What sort of things did they show you?
0:33:51 – 2034
SF: Pollution. Pipe lines. And then, you know, in our time – I don’t know how it is with – I really don’t know how it is except, I really don’t think it’s much better by consolidating. We always had that idea that it would be so helpful. But consolidation doesn’t work unless you have responsive people in staff. You know, bu –
DT: You mean by consolidating all the …?
0:34:18 – 2034
SF: (talking over DT)…all the natural resources, yes, yes, yes. I don’t, and I’ve gone the same was over the nuclear, when we – I put that bill in to not have any more nuclear plants until we had a real regulatory commission – that’s not a real regulatory commission. And I think our District is supposed to be the most ineffective of all of them. I think it’s out of New Orleans, District 5, or something. So we had the idea that you separate and make this regulatory over here, and the, umm, selling of nuclear power over here, you know, atoms for peace and the rest of it, then we’ll get some, some safety matters resolved. It doesn’t work. Because the same kinds of people are in it. I mean you take that whole low level nuclear authority. Jacoby(?) was in charge of building South Texas Power Plant.
DT: Could you talk a little bit about South Texas?…
0:35:21 – 2034
SF: When I went off to Wells College to be President in 1976, someone phoned me and said, you’re in the wind, or whatever, from that – from the proposed nuclear power plant – is it Bay City? So, would you be one of – would you sign on as one of the parties to this grievance, or whatever they were trying to do. I said yes. And, but then I went off for four years up in western New York. Well, I come back and the power plant is being built. And, I’ve forgotten what year in the 80s, we had a demonstration over there, a small group of us. Woman’s name was Ann Wheeler(?), whose long time environmentalist. She was then deep in her 80s. And she insisted and take balloons to show how the wind blows. And, we had no press. I mean, there again, it’s not of interest. And, there was one woman there that was the Secretary to the Mayor of Bay City. And she said there was such a job – there was such emphasis on the jobs that were coming into that town, that everything was being rubber-stamped. And she was not in step with them. Because, one of the things she said, they really didn’t have adequate plans to get people out if there was an accident there. But, you know, we could get no where. And I had a very clear instance of that when I had here a man who was the last –
0:37:25 – 2034
who had been, umm, they called them liquidators. They were the people that were taken into Chernobyl to shut that plant off. And he was a highly recognized Ukrainian physicist. And I had heard him speak in Salzburg, and I was so taken with him that I filed that away, that sometime we have to hear this man talk, because he spoke of Chernobyl. Well, through a whole set of circumstances, through Gen Vaughan inviting him to Dal – Austin, I was able to get him down here, because he wanted to get to the medical center, he was suffering from radiation poisoning. And, umm, I tried to get him in there for – you know they have a PR, kind of, tour. Well, I couldn’t get any response. And it later learned they had an incident there, during the time he was here, and so the PR office was not answering. But anyway, we were able to have him speak at the Baylor School, Baylor Hospital. And I called the reporters. And there was no interest. Now here we were on the fly-way, the wind or whatever.
DT: …(?) the fight against nuclear power and other use of radio active materials has been frustrating, but we think there was a win recently in regard to Sierra Blanca. Can you talk about your involvement there?
0:39:12 – 2034
SF: Yes, well, I- I can’t remember when I first heard about – I think I heard about Sierra Blanca from a-a woman, umm, on the staff of Gen Vaughn’s Foundation for Compassionate Society. And, it was only later that I realized Olive Hershey was involved in it. But the first had come from the staff meeting in Austin. And, I don’t even remember – at this point – but I did make the decision to go to the public hearing. And, as you know, that is no easy trip. I flew to El Paso, and then the Lynch sisters picked me up and we went to Sierra Blanca for the public hearing that night. And I – again, again, the-the Texas utilities who – as I understand it -were the real force behind this legislation, enabling legislation in the compact and the sighting. They were very much in the background. The people we heard from were the doctors from M.D. Anderson [Hospital]. And there were several there. I went up to them afterwards and said, “well, have you left anyone on your staff in Houston”? Because, you know, it was obvious that they were being used, when really the medical waste, is very – a very very small part of this. And I never did untangle all the political things. But I think the University of Texas and the utility companies were really the sponsors of that. They wanted to get this stuff off of their premises. And, it looked like a loosing battle in many many ways. And I still don’t have the answer. And if we ever have open records some day we’ll find out, maybe. But I couldn’t help but think, once the opponents of sighting of waste dump there, once they were able to make it an international i- i- issue, international, umm, issue, with, umm, the agreement of La Paz I think it was and so on, it was something the Governor didn’t want on his plate for – for now. That’s the way I interpreted it at that time, I may be totally off, I don’t have all the facts. But that’s just my surmise about it. Yes, it was a win. Now what’s going on in Andrew’s County is something else. And, umm, it took care of that one place, maybe. But I’ve always learned, and I learned it back in those days of that oversized sign on the shore line, that often it’s one step forward and two steps backwards.
DT: Maybe we could step back once again and talk a little bit about the legislature. You’ve some talked about the-the radio active issues that have come up over the years and-and I think you also mentioned about the open beaches legislation issues that you worked on. Did you get involved much with dredging?…
0:42:52 – 2034
SF: (talking over DT) Most of it had been done. It’d already been done. That was it and I think something had taken place where it wasn’t – they – they were not into it any longer. But I had been brought up on the horrors of shell dredging. And had heard a lot – I guess I’d heard talks of Bob Eckhardt’s on the issue. But that day was pretty well over with.
DT: What about brine disposal and those kinds of problems?
0:43:19 – 2034
SF: We didn’t, we weren’t into that.
DT: …from oil, gas?…
0:43:22 – 2034
SF: No, we, and you know when I first – and I spoke to two railroad commissioners, and they just acted like they didn’t know what I was talking about. This was much, much later after I was out, and after I’d come back from New York and one thing and the other. There was an extensive article that was about the oil fields in – in Louisiana, what would apply to Texas too, all the radiation that comes from the drilling, which I was totally ignorant of. And, again, when I left that – that ah – Salzburg conference in 1993, I was at the airport in Vienna, and there was a man, a scientist, that had, umm, been to – you know, the U.N. has an atomic control commission – international atomic control commission that’s part of the U.N. It’s housed in Vienna. He’d been to a meeting there and we were standing in line and I said something about being from Houston and he said to me, “well you have an enormous amount of radiation down there due to the – due to the oil drilling”, yes.
DT: Were there other oil and gas problems, umm, spills or leaks?…
0:44:39 – 2034
SF: (talking over DT) Well the spills of course. The leaks, and we’d worked on the spills in Corpus Christi on a local level. And, but you ran into the railroad commission and you never got an answer from them. And, of course, when, when the water quality board, if my memory serves me, was established, what was exempt from their authority was all pollution caused by production development of oil and gas. And guess where that goes. So, that was a constant. I haven’t brought it up because we didn’t anything, we didn’t get any place on it. And we didn’t get any information from them. But I would hear it, and then I’d hear it from Chief Carlisle. You know, these pipes were – there were so many pipes underneath the bays, to say nothing of the damage that they were doing, that long ago should have been replaced. But these issues never were out in the public when I was – I mean I couldn’t get them out.
DT: I know there are a number of – of oil refineries, petro-chemical plants in the Corpus Christi area. Did you ever get involved in air emissions?
0:45:52 – 2034
SF: Tried to. Tried to. Called the air quality board about it. I remember two – two woman that had been in the – a law family that had been there many generations lived out on ah, ah, what was called Shell Road which was across from – from those things and they suffered from this pollution. I mean we would try to do something. I wasn’t trying to do something so much on the state level, that was what Rex was working on. But having some platform as a legislator, I would go to these various agencies with the problems with my constituents were having. But I got nowhere.
DT: What do you think, umm, were some of the environmental successes while you were there? I mean it seems like there were many frustrations.
0:46:44 – 2034
SF: Umm, it would be, I guess only an awareness that might pay off later. I mean, it was a terrible, and Schwartz stayed in there and I’m sure Schwartz got things done after I left. That was a great disa – a big blow when he – Buster Brown defeated him. But, but see Rex was lost because he ran for the Senate, the state Senate and was defeated. So, you know, about all I know was that they kept grand-fathering those plants in because here, how many years later, I was involved in a press conference up there over grand-fathering those plants under the air – clean air act – 20 odd years later. So, there are many different groups now working in Austin that I’m not aware of. I mean the, oh what is this, Rick Abraham’s group…they’re in touch with…
DT: …Texas United(?)?…
0:47:54 – 2034
SF: Yeah. They’re in touch with me, from time to time, and they’re the ones that arranged the press conference in front of the Governor’s house when the DPS was arresting people for demonstrating there. I think we’ve got that stopped.
DT: Can you talk a little bit about the public participation and some of the problems with DPS coming up in the midst of a peaceful demonstration and…? (And, if we might, the DPS is an acromyn for…?)
0:48:20 – 2034
SF: For Department of Public Safety, Department of Public Safety. It has a chilling effect. Now for example, for example, in 1970, I had a skiing accident, only time I was ever on skis and got a terrible break and I was on crutches for eight months. And, I was on crutches when someone, I was running back – I mean, traveling back from Austin to Corpus Christi and so on. And this minister, reverend, called and the only place we could meet was, was, umm, the airport. And he wanted me to come to a demonstration in Mathus(?), and to simply be present, as a legislator. And, I said to him, having been to the peaceful demonstration in Del Rio, I said, “You’re not going to have any problems, you’re going to have a peaceful demonstration”. And he said, “We’re not concerned about the demonstrators, we’re concerned about law enforcement”. And that really hit me between the eyes. And, indeed I did go. I hobbled out there and sat there for the whole thing. Nothing came of it. I don’t know if anything would have come of it or not.
DT: It seems like in many parts of your life, you know, during your term in the legislature, but then in subsequent years you’ve acted as a witness.
0:50:07 – 2034
SF: That’s right.
DT: Umm, can you tell a little bit about some of your role there?
0:50:12 – 2034
SF: Well, let me say, my interest in public affairs is very deep. And I think certainly after my second run for the Governor’s position, I frankly had to face it that there wasn’t any place in electoral politics for me in Texas…period. And that’s nothing to waste tears over, but at the same time it wasn’t going to stop me from this really abiding interest I have in, if you want to call it, civil society and public welfare. All, for ourselves and our posterity. And so this is the place I found I can work, is with different groups, with witnessing things, and, putting things together. And, if I have an opportunity, speaking on them. Occasionally harassing government officials, but, I don’t get too much out of that. I mean I don’t get too many results out of that. But it’s a way to keep, to be involved in what I really care about and not shut the door on it simply because I was defeated for office. I think I know what it takes to be in office and it doesn’t interest me.
DT: You talked about posterity. What do you think are the big issues facing the future, environmentally.
0:51:46 – 2034
SF: Well, you know, and – and – and there are two sides to the coin. There is, there is the problem of population, but there is also a problem of over consumption. And we’re, you know, the developed countries are right there. And then there’s the question of this enormous waste and devastation that comes with our technology. And I’m speaking especially about weapons. That, I think, is one of our greatest environmental problems. We touched on the nuclear, but just, and we’re in the middle of that, because we are the primary – we meaning the United States – we are the primary exporter of weapons of all descriptions. Umm, we, as tax payers, subsidize those sales. And what they do in the way of environmental destruction, to say nothing of human suffering, I think, is beyond our imagination, as we sit here in our cocoon. And, speaking of environmental devastation – I spent a good part of the 80s concerned with our role in Central America, and first with – with ah, different forms of agriculture and cutting timber. That part of the world has just been destroyed. So, you have over consumption. You ha- you, no question about it you have population problems. You have environmental problems that may – may soon be beyond us. Ah, you know, we haven’t touched on it, and I leave that to others, the Ozone, the Greenhouse Effect and all of those things. And then I think it’s difficult to simply keep up with the times. I look back on – on one thing that I did that – it’s very different from what I’d do today. And that was, there was a tax on gasoline, and I saw it primarily as a way to give the railroad commiss – I mean the Highway Commission more resources to keep our poison pills on the road, and voted against it.
0:54:15 – 2034
Now , I might vote another way, simply because we need to find some alternative to these poison pills we all drive around in. The military is right up there, as one of the primary problems that we face today. And then, you know, it brings us – it brings us to an issue that we all skirt in this country, and that is our own economic system.
DT: What do you mean by that?
0:54:48 – 2034
SF: Well, umm, our capitalism. Our – our kind of capitalism. Or the kind we try to import, or export rather. The kind we try to export, you know, just anything for markets and the rest will take care of itself. The rest doesn’t take care of itself. And, our capitalism is survived as long as it has because there were some safeguards put on them – some protection given people. And, umm, that’s not what we’re trying to export today.
DT: You mentioned safeguards. Are there, is there advice, recommendations you have on how to safeguard the environment?
0:55:32 – 2034
SF: Well, I think, ah, first – first I think citizens have to find over and over again that they have to do the work that we think we elect people to do. And that’s deplorable. And that probably, in part, goes back to campaign financing. But, I find it – and I – I, you know, whether and I’m still doing it on the local level, going to these council, city council members, that are talking to each other on the telephone as citizens are standing there trying to get their attention. And, you know, the – the indignity may be a little more concealed, but it’s the same thing if you go up there to Austin to try to talk about – or a hearing before the low level nuclear authority, or, or whatever – I’ve never been before, you know, the train wreck group – so I can’t speak about them – but I would sense it would be the same thing. So, citizens, sad to say, given our system, still have to do the primary work. And I had a friend that came back from eastern Europe, and I have seen it certainly in central Asia. You see what’s happened when there weren’t citizen groups able to do things. So, let me say this, with all the disappointments, without citizen’s activities in this country and efforts, we would be in much worse shape than we are today.
DT: I know that a foundation that you were involved with, helped with some of these citizen’s groups. Can you talk briefly about the foundation…?
0:57:29 – 2034
SF: (talking over DT) Yes, that was Genevieve Vaughan’s, ah, Foundation for Compassionate Society. And, ah, I think she can speak much more eloquently to this because it was her concept and her vision that brought it about. And she saw – one of her principle priorities was to have woman in leadership roles and it moved from that, I think, to seeing the connections between woman and environmental issues. And she certainly was into the Sierra Blanca thing, but into other, umm, other projects in other parts of the world. I think one of the most thoughtful and generous things she did was she bought and returned some of the land to the Shoshone people. And it’s the Shoshone people’s land that that miserable nuclear test site is on.
DT: We have very few minutes remaining, is – is there something that you’d like to say, a message you’d like to?…
0:58:51 – 2034
SF: (talking over DT) Only that it’s – it’s worth putting your heart and – and your energies into it, because without the work of many millions of people in this field, things would be worse today than they are.
DT: Thanks for your help and for all the environmental work that you’ve done and for participating in the interview today.
0:59:16 – 2034
SF: Thank you, David.
DT: You’re welcome.
End of reel 2034
End of interview with Sissy Farenthold