`Texas Bashing' Has State on the Defensive

WITH an adopted Texan in the White House, a Texan as Speaker of the House, two influential Texas senators, and a number of Texans in important positions in the Bush administration, the Lone Star State thought it had it made in Washington. Things would be as good as during the Johnson administration, if not better, according to conventional cowboy wisdom.

But now the euphoria of early 1989 has yielded to worries of ``Texas bashing.'' President Bush was in Austin last week to assure the Legislature that Texas is ``back in the saddle,'' but not everyone here is so sure.

First, Defense Secretary-designate John Tower, a former Texas senator, was thrown to the lions. Then funding for the $4 billion supercollider, to be built south of Dallas, was thought to be in jeopardy. Last week, the Senate Budget Committee brought start-up funding closer to reality. But enthusiasm remains less than universal. Rancor over Texas's part in the savings-and-loan crisis - expected to cost taxpayers tens of billions of dollars - has led some in Congress to suggest that Texas should pay for its sins. And perhaps worst of all, House Speaker Jim Wright finds his power clipped following an indicting report on his financial dealings from the House ethics committee.

Last month former Texas Gov. John Connally spoke publicly of what he considered a ``conspiracy'' against Texas and Texans in the nation's capital. More recently, the bimonthly ``Texas Agenda'' reported sightings of a new bumper sticker inside the Washington Beltway: ``Don't Wait: Hate Texans Early.''

There is an almost palpable realization here that a fall of Jim Wright from the speakership would not be good for Texas. And there seems to be a hunch all across the political spectrum that Wright's troubles, like the rough road facing a number of pet Texas projects, derive as much from vindictiveness as from anything else.

The Dallas Morning News, editorially a paragon of Republican conservatism, prefaced its editorial on the Wright investigation with the headline, ``Speaker should not have to sacrifice career.'' The editorial went so far as to suggest that Wright is less to blame for his problems than ``the system that led him to think he did not have to worry about even the appearance of impropriety.'' This from an editorial page that might normally dismiss blaming ``the system'' as the height of liberal folly.

The ``Texas first'' mentality appears to extend to Texas Republicans. Even the usually loquacious Sen. Phil Gramm has had almost nothing to say about Wright.

The state's latest worries come from Defense Secretary Richard Cheney, who has proposed eliminating funds for the Navy's V-22 tilt-rotor aircraft - the Osprey. While no one suggests any element of ``Texas bashing'' in Secretary Cheney's plan, the fact is that the Osprey is being developed by Bell Helicopter Textron Inc. in Fort Worth - Wright's district.

Some Washington observers have said there was a not-too-distant time when no one would have thought to mess with a project from the Speaker's district. Wright has vowed to fight for the endangered bird, so the fate of the Osprey and other Bell Helicopter contracts could be seen as a barometer of the investigation's effect on Wright's power.

And if Wright, the supercollider, and other Texas projects end up on the trash heap of history, and if suggestions of action against Texas for the costly S&L bailout become more than idle threats, then perhaps fears of Texas bashing will be seen as something more than just Texas paranoia.

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