Death of A Hack
“God bless you Texas, and keep you brave and strong”, Jim Mattox, quoting the state song of Texas in his final summation at the Democratic Gubernatorial Debate, 1990
So Jim Mattox is dead. Mattox was one of the supreme political hacks in the last part of Democratic rule of the state of Texas. I guess the term “hack” is still in use. My father always used the term whenever Hubert Humphrey’s name was mentioned(“that hack !” ).Anyway, even if you don’t know the definition of political hack, like pornography, you know it when you see it. Webster’s probably has an illustration of Mattox next to its “hack” definition.
While “hack” has a negative connotation, not all (or even most) political hacks are bad people. Most have families and homes and pay their taxes. I am sure that Mattox was nice enough. Our paths crossed a few times through the course of his career, and each time was interesting.
In 1982, Mattox got himself elected state Attorney General. I am sure that I voted for him. He rocked along for a few months and managed to get himself indicted for “commercial bribery”. Indictments of state office holders by the Travis County District Attorney’s office has a long and proud history here in Austin. Every couple of years a Speaker of the House or United States Senator or Congressional Majority Leader or Attorney General will be indicted by our local D.A., generally for doing something every office holder in the state does, and then goes back to doing after the inevitable acquittal which follows each indictment
At this particular time, my law firm was involved in a lawsuit on behalf of Mobile Oil , as I recall. The lawyer involved for us then is probably still practicing and may sue me if he feels I have maligned him here, so he will be referred to in this piece only as “Tom”. Tom was (is) an outstanding trial lawyer who believed, of course, that he was even more outstanding than he actually was. In the lawsuit, Tom tried to depose Mattox’s sister for reasons I don’t remember. This led to calls between Tom and Jim where Tom claimed that Jim had told him to back off his sister or the law firm would be “out of the bond business”. By way of explanation, Mattox, as A.G., had to sign off on the issuance of tax exempt bonds. The firm could expect very little business on issuance of tax exempt bonds if it became known that Mattox would never sign off on them. As I recall, the original conversation between the two was not recorded. I did hear some other recordings where it sounded like Tom was trying to get Mattox to repeat something he had said earlier. Tom kept saying, “so, I guess that means that we are out of the bond business.” And Mattox would not respond.
The indictment generated a lot of publicity and the case went to trial and Mattox was represented by Roy Minton, one of the great criminal lawyers of Texas. As the trial date grew near, Tom, who lived in Houston, called me, in Austin (I was a third year lawyer) and said he needed my help.
Tom: Wade, I believe that the press will be all over me at the trial. I have to fool them.
Wade: What do you mean ?
Tom: I have a reservation at the Four Seasons Hotel there in Austin. I want you to check in as me and stay there. Then the press will call you and not me.
This conversation went on for some time and I won’t bore you with the details or the problems which I anticipated, some of which you have probably thought of yourself. That afternoon at 5:30 I presented myself to the Four Seasons as “Tom” and then handed them my credit card with my own name on it.
Clerk : It says Wade Porter, I thought that you were Tom.
Wade: I may have misspoken, what I meant to say was that I am checking in for Tom.
Clerk: will you be staying with him ?
Wade: Well, I will be there until he gets here and I have no idea when that will be.
Somehow, I was given a key to the room and walked into a very nice suite, suddenly realizing that I had nothing to do and did not know how long I would be staying. So I took off my coat and opened the mini bar. I drank and ate snacks and watched pay per view movies for about six hours when I finally decided that no press was going to call. So I went home. I never heard from Tom about this again. I did have some trouble getting reimbursed for my large bill by the firm, but that worked out.
Mattox was acquitted, of course. Tom’s time on the stand was not so good. The thing that I recall best was him insisting to Roy Minton that “everybody knows” that I am a better lawyer than Mattox. That kind of testimony never endears yourself to a jury.
My second brush with Mattox was as a result of my wife working with a woman whom he happened to be sleeping with. This was right before he ran for Governor and so there was some hope that my wife’s friend would be First Lady of Texas, although no one, except perhaps the potential First Lady, took that very seriously.
What happened was that this co-worker of my wife’s somehow got herself made a contestant on the popular T.V. game show “Wheel of Fortune”. Rayda traveled out to California for the taping of the show and got to see Vanna White who was very popular at the time. On the show, you can also hear her cheering her friend on as the wheel was spinning. After their return, there was viewing party for the show at a local tavern. Mattox showed up and drank beer with us. He seemed very quiet and sullen (like he was slumming) and soon after that dumped my wife’s friend. That meant that she never got to be First Lady, but then again, she is not a widow this morning either.
Mattox starting losing all of his political races after that. He became somewhat of a comical figure at Democratic functions because he would always turn up at them with a big yellow dog he had acquired (“yellow Dog Democrat”, get it ?). In the year 2000, Bill Bradley, the old New York Knick and New Jersey Senator decided to run for President and I got invited to a breakfast for him at (of course) the Four Seasons. There were less than fifty people there, you may recall that Bradley did not get very far in his bid. I was sitting next to my Congressman, the late Jake Pickle who by then was very short sighted and quite hard of hearing. Bradley came by each table and introduced himself, we ate some breakfast and we were just about to hear him speak when someone came through the back door, quite late.
Everyone looked to the back, including Senator Bradley. Pickle turned to me and said, “ I can’t see who that is.” I told him, as the figure drew nearer that it was Jim Mattox. The room was silent, waiting for Mattox to sit down. As he came closer, Pickle exclaimed, in what I guess was an effort at a stage whisper, but which was heard by everyone in the room, “ Mattox, that’s Mattox ? why he’s fat as an old hog. “ which, by then, he was. Fifty faces turned red, fifty people bit their tongue and stared at what remained of their breakfast. Mattox, to his credit, sat down smiling and said nothing. That was the last time I was ever around Mattox, but I was thinking this morning, that that was the greatest display of dignity I had seen him make in the twenty or so years I used to run into him. It’s not too bad a way to be rememebered.God bless you Texas, and God Bless you too Jim.