There are a lot of things that make Texas politics the greatest spectator sport in the world. Most of the things that make our politics interesting are ridiculous, outlandish, off-the-wall, or just plain cajones-inspired.
“Sputnik,” well-liked and universally-respected around the big pink building, was proudly all of the above. And Governor Dolph Briscoe could well be assigned with some of the above himself, if only because he would get himself elected as the Governor of Texas, then go home and not be heard from again for a while.
In office, Briscoe often had better things to do, and seemed to believe that there’s only so much seriousness that can be associated with state government – and if all one knows about Texas government is what they read from Molly Ivins, Dolph probably had a hell of a point. Once out of office, he became a fierce Democrat, always weighing in when he thought it was important. He was conservative and traditional, as most South Texas ranchers were, and are.
Meanwhile, Sputnik was the lobbyist for the motorcycle rights folks. He wore leather, had a mohawk, was inked everywhere (including his forehead), and had more appendages missing than remaining. And, oh yeah, he was one of the most effective advocates in a building cram packed full of high-priced advocates.
Sputnik played hardball in Democratic politics, and he would bring a large and disciplined caucus to Democratic state conventions, and they all voted as a bloc. That made them very influential. I recall one state convention in which a major candidate for state Democratic Party chairman dropped out of the race when Sputnik’s caucus announced they’d all vote the other way. I heard he passed away at his desk early Thursday morning, after he shot off an email and just before he was to leave to travel to this year’s Democratic convention.
I first found out about Sputnik’s passing in a tweet from Republican Senator John Carona Thursday night, which is is a perfect combination describing what makes Texas politics unique and endearing in so many ways: a leather-clad inked-up mohawk-sporting motorcycle rights guy’s passing is sadly and respectfully announced by a conservative Republican Senator, who in turn holds absolute respect and credibility from a Democratic flack who agrees with him hardly ever – and all three are friends anyway.
You just can’t help but love Texas politics. And while I’m very sad for Sputnik’s passing, I absolutely can’t wait for his memorial service. I would bet good money it will be one which, if he could attend, Sputnik would love.
Meanwhile, Governor Briscoe’s passing signals the end of an era of old-style South Texas giants.
The only thing that could make either memorial service any more epic, is if both families got together and decided to hold a joint funeral.
Both of you – rest in peace. You each played a big role.