Saturday, October 15


Dallas insiders muse on Harriet Miers and her stint on the Dallas City Council (1989-91).

The independent Dallas Observer, antidote to the conservative Dallas Morning News, describes the conflicting opinions of local gay activists about the SCOTUS nominee, reports on her good relationships with leading members of the African-American community, and reflects on her early support for the minority-backed city council configuration of single-member seats instead of at-large representation. Miers is pictured as fair-minded, prepared, politically adept, anti-abortion, uncomfortable seeking endorsements of gays and lesbians, and fiercely private. It's an interesting portrait of the woman whose nomination has caused some conservatives to break ranks with Bush.

My only real beef with the lady is her relationship with George W. Bush and the poor judgment she displays in her assessment of his abilities and performance. My HOPE is that she's just been acting as a smart female lawyer on behalf of a sleazy client, and that if she makes it through to a seat on the Court she'll assert her independence. I'd prefer to rely on facts, though, so I keep seeking clues to this very, very private woman's character and philosophy.

Mike Daniel is one of a tiny coterie of tough activist lawyers who in the 1970s and '80s pushed through a series of federal anti-segregation, anti-housing discrimination, anti-disenfranchisement lawsuits that changed the city forever. Of that barrage of litigation, the piece that struck the deepest blow was a suit seeking the overthrow of the old city council system.

Daniel represented plaintiffs Marvin Crenshaw and Roy Williams, who argued that Dallas had used a series of tricky arrangements to prevent black people and Latinos from achieving power on the city council. When their lawsuit was coming to a head in 1991, Harriet Miers was nearing the end of her single two-year term as an at-large city council member.

Daniel and Roy Williams, his former client, remember Miers as a smart and thoughtful council member who eventually came to support a version of the all single-member-district "14-1" council system they were seeking.

"She's really not an ideologue," Daniel says. "She came over to 14-1 way sooner than the mayor."

The mayor at the time was Annette Strauss, nominally a Dallas liberal, sister-in-law to Robert ("Mr. Democrat") Strauss, who was a former chairman of the Democratic National Committee. Both Daniel and Williams remember Miers as far more interested in fair representation issues than Strauss or any of the other big Democrats still in town in those days.

Williams also was one of two candidates who ran against Miers for the seat she won on the city council in 1989. "She knew the law, and she would always recite case law," he says. "A couple times I rode with her to the debates, even though we were opposing each other. I think she's a fair-minded person."

Daniel also remembers her well from her tenure as a member of the board of Legal Services of North Texas, when Daniel and some of his cadre were legal aid lawyers. "She kept the Bar Association off our backs," he says.

Mary Vogelson, a water expert and activist with the Dallas League of Women Voters, remembers Miers as having a keen interest in an array of public participation issues when she was on the city council. "She was interested in how the public has access to City Hall and to city council meetings," Vogelson says.

Former mayoral candidate Peter Lesser is a liberal who was right in the middle of the racial and political turmoil in Dallas in the late 1980s and early 1990s. He says his radar has always given him favorable impressions of Miers: "Number one, I don't think she is a right-winger. Number two, she comes from the real world."
In the late 1980s and early '90s, Dallas as a whole was far to the right of the rest of the nation. It was a city that seemed to have been passed over by much of the political change that swept the nation in the 1960s and '70s. The battle over the city council configuration--single-member seats instead of at-large representation--was the first instance of truly aggressive political action by minorities.

In that context, and with politics being the art of available alternatives, Harriet Miers looked good to many liberals. In fact, she danced just on the verge of progressivism.

Former City Councilwoman Diane Ragsdale also labels Miers "fair-minded." And if you knew the notorious Ms. Ragsdale and had experienced her tumultuous, divisive years on the Council, you'd know just how powerful such a statement is, coming from her. (I have to say in Ragsdale's defense, that the times required a certain amount of radicalism in order to budge the monolithic Dallas even a bit. Her disruptive tactics have to be taken into the context of the times. After all, "yesterday's terrorist is today's freedom fighter.")

"We've had some divisions along policy lines, but that never diminished my feeling that (Miers) was a fair woman," said Diane Ragsdale, a former colleague who in the heat of the redistricting battle labeled Miers "a traitor" — words she says she no longer recalls. "She always tried to be a mediator, a bridge-builder," Ragsdale says.


Blogger jeff said...

Real consersatives should be outraged by the Harriet Miers nomination. Visit to ask President Bush to withdraw this nomination.

11:04 AM  
Blogger Motherlode said...

How on earth did you stumble across this blog? There's nothing here to appeal to "real conservatives," I should think.

11:49 AM  

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