State Journal: Deja Vu in Baton Rouge; Texas publisher drops bid

May 31, 1989 2 min read

Louisiana education officials may have felt an uneasy sense of deja vu this month as they watched former Gov. Earl Long strut about Baton Rouge in the midst of yet another of the state’s fiscal crises.

Actually, it was the actor Paul Newman portraying the brother of Gov. Huey P. Long, the legendary “Kingfish,” for an upcoming film. Segments of the movie were being shot at the state capitol--a skyscraper built during Huey Long’s tenure and the site of his assassination in 1935--during a weeklong legislative recess.

The filming occurred just days after voters overwhelmingly rejected a tax-reform plan championed by Gov. Buddy Roemer. The measure would have required school districts and communities to levy taxes to pay for some the state programs that are Long’s legacy. The tax plan’s defeat has lawmakers scrambling to eliminate a $700-million deficit.

The movie starring Mr. Newman focuses on Long’s relationship with the ecdysiast Blaze Starr, the flamboyant habitue of “The Block,” a seedy assortment of bars and strip joints in Baltimore. It is being produced by an independent film company for Walt Disney Pictures.

Sometimes, even a Texas-sized lobbying campaign by one of the state’s richest men just isn’t enough.

Robert Bass, the Fort Worth billionaire and owner of the Merrill Publishing Company, spent an estimated $300,000 and employed well-connected lobbyists to try to persuade the Texas legislature to push back for a year the schedule for adopting science textbooks.

Mr. Bass argued that the proposal would improve textbooks by enabling the state’s reviewers to concentrate on materials for only one subject area each year. Texas is scheduled to review mathematics and science books next year for use in schools in 1991.

But after a House panel approved the plan, officials from other textbook firms launched an equally high-priced counterattack. They charged that the legislation was a naked attempt by Mr. Bass to bend the rules to allow Merrill to compete for a share of the multi-million-dollar market. Merrill’s elementary science series is not expected to meet next year’s adoption deadline.

Faced with mounting bad publicity, Mr. Bass agreed to drop his plan. Under a compromise approved this month, the state would maintain the adoption schedule for the current cycle, but would allow his firm to save money by shipping books directly to districts, rather than through the state depository.--pw & rr

A version of this article appeared in the May 31, 1989 edition of Education Week as State Journal: Deja Vu in Baton Rouge; Texas publisher drops bid