Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Saying goodbye to True Grit

The first time I wrote about state Rep. Frank Buck, it was not pleasant.

He had used the word "wetback" in a legislative hearing, and I criticized him for it in a column. He wasn't the first to use the slur. FOX News' Bill O'Reilly had recently done the same. "Wetback" -- in reference to undocumented Latinos crossing the Rio Grande River to enter the United States -- is a slur against Latinos that just won't go away.

Buck explained that the reference was just part of the vocabulary of his rural district. He really meant no offense, and he apologized. It was only in covering Buck and his efforts to bring some kind of ethics to the business of the people at Legislative Plaza that I learned of his sincerity.

Rep. Buck will be retiring at the end of this session, and our state will be without a needed watchdog on Capitol Hill. Citizens should be warned.

Buck took a lot of heat for his dedication to cleaning up Legislative Plaza. I attended many committee hearings on his legislation where he'd have to endure insults from committee members. Then there were many more times when he couldn't get a hearing on his legislation. He sure didn't dress for the role of crusader with his leather vest and boots. He looked more like an extra on the set of "True Grit".

We must have talked five days a week about his efforts and how to get the word out to the peopole about the shenangians going on. Sometimes, you could hear the grandchildren in the background. His law office would serve as a daycare when needed. Buck even went to the governor, who told him that he didn't have the time to get involved in cleaning up the mess. Then, federal authorities came sweeping in under Operation Tennessee Waltz.

Ultimately every two years, Buck would always draw a lot of primary opponents, funded by fellow Democrats who feared his continued effort for ethics on Capitol Hill. Finally, with eight primary opponents and two GOP ones for the general electction, Buck called it quits.

Be warned. Ethics have not been secured at Legislative Plaza. There still are plenty of loopholes in existing law and areas of the lobbyist-lawmaker relationship stil in gray.

Buck will be fine with his law practice and farm/ranch. But I'm not that confident for the rest of us. We're losing a champion, a man of his word and principle who knew state government wasn't working for our benefit.

We're losing a lawmaker of true grit.


Roger Abramson said...

Welcome back, Tim.

Jim Boyd said...


Good analysis of a good man. Only through your blog did I find that Frank Buck was retiring. Tennessee will be poorer for his exit.