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Lindsay's employer eventually went under, and he moved on to a job at Tellepsen, a large engineering firm, that ended with his being fired after just two weeks. The company's procedure for estimating job costs and Lindsay's didn't quite match up. "Howard Tellepsen [the Port Authority chairman at the time] and I laugh about that to this day," says Lindsay. "He hated [Democratic County Judge] Bill Elliott, and he was my biggest contributor when I ran against Bill Elliott. When I went to see him about a contribution in 1974, you'd think we were the best of buddies. Course, he didn't even know he had fired me."
Lindsay is somewhat hazy about his motivation for his initial run for office in 1972, which he made as a Democrat for a state representative seat against then 21-year-old Don Henderson. "In my construction work, I was doing a lot of county and city, school district work, so that kind of got me involved with the politicians," he remembers. "Because of the work I was doing, I would get acquainted with them. It just seemed like the thing to do."
Unfortunately for Lindsay, it was also the year of President Nixon's landslide re-election over George McGovern, and the neophyte pol had chosen to run in a freshly carved district in heavily Republican territory. "I didn't even know it was a Republican district," says Lindsay with a laugh. "I was real popular around here at the time. I was a member of everything -- president of the North Houston Association, the Rotary Club, had a lot of friends up in Tomball, where we went to church. I was very well known, much better known [than Henderson]."
Lindsay lost by just 111 votes, which encouraged him to switch parties and attempt a countywide challenge only two years later. Incumbent County Judge Elliott, dogged by corruption charges that included misappropriation of county materials, went down to defeat, and Lindsay had the office without serious challenge for the next two decades.
From the beginning of his tenure as county judge, Lindsay exploited the connection between government and public works projects. To hear him tell it, his main achievements as county judge were construction projects such as the Hardy Toll Road and the South Belt.
That has led more than one person to profess amazement that Lindsay can run for office on Republican rhetoric about limiting government.
"I don't really think he's capable of staying off the government tit," says former Post reporter Brewton. "It's interesting he considers himself to be sort of a conservative and anti-big government. He can't live without government funding. It's just ironic as hell."
During last spring's legislative session, Lindsay would occasionally be seen loitering in the second-floor hallway outside the chambers of the Texas House. That station is the traditional hangout for the gaggle of white males who wait to buttonhole lawmakers before they go out onto the House floor, where lobbyists are forbidden to venture. It's also a post from which lobbyists can send importuning notes to lawmakers via a guard at the door. It's not a place where Jon Lindsay seemed to be at home.
"He was out there standing by himself, and no one was talking to him," recounts one capital lobbyist. "He looked lost -- a fish out of water. When he saw me, he practically ran over to have someone to talk to."
Two years earlier, when he was county judge, Lindsay had made the Austin rounds triumphantly, escorted by assistant Don Lee. Rather than hanging out, he made "appearances" as a power player to whom others gravitated. "Before, Don did the legwork, and this time he was doing it," says the lobbyist of Lindsay's lobbying work. "You could tell he wasn't used to it."
Lindsay had only two clients the whole session, one a California telecommunications company interested in providing dial tones for apartment complexes, the other the Greater Houston Convention and Visitors Bureau, which late in the session tried to push through a bill to devote car rental fees to the fine arts -- with a provision allowing the revenue to also fund new sports stadiums. That provision contributed to the sinking of the legislation, according to one lobbyist, leaving some arts supporters bitter. Although convention bureau president Eddie Webster says the lobbying contract was with the Vinson & Elkins law firm, Lindsay was paid $10,000 directly from the bureau.
Lindsay agrees he did not enjoy the role of a capital lobbyist.
"Yeah, it's kinda hard work," he deadpans. "You're not really in the mainstream of what's going on up there as a lobbyist, unless you stay up there all the time. I just didn't want to stay up there all the time." Actually, he spent only two nights in Austin during the session, otherwise driving from Houston to the capital each morning and returning by car in late afternoon. That sort of schedule is not the most productive use of a lobbyists' time and energy.
Lobbying opportunities back in Houston, where Lindsay retained plenty of clout, proved more lucrative. During the past year, Lindsay says, he's lobbied the city on waste disposal issues for Browning-Ferris and on the privatization of wastewater treatment operations for PSG, a subsidiary of a giant French conglomerate. Although he made calls on behalf of downtown hotel bidder Wayne Duddlesten to freshman Councilmembers Orlando Sanchez and Robb Todd, Lindsay denies receiving any payment. "And you can see how successful I was," he adds. Todd and Sanchez, both conservative Republicans, eventually opposed both Duddlesten and his competitor.
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