The Insider

Seeking Closure in Fort Davis
Maybe it's the thin mountain air, but the foolishness out in Fort Davis last week was not just confined to the house-trailer "embassy" of lien-filing lunatic Richard McLaren and his pistol-packing compatriots in the Republic of Texas. According to a discerning observer of our acquaintance, the sprawling media encampment that assembled with the Department of Public Safety to wait out McLaren provided more than its share of odd and occasionally antisocial behavior.

Innocent bystanders are always in danger wherever such a large contingent of journalists masses, and sure enough, when the daughters of McLaren's wife Evelyn showed up to beseech their mother to surrender, they were nearly trampled by a herd of stampeding reporters and cameramen before they managed to escape into the sheltering arms of the DPS. Then there was the eccentric local who materialized to plead for McLaren's safety but nearly provoked a riot when he fell to the ground crying. Panicked because he had fallen out of their lens sights, the TV cameramen began bellowing "Down! Down!" at the reporters blocking their view of the writhing dervish.

Even more entertaining was the chain reaction of misinformation set off when Houston's Channel 2 issued an early and erroneous report that McLaren had reached an agreement with authorities and would shortly surrender.

"We were all standing out there in the baking sun out here in East Jesus ... uh, make that West Jesus, when Phil Archer broke in with this breathless report," our correspondent reports.

Within minutes, other television reporters were wading in right behind KPRC's "exclusive."

"It was like watching a giant game of telephone tag or something," says our man on the scene. "All these, 'We are hearing reports ... ' and 'I've been told ... ' came from nothing more than [other reporters] standing around watching KPRC do its magic."

Of course, when the surrender did not occur as reported, it was time for a little backpedaling and face-saving. Our man says Archer mercilessly ragged the DPS briefer with a series of questions that ran something like, "Isn't it true, sir, that you had an agreement? Isn't correct, sir, that there was an agreement? Sir, would you say, as we reported, that there was an understanding but it just didn't become a final agreement?"

Finally, a newspaper reporter offered some sotto voce counsel for the desperate Archer: "Let it go, Phil, let it go. It's time for closure."

Since McLaren and his wife and all but two of his associates did eventually give themselves up to the DPS, Archer can always claim to have had the scoop a few days before everybody else.

Other dramas within the drama unfolded like sour laundry. Would Terry O'Rourke, the former assistant Harris County attorney with no background in criminal law, garner as much publicity in his representation of McLaren as Dick DeGuerin did from the Branch Davidian siege?

While he never got a photo op on the order of DeGuerin's motorcycle ride to visit client David Koresh at the Davidian compound, O'Rourke rang up plenty of TV and radio time, along with a glowing Associated Press dispatch headlined "McLaren's attorney described as 'bright, creative' " and built mostly around gushy comments from his wife Michelle and friend and former county attorney colleague Rock Owens. (Before O'Rourke departed Houston for Fort Davis, he had asked Channel 26 to cough up $3,000 to cover his travel expenses and lodging. A source at the Fox affiliate says the solicitation was refused; O'Rourke could not be reached for comment.)

Aside from McLaren's fate, one of the most pressing questions among the media at Fort Davis concerned whether Channel 13's Wayne Dolcefino would be successful in breaking down the resistance of a reluctant female print journalist from Odessa whom he was persistently wooing. At last observation, the West Texas journalist appeared to be about as taken with Il Dolce's charms as Sylvester Turner's little sister might have been.

Shaking Hotze's Money Tree
The next primary elections in Harris County are still a year away, but it's not too early for Republican moderates to begin their biennial battle with Christian conservative powerbroker Steven Hotze and his potent money-raising and vote-delivery machine.

This time, however, Hotze's enemies are looking to stop the doctor before he gets in a position to operate. Several weeks ago, an informal and largely anonymous group of GOP activists filed complaints with the Texas Ethics Commission alleging dozens of misdemeanor violations and two felony violations of the state election code by Hotze and his associates.

Members of the ad hoc group, including former county party chair Betsy Lake and former GOP national committeewoman Penny Butler, paid a call on Harris County District Attorney Johnny Holmes last week to inform him of the ethics complaints and alert him to expect a similar bill of particulars directed to his office later this year.

"I'm a fanatic about obeying the laws, whether it's something in the election code or capital murder," says Lake, who fought Hotze through two terms for control of the local party before she left office last year.

The complaints are under review by Ethics Commission attorneys. Commission staffers do not discuss complaints or even acknowledge their existence until they go before the commissioners, but a source tell us the complaints against the Hotze organization will likely be discussed at the commission's July meeting in Austin. While the commission has the power to levy fines for misdemeanor violations, it would forward felony complaints it deems justified to local law enforcement agencies.

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