A Legendary Consumer Rights Lobbyist Retires After Three Decades

Our daily roundup of Texas headlines.

By Becky FogelSeptember 23, 2016 10:39 am

The Standard’s news roundup gives you a quick hit of interesting, sometimes irreverent, and breaking news stories from all over the state.

This week Tom “Smitty” Smith announced that he’s retiring from the consumer rights group Public Citizen Texas. Smith spent the last three decades fighting for things like regulation of the insurance industry and campaign finance reforms. He was also an early champion of renewable energy.

Smith spoke with the Standard about his work on the environment and get his perspective on political organizing in Texas.

“We put out our first climate change study in 1988, and we were way too conservative,” Smith says. “A lot of the worst case scenarios we portrayed then, have come to pass. The summer of 2011 is sort of the harbinger of what it’s going to be like here in the future as are the floods now in far east Texas.”

As people got more interested in the issue and started mobilizing to take action, Smith says the oil and gas industry realized it would affect their business – so a “massive disinformation campaign” was created.

“And so what you see is the majority of Democrats and Republicans in Texas want something to be done about climate change and they think the Texas government ought to do it,” he says. “But the political leaders who pull money out of the pockets out of the oil and gas and coal barons are afraid to anger their patrons and don’t want to protect citizens from the ravages they know are going to come.”

Things have changed some: Texas is now a nationwide leader when it comes to renewable energy. But Smith says that can still be chalked up to business interests.

“It’s all about money at this point,” he says. “Is that the same people who are fighting us on the one hand are buying into renewable energy because they know that’s where the economics are.” 

Still, Smith thinks ordinary Texans have a big role to play in protecting the state’s environment.

“It’s also about citizen organizing – and we have now dozens of groups fighting to reduce climate change and all over Texas citizens have stood up and fought against the new round of coal plants being proposed a decade ago,” Smith says. “We were able to knock off 15 of the 17 coal plants being talked about at one time and really reduced the threat of climate change and made the big utilities have to look elsewhere for their energy sources for the future.”

The next big issue Smith thinks the state should tackle? Mass transit.

Despite his obvious energy and passion, Smith says it’s time for someone younger to take his place – and he’s ready – as he puts it– to go ahead and live happily ever after.

Recent polls have shown when it comes to the presidential race, Donald Trump only holds a slim lead over Hillary Clinton in Texas.

But a new survey from the University of Houston’s Hobby School of Public Affairs finds that in Harris County – specifically – it’s Clinton who has the lead. The Democratic presidential nominee has a 10-point lead over her Republican opponent there.

The Superintendent of Marfa’s schools is taking a pay cut.

The San Antonio Express-News reports that Marfa ISD Superintendent Andy Peters decided to forgo $12,000 to try to keep from cutting his employees’ health insurance.