This Week in Texas History:
A column by BARTEE HAILE
The newly inaugurated governor had been on the job just two weeks, when he learned on Feb. 1, 1927 that a bribery scandal was brewing in the Texas House of Representatives.
Eight days earlier, Rep. H.H. Moore of Cooper looked up from his desk on the House floor to see Willis W. Chamberlain hurrying toward him. As the author of a bill to impose a $50 annual tax on eye-examiners, the lawmaker knew what the lobbyist for the Optometry Association had on his mind.
Moore cut the visitor off with the curt explanation that it was neither the time nor the place for such a delicate discussion. He whispered in Chamberlain’s ear that Rep. F.A. Dale, his close friend and neighbor from Bonham, would grant him an audience.
The lobbyist located the second legislator and asked if he was available for dinner. Dale indicated he was free if the meal was too, and they made plans to break bread together that evening.
The politician listened to his host’s impassioned plea on behalf of hard-working optometrists, who felt the legislature was unfairly putting the squeeze on them. The proposed levy would suck their very lifeblood, their champion argued, and send many to the poorhouse.
Although Chamberlain was no babe in the capitol woods and well acquainted with influence peddling, he was taken aback by his dinner guest’s brazen approach. Dale dispensed with the usual doubletalk and told him straight out that “parties interested in passing” the tax bill already had offered $750 to get it out of committee and onto the House calendar.
Irritated and insulted by the clumsy shake-down, Chamberlain complained, “That is a mighty hard deal for us.” Dale gave him a sympathetic smile and said a thousand dollars would keep the legislation bottled up in committee until the cows came home.
The lobbyist bit his tongue and pretended to accept the rogue representative’s terms. He skipped dessert and excused himself after assuring Dale he would hear from him again as soon as the ransom was raised.
But Chamberlain had no intention of paying the political pipers. Instead, he met privately with the new Speaker of the House and spilled the beans. Robert L. Bobbitt promptly passed the hot potato to the new governor, Dan Moody.
The former attorney general owed his upset of incumbent Miriam “Ma” Ferguson to a grass-roots desire for clean government. Moody could not have asked for a more perfect opportunity to prove he was serious about rooting out corruption. So he quickly ordered the Texas Rangers to investigate the allegation and to let the chips fall where they may.
The case was assigned to captains Tom Hickman and Frank Hamer, who seven years later would put Bonnie and Clyde in their graves. The state lawmen instructed the whistle-blower to proceed with the payoff, while they waited in the wings.
The next night Chamberlain and Dale went to Moore’s hotel room, where the lobbyist ordered three chicken dinners from room service. After they had eaten their fill, Dale led Chamberlain downstairs to consummate the crooked deal.
When the legislator stopped in a dark alley, the lobbyist handed him a roll of
marked bills and kept on walking. A stranger suddenly stepped out of the shadows and confronted the bagman.
“I have information,” Capt. Hamer announced, “that you have recently accepted a bribe.” Dale replied with all the indignation he could muster that the Ranger had it wrong.
“I have just accepted a fee of $1,000 to represent a man,” stammered the part-time attorney, who urged Hamer to check with his pal upstairs if he did not believe him.
Leaving Dale in the hall with Capt. Hickman, the Ranger did just that. “Has any deal of any kind been made in your room for someone to represent someone else for $1,000 or any other sum?” he asked. Moore flatly denied it and even had trouble remembering his partner in crime.
Hamer had heard enough. He placed both politicians under arrest and booked them on bribery charges.
The House of Representatives moved with surprising speed. Thirty-six hours after the highly publicized bust of Moore and Dale, a nine-member committee opened hearings on the fitness of their accused colleagues to remain in office.
Four days later, the jury of their peers unanimously recommended the removal of the disgraceful duo. Speaker Bobbitt relinquished his gavel and took the floor to implore the House to act without delay to “show the people of Texas we are not a bunch of bribe takers and bootleggers.”
It was not even close. The count on the motion to expel F.A. Dale was 113 for, four against and two present. H.H. Moore attracted more supporters, 14 to be exact, but 119 voted to give him the old heave-ho.
Bartee Haile welcomes your comments, questions and suggestions at P.O. Box 152, Friendswood, TX 77549 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
San Marcos Mercury columnist BARTEE HAILE welcomes your comments, questions and suggestions at P.O. Box 152, Friendswood, Texas 77549 or by email here.Email | Print