News & media

An environmental ‘dad’ for Texas moves on

E&E Publishing / by Edward Klump and Mike Lee | October 24, 2016

Tom "Smitty" Smith plans to retire as director of Public Citizen's Texas office after more than 30 years in that role. Photo by Edward Klump.

Tom “Smitty” Smith plans to retire as director of Public Citizen’s Texas office after more than 30 years in that role. Photo by Edward Klump.

AUSTIN, Texas — As he approached a simple wooden table to testify about ozone, Tom Smith didn’t have to speak to draw the attention of one of Texas’ leading conservative lawmakers

State Sen. Craig Estes (R) singled out Smith for his “tireless” work on the environment, and a round of applause ensued. The director of Public Citizen’s Texas office, sporting his familiar white and gray beard, nodded. The “Smitty” retirement tour was underway.

“It’s always nice to see you present,” added state Sen. Eddie Lucio Jr. (D). “It gives our discussions a balance that obviously we need on every issue.”

The bipartisan exchange at a committee meeting last month stands as a reminder that Smith carved out a powerful and unusual role in Texas politics that won’t soon be matched. The 66-year-old managed to set a “left margin” on issues for years while retaining a pragmatism that kept him on good terms with power players like Estes.

Vintage Smitty was on display at that recent Senate hearing, even if he wasn’t wearing his trademark white hat during testimony. He used facts and figures to inform and, if possible, persuade. It isn’t easy talking about the environment while representing a consumer group founded by Ralph Nader in a state where industry has enormous influence.
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