“Let me call McFarland. He’ll know what to do.”
I have no idea how many times those words may have been spoken. Whether from clients, fellow legislators, City Council members, city managers, or nameless others, it was a familiar refrain when problems needed solving.
Having witnessed others saying those words and doing so myself, I know Bob McFarland was for a very long time the quintessential “go-to guy” in Arlington and Austin and regional offices throughout the state.
It was more than four decades ago when I first established a connection with Bob. He was the law partner of James Cribbs, and together they were the legal counsel for the company I managed at the time. It was a relationship that would grow into friendship as our careers developed and evolved.
When the 1977 session of the Texas Legislature convened, he took a seat in the House of Representatives, where he served for six years and was then elected to the Texas Senate. He remained in that office another eight years.
Those were the years when I came to realize that Arlington could not have had a better or more capable representative in the State Capitol.
As mayor, I had the advantage of knowing the interests of my city would be better served than any other because of the competence of our state senator.
I knew how good he was at resolving legal skirmishes as a lawyer representing the interests of my company, but his skill in the political arena was something special to see.
I got to do that up-close whenever I was with him in his Austin office or scurrying around from one legislator to another pursuing the resolution of pending matters of importance to our community.
Those who closely watched the bi-annual gathering of the state’s political body quickly noted Bob’s talent. And they were very impressed.
The highly regarded ratings of Texas Monthly’s 10 best and 10 worst legislators had this to say in opening comments about his performance in the ’83 legislative session: “Got a problem with a bill? Call McFarland, the Senate’s handyman who can fix anything.”
It got better: “Everybody wanted McFarland on his dance card. In the closing days of the session, served on a Guinness-record fifteen conference committees to settle differences between House and Senate bills.
“As upright in posture as in principle.”
Here’s the remarkable thing about this evaluation: “The most noteworthy aspect of McFarland’s performance, however, is that it took place during his first session in the Senate, where freshmen are supposed to learn rather than teach. With a little experience, he may amount to something.”
If some were surprised to discover such skill in the process of collaboration with those who held different views on public issues, I wasn’t among them. I knew Bob, and this was who he was.
Following his retirement from public office, Arlington employed him as our lobbyist. That meant the people of our city had the best and brightest at work for us all the time to advance our causes and to guard our home-rule powers.
As we reflect upon his recent passing at the age of 73, I can’t help but wonder if we will ever get back to the business of resolving the matters of public policy that separate us so intensely nowadays.
We seem to have lost sight of the whole business of the art of compromise that makes progress possible. Maybe if we could require today’s freshmen and veteran politicians alike to review the work of Bob McFarland before they head into the session next year, things would work out better for us all.