Thursday, June 24, 2010

Remembering Sputnik

I just received word that one of the most eclectic but effective public interest lobbyists in the state - Sputnik, founder and state chair of the Texas Motorcycle Rights Association - passed away at 5:30 am this morning."Please remember his wife, Gwen, their family, friends and the biker community in prayer in the loss of this man who served bikers tirelessly in the fight for our rights and freedoms," said the brief email notice. "Funeral arrangements will be announced."

Sputnik had over the years developed personal access to the most influential people in the capitol, with the ability to garner meetings with the Lt. Governor, Speaker and committee chairs that were frequently the envy of his allies. At the same time, though he knew how to play the insider game consummately, he portrayed himself as virtually an outlaw presence at the capitol, an image enhanced by his trademark mohawk, leather vest, missing appendages, and the word "Free" tattooed across his forehead. Most importantly, his base was large and well-organized, as demonstrated by Biker Day at the Lege when riders converge on Austin from all over the state for a lobby day preceding an annual weekend of partying.

My favorite Sputnik story from my own limited contacts with him over the years came during the push in 2005 to allow Texans to legally carry guns in their personal vehicles, a bill which never resulted in the predicted spike in road-rage deaths that naysayers direly anticipated. Sputnik believed carrying a gun was a constitutional right and that, for example, requiring a concealed carry permit turned that "right" into a "privilege" which could be then be taken away at the government's whim. I'll never forget him telling then-Chairman Terry Keel and the House Criminal Jurisprudence Committee that he'd carried at least one gun wherever he went since he was nine years old, and that if he expected trouble he carried two! Pure genius. What's more, he announced, "I'll do that forever." (See his testimony here beginning at the 6:52:50 mark; FWIW, my own testimony on the bill immediately followed his.)


Sputnik was an unsung Texas hero and an American original. The capitol won't be quite the same without him.

17 comments:

darms said...

dunno 'bout your Sputnik guy but personally, in my 54, I've never needed a gun in any place I've ever gone, ever. And I've gone wherever I have wanted to go and at anytime, too... What has kept me safe is what is between my ears & I've been in some rough spots at times. TX since 1956, Austin since 1984.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

I didn't say he was necessarily a role model for your kids! But Sputnik was a unique character.

Anonymous said...

Darms, a firearm is one of those things that you hope you never have/need to use, but when you need it, you REALLY need it. No one can predict a situation like Virginia Tech or Luby's circa 1991.

It is just a tool. Certain situations call for the right tool. I would rather have one and not need it than need one and not have it.

DarthVelma said...

Oh man, that is bad news. Sputnik was a great guy and a lot of fun to hang with. I got to know him during the re-re-re-districting fiasco several years back. We were the last two visitors left in the gallery the night the House caved. Me and Sputnik had a lot of fun on a very bad night. Still surprised the DPS officer didn't kick us out for some of the things we said from the gallery.

Wherever he has gone in the afterlife, that's where I'm headed, 'cause that's where the party is.

RIP, brother.

Charlie O said...

I got emails yesterday about Sputnik. (I used to be on the Texas ABATE board of directors.) Sputnik was indeed a character and am amazed at some of the things he got done. He was however, a bit full of himself and bit of an egomaniac. We had a conversation at an MRF conference in St. Louis once where he claimed to me that he had veto power over EVERY piece of legislation pertaining to motorcycles in Texas. I had a hard time taking him too serious after that.

R. Shackleford said...

If you are serious about your safety and the safety of your family, you've just gotta pack some heat. Le doesn't get there in time to stop the rape/theft/assault, they just come in later and charge everyone.I'd rather explain to a jury why I shot the guy who was breaking into my house and raping my wife than sit around with my thumb up my ass waiting for the cops. Better to be judged by twelve than carried by six.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

He may have been bragging, Charlie, but it wasn't a boast by much. Whether or not he had veto power over motorcycle bills, Sputnik definitely had enough clout to secure a place at the table.

Anonymous said...

I'm sorry to hear about your friend Sputnik. Didn't know the man but it sounds like he was a great guy. I bet heaven has it's first outlaw biker gang and the streets of gold are thundering with the sound of all those Harleys!


-Greg

Charlie O said...

Hey Grits, I don't deny he hadn't earned a place at the table. In fact, Texas bikers have lost the most effective legislative warrior they've probably ever had. I go back to Texas biker politics when Bill Clements put helmets back on Texas heads in, I think 1989 or 1990. Took us a long time to get that modified and Sputnik was instrumental in that. He didn't do it single-handedly however, but if you talked Sputnik, he'd tell you otherwise. One of the emails I received referred to him as "our dear Leader" (caps not mine). There was a a cult of personality there (within TMRA2) that I could never quite fathom. I will admit that I did not personally like Sputnik Strain, but I'm still sorry to hear that he died. RIP.

Anonymous said...

the few short years i spent at the capitol were defiantly spiced up by sputnik and the bikers he brought to the capitol. and i remember thinking, "you know, only in texas." he gave me hope. he made me laugh and smile, and i usually felt kind of happy to just see him around in the halls and committee rooms. he took his lobbying seriously and that alone is something to admire. did he have an attitude? yah, he did. and if i had a mohawk, missing fingers, a tattoo on my forehead and hundreds of dollars of well worn leather dripping off my body, and was able to have a seat at the table, and if i'd lived as hard and through as much as that man did, you can bet i would be hella full of attitude too. hell yah! rip sputnik, thanks for keeping it real.

Russ Reddick said...

he is my hero. one heck of a fella. an inspriation for all to control our government. be a part of the solution. i will miss his drive for freedom.

Anonymous said...

Sputnik was my uncle. Living with him was like living with a history book. He was a steadfast believer in the beauty of politics and the will and intent of our founding fathers.

He walked his talk.

GalvestonLawyer said...

I got to know Sputnik when I lived down in Galveston. He was one of a kind.

Bryan Simmons

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