-- Texas voters will decide Nov. 6 if a long-running joke — the elected office of "inspector of hides and animals" — should be removed from the state constitution.
The position was created in 1871 to thwart cattle rustling. Hide inspector duties were eliminated long ago, but the county office has remained popular for Texans with a sense of humor.
Jeff McMeans, a lawyer in Richmond, Texas, proudly served as Fort Bend County's hide inspector for 12 years, until 2006. He ran against as many as four others seeking the job, including a magician and another attorney.
"It's the perfect political office — no pay, no responsibility, just a great title," McMeans says. His platform was a promise to cut his pay in half and double his workload.
McMeans, 41, received more than 30,000 votes one year, making him the second-biggest vote-getter in the county near Houston.
He has enjoyed dressing in a cowboy hat and boots and riding in the county parade with conventional officeholders, including his dad, a local judge.
The real duty of a hide inspector is telling jokes and listening to them.
"Hey, my wife is qualified as a certified prime Texas hide" is a typical comment that hide inspectors hear at county fairs, says Marc DeRouen, a former Jefferson County hide inspector for eight years before losing his bid for re-election in 2000.
DeRouen, an investigator at a law firm, used his constitutional authority to appoint one friend as chief deputy hide inspector and other buddies as regular deputies.
The friends got authentic Lone Star badges from the state and had a monthly staff meetings in a bar.
McMeans says things went sour a few years ago when a hide inspector somewhere in Texas drew unwanted attention when he actually tried to do some inspecting and get paid for it.
That prompted a state legislator to start a final bit of housekeeping: asking voters to amend the Texas Constitution to eliminate the office of hide inspector.
McMeans didn't get a fourth term in 2006 because a local official believed the office had been abolished and wouldn't put him on the ballot.
Now he hopes voters will save his hide by voting "No" on Proposition 10.