Vol 18, Issue 10 Print Issue

Out of the Closet

The year-old campaign of A.R. "Tony" Sanchez Jr. is finally going public with a two-day flyaround that will start in Laredo and make stops in Dallas, Austin, San Antonio and Houston. That two-day announcement will be followed by a series of regional bus tours in different parts of Texas. The first will be held in South Texas, with stops including Corpus Christi and Brownsville.

The Laredo event will start, literally, on sacred ground, with Sanchez attending mass in the Catholic Church on that city's central plaza. He'll make the announcement in the square, noting that the city and the plaza itself were founded by a group of four families that included his own ancestors.

He'll talk about that history and then about "bridging the difference between the Texas that is and the Texas that can be."

Then he'll get down to his campaign pitch, expected to focus on education, health insurance and care, environment, and economic development. The education portion will include a pitch for statewide pre-kindergarten. The health care department will include a plea to bring the state to at least the national average in the percentage of people without health insurance. The economic development line will be "more jobs with better pay."

Sanchez has been cloistered with aides, consultants, politicos, and other officeholders and Democrats for more than a year, working on everything from his appearance to his policy positions to what the rest of the ballot will look like. He's ventured into public here and there–much in the same way that George W. Bush tiptoed around in 1994. He's been lurking for so long that a fair number of Republican consultants have been spinning the story for months that he'll never really get in the race.

But if you change your hair and your glasses and you shave off the mustache you've been wearing for much of your adult life, chances are that you've decided to jump in. Sanchez jumps in on Tuesday.

That'll start the race to define him. He'll begin in that plaza and start weaving a tale from there. His opposition will likely start with his businesses and whatever mishaps they can discover there. You should be able to tell within a couple of months whether he's going to be any good at this–Sanchez has never run for office before–and whether this will be the sort of race that gets the public worked up. Sanchez aides have pointed out that Texas hasn't had a really aerobic governor's race since 1994, when Bush defeated Gov. Ann Richards. In 1998, local television crews often skipped visits by candidates. Stories about the race that year disappeared into the back pages of the papers for long stretches. The implication is that this race could be fought on two fronts: On the airwaves, with paid advertising, and on the ground, with paid and unpaid supporters trying to gin up votes.

Sanchez will be the third Democrat to announce for governor. Former UT quarterback Marty Akins is in (and newly committed to stay in), as is Houston attorney John WorldPeace. Estimates of the size of Sanchez' personal fortune vary widely, but he should be able to fund an expensive race in the primaries, and, if he wins, though the general election.

The Sanchez candidacy, and the work that's been going on because of it, will pose and answer some questions about race in Texas and about how it plays in political campaigns. Democrats are hoping that demographic shifts to Hispanics will bring the state back in their direction after a period of Republican electoral superiority, and that the Sanchez candidacy will ignite that demographic wave. Republicans are hoping that's a miscalculation. Both parties are watching carefully to see whether and how Texans vote when race is a strong and rare current in a major election.

The Malarkey Ecosystem

There's a great scene in the movie Monty Python and the Holy Grail: Bodies are being piled onto a wagon during the Plague. One is loaded prematurely. He cries out, "I'm not dead yet..." This goes on for a few minutes. The fellow pulling the wagon finally tires of it and whacks the talker on the head.

U.S. Sen. Phil Gramm has to feel a little like that guy in the wagon right now. Rumors that he won't run for another term–or that he'll quit outright and let the governor appoint a replacement–have been circulating for months, in spite of specific and direct denials from him and his staff. And now the folks spinning stories of his death are from his own Republican Party.

Consultants and officeholders alike have jumped on the story this time, saying he'll make an announcement after a secret meeting with his staff. Nobody seems much concerned about why we all know about what's supposed to be a secret meeting. And part of the current rumor is that Gramm would serve out most of the rest of his term, but that he's leaving to take a job with his beloved Texas A&M University System. If the job were open, why would he wait a year to leave the current gig?

In most of the rumors, an opening in the U.S. Senate would create either a land rush or a quiet, orderly succession game on the Republican side, and a land rush on the Democratic side. It's difficult to keep ambitious people out of a race for Senate, because the jobs don't open up that frequently and because a lot of people in Texas think they themselves belong among the nation's Select 100.

In the first scenario, Land Commissioner David Dewhurst and Attorney General John Cornyn are most often mentioned as the GOP's ambitious officeholders. If either or both did make such a jump, it would ripple through the rest of the Republican ballot, recasting the races for lieutenant governor and attorney general at the very least. In the second, Republicans would unite behind one candidate–U.S. Rep. Henry Bonilla, R-San Antonio and Railroad Commissioner Tony Garza are most often mentioned–and everyone else in the party would sit down and be still. The strategy? To try to make sure the first Hispanic elected to the U.S. Senate is a Republican from Texas, and to offset the Democratic Party's attempts to woo Hispanics in this election cycle.

Democrats most often mentioned for the job are Dallas Mayor Ron Kirk, who with Gramm out of the way could win support in his hometown from moderates who most often vote with the GOP but who also want another Dallas senator, and former Attorney General Dan Morales, who has said he's likely to run for U.S. Senate no matter what Gramm does.

Don't Count Your Chickens...

Ever slam the car door on your finger? Now you know how it feels to be Ben Barnes, the lobbyist and would-be kingmaker who attempted to clear the way for Tony Sanchez Jr. in next year's primaries. Instead, Barnes made his way into a Houston Chronicle story about the fumble, embarrassing Sanchez and solidifying Marty Akins' resolve to run against the Laredo businessman.

Barnes tried to broker an Akins' shift from the race for governor to the race for land commissioner, and apparently, Akins said he'd consider it. The story was widely leaked to reporters before Akins had said anything. Supposedly, Akins was going to announce the switch on Tuesday morning. But a call to his campaign Monday night produced a non-committal answer along the lines of: "He hasn't told us anything like that, and we're still working on a gubernatorial campaign."

The next morning, the Dallas Morning News ran with the rumor. Akins got a call from Sen. David Bernsen, D-Beaumont, who said he was interested in running for the land commissioner's job and would like to talk. By Tuesday afternoon, Akins was blasting away at the Democratic Powers That Be and saying that, by God, he wasn't moving. "They have asked me repeatedly to consider the race for U.S. Senate, for land commissioner and for comptroller. Let me set the record straight: I am Marty Akins and I am running for governor of Texas."

As for Bernsen, he was still looking at the General Land Office and at a reelection bid in his newly drawn Senate district as we went to press. But he was also leaving supporters and interested Party parties with the impression that he's probably going to choose the statewide contest.

The Job Actually Went to Mr. X

Gov. Rick Perry went to San Antonio for the second time in a row when making his second pick for the Texas Supreme Court, tapping labor lawyer Xavier Rodriguez for the post emptied when Greg Abbott decided to run for lieutenant governor.

Rodriguez, like fellow Justice Wallace Jefferson, a San Antonian appointed by Perry earlier this year, will be on the 2002 ballot. He's a labor lawyer with Fulbright and Jaworski. Rodriguez has never been a judge and hasn't argued cases before the state's highest court. He said he was raised by Democrats, but has voted for and supported Republicans as an adult. He also said he would probably fit with what he called the moderate traditions of the current court, which is comprised–with his appointment–of nine Republicans.

Perry said he was looking for the "best and the brightest" when he came upon Rodriguez. He was also looking for an Hispanic, and it didn't hurt to be from San Antonio, either. His aides talked to Hispanic lawyers and judges all over the state before filling the appointment, even including Democrats like appellate judge Linda Yañez of Corpus Christi, before settling on Rodriguez. That puts an Hispanic name–something that had been missing–on the GOP's 2002 statewide ballot. As for geography, the court didn't have anyone from San Antonio at the beginning of the year. Now it's got two justices from the state's third-largest city.

Yañez, who once taught law at Harvard University, was appointed to the 13th Court of Appeals by then-Gov. Ann Richards in 1993. Yañez has said she submitted her name to Perry's appointments office because she wants to be on the court–not because she's switching parties. In fact, she'll be on next year's ballot as a Democrat, seeking election to the seat currently held by Justice James Baker. Baker has said he'll retire at the end of this term, leaving an open seat to fight over.

Something of Substance to Talk About in a Court Race

Judges generally don't talk to voters about the substance of the jobs they seek; it's bad form to talk about matters before the court if you're also in the process of judging those matters. But the flap over outside salaries and bonuses for court clerks is clearly emerging as an issue for the next set of Supreme Court races. In a nutshell, the question is whether the law school graduates who spend their first year out of school as briefing attorneys for the courts should be allowed to accept money from the firms that have agreed to hire them upon completion of their clerkships.

Outsiders, led by a group called Texans for Public Justice, say the arrangement divides the loyalties of the clerks between their current government employers and their future business employers. And that group contends that the conflicts can exist even when the clerks aren't working on cases directly involving their future bosses. On the other side, where you'll find most of the appeals court judges we've talked with about the issue, clerks can avoid conflicts by ducking cases that involve their future employers. The state's high courts pay less than $40,000 annually, while first-year lawyers in private practice with the big firms can easily make three times that amount.

The Texas Ethics Commission is considering the arguments, but the point here is that the issue presents a relatively rare opportunity for candidates to talk about something other than their best memories from law school, their families, and their belief in judicial restraint. Yañez, for instance, starts her campaign by talking about the influence of powerful interests on the courts, without accusing anyone of anything specific or mentioning particular cases.

And Rodriguez was asked several questions about the clerk issue at the press conference announcing his appointment. He said the clerks can avoid conflicts by staying out of cases that involve the firms that have agreed to hire them in the future.

Pre-Game Statistics

Austin political and business consultant Jeff Montgomery is back at the phone polls, this time asking Republican primary voters what they think about candidates in various races. He's trickling these out, as he did with Democratic results a couple of weeks ago. Here's what is out so far:

• Gov. Rick Perry and U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison would start close to even if Hutchison were to jump into the Republican primary for governor. If he's alone, 69 percent say they'll vote for him; 12 percent say they'd be looking for an alternative, and 18 percent registered no opinion. In a two-way, Perry and Hutchison were separated by tenths of a percentage point in a poll with a three-point margin of error. Republican primary voters have good impressions of both candidates: He's got a 76 percent positive rating; she's got an 88 percent positive rating.

• Land Commissioner David Dewhurst, after spending hundreds of thousands of dollars on television ads (he's the only candidate who's been on television at all this year) gets the support of 45 percent of the GOP primary voters called by Montgomery's firm. Only 13 percent said they plan to vote for former Supreme Court Justice Greg Abbott. Montgomery said Dewhurst's numbers are okay, but not extraordinary, for a statewide officeholder who's been running ads. At this point, he said, GOP primary voters don't yet know Abbott.

• GOP primary voters mostly don't know Jerry Patterson and Kenn George and they mostly haven't made a decision about which one they'd support in a race for land commissioner. They gave Patterson 24 percent of their support, and George got 14 percent. Most, 58 percent, were undecided.

• In GOP primaries that aren't contested, at least not yet, all of the incumbents look strong. Attorney General John Cornyn wins support from 66 percent of Republican primary voters and only 10 percent say they'd like an alternative. 70 percent of those voters say they'll vote for Comptroller Carole Keeton Rylander, and about 10 percent want someone else. Railroad Commission Chairman Michael Williams has a reelect number of 48 percent, while 9 percent want an alternative. And Agriculture Commissioner Susan Combs starts with a 54 percent reelection number and a 10 percent "somebody else" number. Both Williams and Combs had better reelect numbers than name identification. Montgomery says that suggests at least some voters in the GOP primary are supporting the incumbents because they are Republicans and not because they know them.

• Wanna play games? U.S. Sen. Phil Gramm would easily win reelection, but if he decided to jump out, and if there were a race for his job, Cornyn would be the GOP frontrunner. Gramm's reelect number is a stout 86 percent, with 10 percent saying they'd like an alternative. In a four-way race to replace him, Cornyn would get 26 percent, Dewhurst would get 16 percent, U.S. Rep. Henry Bonilla, R-San Antonio, would get 14 percent and Railroad Commissioner Tony Garza would get 7 percent. The leader of the pack? Undecided, with 35 percent. In a two-way, Dewhurst starts ahead of Bonilla, 43-25. And in a two-way between Cornyn and Dewhurst, Cornyn would lead 40-28.

What's in a Name?

Dan Patrick isn't making his real name public. If the Houston radio talk show host runs for the state Senate, you'll learn the real name. If he doesn't, he'd just as soon keep his privacy. If Patrick runs–we're talking here about the seat occupied by Sen. J.E. "Buster" Brown, R-Lake Jackson–his first official act will be to legally change his name. Dan Patrick has high name ID with Houston-area voters, because of his broadcasting exposure. He wants the radio moniker to appear on the ballot if he's running–thus the name change. Brown hasn't said what he'll do. Other potential candidates are state Reps. Charlie Howard of Sugar Land and Kyle Janek of Houston and Harris County GOP Chairman Gary Polland. Patrick says he would likely give up his radio show during a race. Regulators generally say that a candidate can't do a regular radio or TV gig unless the same opportunity is afforded to everyone in a race. Something like this is happening in Austin, where radio talk show host Sammy Allred has said he'll be among the candidates to replace Mayor Kirk Watson, who is leaving to run for attorney general. Allred is also leaving the air at least until the end of the contest.

Tort Reform, Vetoes and Doctors, Part I

You're going to be hearing about a long letter from Dr. John Coppedge, a Longview physician who at one time headed the regional efforts in northeast Texas for Gov. Rick Perry, and who has been a regular with the tort reformers and Republicans in Texas. He's peeled off of those affiliations, at least for now, because of his anger over the governor's veto of the prompt pay bill that was the top legislative priority for the Texas Medical Association. In a sort of autopsy of what happened to the bill, Coppedge blames the Texans for Lawsuit Reform group. He was until recently a member of that group's board. But in his letter, he goes detail by detail through what happened to the legislation and through what he sees as TLR's refusal to compromise. The letter, written to Dr. Carlos Hamilton Jr., is apparently a response to a request that Coppedge meet with folks from TLR. He starts with a polite "No" and then explains the answer for several pages. He said the tort reform group's attack on the prompt pay bill "was as if the British and not the Japanese had attacked us at Pearl Harbor."

A spokesman for Texans for Lawsuit Reform called the letter a "massive overreaction to a policy difference" and said TLR was against the bill because they believed it would create opportunities for doctors to sue HMOs. They're against lawsuit abuse, and thought the bill was out of sync with that.

Tort Reform, Vetoes and Doctors, Part II

Austinites opened their local papers on the last Sunday of August to a full-page ad from the Texas Association of Business and Chambers of Commerce. It was a defense of Gov. Rick Perry's veto of the prompt pay legislation–the same veto that prompted the ire of the state's doctors and the grateful thanks of the state's health insurers. The group says the paper made them edit their ad–making it more clear that it was the opinion of the group–and actually threatened to keep their deposit on the $12,500 ad if the editing wasn't done and the ad didn't run. TABCC director Bill Hammond said the paper didn't do any such editing on previous ads. They did the editing, the ad ran, and the group is ticked about it. We called the paper and were referred by the publisher's office to an account executive, who didn't return our call on the subject.

More Political People

Andy Sansom, the executive director of the Texas Parks & Wildlife Department, is resigning at the end of December after almost 11-and-a-half years in that job and 14 years at the agency. Sansom wasn't specific, but said he wants to pursue other things. He mentioned several possibilities including "possible university appointments, roles in Washington, D.C., the private sector or in nonprofit work." The agency will start a search for a replacement. His announcement noted that his departure will allow a record to stand. His predecessor, Dickie Travis, held the job for two months longer than Sansom.

• Former state Rep. Dick Reynolds, who also was an insurance commissioner (under Gov. Bill Clements) and a commissioner at the Texas Workers Compensation Commission, was named the executive director of the workers comp agency. He has wide business support and won the job with a 6-0 vote from the board. But he also got a blast from labor officials, who said the appointment is a blow to workers and to the doctors who treat them.

• Put John Roach Jr. solidly in the race for the Texas House. He's a Plano city councilman and his father is a recently retired appellate judge whose eponymous name has been on ballots every four years for two decades. Roach the younger is a former aide to Sen. Florence Shapiro, R-Plano, and is sitting in a district that has no incumbent. That could change, but he says he's running no matter what. If the Legislative Redistricting Board's map sticks, that district has a chunk of southern Collin County and all of Rockwall County. Mike Lawshe of Rockwall and Jodie Laubenberg of Parker (a small Collin County berg, mentioned here previously, are also running for that seat. There's another new seat up in that country that could also draw a former Shapiro aide. Lobbyist Matt Matthews is still talking to consultants about a race on the northern end of the county. Roach, a 31-year-old lawyer, is betting the winner will come from Collin County, since that's where most of the voters are.

Political People and Their Moves

This is going to sound like a roundup of "What Ever Happened to..." stories about former Texas legislators, but here goes. It's official now: Mike McKinney will be Gov. Rick Perry's second chief of staff, succeeding Barry McBee this month. McKinney served with Perry in the Texas House. He's a doctor who used to practice in a small town. He ran the company that holds the state's giant Medicaid contract. And he's been an executive with a health plan for the last couple of years... University of Texas Regent Cyndi Krier, a former state senator and Bexar County Judge, signs on as the chief lobbyist for USAA, the San Antonio-based insurance company. Officially, she's the company's vice president of Texas government relations... Lobbyist, lawyer and former state Sen. Kent Caperton is giving up his partnership at the Winstead, Sechrest & Minick law firm to join Public Strategies Inc. as a managing director. Caperton will be in that firm's national public affairs division, and apparently won't be in the lobbying business anymore. He'll start at PSI in October... Former Rep. Randall Riley is the new acting executive director at the General Services Commission. He says he'll apply for the permanent post when the time is right. That's not code or anything: The agency is morphing into the Texas Building and Procurement Commission, which will have a new board to go with the new name. That new board will name an executive director. Riley replaces Ann Dillon, who was GSC's general counsel and, for a time, its acting director. She resigned earlier in August... Rhonda McCollough, late of the Texas Education Agency and a recent entry into the education lobby ranks, is opting for government. She's the new director of the Senate Education Committee, which is chaired by Sen. Teel Bivins, R-Amarillo. That job had belonged to Jack Elrod, who left it to work with Dallas school Superintendent Mike Moses. Just to keep this as confusing as possible, add this: McCollough worked for Moses when he headed the Texas Education Agency... James Gaston, the Democratic Party's executive director, is outta there: He's the new political director for the Tony Sanchez Jr. gubernatorial quest. Nancy Williams, a longtime Democratic activist, is taking the E.D. reins at the Party.

Quotes of the Week

Gov. Rick Perry, after reluctantly extraditing a woman to California, where she'll have to give up her kids to her ex-husband, a convicted molester: "I'm not gonna thumb my nose at a federal judge."

Texas Supreme Court Chief Justice Tom Phillips, on whether he'll seek reelection, as quoted in Texas Lawyer: "I've just not decided on whether or not to run in 2002. There is a financial incentive to leave the job to somebody else. So you have to come up with a reason to stay other than salary."

Texas Supreme Court Justice Deborah Hankinson to a college class, as quoted in the Fort Worth Star Telegram: "If our justice system is not available to everyone, if the doors are closed because someone cannot afford it, then we have no justice system, and it doesn't work."

Former Attorney General Jim Mattox, telling the Houston Chronicle that he's been encouraged by some of the folks in his political party to run for governor: "Their primary concern was there should be at least one Democrat in the race... I will wait to see if a groundswell with a tide so strong I couldn't resist it rises before I get into the race. I'm not likely to jump into that race."

Rep. Sylvester Turner, D-Houston, suggesting his party is spending too little time cultivating Black votes while spending all of its time talking about gaining Hispanic votes: "If Democrats are not careful, they run the risk of losing a very important base."

Rep. Elliott Naishtat, D-Austin, kicking the state attorney general for drawing a redistricting map that politically imperils each of the four Jewish members of the Texas House: "While [John]Cornyn may argue that it is simply a coincidence that his plan places at risk the only Jewish members of the Texas House, the fact of the matter is his plan does precisely that. And the lines for each of our respective districts could easily have been drawn to avoid this clearly discriminatory outcome."

Dallas City Councilman Mitchell Rasansky, quoted in a Dallas Morning News story on naming the city's Latino Cultural Center: "Are we going to keep selling our naming rights to everything we build? Does this mean if we build a new aquarium, it will be the Star-Kist Tuna Aquarium?"


Texas Weekly: Volume 18, Issue 10, 3 September 2001. Ross Ramsey, Editor. George Phenix, Publisher. Copyright 2001 by Printing Production Systems, Inc. All Rights Reserved. Reproduction in whole or in part without written permission from the publisher is prohibited. One-year online subscription: $250. For information about your subscription, call (800) 611-4980 or email [email protected]. For news, email [email protected], or call (512) 288-6598.