Vol 19, Issue 4 Print Issue

The Sweet Smell of Success

Watch the business page and you know why John Cornyn moved his July 13 fundraiser to a ranch owned by oilman/rancher Walter Mize. It was scheduled for the Beaumont Ranch, near Grandview (which is south of Fort Worth), but the owner of that spread is Cornyn supporter Ron Beaumont. Beaumont is also the chief operating officer of WorldCom. Revelations about that company's accounting scandals prompted Cornyn to start up the legal machinery in the attorney general's office–he's launched an investigation–and to move the fundraiser for his bid for U.S. Senate.

The WorldCom revelations–the company admitted to an accounting 'adjustment' the size of Ross Perot's net worth–put a bunch of politicians on the run. Gov. Rick Perry, who had contributions from both WorldCom and MCI (merged into WorldCom in 1998) totaling $20,000. An aide said $10,000 from WorldCom would be given away, probably to the Texas Tomorrow Fund since nothing has been set up for former employees of the telecommunications company. Another $10,000 came from MCI's political funds, and Perry aides said any of that money that was contributed after the merger of the two companies would be similarly disposed of. Republicans Greg Abbott and Carole Keeton Rylander also received contributions and also said they'll return the money. Perry and others had Enron contributions, too. Most gave the money to an employee fund or to the TTF, the state's prepaid college tuition program. Perry gave back money he'd received from that company and its satellites since 1998. Money contributed before the 1998 elections, his aides reason, was spent in that election.

Tony Sanchez' campaign said Perry should give all the money back, including the older Enron contributions. Perry's campaign spokesman, Ray Sullivan, snapped back: "Listening to Tony Sanchez talk about ethics compliance is like hearing Tony Soprano talk about racketeering laws–it's complete hypocrisy." Sullivan went on to say Sanchez should return personal profits from selling Enron stock and profits his companies made doing business with the company (years ago, we should note). And he renewed the Perry campaign's plea to Sanchez to release detailed tax returns. The Sanchez folks have released the front couple of pages, but won't let go of the rest.

While he was saying he'll return contributions from WorldCom and its execs, Perry also said he's trying to pull together a set of proposals that will ensure "accuracy, complete and accurate disclosure and the highest of ethical standards" in corporate accounting. He said in a letter to lawmakers and some business leaders that he wants to lay out some reforms in December if the federal government hasn't acted by then.

Pollsters are still trying to figure out how white-collar crime, accounting fraud, and other misadventures of the business class will play politically. So far, Enron associations haven't been sticky–taking money from a discredited corporation doesn't necessarily put a stink on a politician (if a politician did something special for somebody in return for money, that's different, but that can be a problem whether a company is in the tank or not). Political consultants are looking for other ways politicians can be associated with the suddenly unpopular kids in the business class. And their attention is turning to executives who are running for office–people like Sanchez and Lt. Gov. candidate David Dewhurst–to see whether they and their promises to bring business acumen to government have been affected by the scandals. Does news of business trouble rub off on them or does the public see the incidents as isolated? Maybe there's a hint in recent history: Heavy political damage from the S&L scandals 15 years ago was limited to a few candidates, and then only on the federal level.

How Things Stand in the Guv Race

The University of Houston unveiled a poll that shows Perry is still well ahead of Sanchez, though not by the 20-point margins that showed up in a couple of unrelated surveys last month.

With four months to go until Election Day, that survey has Perry leading Sanchez 43 percent to 32 percent, with 25 percent of the voters undecided. Official stuff: That Texas Public Policy Survey, done by respected pollster Richard Murray, included 739 registered voters who said they are likely to vote in the November elections. They were interviewed June 20-29, and the margin of error is 3.5 percent. The poll was piggybacked onto a survey on health policy issues that'll be out in a week or so.

Perry leads Sanchez in every region of the state, among both men and women, and among Anglos, Republicans and independent voters. Sanchez is running close to Perry, according to this survey, in the Upper Gulf/Houston area. It's a three-point contest there, and a seven-point contest (with Perry leading) in the South/Border region. African-American and Hispanic voters favor Sanchez by about a two-to-one margin, but about a fourth of each group remains undecided. Independent voters are on Perry's side, 40 percent to 26 percent, and 31 percent of them are undecided. The governor's race has a bit of a gender gap in it. Perry has the support of 40 percent of women and 46 percent of men; Sanchez is about equally popular with each gender, getting 31 percent of the female vote and 33 percent of the male vote. Still, Perry leads with both.

U.S. Senate: A Democrat in the Lead

The UH poll has Democrat Ron Kirk leading Republican John Cornyn by a 36-28 margin, with more than a third of the voters undecided between the two candidates for the U.S. Senate. That one's a dead heat in West Texas, and what Murray calls the South/Border region is within the margin of error. East Texas narrowly belongs to Cornyn at the moment, but Kirk's ahead in the North/Metroplex, Central, and Upper Gulf/Houston areas.

Kirk's Dallas base–he's the former mayor there–cuts into what should be a bigger margin for Cornyn among Republicans. The attorney general has 50 percent of the GOP support to Kirk's 17 percent. By comparison, Perry gets 70 percent of the GOP against Sanchez' 11 percent. And while Kirk and Sanchez are getting about the same percentage of the Democratic vote, Perry is doing better with Democrats–getting 25 percent–than Cornyn, who's getting only 15 percent of that vote. Independent voters lean to the Democrat in this one, with Kirk getting 33 percent to Cornyn's 26 percent; 41 percent haven't decided yet. The gender gap is about the same as in the governor's race, but the overall result is different: Kirk, the Democrat, is more popular with both men and women.

Lite Guv: A Dead Heat

The race for lieutenant governor is still locked up, according to the UH poll, with David Dewhurst at 31 percent and John Sharp at 29 percent. That's tied in both South and East Texas. Dewhurst is winning in the greater Dallas and Houston areas and Sharp is ahead in Central Texas. Curiously, Dewhurst, the Republican, is leading with Anglo and Black voters and Sharp, the Democrat, has only a narrow lead with Hispanics. Independent voters are split, with 26 percent going to each candidate and 46 percent waiting to decide. There is virtually no gender gap in that race.

Attorney General: A Republican in the Lead

Republican Greg Abbott's lead over Democrat Kirk Watson in the attorney general race is just outside of the poll's margin of error, at 26 percent to 22 percent. Half of the voters haven't made a decision. Abbott leads or is within the margin of error in every region of the state. And Watson is behind in his own backyard: In Central Texas, Abbott has an eight-point lead over the former mayor of Austin. As with the race for Lite Guv, there is no gender gap apparent in the poll. That's in spite of efforts by the Watson campaign to paint Abbott as an extremist on abortion issues, and attempts by the Abbott bunch to say Watson's city administration had a bad record on crimes against women. Independent voters favor Abbott by 11 points, with 60 percent undecided.

What's Worse Than a Reprimand?

State District Judge Rick Davis was publicly reprimanded earlier this year after using his position as judge to berate a prosecutor he thought had undermined his authority and to order her not to come into his courtroom, first in open court, then in the press and on television, then in letters to her boss, the Brazos County District Attorney. Davis thought the punishment from the State Commission on Judicial Conduct was too harsh, and he appealed the public reprimand to a special three-judge panel.

He shouldn't have. That panel agreed with the public reprimand in a scorching 18-page opinion and ordered Davis to take instruction from a "mentor judge" with particular emphasis on "anger management, courtroom demeanor, dealing with the media, and responding appropriately to criticism." The court said his actions undermined the career of a young prosecutor, said she had done the right thing almost every step of the way, and told him he needed to learn the distinction between a threat to his authority and an affront to his pride.

See No Issues, Hear No Issues, Speak No Issues

Some of the same people who complain that political campaigns never focus on issues are now worried that judicial campaigns in Texas will become issue-oriented. The U.S. Supreme Court knocked down a Minnesota law that prevented judges there from talking about issues, while leaving in place another law that prevents judicial candidates from saying how they would rule in particular cases.

Texas law is different, if you're a lawyer, and similar if you're a layperson. The Texas Supreme Court has appointed a panel of experts–none of them judges or candidates–to figure out what should happen here. Justice Wallace Jefferson, who's overseeing that, says the group will meet later this month with the full court to talk over problems and possible remedies.

The state has two canons, or rules, which restrict what judicial candidates can do or say during elections. The first one, which is probably now in need of repair, says candidates "shall not make statements that indicate an opinion on any issue that may be subject to judicial interpretation by the office which is being sought or held, except that discussion of an individual's judicial philosophy is appropriate if conducted in a manner which does not suggest to a reasonable person a probable decision on any particular case." That's not the same as the Minnesota rule that the Supremes stomped, but in practice, Texas candidates usually take it to mean they can't talk about anything that might come up in court. The second prevents candidates from making pledges or promises on how they'd conduct themselves in office, except on administrative matters. That's probably safe, even with the court ruling.

Breaches of the rules don't happen often and the punishment is relatively light. Most Texas judicial candidates err on the safe side and don't talk about much more than judicial activism (against), bar polls (depends), and efficient court administration (for). Tom Price, a judge of the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals, did a tough-on-crime brochure in one of his elections that got him spanked by the State Commission on Judicial Conduct. He went on to win the election.

The federal court's ruling knocked many states for a loop, but some of the justices–and a number of lawyers and reformers we've talked to since the ruling–say free speech will be a problem whenever judges are elected. Justice Sandra Day O'Connor agreed with the Minnesota decision, but added her own two cents worth to the majority opinion: "Minnesota has chosen to select its judges through contested popular elections instead of through an appointment system or a combined appointment and retention election system along the lines of the Missouri Plan... As a result, the State’s claim that it needs to significantly restrict judges’ speech in order to protect judicial impartiality is particularly troubling. If the State has a problem with judicial impartiality, it is largely one the State brought upon itself by continuing the practice of popularly electing judges."

Rest Stop

The political campaigns apparently don't think you'll spend your long holiday weekend watching television: All three of the statewide campaigns that have been advertising will pull their spots over the four-day weekend. That'll be a relief. A political consultant of our acquaintance says this is the earliest he's ever seen politicians using black-and-white images and slow motion. That's a shorthand reference to the negative commercials that ordinarily follow Labor Day.

The early ads are coming from both ends of the gubernatorial race between Gov. Rick Perry and businessman Tony Sanchez, and from the GOP side of the race for lieutenant governor, where Land Commissioner David Dewhurst is using some of his personal wealth to buff his image for the coming fight with Democrat John Sharp. The Sanchez and Dewhurst campaigns won't say whether they'll be back on the air right after the holiday, but Perry's camp has already bought ads on the other side of the festivities. We'd be surprised–and so would TV station owners–if they're not back on Monday.

The hard-core stuff is coming from the gubernatorial candidates. One Sanchez ad touts his ties to President George W. Bush. The Republican National Committee asked him to stop, but he ignored them and there's not much the GOP can do about it. It's a response to a Perry ad that touts Sanchez' ties to former President Bill Clinton. Perry has another ad–a new one–that touts his record as a fiscal conservative. That started running a couple of days after a Sanchez spot that features actors posing as normal people (not that there's anything wrong with actors) who can't think of anything Perry has done as governor. Perry's ad says he cut regulations and spending while creating jobs.

A Straight Play for More Money

Former Texas Comptroller John Sharp was the lone statewide Democrat to pick up an endorsement from the political arm of the Texas Public Employees Association. EMPACT, the political action committee tied to that group, is only playing in three statewide races so far. They endorsed Gov. Rick Perry for a full term in that office, and endorsed Comptroller Carole Keeton Rylander for reelection to a second term there.

The comptroller's race is a key one for the group, since the Legislature often makes pay raises for state employees contingent on tax revenues. If the comptroller says the money is available, the pay raise goes through. If there's no new money, there's no raise. The current budget includes a 3 percent pay raise for employees, but only if Rylander says the money is there. So far, it's not, but there are 14 months left in the two-year budget, and the amount needed for a raise during that budget drops by about $8 million each month. Less money is needed each month, and Rylander is the official in charge of saying whether or not it's available.

TPEA also put out its legislative agenda and the wish list is a short one: The association wants pay raises of 4.25 percent in each year of the next two-year budget; they want the state to keep paying for all of their health insurance and for half of the insurance for their dependents, as it does now; and they want the state to increase annuity payments to retirees, if the money is available.

The group also endorsed House and Senate candidates. In the Senate, they went with incumbents wherever there was one. And in the three races that don't have sitting senators, the group endorsed the Texas House members who are running. They picked Reps. Tommy Williams, R-The Woodlands, Kyle Janek, R-Houston and Kim Brimer, R-Arlington in those contests. Each is running against someone who doesn't hold state office.

In the House, the group is staying out of most of the open-seat contests and is endorsing all but of a handful of the incumbents seeking reelection. They opted for neutrality in the remaining contest between two incumbents, Reps. Rick Hardcastle, R-Vernon, and David Counts, D-Knox City. And four incumbents will face opponents without TPEA by their sides: Houston Democrats Scott Hochberg and Ken Yarbrough, Austin Democrat Ann Kitchen, and Dripping Springs Republican Rick Green. The group doesn't list a favorite in those races.

Lobster Trap

A new report (based on disclosures made under the state's lobby laws) says lobby spending in Texas increased by as much as $35 million last session, to $230 million. (Disclaimer about those high numbers: The state's disclosure requirements are weak and so are the figures reported under those laws. Lobbyists report their income in ranges, and so the totals are always qualified as "at least" and "as much as." End of disclaimer.) On the low end, the lobbyists reported income of at least $104 million, which would mark an increase of at least $25 million over the previous legislative session. In 1995, Texas lobbyists brought in between $72 million and $172 million. Over the last four legislative sessions, total lobby spending in Texas was at least $551 million and as much as $1.28 billion.

The report by Texans for Public Justice–titled "Austin's Oldest Profession: Texas' Top Lobby Clients and Those Who Service Them"–says there are 50 lobbyists for every senator or 10 for every House member. A small group of companies and groups–14 of them–account for 11 percent of all spending on lobbyists. And a relatively small group of lobsters–38 of them–grabbed about a fourth of all the money spent. Each of those 38 lobbyists reported maximum incomes of over $1 million, according to the report. The people who put it together admit right up front that the report is flawed, but they say it's the most accurate account available given the wiggle room allowed for lobby reporting under Texas law. The full report is available online at the group's website: www.tpj.org.

Pounding the Pavement

Rep. Glen Maxey, D-Austin, hasn't left office yet, but he knows what he'll be doing and he's got letters floating around so everyone else will know, too. Maxey, who decided not to run after six terms in the House, has been working on the Tony Sanchez campaign for governor. But he's also signed on with Good Company Associates, an Austin-based lobby firm. His letters say he's done 11 legislative sessions if you count his time as a Senate aide and two sessions of lobbying before that. His letter says Texas law lets him "assist clients in a fulltime role with planning, research, and consultation about their specific policy goals" even while he's finishing his term in office, which runs until January. And he touts his "in-depth legislative and policy experience, institutional memory, and important personal relationships and friendships among the decision makers we will need to persuade."

Twinkie Defense, Road Trips

The state's Libertarian Party has dubbed Sen. Eddie Lucio's latest proposal the "Twinkie Tax." The Brownsville Democrat recently proposed a tax on soda pop that could be used to help fund public school breakfast and lunch programs and to control childhood obesity and diabetes. The Libertarians say it would be a regressive tax and "would reduce the amount of groceries that poorer families would be able to afford."

Lucio has apparently been taking it in the neck since he made his proposal–now he's circulating an editorial piece to answer critics. And he pulls some sacred Texas institutions into his argument: "Many question if providing meals is the role of the schools," he writes. "I counter by asking if providing computers, sports, band, or free counseling and nurse services is also the role of schools. Yes." He says the soda tax isn't the only tax he's considering, and he also says few of the benefits of an expanded school meal program would land in his part of the state: 90 percent of the kids in his Senate district, he says, already qualify for free meals under the state-federal program that's in place now.

• Lots of lawmakers hold fundraisers in Austin, whether they're from Austin or not. But it's relatively unusual for a legislator to raise money outside of two spots: The hometown and the state capital. For Austin lawmakers, those are obviously the same place. But Sen. Gonzalo Barrientos, D-Austin, is facing his first serious opposition in years from Republican Ben Bentzin, a former Dell Computer Corp. exec. And Barrientos is raising all the money he can get, wherever he can get it. His most recent stop: A hotel reception room near the Galleria in Houston. Bentzin countered with a July 3 family picnic for supporters in Austin.

Political People & Their Moves

You don't have to be a lawyer to get a federal appointment. Check this out: President George W. Bush nominated Kenneth Blasingame, a residential designer and artist from Texas, to the Committee for the Preservation of the White House, which makes recommendations on art and interior design in the president's house. Another Texan, Roger Horchow, is also among the 11 nominees. He's a Broadway producer and founder of the Horchow collection... Gov. Rick Perry appointed Kenneth Keeling, a Huntsville attorney, as judge of the 278th Judicial District Court. Keeling was appointed to that same court 21 years ago by then-Gov. Bill Clements, and served 18 months there... David DeLamar, a self-employed real estate investor from Lubbock, is the new chairman of the Libertarian Party of Texas. He replaces Geoffrey Neale, who had two terms in the job and who is now running for chairman of the national party. He says he wants to maintain the party's ballot access; minor party candidates automatically get on the ballot so long as the party shows enough strength in previous elections. That means 5 percent of the vote in any statewide race, or 2 percent of the vote in the gubernatorial contest. That party put John Hawley of Dallas in its number two spot... Chris Wittmayer is the new general counsel at the Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs. He has been an assistant city attorney in Dallas for the last ten years... Dallas Morning News Editorial Page Editor Rena Pederson is leaving that post, where she oversaw the paper's opinion pieces and political endorsements, among other things, to become an 'editor-at-large' for the paper. That'll take her out of most of the daily editorial grind and leave her free to do a column and public appearances. The News hasn't named a replacement... Beamon Floyd has signed on as executive director of the newly created Texas Coalition for Affordable Insurance Solutions; that's a flock of insurance companies assembled under the wing of Public Strategies Inc. to work on legislative and regulatory issues. One big company–Farmers–opted out. That company will be a solo act, officials say... The Harris County Republican Party has a new executive director: Court Koenning is replacing Dave Welch. Welch was a "transitional" director, and he's finished with the transition.

Quotes of the Week

U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, agreeing with a decision that Minnesota unconstitutionally restricts what judicial candidates can say: "Even if judges were able to refrain from favoring donors, the mere possibility that judges’ decisions may be motivated by the desire to repay campaign contributors is likely to undermine the public’s confidence in the judiciary."

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg, dissenting: "Judges are not politicians, and the First Amendment does not require that they be treated as politicians simply because they are chosen by popular vote."

Campaign finance reformer Fred Lewis, quoted by the Austin American-Statesman on the Minnesota decision's impact here: "We are going to have political consultants pushing candidates to go further and further out on the edge, and the only thing that's going to stop them is good taste. Good taste isn't something that you can generally rely on in campaigns."

President George W. Bush, quoted by the Associated Press on current business scandals: "Corporate America has got to understand there's a higher calling than trying to fudge the numbers, trying to slip a billion here or a billion there and maybe hope nobody notices."

Political consultant Chuck McDonald, whose client list includes a fair number of prosperous persons and businesses, quoted in a story in the Austin American-Statesman on campaign contributions: "Everybody's really scared about the legislative session. The state is short of money. Anybody who has money had better start looking over their shoulder."

Grace Shore, chairwoman of the State Board of Education, quoted in The New York Times on why she wanted a textbook edited: "It makes it sound that every woman west of the Mississippi was a prostitute. The book says that there were 50,000 prostitutes west of the Mississippi. I doubt it, but even if there were, is that something that should be emphasized? Is that an important historical fact?"

Texas Weekly is being published two days early this week because of the holiday. Happy July 4!


Texas Weekly: Volume 19, Issue 4, 8 July 2002. Ross Ramsey, Editor. George Phenix, Publisher. Copyright 2002 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 biz@ texasweekly.com. For news, email ramsey@ texasweekly.com, or call (512) 288-6598.