House Speaker Tom Craddick is running radio ads in "selected markets across the state" — Houston, Dallas and San Antonio are on the list — defending the House's actions on school finance, attacking the Senate, and suggesting the Texas Supreme Court will have the final say on what lawmakers should do.
Advisors say he wants people to hear his version of what's going on in Austin. The ad repeats, more or less, what he said to reporters a day before, but Bill Miller, a publicist and lobbyist friendly with Craddick, noted that those stories only ran for one day. The radio, he said, is geared to sink the message in. The script:
"Recently, I acknowledged the Legislature's impasse on school finance and tax reforms. I wanted to level with all Texans concerning our difficult struggle in Austin.
"The House passed strong school and tax reform measures early in the regular and first called special sessions. The Texas Senate, however, sent a bill to the House that watered down or eliminated those reforms. As Speaker, I don't believe the House should be a party to passing legislation that doesn't contain proper education reforms such as more local control and accountability.
"In the event that the Texas Supreme Court issues an opinion requiring some action, the Legislature will make the necessary adjustments. However, we will not continue to put more money into a system without the reforms to fix it.
"I promise you: Any school reform bill that passes the Texas House will contain real reforms.
DISCLAIMER: Political ad paid for by the Tom Craddick Campaign."
Craddick's aides didn't disclose exactly where or for how long the commercials are running, how much he paid for them, and what consultants helped him put the project together. They did say he paid for it out of campaign funds.
Aides to Gov. Rick Perry declined the chance to comment, but Mark Miner, spokesman for Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst, offered this: "Speaker Craddick's time and energy would be better spent on solving the state's educational needs than on unprecedented and misleading advertisements. The Senate's bill, SB 8 is a good bill that provides real reform in our schools, additional pay for teachers and puts additional funds in classrooms which are tied to accountability."
The Going Gets Weird
Radio ads are the latest volley from the Speaker, but not the first. Tom Craddick has said several times over the last few months that lawmakers have historically been unable to resolve school finance issues without some direction from the courts, and he's consistently said the House had little or no wiggle room on the issue.
The voting since January has proved him out: In those instances where the House could move anything, it did so with the narrowest of margins. It's quite unusual to attack the other half of the Legislature in an ad campaign (particularly when it's run by someone in the same political party), but Craddick and the Senate have been going at it for a while now. A week before he uncorked his marketing campaign, Craddick surprised participants and onlookers with this written statement:
"We have worked diligently to find a final compromise to HB 2 and HB 3. At this point in the special session, neither chamber has been able to pass any legislation, and it does not appear that they will. We are wasting time and money, and it is unproductive to prolong this process."
"In less than two weeks schools are set to start, and it is vital for them to have the updated textbooks necessary to do so. The funds for those books can only be granted through budget execution, which cannot be done while we are in session."
"I suggest we sine die, continue working together to reach an agreement, request the Texas Education Agency send us a list of reforms they can carry out without the Legislature changing the statutes, and wait to review the Supreme Court's ruling before formally meeting again."
The Senate responded to that with a new education bill that was approved in the upper chamber and delivered, DOA, to the lower chamber. Another bill would put a constitutional amendment on the ballot letting voters lower school property tax caps to $1.25 from $1.50, but the Senate couldn't offer a way to pay for that tax cut. Craddick labeled it a stunt: "Why don't we just say we're going down 50 cents and pass a bill? We'd look good in the press. Rather than $1.25, if you're not going to fund it, let's look great." A couple of senators said they voted for those things only because they knew they weren't going anywhere. A House proposal designed to fund textbooks and some new technology passed unanimously there, but met a similar fate when it crossed the rotunda to the Senate: Education Chair Florence Shapiro, R-Plano, told reporters she wasn't planning to consider it in her committee.
Craddick followed that soap opera with two strange moves. The first was the unprecedented radio campaign. The second? He jump-started the tax bill that was killed on a 124-8 House vote a week before, the vote that prompted his "sine die" statement above. The constitution says a piece of legislation, once killed in either chamber, is dead for the duration of a legislative session. The House parliamentarian ruled that the new tax bill isn't exactly like the first and that the first was killed on a preliminary vote instead of a final one. For those reasons, she said, the tax issue can come alive again. (There's another way to do that without the controversy, by asking the House to reconsider its vote on the original tax bill.) Craddick sent the new tax bill to a new committee — the Select Committee on Public Education instead of the tax-writing Ways & Means panel — and it's sponsored by Rep. David Swinford, R-Dumas, instead of Jim Keffer, R-Eastland, who has carried all previous tax bills this session. Craddick aides say the new plan is, with minor variations, the proposal made earlier this summer by the governor. Aides to Perry say they weren't included in conversations about the new legislation and don't know whether it's theirs or not. In any case, Craddick is shopping it around to see whether the House would be willing to pass it. If it's not, he says, he won't bring it up.
A Baker's Dozen, Plus One
Say you want to walk a controversial issue through the House. Suppose, for whatever reason, you've decided to do it without the help of most or all of the 61 Democrats. That leaves you trying to win, in effect, 85 percent from what's left, and it puts 13 Republican swing voters in really powerful positions (it rises to 14 when the speaker is voting).
When HB 2 — the education bill — was amended by Rep. Scott Hochberg, D-Houston, over the objections of the sponsor, Rep. Kent Grusendorf, R-Arlington — all of the House Democrats were on board. Six Republicans didn't vote, including House Speaker Tom Craddick, who was recorded present (the others were absent). And 14 Republicans joined them, completing the majority that sunk their leadership's latest shot at school finance reform. The companion tax bill provided the asterisk for that loss; when Rep. Jim Keffer, R-Eastland, brought it to a vote — and voted against it himself — it was toast. Only eight House members — all Republicans — supported it.
The same sort of arithmetic would come into play if lawmakers lose faith in Craddick. They haven't done so, but more people are talking about the possibility as the special sessions drag on and the education/finance impasse deepens. Members on both ends of the Capitol are blaming their three leaders for the lack of a resolution, and that's always roughest on a speaker of the House, whose constituents are the other members of the body.
Republicans credit Craddick with planning and executing the overthrow of the Democratic majority in the House and of his predecessor, Rep. Pete Laney, D-Hale Center. Democrats do, too. And any healing that might have followed that coup evaporated during the bitter fights over congressional redistricting. That's one reason many votes start with a baseline of 88 Republicans and 61 Democrats (the death earlier this year of Joe Moreno, D-Houston, left one seat empty). School finance muddles that some because many of the issues have more to do with geography and demographics than with party affiliation, but the splits are still there.
School finance is a notoriously difficult matter and has bedeviled leaders from both parties. But the Republicans are in charge now, and legislative Democrats quietly revel in their troubles. And they have been encouraging any signs of rebellion among their Republican colleagues, suggesting the Democrats would join up with a Republican speaker candidate who can bring along enough votes from the GOP to create, with the Democrats, a new majority.
No frontrunner has emerged in the speculation and we're not aware of anyone doing any overt lobbying for the job — it's not open — but the names of several representatives have been mentioned as potential successors: Charlie Geren, R-Fort Worth; Edmund Kuempel, R-Seguin; Mike Krusee, R-Round Rock; Brian McCall, R-Plano; Tommy Merritt, R-Longview; Jim Pitts, R-Waxahachie; and Todd Smith, R-Euless.
The Texas Legislature might be dysfunctional when it comes to school finance and tax cut legislation, but a few other issues flew through the Pink Building faster than a middle-aged man in a Mini Cooper.
Lawmakers made quick work of judicial pay raises, legislative retirement increases, limits on government seizures of property and allowing phone companies to get into the business of delivering television signals to homes and businesses.
Legislation limiting government's use of eminent domain for economic development projects sailed through the Senate and then the House and has one more Senate stop before it goes to Perry. Sen. Kyle Janek, R-Houston, says he's likely to go along with changes made in the House. Perry hasn't said what he'll do, but he added the issue to the Legislature's agenda this week, allowing it to fly through. That legislation is a response to a U.S. Supreme Court decision earlier this year in a case where a city wanted to bulldoze some houses to make way for private development. The court said that was legal, and in reaction, more than a dozen states have passed laws restricting eminent domain.
Telecommunications legislation sought by phone companies wanting into the television business is on the way to the governor. SBC and some other phone companies like the legislation, but Texas cable television companies fought it, trying to keep the phone companies out of the TV business.
School finance might be stuck, but judicial pay raise legislation — passed in various forms (and more than once) by both Houses earlier this year — is on its way to Gov. Rick Perry.
It would raise minimum annual pay for state district judges to $125,000 from $101,700, for appellate judges to $137,500 from $107,000, and for Texas Supreme Court justices to $150,000 from $113,000. If that comprised the entire Number One Dinner, they'd have already digested it.
But there is a side dish: Legislative retirement checks are tied to judicial pay, so lawmakers have been stuck between helping the judges and avoiding the appearance of helping themselves. They've opted, finally, to help the judges and themselves (and would have done so earlier, but for a last-minute legislative shootout during the regular session that knocked the bill off the calendar). Perry hasn't said he'll sign the raise, but he's favored it in speeches and would have to calm some ticked-off judges if he were to veto it. For lawmakers, retirement pay is figured by multiplying the years served by .023 by the minimum salary for state district judges. So the 23 percent pay hike for judges is also a 23 percent boost for retired legislators, present and future. A lawmaker with 12 years in office would get $34,500 annually upon retirement under the new law ($125,000 x .023 x 12); under current law, the annual benefit is $28,069.20. Legislators have to serve at least eight years to qualify and can start getting benefits when they're 60 years old. If they serve at least 12 years, they get the bennies starting when they're 50 (as long as they're also out of office by then).
If you poke through the House Journals — the official records of the proceedings, used by lawyers and campaign consultants and others to reconstruct the Legislature's actions — you'll find a surprising number of lawmakers took time to explain their votes. They fell, roughly, into two camps. Some lawmakers voted yes and said they did it for the judges and in spite of the benefit to themselves. Others voted no and explained it the other way, apologizing to the judiciary while saying they couldn't stomach the legislative retirement benefits. There were some conversations here and there about unlinking the judges and the lawmakers, but that idea never appeared as an amendment to the legislation and so never came to a vote in either the House or the Senate. Sen. Robert Duncan, R-Lubbock, originally tried to link legislative pay to the governor's salary, so lawmakers could give judges a raise without feathering their own nests. But state budget-writers increased the governor's salary, and Duncan retreated from that idea. It never came up again.
Some legislators like to complain about their pay, which is set at $600 per month, or $7,200 annually. But they get that great retirement for part-time work, and they also do better than average Texans when they're actually on the job. The state pays $128 per day when lawmakers are working in Austin. While 30-day special sessions are hard on some legislators' regular jobs, they're also an opportunity to get an extra $3,840. Without special sessions, lawmakers can get $32,320 for a two-year term in office, including their $600 per month and their "per diem" for the 140-day regular session. Assuming the current special session goes the full 30 days, they'll make an extra $7,680 this year, bring them to $40,000 for this particular two-year term. For comparison, the U.S. Department of Commerce's estimate of per capital income in Texas last year was $30,222.
The March party primaries are 28 weeks from now. Maybe that's not alarming to you, but it's on the minds of the people who'll be on the ballot then, and on the people — statewide elected officials, mainly — whose campaigns will start when the gavels mark the end of the legislative efforts on school finance. This session ends on Friday, August 19, and chances for another one are, at this writing, small.
It would be early and somewhat unusual to start advertising in August of the year before the elections, but it's not unprecedented. Clayton Williams Jr. started his ads in August 1989 and by March had shouldered his way past six other Republicans (three were what you'd call major candidates) to win a primary without a runoff. Someone reminded us the other day that that run of commercials cost him $9 million. That amount was a record at the time, but it wouldn't last long in today's television markets: A week of saturation advertising on a statewide basis in Texas now costs roughly $1 million. If you get out a calendar and work backwards from Election Day, subtracting $1 million for each week, Gov. Rick Perry could start advertising in the first week of January. Comptroller Carole Keeton Strayhorn, who's running against him, could start a week or two later. If they start early, they're betting supporters with thick wallets and heavy purses will step forward to help them buy more ads.
And lots of commercials don't make a Texan a governor. Williams lost in November, as did the next wealthy oil man to self-finance a campaign for that office: Tony Sanchez Jr., who ran against Perry in 2002. Whether they're on TV in a month, Perry and Strayhorn and the others will be in the papers, traveling the state and trying to drum up support.
• Democrat Chris Bell of Houston will officially end his explorations and announce for governor over the weekend. The former congressman and Houston city councilman will be the first Democrat in the race. Separately, Bell was named to the board of StemPAC, a political action committee "created to fight back against those holding up the promise of stem cell research."
• Kinky Friedman, trying to get on the ballot as an independent, announces Houston attorney Dick DeGuerin is joining the campaign as a "staff advisor." DeGuerin is a well-known criminal defense attorney; he defended U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison when a Travis County grand jury indicted her on charges she abused her office. She won a directed verdict after prosecutors lost a ruling on evidence and refused to present their case.
Flotsam & Jetsam, Political Notes
Even if legislation buying textbooks for schools doesn't pass, the textbooks will likely make it to the schoolhouses. The Legislative Budget Board can meet with the full Lege isn't in session, and they have the leeway to pay for the books. Gov. Rick Perry told the Texas Education Agency not to wait for the money, but to go ahead and open its computer system to take orders for books. The idea is to speed up delivery of the books once the money is available.
• Texas Agriculture Commissioner Susan Combs picked up an endorsement from the Texas Apartment Association. Combs, a Republican, is the only candidate running for comptroller. The current comptroller, Carole Keeton Strayhorn, is running for governor instead of seeking reelection. Combs also got a nod from EMPACT, the political arm of the Texas Public Employees Association. And another from HOMEPAC, the political arm of the Texas Association of Homebuilders.
• Gov. Rick Perry picked up several endorsements. The Texas State Association of Firefighters signed on for both the March primary and the November general elections. The Texans for Lawsuit Reform PAC is sticking with him, citing his help on legislation limiting medical malpractice and asbestos lawsuits in Texas. The Texas Apartment Association is on board, as are the Associated General Contractors (Texas building branch). And U.S. Rep. Sam Johnson, R-Plano, a former state rep who served with Perry in Austin, says he'll back the governor.
• Former Rep. Glen Maxey, D-Austin, will head "No Nonsense in November," a group trying to keep a ban on gay marriage out of the Texas constitution. That passed the Legislature earlier this year and voters will get a crack at it on November 8. Surprise! There's a website: www.NoNonsenseInNovember.com.
• Add Alex Castano to the list of candidates wanting to replace Terry Keel, R-Austin, in the Texas House (HD-47). Castano is a Rice grad with seven kids who works in commercial real estate. He hasn't run for office before. Political consultant Jason Johnson has signed on to help with that one. Castano joins Bill Welch, Scott Sanders, Jimmy Evans, Richard Reynolds, and Rich Phillips on the list of Republicans who want that spot.
• Houston City Councilman Mark Ellis is definitely running for Texas Senate in SD-7. He's term-limited on the council and wants the spot being vacated by Jon Lindsay, R-Houston. Reps. Peggy Hamric and Joe Nixon, both R-Houston, are also in the hunt. Hamric has hired Ted Delisi to help out; Ellis says Lee Woods, Court Koening, Susan Lilly and Herb Butrum will be his political team. Ben Streusand, who self-financed an unsuccessful run for Congress last year, is also looking at that contest.
• The Professional Advocacy Association of Texas — the lobby's lobby group — is holding a seminar in mid-September to try to help people stay out of ethics trouble. It's a brush-up, apparently that includes sessions on ethics law, reporting requirements, conflicts of interest, and a keynote speech from Travis County District Attorney Ronnie Earle, whose office has spent almost three years investigating allegations of campaign finance misdeeds in the 2002 state elections. More on their website: www.texasadvocacy.com.
Minorities outnumber Anglos in Texas, according to the Census Bureau. Non-Hispanic whites remain the largest ethnic or racial group in Texas, but they make up less than half of the state's population for the first time this century. That makes official what state demographers have been saying for the last several years, and puts Texas in a small group of states where historical majorities are giving way to demographic changes.
California, Hawaii, New Mexico, and the District of Columbia also have non-Anglo majorities. Five more states — Arizona, Georgia, Maryland, Mississippi, and New York — each have combined minority populations of about 40 percent, according to the people-counters.
The Census Bureau said the minority population in Texas hit 50.2 percent in July 2004 — the newest estimate. By their reckoning, the state had 11.3 million minorities in its total population of 22.5 million.
When you look inside the numbers, minorities outnumber non-Hispanic whites among men, but not among women in Texas. By the government's July 2004 estimate, minorities made up 50.8 percent of the male population, and 49.7 percent of the female population. (Women outnumber men in Texas by 87,486; they made up an estimated 50.2 percent of the total population a year ago.) Hispanics made up 34.2 percent of the population, by the Cenusus Bureau's estimate. Blacks accounted for 11.7 percent, Asians for 3.2 percent, and other groups made up the 1.2 percent balance. Females outnumbered males in each of those groups.
Texas was third among the states (behind New Mexico and California) in the percentage of Hispanics in its population; 20th in Blacks and 15th in Asians.
Two Texas counties — Harris and Dallas — are among the nation's most populous overall. But if you rank counties with more than 1 million residents by racial and ethnic makeup, the numbers move around some. Those two counties make the top ten list for total Black population. Harris is the only Texas city on the top ten list for total Asian population. And those two counties are joined by Bexar on the list of the ten U.S. counties with the largest numbers of Hispanics. Harris is among the top ten with Anglo populations; no other Texas county is on that list.
Political People and Their Moves
Former Austin Mayor Kirk Watson left the law firm he founded to join the Austin office of Hughes & Luce. Watson, a Democrat who lost the 2002 attorney general race to Republican Greg Abbott, is considering a run for the Texas Senate seat now held by Gonzalo Barrientos, D-Austin.
Jim Ray is rejoining Ray Associates after a run as executive director of the Texas Association of Regional Councils. Ray co-founded the public affairs firm in 1977, and he was the ED at the association for 28 years.
Lisa Elledge is leaving the government affairs office at the Texas Department of Agriculture for the private sector; she'll be a lobbist for Wal-Mart Stores. Before working at TDA, she worked in Washington, D.C., including, at one time, for then-U.S. Rep. Larry Combest, R-Lubbock.
Patrick Sullivan is the new deputy executive director at the Texas Building and Procurement Commission. His last gig was at the Texas State University System, where he worked in planning and construction.
Ann Fuelberg, who heads the Employee Retirement System, won the "administrator of the year award" from the Texas Public Employees Association.
Press Corps Moves: Deon Daugherty joins the Quorum Report, leaving the employ of Sen. Robert Duncan, R-Lubbock, to return to reporting. She was the last Austin correspondent for Morris Newspapers, writing for the Lubbock Avalanche-Journal and the Amarillo Globe-News.
Quotes of the Week
Clayton Downing, director of the Texas School Coalition and former superintendent of Lewisville schools, talking to The Dallas Morning News about the state government's efforts this summer: "They missed the boat. They've been more focused on campaign promises like property tax relief than on solving the education funding issue. It was a mistake that not a dime of the tax bill was going to schools."
Carolyn Boyle, who quit the Coalition for Public Schools to start up the new Texas Parent PAC, which will raise money for legislative races: "I quit my job because I was so fed up with the Texas Legislature. I realized we need new people at the Texas Legislature."
Republican consultant Royal Masset, talking to the San Antonio Express-News about education groups that opposed the Legislature's proposals on school finance: "They've done a heck of a job. Our people are just not used to it. They're used to getting 100 e-mails from right-to-life people. Now they're getting angry parents. I think it scares the heck out of them."
House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Jim Keffer, R-Eastland, quoted in The Dallas Morning News after the Senate passed school finance legislation that would require a tax bill that already died: "Why they were going through all that grandstanding and show biz yesterday when they knew what the reality was, I don't understand."
U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, who announced earlier this year that she'll seek reelection instead of running for governor, in the San Antonio Express-News: "I thought when I bowed out of the governor's race that it would take the politics out of the Legislature. That's one of the reasons why I announced early. I really thought that would help. I see no change, and I'm disappointed."
Rep. John Culberson, R-Houston, quoted in The Dallas Morning News on allowing volunteers to protect the U.S.-Mexico border: "We always relied on each other in frontier days in Texas. We relied on neighbors and friends to arm themselves and... protect the neighborhood against bandits. I'm fed up."
Gov. Rick Perry, asked by a reporter for the San Antonio Express-News about the costs of three special sessions on school finance: "I am stunned that you would ask a question about the cost of a special session vs. the benefit that can come... That's a minor amount of money relative to what this means to the teachers of the state of Texas, for crying out loud, the children who deserve to have those textbooks in the schools this fall."
Perry spokesman Robert Black, asked by the Fort Worth Star-Telegram to respond to criticism from Democratic gubernatorial hopeful Chris Bell of Houston: "Chris who?"
Democratic gubernatorial candidate Chris Bell, quoted by the Associated Press: "Rick Perry is an inspiring leader. In fact, he's inspired me to run for governor."
Texas Weekly: Volume 22, Issue 9, 15 August 2005. Ross Ramsey, Editor. George Phenix, Publisher. Copyright 2005 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.