Will She or Won't She?

Saying that you're a Republican, and that you're a candidate for governor, or even that you're a Republican candidate for governor, is not the same as saying you'll seek the GOP's nomination for that office in 2006. And that's why the state's scribbling scrum of political reporters won't close the door on speculation that Carole Keeton Strayhorn will run as an independent next year.

Strayhorn, the state's comptroller, has been a leading Republican vote getter in past general elections. But her results in contested statewide primaries are mixed, and facing incumbent Gov. Rick Perry in a GOP primary dominated by the social conservatives who put him in office is daunting. Things change rapidly in politics, but every poll we've seen shows Perry smothering the comptroller if the primary were held now.

Even if she hasn't raised a dime in the current six-month period — an unlikely prospect — Strayhorn will enter 2006 with at least $5 million in her campaign chest. The primary elections are on March 7, or nine weeks after the first of the year. Anyone who can spend at the rate of roughly $500,000 per week has to be considered a threat, no matter what the polls say now. Even if that's all the money she's got — an unlikely prospect — she'll be a heckuva pest next year in either a GOP primary or as an independent candidate.

Strayhorn's political strength has always been in the general election, where swing voters and crossover Democrats dilute the hard-core Republican voters who control the outcomes in GOP primaries in March. Running as an independent has risks — it's hard to get on the ballot, and there's not a Party organization in place to provide volunteer and grass-roots support. But if she thinks the March primary is Perry's to win, an independent run keeps her in the game until at least the mid-May deadline for the petitions needed to put her on the ballot.

Strayhorn has until January 2 to make her intentions known. That's the deadline for filing, either as a Republican, a Democrat, or an independent. What would it mean if she ducks the primaries?

• She'd have to put a petition-signing network together. The whole reason for political parties is to maintain such networks, but independents like Kinky Friedman have to build their own organizations. Friedman's campaign is deeply into that process and has organized 50 or 60 of the larger counties in Texas. The One Tough Grandma Party would have to start from scratch, relying in part on disenchanted Republicans who might form the nucleus of a statewide organization for her independent candidacy. If, that is, such Republicans exist. One hurdle is Friedman, who has already been harvesting anti-Perry and anti-Party voters. He's the bigger celebrity, is more organized (at this point), and is in a position to tag her as a "me, too" independent.

• The Legislature is coming back in April or May to try to hammer the state's school finance system into constitutional form. Strayhorn, as comptroller, will deliver the official numbers on their tax and revenue proposals. That provides her an opportunity for political mischief, and how it's received will depend on whether she's politically dead or alive. If, by spring, she's a GOP primary loser and a former candidate for governor, she'll be easier to ignore. If, on the other hand, she's a gubernatorial candidate in the middle of a petition drive to get on the ballot in November, she'll get more attention.

• Never discount the power of a mistake or a failure. Perry, with an assist from the courts and another from his tax commission, pushed the special session on school finance to the other side of the primary elections. He and the Legislature didn't look so hot when the special sessions ended in failure last summer, and an unpopular result this spring could put him (and others) in bad light with voters. Anybody who's out of the picture after March can only watch and think of what might have been. But Strayhorn, Friedman, and whatever Democrat survives that primary could all be the beneficiaries of another failure  — if there is one — on school finance.

• Low talk among some Austin Republicans over the last several months has focused on whether Strayhorn would switch parties and run as a Democrat. She was a Democrat in the first place, but jumped to the GOP in the 1980s to mount an ill-fated challenge to then-U.S. Rep. J.J. "Jake" Pickle, D-Austin. You can still find Democrats in Central Texas who are still angry about that. One of her sons — Scott McClellan — is the spokesman for the nation's top Republican, George W. Bush. And she's not pro-choice like most Democrats are. A switch from the elephants to donkeys would be a tough row to hoe. Besides, she's consistently said she's a Republican and intends to remain one. Isn't it possible that she's telling the truth?

• An independent Strayhorn could be really bad news for Democrats like Felix Alvarado, Chris Bell, and Bob Gammage. Some of the financiers who are typically with Democrats are with Strayhorn this time. If she's out of the race in March, some of those contributors might be interested in the Democratic nominee. If she's still in the race, they'll still be with her, and the Democrats will still be looking for funding from a shrunken donor base.

• Perry is acting like he thinks he'll see Strayhorn in the March primary. He's got an Internet-only ad that ties her to former Lt. Gov. Ben Barnes, now a lobbyist and, you'll remember, a central figure in the 60 Minutes story on George W. Bush's time in the Air National Guard. Barnes hosted a Strayhorn fundraiser, and Perry is promising to remind people of the link. You can watch his ad at this address: www.rickperry.org/multimedia/files/Stay_Tuned.mov.

• File this one under loose ends: Texans who decide to sign an independent candidate's petition to get on the ballot can't sign the petition of another candidate seeking the same office at the same time. For instance, if Strayhorn skips the primary, she and Friedman won't be allowed to share any renegade voters. Texans who appear on both lists will be struck from both lists. There's a reminder at the top of each petition form, warning the signers they're only allowed one signature per contest.

The Road Goes on Forever...

The United States Supreme Court will hear an appeal of the Texas congressional redistricting case in early March, raising at least the possibility that congressional primaries held that same month would have to be repeated later in the year. The current maps were redrawn in mid-decade after Republicans took control of the state Legislature; after approval from the Bush Administration and by a three-judge federal panel, they were used to elect a congressional delegation that, for the first time in modern history, features a Republican majority.

Congressional redistricting has provided Texas politics with a steady diet of drama for most of the current decade. The Legislature couldn't agree on congressional maps in 2001 and so a panel of federal judges drew one, based in large measure on a Democrat-drawn map put in place during the 1990s. It gave Republicans only 15 of the 32 seats in the delegation. In 2002, Republicans took over a majority of seats in the Texas House and used that new advantage to elect Speaker Tom Craddick, R-Midland, and then to draw new congressional maps that, when finally in place, put Republicans in 21 of the 32 Texas seats.

During the fight over maps, the Legislature was blocked once when most House Democrats left the state for Ardmore, Oklahoma, to deny the House a quorum, and blocked again when 11 Senate Democrats spent a month in Albuquerque, New Mexico, to halt consideration in the upper chamber. Neither holdout affected the final result: Republican legislators got a late and critical assist from U.S. Rep. Tom DeLay of Sugar Land and drew the map that's now in place.

Staff lawyers for the U.S. Department of Justice unanimously rejected this version, but were overruled by their bosses. A three-judge federal panel ratified that decision, and the 2004 elections gave the Republicans six more seats in the Texas delegation. (One Democrat — Ralph Hall of Rockwall — switched parties. Another — Jim Turner of Crockett — didn't seek reelection and was replaced by a Republican. Four Democrats —Martin Frost of Dallas, Nick Lampson of Beaumont, Max Sandlin of Marshall, and Charlie Stenholm of Abilene — lost reelection bids to Republicans.) Those seats were the only net gains in the entire U.S. House that year.

The groups that sued to overturn the case (all of the cases have been rolled into one) argue, variously, that the new plan illegal dilutes the voting power of minorities, that the new maps were drawn for no reason other than partisan gerrymandering, and that the designers of new maps should have been forced to use new census data to account for growth in the state since the 2000 Census was completed. The argument was that the growth was disproportionately in minority populations who, because they weren't recounted in a new census, were cheated of their electoral clout. They simply aren't accounted for in the maps adopted by the Legislature.

The Supremes will hear arguments on March 1 of next year — about a week before the Democratic and Republican primaries. And they'll probably rule — if the proceedings follow their normal course — before the July 4 break. Should they rule the maps illegal, as the court did in a 1996 redistricting case from Texas, they could toss out the results of the primaries and order new congressional elections.

On Second Thought

State Rep. Richard Raymond, D-Laredo, is giving up his bid for Congress and has filed with the Webb County elections office to run for reelection to the Texas House.

He's been working on a challenge to U.S. Rep. Henry Cuellar, D-Laredo. Former U.S. Rep. Ciro Rodriguez, D-San Antonio, was knocked off by Cuellar last year in a very tight race that changed outcomes several times before the courts ended recount fights in Cuellar's failure. Rodriguez is also challenging Cuellar this year and hoped to benefit from a Laredo vote split by Cuellar and Raymond. The district stretches from Zapata County on the south to Hays County on the north, or from the state's border with Mexico almost to the Texas Capital.

Raymond held a financial lead over the other two Democrats in that race at the end of September, but it was largely due to $300,000 in loans guaranteed by Raymond himself. He collected $199,225 from individuals during the first nine months of the year, according to FEC data compiled by Political Moneyline (www.fecinfo.com), and he spent $76,996 during that same period. As of September 30, he had $430,397 in the campaign till. Cuellar raised more, $486,491; spent more, $193,604; borrowed none; and had less on hand when the period ended, $279,645. Rodriguez raised $104,251, spent $44,777, didn't borrow anything, and ended up with $70,596.

In a written statement, Raymond referred to the U.S. Supreme Court's decision to hear the Texas redistricting case, and the possibility that the court will change the lines in Texas as a result. He didn't say this: Redrawing, if it happens, could knock some candidates out of their chance to win a spot in Congress by forcing new elections under a new map. Since the court isn't hearing that case until March, Raymond and others in similar situations have to decide whether to risk running for election in a district that might not exist in eight months, or to stay put and run for offices they know won't change during the 2006 elections.

Raymond's move from one race to the other and then back — while it looks like the safer move — could easily backfire. While he was out of the race for reelection in HD-42, former Webb County Judge Mercurio Martinez, also a Democrat, got in. Now that Raymond's back, Martinez called him a friend, but said he'll stay in the race. He said he hopes Raymond "will now support the congressional candidate who will make sure our community continues to have a voice in Washington" — that'd be a plug for Cuellar. And while he didn't say anything negative about the incumbent, he said this about his own self: "I am a man of my word. My community knows where I stand. I do not switch from side to side."

The 63rd Democrat

Only 3,512 Houstonians turned up for a special election to fill Joe Moreno's shoes in HD-143. The winner, with 61 percent of the vote, was Ana Hernandez, a former aide to Moreno who was backed by most of Houston's Democrats in the state Legislature. Laura Salinas got 1,365 votes to Hernandez' 2,147 — a margin of 782 votes. More people — 6,174 — voted in the first round, which had six candidates in it. Hernandez got more raw votes, with 2,625, but only mustered 42.5 percent in the November election. All four of the losers endorsed Salinas, to no avail. One more thing: Next year's elections (mainly the Democratic primary) will determine who gets a full term starting in January 2007.

The Racing Sheet

Bob Gammage, who resigned from the Texas Supreme Court and left state government in the mid-1990s, will seek the Democratic Party's nomination for governor. He filed his papers with a blast at Gov. Rick Perry and little to say to others already in the contest: Felix Alvarado and Chris Bell. Gammage said he's running against corruption in politics and that he'll be proposing reforms (and the rest of his agenda) in a formal announcement later on. Gammage's resume includes two years in the Texas House, four in the Texas Senate, two in the U.S. House, eight on the state's 3rd Court of Appeals, and four on the Texas Supreme Court. There's a website with more info: www.gammageforgovernor.com.

• Rep. Kent Grusendorf, the Arlington Republican who chairs the House Public Education Committee, will face a former Arlington ISD president and member of the State Board of Education in the March GOP primary. Diane Patrick's announcement spanked Grusendorf for failing to pull together a school finance plan. Patrick is an education professor at UT Arlington. This might be the first time two former members of the State Board of Education have run against each other for a seat in the Texas House.

• Former Appropriations Chairman Talmadge Heflin prefers a rematch to a chance at running the state's lottery games. The Houston Republican withdrew his name from contention for chief executive of the Texas Lottery Commissions and said he'll run for the Texas House. He lost his spot in the Legislature earlier this year when House members decided an election recount in favor of Hubert Vo, D-Houston. Heflin says he will take another crack at Vo, this time with the mantle of incumbency on the other side.

• Andy Brown, an Austin attorney who wants a spot in the Texas House, isn't eligible to run in the HD-48 special election to replace Rep. Todd Baxter, R-Austin, according to the Texas Secretary of State's office. But he's suing the SOS in federal court to get on the ballot; he says several states have tossed similar residency requirements in special elections. That's a January 17 election, and since he won't have lived in the district for a full year at that point, the Texas Secretary of State won't accept his application. Brown is still eligible for the regular election run — March primary, November general. Three candidate are lined up for the special election: Democrats Donna Howard and Kathy Rider, both of whom have been school trustees and school board presidents, and Republican Ben Bentzin, who has never held political office.

Katy Hubener is alone in the Democratic primary in HD-106; Iraq war veteran Christopher Combest, who was going to run, has dropped out. Hubener wants to replace Rep. Ray Allen, R-Grand Prairie. She came close last year in a challenge race, pulling in 47.4 percent against the incumbent in a year when George W. Bush's presence on the ballot added some momentum to Republican campaigns in Texas. Allen says his current term will be his last and Hubener is after the open seat. Combest, an Army lieutenant, hoped to be out of active duty in time for the primary, but told supporters this week that he won't finish in time and won't make the race. He says via email that he'll be back in mid-March, that he hopes to get involved in Democratic politics when he's in the Army Reserve, and that he wishes Hubener the best in the race. On the Republican side, Kirk England, the son of Grand Prairie Mayor Charles England, is vying for Allen's spot. England is an insurance agent and a recent convert to the GOP. He voted in Republican primaries in 2004, and with the Democrats in 1994 and 1996; he didn't vote in either party's primaries in the years in-between, according to Dallas County records.

• We left Vicki Truitt, R-Southlake, off of last week's list of Republicans who'll face challengers in their own primaries. Put William Langdon Skinner on the list for HD-98.

• Rep. Dora Olivo, D-Rosenberg, filed for reelection and will face Steve Brown — until recently an Austin-based lobbyist — in the Democratic primary.

• Move Tan Parker of Flower Mound from explorer to candidate. He's running in the GOP primary for the position now held by Rep. Mary Denny, R-Aubrey. Also in the hunt: Ricky Grunden, a Krum businessman, and Anne Lakusta, a former school board member who's in the real estate business.

• Rep. Mark Strama, D-Austin, can stop whistling; he's got a Republican opponent in HD-50, and two more who haven't signed up yet. Jeff Fleece, a West Point grad and former staffer to George W. Bush's presidential campaign will be in that contest. Strama beat Rep. Jack Stick, R-Austin, in a squeaker last year; the Democrat got 48.6 percent of the vote and won because 3.7 percent went to Greg Knowles, a Libertarian.

• Rep. Joe Nixon, R-Houston, wants to kill the Senate rule that allows one-third of the senators to block consideration of legislation. He calls that an "objectionable obstacle to progress" and says the upper chamber ought to get rid of it. Nixon is one of four candidates after Jon Lindsay's spot in the Senate; Lindsay isn't seeking another term. That rule is a Senate and lobby favorite because it makes it easier to block a piece of legislation.

• Texas Land Commissioner Jerry Patterson doesn't have an opponent yet and apparently never has been advised to be careful what he asks for. He sent reporters a proposed personal ad, to wit: "REPUBLICAN SEEKING DEMOCRAT/MWM, 59, Republican Land Commissioner seeks Democrat opponent for 11-month relationship. Must be willing to visit 100's of Texas counties, enjoy walks on eroding Texas beaches, and enjoy swapping stories (occasionally true) with Texas veterans. Interest in the Oil & Gas business a plus. Should be emotionally prepared for defeat. Millionaires need not apply (been there, done that!) If interested visit www.votepatterson.com."

Flotsam & Jetsam

• Texas Lawmakers are getting higher marks, on average, from a business group and an environmental one. The latest legislative report card from the Texas Association of Business is online at www.txbiz.org; the new ratings from the Texas League of Conservation Voters are at www.tlcv.org. In both cases, the groups scored lawmakers on issues and votes that were important to the groups. One note on the TAB ratings: House members weren't graded on any of their tax votes during two special sessions on school finance last summer, though they were examined for votes during the regular session.

• Dallas political consultant Bill Ceverha, a member of the board at the Employee Retirement System of Texas, asked the ERS to look into complaints about his work as a lobbyist, which he says was completed prior to his time on the board. Democratic legislators have been complaining that his personal bankruptcy and his role as a lobbyist conflict with his position at ERS. Ceverha was the treasurer for Texans for a Republican Majority PAC, and filed for personal bankruptcy after losing a civil suit related to his role in the 2002 elections. The ERS board will be back for sessions in January and in February, and could take up the issue at either of those meetings.

• We told you a while back about the Texas Manufacturers Association; at the time, it was just an idea, and now it's getting organized. Some of the so-called "heavy metal" and other capital-intensive industries want a group that can lobby on tax and other issues. Existing associations, like the Texas Association of Business, have broader memberships and can't always lobby on a particular issue because of conflicts among members. TAM doesn't have a director yet and is still assembling its board, but it'll probably be in place in time for a spring special session on school finance and taxes.

• The Texas Tax Reform Commission now has its own website, where you can get meeting times, materials, contact numbers and all that jazz: www.ttrc.state.tx.us. That panel, appointed by Gov. Rick Perry and headed by former comptroller John Sharp, will hit the road hard next month, with public hearings set for Austin (1/9), El Paso (1/11), Laredo (1/26), Lubbock (1/23), Temple (1/18), the Valley (1/27), and Waco (1/18). You can get the times and locations off their website, along with downloads of the printed materials they're working from. The group doesn't have a deadline for making tax recommendations to the governor and to lawmakers, but the Texas Supreme Court gave lawmakers a June 1 deadline for bringing the school finance system in line with the state constitution.

Moving Product

Gubernatorial candidate Kinky Friedman launched a television campaign designed to attract attention and to sell some of the $29.95 action figures he's peddling to finance his campaign. The first three spots are viewable at his website www.kinkyfriedman.com. That campaign has a nest of political consultants who helped Jesse Ventura get elected governor of Minnesota, and one of the tools they used in that race was an action figure of the candidate.

Friedman is running three different commercials, and as you'd expect, there's some content here you won't see in a standard campaign. All of the spots are geared to sell the Kinky doll, and those sales will show up sometime soon on a campaign finance report.

In one ad, the doll leans out of a pick up, says "Why the hell not?" and then the truck drives away as a puff of cigar smoke comes out of the passenger side window where the doll is apparently sitting. Another has a reporter at a press conference asking the doll, "Can you get the Republicans and Democrats to work together?" After a pause, the doll says, "I'm running for governor, not God." That one ends with a gaggle of reporters around the doll as he/it says, "Criticize me all you want but don't circumcise me anymore."

The spots are airing in the five largest of the state's 22 media markets: Austin, Dallas/Fort Worth, El Paso, Houston, and San Antonio.

Surprises for People on Your Gift List

The Kinky Friedman doll talks when you push the button on its back. It says 25 things, according to Friedman's campaign, including some that would probably get you kicked out of the house during the holidays.

The list: I can't screw things up any worse than they already are... I'll sign anything except bad legislation!... How hard could it be?... If you elect me the first Jewish governor of Texas, I'll reduce the speed limits to $54.95... If you don't love Jesus, go to hell... I'm not pro-life, I'm not pro-choice, I'm pro-football!... I don't know how many supporters I have, but they all carry guns... My heroes have always been teachers, firefighters, cops and cowboys... I'm gonna de-wussify Texas if I gotta do it one wuss at a time... Read my lips, I don't know... I'm not anti-death penalty, I'm anti-the-wrong-guy-getting executed... I'm running for Governor, not God... Trust me — I'm a Jew, I'll hire good people... Hell, yes, it's a Cuban cigar. But I'm not supporting their economy. I'm burning their fields... I support gay marriage. They have every right to be just as miserable as the rest of us... The only two good balls I ever hit was when I stepped on the garden rake... I've got a head of hair better than Rick Perry's — it's just not in a place I can show you... Money may buy you a fine dog, but only love can make him wag his tail... I'll keep us out of war with Oklahoma... Texas has a Capitol that was built for giants but it's inhabited by midgets... Why the hell not?... Friedman's just another word for nothing left to lose... Never reelect anybody... May the God of your choice bless you... and finally, Thank you very much! You're welcome, Kinky!

• Click your way over to www.twolumpsofcoal.com, a site run by an Austin middle-schooler with entrepreneurial tendencies (no, we're not related, and this isn't a paid ad, either). Their slogan: "Who Doesn't Deserve Some?"

Political People and Their Moves

Teel Bivins — the U.S. Ambassador to Sweden — is stepping down for health reasons. The Amarillo Republican, who was a state senator for 15 years before George W. Bush appointed him to the current spot, will stay on the job until the end of January. Word got back to the states via his Christmas card that said goodbye to Stockholm; it was picked up by the Amarillo Globe-News.

Gov. Rick Perry appointed Lewis Benavides of Oak Point (it's in Denton County) to the Texas Commission of Licensing and Regulation, and named Gina Parker of Waco the presiding officer of that panel. Benavides works in human resources at Texas Woman's University. Parker is an attorney and businesswoman in Waco, and also a past and probably future candidate for chair of the Texas Republican Party.

Perry named Yvonne Batts and Frank "Skip" Landis to the Texas Guaranteed Student Loan Corp. Batts is an exec and co-owner of Batts Communications in Abilene. Landis is director of the Biomedical Science Program at Texas A&M University.

Carolyn Vogel leaves the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department at the end of the year and in February will become the executive director of the Texas Land Trust Council — an affiliate of TPW that offers support for land trusts around the state.

The Trust for Public Land hired Nan McRaven to be its Texas State Director. She was with Freescale Semiconductor in Austin and with its progenitor, Motorola, before that.

Marc Hamlin, district clerk in Brazos County, is the new president of the Texas Association of Counties. The new president-elect is Tarrant County Commissioner J.D. Johnson, and Carol Autry — the tax assessor-collector in Randall County — is the new vice president.

The new chairman of ERCOT is Mark Armentrout. The board of that outfit — the Energy Reliability Council of Texas — elected him to replace Michael Greene, who held the job for a total of six years. Armentrout, who lives in McKinney, is an exec with MBNA Technology.

Kevin Thompson, chief of staff to Rep. Dan Branch, R-Dallas, is leaving for the private sector and a gig with Vantage Learning, and Candice Shapiro — until recently the legislative director for Todd Baxter, R-Austin — is Branch's new L.D. 

Deaths: Former Texas Attorney General, state Supreme Court Justice, and Dallas County District Attorney Will Wilson Sr., best known for cleaning up gambling and prostitution in Galveston in the early 1960s. He was 93... Former Rep. Garfield Thompson, D-Fort Worth, who served for ten years ending in 1995. He was 89... James McCrory Sr., a retired political writer and columnist for the San Antonio Express-News, and before that, for the San Antonio Light. He was 82.

Quotes of the Week

Mark Braden, a Washington attorney who used to be chief counsel to the Republican National Committee, talking to the Dallas Morning News about the Supreme Court's decision to hear the Texas redistricting case: "Everybody in the business is watching it. It's a tricky issue. How much politics is too much politics?"

U.S. Rep. Ted Poe, R-Humble, quoted by The Hill on redistricting: "There is always a reason when the Supreme Court agrees to hear a case. I don’t know what that reason might be."

President George W. Bush, telling Fox News he believes U.S. Rep. Tom DeLay, R-Sugar Land, is innocent of the campaign finance charges against him: "I hope that he will (return), 'cause I like him. And plus, when he's over there, we got our votes through the House."

Democratic gubernatorial candidate Chris Bell, calling for sex education in schools in the San Antonio Express-News: "We have the second-highest teen pregnancy rate in the country. It's easy to blame a high school girl for getting pregnant, but when Texas is competing with the likes of Mississippi in teen pregnancy, we need to take a hard look at what we are teaching these kids."

Rep. Ray Allen, R-Grand Prairie, quoted in the Houston Chronicle on why he's not seeking reelection: "I'm weary, just tired. Why do you hit yourself in the head with a hammer? The answer is, it feels so good when you quit."


Texas Weekly: Volume 22, Issue 26, 19 December 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.