Just when your mailbox is clear of attacks and your television is free of fuzzy and unflattering black-and-white images of career politicians, the political pros have already started manufacturing grist for the elections two years from now.
Comptroller Susan Combs, who would just love to be the state’s next lieutenant governor, just moved a top aide, David White, from her state office to her campaign.
Land Commissioner Jerry Patterson just hired Chris Elam, a political operative, away from the Republican Party of Texas to run his campaign — an announcement made under the letterhead “Patterson for Lieutenant Governor.”
Across Austin, especially in the blocks closest to the state Capitol, it’s not hard to find bumper stickers touting Todd Staples, the state’s agriculture commissioner, for lieutenant governor.
And here comes George P. Bush, the newest bearer of the family franchise, who has made the necessary filings for a campaign. Associates say he will consider running for one of those emptying statewide offices. But all that is really known is that he filed the paperwork to run for something. Could be anything from governor to a spot on a backwater appellate court.
Don’t forget the current occupant of that corner office on the second floor of the Capitol’s east wing. Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst isn’t acting like a retiree. He lost an expensive United States Senate race in July, but he has jumped back into his work, naming Senate committee chairs months early and announcing his support for legislation — like a bill that would require welfare applicants to take drug tests — and he looks like a guy who wants to keep his job.
It’s 2012 to most of us, but it’s 2014 to them.
The speculation game is nothing new and is based partly on the state’s recent history of electing Republicans in statewide elections, and partly on the fact that the hierarchy in statewide offices has been relatively static. Voters might not be ready to talk about it, but the state’s aspiring political talents are eager to move up — more so than usual because they have not had open seats to grab.
Now, maybe — maybe — they will.
Musical chairs is already under way — Republicans started talking among themselves about presidential nominations before Mitt Romney had conceded. But in Texas, the music is still playing: someone in that pack of wannabes could back away from the lieutenant governor’s seat and set his or her sights on something else — maybe even re-election or retirement. And the queues are filling up for the contestants’ current seats, which could force them to make decisions before they normally might do so.
Patterson’s run sets up a run by Bush (his father, former Gov. Jeb Bush of Florida, told potential supporters in a fund-raising letter that his son was aiming at the land office). At least three Texans have expressed interest in the comptroller job, should Combs move on.
They haven’t hired yet. Heck, Gov. Rick Perry, whose job will be on the ballot in 2014, hasn’t filled out the political staff he disbanded after his presidential run. Dewhurst’s plans aren’t clear. Neither are Attorney General Greg Abbott’s, who has quietly expressed interest in running for governor. To this point, he and Perry have been close allies — their lists of big donors are close to identical. No signs of a breakup there, but ambition can be a catalyst. Again, no motion there.
The 2013 legislative session could clarify some of this, both in terms of the issues that rise and fall, and because Perry and Abbott — and after them, the others — have said they’ll make their plans public in June, when the session is over.
Statewide officials can’t raise money during a legislative session, or for the month that precedes one. June will come without any new sign of financial strength, because none of them will have done anything (the restriction doesn’t apply to non-officeholders like Bush). The early moves to staff campaigns could help them raise money during the remaining weeks before the blackout, however. Their efforts on the campaign finance front will be reported to regulators in January, just as the session gets under way.
Texans will get a good peek at some 2014 prospects in June, when Perry and Abbott and the others announce their intentions. But those are just announcements — the campaigns are already working.
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