If you don't live in San Antonio or Houston or a handful of other places that have sports arenas and Senate races and other interesting issues before the voters, the November ballot offers up a treat only a civics proctor could love: 17 constitutional amendments that, for the most part, don't even offer the thrill of controversy or everyday relevance.
But there are a couple of sleepers out there, including one that would allow lawmakers' benefits to improve without legislative action, and one that will determine what happens if Gov. George W. Bush pulls off a victory in his current enterprise.
• Prop. 1 cleans up the succession game if a governor dies, quits, or gets elected president. Under the current constitution, it's not clear that a lieutenant governor has to quit his or her post to assume the duties of the governor. If it passes, a lite gov would move up and would forfeit the top seat in the Senate; the senators would then elect one of their own to serve as lieutenant governor.
• Prop. 2 fiddles around with the reverse mortgages that became possible under a constitutional amendment two years ago. It raises the age of eligibility to 62 from 55 and changes some of the ways people can get their money once they've signed such a mortgage. Some lenders say current law is so restrictive that it virtually prevents them from making reverse mortgages, and in fact, no market has developed under the constitutional amendment passed in 1997.
• Prop. 3 is the "Little rewrite" of the constitution, eliminating obsolete chunks of the document that has been amended 377 times (out of 550 tries). A complete rewrite died in committee.
• Prop. 4 broadens -- slightly -- the restrictions on properties that get tax exemptions for charitable organizations. You can argue that under the current constitution, one use of an otherwise exempt facility for a non-charitable event takes away the exemption. If this one passes, it would define properties "engaged primarily" in charity, instead of only those of "purely public charity."
• Prop. 5 allows school districts, cities and other local governments to pay elected officeholders who are also state employees. Under current law, it constitutes illegal double-dipping for, say, a schoolteacher to be paid to serve on the city council. Other council members who aren't state employees can be paid, no matter what their occupation.
• Prop. 6 actually has gotten a little interest from Washington, D.C., since it expands the homestead exemption to include up to 10 acres of property (from one acre now). From the standpoint of (some of) the federales, the homestead exemption already gives Texans more protection under bankruptcy laws that most other Americans get. This amendment would give them even more.
• Prop. 7 would allow courts to garnish your wages for spousal maintenance (alimony to a layperson, but not to a lawyer) as well as to child support. Originally, the door on garnishment was sealed in Texas, but it was opened for children years ago and this would add divorced wives and, occasionally, husbands. This prompts an interesting argument from people who are ordinarily on the same side. It would, on one hand, help people whose divorces force them onto public assistance. At the same time, it could have the effect of cutting the paying spouses' income far enough to force them into assistance. That, supporters argue, is why the issue is ultimately left to the courts.
• Prop. 8 removes the Senate's advice and consent from a governor's appointment of an adjutant general (the brass in charge of the Texas National Guard). That would increase the governor's power at the Senate's expense, but would also make the general directly accountable to the governor.
Gain Without Pain, More Civics
• Prop. 9 is the sneakiest amendment in a group of amendments that aren't particularly sneaky. Still, it's odd that this hasn't got more attention. It would set up a judicial compensation commission that would set judge's salaries. Legislators' retirement benefits are based on those salaries. This would allow those to increase, for the first time, without a vote from lawmakers. It would, however, allow lawmakers to veto the nine-member commission's recommendations (either the House or the Senate would have veto power, even if the other chamber approved).
• Prop. 10 is another one that takes the Senate out of the advice and consent business, this time to give the governor sole say over the commissioner of health and human services. As with Prop. 8 (adjutant general), opponents say this violates the concept of separation of powers.
• Prop. 11 allows local governments to buy insurance from mutual insurers. That's currently prevented since such arrangements make the insured, or policyholder, an owner of the company.
• Prop. 12 is one of the few amendments that has an industry behind it willing to spend some money. It would let the Legislature exempt leased vehicles from property taxes. The car-leasing industry says this would get rid of an inconsistency in the way leased vehicles are taxed (as compared to, say, installment contracts). They might spend $500,000 or so to get this passed, but they are privately cursing the ballot language, which is one of those backward legal tongue twisters. They fear that people will cock their heads to try to understand, then vote no and move on.
• Prop. 13 authorizes $400 million in bonds for student loans.
• Prop. 14 undoes a curious thing in the Texas constitution that requires the number of people on a board or commission to be divisible by three. That odd bit resulted from the twin desires for an odd number of people on a board (no ties, draws or standoffs that way) and staggered terms so as to maintain some continuity in government. This would allow membership in any odd number larger than three, like five, or seven.
• Prop. 15 would allow married couples to convert separate property to community property (converting the other way is already legal). Among other things, separate property is taxable if the owner died and left it to the spouse; community property is not taxable.
• Prop. 16 would allow counties to slip out of requirements to create new justices of the peace and constables as populations increase, by raising the number of people allowed in each JP or constable district. The argument between the pros and the cons, as you might expect, is over how many of those officials the counties actually need. Others say the state should wait for the next census to get a count.
• Prop. 17 would allow regents of the University of Texas System to distribute capital gains in the permanent university (PUF) fund to the available university fund. Current law only allows actual income (interest, dividends, land sales) to be moved to the available fund.
There are at least three places on the Internet where you can find long write-ups on the 17 constitutional amendments, if you're so inclined. The Texas Legislative Council is unique in that it includes the text of the underlying legislation, at www.tlc.state.tx.us.
The House Research Organization's version, which includes full discussions of the amendments, is at www.capitol.state.tx.us/hrofr/hrofr.htm.
And the League of Women Voters managed to shorten the conversations and arguments without dumbing it down. Their version is available online at www.main.org/leaguewv/home.html.
CORRECTION: We had the fact of the spanking correct last week, but misnamed the paddle: Judge Steve Mansfield of the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals received a public reprimand from the State Bar of Texas for telling whoppers on his resume during his last campaign. We wrote, incorrectly, that the paddling was from the State Commission on Judicial Conduct.
A Five-Way Sprint with Elbowing Allowed
After a scramble that saw one candidate rejected for not paying the filing fee, another one turned away for living outside of the district, and a rumpus over some high-profile Republicans trying to talk a candidate out of running, San Antonio voters ended up with five candidates to choose from in the race for the SD 26 seat left open by the resignation of Sen. Gregory Luna, D-San Antonio.
Luna's term is over next year, so there's another race ahead no matter who wins the special election in November, since a couple of candidates say they'll make a race next year even if they lose this time. And because that next session includes legislative redistricting, there will be a third race in 2002. Somebody's got a few years of almost solid campaigning ahead.
Three Democrats are on the ballot: Reps. Leo Alvarado Jr., a lawyer, and Leticia Van de Putte, a pharmacist, and Lauro Bustamante, a lawyer who's cousin, Albert Bustamante, was a U.S. Rep. from San Antonio. Lauro Bustamante ran for Congress in 1997 (a special election to replace the late U.S. Rep. Frank Tejeda) and again in 1998, losing both times to Ciro Rodriguez, who now holds that seat. Bustamante's take on the race is that there's too little time to raise money or to have much impact with television or with yard signs; he's concentrating on meetings with groups, endorsements, and efforts to get out the vote in the district. (All of the candidates are working community groups and labor unions particularly hard, since they can put people on the streets, which is critical in a short race in a district like this one.) He hasn't decided whether a loss now would keep him out of next year's race.
Two Republicans, both of them new to the ballot, also jumped into the race. Anne Newman, an education and political consultant, and Mark Weber, who owns some rental properties and describes himself as self-employed, each paid their $1,000 for a chance at Luna's seat.
Newman is a mother and grandmother (for a little more than a month) who ran for a school board spot in the mid-1980s and hasn't run for office since. She's the author of a book called "Healthy Sex Education in Your Schools: A Parent's Manual." She does some consulting for Robert Offutt, a Republican on the State Board of Education, and says she's running because of her interest in education issues. She concedes that SD 26 is a Democratic district, but says it's possible for a Republican to win in this kind of election. A loss in November, however, might keep Newman out of the March race. She says, "I would have to look at the numbers."
Weber came to Texas during a 14-year stint in the Army and stuck in San Antonio. He intended to campaign for the seat even before Luna decided not to return, and says he'll be back in March no matter who wins the special election. Weber, who taught school for a year in his native Ohio, says education would be his first concern as a senator, and says the state should try a pilot voucher program in public schools. He says several Republicans, including Offutt, tried to talk him out of the race, saying he and Newman would split up the GOP vote.
Bounced Off the Ballot
So what happened to David McQuade Leibowitz, the trial lawyer who said last week that he wanted the job? The short explanation, he says, is that the time frame for the special election was short. But he is putting together a team for next March, when he intends to run in the Democratic primary. The winner of the November race, he says, will only serve in a "ceremonial capacity for a few short months." The longer version is that McQuade apparently doesn't meet the residency requirements and was turned away when he got to the Secretary of State's office in Austin to sign up for the race. That's something he can remedy for the regular elections by moving before the filing deadline in January. He wasn't the only candidate stuck at the starting gate. Michael Idrogo signed up to run but didn't pay his $1,000 or offer up a petition signed by 500 registered voters. You only have to have one of those two things, but he offered neither and his name was knocked off the list.
Van de Putte won the ballot contest: After a drawing, she'll be first, followed in order by Weber, Bustamante, Newman and Alvarado. Late news: Texans for Lawsuit Reform isn't entirely fond of anyone in the race, but the group will throw its "strong support" to Van de Putte.
Familiar Name, New Face
Rep. Sue Palmer, R-Fort Worth, has decided to hang it up after all, becoming the first member of the Texas House this year to give up a seat without simultaneously deciding to seek higher office. Palmer decided earlier this year to quit the House, but then changed direction, saying in August that had overcome worries about a too-busy schedule by selling her business, Lucky Lady Oil. If it did nothing else, that allowed her and her confederates to line up another candidate for the seat.
Drum roll, please: That recruit's name is Charlie Geren, the older brother of former U.S. Rep. Pete Geren, D-Fort Worth. Big brother will run for Palmer's seat as a Republican. He owns a couple of barbecue restaurants in Tarrant County, is a former deputy U.S. Marshall and has some real estate and ranching interests. Geren voted in the GOP primaries in 1990, 1996 and 1998, but not in 1992 and 1994. The party confusion is sure to turn up on a mailer somewhere: The covering spin for that blotch on the resume is that he's a Republican who crossed over to vote for his kid brother in those years.
The Geren announcement was carefully orchestrated (by Bryan Eppstein of Fort Worth, who advises both the outgoing legislator and the would-be successor). Palmer signed on as Geren's treasurer and was first in line to endorse the new candidate. One of the first supporters on Geren's campaign is U.S. Rep. Kay Granger, R-Fort Worth, the former Fort Worth mayor who holds the congressional post once commanded by his younger brother Pete. This could draw more Republicans, but might not draw any Democrats. The HD 89 seat belonged for years to former House Speaker Gib Lewis, but his successor Homer Dear held on for only four years before the GOP's Palmer won it.
How Can We Say Goodbye If They Won't Go?
This is worth noting, if only to settle bets. With Palmer's decision to retire at the end of this term, only five House members have said they won't seek reelection. Four -- Reps. John Culberson, R-Houston, Todd Staples, R-Palestine, Leo Alvarado Jr., D-San Antonio, and Leticia Van de Putte, D-San Antonio -- are seeking higher office. (One or both of the San Antonio legislators could return, since they're running in a special election that doesn't require them to quit their current posts.)
Over the last 20 years, the House has averaged 33 new members each session. Turnover spikes after legislative districts are redrawn, and tends to be at its lowest in the years right before a redistricting session. That's where we are on the calendar now, but four retirements is a low number. A total of 26 new members showed up at the beginning of the last legislative session. There were 27 two years earlier, and 23 two years before that. The records we have go back to 1926, and in the last three quarters of the century, the 23 new members who showed up for the 1995 session marked the lowest turnover. The highest was in 1941, when 93 new people showed up in the House.
Part of the reason for the slow churn is that we're heading into a redistricting session, and part is due to increased efforts by House leaders, particularly Democrats but also Republicans, to keep current members in office. Go take a look at the bookings at the Austin Club and you can see some of this right there on the calendar: That's been the scene of two to five fundraisers for incumbent members every day for three weeks, and for two more weeks into the future.
As they say on the mutual fund ads, past results don't dictate future returns, but at the current pace, next year's elections could bring a record low number of new faces to the Capitol.
In that vein: We told you they were kicking tires, and it's only right that we report they are now ready to buy: Eddie Shauberger has announced a rematch against Rep. Zeb Zbranek, D-Winnie, and Ben Bius is going to make another run at Rep. Dan Ellis, D-Livingston. Zbranek was first elected to the House in 1992, and beat Shauberger by almost 3,600 votes in 1998 (he got 56 percent, to Shauberger's 44 percent). Ellis just finished his freshman session in the House. He beat Bius last year in the race to replace former HD 18 Rep. Allen Hightower, D-Huntsville, but by less than 800 votes (a gap of less than 2 percent). Bius wants another go at it.
Commissioner for Life, Revisited
We've been scribbling of late about Public Utility Commissioner Judy Walsh, and her non-reappointment to that post now that her term is over. But she's not the only gubernatorial appointee who continues to serve even through her time has apparently passed. Others on the list include several appointees of former Gov. Ann Richards: Texas Lottery Commissioner Anthony Sadberry, whose term ended in February 1997; Dr. Russell Thomas of Eagle Lake, whose term expired last April; Garza County Judge Giles Dalby, whose term on the Texas County & District Retirement System Board was up in December 1997; and Tony Picchioni of Grapevine, who continues as a member of the Texas State Board of Examiners of Professional Counselors. Gov. Bush appointed Dealey Herndon of Austin, whose tenure at the State Preservation Board was supposed to end in February 1997; and Thomas Dunn at the Crime Stoppers Advisory Counsel, whose term was supposed to end 25 months ago.
All of those folks can stay in office, apparently, until they or the governor calls the game; they each were appointed and approved by the Senate, and even though their terms are over, they don't have to leave office until the governor appoints replacements. The Senate, which ordinarily has approval power over gubernatorial appointments, doesn't get a second chance at the people in this group, since the governor hasn't formally asked for permission. This also apparently skips past what amounts to a pocket veto power on the part of the Senate. Ordinarily, an appointee loses his or her appointment automatically if the Senate meets and fails to approve of the posting. But since the people in this group have been approved once, albeit for a different term, the Senate doesn't even have that power.
An Improvement in the Rate of Decline
The folks in charge of the state's gambling operation have decided not to tinker with the games, but they'll have to do something. Their plan was to lengthen the odds so the prizes would stay high; players don't like that idea, and economics might force the lottery to lower the prize amounts instead. The only way to avoid a change is to get an increase in sales. Sales aren't falling as badly as before, but they're not up, either. You might have seen news reports that showed that, at mid-September, average weekly lottery sales were cruising along at about $44.6 million, down only 8.9 percent from the previous year (the number represents a floating annual average of weekly sales). But what wasn't in those reports was the previous year's results: At the same time last year, sales were $48.4 million a week, and that marked a 22 percent drop from the September 1997, when sales were $62.2 million. Put another way, average weekly sales in September of this year trail sales of the same period two years ago by 28 percent, according to lottery officials. And if you look at the mid-September numbers from several years, you can clearly see that Texas is in the midst of what the gaming industry calls a "sophomore slump": 1996 mid-September sales were $62.1 million; 1995 sales were $59.6 million.
Oddments, Miscellany and Lint
Ignore the rumor about Richard Harvey: The Tyler businessman did have dinner with Dr. Robert Deuell of Greenville, but he's not getting out of the GOP primary in SD 2 (Sen. David Cain, D-Dallas, is the incumbent). Kevin Wheeler of Rockwall is also still in at last check. The folks who talked Deuell into the contest have been trying to talk his opponents out of it. On that same front, Bob Reese of Canton, who ran against Cain last time, says he hasn't endorsed anyone yet and won't until he's had a chance to meet Wheeler... National Republicans are running ads against U.S. Rep. Chet Edwards, D-Waco, saying he's among the Democrats trying to raid Social Security. The TV spots give out his name and number, but don't tout a Republican candidate... Houston's KHOU-TV has closed its Austin bureau, but the station is opening a bureau in Mexico City. Angela Kocherga, who did stints in Dallas and El Paso, will staff that office... Bill Tryon has signed on as a consultant to Todd Staples' Senate campaign. Staples, a Palestine Republican, is after the SD 3 seat held by Sen. Drew Nixon, R-Carthage. Staples is also field-testing a 38-point plan (we're not making that up) that includes this shot at unnamed opponents: "Will not carpetbag for political opportunity."
Political People and Their Moves
Former Land Commissioner and gubernatorial candidate Garry Mauro is getting the "Up to Your Waders in Gators" award from the Texas wing of the National Association of Government Communicators for remaining calm, cool and collected while he was getting swamped in the governor's race. The group's Communicator of the Year is Karen Hughes, spokeswoman for Gov. George W. Bush, for her work on the other side... In spite of what you may have heard, Mike Toomey has not sold his practice and isn't going to work for Forrest Roan's law firm. The legislator turned lobbyist has done a deal with Cantey & Hanger, Roan & Autrey, where the law firm will send clients looking for lobby help in his direction, while he sends lobby clients with need of lawyering in their direction. Officially, he'll be Of Counsel to the firm. It's not a merger or a job change, Toomey says... James Buie will be the new executive director of the Texas Bond Review Board. Buie had been an executive with the Oklahoma Finance Authorities, a state agency somewhere north of here. His college degrees, however, are from Texas... Gov. Bush named George Gallagher to the new 396th Judicial District Court in Tarrant County. Gallagher, a former Tarrant County prosecutor, lives in Arlington and has a law practice in Fort Worth... The Texas Education Agency went to the private sector and snagged Karen Case, the superintendent of the Dallas Can! charter schools, as the agency's associate commissioner for accountability and school accreditation... On the higher education front, the University of Texas got word -- via the news wires -- that one of the most talked-about candidates to head the school will be more expensive than before, if he gets an offer. The University of Minnesota gave its president, former UT Provost Mark Yudof, a $50,000 annual raise and extended his contract... UT will have another search going at the same time: Mike Sharlot, dean of the UT law school, says, basically, that he's pooped and wants to return to teaching at the school... The 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals made a couple of appointments, naming Robert Lee Jones of Lubbock to a 14-year term on the bankruptcy bench in his hometown, and tapping Barbara Jean Houser to a 14-year term on the bankruptcy court in Dallas. The U.S. Senate doesn't get a crack at those appointments.
Quotes of the Week
Gov. George W. Bush, on a House GOP spending plan: "I don't think they ought to balance their budget on the backs of the poor. I'm concerned about the income tax credit. I'm concerned that someone who moves from near poverty to the middle class pays a higher rate on their income."
U.S. House Majority Whip Tom DeLay, R-Sugar Land, in response: "It's obvious Mr. Bush needs a little education on how Congress works. I don't think he knew what he was talking about." Elsewhere, he added: "We're getting stuff done here. Real stuff. Compassionate conservative stuff."
Bush again, after DeLay and other congressional Republicans had a conniption fit over his remarks: "It was a statement of principle. And I still believe today what I said yesterday."
Democratic political consultant Dean Rindy, in a Dallas Observer interview about his former partner, Mark McKinnon, who now works for Gov. Bush: "A consultant who works for a candidate who stands for the exact opposite of what he worked for before is either amoral, unprincipled, has had some mysterious religious conversion, or is doing it just for the money."
Mark Sanders, spokesman for Comptroller Carole Keeton Rylander, on whether the agency's former general counsel taped conversations, as alleged in an open records request from the Texas Democratic Party: "I don't know how many times he did or didn't tape. I do know he didn't have any tapes or transcripts or notes when we were asked to comply with this request."
Former Texas Attorney General Dan Morales, a Democrat, on the outlook for his political party: "There clearly is a dearth of candidates and potential candidates at the statewide level. It's going to be pretty slim pickings for the next few election cycles."
Republican presidential hopeful Pat Buchanan, on his flirtations with the Texas-born Reform Party: "I was in Beijing in 1972 when Richard Nixon toasted the greatest mass murderer of all time, Mao Zedong. If we can do that, why is it wrong for me to have a Caesar salad with Lenora Fulani?
Texas Weekly: Volume 16, Issue 15, 11 October 1999. Copyright 1999 by Printing Production Systems, Inc. All Rights Reserved. Reproduction in whole or in part without written permission from the publisher is prohibited.