Road Work

Gov. Rick Perry speaks at the Iowa State Fair during a campaign stop on Aug. 14, 2011.
Gov. Rick Perry speaks at the Iowa State Fair during a campaign stop on Aug. 14, 2011.

Who knew, when the 1998 race for lieutenant governor was raging, that the combatants would end up like this: Rick Perry is picking his way across Iowa and New Hampshire with his sights set on the White House, and John Sharp is the chancellor-apparent at the Texas A&M University System.

Whodathunkit?

Perry is on familiar and unfamiliar ground. Familiar because he's won six statewide elections in a row and just came out of a yearlong reelection effort. Unfamiliar because everything he says is getting picked apart by hundreds of reporters instead of just dozens, and because he's running a race where he'll eventually need to attract independent voters.

He's done a couple of things that Texas voters haven't seen in a while. He walked back his famous executive order that would have required sixth-grade girls in Texas to get a vaccine against a sexually transmitted virus that is the leading cause of cervical cancer. The Legislature swatted down his HPV vaccine order, but Perry has generally maintained that he was right and that his was a pro-life position. Perry the presidential candidate says he got out in front of the Legislature and they let him know he'd made a mistake.

He had that boo-boo on state's rights and same-sex marriage, first holding up New York's new marriage law as an example of states adopting their own policies without federal oversight. When his opponents jumped him for that, he backtracked and said he'd support a constitutional amendment that would keep the states from allowing same-sex marriage. Sorry, y'all.

Then he popped off about the Federal Reserve, awkwardly stealing an issue from U.S. Rep. Ron Paul, R-Surfside, and guaranteeing himself some headlines by the way he said it. “If this guy prints more money between now and the election,” Perry said of Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke, “I dunno what y’all would do to him in Iowa, but we would treat him pretty ugly down in Texas. Printing more money to play politics at this particular time in American history is almost treacherous, err, treasonous in my opinion.”

That word — treasonous — got him the headline, and a few days of discussion. The effect? People who like the idea of spanking the Fed got a signal that Perry is on their side. And anyone who wants to shoot at Perry as an intemperate conservative got another arrow they can use later. That might or might not be of use in the Republican primaries, but it's the sort of thing that could be useful when independent voters are at stake.

This is an open question about the governor of Texas. His close general election races were in 1990 and 1998. A couple of Democrats have put up fights since then, but in Texas at this time in its political history, they might as well have run as Vegetarians or Musicians. Running for president is different: Democrats, Vegetarians and Musicians can actually pull some votes. Independents, who are arguably turned off by partisans, are important.

Perry can identify with Dorothy and Toto: He's not in Texas anymore.

The huge advantage for Republicans in this election cycle is that the incumbent has a rotten economy on his plate. But he also doesn't have a primary to run, and can move to the center, where the independents live, while Perry and the other Republicans are still fighting out there on the right wing.

For Sharp, a New Kind of Politics

Former Texas Comptroller John Sharp, a Democrat, is preparing to enter the higher education arena as the new chancellor of the Texas A&M University System — a move that will become official in early September. Though he’s logged many years in public service (he’s also been a state legislator and a railroad commissioner), Sharp said he’s heard that the politics he’s about to encounter in academia “are 10 times worse.”

That’s even more the case lately as Texas higher education, and particularly Texas A&M University and the University of Texas, has been involved in a still-unfolding controversy over the future of the state’s public universities.

Three years ago, Gov. Rick Perry began pushing regents to implement controversial changes similar to those developed by Austin businessman Jeff Sandefer and published by the Texas Public Policy Foundation, a conservative think tank. It was those solutions, and fears among some in the UT community that they might be implemented at their school, that largely fueled the current upheaval.

Under the leadership of former Chancellor Mike McKinney, Perry's former chief of staff, the Texas A&M System went the furthest in implementing the proposals. After drawing intense criticism from other leaders in the higher education community as well as faculty members on campus, some of them have since been walked back — officially, because of budget considerations.

On the day he was named the sole finalist for the chancellorship, Sharp pledged a style of leadership that could go a long way toward calming the waters. Rather than implement ideas from the top down, which Sharp said tends to create a heightened level of resistance, he said he’d talk to everyone involved at each level and develop plans from within. “If you do top down, a lot of times you may get your initial result, but if you don’t eventually get the folks at the mid to lower levels … it is a fleeting victory,” he said. “You’ve got to get everybody involved.”

This sort of approach has drawn praise from a group of prominent Texans who, by forming a group they call the Texas Coalition for Excellence in Higher Education, gathered together to oppose the implementation of Sandefer’s proposals. In a statement praising the selection of Sharp, they said, “The coalition was formed to support constructive ideas to improve our universities rather than simplistic mandates that threaten to undermine excellence; it appears John Sharp understands the difference.”

Early indications from the other side of the fence have also been positive. Sharp’s comments appear to have connected with those who have been supportive of changes to higher education, as well. In addition to pledging a bottom-up approach to reform, Sharp also made clear that he intended to make the A&M System as efficient as possible, offering “the best education at the lowest cost.”

“He obviously knows Texas A&M well and what makes it a great university, and earned a reputation at the comptroller's office for finding ways to make government organizations more efficient and effective,” said Justin Keener, a spokesman for a group called Texas Business for Higher Education, which has been supportive of efforts to enact changes to address efficiency issues. “Higher education is facing significant challenges to constantly improve the quality, affordability and accessibility of their services, and he appears to be up for that job.”

Senate Higher Education Chairwoman Judith Zaffirini, D-Laredo, who has been vocal about her disapproval of Perry’s recent approach to higher ed, said she couldn’t think of a better selection than Sharp. Though Perry, busy running a presidential campaign, has not put out an official statement on the matter, Sharp observed, “I would assume if he’d spoken ill, he could have nixed this pretty well. The board has a great deal of respect for his opinion.”

Sharp and Perry were roommates at Texas A&M and later ran against each other for the position of lieutenant governor. “There was a brief time around 1998 that we pretty much hated each other," Sharp said. "But our relationship is very good.”

As Sharp prepares to review the system and make his mark, which he says will start with the chancellor’s office, it’s entirely possible that some of these early good vibes could turn sour.

Presidents within the Texas A&M University System have been invited to dine with their new chancellor in Austin on Friday, followed by a meeting on Saturday morning.

“As a person who’s been involved in higher education as long as I have, I know John Sharp’s name,” said Prairie View A&M University President George C. Wright, who did not appear particularly fazed by Sharp’s appointment.

“We’ve never met. So, I don’t know him personally. Since I’ve always been able to work with whoever I need to, I’m confident I’ll be able to work with Mr. Sharp, as well,” he said.

Campaign Chatter

Sen. Mike Jackson R-La Porte on last regular day of the 82nd legislative session May 30th, 2011
Sen. Mike Jackson R-La Porte on last regular day of the 82nd legislative session May 30th, 2011

As expected, state Sen. Mike Jackson, R-La Porte, will run for Congress next year instead of for re-election to the Texas Senate.

He'll be running in the newly created CD-36. Jackson, the Senate's president pro tempore, has been in that body since 1999, and served in the Texas House for ten years before that. He'll turn 58 this weekend.

A few minutes after that landed in the email bucket, this came in: State Rep. Larry Taylor, R-Friendswood, who has said he's interested in running for Jackson's Senate seat, put his thumb on the scale. He didn't want to step on Jackson's announcement, instead announcing that he'll make his intentions clear next week.

• Add a candidate to the race to knock off state Rep. Charlie Howard, R-Sugar Land: Sonal Bhuchar, a member of the Fort Bend ISD board and a physical therapist, announced her candidacy for HD-26. She joins Howard and Sugar Land City Councilwoman Jacquie Chaumette in that race.

Ted Cruz, running for the Republican nomination for U.S. Senate, says he's got the backing of former Texas Supreme Court Justice Scott Brister and Heritage Alliance head Richard Ford, among others. That's in Texas. From outside the state, he's listing Brent Bozell, head of the Media Research Center, and Tony Perkins of the Family Research Council. He's got the long list on his website.

• Put Seguin Republican Dale Brueggemann in the CD-15 race for Congress. It's his first run for office. The incumbent is U.S. Rep. Ruben Hinojosa, D-Edinburg, and that district, as currently drawn, runs from the Texas-Mexico border to just east and a little north of San Antonio.

Bob Yancy, a College Station Republican, is running for the Texas House in HD-14, the seat vacated by Rep. Fred Brown, who resigned to take a job outside the district. He'll face Rebecca Boenigk in that primary. [Editor's note: An earlier version had Buddy Winn running in this primary; he's running in an adjacent district. Sorry, sorry, sorry.]

• A couple of former San Antonio city council members — Justin Rodriguez and Philip Cortez — are running for the Texas House, according to the San Antonio Express-News. Rodriguez is after the HD-125 seat held by Joaquin Castro (who's running for Congress), and Cortez will challenge freshman state Rep. John V. Garza, a Republican. Both Rodriguez and Cortez are Democrats. Cortez will likely face Tomas Larralde, head of the local contractors' association, in the primary.

• The race for CD-25 — that's the district that runs from Hays County all the way north to Tarrant County — is going to be packed. Add Brian Matthews to the list. He's a Republican and calls himself "a constitutional conservative." That primary could have more than a half dozen candidates, including former Texas Railroad Commissioner Michael Williams and state Rep. Sid Miller, R-Stephenville.

• Houston Mayor Annise Parker picked up a reelection endorsement from former First Lady Barbara Bush.

Inside Intelligence: The Ultimate Insiders' Vote

You remember the race for speaker in late 2010 and early 2011, with the challenge to House Speaker Joe Straus from within the House and without?

If David Dewhurst moves out of the lieutenant governor's office after the 2012 elections, we could get a repeat — on steroids. That's the situation we took to the insiders this week. If Dewhurst is elected to the U.S. Senate and moves on, or if Rick Perry is elected president and Dewhurst moves up, or some combination of those things, what'll happen to the Senate?

A quick bit of business if you're new to this game: The presiding officer would be chosen, in those circumstances, not by voters, but by the 31 senators themselves, and from their own ranks. That's how state Sen. Bill Ratliff became Lt. Gov. Bill Ratliff in 2000, after George W. Bush won the presidency and Perry ascended to the governor's office.

Most of the insiders — 61 percent — say outside groups will play a significant role in an election to replace Dewhurst (only 1 percent was undecided). Around that number — 64 percent — think that the Senate's two-thirds rule will be an issue. Some Republicans don't like the idea that the GOP majority in the Senate is a few votes short of what's needed to control the agenda there — they'd like to lose that minority-empowering rule.

That partisan fever leads to the question of which senators will do the choosing. Will it be the whole Senate, or will the majority party — the Republicans — make the choice among themselves and vote as a bloc when the matter is before the full Senate? About a third of the insiders — 35 percent — think it'll be decided by Republicans alone. Another 63 percent think the next Lite Guv will be picked by a coalition of Republicans and Democrats.

As usual, we asked for comments, and the full replies are attached. Here's a sampling:

Who'll choose David Dewhurst's replacement?

• "The coalition will be weighted to favor Republicans but give the appearance of taking Democrat input."

• "The D's will vote as a block and pick their Lt Gov"

• "More than likely Dewhurst will remain Lt. Governor as he will fall short in the senate race."

• "Follow the House model. It's really a coalition choice, but it's made to appear like just the Republican majority made the selection."

• "Too many egos to placate. Tea party will demand purity."

Will outside groups play a significant role in the contest?

• "Because the D's will vote as block the GOP groups will descend upon Austin to make sure their senator votes the "right" way"

• "Outside groups showed the limits of their influence with the Straus debacle."

• "Business and GOP orgs"

• "Outside groups have always played a significant role. They once were called Labor Unions and Trial Lawyers."

• "They will stir the conversation. But if such a pick takes place, it will be by secret ballot--the precedent has been set already--so their impact will be less than they'd like or the press would have you believe"

Will the Senate's two-thirds rule be an issue in the race?

• "The majority needs the two-thirds rule nearly as much as the minority does to keep them from taking bad votes."

• "But Dewhurst opened the door himself with the 3/5 rule. The GOP will get what it wants, tradition be damned."

• "For Dan Patrick only."

• "Old good rules are dying. They apply only when unnecessary."

• "No one understands it outside of Austin."

Our thanks to this week's participants: Gene Acuna, Cathie Adams, Brandon Aghamalian, Clyde Alexander, Jay Arnold, Jim Arnold, Louis Bacarisse, Charles Bailey, Reggie Bashur, Walt Baum, Allen Blakemore, Tom Blanton, Hugh Brady, Steve Bresnen, Linda Bridges, Andy Brown, Blaine Bull, Lydia Camarillo, Marc Campos, Snapper Carr, Tris Castaneda, George Cofer, Rick Cofer, John Colyandro, Hector De Leon, Tom Duffy, David Dunn, Jeff Eller, Alan Erwin, John Esparza, Jon Fisher, Terry Frakes, Kyle Frazier, Wil Galloway, Neftali Garcia, Dominic Giarratani, Bruce Gibson, Scott Gilmore, Eric Glenn, Thomas Graham, Jack Gullahorn, Billy Hamilton, Wayne Hamilton, Bill Hammond, Albert Hawkins, Adam Haynes, Susan Hays, Laura Huffman, Cal Jillson, Jason Johnson, Mark Jones, Richard Khouri, Tom Kleinworth, Ramey Ko, Kenneth Kramer, Tim Lambert, Nick Lampson, Pete Laney, James LeBas, Donald Lee, Luke Legate, Leslie Lemon, Ruben Longoria, Vilma Luna, Matt Mackowiak, J. McCartt, Suzi McClellan, Dan McClung, Parker McCollough, Scott McCown, Robert Miller, Bee Moorhead, Steve Murdock, Craig Murphy, Keats Norfleet, Todd Olsen, Nef Partida, Gardner Pate, Bill Pewitt, Jerry Philips, Wayne Pierce, Kraege Polan, Jay Propes, Bill Ratliff, Karen Reagan, Jason Sabo, Luis Saenz, Mark Sanders, Stan Schlueter, Bruce Scott, Steve Scurlock, Bradford Shields, Patricia Shipton, Ed Small, Todd Smith, Larry Soward, Dennis Speight, Tom Spilman, Bob Stein, Bob Strauser, Colin Strother, Michael Quinn Sullivan, Jay Thompson, Russ Tidwell, Trey Trainor, Ware Wendell, Ken Whalen, Darren Whitehurst, Michael Wilt, Alex Winslow, Peck Young, Angelo Zottarelli.

 

The Week in the Rearview Mirror

Losses from the drought are coming into focus. An economist from the AgriLife Extension Service has estimated that Texas farmers and ranchers have lost about $3.1 billion in crops and $2 billion in livestock. Losses are expected to climb as the drought intensifies and triple-digit temperatures linger across the state.

With no relief to the heat in sight, and with thousands of teachers and students across the state heading back to school, the Electric Reliability Council of Texas, the state's grid operator, has made a short-term deal to activate four natural gas units owned by NRG Energy and Garland Power and Light. The units will be used on a temporary basis through October.

The U.S. District Court in the District of Columbia has granted a motion allowing Republican-backed redistricting maps to be further scrutinized for compliance with the Voting Rights Act. Sen. Wendy Davis and Rep. Marc Veasey, Democrats of Fort Worth, joined residents in their district in challenging the maps, which Democrats say disenfranchise minorities. As with other lawsuits filed against the maps, the courts will have to make their decisions quickly to give candidates time to file for next year’s elections.

The Texas parole board used to have discretion to designate a prisoner a “Special Condition X” offender — a sex offender — without any hearing on the issue, but the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals rejected that procedure, agreeing with decisions from federal courts. The state won't be allowed to identify a prisoner or parolee as a Condition X offender, which carries with it special obligations and restrictions, unless the parolee has actually been convicted of a sexual offense.

Further complicating an already complicated death penalty case, a state district judge has set a November execution date for inmate Hank Skinner. The U.S. Supreme Court issued a stay in 2010 to allow a federal district court to decide whether Skinner should be allowed to request DNA testing on evidence that hasn’t been evaluated. State courts have not been willing to release the untested evidence, and it’s unclear whether they will now permit it or if there will be enough time for testing before the scheduled execution date.

As school districts look to creative solutions to their budget problems, officials are closely watching a referendum on a tax swap proposed by several districts in the Rio Grande Valley. If a district can get approval to allocate more of its tax rate rate to maintenance and operations, the state kicks in a higher rate. Though widespread approval of such referendums could drain future state budgets, only about a half-dozen districts have proposed such a solution.

In the ongoing red-light camera saga between American Traffic Solutions and the city of Houston, Houston Mayor Annise Parker thinks she has a solution. Voters in Houston approved a referendum in November to turn off the red light cameras, provided by ATS, but the contract between the city and the company prevented a simple solution. The mayor initially had the cameras turned back on to prevent a potential multimillion-dollar tax liability for the city, but now Parker thinks she can call on the City Council to approve an ordinance that outlaws the cameras. The matter is still in court, and the two sides are trying to negotiate a settlement.

A federal buyout program for homes in Galveston damaged by Hurricane Ike is drawing accusations of fraud. The $25 million program is funded by the Federal Emergency Management Agency, which granted the money to buy substantially damaged homes. Sixty-eight properties are under investigation, and Galveston has already been required to return $3 million while the inquiry proceeds.

This year’s Border Security Conference in El Paso included discussion of the Merida Initiative and how the $1.5 billion aid package can be used most beneficially to help Mexico. William Brownfield, assistant secretary of the U.S. Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs, announced that the money would be primarily focused on Mexico’s northern states, where cartel violence has been the most concentrated. Brownfield also acknowledged that U.S. law enforcement officials would travel to Mexico City or Central America to help in training local police forces.

Political People and their Moves

Lobbyist Gaylord Armstrong left the McGinnis Lochridge & Kilgore law firm after four decades after a disagreement over checks he wrote himself from a client's account, according to the Austin American-Statesman. The firm, after paying back the client (the Texas Consumer Finance Association), said it would report the details to the State Bar of Texas, which licenses lawyers. Armstrong resigned on July 1 and agreed to repay the firm.

Michael Gerber resigned as head of the Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs, according to Texas Watchdog, and the governor moved to the General Land Office the responsibility for Hurricane Ike funds that have gone unspent in the years since that storm.

The Secretary of the Texas Senate, Patsy Spaw, was elected staff vice chair of the National Conference of State Legislatures, a position that automatically leads to the chairmanship after a year.

Jim Moore and Jason Stanford are teaming up for what Stanford calls "a snarky take on Rick Perry" in book form. Moore co-authored "Bush's Brain" — a book on Karl Rove — with Wayne Slater. Stanford is a political consultant who managed Democrat Chris Bell's unsuccessful challenge to Perry in 2006.

Press corps moves: The Texas Observer named Dave Mann as editor, replacing Bob Moser, and Susan Smith Richardson as managing editor, replacing Mann.

Deaths: Former state Rep. Paul Ragsdale, D-Dallas, who served for 14 years in the Texas House after winning election in 1972 and co-founding the Texas Legislative Black Caucus. He was 66.

Quotes of the Week

No. I think the people have decided that question. Twice.

Former Comptroller John Sharp, after being selected to run the Texas A&M University System, on whether he'll seek political office again in the future

I will be out of the office starting  08/15/2011 and will not return until 11/07/2012.

The auto-response email of an optimistic Robert Black, who's on leave to work for Perry's presidential campaign.

He is entitled to some credit, but not alone. There are other people who have been very instrumental in directing our state in the proper direction – you know, George W. Bush, the Texas Legislature, all of our elected leadership here. But the governor’s entitled to a lot of credit, he’s gonna be a contender in this primary.

U.S. Sen. John Cornyn of Texas, on Laura Ingraham's radio show, on Rick Perry

I'll cut him some slack. He's only been at it for a few days now.

Barack Obama, in response to Rick Perry's suggestion that members of the U.S. military don't respect the president

I got tickled by watching Gov. Perry announce … for president. He’s a good-looking rascal.

Bill Clinton, at a firefighters conference in New York City on Monday

I have heard people say, 'Now, wait a minute, you Tea Party types, y'all are angry.' We're not angry, we're indignant.

Rick Perry at a campaign stop in Waterloo, Iowa

Today's decision, is quite frankly not enough. The President has the power to grant deferred action before a student is subjected to deportation. He has the power to stop this unnecessary emotional trauma before it inflicts an entire family.

Austin-based immigrant rights group University Leadership Initiative on the Obama administration's announcement that it will review and possibly release from detention immigrants who present a "low risk" to the safety of the nation who are in deportation proceedings, in a statement

Far too few of their high school graduates are actually prepared to go on to college. I feel very, very badly for the children there.

U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan on Texas' public education system, in Bloomberg

I have to go to the bathroom and throw up.

U.S. Rep. Silvestre Reyes, D-El Paso, on Perry's bid for president.