Something for Everyone

Gov. Rick Perry unveils his "Texas Budget Compact" in Houston on Monday, April 16. On stage with Perry, from left to right: state Reps. Brandon Creighton, R-Conroe, and Wayne Smith, R-Baytown, and conservative activist Michael Quinn Sullivan.
Gov. Rick Perry unveils his "Texas Budget Compact" in Houston on Monday, April 16. On stage with Perry, from left to right: state Reps. Brandon Creighton, R-Conroe, and Wayne Smith, R-Baytown, and conservative activist Michael Quinn Sullivan.

Republicans were practically tripping over themselves this week to weigh in on Gov. Rick Perry’s call for more budget cuts, lower taxes and restrictions on government growth.

So were the Democrats.

The opposition sees Perry as wounded and unpopular, and the more he becomes an issue in the 2012 elections, the happier they are. He has become their favorite whipping post.

It is a far cry from 2010, when Perry, riding the Tea Party wave, seemed politically invincible.

But then he presided over a 2011 legislative session that ushered in some of the deepest budget cuts that Texas lawmakers have ever enacted. And his failed presidential race, a bonanza for the comedy writers at Saturday Night Live — made Perry a laughing stock as far as many Democrats see it.

“I’ve always been quick to give Rick Perry credit where credit is due. He obviously has some skills,” said longtime Democratic strategist Harold Cook. “But he fell off a cliff and went splat. How revered is this guy supposed to be?”

Now when Perry makes a big splash, the Democrats use it — often with unflattering images of him — as fodder for fundraising and political talking points.

Former Democratic state Rep. Chris Turner of Arlington, trying to regain a seat in the Legislature, blasted out an email before Perry even took to the stage in Houston to unveil his “Texas Budget Compact” this week.

“Texans don’t deserve more budget gimmicks and trickery from Rick Perry and Tea Party Republicans,’’ he wrote.

Turner ended the email with a fundraising solicitation.

“The presidential campaign really hurt him,” Turner said in an interview. “Even if they weren’t fans two years ago, there is a sharpness to the criticism that I hear now.”

With the primaries still weeks away, it’s far too soon to gauge the climate of the November elections, and what impact Perry will have then.

Democrats clearly aren’t expecting Perry’s flubs and his latest budget gambit to spark a dramatic reversal in their statewide fortunes. Texas is, after all, still the reddest of the big red states.

But Democratic operatives say blowback from the cuts in public education and the collapse of the state-federal Women’s Health Program, among other items, has galvanized their voters in a way that would have seemed unimaginable in 2010.

That could play a role in the handful of legislative swing seats up for grabs this year.

Robert Jones runs Annie’s List, the PAC that tries to get Democratic women elected to the Texas Legislature. He said two years ago the Republicans’ strong showing with women voters — with Perry at the top of the ticket — helped bring about the largest GOP House majority ever.

Since then Perry has moved further to the right on abortion, opposing it now even in cases of rape and incest. And his call for more budget cuts and the fight over women’s health care has made the governor a repeat target of the group’s ire.

“He really has scared people into action who might have been on the sidelines before,” Jones said. “I think every opportunity we have to show what Rick Perry and the Republicans stand for, we’re going to take it.”

Interactive: 82nd Session Interest Group Scorecards

Campaign Chatter

U.S. Rep. Silvestre Reyes, D-El Paso, got an endorsement from former President Bill Clinton, and then topped it, announcing an endorsement from President Barack Obama over his three Democratic challengers. Clinton is going to El Paso to make the endorsement in person on April 24. That's an event — they're doing it at the El Paso County Coliseum.

• According to Miriam Martinez, Armando Vera is dropping out of the Republican primary in HD-41. She produced a letter (unsigned) from him to the Hidalgo County GOP saying his doctor had advised him to limit some of his activities. Vera couldn't be reached to confirm all of that, and in any case, it's too late to remove his name from the ballot (that date passed shortly after the filing deadline set by the federal courts during redistricting litigation). Martinez was going to run as a Democrat, but switched parties before the deadline. One of them will face Democrat Bobby Guerra in November.

• Gov. Rick Perry emailed supporters to encourage them to include his new budget compact in the Republican Party platform up for a vote at county conventions this weekend and at the statewide convention in June in Fort Worth (the Democrats meet at the same time in Houston).

• Once more, with feeling: The governor, who said a while ago that he thought David Dewhurst would make a good senator, made it clearer: He's endorsing the lieutenant governor in the crowded GOP race to succeed Kay Bailey Hutchison in the U.S. Senate.

• Perry is weighing in on the hotly contested race between Rep. Wayne Christian and Chris Paddie in HD-9. Rick Perry is for Christian and he'll go to Paddie's hometown of Marshall on Monday to do it in person. Christian also got nods from Attorney General Greg Abbott and Comptroller Susan Combs; Paddie's got the support of several big trade associations and got the endorsement of Kevin Eltife, R-Tyler, whose Senate district overlays part of the House district.

That business of statewide officeholders endorsing candidates is going around, perhaps because so many of those officeholders are looking at future bids for office and planning their political Phone-A-Friend programs for those contests.

Abbott endorsed Kelly Hancock of North Richland Hills, who's in a tough SD-9 Republican primary against fellow state Rep. Todd Smith of Euless. Hancock also started up an "Educators for Hancock" group headed by the president of the Birdville ISD board. Hancock was on that board before running for the Legislature. Smith, meanwhile, got an endorsement from the Texas Hospital Association.

Agriculture Commissioner Todd Staples endorsed Rep. Paul Workman, R-Austin, in his HD-47 reelection bid.

Combs endorsed Rep. James White, R-Hillister, in his HD-19 race against fellow Rep. Mike "Tuffy" Hamilton, R-Mauriceville.

Barry Smitherman says he's got the endorsements of two-thirds of the members of the State Republican Executive Committee in his bid for election to the Texas Railroad Commission, where he's currently serving as an appointee.

• Rep. Jim Pitts, R-Waxahachie, got the endorsement from his local firefighters' association, and another one from Texas Right to Life.

• The Texas Alliance for Life endorsed Dr. Greg Bonnen in the open HD-24 Republican primary.

• State Sen. Steve Ogden, who's not running for reelection, endorsed Rep. Charles Schwertner to succeed him in the SD-5. Schwertner is running against Ben Bius, a former Ogden opponent, in the GOP primary.

• Now there's a website (there's a version of this every week somewhere in politics) that's aimed at Sen. Jeff Wentworth, R-San Antonio. He's got two challengers in the GOP primary, and a group called the Conservative Republicans of Texas is helping them out with a video called "Entitled." That Houston-based group, run by Steven Hotze, put it online: WentworthRecord.com.

David Dewhurst's campaign launched RealTedCruz.com to torment Ted Cruz, one of several candidates in that race. Cruz is calling Dewhurst a moderate. Dewhurst is calling Cruz a trial lawyer with Chinese clients.

Ann Witt takes a swat at Rep. Jim Murphy, R-Houston, with HowToSucceedInGovernment.com, wherein she claims he's in a consulting arrangement that skirts prohibitions against holding a government job while you're in the Legislature.

• Rep. J.M. Lozano, who switched parties and is seeking reelection in HD-43, won an endorsement from the Texas Medical Association's political action committee.

• The Texas Association of Business' PAC endorsed Scott Turner in the open HD-33 seat in Collin and Rockwall counties. His opponent, Jim Pruitt of Rockwall, won endorsements from a long list of Rockwall County officials, a list that in the press release includes District Attorney Kenda Culpepper. That is Pruitt's wife.

• The League of Conservation Voters Action Fund endorsed Pete Gallego of Alpine in the Democratic primary in CD-23; the winner will face U.S. Rep. Francisco "Quico" Canseco, R-San Antonio in November.

• Former state Rep. Chris Turner, D-Arlington, got the Arlington Police Association's endorsement in his bid to return in HD-101, an open seat. 

Pay to Pave

Cracks have formed in the asphalt on Bayou Wood Circle near County Road 687 south of Angleton, Texas Tuesday Aug, 2, 2011.
Cracks have formed in the asphalt on Bayou Wood Circle near County Road 687 south of Angleton, Texas Tuesday Aug, 2, 2011.

Ever driven along a bumpy pothole-strewn road and wished you could just pay to fix it yourself?

For some Texas energy producers, that’s become the easiest way to get around a growing transportation problem until the Legislature can take more decisive action next year.

The Texas Department of Transportation recently launched a concerted effort with industry groups and other state agencies to better address the damage done to public roads and bridges by natural gas drilling and other truck-intensive operations around the state. In the meantime, some companies are pulling out their checkbooks.

John Barton, TxDOT’s Assistant Executive Director for Engineering Operations, says his department has seen an increasing number of companies offering to donate money to fix or widen specific roads. In about half the cases, the work is needed because the road has been torn up by earlier energy sector operations.

“We do have a lot of these private sector entities that are approaching us, wanting to financially participate in helping to address some of these roadway impacts that are being caused by the energy sector,” Barton told the state House Transportation Committee last month.

The Texas Transportation Commission has rules allowing it to accept a donation if it feels the donation will benefit the public and won’t create a conflict-of-interest situation for TxDOT. Via an “expedited donation process,” TxDOT can get Commission approval for a donation and get a project launched in about 30 days, Barton said.

In one recent case, Barton told the committee, an energy producer operating oil and gas wells in South Texas wanted to pay for some improvements to routes that they were using including “the entrances and exits to their field.” A district engineer figured out how much the project would cost and the company made the donation.

“And we’re in the process of taking that contract forward,” Barton said.

State Rep. Drew Darby, R-San Angelo, expressed surprise that the projects could advance so quickly and still comply with all of TxDOT’s guidelines and bidding requirements.

“So given the inclination and the project, TXDOT can address in a quick manner to address a specific concern in an area,” Darby said. “Interesting.”

To be sure, the donations from energy producers are isolated cases and aren’t expected to properly address the widespread road damage that has developed in parts of the state, most notably in the Barnett Shale and Eagle Ford Shale natural gas fields.

Small rural roads in both fields bear the damage of thousands of trucks passing through to access newly developed gas wells. The damage from such operations is expected to only increase as the current natural gas boom continues. While the damage has irked local officials and residents, it’s also brought about problems for some of the energy companies who are finding it difficult to access well sites.

Pressure is growing on the Legislature to come up with a permanent fix that will generate funding to fix the roads while not deterring energy production. 

Barton said the sense he got from a meeting with energy industry officials last week is that the industry is ready to help pay for the improvements.

Until a plan moves forward, more companies are likely to try to fund the road repairs themselves.

Inside Intelligence: Making Predictions

The insiders gave us some straight predictions this week, and they were split in a couple of hotly contested races and remarkably aligned in others. We'll do Texas House races later on, but this week, we asked about the federal and state Senates, and about the Texas Railroad Commission.

Nine in ten insiders think David Dewhurst will win the GOP nomination for U.S. Senate next month. Ted Cruz was next, at 8 percent, followed by Tom Leppert, with 2 percent. Nobody else got a vote.

State Rep. Warren Chisum, R-Pampa, is a 3-to-2 favorite over Christi Craddick with the insiders. Houston attorney Roland Sledge is the favorite of 5 percent of the insiders.

In state Senate races, a big majority of the insiders — 85 percent — pick incumbent Jeff Wentworth, R-San Antonio, to prevail over his two challengers; 94 percent think state Rep. Larry Taylor, R-Friendswood,  will win the open seat in SD-11.

The insiders split on the open seat race in Tarrant County, with 53 percent saying Rep. Kelly Hancock, R-North Richland Hills, will win the GOP nomination and 47 percent saying Rep. Todd Smith, R-Euless, will prevail.

We collected comments along the way and the full set of those verbatim answers is attached. As we do every week, we've included a sampling below.

.

• "Who will win this U.S. Senate primary?"

• "Dewhurst may win without a runoff"

• "Cruz needs to make a big move, and now, to keep his Tea Party base energized and bleed off some Chamber of Commerce Rs from Dewhurst."

• "Cruz slides into Tea Party oblivion and Leppert rises as a real threat but ultimately Dewhurst prevails."

• "Depends. If no run-off, it's the Dew. If he can't get to 50% +1, all bets are off."

• "Has this race ever been in doubt?"

• "Without Santorum at the top to pull out the MOST conservative voters, Cruz will not win."

• "But if Ted Cruz gets into the runoff all bets are off and Cruz could win in a low turnout, base election July 31."

• "The Dew abides."

• "An outright win is possible, but unlikely if/as Leppert pours on the cash."

• "Too many people want Dewhurst to leave Texas for him not to win.  Apologies to Mr. Cruz, who would make a great Senator."

.

Who will win this Railroad Commission primary?

• "Warren is working hard as we would expect he would"

• "Who would voters trust more than a good 'ol boy from West Texas?"

• "The most important industry in Texas needs the best EXPERIENCE, rather than another POLITICIAN."

• "Daddy's million will put her over the top but she is doing very well on her own."

• "Daddy's name and daddy's money will get this lobbyist elected"

• "Warren, Warren, PLEASE, Warren."

• "The only woman with the last name Democrats hate? Yes, please."

.

Who will win this (SD-9) state Senate primary?

• "CONSERVATIVES will win Texas primary elections across the board."

• "Conservatives will finally get rid of Todd...finally."

• "Hancock is aggressively ignorant. Let's hope that doesn't play in SD-9 these days."

• "Hancock has the network and enough gravitas to pull it off"

• "This is a good one.  If Kelly wins, it's because he looks like Joel Osteen."

• "TLR vs. Trials Round 1"

• "Kelly's arrogance will finally catch up with him."

• "Hancock will outwork Smith"

.

Who will win this (SD-25) state Senate primary?

• "Runoff city."

• "Everyone agrees that Wentworth needs to go. Why replace him with a Wentworth-LITE candidate?"

• "Hard to beat an incumbent in Texas."

• "This is Wentworth's to lose, but he knows how to fight his way to the top."

• "Elizabeth Jones is being underestimated.  She is well known, as is her husband, in conservative Hayes County, which makes up the bulk of the district."

• "Sen. Wentworth is just out of gas.  He doesn't want the job any more, and maybe it's time it goes to someone who does."

• "TLR vs. Trials Round 2"

• "TLR breaks the first rule of politics "don't let your personal feelings get in the way of your politics"."

• "Hard to beat even this long time incumbent."

.

Who will win this (SD-11) state Senate primary?

• "Who?"

• "Never heard of any of them, so again who cares."

• "Troy Fraser will soon have competition... of a sort."

• "Don't know."

• "Taylor walks away with this.  No runoff."

Texas Weekly Newsreel: Scorecards

What's up with those scorecards? 

The Calendar

Friday, April 20:

  • State Board of Education general meeting

Saturday, April 21:

  • Democratic county and Senate conventions

Monday, April 23:

  • Senate Government Organization meeting (1 p.m.)

Tuesday, April 24:

  • House Homeland Security and Public Safety Committee meeting; Copperas Cove (8 a.m., 10:30 a.m.)
  • House Higher Education Committee meeting (10 a.m.)
  • House Culture, Recreation and Tourism Committee meeting (10 a.m.)
  • House Border and Intergovernmental Affairs Committee meeting; Copperas Cove (10:30 a.m.)
  • Reception for Rep. Marc Veasey, candidate for U.S. House; Houston (5:30 p.m.)
  • Reception for Gilberto Hinojosa, candidate for Texas Democratic Party chair; Austin (11:45 a.m.)

Wednesday, April 25:

  • House Higher Education Committee meeting (9 a.m.)
  • House Economic and Small Business Development meeting (9 a.m.)

Thursday, April 26:

  • House County Affairs Committee meeting; El Paso (10 a.m.)
  • Joint Committee on Aging meeting (1 p.m.)
  • Harris County Republican Party reception for Sens. Joan Huffman and Dan Patrick; Houston (5:30 p.m.)
  • Fundraiser for Sen. Wendy Davis; Houston (11:30 a.m.)
  • Southern Great Plains Drought Outlook and Assessment Forum; Lubbock (10 a.m.)
 

The Week in the Rearview Mirror

After limping back to Texas after his failed presidential run, Gov. Rick Perry reasserted his role in Texas this week by unveiling his “Texas Budget Compact,” a pledge to oppose any tax increases, cut spending, eliminate agencies, preserve the Rainy Day Fund and end accounting tricks used to balance the budget. Perry called on legislators and state officials to sign the compact, although he insisted he was not going to be tracking which politicians had signed and which had not.

Texas officials continue to assert that they will provide uninterrupted funding of the Women’s Health Program without cutting services or coverage for low-income women. The state’s plan to take over the program on Nov. 1 is based on the federal government’s funding of the Medicaid-financed program through the end of October, but the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has already notified the state that it will only fund the program through mid-June. Ninety percent of the costs of the program have been borne by the federal government, but it has cut off its support since Texas excluded Planned Parenthood from the program.

Planned Parenthood is responding in part to funding cuts by trying to consolidate some of its branches. This week, the boards of three branches — North Texas, Central Texas and the Capital Region — are voting on a proposal to merge into Planned Parenthood of Greater Texas, which would cover 58,000 square miles and have an annual budget of $29 million. The goal would be to streamline operations and wield more political clout.

As the Sunset Commission goes about reviewing agencies and making recommendations to the Legislature, one agency is attracting an inordinate amount of attention: the Texas Lottery Commission. Religious groups are suggesting that merely reworking the commission and its rules is not enough, contending that the lottery has not fulfilled its original goals. The Baptist General Convention of Texas is requesting that the commission be abolished. Staff recommendations from the Sunset Commission seek increased oversight of the agency and suggest the adoption of a comprehensive business plan.

The House Committee on Redistricting turned its attention to the State Board of Education this week, questioning the size of each representative’s district and whether 15 board members is enough to represent the entire state. State representatives have constituencies of about 150,000, while SBOE representatives districts' average more than 1.6 million residents. Districts 1 and 15 in West Texas in particular caused concern with their large footprints, but members of the board were critical of the idea of increasing the size of the board; they would instead like to see an increase in staff support.

A new study conducted by the University of Pennsylvania’s Institute for Higher Education Research noted some problems with Texas’ plan for improving higher education. The plan has been in place for more than a decade and has resulted in increased enrollment and a higher rate of degrees being earned. The group pointed out, though, that with Texas trying to accomplish so many goals, it may not have the resources to achieve them. Texas’ focus on funding seven emerging research universities may limit its ability to fulfill its other goals, including increasing both enrollment and college graduates, providing financial aid and helping minorities with college preparation.

The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals has taken up the appeal of a woman convicted of a brutal 2004 murder. Megan Winfrey was convicted, along with her brother and father, in the stabbing death of Murray Burr. Her father and brother’s convictions have since been overturned, but Winfrey remains in prison on a life sentence plus 45 years. Lawyers argue that the evidence used to convict the Winfreys — a scent lineup using bloodhounds — is not infallible, as it was presented to the jury. The court is now being asked to determine whether there was enough evidence to convict Winfrey.

Political People and their Moves

Bexar County Tax Assessor-Collector Sylvia Romo is 69, and she put out a press release after being evasive when questioned about it on her local PBS affiliate and then in the Austin American-Statesman. Her opponent in the Democratic primary in the open HD-35 seat is U.S. Rep. Lloyd Doggett of Austin, who moved from his district to run in this one. 

Austin Community College announced the appointment of Dr. Enrique Solis as the college’s interim provost. He’ll take over the post in mid-May. He is currently a visiting professor and interim chairman of occupational education at Texas State University.

Jane Burstain left the Center for Public Policy Priorities to become a senior policy advisor in the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services.

One of her colleagues, Celia Cole, is leaving CPPP to become the new chief executive of the Texas Food Bank Network.

Another, CPPP director Scott McCown, is out of commission for a few weeks with acute myeloid leukemia. He says the outlook is good.

Deaths: Bettie Naylor, a founding member of the National Women's Political Caucus and a longtime advocate on women's issues and in favor of gay rights. She was 84.

Quotes of the Week

It makes the Texas football game against Texas A&M look like a peewee game.

Preacher and political consultant Bill Gravell of Round Rock, on Williamson County's competitive race for district attorney

Some candidates can sit in an office for 10 hours a day asking for money. That's just not who I am.

Democratic U.S. Senate candidate Paul Sadler, on his meager fundraising in the first quarter

Whether you’re liberal, whether you’re very conservative, you ought to be excited because he’s been on your side at one time or another.

U.S. Rep. Louie Gohmert, R-Tyler, on Mitt Romney, quoted by Talking Points Memo

It’s important that we remember the separation of powers and remember some of the lessons that we all learned or should have learned in civics class.

House Speaker Joe Straus, quoted in the Dallas Morning News on Gov. Rick Perry's budget pledge for legislators

If Barack Obama becomes the president in November again, I will either be dead or in jail by this time next year.

Rocker, NRA member and Waco-area resident Ted Nugent on what he sees his future if President Barack Obama is re-elected

We are aware of the comments and we are conducting an appropriate follow-up.

U.S. Secret Service spokesman George Ogilvie in response to rocker Ted Nugent's remarks about the president, quoted in Politico

Given the choice between a Christian like Barack Obama, who embraces non-Biblical principles like abortion, and a Mormon like Mitt Romney, who embraces Biblical principles, there is every reason to support Mitt Romney in this election.

Robert Jeffress, the Dallas pastor who, after endorsing Rick Perry for president last year, called Mormonism a "cult"

People are either going to be for them or they’re not. There’s not a lot of gray area.

Rick Perry on the items in the budget compact he unveiled this week