Uncharted, Still

Start here: The judges in charge of the redistricting case in Texas haven't rejected the maps proposed by the state and agreed to by some but not all of the plaintiffs. They simply observed that no deal has been made to satisfy everyone and told everyone to keep talking and get ready for a hearing next week.

Attorney General Greg Abbott's squad offered up maps they contend would add or bolster six minority opportunity districts to the House map drawn by the Legislature, would add two MODs to the congressional map, and would make the only contested district in the state Senate maps marginally more Democratic than what the Legislature drew.

Before that had even been filed with the court in San Antonio, the judges issued an order telling the lawyers to get ready for the judges to draw new maps of their own, to be ready for hearings next week, and to get their briefs filed. They also told them to keep negotiating — a suggestion they reiterated in a related case in open court this week.

Put it another way: The judges haven't said anything that would prevent them from looking at or even accepting the proposed settlement next week.

Some pressure points: It would be tight, but if the court has a map by the end of next week, it's still possible to hold an April election. Not on April 3 — that's gone, at least for legislative and congressional elections — but maybe on April 17.

One choice for the players is between their desire to hold a unified primary with all of the elections on the same day and their hope that Texans will get to vote before the presidential race is settled by voters in other states.

Another is the dislike for the lines in the current proposal and the risk that the judges will draw maps that are worse. That's a funny thing: everyone in the room feels that tension, but for different reasons. Some of them like the proposal and fear the judges. Some of them hate the proposal and think the judges will rescue them.

Waiting to negotiate has its risks, since everyone else has already made deals — pinky swears, as one participant put it — that restrict other deals. For instance, a parley over HD-144 in Harris County — Republican Ken Legler's district — locked up when the state told the Democrats they could redraw, but only at the expense of a neighboring district represented by Democrat Carol Alvarado of Houston. Everything else was locked up by other deals and promises. And pinky swears.

The Mexican American Legislative Caucus, whose lawyer, Jose Garza, spoke for all of the plaintiffs when this went to the U.S. Supreme Court last month, may be the most significant holdout. As this is being written (on Thursday night), there haven't been significant talks between that group and the state in five days.

To this point, MALC and the members of the Texas Latino Redistricting Task Force have been on the same page. But it's worth noting that they have different kinds of clients. MALC represents legislators — Democratic legislators. MALDEF and the others represent Latinos. In districts where minority interests are resolved but political interests are at stake, the groups don't necessarily have the same position.

In the Money: Campaign Balances at Year-End

Once upon a time, a campaign account with $100,000 or more was a peculiar thing; if not rare, then at least one of a small group.

But that was back in the day: At the end of last year, there were 284 such committees, according to the campaign finance reports filed with the Texas Ethics Commission.

Another 28 committees got to the end of the year with $1 million or more in the bank. At the top of the list — winner and still champ, in this category — is Attorney General Greg Abbott, with $12 million in the bank. The next politician on the list (in the #4 position overall) is Comptroller Susan Combs, who has $6.1 million in the bank.

This isn't even an election year for either one of them.

Two political action committees affiliated with the Texas Association of Realtors were in the #2 and #3 positions, with $7.2 million and $6.1 million, respectively.

The top 100 committees held a total of $109.1 million at year-end. A total of 2,617 committees had at least some money on hand; all of them together held $173.3 million at the end of the year.

The full lists are on the Texas Ethics Commission's website (look here), but here's the leader board: 

 

Top 100: Cash Balance at 2011 year-end
RankFiler nameBalance
1 Texans for Greg Abbott $12,037,960
2 Texas Association of Realtors Issues Mobilization PAC $7,184,852
3 Texas Association of REALTORS PAC $6,119,493
4 Friends of Susan Combs $6,056,149
5 Whitmire, John $5,113,361
6 Texans for Joe Straus $4,013,869
7 Texans For Lawsuit Reform PAC $3,942,560
8 Texans For Rick Perry $2,471,480
9 Texans for Dan Branch $1,703,144
10 Ellis, Rodney G. $1,656,688
11 Watson, Kirk P. $1,551,539
12 Texans for Todd Staples $1,514,406
13 Eltife, Kevin P. $1,443,353
14 Fraser for Texas Senate $1,408,726
15 Seliger, Kelton G. $1,309,418
16 West, Royce $1,242,274
17 Texas Dental Association PAC $1,222,224
18 Zaffirini, Judith $1,203,493
19 Wolens, Steven D. $1,178,591
20 Hegar Jr., Glenn A. $1,177,917
21 Craddick, Tom $1,158,212
22 Texans for Don Willett $1,110,936
23 Texas Farm Bureau Friends Of Agriculture Fund Inc. $1,110,383
24 Texas Medical Assn. PAC $1,073,213
25 Friends of Barry Smitherman $1,059,591
26 David Dewhurst Committee $1,039,307
27 Solomons, Burt $1,010,711
28 Texans for Dan Patrick $1,004,940
29 Nelson, Jane $950,603
30 Atmos Energy Corporation PAC $895,772
31 Greenberg Traurig, P. A. PAC $864,600
32 Paxton Jr., W. Kenneth $853,876
33 Armbrister, Kenneth $829,341
34 Farmers Employee & Agent PAC of Texas $823,114
35 Chisum, Warren D. $755,623
36 Pitts, James R. $748,979
37 Texas Society Of Certified Public Accountants PAC $733,210
38 Associated Republicans of Texas Campaign Fund $726,739
39 Texans for Kay Bailey Hutchison $725,328
40 Texans for Joan Huffman $704,433
41 Texas Credit Union League PAC $701,883
42 Republican State Leadership Committee PAC and Individual Account $699,745
43 Davis, Wendy R. $681,362
44 Texans for Tommy Williams $676,965
45 HDR, Inc. PAC $660,648
46 Mednax, Inc. Federal PAC $643,340
47 Texans for Ted Cruz $616,062
48 Eissler, W. Robert $612,736
49 Craddick, Christi L. $609,477
50 Guillen, Ryan A. $609,045
51 Texans for Kelly Hancock SPAC $580,368
52 Compass Bancshares, Inc. PAC $579,938
53 Friends of Tony Garza $548,241
54 Border Health PAC $544,753
55 Hunter, Todd A. $535,275
56 United Services Automobile Association Employee PAC $531,499
57 Texas Bankers Assn. Bankers PAC $519,034
58 McCall Ph.D., James B. $511,231
59 Texas Trial Lawyers Assn. PAC $509,368
60 Service Corp. International PAC $491,587
61 MetroTex Association of REALTORS PAC (MetroTex-PAC) $491,404
62 Turner, Sylvester $490,008
63 Texas Apartment Assn. PAC $484,742
64 MAVERICK PAC TEXAS $468,922
65 Friends of Dr. Greg Bonnen $465,613
66 Harris, Chris $464,989
67 Ogden, Stephen E. $461,560
68 Citizen Leader PAC $450,638
69 Cook, Byron Curtis $447,454
70 Texas State Teachers Assn. PAC $445,510
71 Texas and Southwestern Cattle Raisers Association State PAC $444,350
72 Comerica Inc. PAC $434,667
73 Lopez, Leticia $429,561
74 Kolkhorst, Lois W. $421,061
75 Howard, Charles F. $412,142
76 Patterson, Jerry E. $411,507
77 Annie's List $386,851
78 Hinojosa, Juan $386,058
79 Nichols, Robert Lee $378,998
80 Owens Corning Better Government Fund $378,298
81 Alvarado, Carol $370,523
82 Texas Deer Association PAC $366,649
83 Jackson, James M. $364,823
84 First Command PAC $351,251
85 RNDC PAC $351,106
86 Friends of Susan King $350,786
87 Keffer, James L. $347,691
88 Chesapeake Energy For Texans $345,073
89 Martinez Fischer, Trey $333,161
90 NRG Energy Inc. PAC $330,669
91 Texas Optometric PAC $330,498
92 NuStarpac $330,152
93 Shapiro, Florence $329,966
94 Texas Federation of Republican Women PAC $329,717
95 Geren, Charles L. $321,102
96 Laubenberg, Jodie A. $319,883
97 Texas Automobile Dealers Assn. PAC $316,008
98 Ritter, Allan B. $315,294
99 Reyna, Rose Guerra $314,663
100 Duncan, Robert L. $313,085

Source: Texas Ethics Commission

Campaign Chatter

Not dead yet: Gregory Parker, the Comal County commissioner who wants to be on the Texas Railroad Commission, recently "suspended" his campaign, saying he wasn't raising the kind of money it would take to run a serious race for that statewide position. He's still got that email account, though, and something to write home about: He got 63 percent in the Tarrant County GOP straw poll last weekend, and is asking people to donate to "begin the grassfire." Parker, if he runs, would face fellow Republican Barry Smitherman in the primary.

• Just because there's no election date doesn't mean the candidates aren't shooting at each other. Democrat Dan Grant tagged U.S. Rep. Mike McCaul, R-Austin, on the Stock Act, pointing to stories that the incumbent purchased shares of a company that stood to gain from approval of the Keystone XL Pipeline and then promoted approval of the pipeline in letters signed by dozens of fellow House members.

• Republican U.S. Senate candidate Craig James endorsed Rick Santorum for president. He was previously a Rick Perry backer.

• State Sen. Jeff Wentworth, R-San Antonio, got a reelection endorsement from TEXPAC, the political affiliate of the Texas Medical Association. He drew two challengers in the GOP primary, including Texas Railroad Commissioner Elizabeth Ames Jones, who's backed by Texans for Lawsuit Reform, and Donna Campbell, who moved into the district to challenge the incumbent.

• HOSPAC, the political affiliate of the Texas Hospital Association, endorsed Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst's Senate bid. The PAC also endorsed the three Republican incumbents running for reelection to the Texas Supreme Court: Nathan Hecht, David Medina, and Don Willett.

• Dewhurst also got an endorsement from HOMEPAC, the campaign fund associated with the Texas Association of Builders.

• State Rep. Paul Workman, R-Austin, also picked up a reelection endorsement from TEXPAC.

Jason Villalba won the support of the Hispanic Republicans of Texas in his bid for the Texas House in HD-114. That's a Dallas County seat; in one version of the maps, the incumbent is Rep. Kenneth Sheets, R-Dallas.

Inside Intelligence: Third Parties Calling

With Texas politics in a state of suspended animation, we asked the insiders about the groups that will be behind some of the candidates in this year's primaries, whether those are strong forces or weak ones, and what sorts of candidates will prevail.

Party activists are the most influential group in primary elections, according to the insiders who responded. Business groups were next, followed by ideological organizations.

Third-party ideological groups of whatever stripe have only moderate influence in the primaries, according to 42 percent of the insiders. But one in three believes the groups' influence is high; one in five believes it's low.

Half of the insiders believe trade groups and PACs have a high level of strength in the primaries, perhaps an indication of the occupations of many of the insiders. Another 43 percent say those groups have moderate influence and only 8 percent think the groups' influence is low.

Finally, we poked at the fissures in the state's dominant party, asking the insiders which sorts of Republicans will prevail in the primaries this year. Fiscal conservatives came in first, with 44 percent of the insiders, followed by social conservatives at 19 percent, Tea partiers at 15 percent and establishment Republicans with 14 percent.

As always, we've attached the full set of verbatim comments to our questions; a sampling follows.

.

What group or interest is most influential in Texas primary elections?

• "Money, from whatever source."

• "Lobby cartels who direct 2/3 of all campaign contributions."

• "Popular and partisan locally elected officials."

• "Individual wealthy persons."

• "It is not possible to segment out groups and organizations as single focused.  The overlap between Ideological groups and pragmatic groups is significant.  Most social conservatives are also fiscal conservatives.  Most are very pro-business.  And they advocate for all.  Message development is complex because these issues overlap with other groups.  If groups were segmented cleanly, campaigns would be very easy."

• "Teacher unions. Automatic withdrawal from teacher paychecks needs to stop."

• "Republicans: a tie: Texas Association of Business and Texans for Lawsuit Reform... Democrats:  tie:  Texas Trial Lawyers Association and teachers' union(s)"

.

How would you rate the strength of third-party ideological groups in legislative elections in Texas?

• "Because they can dominate Republican primaries, which is where the action is."

• "The strength and influence of third-party ideological groups was strong enough to convince moderate Republican legislators to take more extreme positions to ward off possible challengers. What did they get for compromising their principles? Ideological conservative primary challengers."

• "Some incumbents overestimate their reach, ironically granting them exaggerated influence"

• "In a tight race they make the difference."

• "GOP right-wingers and tea party seem to rule the recent GOP primaries, which currently is all that matters in this messed up state."

• "In some districts these groups have the ability to "disqualify" or defeat a candidate by rejecting them - - or just smearing them."

• "Not as significant as they think, but meaningful."

.

How would you rate the strength of traditional third-party groups like trade associations and political action committees in legislative elections in Texas?

• "In the absence of other readily available information, people turn to their associations.  They are not as influential a force as they were 20 years ago."

• "Except for the NRA, trade associations don't mean anything.  PAC's are good for money and if they are generous, can be strong, but not because of their name."

• "It's all about the money!"

• "TAB, TLR, and others traditionally strongly support Republicans, whereas the Dems are primarily funded by the trial lawyers.  Many candidates would not be in office were it not for receiving funds and support from groups like these... Also, don't discount the effect of wealthy individuals whose checks can match or exceed those of many trade groups and PACs."

• "It can be "high" in certain races, and those are often the more publicized situations, but overall it is moderate."

• "Too high. The unlimited cash drives the focus immediately away from voter education and directly to voter persuasion."

.

Which kinds of Republicans will prevail in primary races this year?

• "Social conservatives may be the only ones who are paying enough attention to know when the primary in Texas will be this year."

• "GOP candidates kowtow to the nutty social conservatives. Until rational voters wake up and realize that governing is the point, this state will remain at the bottom of everything."

• "It's going to depend on the election date and turnout.  The lighter the turnout, the more the tea party/fiscal and social conservatives benefit.  The heavier the turnout, the more "establishment" Rs benefit."

• "It depends on when the primaries take place, and whether or not they are bifurcated. There won't be much of a primary on the Democratic side, so speaking of Republicans. If there is a unified primary and the presidential nominating contest is still in play, that will favor more mainstream candidates down ballot. Other scenarios will benefit more hard line candidates."

• "Taking KBH as the prototype "establishment" Republican, the winners this year will be an amalgamation of Fiscal/Tea/Social, with little or no establishment in the mix."

• "Surviving Republican candidates will be skillful at balancing Tea Party Activists and more moderate groups."

Our thanks to this week's participants: Cathie Adams, Clyde Alexander, Doc Arnold, Charles Bailey, Mike Barnett, Dave Beckwith, Andrew Biar, Allen Blakemore, Tom Blanton, Hugh Brady, Chris Britton, Andy Brown, Lydia Camarillo, Kerry Cammack, Thure Cannon, Snapper Carr, Tris Castaneda, Corbin Casteel, William Chapman, Elizabeth Christian, Elna Christopher, George Cofer, Rick Cofer, Harold Cook, Randy Cubriel, Hector De Leon, June Deadrick, Tom Duffy, David Dunn, Richard Dyer, Jeff Eller, Jack Erskine, Alan Erwin, Gay Erwin, Jon Fisher, Norman Garza, Bruce Gibson, Eric Glenn, Kinnan Golemon, Daniel Gonzalez, John Greytok, Michael Grimes, Clint Hackney, Wayne Hamilton, Sandy Haverlah, Albert Hawkins, Jim Henson, Ken Hodges, Shanna Igo, Deborah Ingersoll, Robert Jara, Cal Jillson, Jason Johnson, Mark Jones, Richard Khouri, Tom Kleinworth, Ramey Ko, Tim Lambert, Pete Laney, Dick Lavine, James LeBas, Donald Lee, Luke Legate, Leslie Lemon, Richard Levy, Vilma Luna, Matt Mackowiak, J. McCartt, Dan McClung, Parker McCollough, Mike McKinney, Robert Miller, Bee Moorhead, Craig Murphy, Keir Murray, Pat Nugent, Nef Partida, Gardner Pate, Jerry Philips, Wayne Pierce, Royce Poinsett, Kraege Polan, Jerry Polinard, Jay Propes, Andrea Rado, Bill Ratliff, Karen Reagan, Tim Reeves, Kim Ross, Jason Sabo, Mark Sanders, Andy Sansom, Jim Sartwelle, Stan Schlueter, Bruce Scott, Steve Scurlock, Dee Simpson, Ed Small, Martha Smiley, Larry Soward, Dennis Speight, Jason Stanford, Bob Strauser, Colin Strother, Michael Quinn Sullivan, Sherry Sylvester, Russ Tidwell, Trent Townsend, Trey Trainor, Ware Wendell, Ken Whalen, Darren Whitehurst, Michael Wilt, Seth Winick, Peck Young, Angelo Zottarelli.

 

The Week in the Rearview Mirror

Although parts of the state have been reclassified as out of the drought and could potentially see an easing of water restrictions, some communities are still projected to run out of water in the next six months. One of those, Spicewood Beach, has already begun trucking in water. And while there has been some controversy about the Lower Colorado River Authority previously selling water from the community’s wells, the LCRA insists that the precipitous drop in the supply came after those sales were discontinued.

The latest economic news in Texas points to a positive trend in revenue. While budget writers anticipated a drop in statewide property values, the estimate from the comptroller’s office shows a 1.3 percent increase from 2010 to 2011. Sales tax revenue has also come in at higher-than-expected levels since September, almost doubling the projected growth. That’s especially good news as sales tax accounts for more than half of the state's total tax revenue. The state’s Rainy Day Fund will also be getting a boost, as oil and gas production tax collections have been on the rise with a corresponding oil and gas boom. 

There was a Rick campaigning for president in Texas this week, but his last name wasn't Perry. Rick Santorum made a stop in North Texas after winning contests in Colorado, Minnesota and Missouri on Tuesday, generating new buzz about his campaign. Santorum spent the day in the Dallas area courting supporters and raising money and drew an overflow crowd at a rally in Plano.

The race for Kay Bailey Hutchison’s U.S. Senate seat is heating up with the formation of Super PACs in support of candidates. The Houston Chronicle reported on the formation of a group in support of Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst, and a group calling itself Real World Conservatives was organized to help Craig James with his campaign. 

Super PACs may be the order of the day nationally, but a charter revision committee in Austin wants to change local election finance rules to be more restrictive. Much of the current fundraising for candidates in the city is handled by bundlers; proposed changes would limit them to raising only $1,750 per candidate, or just five donations at the maximum of $350 per donor. The new rules would also require disclosure of contributors' names and addresses and whether they are registered city lobbyists.

Formula One racing in Austin is back on for November, but state funding of the event remains in doubt. At issue is a letter Comptroller Susan Combs sent to event organizers stating that money from the Major Events Trust Fund could be used to help fund the race for the entire term of its contract, to the tune of $25 million per year. Combs has since backed off that position, which has left the funding in limbo. But the letter is also generating controversy: Should Combs have promised the money at all? Land Commissioner Jerry Patterson has asked Attorney General Greg Abbott to investigate the legality of Combs’ wording in her 2010 letter.

Texas’ abortion sonogram law went into effect Tuesday after being blocked by a U.S. District Court for months. The law was challenged by the Center for Reproductive Rights on behalf of abortion providers, and an injunction prevented enforcement, which was originally set for October. But after last week's ruling by the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, federal Judge Sam Sparks, despite his belief that the law is unconstitutional, was forced to allow the law to take effect. The center is now asking that the full circuit court review the three-judge panel’s assessment.

In response to pressure from homeowners groups, the Legislature last year passed a bill that requires homeowners associations to be more transparent, more formal in their foreclosure proceedings and less stringent in their restrictions on homeowners. Transparency requirements include holding open meetings, posting notices of meetings and establishing record-retention policies. HOAs will also be required to pursue foreclosures through the judicial process, after they’ve offered delinquent homeowners payment plans. And all those rules about what you can have on display? Homeowners can display flags and religious displays that had been banned, with some limits on size.

Political People and their Moves

Rob Johnson and Margaret Lauderback, most recently employed by Rick Perry's presidential campaign, are going to work for a super PAC supporting David Dewhurst's bid for U.S. Senate. The sign over the door says "Texas Conservative's Fund." 

Tracy Young will join the Texas Charter Schools Assocation as its vice president of public and government affairs. Young has served as director of communications for House Speaker Joe Straus since 2009. Straus hasn't named a replacement.

The Austin ISD's Christy Rome will head the Texas School Coalition, a group of school districts that send locally raised taxes to the state under the current school finance system. She is currently AISD's director of intergovernmental relations. 

Gov. Rick Perry appointed Bill Elliott of Ravenna to the North Texas Tollway Authority's board of directors. Elliott is an attorney.

Perry reappointed John Steen Jr. to the Public Safety Commission, which oversees the state police. Steen is a San Antonio attorney.

Liz Geise is the new administrator of the Governor's Mansion. She's worked in various place in and around state government, most recently as project manager for the Governor's Mansion Restoration Fund.

Anita Bradberry will retire in August from the Texas Association of Home Care and Hospice, where she's the executive director. She's been at the association since 1989.

Paul Sadler is now a consultant to The Wind Coalition instead of its executive director, a move that follows his decision to run for the Democratic nomination for an open Texas seat in the U.S. Senate. 

Quotes of the Week

He’s a deplorable, dishonest person. He’s proven it time and time again in redistricting. I know it sounds over the top, but it’s true.

Matt Angle, founder of the Lone Star Project, a Texas Democratic group, to Politico on U.S. Rep. Henry Cuellar's alliance with Republicans in the state's redistricting fight

We had a very, very strong second place — and it’s going to continue. We do have to remember: The straw vote is one thing, but then there’s a whole other thing — delegates — and that is where we excel.

Ron Paul to a crowd of supporters in Minnesota on Tuesday after placing second in the state's caucuses

Prepare better, more debate prep. I'd do it all over again. I hope he will.

First lady Anita Perry to Fox News on the prospect of her husband running for president again

Statistics show that there are more tigers held privately in Texas than are alive in the wild right now.

Jordan Crump, spokeswoman for the Human Society of the United States