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That Giant Sucking Sound

If you've ever been in line behind someone who loaded up their plate with hors d'oeuvres and left nothing for you, you know how the Republican candidates for president feel about Gov. George W. Bush. Aside from the pure astonishment at the Texan's fundraising prowess, they have to reassess their own situations. He's raised so much money they have a hard time explaining their place in the Republican primary for president. It's probably no coincidence that several of the Republicans began talking in the last two weeks about running as Reform Party candidates or as independents.

If you've ever been in line behind someone who loaded up their plate with hors d'oeuvres and left nothing for you, you know how the Republican candidates for president feel about Gov. George W. Bush. Aside from the pure astonishment at the Texan's fundraising prowess, they have to reassess their own situations. He's raised so much money they have a hard time explaining their place in the Republican primary for president. It's probably no coincidence that several of the Republicans began talking in the last two weeks about running as Reform Party candidates or as independents.

One joker we know suggests they jump to the Democratic Party's primary, where things are still competitive and there's not a huge crowd of candidates.

They haven't raised their white flags yet, but Bush's announcement that he raised at least $36.2 million in the first half of the year could easily remove a half dozen of the GOP candidates aiming to succeed President Bill Clinton.

Not long ago, the bets were that the Republican primary would be noisy, with up to a dozen candidates fighting over various factions and splinter groups within the party. On the other side, the best brains were predicting a relative cakewalk for Vice President Al Gore.

Oh, what a difference a fat bank account makes: Bush is running away from the field on the elephant side of the zoo, and Gore has serious problems where the donkeys roam, in the person of former U.S. Sen. Bill Bradley of New Jersey, who turned in surprisingly strong mid-year fundraising totals in a campaign that's vaguely reminiscent of 1980, when Sen. Ted Kennedy spoiled the primaries for incumbent President Jimmy Carter of Georgia.

The highest guesstimate of Bush fundraising before the election–at least of the pile of estimates we saw–was around $25 million. Most reports, fed by the Bush campaign, were predicting the governor would end the month of June with about $20 million, give or take. It would be an understatement to say everyone–lobbyists, supporters, reporters, and opponents–was astonished at the size of the campaign's treasury.

In Seven Years, $40 Million From Texas Alone

It's no surprise that Bush can raise money. He slurped up $12 million or so in 1994, and another $20 million last year. And his campaign staff says that "at least" one-third of the money raised so far in the presidential bid came from Texas. Even by a conservative estimate, that means Bush has raised more than $40 million in the last seven years from Texans alone.

Every campaign year has a couple of new lessons for future candidates. One of the tricks this time is Bush's use of "Pioneers"–friends who each pledged to raise $100,000. Bush threw a little thank you party for contributors in Austin, preceded by a session for the 114 Pioneers who've been raising money for him. Do the math: That group, smaller than many PTAs, produced at least $11 million for Bush and was a big reason he could raise so much money at the beginning with so few appearances. Another set of 2,500 people pledged to raise $10,000 each.

Bush's numbers for the first six months of the presidential primary season will probably swell in the next two weeks. What you're hearing about now is their estimate based on phone calls and the size of the mail stacks and all that. But, so you have the data for wagering purposes later: They raised $36.2 million. The old record for an entire primary was $31.3 million. The record for the period was $13.6 million. They averaged $480 from each of about 75,000 contributors.

Tax Cuts? Who Said Tax Cuts?

This will be different in every locale in the state, but the early numbers from the Austin ISD show homeowners there won't get a tax break in spite of what the Legislature did on school finance.

Austin, one of a relatively small number of districts that wasn't likely to see a tax cut under the new law, will actually see a tax increase. That's partly because of rising property values, a statewide phenomenon that could cut or erase tax benefits elsewhere in the state, and partly because Austin's school board voted to increase the tax rate by three cents. (The bigger of the two increases is from rising property valuations.)

Numbers from other big districts around the state will trickle in over the next two months. Most are expected to lower their tax rates, and one open question is whether healthy increases in property values will gobble up what was supposed to be a cut in the bills taxpayers actually pay. It may be accurate for politicos to argue that they increased state funding for education and that they cut property taxes, but rising values make that argument more difficult. It's harder to sell the idea that taxes are going up but would have gone up even more without the state's action.

Another piece of politics that could be repeated around the state: Legislators gave teachers that well-publicized $3,000 pay raise, but didn't do the same for many other school employees. In Austin, the raises going to teachers and librarians and others specified in the state law will be about three times bigger, on a percentage basis, than other employees, like janitors and administrative folks.

Just a Little Fine-Tuning

The Texas Association of Business and Chambers of Commerce might rewire its political operations. That outfit is looking at cutting the number of people on its political action committee board from 47 to 27, and might require members of that board to actually contribute to the PAC.

That all sounds fairly innocuous, and it probably is, but there are some rough edges here. The board argued and bickered over endorsements last year, particularly over the lieutenant governor's race between Republican Rick Perry and Democrat John Sharp. After a couple of delays (they were going to endorse in the spring, but put it off until the summer), the board finally voted to endorse Perry, who went on to win the race. The proposed new rules at TABCC, up for a vote later this summer, have some members of that group grumbling that Sharp supporters on the business group's regular board are trying to gain more control over how the PAC operates.

The association's PAC endorsed a straight GOP ticket in statewide races in November; down the ballot, the group endorsed 98 Republicans and 27 Democrats.

Free Advertising on the Internet

The Texas Lottery has lasted seven years without an Internet site, but the state's gambling operation is about to join the rest of the government in cyberspace. The address, however, lacks the standard suffixes that tell users they're looking at a government deal:

They didn't have an easy go of it: Private firms have scooped up most of the lottery names that come to mind. For instance, various iterations of Texas Lottery, Lotto Texas and Lottery Texas are owned by businesses in Dallas, Lewisville, Boca Raton, Florida, and Los Angeles. The easiest name to remember––is owned by an Ohio firm.

The lottery sent information about the new web site to likely players; if you didn't get it, you're not on their player list. Players can't gamble on the site, but can get information about the lottery, current games, and that sort of thing. It's one way to advertise the lottery without spending much. The lottery is in the first stage of a trade with the Legislature that allows the agency to pay more money in prizes to its winners if, in turn, the agency lowers its spending on advertising.

A Well-Mannered Coup Proposal

The Republicans in the Texas House have now said that a) they're not going to actively hunt for the pelt of House Speaker J.E. "Pete" Laney, D-Hale Center, and b) they're not, as a caucus, going to run any campaigns. It's a head-scratcher, but there's an explanation.

Very loosely speaking, here's the deal: The GOP Caucus in the House isn't going to run any races or funnel PAC money directly to candidates. The leaders in that bunch, as we've previously noted, have agreed among themselves not to get into open warfare over who might succeed Laney if, in fact, the Republicans take control of the House in the next election cycle.

But don't go thinking they don't want a majority. Members will still work through the various PACs and party fronts to try to win more seats in the House. The spin from the Republicans is that they want the caucus to develop issues and messages, but that they want to keep politics and policy separated as much as possible so they don't end up looking like their congressional counterparts when Newt Gingrich was Speaker of the House.

So the caucus will work on issues, including doing some polling around the state to see what plays where and how voters feel about various issues. For politics, GOP House members and wannabes will put on different hats and work through other groups like the party itself, the Associated Republicans of Texas and the 2000 Victory Committee. Those groups will raise their own money and the caucus won't be involved. If and when it comes to speaker politics, all the members are on their own.

One change sounds subtle, but goes to a complaint widely heard from Republicans after they failed to take a majority in the Texas House in the last election cycle: They won't be trying to run the same race in every district. Last fall, several Republican House races came from the same cookie cutters. Direct mail pieces were the same in several districts, whether the issues were locally important or not. This time, if they stick to what their caucus leaders are proposing in a memo from Rep. Ken Marchant, R-Coppell, the chairman of the caucus, campaigns will be locally run.

It's artifice, partly, since the same folks will be involved, in some cases, in the caucus efforts to generate issues, in the various efforts to get Republicans elected, and in the races that aren't–wink, wink–being run for Speaker. It's also tactical, since it stands at least a chance of getting the various pieces of the attack working in concert. And it might not work: Some members are already complaining that the caucus is effectively giving up and helping Laney.

Inside Those Tall Brown Buildings North of the Capitol

Land Commissioner David Dewhurst fired seven of the 42 people in his agency's coastal division. Aides say he wants to hire replacements who are more "science-oriented people." That's the division that recently sent a pile of cases involving beach homes to the attorney general's office (if your house is on the beach and the beach erodes, you could end up having to move out, under Texas law, since a shrinking beach would eventually turn your private property into public beach), but the firings and the beach suits are apparently unrelated.

Attorney General John Cornyn jumps into the Deadbeat Dad-chasing business with a child support "evaders" list. He's posting "Ten Most Wanted" list on the Internet and on paper to try to collect money and, more to the point, spook other absentee parents into coughing up their child support. Child support is the largest section–at least in terms of the number of people employed–in the A.G.'s office, and revamping that operation was Cornyn's central campaign promise.

On the subject of campaign promises, the comptroller's office is now using an outside printer for its Fiscal Notes publication for the first time. Comptroller Carole Keeton Rylander, who campaigned on the notion that government shouldn't be doing anything that's available, as she puts it, in the Yellow Pages, awarded the printing contract to Communications Specialists Inc. on a short-term basis. Another bid that is going out soon will cover the next full fiscal year. This first round attracted five bidders, including four private firms and the General Services Commission. The comptroller circulates about 80,000 copies of the publication each month, sending it free to anyone who asks for it.

And the First Statewide Candidate for 2000 is...

Corpus Christi lawyer Tom Greenwell has officially jumped into the race against Steve Mansfield, a Republican on the state's Court of Criminal Appeals. Greenwell, also a Republican, lost a bid for a district judgeship in last year's elections. He was an attorney on the state's 13th Court of Appeals for 15 years and has been in private practice for two years now.

He's the first challenger to file against Mansfield, but predicts others may join him. Mansfield won office without any backing from the GOP and isn't likely to see any in the future. He was recently reprimanded by the state Commission on Judicial Conduct for illegally scalping tickets to a UT football game, an embarrassment compounded by the fact that they were complimentary tickets given to him because of his office. The same commission admonished him earlier for lying about his resume during his original campaign for office.

Longtime Republican operative Royal Masset, now with Winning Strategies, will run the campaign. They expect the race will cost $50,000 to $100,000, and say they're not sure at this point whether Mansfield will run for reelection. Mansfield says he'll likely run for reelection, but won't make an official announcement until late August. He also expects more candidates to join the race as the end-of-year filing deadline approaches, and says flatly that the days of uncontested judges on that court are probably over. Two other judges on that court–Michael J. McCormick and Sharon Keller–are also up for reelection in 2000.

Political Notes, Central Texas Local

U.S. Rep. Chet Edwards, D-Waco, got away without an opponent in 1998, but apparently won't in 2000. Ramsey Farley, a member of the Temple school board and a former oil company engineer, is looking hard at that CD 11 seat. Farley won't have anything to announce, he says, until October, but he's been talking to people around the district. He's a Temple native who left to work for Exxon, Getty Oil and Texaco before retiring and moving back to Temple. He says he was prompted to run, in part, by Edwards' votes against impeachment of President Bill Clinton and in favor of partial birth abortions. The school board election is the only time he's run for office before.

Several others have been poking around the race, but aren't as far along. Republicans there and in other congressional seats held by Democrats are recruiting vigorously, hoping to take advantage of Gov. George W. Bush's coattails if, in fact, Bush is at the top of the ballot. We're not aware of a Waco candidate in the race on the GOP side of the ballot, but the recruiting season is very young.

One other idea we've heard on the wires in and around Bell County: It's possible to imagine a Central Texas seat being added to the congressional delegation in the next round of redistricting, and it's possible to further imagine a candidate who makes a respectable but unsuccessful run in 2000 having an advantage in a 2002 run for that new seat.

Political Notes, Houston Local

This is an odd year for politics, so far. Consultants are, as is their seasonal habit, beating the bushs for work. But a smaller than normal number of races have opened up so far, so there's a fair amount of thumb-twiddling and nervous twitching going on.

Which is why, so far, so many people are talking about the race for the only congressional seat ever held by a guy named George H.W. Bush. It's currently held by CD 7 Rep. Bill Archer, R-Houston, and his announced intention to retire has heated the ambitions of no less than six Republicans. Ron Kapche, the former director of the Texas Workforce Commission, is now an official candidate. This is his third run for office and his second crack at Rep. John Culberson, R-Houston. Culberson won in 1986; Kapche finished sixth in a seven-candidate pack. In 1990, he finished third in a race for Harris County Treasurer. Kapche has hired Chad Cantella of Strategic Resources to do general consulting and fundraising. Cantella is also running traps for CD 25 challenger Tom Reiser, a Republican running against U.S. Rep. Ken Bentsen, D-Houston.

The Nixon Seat

Rep. Todd Staples, R-Palestine, is forming an exploratory committee to look at the state Senate seat now held by SD 3 Sen. Drew Nixon, R-Carthage. Nixon, who hasn't said whether he'll seek reelection, has already drawn one challenger–Les Tarrance of The Woodlands. Staples says he's interested and wants to poke around and look at the race before making an announcement in the fall.

Nixon hasn't been on the ballot since his arrest in Austin two years ago for solicitation. He propositioned an undercover police officer. At the time, he said he wouldn't run again, but he has said for the last six months or so that he might attempt a comeback.

He's likely to draw Democratic opposition, too. Nixon's seat is one of two Senate posts on the ballot this cycle–the other, SD 2, is held by Dallas Democrat David Cain–that the touts say could go Democratic or Republican. The Republicans are starting to talk about the potential coat tails of Gov. Bush if he's on the presidential ballot. But they also view Nixon as a problem.

GOP state Chairman Susan Weddington has said he should make this his last term and let another Republican pick up the baton. And the finance folks are tuned in: Tarrance claims to have raised $100,000 at a funder during the legislative session. Nixon is also getting the dubious distinction of being the Republican senator most often mentioned in Democratic fundraising materials. The latest is a pitch from the 21st Century Democrats, who point at him and the narrow 16-15 Republican majority in the Senate in their pitch for money.

On the Democrat side, David Fisher of Silsbee has started signing consultants for his bid against Nixon. Heidi Kirkpatrick and Anya Powell McInnis of Lone Star Strategies will do general consulting and raise money; Scott Bates of Rindy Bates will handle media. Rep. Clyde Alexander, D-Athens, has said he's thinking about it, but hasn't made a decision.

ELSEWHERE: Sen. Chris Harris, R-Arlington, is not considered to be in anything but a safe seat in SD 10. But he's first out of the gate to announce officially that he will, in fact, run for reelection.

It Took Them Long Enough

Remember all the way back in March, when Gov. Bush wasn't "really" running for president, and all those delegations from other state legislatures were coming to the Mansion for a look?

Well, it turns out that the Texas delegation wanted to endorse him from out of state as well. Now that Bush is on the road most days, the Republicans in the Texas House have pledged their support.

All, that is, but one. Rep. Charlie Howard, R-Sugar Land, says he's a supporter but doesn't like to endorse in primaries. So Bush has 71 of the House's 72 Republicans officially in his corner, and one more who says he's for Bush, but won't sign. Bush's folks made the best of it, saying he had the endorsements of "more than 98 percent of the Texas Republican state representatives".

More Money, Fewer PACs

The number of political action committees operating in Texas is down slightly, but their spending is up about 20 percent over the last two years, according to a new report from Texans for Public Justice.

That outfit contends the number of PACs dropped to 892 from 910 two years ago, but says spending rose to $52 million from $43 million in 1996. Some of the numbers are interesting: Democrat-oriented PACs spent $7.7 million to $7.3 million for Republican-oriented PACs.

The group threw the committees into various categories and came up with this: Business PACs spent $32 million, or 61 percent of the total; ideological and special interest PACs spent $18 million, or 35 percent; and labor PACs spent $2 million, or about 4 percent.

If you cut into the business PACs, the big spenders, by rank, were in the finance, insurance and real estate area, followed by lawyers and lobbyists, followed by energy and natural resources companies. The full report is online at

Political People and Their Moves

Mark Sanders, most recently seen scooting from David Dewhurst's land commission to Austin-based Strategic Partners, rejoins government to become the new communications czar for Comptroller Carole Keeton Rylander. Sanders, a former reporter and political consultant, is there to rebuild the communications shop for Rylander. At Strategic Partners, he worked for Mary Scott Nabers, a former railroad commissioner who was defeated by Rylander in 1994... This is unrelated, but comes from the same shop: Former Austin American-Statesman reporter Michele Kay, who signed on with Rylander at the beginning of the year after a stint at Attorney General John Cornyn's campaign, is leaving the agency. She's going to setup a consulting and writing business... Rylander herownself is recuperating from knee surgery and will be on crutches for a while... Scott Royder, who became the first full-time paid employee of the Sierra Club's Lone Star Chapter 12 years ago, is leaving the environmental group to take a job with the Kettle Range Conservation Group in Washington state... Melinda Wheatley, an advocate for charter schools and for public school vouchers, is leaving the Texas Public Policy Foundation to run something called Project Restoration, a non-profit organization that will concentrate on "going into bad parts of town and creating good schools." She's involved in charter schools that are either up and running or about to be in San Antonio, Dallas, Houston and Midland... It's official: Retired Lt. Gen. Howard Graves is the new chancellor of the Texas A&M University System. The system's regents named him to replace Barry Thompson, who is retiring at the end of the summer... Staff changes on the gubernatorial-presidential axis: Clay Johnson, Bush's appointments secretary, becomes executive assistant in the state office, freeing Joe Allbaugh to go to the campaign. Ron Bellamy, who worked for Johnson, is promoted to appointments secretary. Longtime Bush spokesbot Karen Hughes is in campaign land, and Linda Edwards moves into her slot as communications director on the government side... Typo department: The new guy at the A.G.'s office spells his name Kevin O'Keeffe, and yup, he's a distant relative of the New Mexico artist.

Quotes of the Week

State District Judge Bob Perkins of Austin, on his request for a $13,000 expansion of his office window in a new courthouse: "I've been working for Travis County for 25 years, and in 25 years I've had six offices. Two of them had no windows. I would like to have a view this time."

Rep. David Swinford of Dumas, vice chairman of the House Republican Caucus, on a proposal to keep the caucus focused on policy ideas and out of elections: "You can't be an effective Legislature when knives are sticking out of everyone's back. It doesn't make good sense for us to be so partisan. The loser in that deal is the citizens."

GOP consultant Ed Gillespie, who's working on U.S. Rep. John Kasich of Ohio's bid for the presidency: "Hurricane George has just blown through the Republican donor base and stripped all the leaves off the trees. Everyone else in the race is recalibrating their approach to this."

Texas prison system spokesman Larry Fitzgerald, on Clifford Jones' breakout from what is supposed to be the highest-security campus in the system: "I'd like to stand here and tell you that prisons are escape-proof, but that's obviously not true."

Sen. David Sibley, R-Waco, regarding an late-session amendment to one of his bills that apparently undermines a couple of pending East Texas lawsuits against car dealers and bankers: "I do feel badly about taking people out of litigation. I should have asked more questions."

Dallas Mayor Ron Kirk, a member of the federal panel looking at taxation on the Internet, on proposals to make cyberspace a tax-free zone: "The average citizen who feels great saving 90 cents buying a book over the Internet is the same citizen who will go nuts if government has no money to fix the streets, build schools and pay teachers."

Minnesota Gov. Jesse Ventura, the highest elected official from the Reform Party, on the role of that party's founder, Ross Perot of Dallas: "As long as the American public perceives the Reform Party as Perot's toy, we're not going to go anywhere."

Texas Weekly: Volume 16, Issue 1, 5 July 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.

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