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If you've ever tried to peel a kid away from a computer game or a Saturday morning cartoon, you understand something about the hold population data has on the average state or federal legislator. We're heading into that twilight zone known as a redistricting year. That explains, in part, why there are so few open seats in the Legislature right now. It explains why rural lawmakers are fidgety and why suburban Republicans are smirking, and it explains why some of the money people on both sides are probably going to stay out of campaign fights as much as possible next year.

If you've ever tried to peel a kid away from a computer game or a Saturday morning cartoon, you understand something about the hold population data has on the average state or federal legislator. We're heading into that twilight zone known as a redistricting year. That explains, in part, why there are so few open seats in the Legislature right now. It explains why rural lawmakers are fidgety and why suburban Republicans are smirking, and it explains why some of the money people on both sides are probably going to stay out of campaign fights as much as possible next year.

The real numbers from the U.S. Census Bureau won't be available until roughly the middle of the 2001 legislative session -- the actual counting hasn't even started. But the Texas Legislative Council, working with the Texas State Data Center at Texas A&M, has assembled what everyone regards as the starting point for redistricting, a dry sounding document called "Projected Population Changes in Texas Districts 1990-2000." The numbers will certainly change, but for now, the Lege Council paper (start at http://www.tlc.state.tx.us) is the reference point for everyone talking about redistricting.

Even when the numbers shift, however, the trends won't change. The state's population is shifting away from the Panhandle and East Texas and into South Texas, the I-35 corridor and counties adjacent to the state's big cities.

The big cities are growing, too, a population change that gets less notice than the bubbling activity in the suburbs. The fastest growing county in the state, by this set of projections, isn't Collin or Denton or Williamson. None even made the top five. The big population additions were in Harris, Bexar, Tarrant, Dallas and Hidalgo counties. Three suburban counties -- Collin, Fort Bend and Denton -- made the second five, along with Travis and El Paso counties. Those ten counties added 1.98 million people over the last ten years, by this estimate. That's about two-thirds of the state's total growth.

Get Out Your Crayons

When lawmakers get out their crayons in 16 months to draw new district lines for U.S. representatives, senators, state representatives and the state school board, the big fights before them are outlined in the numbers for those top counties.

Most of the growth is urban and suburban. That will force members in those areas to give up population. It will force members outside of those areas -- rural lawmakers, for instance -- to pick up new population and votes from new areas with different interests. Places like Amarillo and Texarkana will have gradually less clout, while places like McAllen gain.

The average Senate district will have a population of 659,800. If you take the Senate districts as they're currently drawn and insert the estimated 2000 populations, they have as many as 844,100 (SD 25, now held by Sen. Jeff Wentworth, R-San Antonio), and as little as 512,300 (SD 12, Sen. Mike Moncrief, D-Fort Worth). In raw terms, folks situated like Wentworth will have to lose seats, while Moncrief and others will have to gain. Number-crunchers more partisan than those at Lege Council are beginning to dig to find out which voters to keep and which to give away.

Similar numbers will hold in the House, where the average district will have about 136,360 people. Rep. Terry Keel, R-Austin, will have 213,800 in his district, according to this set of projections. Rep. Lon Burnam, D-Fort Worth, will have only 93,900 in his district -- less than half the number in Keel's. For quick figuring, assume the average district should have grown by 20 percent. Everything is in play in redistricting, but if a district is way over or way under that average, it's positioned for big changes.

More Courts to Fight Over

This isn't redistricting, but it has some things in common: it results from growth and it'll keep local politicos around the state buzzing for a good while. Over the next year, Texas is creating 23 new state district courts, and Gov. George W. Bush will get to appoint all but three of the judges who serve first, according to his office. Nine of the courts come into existence over the next month, and at our press time, Bush had filled only two of them (he has to wait for approval from the home senator, a courtesy that stems from the fact that the judges have to survive Senate confirmation in 18 months). The rest of the courts will come into being by December of next year. A few of the inaugural judges will be elected rather than appointed, since the creations of their courts are close to the time of the November 2000 elections. By the time this is over, Bexar County will get five new courts, and El Paso, Fort Bend, Hidalgo, and Travis counties will each get two. Several counties will get one each: Cameron, Collin, Denton, Galveston, Grimes, Tarrant, Tom Green, Webb, Williamson and Wood.

While we're on the judiciary circuit, Harlingen attorney and school board member Ruben Peña will make a run for the 13th Court of Appeals, where several seats are open. And Nelva Gonzales Ramos will make a run for 347th District Court. She's a municipal court judge now. Both are Democrats, and Montgomery & Associates of Austin is working both races.

Sibling Rivalry, Counting Democrats and Web Crawling

Rep. Terry Hodge, D-Dallas, calls bullstuff on rumors that she's going to run a campaign for Sarah Bailey King of Quitman. King, who used to run the Wood County Democratic Party office, is talking up a challenge to Rep. Tom Ramsay, D-Mount Vernon. Ramsay, who says he will run for reelection, said he was surprised to hear a fellow House member would help a challenger, but he and Hodge have talked and she says she's not in the race. That said, she and King are friends of long standing and King's parents live in Dallas. Hodge, who says Ramsay is "not my favorite member," says she's not sure a first-time Democrat could win in Ramsay's House district in a year with U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison certainly and Gov. George W. Bush potentially at the top of the GOP ticket. King asked for help, but Hodge says she "is not directly or indirectly involved".

• You have to give U.S. Rep. Martin Frost, D-Dallas, points for planning ahead. He and the Census Bureau unveiled a campaign designed to get people to make sure they're counted in next year's census. Ten years ago, they say, the population count missed 500,000 Texans. In turn, that meant $1 billion in federal money that should have poured into the state -- based on population formulas -- didn't get here. Call it a two-fer: Redistricting is coming. The Republicans have an edge, since their traditional strongholds are growing faster than the Democrats' traditional strongholds. Undercounts are more prevalent in cities and other warrens where Democrats outnumber Republicans, and you'll be hearing more from Democrats about pushing to make sure more people are counted.

• Updates on the owners of a couple of politically oriented Internet sites. The site advertised on a billboard near the University of Texas campus -- http://www.georgebush2000.com -- is run by Brian Rodgers of Austin. Rodgers says he's not active in politics, but worked for one of Democrat Mark White's campaigns for governor in the 1980s. He says he got the idea for the web site -- which is unfavorable to Bush -- when he was mowing the yard and stewing about Mark McKinnon, the Democrat who is now doing Bush's advertising. McKinnon was a press aide to White, and -- we're not making this up -- Rodgers says he was "inspired" by McKinnon's switch from the Democrats to Bush.

Another web site -- http://www.capitolspotlight.com -- changed its addresses and phone numbers after we wrote about it (not because we wrote about it, necessarily). Internet records indicate that an Irvine, California, company, maintains the site. The Texas address given is an expired post office box that was most recently registered to the Republican Legislative Campaign Committee in Austin.

How Far Back Will Voters Care to Look?

What are voters going to think about Gov. George W. Bush and drugs? It's impossible to know for sure, but an interesting survey out of the University of Virginia indicates they won't care, and that some voters think the issue is out of bounds. UVA's Sorensen Institute for Political Leadership polled voters in that state in October of last year (Bill Clinton and Monica Lewinsky were news at the time) to see what people consider fair and unfair in the context of a political contest.

Overwhelming majorities considered several areas of attack fair: Talking one way while voting another; a candidate's business record; voting practices; taking money from special interests. Most thought it fair to jump a candidate for taking money from people with ethical problems or for current personal troubles. Voters were less likely to condone attacks for current extramarital affairs or for the political actions of the leaders of a candidate's party.

What's unfair? Attacks for past personal troubles, past extramarital affairs, the personal lives of party leaders and behavior of other members of a candidate's family.

The researchers found more tolerance for attacks among more educated voters; in other words, people with more schooling considered more of this fair ground. Similarly, more informed voters considered more kinds of attacks and more topics of attack to be fair. Probably because of the timing of the poll, Republicans were more likely than Democrats to consider personal attacks fair.

An observation: Last fall, when the survey was done, pundits were offering up polls as proof that the American people were unconcerned and uninterested in attacks.

It's Not the Answer You Give, But the Way You Answer

Where does the Bush trail lead next? There are some clues available in talking to political hacks, to reporters, and to others who are closely tuned into the campaigns right now. The consensus seems to be that Bush probably won't be worrying about drug questions for a long time, but that he'll spend a fair amount of time dealing with the way he answered that and other questions.

They begin by examining the way the drug question was answered, in dribbles and dabs, instead of with the simpler Yes or No.

A second example of what they're talking about is Bush's conversations/non-conversations with people involved in a state agency's action against the nation's largest funeral home operator, Houston-based Service Corporation International, or SCI. Bush said in court filings that he wasn't involved and hadn't been briefed on the issue. A lawyer for the funeral operator then recounted a short exchange between the governor and the head of the funeral company that indicated that the governor at least knew there was some dispute between the company and the state. Bush says he doesn't remember the content of that "20-second conversation." (Bush rightly claims that people suing the state often try to drag governors into their webs. His lawyers will go to court in the next few days to try to extract him from a whistle-blower suit filed by the former head of the Texas Funeral Commission, who contends she was fired after proposing to fine the company. A judge will decide whether he should be deposed or whether, as he says, he's in it simply because he's the occupant of the Governor's Mansion.)

It's entirely possible that neither story will amount to a hill of beans. But Bush's GOP competitors are using those incidents to paint Bush's replies as Clintonian, saying he has the same proclivity for splitting hairs as the current occupant of the White House.

Correction: We got the dates wrong in last week's item about illegal drugs and Gov. Bush, what with all the changes those took over a two-day period last week. Here's the deal: Bush said he could meet the current White House security test that disqualifies people who have used illegal drugs within the last seven years. He later added that he could have passed the test when his father was president, a term that began in 1989. We subtracted seven years and got 1982. But the policy in the Bush Administration called for 15 drug-free years, which would cover any drug use after 1974. Bush turned 28 that year. He has since been asked about a White House policy that would take the question back to age 18, but has said he's answered all the questions on that subject that he intends to answer.

Medical Reports and Other Senate News

Sen. Gregory Luna, D-San Antonio, is recovering from amputation of his right leg. Luna missed two months of the legislative session due to complications from diabetes that kept him in and out of the hospital. He's not expected to seek reelection, but hasn't announced his plans one way or the other.

In the meantime, a couple of House members have expressed interest in his spot in the Senate, should he step aside. Reps. Leticia Van de Putte and Leo Alvarado Jr., both Democrats, have talked about the race. Alvarado, as it turns out, might be a scratch.

Alvarado last week shot down rumors that he was ill and might not run. He gave us a very colorful denial of the story that he had been to Houston's M.D. Anderson Cancer Center and needed surgery. He's now had his denial retracted: To his credit, he called to set the record straight, saying we were, unfortunately, correct. He has cancer in his esophagus and will undergo seven hours of surgery to remove it. He says doctors found the cancer early and have given him a good prognosis.

That puts a hold on his plans to run for the Texas Senate, but he might return to that idea if the surgery goes well and he recuperates quickly. At this point, he says, his plan is to run for reelection to his seat in the House after he recovers.

Succession Games at Railroad

Kathryn "Kay" Yeager, the mayor of Wichita Falls, tells her local paper she's not interested in running for the Texas Senate. Her hat was in the ring, provisionally, after Sen. Tom Haywood, R-Wichita Falls, said she would be a good replacement for him should he decide to go ahead and run for the Texas Railroad Commission. Haywood is deciding whether to wage a campaign against fellow Republican Michael Williams, a George W. Bush friend and appointee who is making his first statewide run for office. One GOP fear is that leaving Haywood's seat open could clear the way for a Democrat to take over, which would swing the balance in the Senate to the Democrats in a redistricting year. Haywood's had pointed to Yeager as the answer. Now that's in the air again.

Williams, meanwhile, announces support from four former chairs of the Railroad Commission, including Carole Keeton Rylander, now the state's comptroller, who will act as his campaign chairman, Kent Hance, who'll be Williams' finance chair, Barry Williamson, who is now the finance chairman for the Texas GOP, and Mack Wallace, a Democrat. Along with Williamson, Wallace gets the title of co-chairman of the steering committee. That's one of two RRC races going on, but they're going on separately: Charles Matthews, fresh off an announcement tour, says he's concentrating on his own deal and won't be saying anything about the Williams race.

The Strongest Candidate Might Not Be Running Yet

Rep. Todd Staples, R-Palestine, is holding a fundraiser at the end of the month and is telling lobbyists and others that the money is being raised for his reelection campaign. That doesn't mean he's done musing about the SD3 race for the seat now held by Sen. Drew Nixon, R-Carthage. Staples is still looking, as is Nixon himself, and could have a chance at the seat. That's a big if, however. We got our mitts on some research done in the district -- a memo being sent to some lobbyists as part of the fundraising pitch -- and it says former Rep. Bob Rabuck, R-Conroe, would have a better shot than some had thought. The polling, done by Staples' consultant Bryan Eppstein, says Staples could get in a runoff with Rabuck if the latter joins the race. If he doesn't, the Eppstein memo predicts a runoff between Staples and Les Tarrance, a Montgomery County builder who zipped around the district last week formally announcing his candidacy. Tarrance isn't as well-known as Rabuck but could be well-funded. Bob Reeves of Center would be well-funded but has a small voter base from which to launch. This is flatly disputed on the other side of the boat, as you'd expect, and by some Republicans), but Eppstein contends that the district is solidly GOP territory now.

In the GOP primary, the memo says Staples would have to limit opponents to 60 percent of Montgomery County's vote, while holding a stout majority in the rest of the district. As for Nixon, the memo says voters are sympathetic to him, but don't want him to run again.

Maybe Five Times is a Charm

Richard Harvey, a Tyler businessman who has run four campaigns against two different Democratic senators in SD2, has decided to make it five campaigns. He has decided to make another run at Sen. David Cain, D-Dallas. Harvey ran twice against then-Sen. Ted Lyon, D-Mesquite, in 1984 and in 1988 (Lyon got about half-famous with a political ad showing Harvey landing his plane with the gear up). Cain beat him by a hair in 1994, and then Harvey lost to Bob Reese of Canton in the GOP primary in 1996. Reese went on to lose to Cain, and a lot of people expected a rematch this year.

But Reese told supporters in April that he doesn't intend to run (though he left room for a change of heart). Harvey says he made his own decision based on Reese's decision, and leaves the impression he might not have joined the battle if Reese had stayed in.

• How soon we forget! There is a senator -- he's not the one who called us on this, by the way -- who has run for statewide office. J.E. "Buster" Brown, R-Lake Jackson, ran for attorney general in 1990. He lost to Dan Morales in a Democratic sweep that year. Want an indication of how far people are willing to go with political speculation? Car dealer Roger Williams tells his hometown Fort Worth Star-Telegram that he would be willing to replace Sen. David Sibley, R-Waco, should that seat open up. All that would take is for Bush to be elected president and be succeeded by Lt. Gov. Rick Perry, then for the 31-member Senate to elect Sibley to replace Perry, then for Sibley to decide to give up his Senate seat in an attempt to win a full four-year term as lieutenant governor.

Vouchers: The Porch Light's Off, but Somebody is Home

Putting Children First, an association that pushed public school vouchers for private school tuition during the last two sessions, is reorganizing. The group is still alive, but closed its Austin office and moved director Greg Talley into offices with Chuck McDonald, a former aide to Gov. Ann Richards who now works as an advisor to the voucher group. Talley says PCF is "reassessing" its approach after its legislative defeats. They'll work that out over the next year, he says. In the meantime, they're still raising money and he is still -- at least for now -- on the group's fulltime payroll.

Talley also says the chairman of the group, Jimmy Mansour, has left that position to take a similar post with CEO America, a private education group with some of the same backers. CEO America has promoted privately funded scholarships that allow public school students to go to private schools. That's the foundation that offered $50 million in scholarships to children in San Antonio's Edgewood school district who wanted to go to private schools.

During the recent legislative session, a bit of folklore attached itself to the voucher debate. (We call it folklore because we never could find a proponent of it.) The story was that vouchers for public school students going to private schools would be available to all private schools, including home schools. So, the tale went, if vouchers got through the Legislature, a parent could pull the kids out of the public schools, teach them at home, and collect the amount of the vouchers.

Sen. Bill Ratliff, R-Mount Pleasant, decided to ask Attorney General John Cornyn for his take on that. The courts have ruled that home schools are, in fact, private schools. But Cornyn's legal opinion on the issue was that the Legislature, if it wants to, could write a law that allows vouchers for private schools while cutting home schools out of the deal.

Cornyn says it's constitutional to exclude them as long as there's a good reason. The case that put the home schools in the same category as other schools did so because there wasn't an overriding policy reason for treating them differently. The courts said that violated the equal protection clause of the constitution. Ratliff wanted to know if that case was an indication of how the voucher issue would go. Nope, said the AG. But ever the judge, Cornyn also says his opinion isn't definitive: The courts would have to see how the Legislature wrote the law before they could say whether it meets constitutional muster. And that, of course, assumes that the Legislature's aversion to vouchers -- with or without the home school issue attached -- changes enough to pass any law at all. PCF is still alive enough to comment; they noted Cornyn's opinion without approving or disapproving.

Political People and Their Moves

The Texas Rural Water Association taps Ken Petersen Jr. as its new general counsel. He was deputy director at the water resource management division of the Texas Natural Resource Conservation Commission... Melissa Juarez joins the University of Houston's legislative staff in Austin. She had been special counsel to the Senate Committee on Jurisprudence... Ty Meighan, who used to run the Texas Poll before joining the Texas Department of Economic Development, is going back to the polling and news bidness. He'll run the Texas Poll and head the Austin bureau for Scripps Howard, which owns the poll as well as papers in Abilene, Corpus Christi, San Angelo and Wichita Falls... Allen Spelce, who had been working on publications for Comptroller Carole Keeton Rylander, moves across the street to become assistant commissioner and director of communications for Agriculture Commissioner Susan Combs... Add a new spokesbot at Rylander's shop: Laura Rocco, who had been at the General Land Office, moves over. She worked for Mark Sanders at GLO -- now she'll work for him at the comptroller's office... Into the political arena, literally, goes Kevin Kennedy. The communications director at the General Services Commission leaves that job and joins the forces trying to get a basketball venue built for the San Antonio Spurs. The issue goes to voters in November... Tarrant County's Democratic Party loses executive director Chris Turner; he will manage Regina Montoya Coggins' campaign against U.S. Rep. Pete Sessions, R-Dallas, in CD5, starting in October... The state GOP has a new finance director, in Corbin Casteel; Jill Johnson, who previously held the post, moved to Washington, D.C., to work on U.S. Senate races around the country... Rumor patrol: Linda Edwards is not, not, not leaving the governor's office, where she's a spokesbot, and Ray Sullivan, now on Lt. Gov. Rick Perry's staff, is not going back to his old post working for the governor. He will, however, fill in at the gov's press office while Edwards is on vacation. When she gets back, he'll go back to Perry's shop... Gov. George W. Bush appointed James "Jim" Bush of Huntsville to the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles, to fill the rest of the term of Victor Rodriguez, who left the board earlier this summer... He also named Dianne Rath of San Antonio to another term at the Texas Workforce Commission... Deaths: Patricia Curren, a well-liked public utility commissioner who was forced by cancer to leave that post earlier this year.

Quotes of the Week

Norman Miller, former national editor of the Los Angeles Times and currently a lecturer at the University of Southern California, on Gov. George W. Bush and questions about drugs: "Politicians, like everyone else, are entitled to a presumption of innocence. Publicly asking them whether they have committed felonies, without any factual foundation, is outrageously irresponsible."

Emory University law professor Frank Vandall, contending in an interview with the Dallas Morning News that Bush should go ahead and testify in a whistleblower suit filed by a former Texas funeral regulator: "If Bush should have learned one thing from Bill Clinton, it's that he should have stood up, told the truth, took any heat that came."

Rice University political science professor Earl Black, on the same subject: "If there's a way for the Bush people to resolve this quickly and quietly, I'm sure that's what they ought to do."

Sen. Tom Haywood, R-Wichita Falls, on whether or not he'll run against Railroad Commissioner Michael Williams in the GOP primary next year: "It's something I've been considering. I want to emphasize the word 'considering.' I haven't made up my mind yet... My daughter and my wife are opposed to the idea. Of course, I want to get in the race."

Arizona State Rep. Steve May, a Republican, on why he made an issue of his homosexuality during a debate on health benefits: "When you attack my family and you steal my freedom, I will not sit quietly in my office. This Legislature takes my gay tax dollars, and my gay tax dollars spend the same as your straight tax dollars. If you're not going to treat me fairly, don't take my money."

Texas political researcher Jason Stanford, defending the practice of digging into the background of an opponent and then passing the information along to voters and reporters: "It's the Consumer Report of politics. No one gets upset when a consumer reporter tells them that their favorite restaurant has a problem with rodent infestation. They just say, 'thanks,' and go someplace else."

Rep. Leo Alvarado Jr., D-San Antonio, to his doctor, on being informed that he had esophageal cancer and needed throat surgery: "I'm a lawyer. If I lose my voice, I'll have to go on welfare."


Texas Weekly: Volume 16, Issue 9, 30 August 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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