Sen. J.E. "Buster" Brown, R-Lake Jackson, isn't up for reelection next year, so his admission that he groped a 20-year-old employee who worked in his district office won't get an immediate look from voters -- at least not the voters in his district.
But Brown has been courting a more select group of voters in a quiet quest for leadership of the Texas Senate, and the headlines certainly won't help in that effort.
Senators will vote after the next elections -- maybe -- to pick a new presiding officer. That's predicated on the outcome of the presidential race: If George W. Bush is elected and then resigns as governor, the current Lite Guv, Rick Perry, would move up. The Senate would elect someone to sit at the tall desk up front, and Brown is one of the most talked about candidates for that post. That was his standing, anyway, at the beginning of the month.
That's when a college student named Tiffany Black, who worked in Brown's district office for about a year, went to Lake Jackson police and accused Brown of kissing her and fondling her during a mock golf lesson. Within days after she reported the incident, she resigned.
Officials in Brazoria County investigated, talking to Black, to Brown, and to a number of the senator's former employees. District Attorney Jeri Yenne could have pursued criminal charges, but instead negotiated an apology from Brown. That apology was in the form of a letter. A small group met at a park in Angleton at midweek. Brown read the letter aloud to Black as his wife and his lawyer, Black's fiancé, her mother and the DA watched. Brown and his staff deferred press calls, saying his only statement would what was reported in the local paper, The Facts. (They printed parts of the letter from Brown to Black). Yenne told the paper she would keep Brown's apology on file and considers the case closed. Black has avoided commenting on whether she will file civil charges.
Hobbled, Perhaps Not Broken
Assuming that's over with, and that there are no other such complaints lurking out there (as alluded to by Lake Jackson police) what happens next is up to Brown and the Senate. Though he certainly didn't do his leadership aspirations any good, the charge and apology don't necessarily put the Senate's senior Republican out of the running. It was quickly pointed out to us by another senator that the folks in the upper chamber have a year to consider the situation and might find out all manner of things between now and then about other candidates for the job. Brown, this argument goes, will have plenty of time to give people reasons to vote for him and against others.
On the other hand, attrition could be helpful to the other senators. Unlike the Texas House, which is perpetually in conversation about past, current and future occupants of the Speaker's Office, the Senate is on unfamiliar ground. Taking a candidate out of the race for lieutenant governor cuts the number of choices, the number of promises and commitments, and most importantly, the number of out-of-joint noses. This theory holds that, as in a House race, attrition of some kind or another takes care of all but the last one or two choices. Weaker candidates won't make that last cut.
One other point making the rounds is that Brown might have a hard time in a statewide Republican primary, what with his signature on a letter of apology that's now in the public domain. That could raise some concern in the Senate, since some members of that body would like to name a lieutenant governor who wants to gain full claim to that post in a regular election. If that's the Senate's wish, Brown's transgressions could appear on the wrong side of the ledger.
Nixon, Undecided, Now Has Two Opponents
Rep. Todd Staples, R-Palestine, is officially in the race for Sen. Drew Nixon's seat. Nixon, a Republican from Carthage, hasn't decided whether he'll seek reelection.
From behind that announcement comes this one: Kenneth Durrett, a Jacksonville businessman who owns 103 fast food restaurants (Taco Bells and KFCs, under the corporate umbrella of Southern Multifoods) says he'll make that race. Durrett is currently Jacksonville's mayor pro tem. Other possible candidates include Jacksonville pharmacist Chuck Hobson and Palestine school board member Paul Woodard, but neither has made an official announcement.
On the Democratic side of the equation, JoAl Cannon, a Jacksonville attorney, is leaning strongly toward being a candidate and will make a decision by the end of the month. Her father, Joe Cannon, is a former House member from Groesbeck.
If you go strictly by the numbers, Staples is giving up a spot the Democrats could win back from the Republicans. Privately, some Republicans would have liked to see Staples stay in office since he would almost certainly have held the seat. That said, Staples' entry into the SD 3 race was expected. He's the second official candidate: Les Tarrance, a builder from Montgomery County, jumped in during the legislative session. A couple of other candidates are still considering the race, and everyone is watching to see what Nixon will do. The latest from his camp is that he might announce something in October.
Arguing the Third District's Numbers
Add this fodder to all of the consultant humming over who votes in Nixon's SD 3: In the 1996 GOP presidential primary, 36.8 percent of the district's votes were cast in Montgomery County. In the 1998 primary, 38.5 percent of the votes in the race for attorney general (a three-way race between John Cornyn, Tom Pauken and Barry Williamson), 38.5 percent of the votes cast in that Senate District came from Montgomery County. That's the argument Tarrance and his forces are making to financial and political types: They say his base is bigger and that's why he's got an advantage.
On the flip side, Staples and others have a fairly strong argument as well, but it has to be pieced together. It boils down to a version of All Politics is Local: "Voters in the other 16 counties don't want to elect a senator from the Houston suburbs." Those other counties do, if they stick together, have the other 60-some-odd percent of the votes. Turnout weight throughout the district is hard to predict, which is why there's an argument about it. In the two primaries we glanced at, Angelina County accounted for 10.3 percent of the vote in 1996, but only 6.2 percent two years later. Smith County (about a sixth of which is in the district) made up 8.5 percent of the 1996 vote and 13.5 percent of the 1998 vote. Henderson County made up 5.6 percent of the 1996 vote and 8.9 percent of the 1998 vote.
Throw in another piece of meat, while we're here: The population growth over the last decade is all on the southern end of the district, presumably to Tarrance's benefit and to Staples' detriment. Anderson County (Staples) has grown 13 percent, for instance, while Montgomery County (Tarrance) has grown 58 percent. Cherokee County, the only other county in both Staples' House district and in the Senate district, has grown just 11 percent.
But that geographic picture assumes, as does a fair amount of this argument, that the voters in the district will know or care which candidate is from which part of the district. Money will play at least as big a part. Tarrance got an early start, but Staples is an incumbent who'll start with Realtor support (he's one of their own) and with the backing of some of the Austin crowd that already knows him.
The Democrat in that race, David Fisher of Silsbee, makes it official, announcing in a five-day tour of the district that he wants Nixon's job. And his consultant's contribution to the numbers fight is that Montgomery County accounts for only about a sixth of the general election vote and won't be as important in November 2000.
Democrats Looking for GOP Gaps
You get so accustomed to hearing that Republicans are trying to take the Texas House that you forget they've been stalled out in their attempts to win a majority in the congressional delegation. We showed you some of the Republican numbers last week, thus flushing some Democratic numbers out of the shrubbery. The Democrats use different methods to come up with their numbers, but they're after the same result the Republicans are after. Both sides want to pinpoint, as best they can, their best opportunities and their greatest weaknesses. Though they cook their numbers using very different recipes, the D's and the R's come up with similar assessments of which districts will be hotly contested. And not surprisingly, their opinions about possible outcomes are 180 degrees apart.
The most confident Republicans think the ballot is theirs next year (see below) because two strong Texas Republicans could be at the top of the ticket. The Democrats argue that that's never made a big difference, and cite last year's results as an example: The governor won a huge victory, and the Texas delegation to Washington didn't change its partisan complexion at all.
As with statehouse seats, redistricting issues are at stake in next year's elections. But members of the U.S. House have a twist. The Legislature draws new political districts for the Texas delegation, but if there's a protest, it goes straight to the courts, skipping over panel of four Republicans and one Democrat that gets to review lines drawn for the occupants of the Texas Capitol. That's why the federales are less worried about statewide officials than about the makeup of the state House and Senate. And it explains why members of the Texas delegation are finding so many reasons lately to be in Austin for a few days. That'll increase as the redistricting process warms up.
The Democrats, not unlike their counterparts, see about 10 seats (out of 30) that could be in play over the next year. And they think they have a shot at winning a couple of Republican seats, particularly those held by U.S. Reps. Ron Paul, R-Clute, and Pete Sessions, R-Dallas.
Don't be surprised to see some outside help for Loy Sneary, who's challenging Paul in CD 14, and for Regina Montoya Coggins, who's challenging Sessions in CD 5. Both started raising money early, and Sneary -- who lost to Paul last time -- started early in this cycle. He has a new set of consultants and the powers that be in the party are hopeful about his chances. Coggins surprised some folks by raising money early and could also attract some firepower from Democrats outside of the district. Both districts are conservative but could vote for Democrats if things roll the right way for that party.
Marquee Names, But the Money Won't Follow
Republican consultants have been talking for months about the effect Gov. George W. Bush and Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison might have on down-ballot candidates, particularly on U.S. representatives who fall in the third position on the ballot (this assumes Bush will be the GOP nominee for president). The GOP line is that conservative voters will show up in droves and could add a couple of critical percentage points to the results for Republican candidates in marginal races. As we've mentioned, that's been part of the pitch made to potential candidates in districts that supposedly lean Republican but have Democratic incumbents on the ballot. If it appears a challenger could get to 48 or 49 percent of the vote in a normal year, the Republicans argue that the challenger should run now, betting that Bush and Hutchison will be worth at least one percentage point and maybe two.
Democrats counter: Hutchison, who has more money in the bank than any other U.S. senator (over $6 million) will have some effect. But she won't be spending the $15 million to $20 million that Bush spent during last year's gubernatorial campaign. And Bush, who's raised a ton of money but needs to spend it in states where votes are harder to get, isn't likely to train the heavy financial guns on Texas. In a financial sense, that means less GOP political spending next year than last.
The argument from the Democrats is that even with $15 million, Bush didn't knock off any of the D's in the Texas delegation. With less being spent between Hutchison and Bush, they argue, the chances of Republicans knocking over the bank are even slimmer.
Not Gonna Do It... Wouldn't Be Prudent
Candor in politics is unusual enough to be newsworthy, especially when it's delivered on paper as well as in person. Sen. Tom Haywood, R-Wichita Falls, ended his consideration of a race for Railroad Commission and said he will endorse Michael Williams, a Bush appointee and friend who is seeking election for the first time. Haywood, a former oil and gas association executive, had said his experience with the issues and as a vote-getter would make him a better officeholder.
But it's tough to buck a popular governor, especially one who is running away with the presidency. Haywood decided to drop out, held a press conference to endorse Williams, and that was that. Almost. The senator followed up with a written list of pros and cons that he considered before deciding not to make the run. Among the pros he listed: support from friends and constituents, his concern for and knowledge of the industry, his legislative experience and the fact that he's retired and could thus devote his full time to the job.
He was particularly blunt about the cons, starting with "obvious conflict with the governor in running against one of his appointees." Haywood noted the possibility that his decision could cost the GOP a critical seat in the Senate. During the summer, he had said the GOP could probably keep his seat in the Senate if he jumped to another post. But the first candidate he suggested -- Wichita Falls Mayor Kathryn "Kay" Yeager -- said she likes her current job. Others also ducked, undermining Haywood's position. Without saying whether they would be interested in his job, Haywood said Republican Reps. Mary Denny of Aubrey and Ron Clark of Sherman, could make strong runs for it. Democrats, meanwhile, contend Rep. David Farabee, D-Wichita Falls, could win such a race.
The senator said a run for railroad would cut into his ability to do Senate business, and would put a strain on his family (he noted in his press conference that everyone in his immediate family except his son, Thomas, voted against the statewide run). Haywood noted, among the arguments against a run, that Williams, elected chairman of the RRC the day before he picked up Haywood's endorsement, has already raised more than $250,000 and has "the promise of money from key contributors in the Bush camp." Finally, he listed "industry's inability to support a non-incumbent: RRC holds leading role in industry regulations. Oil and gas folks can't afford not to support incumbent."
It wasn't in the written version, but Haywood made mention of his health during his appearance with Williams, saying his family felt his Parkinson's Disease would become an issue in a statewide election campaign. Aware that might raise another set of questions, Haywood said he will serve out this term in the Senate and plans to seek reelection in 2002.
Random Political Notes
Put Harris County Assistant District Attorney Alan Curry into the race for Steve Mansfield's seat on the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals, and take Judge John Devine out of it. Devine, a Harris County civil court judge, decided to get out of Curry's way and will run for reelection. Curry has been a prosecutor for 11 years. Mansfield decided earlier this year not to seek reelection and announced that decision, but has since told Texas Lawyer that he might change his mind and run after all... Some things are the same no matter where you are: Gov. Bill Graves of Kansas, a Republican and a Bush supporter, says that, yes, there is a good chance he would accept a cabinet position if Bush wins and then offers it to him. A Graves supporter apparently prompted the question from a local reporter... We weren't wrong, but neither were we clear: Sarah Bailey King of Quitman was the elected chairman of the Wood County Democrats, not the hired director. She's running against Rep. Tom Ramsay, D-Mt. Vernon, in the primary... U.S. Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee, D-Houston, draws a challenge from Republican Elmer Zoch, who has been involved with the GOP for years but has never held office... Here's an odd one: Sen. Eddie Lucio, D-Brownsville, was quoted in a local paper, the Valley Morning Star, as saying he was endorsing Gov. George W. Bush for president and hoping Lt. Gov. Rick Perry would be the next governor. He then put out a half-retraction on the GOP endorsements: He does hope Perry will be the next governor, but hasn't decided who he'll endorse for president.
Not As Partisan As They Wanna Be
Lt. Gov. Rick Perry served as the M.C. for the state GOP's recent conversion ceremony, re-welcoming more than a dozen Democrats into the Republican Party. But he won't take that partisan fervor back to the Pink Building: Perry, who's been showing up at fundraisers for senators in both parties (including a recent appearance at a funder for Sen. Gonzalo Barrientos, D-Austin), says he won't be working against any incumbents in the Senate. Taking a page from his predecessor, Bob Bullock, Perry says it would wreck the upper chamber's collegiality for him to take part in races.
At his gig as master of ceremonies, Perry announced 15 party switchers, all but one of whom is a county official (the exception was Murry Cohen, a judge on the state's First Court of Appeals in Houston), and most of whom had made their switches known well before the Austin event. There are 254 counties in Texas. GOP officials say there are 4,163 elected officials on the county level in Texas (a number they got from the Texas Association of Counties). They say further that they have majorities in 56 counties and that they have more than 1,100 elected officials in those counties.
He's Got the Money, Honey
House Republicans talk of approaching Gov. Bush to see about snagging some of the state money he's collected and can't use. He can't give directly to the GOP Caucus as it's now set up, but he can give -- as can other elected officials -- to a new political action committee being set up by Texas House Republicans. Bush can't convert state contributions to his federal race.
Bush has been careful to appear bipartisan as long as he's been governor, avoiding contested legislative races that involve incumbents. Still, some Republicans are hoping Bush will give them as much as $125,000. That money could be used to promote GOP candidates, to develop issues for incumbents and challengers alike, and/or to do polling for the caucus. Bush aides say they're not aware of any commitment to contribute. Some House Republicans still hope to see some money, though they haven't formally asked for it. Stay tuned.
Checking an Oft-Repeated Factoid
Sometimes you hear a number that just doesn't sound right. When TechNet announced it was opening an Austin office, one of the speakers, Steve Papermaster of Austin, said Texas is a natural fit since, as he put it, "there are more Texans employed by high technology than any other industry in the state." (This isn't a blast at Papermaster, because he's apparently quoting news accounts when he makes that claim). Now it is true that high technology employment has grown by leaps and bounds. It's also true that you can argue different industries into different broad categories, depending on the point you're trying to make. Cut a fat swath through current employment data, and you can argue that high technology employment has passed the construction industry (barely) and the oil and gas industry (handily). But wholesale trade is bigger, and retail trade boasts three times the number of employees high tech can claim. The service sector of the economy is bigger, even if you put medical services in the high tech bucket. And there's the old stalwart, coming in at almost three times the size of high technology: the number of people who work for local, state and federal government.
Political People and Their Moves (Part 1)
Damita Stallworth, jumps from Jenkens & Gilchrist to Entergy Texas, where she'll be the new government affairs operative in Austin... Several weeks of arm-twisting ends in Houston with the nomination of Billy Burge to the chairmanship of the Harris County-Houston Sports Authority. Jack Rains, the former Texas Secretary of State and gubernatorial candidate, couldn't muster support for a reappointment to that post. Houston Mayor Lee Brown nominated Burge, (who's currently vice chairman) and the City Council will vote on the 22nd... Up for a hearing in Austin: Whether to name 18th Street for the late Bob Bullock, the former lieutenant governor and comptroller who died in June. The under-construction Texas history museum named for Bullock is on that street... Score this error to the editor: GOP Rep. Tom Craddick lives in Midland. We put him in Lubbock last week.
Political People and Their Moves (Part 2)
One of these folks is going to be the Texas Association of School Boards' Superintendent of the year, an award to be announced next month: Roderick Paige, Houston ISD; Carrol Thomas Jr., Beaumont ISD; Carolyn Bukhair, Richardson ISD; Lloyd Graham, Round Top-Carmine ISD; Michael Quatrini, San Elizario ISD... Zach Brady, who's worked for Sen. Robert Duncan, R-Lubbock, for the last couple of years, is out of law school and out of the Pink Building. He's joined the law firm of Jackson Walker... Troy Alexander, a former denizen of the Capitol who left the Academy of Family Physicians some time ago to do missionary work in Romania, is back. He'll do grass-roots campaign work for the Texas Medical Association... Lydia Camarillo, executive director of the Southwest Voter Registration Education Project in San Antonio, is in line to head next year's Democratic National Convention. The party will make an announcement this month... Sen. Gregory Luna, D-San Antonio, lost his second leg in his long fight against diabetes... Mike Hailey, a former Houston Post and Austin American-Statesman reporter who also worked as a Lite Guv spokesman for the late Bob Bullock, has signed on as the Democratic Party's new spokesman... It's the water or something: The San Antonio Express-News, which recently lost Austin Bureau Chief Laura Tolley to the public affairs world, is losing the other half of its Capital City operation. Jaime Castillo is headed for his hometown to be an assistant city editor for the El Paso Times... Appointments Department: Bush named Marion Luna Brem of Corpus Christi to the Texas Workers' Compensation Insurance Fund Board. Brem heads two car dealerships, a real estate company and an advertising agency. The Guv also reappointed Richard Cooper of Lubbock and George Wesch Jr. of Lake Hills to that panel.
Quotes of the Week
Sen. J.E. "Buster" Brown, R-Lake Jackson, to former employee Tiffany Black, reading aloud from a letter to her as part of a deal to avoid prosecution: "I am sorry for making unwanted sexual advances towards you. You have been a good employee and I should not have placed you in this situation. This is my responsibility, and I will seek any necessary corrective measures, including counseling."
Black, who said that because Brown apologized, she will not pursue a criminal complaint (of assault and/or official oppression): "It's not every day a 20-year-old is put in this position with a state official. If I didn't say anything, it would have been a hundred times worse for me."
Presidential candidate Bill Bradley, a former basketball star, explaining how the Democrats should choose their candidate: "Line them up and let them shoot jump shots from the key."
Presidential candidate Pat Buchanan, mired in the back of the GOP pack and considering a switch to the Reform Party: "I've sort of made up my mind that I cannot endorse the Republican nominee as of now. I cannot make that commitment, because my party at the national level has become a Xerox copy, basically, of the Democratic Party."
Sen. Drew Nixon, R-Carthage, who hasn't announced whether he'll seek reelection, recounting his advice to Rep. Todd Staples, R-Palestine, who announced he will run for the seat now held by Nixon: "If you feel antsy, go for it."
Reggie James, director of the Austin office of Consumers Union, in an interview with the Austin American-Statesman, on his desire to talk to Sen. Gonzalo Barrientos, D-Austin, who is holding up the reappointment of Public Utility Commissioner Judy Walsh: "I'd just like to be able, face to face, ask him, 'What's the deal?' But so far I haven't seen his face."
U.S. Rep. Chet Edwards, D-Waco, on calls for Attorney General Janet Reno to resign after revelations the FBI fired military tear gas canisters at the Branch Davidian compound outside of Waco six years ago: "If every member of Congress resigned for not having known everything that goes on in his or her office, there would be no one in Congress."
Former state Sen. Jerry Patterson, R-Pasadena, on his role as an intermediary between conspiracy theorists and police agencies in the Waco investigation: "I guess I've become the go-to guy for the black helicopter crowd."
Texas Weekly: Volume 16, Issue 12, 20 September 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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