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Humans on the Arena Ballot

Sen. Gregory Luna's decision to retire from his seat, and to do so in time to allow a November 2 election, prompted a week of political scurrying and speculating in the San Antonio Democrat's district. The final take on who's running and who's not will be available at 5 p.m. October 4 (after our deadline). But Gov. George W. Bush's decision to hold the vote in November sets up a sprint that will be harder on political newcomers than on veteran officeholders.

Sen. Gregory Luna's decision to retire from his seat, and to do so in time to allow a November 2 election, prompted a week of political scurrying and speculating in the San Antonio Democrat's district. The final take on who's running and who's not will be available at 5 p.m. October 4 (after our deadline). But Gov. George W. Bush's decision to hold the vote in November sets up a sprint that will be harder on political newcomers than on veteran officeholders.

The election will take place just five-and-a-half weeks after Luna announced he would resign. It would take a river of money for an unknown to compete in that short time frame -- candidates already known by voters will have a huge advantage. And yet, organization is critical, too, in a district arguably less susceptible to advertising than to door-knocking. That's the sprint: A November election in a few weeks, perhaps followed by a runoff no later than December 9.

Then comes the marathon, ripe with possibilities for a rematch of the contestants in the sprint: This year's winner will have to defend the seat next year, since the term expires at the end of 2000.

The November vote will coincide with the vote on the constitutional amendments and the local vote on whether to use public monies to build a new arena for the San Antonio Spurs. There are two schools of thought there: 1) the special election will help the arena promoters, since it will bring out Hispanic male voters who (the Spurs hope and believe) are in favor of the arena, or 2) the special election is bad for the arena, since it brings out voters who don't necessarily care whether there's a new arena or not, and who might be swayed by arguments against the taxes that finance the deal.

As we noted last week, the November date allows House members who share real estate with Luna to run without worrying about losing the seats they've already got. Losers will be able to decide at the end of the year whether they want to quit the House to run for the full Senate term (or something else). The winner will be able to run as an incumbent, albeit one who is still new to voters in much of the district. Luna's SD 26 overlaps with nine House members, but only four of them -- Reps. Leo Alvarado Jr., Arthur Reyna, Juan Solis III, and Leticia Van de Putte -- represent more than 10 percent of the population or the voters in the Senate district. Of those, only two -- Alvarado and Van de Putte -- will be in the race to succeed Luna. Alvarado has 20.2 percent of the district's registered voters; Van de Putte has 19.5 percent, according to the Texas Legislative Council. Rep. Robert Puente, who considered the race and then decided to stay put, only shares 3.9 percent of Luna's voters.

Van de Putte is the only candidate who's been ready to run all along, and probably has a bit of a head start because of it. Puente had decided last May not to run, but says he was prompted to reconsider when Luna's family said Puente would be the senator's favorite in the race. After that call, he had more or less decided to run, but then changed his mind. He cites family obligations and a desire to keep moving up in the House, and says now is not the time for him to take at stab at the Senate.

Alvarado had planned to make a run all along, but pulled back when he found out this summer that he had esophageal cancer. He didn't entirely close off the option of a Senate run, however, and now that he's healthy, he's definitely in the race. While he doesn't have the fundraising headstart that Van de Putte has, he says a special election race would cost up to $300,000, and he says he can self-finance that amount. Van de Putte, who was aiming at a primary race she thought would cost about $500,000, says she has raised about half that amount. Two relative newcomers are also looking: Democrat David McQuade Leibowitz, a trial lawyer, and self-employed Republican Mark Weber.

No Freedom for Associations

Leibowitz's intention to run for Luna's Senate seat puts his trade group -- the Texas Trial Lawyers Association -- in an uncomfortable spot. Alvarado is a trial lawyer and a reliable vote for that group. Van de Putte is currently the betting favorite in the special election race and lobbyists are always uncomfortable giving money to opponents of incumbent legislators. Both of the House members could be back next session even if they lose. And now the group's troubles are multiplied. Leibowitz is a first-time candidate; he was president of his class at Notre Dame, but has never held public office. He was born and reared in McAllen, is one of 12 kids, and has had his own law practice, specializing in toxic chemical exposure cases, since the mid-1980s. He also owns a music publishing company and a company that makes board games. File this away: He says he will run for the Democratic nomination for Luna's seat in March no matter whether he wins or loses the special election in November.

Perhaps you have a hard time squeezing off a tear for the lawyers. Okay, we've got another one for you. It's probably safe to bet that the Texas Medical Association would endorse Dallas Democrat David Cain in his bid for reelection to the Senate. But now they've got one of their own in the race in Dr. Robert Deuell, a family practitioner from Greenville.

Deuell, a former professional drummer who changed tracks and went to medical school, responded well to recruiting sirens from Austin and Washington and elsewhere, and will jump into a three-way GOP primary for the right to challenge Cain. Deuell has been on Greenville's school board, and says he had been considering a run for Congress. But he is a friend of U.S. Rep. Ralph Hall, D-Rockwall, and when Hall decided to run again, Deuell dropped that idea.

Then, he says, he was approached by various Republicans to consider a race against Cain. He's going ahead with it, after thinking it over and talking to the recruiters.

Deuell has hired Austin-based Todd Smith & Associates to run his campaign, and estimates it will cost $2 million to beat the incumbent. He says that he won't run a negative campaign and told the people urging him to run that he wouldn't tolerate anyone else doing it, either. "I like David Cain. He's done a great job. But we differ on issues like tort reform and education reform."

Deuell says he's also running to help the Republicans control redistricting and said the prospects for a close race in neighboring SD 3 (Sen. Drew Nixon, R-Carthage) have some of the Republicans who recruited him nervous about the GOP's narrow 16-15 majority in the Senate.

It's always a huge risk to take the personalities out of a political analysis, but if you do that, Cain's district is one of the most conservative Senate districts in the state that is still held by a Democrat. That's what the Republicans are looking at when they recruit candidates like Deuell. If you re-inject personality, however, Cain is relatively popular in the district and has paid careful attention to voters since he survived a close challenge in 1994, when he beat Tyler Republican Richard Harvey by fewer than 1,500 votes. Harvey is in the running again this year, having already announced. And as we've noted, Keith Wheeler of Rockwall, an attorney, says he'll seek the GOP nomination, too.

Not Gonna Do It

Former Sen. Jerry Patterson, R-Pasadena, has been looking at running for Texas Railroad Commissioner for several months, but has decided to pull the plug. Patterson, who'd been considering a challenge to Commissioner Charles Matthews, a Republican from Garland, decided that now is not the time. He's not through, however: "I guarantee I'll be on the ballot in 2002," he says.

Will Davis, who has been on the State Board of Education since 1982 (with a break during the four years when Texas had an appointed school board), says he won't seek reelection to his current term, which ends next year. Davis, a Democrat who previously was on the Austin school board for 16 years, is vice chairman of the SBOE.

No New (Internet) Taxes or Old Taxes, Either

Political action committees go into and out of existence all the time, but one of the newest -- called Netpac -- is worth noting, if only because it's the first of the new high tech groups to promote a direct strike at sales taxes on the Internet. The founders say those taxes should be banned, and say the industry leaders have to become political players (contributors, in other words) in order to make that happen. The group was started by Rep. Rick Green, R-Dripping Springs, and some technology folks in and around Austin, to raise money for political races so the tech folks will start to have some clout at the Capitol. Green says the first fundraiser pulled in about $250,000, and he's optimistic that will grow.

The pitch to prospects was straightforward: "As technology executives, you have experienced the frustrations associated with conducing business 'at Internet speed' in a business environment established in an era of agriculture, oil and gas, and cattle. State officials, public officials and regulators are not equipped to understand or anticipate the needs of high-technology companies." It contends that sales taxes on the Internet would do the same thing to that industry that windfall profits taxes did to the oil business, and concludes that "the only way to prevent that is to be one of the powerful players in the political process."

The last time we visited the world of technology and government was to note the creation of a Texas chapter of the Technology Network, or TechNet, which tries to get politicos and high tech executives in the same rooms so they can try to understand each other, "to start a dialogue" in the words of the public relations types. TechNet has had some success in California, but the group is strictly bipartisan and isn't part of the collect-money-contribute-money food chain. Members of the group are active, though, and give individually or through other PACs.

Netpac was created to grab a place for high tech folks on that money food chain and to push for some specific policy changes. First, they want Texas-based companies to be able to sell over the Internet without charging sales taxes. Green says the companies will otherwise locate elsewhere and the state would lose both the sales tax revenues and the jobs the companies might bring.

More generally, they want to elect people who "oppose any attempt by government and regulators to 'get in the way' of Internet businesses, and who will help with economic development of such businesses in the state.

No Such Tapes or Transcripts Currently Exist

Steve Koebele, general counsel at the comptroller's office since Carole Keeton Rylander took over that agency in January, says his sudden resignation means only that he wants to get a private sector job and that he felt it was time to move on. He left without another job on the table, and says he'll pursue employment after taking a few days off.

Koebele, the agency's top lawyer, resigned suddenly a week ago -- giving notice the same day he left the agency. His resignation followed an open records request from Isabel Zermeño, office manager at the Texas Democratic Party, asking for tapes or transcripts of conversations he recorded.

The agency hasn't officially answered the open records request, but they say in response to our questions that no tapes or transcripts exist. And they draw no connection between the request and Koebele's resignation, saying, as he does, that he left to pursue opportunities in the private sector.

In fact, no matter how the question is asked, (Are there tapes? Did anyone over there record any conversations? How do you plan to respond to the open records request? Were there ever any tapes?) spokesman Mark Sanders says: "There are no tapes."

In our item last week on the number of different agencies and legislative and executive offices looking into the state's public school dropout rates, we left one out. The State Auditor is also looking into the dropout issue, working in conjunction with the Texas Education Agency and the Legislative Budget Board, and with the interim education committees in the House and the Senate. The new panel created by Rylander, which was what brought up the issue in the first place, will work separately on that and other issues.

Mansfield Reverses Himself; Keller Up For PJ

Steve Mansfield, who said last month that he had decided to give up his position as a judge on the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals, says he will, in fact, seek reelection. He says the resignation of Presiding Judge Mike McCormick triggered his change of heart; Mansfield says McCormick's departure weakens what he refers to as the conservative coalition on the court and says his own departure would weaken it that much more.

In July, Mansfield said he would not be in the race. The judge has been spanked twice by the State Commission on Judicial Conduct, first for inflating his resume when he first ran for office in 1994, then for illegally scalping a complimentary ticket to a University of Texas football game last season (those home-game tickets are given to high state officials and staff; it's illegal to scalp tickets -- no matter how you got them -- on university property). In the earlier announcement, Mansfield said he wanted to spare his family and his fiancée the slings and arrows of a race based on those incidents. Now he says the philosophical balance of the court is more important.

There's an argument to be made -- he's making it, sort-of -- that historically low funding for the court's races might help him. If other candidates don't have a lot of money to publicize their attributes and their opponents' weaknesses, the opponents benefit. Mansfield's counting on that, to some extent.

That said, some opponents were hoping he would stay in the race, since Mansfield's travails might attract "free media" from otherwise uninterested reporters who see a story in the incumbent's colorful troubles. An example: The Houston Press, a weekly alternative paper, recently did its "Best of Houston" issue without knowing the judge was reconsidering. Under "Best Judicial Move," the paper said that when Mansfield decided not to run, "the state bar must have breathed a collective sigh of relief." Put simply, the judge's opponents see his woes as the story line most likely to get them some publicity.

McCormick's decision to hang up his robe after the current term prompted Judge Sharon Keller to say that she'll run for the presiding judge, or "P.J." slot on the nine-member court. Her decision to jump from her chair to another, along with Mansfield's decision to attempt reelection, could prompt others who'd been considering races to rethink which seats they'll run for. At our deadline, no one had yet announced an interest in the position being vacated by Keller, and no one had announced intentions to run against her for the court's top job.

Defanging the Lite Gov: The Historical Perspective

We told you that Sen. David Sibley, R-Waco, had been talking to his colleagues about pruning the power of the lieutenant governor and moving more power to the senators themselves, or as he puts it in a new letter to his colleagues, to reform the Senate process.

Sibley, the only senator who admits openly that he's running for the presiding officer's job in case Gov. Bush is elected president and Lt. Gov. Rick Perry becomes governor, has suggested moving the power to name committee chairs, members, and assignments back to the senators themselves. He's also proposed letting senators set their calendar of business; current rules let the lite gov decide whether a bill will be considered and when that will happen.

In a letter explaining his position (he's talked about it with various senators, but hadn't reduced anything to writing until now), Sibley writes that the presiding officer got some power in the "unsettled" times after the Civil War, but that the rest was handed up by the senators.

Then he does some statistical work: Eight states don't even have lieutenant governors, and only three states -- Texas, Georgia and Mississippi -- give that officeholder enough juice to be considered more powerful than the governor. Only five let the Lite Gov pick committees and only four let him or her pick chairmen for those panels. Only one state in five lets its Lite Gov refer and assign legislation.

Sibley writes that the reforms he is promoting aren't aimed at any elected official, and that the trend is for state senates to take the power back from the official at the dais and to be "more directly accountable to those who elected them." From 1970 to 1980, he writes, eight of the 37 states that allowed their lieutenant governors to preside over legislators took away that power.

Commissioner for Life?

Gov. George W. Bush is cutting an interesting path through the rules of advise and consent by submitting people for approval by hometown senators before those folks are appointed. Say, as in the case of Public Utility Commissioner Judy Walsh, the hometown senator (in this case, Sen. Gonzalo Barrientos, D-Austin) disapproves. That's standard use of senatorial privilege; governors won't make appointments without first winning approval from the appointee's senator.

But take a closer look at this. No one has actually, officially, legally been appointed to that position at the PUC. Walsh currently holds the job. The governor's aides say she'll remain there as a holdover appointee. And there's no apparent end to that: Since no appointment has been submitted to the Senate, the Senate has no appointment to approve or disapprove.

Theoretically, that means Walsh could serve for as long as two conditions are met: a) she wants the job, and b) the governor and his successors haven't appointed a replacement. And hypothetically, it could provide this and future governors with a way to keep people they want without having to ask the upper chamber of the Legislature for permission.

Miscellany, Random Short Bits, and Lint

We'll pay a full visit to constitutional amendments next week, but a couple of them might have visible support from various groups. On that list of possibles are proposition 2, which would authorize reverse mortgages, proposition 6, which would allow bigger homesteads to qualify under the state's homestead exemption, and proposition 12, which would let owners of leased vehicles off the hook on property taxes. That last group is trying to collect enough money for a $500,000 campaign that could include some television and radio; the mortgage and title companies are trying to put together campaigns -- probably mail -- on the other two. Early voting on the constitutional amendments starts on October 18, a Monday, but counties can opt to start on the preceding Saturday or Sunday. There is no surprise to this, but the Secretary of State's folks say Houston and San Antonio will drive the outcomes: Both have arenas on the ballot, Houston has some city elections and some bond issues, and then there was a little matter of a contested Senate seat in the Alamo City. Houston's good for about 30 percent of the vote, according to some of the number-crunchers in the private sector.

• A new federal law will soon speed up disclosure of campaign finance info from congressional candidates. Congress passed and the president signed a bill that requires most congressional candidates to file electronically, and then requires the Federal Election Commission to post that information on the Internet within 24 hours of receipt. Still to come is the rulemaking that will put the law into effect: The FEC has to set a threshold (small campaigns will be able to use paper).

• Remember Karen Siders? She was pictured with Comptroller Rylander in a widely published photograph earlier this year, when Rylander's crew shut down a store in Waco for failure to pay taxes. Siders lost her job as a consequence of that closing, and Rylander was shown consoling her -- and promising to help her find work. Siders, as of September 13, has a job: She's answering phones and handling administrative duties at the Waco field office of the Texas Comptroller of Public Accounts.

• Scotch the rumor, if you heard it, that Rep. Ruben Hope, R-Conroe, is thinking about running for Sen. Drew Nixon's spot in the upper chamber. Nixon, a Republican from Carthage, still hasn't announced his intentions, but Hope says he's not in it either way.

• And ignore that line item in the proposed budget for the Senate Subcommittee on Business and Technology Growth. Sen. Troy Fraser, R-Horseshoe Bay, wrote up a spending outline that includes $1,000 to send attorney Steve Foster to Vermont for a redistricting conference. You might remember the summertime rumor that Fraser was in line to head the redistricting committee in the Senate during the 2001 session. That's still, ahem, only a rumor. Foster still works for the lieutenant governor and that trip will come out of Rick Perry's budget. Senate staff got word from Sen. Chris Harris, R-Arlington, that the budgets are too fat by about $689,000. They're trimming, and final budgets for the fiscal year that started a month ago will be approved sometime soon.

Political People and Their Moves

When Lt. Gov. Rick Perry took office in January, he immediately hired Hector Gutierrez, his former Corps of Cadets commander at Texas A&M, to act as his liaison with the state Senate. Now that Perry's first session is over and the interim committees have their instructions, Gutierrez says he'll return to the lobby racket sometime around Thanksgiving. He won't lobby the Lite Gov, he says, but will lobby the Senate and the House... Dave Peck, the only former top-ranked professional racquetball player in Texas politics (as far as we know) has left David Dewhurst and the General Land Office to start his own contracting and consulting business. Peck will concentrate on fundraising and see what happens from there... Mark Langford, the Omega Man in the Austin office of United Press International, is signing on with House Speaker Pete Laney, D-Hale Center. UPI is shutting the doors in Austin; Langford had worked in that office since 1985 and with that wire service since 1980... Sen. Rodney Ellis gets a laurel from the editorial staff of the Houston Press, which named him the city's best politician, but the weekly paper's readers disagreed, picking a Republican as their favorite: Gov. George W. Bush... Dallas Democratic political consultant Tim Reeves signs a "strategic partnership" with Winning Directions, the San Francisco-based political firm founded by Tony Fazio and others. The Californians specialize in direct mail... Julio Bastarrachea, formerly the press aide at the Mexican Consulate in San Antonio, will head the Mexico City office of the Texas Department of Economic Development. He replaces Phil Hendrix, who left the job earlier this year... The Austin ISD, under fire from county prosecutors and state education regulators over allegations that it juiced up its scores so it would look better in the state's accountability system, has hired one of those state regulators to help straighten things out. Maria Defino Whitsett, who had been with the Texas Education Agency (in the accountability section), is now AISD's Director of Accountability... Charged with reckless driving and assault after an apparent road rage incident in late August: Lloyd Kelley, a former member of the Houston City Council and a one-term city controller. That hasn't gone to court yet.

Quotes of the Week

From a statement issued by lawyers for former House Speaker and Lt. Gov. Ben Barnes, after Barnes testified in a lawsuit: "Mr. Barnes was contacted by Sid Adger and asked to recommend George W. Bush for a pilot position with the Air National Guard. Barnes then called Gen. (James) Rose (Commander of the Texas Air National Guard) and did so."

Bush, on whether Dallas billionaire and would-be kingmaker Ross Perot, who ran against President George Bush in 1992 and endorsed then-Gov. Ann Richards in 1994, is pursuing a political vendetta against the family: "I don't know Perot well enough to be able to tell you whether or not he's got personal animus toward me. All I got to tell you is the one time I did have political experience with him is when he endorsed my opponent."

The late Mario Puzo, author of The Godfather and sort of an expert on families, quoted in the promotional materials for writer Bill Minutaglio's forthcoming book, First Son, on Gov. Bush: " intriguing and illuminating portrait of the way an American family has wielded power and influence in business and politics for three generations. Any family that wants to learn how the game is really played should study the Bush dynasty."

Alliance of Dallas Educators President Harley Hiscox, on a Dallas school district proposal to pay the privately owned Edison Project to run a handful of public schools: "I am in favor of doing anything that would help the public school system improve itself. If I could be convinced that the Edison plan would help, I would go in that direction."

Texas Court of Criminal Appeals Judge Steve Mansfield, on how to win a race for that court: "I don't think money is going to win this race. It doesn't appear that newspaper endorsements mean much, or that Bar polls mean much. Ballot name and ballot placement are the important things."

Houston City Council member Rob Todd, commenting on a proposal to regulate drivers' use of cellular telephones: "Anybody here who wants to ban children in cars because they are a distraction?"

Texas Weekly: Volume 16, Issue 14, 4 October 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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