Skip to main content

Musical Chairs in San Antonio

Handicapping the Senate race in San Antonio? Trying to figure out where everyone will be sitting when the music stops? You can tell what at least some of the political folks in that city are thinking, just by the fact that only one House seat -- the one now occupied by Rep. Leticia Van de Putte -- has drawn really active interest from candidates who want her job. So far, the seat that would be left open if Rep. Leo Alvarado Jr. wins the special election to replace Sen. Gregory Luna has drawn some tire-kickers but no sure-fire buyers, while the candidates looking at the Van de Putte seat are already working the district and the local lobby and the finance people and the Austin crowd.

Handicapping the Senate race in San Antonio? Trying to figure out where everyone will be sitting when the music stops? You can tell what at least some of the political folks in that city are thinking, just by the fact that only one House seat -- the one now occupied by Rep. Leticia Van de Putte -- has drawn really active interest from candidates who want her job. So far, the seat that would be left open if Rep. Leo Alvarado Jr. wins the special election to replace Sen. Gregory Luna has drawn some tire-kickers but no sure-fire buyers, while the candidates looking at the Van de Putte seat are already working the district and the local lobby and the finance people and the Austin crowd.

As we've noted, Roberto "Robbie" Vasquez, a municipal judge, resigned his court seat to make the race. He's got a lot of the political establishment behind him, and is being squired around Austin by Rep. Juan Solis, D-San Antonio, (the two aren't directly related, but have some in-laws in common). He has the advantage of years in politics, but starts several months behind Mike Villareal, an economist and business owner who began knocking on doors in June. He got his economics training at Texas A&M, then added a degree from the Kennedy School at Harvard.

Villareal is conducting a "listening survey" of the district, different from what you might think in that it's being done scientifically. The 28-year-old Democrat is asking people four questions and then putting their answers into a database so he'll know what the voters are thinking about. He claims to have knocked on 3,000 doors, and says the top three items on the list so far are education, jobs and neighborhood problems. He says he's raised $15,000 of the $70,000 he thinks the race will cost, and plans two fundraisers headlined by former San Antonio Mayor Henry Cisneros before the end of the year. So far, no Republicans have announced intentions to run for that HD 115 seat.

So Many Experts, So Little Time

Even the wizards are scratching their heads over the race to succeed Luna. Time is short and the variables are many. The constitutional amendments don't move things around too much, but when you factor in a huge, well-financed campaign to build a new arena for the San Antonio Spurs, well, nobody seems to have a good handle on what that means in the Senate race.

And in the absence of information, all that's left is spin. To wit: The folks behind Van de Putte note that she's at the top of the ballot, has a good ground organization, good fundraising from the Austin lobby and from businesses in San Antonio and has been working on this for months. That head start has manifested itself in some concrete ways: Her ads are up on the boards at bus stops, her television campaign is underway, and she's lined up support from unions, teacher groups, and business types.

On the Alvarado side of the coin, the touts contend he has a better ballot name and that he can self-finance a race. They also argue that the Spurs arena campaign is targeted at Hispanic males and say those voters are more likely to be on Alvarado's side. Alvarado has been around the district for years and is well known to voters, and should have enough money to stay in the hunt.

Lauro Bustamante is, depending on the source, either spoiler or already spoiled: His name is well known (his cousin was Albert Bustamante, the former county commissioner and member of Congress), but that might not be good (cousin Albert, after all, left office to enter prison). Most folks we've checked with discount the chances for either Republican -- Anne Newman and Mark Weber -- in the traditionally Democratic district. There will be some polling done over the next few days, but it might be of more use if there is a December runoff: The election is less than three weeks away.

State Government 2.0: Faster, Better, Cheaper

Here's a funny way to keep a secret: Don't tell anyone what you're doing except for supporters, lobbyists, friends, and a lunch bunch at a Washington, D.C., think tank that's going to post the information and a video of your speech on its Internet site.

Her aides won't talk about the details or much else at the moment, but Comptroller Carole Keeton Rylander is gearing up for a November announcement of her big initiative -- the project she hopes will make a good and lasting impression on Texas voters. Called E-Texas, the project will have a dozen appointed people at the head, including Wendy Gramm, wife of U.S. Sen. Phil Gramm and former head of the U.S. Commodity Commission; attorney, lobbyist and former U.S. Rep. Tom Loeffler of San Antonio, and Austin attorney Hector DeLeon, whose name last graced these pages when he was being considered for Secretary of State by Gov. George W. Bush.

Rylander recently spoke to a small group at the Heritage Foundation in Washington, telling them the E-Texas group will look for waste and cost-savings, recommend privatization of unspecified government services and make better use of technology in government. She's asked people in that organization and others to lend staff and experts and ideas. (A recording of her speech is posted on the group's Internet site at http://www.heritage.org.)

That all sounds vaguely familiar to the Texas Performance Review, the biennial set of recommendations on government first cooked up by former Comptroller Bob Bullock, but Rylander apparently wants to take the reformation farther than TPR (and is apparently not going to dismantle TPR). Her line is that Wisconsin has become known for welfare reform; she wants Texas (and presumably, Rylander herself) to be known for government reform and tax-cutting.

She's also apparently looking hard at electronic government and at what services Texas might offer on the Internet or by other means that it now offers only in government offices. That technology angle could be what differentiates E-Texas from previous efforts to streamline government.

Although Rylander has been touting the program in public, her own staff won't elaborate on her speeches, saying they're not ready to announce anything. Expect something next month, with promises of recommendations for the next legislative session.

Advice and Consent Revisited

We said last week that two constitutional amendments -- props. 8 and 10 -- would take the Texas Senate out of the loop on a governor's appointments for adjutant general and commissioner of health and human services. That's not correct, but it's not all wrong, either.

The two amendments would make it possible for a governor to fire the occupants of those two offices without first asking for Senate approval. But the upper chamber would still have the power to approve or disapprove of someone on the way into an appointment. Both actions -- appointment and early removal -- require advice and consent; we made it seem the Senate would be out of the picture, but the amendments would remove only half the Senate's power over the two appointees.

Supporters of the amendments say they would give the governor more control over the actions of the person in charge of the Texas National Guard and other services, and over the person in charge of the second-largest area of spending in the state budget. Both amendments would have those officials serving "at the pleasure of the governor." Under the current constitution, a governor can remove someone only by formally bringing him or her before the Senate and winning a two-thirds vote.

Opponents of the measures say they would damage the checks and balances between the legislative and executive branches, make it too easy for the governor to fire someone for political reasons. Folks on both sides of the fight say it would move the state a step closer to a cabinet form of executive branch; some like that idea, others don't, and both sides list it as a reason for their positions.

Leakers or Whistle-blowers?

It's been a bad hair month for the Texas Department of Public Safety and the media.

First, the DPS said it is investigating The News of Texas, a new statewide television network, for sending mailers to sex offenders that allegedly misused the agency's name. The San Antonio-based network was apparently trying to find out whether sex offenders were living and working where the state said they were. But in its effort to do so, it sent mail to all of the offenders that -- the DPS believes -- looked like official mail from the state. They launched an inquiry, which is now underway.

In the second case, the agency is playing defense in a legal challenge from the Austin American-Statesman over the Texas Rangers' report on the siege of the Branch Davidian compound in Waco.

The paper made an open records request for the report. The agency paused to consider whether all of it should be made public, telling the paper -- falsely, as it turned out -- that no other news organizations had the report, either. In fact, according to the attorney general's office, Bruce Casteel, the head of the Rangers, had given a copy to the Dallas Morning News. The paper says the report should have been available for the asking as soon as anybody in the public had a copy of it. The agency, talking through the AG's office, says its decision-makers didn't know anyone had the report but had decided to make it public after the weekend, anyway. That in itself was enough for the paper's lawyers, who say the report was legally made public when that decision was made, and that the agency had no right to hold the now-public report for release once it had been requested. They finally cut a deal: The agency agreed to give a copy of the report to the newspaper and also agreed not to issue a press release about the report's release until after the Statesman had its own copy.

At the end of that scuffle, the paper asked a court to punish the agency for the mess. The Statesman's folks say they weren't suing over the fact that they got beat on a story (the Dallas paper has had a pretty firm handle on breaks in the Waco investigation, to the consternation of other big outlets), but over the agency's selective release of the information. The AG says the state didn't know Casteel had released the report, and in fact, says he initially lied to his superiors about it. It was, in essence, an unauthorized leak.

And that, finally, is the part of this tale that's of interest to other state agencies and officials (and other news outfits as well): Most leaks are unauthorized, and one person's leaker is another person's whistle-blower. The media subsist on information that is surreptitiously passed along, and most reporters spend a fair amount of time protecting that information from competitors until it's published. But because of this flap, any official can now call in the staff and hold up the DPS case as an example of what happens when employees talk to reporters. And news agencies, including the Statesman, could have another wall to climb in trying to pry information out of reluctant officials.

There are some good points made on either side of the argument. Randall Terrell, an attorney for the Statesman, sees the potential for a chilling effect, but says there's another issue involved: If the information is public, he says, the agency should release it and be done with the issue. If only one person asks for it, they beat the competition. If another comes in and asks, the agency has to give it up. And if it's not public, he says, it's illegal to leak it in the first place.

And Now, Some SOS Spam

Secretary of State Elton Bomer, trying to punch up voter interest in the constitutional amendment elections, sent emails to about 160 corporate executives and about 80 heads of large public agencies, urging them to urge their employees to vote in November. It's not the first time the state has asked big organizations to help get the word out, but it's apparently the first time email has been the vehicle. This is tricky, because unwanted email can generate more blowback than it's worth. But Bomer's following an emerging rule for this kind of thing by sending his message to a small audience that can then pass it along to another audience, and so on. It's apparently working, at least in terms of keeping the backlash controlled. Several execs wrote back to say they liked the idea and were kicking Bomer's email to their staffers. There's no way to know if that will result in any votes.

Government by One in Eleven Voters

Texans don't get too excited about constitutional amendment elections. And if the predictions we're hearing are correct, putting arenas on the ballot in Houston and San Antonio isn't going to boost overall interest that much.

Fort Worth-based political consultant Bryan Eppstein, who went against the grain a year ago with his correct prediction of low voter turnout in the 1998 elections, is guessing only 9 percent, or just over one million, of the state's voters will show up on November 2. That compares with (and is partly based on) turnouts of 7.9 percent and 10.6 percent in the constitutional amendment elections in 1995 and 1997, respectively. The numbers inside the numbers indicate that there are hotter things to put on ballots than arenas. Harris County turnout made up 20 percent of the state's total turnout in 1995 and 30 percent of the state total two years later, during a hotly contested mayoral race. Eppstein's prediction is that the county will make up one vote in four in November's election.

In San Antonio, where scads of money are being spent for and against the idea of building a new playpen for the Spurs basketball team, Eppstein thinks the vote will stay pretty constant, accounting for about 6 percent of the statewide vote this year, as against 5 percent two years ago and 6 percent two years before that. (That's not to say the composition of the vote won't change; the people working the arena vote are targeting their efforts to bring out a certain kind of voter without exciting voters on the other side of the issue.)

Dallas-Fort Worth voters will being home about 17 percent of the bacon, about even with the two previous constitutional elections. One other tidbit: Eppstein says that the biggest 37 counties will account for all but 23 percent of the statewide vote. That's more or less on track with 1997, but below 1995, when rural counties made up 28 percent of the vote on amendments.

Political Shorts and Oddments

Tom Reiser, one of the Republicans in CD 25 who wants a shot at U.S. Rep. Ken Bentsen, D-Houston, picked up an endorsement from Jerry Patterson, the former state senator from Pasadena who's now with the Texas Association of Health Plans... The "Political Graveyard" is an odd and wonderful thing on the Internet for political junkies. It's a listing -- not comprehensive yet, but growing -- of politicians from all over the country who have actually or figuratively passed on. It's at http://www.politicalgraveyard.com. You can find a lot of former gubernatorial candidates in those listings... Rep. Todd Staples, R-Palestine, says he has hit the $100,000 mark in fundraising. He announced less than a month ago that he will seek the SD 3 seat held now by Sen. Drew Nixon, R-Carthage. While we're in that district, Nixon has still not announced whether he'll seek reelection, and not that it means anything, but he didn't announce his last reelection bid until a month before the January 1996 filing deadline... Peter Wareing, one of several Republicans running to succeed retiring U.S. Rep. Bill Archer of Houston, has hired a full posse of consultants for the March primary, including general consultant Denis Calabrese, pollster Mike Baselice, fundraisers Sue Walden and Herb Butrum, and Deby Snodgrass and Jim Farwell to do mail and media, respectively. Matt Welch is on semi-leave from Texans for Lawsuit Reform to manage Wareing's campaign and Merri Easterly is the campaigns organizational director. At mid-year, Wareing led the fundraising race, but two other candidates -- Ron Kapsche and Mark Brewer -- had invested $500,000 or more in their own campaigns. This will be one of the most expensive primary elections in the country, since it's unlikely a Democrat will make a serious run at the seat and the next representative of CD 7 will probably be picked in March... Ramsey Farley quit the Temple ISD board of trustees in his latest move to challenge U.S. Rep. Chet Edwards, D-Waco. Farley, a former oil company executive, hasn't officially announced for the CD 11 race, but gave that as the reason for his resignation in his letter to other board members... In dispute of last week's item about the Texans for Lawsuit Reform endorsement of Rep. Leticia Van de Putte, D- San Antonio, in the SD 26 Senate race, the group's Dick Trabulsi says: "I assure you that TLR PAC's endorsement of Leticia is not reluctant... We're for her. Period."

Chairs, Seats and Charges

The House has been slow (as usual) to roll out interim assignments for standing committees, but they should be out in the next few weeks. In the meantime, House Speaker Pete Laney, D-Hale Center, put Reps. Warren Chisum, R-Pampa, and Pete Gallego, D-Alpine, on the Sunset Commission, and promoted Rep. Fred Bosse, D-Houston, to chair that panel. Chisum and Gallego replace Reps. Patricia Gray, D-Galveston, and Allen Hightower, D-Huntsville, whose terms at Sunset were over last month. (Hightower, who didn't seek reelection last year, was never replaced.)

Laney also tapped Reps. Paul Sadler, D-Henderson, and Ron Wilson, D-Houston, to the two appointed slots on the Legislative Budget Board. Those positions had been empty for the first nine months of the year; they were most recently occupied by Reps. Mark Stiles, D-Beaumont, and Christine Hernandez, D-San Antonio, neither of whom ran for reelection in 1998.

Our candidate for the weirdest interim charge yet is in the Senate, where the Administration Committee, which watches over Senate budgets and the business of the upper chamber, will now be looking into Lyme Disease in Texas. Why? The chairman of that panel, Sen. Chris Harris, R-Arlington, attributes a heart attack and two artificial shoulders to the disease.

Lt. Gov. Rick Perry's newly formed panel on higher education will hold its first meeting in the last week of the month. He's asked the 15-member panel, chaired by former Southwestern Bell exec Jim Adams of San Antonio, to look at what colleges and universities in Texas are doing, how they're doing it, and whether their efforts match the needs of students, businesses and the state.

The other public members of the panel are Kirbyjon Caldwell of Houston, Senior Pastor of St. John's United Methodist Church; Betsy Goebel Jones, an assistant professor at Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center in Lubbock; Margarita Diaz Kintz, who owns a fundraising and planning firm in Austin; Steve Ledbetter, president of Reliant Energy in Houston; Nancy Cain Marcus of Dallas, a trustee at the University of Dallas and a member of the board of visitors at Duke University; Elaine Mendoza, president and founder of Conceptual MindWorks in San Antonio; Jeff Sandefer, president of Sandefer Capital Partners, an Austin-based oil and gas investor, and an instructor at the UT Business School; Karen Shewbart of Lake Jackson, an executive with Dow Chemical; and Danny Vickers of El Paso, president and founder of a data services company.

Perry also put a handful of elected officials on the committee, including Texas Railroad Commissioner Tony Garza of Austin; and Sens. Teel Bivins, R-Amarillo, Bill Ratliff, R-Mount Pleasant, Carlos Truan, D-Corpus Christi, and Royce West, D-Dallas.

Accounting for All that Money

Gov. George W. Bush put the list of his contributors up on the Internet and is updating that list on a regular basis instead of waiting for campaign finance deadlines -- a first in presidential politics. The list is easy enough to read (although it's getting longer and longer), but it isn't easily searchable. Now there's a remedy for that, also available on the Internet. The Environmental Working Group, at http://www.ewg.org, has massaged Bush's contribution data into a searchable database.

On roughly that same subject, Texans for Public Justice, a non-profit group in Austin that's made a lot of noise about campaign finance over the last year, is once again pushing Bush's campaign for a list of "Pioneers" who haven't yet made their quotas.

The campaign has let loose a list of supporters who have raised at least $100,000 for the cause, but hasn't released a list of those who promised to raise that much but haven't (Bush did joke at one point that making the names public might serve as an incentive for the laggards). So far, there are 155 named Pioneers and the Bush camp has said that's a subset of a group of 400 contributors. The demand from TPJ was answered, in part, by a press release from the Republican Party of Texas, which says the non-profit group should reveal where its own money comes from.

Political People and Their Moves

Follow the bouncing presidents: Southwestern Bell's latest executive shuffle (a result of its merger with Ameritech) makes Wayne Alexander president-Southwestern Bell, a job that puts him in charge of government relations in all five states the company serves, including Texas. David Lopez gets the job of president-Texas, heading government relations in Austin. Jim Shelley, who had the job Lopez got, becomes president of SBC Regulatory (SBC is the parent company)... Beaumont's Carrol Thomas Jr. got the superintendent of the year honors from the Texas Association of School Boards... Nancy Sobeck has been working for the governor's office -- and more specifically, for the press office -- for 30 years this month. Not counting repeaters and two-termers in the Mansion, she has lasted through six different governors and innumerable spokesbots. She's done it by not granting interviews... Gov. George W. Bush squeezed in some appointments: He named Sharon Warfield Wilkes of Austin to the board of regents at Texas Woman's University in Denton. She's president of a furniture manufacturing company. Bush picked Lynda Russell of Center to be Shelby County's new district attorney; she replaces Karren Price, named earlier to a district judgeship. The governor also made his appointments to the state's Blue Ribbon Task Force on the Uninsured, naming Dr. Nancy Wilson Dickey of College Station, program director of the Family Practice Residency of the Brazos Valley and a professor at Texas A&M; John Goodman of Dallas, president of the National Center for Policy Analysis; and Boone Powell Jr. of Dallas, president and CEO at Baylor University Medical Center... Texas Ethics Commissioners elected new officers from their own ranks, making Jerome Johnson of Amarillo the new chairman and Lem Allen Sr. of Sequin the new vice chairman... The Texas Funeral Commission got a new board a few weeks back, and that board has hired Orville "Chet" Robbins as executive director. He is a retired Army officer who is working toward his mortician's license. Robbins replaces Eliza May, who is suing the agency for firing her earlier this year... Indicted: Charlie Cortez, the former chief information officer for the Harris County Hospital District, on charges he accepted kickbacks from a contractor he had recommended.

Quotes of the Week

Santa Fe, Texas, resident Betty Anderson, the mother of a football player, on out-of-town atheists assembled to protest prayers on the public address system at the beginning of football games: "Why don't they keep their butts home? They need to stay out of our territory."

Attorney Stuart Henry, who is involved in a case against the state's regulation of large-scale hog farming, contending that the state's environmental protections are anemic: "The word's gotten around the country that if you want to create a nuisance and get away with it, come to Texas."

Panamanian oncologist Rosa Marie de Britton, in an interview with the Dallas Morning News on cancer rates among former residents of the Panama Canal Zone: "The Zonians were a strange bunch. They drank too much. They smoked too much. It's so easy for humans to blame these things on the food they ate, the water they drank or something they might have been exposed to. But they never want to answer for the things they did to themselves."

Harris County District Attorney John B. Holmes Jr., adding a caveat after saying he won't endorse a successor now that he has decided not to seek reelection after 20 years: "I suppose if some incompetent nincompoop decided he wanted to be DA, I might have something to say about that."

Houston attorney Brian Wice, on who might succeed Holmes at the GOP-controlled courthouse: "I think a Democrat has a better chance of winning a daytime Emmy than being elected to that seat."

Prosecutor Bill Forbes of Kanasha County, West Virginia, where there is no death penalty, saying he will try to extradite Robert Springsteen Jr., a capital murder suspect, to Austin: "If I can't kill them here, maybe I can help kill them in Texas."

Florida Rep. Howard Futch, who publicly suggested crucifying a death row inmate who believes himself to be Jesus Christ: "I probably never should have said it. But I'm tired of these murderers sitting there year after year. He's been there too long. He killed people. It's time we did something."


Texas Weekly: Volume 16, Issue 16, 18 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.

Texas Tribune donors or members may be quoted or mentioned in our stories, or may be the subject of them. For a complete list of contributors, click here.

Quality journalism doesn't come free

Yes, I'll donate today