Only two months into the current budget, the Texas Commission on Alcohol and Drug Abuse (TCADA for short) has discovered it has $57 million less than it thought, partly because the agency has less money on hand than it forecast and partly because it's spending money faster than it knew.
That revelation has the budgeteers in the Legislature and the agency scrambling to make sure the numbers are right, to fill the budget gap and to find out how to keep the problem from recurring next year without cutting service levels. Since they haven't completed a bailout plan, the agency, which generally hires outside contractors to provide services for its clients, has not yet let its providers know what's going on. And until they get the numbers ironed out sometime within the next two weeks, they won't know whether this means a cut in service levels or a cut in planned service growth.
If all that sounds about half familiar, it's because something similar happened in September at the Texas Department of Mental Health and Mental Retardation. That agency, you'll remember, expected a certain amount of money to be left over from the previous fiscal year, and found the actual amount far short of expectations. MHMR's problems were bad enough, with a $30 million shortfall in an agency with a $3.47 billion biennial budget. But TCADA has a problem twice that size, at $57 million, and a budget only one-tenth as large, at $329.3 million.
TCADA expected to have $35 million left over from the previous budget cycle but in fact (everything is an estimate at this stage) has only about $8 million. And money was being spent at a faster rate than the agency expected, a trend that is expected to continue.
The agency sends money to providers in the form of grants, then sweeps at the end of each period to collect the money those providers haven't spent. The agency estimated wrong when guessing how much those providers would spend. The numbers aren't completely clear yet, but the problem itself is coming into focus. The best information now is that the providers spent more on services than they have in the past, returning less than a dime on the dollar at fiscal year end. That left the agency shorter than expected: Not only does it mean that less money is left from last year to spend this year, it means that providers are now spending the available money at a faster rate than before.
If the higher than traditional level of spending was a one-time thing, the problem would be a simple (but still serious) shortfall. But nobody's expecting that to happen. Jim Oberwetter, who has been the chairman of TCADA's board since the agency came out of conservatorship (for a completely different set of financial problems), says the higher spending is actually a sign of health -- the providers are stronger than they were before. But he admits it leaves the agency temporarily in the ditch. He and the board found out about the problems in mid-October.
One of the questions they're asking during the financial autopsy is when the problems became known: As early as June, there were two sets of numbers floating around. One was labeled "reality" and the other was labeled "for the board".
That's not all. The agency is trying to sort this out with new people at the helm since the executive director and the chief financial officer left -- for completely unrelated reasons -- at the end of October. Terry Faye Bleier, the executive director, had announced her retirement in August, well before the budget problems came to light. And the chief financial officer, Mark Smock, moved to College Station, where his wife is starting a new job at Texas A&M. Jim McDade is temporarily the executive director, and Doug Wilson, the agency's compliance officer, is filling in at finance.
Greenberg Quits and the Cartoons Begin
Rep. Sherri Greenberg, D-Austin, says she won't run for reelection, setting off (we're guessing, since this happened right at our deadline) one of those Austin races that has half a dozen people in it.
Now, it's news enough that a member of the Texas House is retiring. In normal election cycles, that's not that unusual an occurrence, but this year, it's highly unusual. What's even odder is that House Speaker Pete Laney, D-Hale Center, has been working especially hard to keep his thin majority, and Greenberg, who chairs the House Pensions and Investments Committee, is part of the leadership team. She's been knocking the resignation idea around for several weeks, however, and decided that she would wrap it up at the end of ten years.
Greenberg succeeded Republican Terral Smith (now the legislative poobah for Gov. George W. Bush) in a marginally Republican district race that drew eight candidates (four from each party). The district was redrawn in redistricting the next year, partly to shrink it because of heavy growth in the western part of Travis County, and partly because that heavy growth was siphoned into a solidly Republican district, which is now held by Rep. Terry Keel, R-Austin.
Austin being Austin, the Greenberg announcement had the lines jumping with candidates within hours. Nobody was definitely doing anything at our deadline, but several candidates' names were being floated. Greenberg said she hadn't groomed a successor, but said she thinks the seat will remain in the hands of the Democrats and said she also expects more than a handful of candidates to run.
From One Numbers Game to Another
Patsy Henry is leaving the Legislative Budget Board to become the next deputy executive director of the Texas Lottery Commission, a position that's been open for almost two years. Henry, who was the LBB's budget analyst on the lottery, made the cut from a pack of 140 applicants, 14 of whom were interviewed for the post. The job has been empty since the resignation of Zoann Attwood in early 1997. Lottery Director Linda Cloud says Henry will be in charge day-to-day operations, and says that will free Cloud to work on the lottery's sales, which are sliding after years of relatively steady growth. Henry will start right before Thanksgiving.
Indirectly related: It's an ugly way to make money, but getting run out of the Texas Lottery has been a fairly lucrative, if painful, deal for the last two directors. The latest settlement, $300,000, goes to former honcho Lawrence Littwin, who claimed lottery operator Gtech Corp. got him fired from the commission after less than six months on the job. Lottery officials wouldn't say why they fired Littwin. The company's folks say they were stuck with the choice of going to court or buying their way out. They chose Door Number Two after deciding it would be cheaper. Lottery officials dispute the idea that their actions had anything to do with the settlement.
A little more than a year ago, the company paid a total of $725,000 to former lottery head Nora Linares and her lawyers. Linares, who was replaced by Littwin, filed suit saying the company had forced her ouster at the agency. Gtech settled both cases without admitting it did anything wrong.
The Littwin case made national news because it produced the testimony from former Lt. Gov. and Speaker of the House Ben Barnes that he had made a call at the behest of a Bush family friend to get George W. Bush a spot in the Air National Guard. Barnes said he never talked to a member of the Bush clan about it; the governor and his family say they didn't have anything to do with it.
Typos and Follow-ups: That former governor's name was Beauford Jester -- we misspelled it. And the Marine Corps unit is called the Reserve, not the Reserves.... And that San Antonio doctor's union that was refused permission to bargain may get another chance. The group was denied negotiating status by Attorney General John Cornyn, but the rules weren't yet in place. Cornyn's office has the proposed rules in hand; once they're approved, they'll be in a position to approve applications.
In Spite of the Noise, No Surprises in SD 26
The number of females serving in the Texas Senate increased by 33 percent with the election of Leticia Van de Putte, D-San Antonio, to the SD 26 seat left open by Sen. Gregory Luna's resignation. Van de Putte, who first came to the House in 1991, won 45.7 percent of the vote in a field of five candidates and was poised for what looked to be a relatively easy runoff against Rep. Leo Alvarado Jr.
But Alvarado, who won only 21.0 percent of the vote in the first election, bowed out within 24 hours, saying he thought the only way to win a runoff would be with a deeply negative campaign. By our deadline on Thursday, he had officially dropped out. While it's true that the second-place finisher often wins a runoff, it's generally true only in races where the votes that didn't go to the front-runner were votes against that front-runner. In SD 26, voters are far more positive about Van de Putte than not and even a negative campaign would likely have fallen short.
In fact, Van de Putte had been the favorite all along. She had the support of the business community, both locally and in Austin (where the trade group money hides). She had the support of the unions, which can still put a formidable number of bodies on the street on a candidate's behalf. She had a head start. Alvarado had surgery for esophageal cancer in late summer and pulled his name out of consideration for the Senate race for several weeks that turned out to be critical.
Van de Putte, on the other hand, has been raising money and putting together her campaign since the end of the legislative session. When Luna, who has been seriously ill for most of the year, announced in September that he would resign the seat and force a special election, Van de Putte had most of the pieces in place to win. A sure indicator: Luna wanted Rep. Robert Puente to run for the seat, but after calling around to check on support, he decided he'd be better off staying in place.
And as has been pointed out here before, you could see how San Antonio politicos thought it would go by watching their actions. Candidates interested in Alvarado's House seat held back to see what happened to him before they would publicly jump to succeed him. Van de Putte's would-be successors were more confident that her chair would be empty and have been running their campaigns with the throttles open, on the assumption that she would soon be senator. They turned out to be right, and Mike Villareal and Robbie Vasquez, both Democrats, are well out in front of anyone else who might want to join the battle. Alvarado says he'll seek reelection to his House seat, and the folks who had been looking are probably not going to challenge him.
The results in the Senate race set up a special election for Van de Putte's House seat. The governor was scheduled to officially canvass the race on Friday, November 5. After that, the new senator can be sworn in, and once she's vacated the House seat, the governor can call a special election. The hitch is that the election will probably be January 15, potentially followed by a February runoff, followed by the March primary for next year's general election, potentially followed by an April primary. Oy! Whoever wins the special election has a chance, if they also go on and win the March primary and the general election in a year, to be the senior member of the freshman class of 2001. If nothing else, that officeholder will have a slight leg up when it comes to parking space and office assignments.
The election results had some features worth filing away for future reference. The two Republicans in the field combined to collect 26.1 percent of the vote, or about 3,000 votes more than Alvarado. If only one had run, and if those votes had stayed on the GOP side of the ledger, Van de Putte would be on the runoff ballot with a Republican. The district, by all accounts, is solidly Democratic, but runoff elections can produce odd turnouts and the results are intriguing on that account.
The local GOP's favorite candidate, Anne Newman, was the voters' least favorite Republican. The voters went instead with Mark Weber, a self-employed, motorcycle-riding newcomer to politics who stayed in the race in spite of pleas from party elders who wanted him to clear the way for Newman. He ended up with 14.7 percent of the vote to her 11.4 percent. Lauro Bustamante, cousin of former U.S. Rep. and Bexar County Judge Albert Bustamante, came in fifth in this third run for elected office (he ran twice for Congress) with 7.2 percent of the vote.
Your Mission, Mr. Phelps...
It's always an uphill proposition to defeat a sitting district attorney in Texas, but Shane Phelps, an Austin attorney who now works at the attorney general's office, is planning a rematch against Travis County District Attorney Ronnie Earle. Phelps, then in private practice, was one of three attorneys who took a shot at Earle in 1996. Unlike the other two, who were Democrats, Phelps got some help from Republicans who were motivated, in part, by Earle's prosecution of Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison in 1994 (She was acquitted when Earle dropped his case shortly after the jury was seated).
In that 1996 race -- Phelps' virgin run as a candidate -- the Republican lost by more than nine percentage points, or by almost 22,000 votes. That was then; some Republicans think the growth of Austin has turned the Democratic bastion at least a little more conservative, and the challenger is ready to try again. Phelps, who now heads the criminal justice division for Attorney General John Cornyn, is apparently the first challenger in the race. He is a former assistant district attorney in Harris County, and also worked for former Attorney General Dan Morales in the unit that assists prosecutors.
Politics on the Internet
This might be the answer to the question "What happens when you mix all the excitement about the dot-communistas with presidential politics?" You get a lot of ideas about the Internet and how to use the new media in the campaign world, about how to connect people with policy and government. Like anything new, some of them are lousy ideas and some might just work. Two new ventures based in Austin could get some attention during this next cycle. The first, called Newvoter.com, is simple: It allows people to register to vote in all 50 states, using a standard form developed by the Federal Election Commission. A couple of states don't allow it, so you sign up and they mail you the form or direct you to the right office. The second is called TexasCampaigns.net, and was put together by Mark Loeffler, a Texas Senate aide who is branching out and offering to do campaign sites for candidates and to put them all in one place so interested parties -- whether they be voters or contributors or whatever -- can do one-stop political shopping. The postings are free, but the design work and site maintenance for people who sign up costs money.
And Still More Political Notes
• Television can keep up with politics in the strange bedfellows department. Check this one out: The Texas Network (aka TXN) is the San Antonio-based statewide news operation that was financed by Dr. James Leininger, a wildly successful businessman who funds a number of conservative and very conservative causes. By all accounts, the news network has been unaffected by his political leanings, but the latest affiliation is still, um, unusual. TXN's new affiliate in the state capital will be KLRU, the public television station run by Mary Beth Rogers. She's on the opposite end of the political spectrum, to say the least: She ran the last gubernatorial campaign for her old friend Ann Richards against George W. Bush. But here's the controversy, if there is one: TXN is a for-profit operation and KLRU is a public TV station. The news network's half-hour broadcast will run commercial free.
• Rep. Charles Jones, R-College Station, has drawn an opponent. Lois Kolkhorst, head of the economic development foundation in Brenham, has entered that race as a Republican. She says she's not running against Jones per se, but wants to be the House member from HD 13. She and her husband own a petroleum business.
• David Noak, a Republican now in his second term as LaGrange's mayor, admits he is thinking about a race against Rep. Robby Cook III, D-Eagle Lake, but says he hasn't made up his mind yet. Among the folks spotted recruiting Republicans to run against Cook in that district: Chad Crow, a staffer for U.S. Rep. Ron Paul, R-Surfside.
• Ben Bius, a Republican who lost in 1998 but wants another run at Rep. Dan Ellis, D-Huntsville, raised $25,000 at a shindig in Huntsville with no big name to draw a crowd but his own. As we've noted, Bius will face Thomas Leeper of Huntsville in the primary.
Towel Snapping in East Texas
About a week ago, the Les Tarrance campaign put out an announcement that he was going to be a positive guy, signing a letter patterned on the Texas Ethics Commission's Code of Fair Campaign Practices. It says the candidate won't resort to, well, the things most candidates resort to when their races heat up. He wrote a letter to Wally Wilkerson, the chairman of the Montgomery County GOP, that said he was asking opponents to sign the same pledge.
While all that was still in the mail, the fun began. Rep. Todd Staples, R-Palestine, has a letter in the mail to potential supporters that talks about his progress, includes some poll results that helped him decide to run, and includes copies of Tarrance's voting records. Those show that Tarrance lived in a neighboring Senate district during the first half of 1998, voting in the GOP primaries in SD 4 before moving to SD 3 in time for the November general election. That's apparently not the end of the carpet-bagging charge. Staples says the Democrat, David Fisher of Silsbee, has a similar weakness.
The poll, done by Staples' consultant Bryan Eppstein, shows that four out of five voters in the district are undecided. The political weakness of the incumbent, Sen. Drew Nixon, R-Carthage, is plain: He had 12 percent positive ratings with GOP primary voters and 48 percent negative ratings. Eppstein concluded that Nixon wouldn't even get into a runoff if he stays in the race.
Neither Staples nor Tarrance had a real edge in name identification. Staples is more recognized by voters in his district than Tarrance is, but Tarrance lives in a more populated part of the district. He's hoping geography will pay off.
Political Notes, Miscellany and Oddments
• As you would expect, there was plenty of credit and blame being heaped on various folks in Houston and San Antonio after the arena votes. The geniuses came out of the woodwork right after the results were in. And in fact, both cities went against type. In Houston, supporters of the arena were wondering why the political team never put any basketball stars out front to sell the deal, and they were giving credit to Harris County GOP chairman Gary Polland, who jumped in front of the aginnners. Brian Berry was also on that team. In San Antonio, the result left some pollsters scratching their heads. Those who weren't in on the strategy to get an arena built for the Spurs were calling the race a dead heat and it ended up in a landslide. The campaign manager, Eddie Aldrete, got a share of credit as did the PSI public affairs shop in Austin, which had him under contract. His brother James Aldrete was working on Leticia Van de Putte's successful Senate campaign at the same time.
• Lobbyist Brad Shields, who is in his sixth year as a trustee in the Eanes school district, says he will "probably" run for State Board of Education. He's aiming at the slot left open by Will Davis, who has decided not to run for reelection. He says he has visited with past Republican candidates for the seat (Davis is a Democrat) and is in the process of talking to the 16 county chairmen in the district. He is also going to seek reelection to a three-year term on the board in Eanes next May, a position he would give up if he's successful in the state race. Shields says the office wouldn't present any conflicts with current lobby clients, and says he would keep that day job if elected to the state office. He says he thinks he could "bring a legislative sensibility that's not there now" to the SBOE.
• Regina Montoya-Coggins, a Democrat running against U.S. Rep. Pete Sessions, R-Dallas, in CD 5, has hired Austin's Dean Rindy as her media consultant and Mike Plante to do research.
• Texas Comptroller Carole Keeton Rylander might call you names if you don't give enough to her campaign. Her invitations for Christmastime fundraisers give titles to different sizes of givers: $10,000, Christmas Future; $5,000, Christmas Present; and $2,500, Christmas Past. Give only $1,000 and you're Tiny Tim. Only have $500? You'd be Bob Cratchitt.
• There are two more Republicans in Moore County than there were a few weeks ago. District Attorney Barry Blackwell and Sheriff H.T. "Ted" Montgomery, elected as Democrats, will go into next year's reelection attempts as Republicans. The state GOP claims 122 Democratic officeholders in Texas have changed parties since 1992.
Political People and Their Moves
Attorney General John Cornyn is hiring Mark Hechmann as communications director. Hechman was involved in GOP politics in the late 1970s and early 1980s, and is currently a vice president at the University of Texas at Tyler. He'll replace Ted Delisi, who has been acting as Cornyn's chief spokesbot since the AG took office in January. Cornyn and Delisi have been saying from the outset that he was a temp in the job, and neither expected the gig to last this long. Delisi will go back to political consulting; he and GOP operative Todd Olsen bought Karl Rove's consulting company earlier this year when Rove went to work full-time for Gov. Bush's presidential campaign. That company has since done hundreds of thousands of dollars in work for Bush's direct mail and fundraising efforts... Hillco, the Buddy Jones/Bill Miller lobbying and public affairs shop, has hired Frank Santos, most recently with Monsanto, to join the lobby team... Somewhere around the end of the year, Lance Lively says he'll be leaving the staff of Sen. David Bernsen, D-Beaumont. Lively lobbied for the Texas Municipal League before joining Bernsen at the beginning of the year. He doesn't have definite plans, but says he'll be lobbying again... Dallas scores twice at the Drug Enforcement Administration. President Bill Clinton picked Donnie Marshall, a Dallas native who grew up in East Texas, to head the agency. His number two at the agency, assuming both are confirmed by the Senate, will be Julio Mercado, who now heads the DEA's Dallas office... Randall James, named temporary Texas Banking Commissioner in mid-summer, gets to lose the temporary. That also makes him the executive director of the Texas Finance Commission... Jay Brummett, chairman of the Texas Real Estate Commission, adds a title: He's been elected to the national board of the Association of Real Estate License Law Officials... Kelly Headrick, until recently the regional advocate for the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, has been named director of government relations at the American Cancer Society's Texas office... The State Commission on Judicial Conduct elected Chief Justice William "Bud" Arnot III of the 11th Court of Appeals in Eastland as its new chairman and L. Scott Mann of Lubbock, a citizen member of the panel, as vice chairman. While we're on the subject, that commission admonished Don Jarvis Sr. of Grayson County for naming his son to represent indigent defendants. And the Texas Supreme Court upheld an earlier decision by the commission to remove state District Judge Jim Barr of Houston from his job after he was accused of unprofessional behavior... Fun facts: The lobbyist for the company that owns the trash hauler that nearly buried the governor and his Department of Public Safety bodyguard on Austin's hike-and-bike trail is none other than former Rep. Cliff Johnson, who worked for Gov. Bush before becoming a lobster. The trash truck was owned by Longhorn Disposal, which is owned in turn by Waste Management Inc., a Johnson client. The driver was ticketed for having defective brakes and for hauling 114,000 pounds of trash -- almost twice what the truck was legally allowed to carry. Johnson swears he left the governor's office on good terms.
Quotes of the Week
Former President George Bush, on the senatorial aspirations of Hillary Clinton, who has never lived in New York, the state she apparently wants to represent in Congress: "This couldn't happen in Texas. I've been here since '48, and some still wonder if I'm a Texan."
Former President Gerald Ford, on the potential candidates who might be in the running for the Reform Party nomination, including Pat Buchanan, Ross Perot, Donald Trump, and Jesse Ventura: "What a bevy of beauties."
A message left on the answering machine of the Austin Chronicle by the state's Comptroller of Public Accounts, after the paper printed an unflattering Halloween mask using her face as the starting point: "Louis Black, this is Carole Rylander. I want you to know I love the Chronicle... No really, I got a real kick out of it." Later, Black wrote, her staff called requested the phone number for the artist.
Travis County Attorney Ken Oden, on whether actor Matthew McConaughey should be prosecuted for playing bongo drums and dancing naked at home: "If that kind of fiddle-faddle were illegal in Austin, we would have half the town in jail, maybe including the county attorney."
Texas Weekly: Volume 16, Issue 19, 8 November 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.