No one has stepped forward to announce a challenge to Sen. James "Buster" Brown, R-Lake Jackson, but the senator's local GOP has put together most of the tools an opponent would need.
The sex scandal plaguing Brown surfaced in September. This round began at a meeting at the first of this month when a small delegation of GOP activists in Brazoria County -- and Republican National Committeeman Tim Lambert of Lubbock came to see the senator and his wife about his political future. Their interest stemmed from Brown's very public written apology to Tiffany Black, who accused the senator of groping her in his district office, where she worked at the time.
Since that incident, Yvonne Dewey, the county GOP chairman, says she and others have received a steady stream of calls about the matter. She says she knows of no candidate for Brown's seat and says the issue wasn't promoted or engineered by someone who wants the job Brown has held since 1981.
The accounts of what happened at the November 1 meeting differ. Dewey says the group went to tell Brown he ought to quit. Before anyone could trot out what she calls the "R-word", she says, Brown volunteered that resignation was not one of the options he would consider. At that point, according to Dewey, the group decided the senator knew their wishes. A week later, as you have surely read by now, the executive committee of the Brazoria County GOP voted 19-2 to demand Brown's immediate resignation (his current term runs through January 2003). That overcame fears from some that Brown would be replaced by someone from Fort Bend or Harris County instead of Brazoria.
Brown's official response: The resolution surprised him and he was disappointed that he didn't get a chance to talk to the committee before the vote. Aides say he has no plans to resign, and nobody is talking openly about challenging him. But party types are floating a number of names of people who could run if Brown were to resign and leave the seat open. Among them: Gary Polland, chairman of the Harris County GOP, who lives in Brown's district; radio talk show host Dan Patrick, who had Black on his show and who has hinted at a run; and Rep. Kyle Janek, R-Houston, who lives on the north end of SD 17. A couple of other Republican state representatives, Dennis Bonnen of Angleton and Charlie Howard of Sugar Land, also live in the district and could probably muster support for a Senate run.
The resolution passed by the county panel (and written by Dewey, who did not vote) has no legal or procedural weight at all. But it's a damaging piece of paper: In essence, his home folks have given any opponent a platform from which to run and a second document from which to quote.
The resolution claims the duty to "set an honorable example for our youth", says Brown's example is a bad one for children, says the GOP needs to distinguish itself "from the party of Clinton" and says it would be hypocritical to do nothing. It ends by demanding Brown's resignation and saying he should jump out of the running for the lieutenant governor's job (he'd be out of that race automatically if he resigned). Before Black came forward, the senator was a strong candidate for the job of presiding officer if the governor becomes president and the lite governor moves into the governor's mansion.
There's a good chance the matter will rise to the state level. That could put party leaders in the odd position of demanding retirements from two of their senators (the other is Drew Nixon of Carthage, whose term expires next year) at a time when the GOP is trying to hold onto a one-vote majority in that legislative body. The first spin from the state party was to call the latest mess a local matter, but it could come up when the state committee meets next month.
T. R. O. U. B. L. E., Part II
It will take a couple of months to find out how much damage the special election for SD 26 did to Rep. Leo Alvarado Jr., D-San Antonio, but the early signs are pretty bad.
The broad-brush version of this is well known. Alvarado finished second in a pack of five candidates and won the right to a runoff against fellow state Rep. Leticia Van de Putte. Within 48 hours, however, he bowed out of that runoff and Sen. Van de Putte was sworn in a week later.
In bowing out, Alvarado said he wanted to avoid a negative and difficult runoff. What he didn't point out was the size of the wound left by the campaign for Senate. It's clear from analyzing the numbers that it would have been almost impossible for him to win a runoff against Van de Putte, who got more than half the votes in a good number of the precincts in the Senate district. But Alvarado not only lost the overall election -- he lost in that part of the Senate district that lies within his own House district, and that apparent weakness could prove appealing to challengers.
The overall results had Alvarado finishing with 21 percent of the vote to Van de Putte's 45.7 percent. A little more than a fifth of the voters in the Senate district -- 20.2 percent -- are also in Alvarado's House district. The numbers in that smaller area expose some weaknesses in Alvarado's support that might have gone unnoticed without a Senate race.
Put simply, Alvarado lost to Van de Putte in his own district, and didn't show much more strength there than in the rest of the Senate district. In fact, it wasn't even a close contest: He finished ahead of the front-runner in only one precinct in his home territory and won that one by only 13 votes. He didn't break the 50 percent mark in a single precinct in his district. Alvarado got 26.4 percent of the Senate vote from his home folks, or 2,777 fewer votes than Van de Putte got. And while he beat her in only one precinct, she won 10 of the precincts by grabbing more than 50 percent of the votes (He finished behind the leading Republican in eight precincts and behind both Republicans in two; Van de Putte didn't finish behind either GOP candidate in any precinct in Alvarado's district).
Alvarado may be bleeding, but he's not politically dead by any stretch of the imagination. He'll go forward with some help from County Commissioner Paul Elizondo and his son John Elizondo, who had talked about running for Alvarado's seat in case of an Alvarado victory. He'll also have some tacit assistance from Van de Putte. Some business groups aren't wild about Alvarado, but labor unions that endorsed Van de Putte in the Senate race were careful to note that they weren't mad at Leo -- they'll probably be in his corner in the reelection race. Trial lawyers will probably also be on his side.
That's no deterrent to Trey Martinez Fischer, an attorney who wants to take Alvarado's HD 116 seat away. He has been making the rounds and promising to challenge Alvarado in the March primaries. That's where the help from the Elizondos and Van de Putte allies could help the incumbent.
Don't forget, too, that Van de Putte has two more elections in front of her and that the first one could involve some serious money. Remember David McQuade Leibowitz? He's the trial lawyer who was planning a run in the special election but pulled up lame when the Secretary of State told him he hadn't lived in the district long enough to run. That will no longer be true when it comes time to vote in the next elections, and Leibowitz said he'd be back when it came time to run for the full term.
And also remember the other piece in this line of dominos. Van de Putte's successor in HD 115 will be chosen in a special election early next year (at press time, Gov. George W. Bush had not picked a date, but most bettors were wagering on January 15, the next uniform election date). With so little time before that expected election date, that race is already underway. It'll feature Roberto "Robbie" Vazquez (note the spelling; we had it wrong before) and Mike Villareal and means San Antonio voters will go the polls in January, in February (if more candidates join in and force a runoff), in March for the regular primary elections, and again in April for primary runoffs.
Buzzwords in Action
Someday, words that begin with the dreaded coinage "E-" (as in e-mail and e-tailing) will seem as quaint as words that end in -matic and -rama (Vegematic, Bowl-a-rama). Sadly, that day is not here yet, and so we have to cope with what all the policy journals call "e-government". The idea behind the popular jargon is interesting, however, and politicos in Texas and elsewhere have noticed.
The newest round will come within days, when Comptroller Carole Keeton Rylander unveils the "e-Texas" program she and her staff have been cooking. The premise is familiar -- Government should be more relevant and more efficient -- but the mechanics are different.
Her program will be tilted more toward the private sector than previous efforts, involving private companies in everything from funding the study, contracting and helping perform the study, and benefiting from the study's results, which will be aimed at spinning off things government is doing that can be done as well or better in the private sector. The contractor idea has been around; nearly all government studies involve consultants and others these days. The spin-off idea is mostly a matter of degree, but it's significant: Rylander has been on a hiring binge, adding policy wonks who are more aggressive about farming government functions out to business and industry.
The funding from the private sector is definitely new, both in form and degree. The agency has prepared fundraising materials with a goal of bringing in $400,000 from private sources. That money would be used to fund the e-Texas project. Aides to Rylander say the agency got legislative permission last session to raise the money privately and to spend it without going through the standard appropriations process, and the fundraising half of that will gear up right after Rylander launches her program in a statewide (actually, planetwide) Internet broadcast.
Politics and Policy with an 'E'
Gov. George W. Bush, meanwhile, named ten people to the "E-Government Task Force" set up by the Legislature to make Texas government accessible from one Internet site (so, for instance, a citizen won't have to remember different addresses for different agencies). The task force has been assigned to do some constructive tinkering, trying to handle some licensing and permitting on the Internet, working on generic privacy and security problems that will confront all such government efforts. Bush named ten people; people appointed by eight different agencies will join them and the 18 panelists will be filing a report by November 1 of next year, in time for the next legislative session.
• We wrote recently about the Secretary of State's new-fangled web services -- an up-to-date searching tool for the Texas Administrative Code; that's now up and running. This is the free version that will be available to anyone with Internet access. It makes it easier to poke around in that section of the law and we're told it also means the state's online version of the code is much fresher. You can have a look at it by going to http://www.sos.state.tx.us/tac/. There once was as much as a three-month lag between additions to the code and online access to those additions. There will be a difference between this free model and the subscriber version we noted a couple of weeks back: The subscriber version will be a few days fresher and will have a more extensive search engine. The rest of this is supposed to be up early next year. One correction from our earlier story: The Legislature made access to the Texas Register free in 1995, not in 1975.
• This from the increasingly busy intersection of the Internet and the political world: Rep. Scott Hochberg, D-Houston, is designing web sites for Democratic campaigns, but he's ducking clients who want to run against his colleagues. That site is http://www.savepostage.com/design.html.
• The Center for Responsive Politics, which watches the flow of money (mainly on the federal level) in politics, notes that contributions from computer software and Internet companies reached $3.8 million during the first nine months of the year. That number, which includes soft money, political action committee and individual contributions, more than double the amount from the previous year. Giving was slightly tilted to Republicans, whose candidates and causes took in 54 percent of the total. That organization's numbers can be found at http://www.opensecrets.org.
That Suddenly Hyperactive House District
The state Capitol isn't home to any major league sports franchises (unless you're tacky enough to count the University of Texas) and the city's main sport has always been politics. That's why an open seat almost anywhere else in the state will attract three, four, or maybe five candidates, but an open seat in Austin will attract twice that many. The vetting has begun, with interesting subplots.
And before we reel off any names, we should point out that most of these folks are still trying to decide whether to run or not. Three potential candidates did some of their political training in the same Senate office. The Republicans probably have one and might have two Hispanics in the race, and both parties are trying to figure out the voting patterns in a district that has changed dramatically since the retiring incumbent, Democratic Rep. Sherri Greenberg, was first elected in 1990. To shorten the argument, you can say this: Most of the politicos we've talked to think it's a marginally Democratic district that could be won by a good candidate from either party.
Start with the Republicans: Coulter Baker, an accountant who previously ran for school board; Craig Douglas, an attorney with Drenner & Stuart who worked for former Sen. John Montford, D-Lubbock; Jill Warren, an attorney with Brobeck, Phleger & Harrison who also worked for Montford; and Homero Lucero, a lobbyist with the Adams & Zottarelli firm who worked for Bexar County Judge Cyndi Krier when she was in the Texas Senate. Lucero is the only Hispanic in the race so far, and as he likes to point out, the only non-lawyer considering the GOP primary.
On the other side of the ledger, Ann Kitchen, who has been in the wings for years, was in the race right from the beginning. She'll apparently face Mandy Dealey, who describes herself as a longtime volunteer; Austin attorney and lobbyist Shannon Noble (a Bob Bullock alum); Austin attorney Jim Rodman (another Montford alum); and Jeremy Warren, an aide to Sen. Rodney Ellis, D-Houston. Democratic fundraiser Alfred Stanley is also kicking tires in that race.
Coming Out of the Rain
Sometime between our putting this to paper and this edition landing on your desk, the state is supposed to be dedicating the cornerstone at the Robert E. Johnson State Office Building. And they'll start moving people into the agency before the end of the year. But the building's troubles are not over and the move-in won't be complete until the contractors and the state are satisfied that the new building north of the Capitol is weatherproof.
The building's leaks have delayed its full opening by more than a year, in turn triggering delays in the renovations of other buildings on the state government's main campus. The move-ins that start next month are limited to areas of the building where leaks aren't a problem. The rest could take time.
Still to be determined is who will have to pay for the delays and overruns. The $38 million building was originally supposed to be occupied before the last legislative session. That obviously didn't work. In some instances, it forced the state to extend leases on privately held buildings, incurring costs that weren't expected.
Skip Forward One Election Cycle
If you're out there speculating about what would happen if the governor moves to the bigger Mansion in the East, why limit your meditations to current and former statewide officeholders? Why not add a couple of names to the list to spice things up?
Harris County Judge Robert Eckels, a former state representative, is not ruling out (an associate's words, not ours) a run for lieutenant governor if the current occupant of that corner office -- Rick Perry -- gets a battlefield promotion to governor. Friends, associates and promoters say he'd be suited to such a job, in part, because of his legislative experience. That’s a poke at Land Commissioner David Dewhurst and Comptroller Carole Keeton Rylander, both of whom are regularly mentioned in speculation about the job and neither of whom has served in the Pink Building before. Eckels hasn't decided even to take a hard look at the job, neither declaring interest nor ruling it out.
Another name in the hat (and in other prominent hats as well) is former Sen. John Montford, a Lubbock Democrat who is currently chancellor of Texas Tech University. Montford's name is floating in conversations about who might run against Perry for the governor's job in 2002; the former senator has long expressed an interest in the lite gov's job. But even his friends point out that Montford has no statewide political or financial base of support. Still, he remains a speculator's favorite: His name is also turning up in newspaper stories about the empty chancellor's job in the University of Texas System.
Random Political Notes, Assorted Oddments
Harris County politicos are getting over their shock at the resignation of District Attorney John B. Holmes Jr. and getting ready for the first competitive race for D.A. in decades. First in the pool: Assistant District Attorney Chuck Rosenthal. He's been working for Holmes since 1977 and boasts he has handled over 200 jury trials and sent 14 murderers to Death Row, "a number far exceeding that of his peers," according to Rosenthal's announcement. His wife, Cynthia, is a special agent with the FBI. Others who are talking or being talked about include District Judge Ted Poe, known for his creative sentencing, and City Councilman Joe Roach, a former assistant DA to Holmes.
• Rep. Todd Staples, R-Palestine, says he paid for the poll last summer that showed, among other things, that most of the voters in SD 3 are undecided. Some Republicans thought that survey was uncomfortably similar to another poll commissioned by the Associated Republicans of Texas, which had the purpose of showing Sen. Drew Nixon, R-Carthage, that he would have a difficult time winning reelection to his Senate seat. The carpet-bagging charges we wrote about last week in that race are still whipping around. Les Tarrance says it's not fair for Staples to shoot at him for recently moving to the district, since the Tarrance family has been in he territory for years. But the Tyler paper pulls out a Tarrance line from last summer, blasting Democrat David Fisher for moving into the district to make the race. Like Tarrance, Fisher's family has roots in SD 3.
• Rep. Rick Green, R-Dripping Springs, claims his well-attended event chaired by former UT football coach Darrell Royal and motivational speaker Zig Ziglar raised $100,000.
• Loy Sneary hired Linda Gray Murphy as a fulltime fundraiser. She previously worked for U.S. Rep. Ken Bentsen, D-Houston. Sneary is trying again to knock off U.S. Rep. Ron Paul, R-Clute.
• Weird fundraising gizmo of the week: The family of HD 11 candidate Kenneth Durrett owns a whole mess of fast food restaurants, among them a bunch of Taco Bells. What that means is that Durrett probably won't get sued for using the silhouette of the Taco Bell Chihuahua (or maybe a body double of the diminutive star) on a fundraising flyer that says, in Spanglish that's notably tangled even by East Texas standards, "Yo Quiero you to attend." Durrett, who is from Jacksonville, will face banker Paul Woodard of Palestine in the Republican primary. Another odd twist: Durrett and both Democrats seeking that seat -- Pharmacist Chuck Hobson and attorney JoAl Cannon-Sheridan, both of Jacksonville -- all go to the same church. That ought to keep things civil.
• Weird fundraising gizmo runner-up: Sen. Ken Armbrister, D-Victoria, holds a "Texas Luau" that asks guest to "slip on your boots and Hawaiian gear." Here's hoping there's a photographer.
Political People and Their Moves
The Texas Medical Association's David Marwitz is leaving the building at the end of the year to open a lobbying, polling and public affairs office in Austin for the Fort Worth-based Eppstein Group. Marwitz, who's been running the political action committee at TMA for five years, says the firm's political work will be done solely from Fort Worth. TMA's already named his replacement, moving Troy Alexander into the office. Alexander had been doing TMA's grass-roots work... Gov. Bush's political office added Ari Fleischer to its Corps de Spokesbot. He was most recently the mouth of the Elizabeth Dole campaign, and though he's been in Austin for several weeks, he didn't want to sign on officially with the governor until Dole was officially out of the race. She is; he has. Karen Hughes remains in charge of communications. Fleischer will hold the position held (briefly) earlier this year by David Beckwith... Col. Thomas Davis Jr., who had been the number two man at the Texas Department of Public Safety, is now the number one man. The agency's three-member board named him to replace Col. Dudley Thomas, who announced his resignation a couple of weeks ago. For the first time, the agency named two assistant directors instead of one. They are David McEathron and Frankie Waller, who had been in charge of traffic law enforcement and administration, respectively... Lisa Mayes, who during the last session was the legislative liaison at Texas Department of Economic Development, moves to the communications division at the Public Utility Commission... Tammy Dewhurst, wife of Land Commissioner David Dewhurst, entered a no-contest plea to drunk driving charges stemming from a traffic accident in the Hill Country in July. She was fined $1,200 and sentenced to a year of probation and 75 hours of community service... Former U.S. Rep. Jim Chapman, D-Sulphur Springs, now a lobbyist, jumped from Arter & Hadden to Bracewell & Patterson (or, put another way, from an Ohio law firm to one based in Houston)... Former Sen. Gregory Luna died the day after the votes were canvassed and his successor, Leticia Van de Putte, was picked. After services in San Antonio, he was buried in the state cemetery. Luna, a former policeman, was an attorney, a founder of the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund (MALDEF) and served in both the House and Senate. Luna died a few days before what would have been his 67th birthday.
Quotes of the Week
Nobel Prize winner Saul Bellow, in the forthcoming novel Ravelstein: "Anyone who wants to govern the country has to entertain it."
Gov. George W. Bush, in an interview with Time magazine after his pop quiz with a Boston television reporter: "I don't really mind people picking on me. I know what I can do. I've never held myself out to be any great genius, but I'm plenty smart."
Ken Kramer, director of the Sierra Club's Texas office, on a federal proposal to fund conservation and environmental programs with government proceeds from offshore oil-drilling leases: "It's sort of like blood money. You do things that have harmful environmental impacts and then take some of the money and do some good with it."
U.S. Customs Inspector Z. J. Medina, on signs on the international bridges in Brownsville that ask motorists to get off their cellular phones before they arrive at the inspection booths: "The real problem is that you have Mr. Important, who think his conversation is so important it can't wait. It's not about communication -- it's a status symbol."
Brady resident Gary Doyal, a former county commissioner who invested, along with a lot of his friends, in a deal with now-indicted financier Brian Stearns that federal authorities allege was a scam: "There's a lot of people praying for this thing to work, for it to turn out on the good side. We're a God-fearing people, but you know, sometimes you can only pray so much."
Dallas Deputy Mayor Pro Tem Steve Salazar, on the city's Y2k preparations which, according to The Dallas Morning News, include extra duty from police and fire departments and a contingency plan to move the entire city government to the Centennial Building at Fair Park: "I can't tell if we're getting ready for Armageddon or a Ricky Martin concert."
Texas Weekly: Volume 16, Issue 20, 15 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.