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Crayons, Politics, Idle Speculation

Scotch the notion, which was being knocked around in the mostly idle Pink Building last week, that a delay in redistricting would automatically keep the current maps in place for a few more years. Those maps are generally considered to be favorable to Democrats. A judge could leave those plans in place, but the changes in the state's population have been so extensive that it would be a tough decision to defend. The current plans are probably burnt toast after this next set of elections.

Scotch the notion, which was being knocked around in the mostly idle Pink Building last week, that a delay in redistricting would automatically keep the current maps in place for a few more years. Those maps are generally considered to be favorable to Democrats. A judge could leave those plans in place, but the changes in the state's population have been so extensive that it would be a tough decision to defend. The current plans are probably burnt toast after this next set of elections.

The speculation stems, in part, from the question of what will happen in the 2002 elections (and maybe, in later cycles) if the state draws new political maps in 2001 and the challenges in court are still pending. Stability is the one thing least likely to result, according to the lawyers we've talked to. The current plans were drawn starting in 1991. They are based on the 1990 census, and since that's out of date, the plans no longer represent the state, especially in the eyes of the courts. That's the argument against using the maps again, and whatever your politics, it's a pretty good legal argument.

So what will happen? Any one of a thousand things, which is why political people in this slow holiday season are pondering it over their coffee and fruitcake. The Texas Legislature will redraw legislative and congressional districts next year. If those aren't satisfactory to the governor – George W. Bush or Rick Perry, depending on how things go in November – the legislative plans would go to the Legislative Redistricting Board and the congressional plans would go straight to court. It would be a historical oddity for a redistricting plan to be completed anywhere but in the courts, but like almost everything else you can cook up in a conversation about reapportionment, it's a possibility.

The courts would have at least two things to do. The first would be to decide what plans were lawful, redrawing as need be. That process can take years, which is the reason there is a second thing to do: Pick a plan that will be used while the first question is being settled. The 1990 plan would almost certainly be spiked. The courts could then use just about any plan for which there is a reasonable argument, whether that's drawn by the Legislature, the redistricting board, the court itself, or by someone else with a particularly large piece of paper, a crayon, and an ability to draw maps.

The starting point, unless the courts found something out of whack with it, would be the last version approved by the state, whether that was a legislative plan approved by the governor or a plan drawn by the LRB after a gubernatorial veto of a legislative plan.

The starting point for a congressional plan is a little trickier. Census numbers due out in April 2000 will likely add two seats to the 30 member Texas delegation, so there will be some large changes in the lines, and the existing plans clearly don't hack it.

The congressional lines are outside of the LRB's jurisdiction. That means they must be redrawn and also means that there is no speed bump between legislative/gubernatorial action and the courts. A legislative deadlock – either internally or between lawmakers and the governor – could put the courts in the position of drawing congressional lines without a strongly backed state plan from which to start. The strategy for anyone in that predicament would be to try to draw a legally acceptable plan and to get as big a bloc of votes for it as possible, knowing in the process that the bloc wouldn't be a majority. Backers of such a plan could then argue that their scheme satisfies the law and had as much or more support than any other proposal. A judge faced with that might at least give it some consideration before pulling out a crayon and revising. The judge's only concern in such a case is whether the final ruling will stand up on appeal, and the legal weighs more than the political on that scale.

Brown's Foes Promise Another Strike

Some of the same folks who started the Brazoria County GOP's attack on Sen. J.E. "Buster" Brown, R-Lake Jackson, were apparently behind a similar effort in Fort Bend County. Brown was accused of groping a female employee. He made a public apology in front of the woman's family, his own wife and the district attorney, and the matter seemed to fade. Then a group in the Brazoria County GOP passed a resolution calling on him to resign and to drop out of the race for lieutenant governor. Now a second group, similarly small in number, has passed an identical resolution in Fort Bend County. But this isn't over: They plan to make their resolution fight a bigger issue when the state GOP executive committee meets in March, which could spell more trouble for the senator.

Eric Thode, who chairs the Fort Bend Republican Party, isn't a proponent of the resolutions and doesn't think Brown's actions should be confused with, say, those of a national officeholder. President Clinton lied to a grand jury, he says; Brown immediately apologized and owned up in a personally embarrassing way. Thode also discounts the groundswell claimed by Brown's antagonists. He says that 44 of his county's 120 precincts are in Brown's Senate district. Only 29 of those have chairmen. Only 16 of them came to the meeting and they voted 15-1 to censure Brown. The vote, like the earlier one in Brazoria County, is toothless, and Brown isn't up for election in 2000.

But Teresa Raia, the member of the State GOP executive committee who organized the latest resolution, says she wants the state party to vote on the issue. She says she has had calls from fellow Republicans all over the state and that's why she's pushing the issue.

She also denies that this is all a grudge match. The whisperers in Austin and in Brown's district say Raia asked Brown several years ago to help a doctor who was in trouble with state regulators over his billings in state medical programs. Brown declined, she got mad, years passed, and now there are these resolutions. Raia says there's nothing to that, and says she'll press forward with her campaign.

Campaign Reports are Still Public Records (So Far)

After we wrote about the squabbling over campaign finance, this follow-up wandered through the door: Some lawyers watching the state's new electronic filing law are quietly contending that the addresses of contributors are not public information if the only disclosure of those addresses was done electronically. Mostly, the argument is being dismissed, but you can tell the level of disgruntlement over the idea of electronic filing just by the fact that the argument's out there.

Under current law, a candidate files a campaign and expenditure report on paper, and the public can see everything that's filed. The new law requires most campaigns to file electronically, and restricts the public's access to that electronically filed information. Addresses of contributors won't be included in campaign finance information posted by the state on the Internet, for example. There is a legal question over whether the state would be allowed to provide that information to the public on magnetic computer disks (one group says those are electronic records; another says they're not, and Attorney General John Cornyn has been asked for his opinion).

Now there's a small group arguing that if the information on the disks is not to be disclosed, then it also shouldn't be disclosed by printing out what's on the disks. In other words, they contend, the information would never be available to the public in any form if it was submitted electronically and if the Texas Ethics Commission could deliver it to a citizen only by going to the computer and printing it out. Paper records filed originally on paper are still treated as they always have been: They're open to the public. And that's the stance of the ethics commission on the new question. If it's filed with them, it's an open record. All they're asking the AG about is whether people who ask for the records can get it on computer diskettes or just on paper.

Redistricting Isn't All Maps and Crayons

Dallas County House members are buzzing about a spate of possible opponents recruited by a fellow representative, and some are talking about getting an opponent for him in retribution. They're accusing Rep. Domingo Garcia, D-Dallas, of recruiting or trying to recruit opponents for Reps. Harryette Ehrhardt, Terri Hodge, Dale Tillery and Steve Wolens. He's also talked to Hispanic Republicans in Tarrant County about finding an opponent for Rep. Lon Burnam.

All of the targets, like Garcia, are Democrats. But redistricting is coming up, and some Hispanic Democrats in Dallas would like to come into the next legislative session with evidence that there should be more Hispanic seats in that area.

Republicans would like to carve up the incumbent Democrats, and some of the victims contend that GOP leaders are encouraging the recruiting. Running some Hispanic candidates, the argument goes, would make it easier to show that minority Democrats would vote for an Hispanic, but have been parceled into districts that favor Anglos instead. The targeted Democrats, and/or some of their sympathizers, are trying to find a candidate of their own to run against Garcia. Diana Flores, a member of the Dallas County Community College Board, has been mentioned as a possible contender.

The Dallas County ruckus has also pulled in some of the state's better-known Democrats. Garcia has a fundraising letter hitting mailboxes right now that's signed by four "Friends of Domingo Garcia": U.S. Rep. Martin Frost, D-Grand Prairie, former San Antonio Mayor Henry Cisneros, former Comptroller John Sharp and Houston businessman Paul Hobby. They spent the last half of last week disavowing efforts to recruit opponents to other Democratic incumbents in Dallas.

Others say they're not convinced the effort is all that planned. "If it is organized," says Sen. Gonzalo Barrientos, D-Austin, "It's not well organized." He and others have been calling people they know in Dallas to remind them that it's not a good year to be trying to knock off incumbent Democrats: It might not pay to start trouble in the cycle that precedes a redistricting year.

The First State Election in 2000

The race to replace Leticia Van de Putte in the Texas House drew only two candidates. Former municipal court judge Roberto "Robbie" Vazquez, and newcomer Mike Villareal, a small businessman, will face each other in the special election January 15 for that San Antonio seat.

Both are Democrats. Van de Putte, also a Democrat, resigned the HD 115 seat after winning a spot in the Texas Senate in a special election last month. Everybody whose name appears in boldface earlier in this item will remain on your radar screen until March, when they all run again for the various seats they're after: Van de Putte won a stub term in the Senate, replacing Democrat Gregory Luna, who resigned in September and died in November. She will seek a two-year term in March (every term in the Senate is up in 2002, because of redistricting).

The winner of the special election to replace her could get some seniority over other freshmen next session, but that's almost all of what's at stake in the special election; that seat is on the ballot again in the March primaries and in the November general elections. The filing deadline has come and gone for the special election, with only those two in it; they and others have another couple of weeks to sign up for the primary in March. That means a fast and furious month. The latest: Vazquez picked up an endorsement from the Texas Medical Association's political action committee, TEXPAC.

Keith Wheeler is officially in the SD 2 race, hoping to win the GOP nomination in March so he can run in the general election against Sen. David Cain, D-Dallas. Wheeler, a Rockwall attorney, will face Dr. Robert Deuell in the GOP primary. An oddity borne of incumbency: The trade groups for the doctors and the lawyers both plan to stick with Cain, who has received their endorsements in the past. U.S. Rep. Martin Frost, D-Grand Prairie, weighs into that race with a fundraising letter telling Cain supporters that Democrats need his vote on redistricting in 2001. The SD 3 race to the south is in play and with it, the GOP's one-vote majority. Some Republicans want to push Cain's race, trying to win it for insurance in case SD 3 slides over to the Democrats.

Making Tracks, Doctors' Orders; Political Notes

Andy Draughn is now officially a candidate for Texas Railroad Commission. He's a Republican oilman who's never run for public office, but who thinks someone from the industry ought to be on the board of the agency that regulates it. Draughn will run against Michael Williams, a commissioner appointed earlier in the year by Gov. George W. Bush, partly because of years in the party vineyards, partly because of a long friendship and association with the governor (back to Midland days) and partly because Bush and others in the party want to expand the GOP's appeal to minorities who they think should be on their side. Williams, who is Black, is miles ahead in terms of financial support and timing, but hasn't run a state race before. So far, there are no Democrats in the race. Draughn says he supports the governor and is running solely because he thinks an oil industry veteran ought to be on the commission. He says Williams' race was "absolutely not a factor" in his decision-making. He owns interests in more than five dozen wells. He says he's been told he would have to put those in a blind trust if he won the regulatory spot: "In effect, I would get out of the oil business," he says. He chose to run against Williams instead of Charles Matthews because Matthews has been on the commission for six years and thus has more experience. By the way, Matthews, who doesn't have an opponent yet, has added Dallas-based Allyn & Co. to handle his advertising and media chores.

• Texas doctors delivered bad news to Reps. Bill Siebert, R-San Antonio, and Charles Jones, R-College Station. The doctors' TEXPAC board endorsed Elizabeth Ames Jones against Siebert, but the incumbent can counter with support from the Texas Civil Justice League, which is sponsoring a fundraiser for him early next year. The PAC also likes Lois Kolkhorst, who's challenging Jones, a freshman, in HD 13. TEXPAC also endorsed Charlie Geren, a Fort Worth Republican running to replace Rep. Sue Palmer, and Corbin Van Arsdale, a Republican who's running to replace Rep. John Culberson in Houston's HD130. While they were laying on their support, the doctors endorsed David Puryear over Woodfin "Woody" Jones on Austin's 3rd Court of Appeals. They also tapped Matt Kidd, Lee Yeakel and Bea Ann Smith on that court, Rebecca Simmons on the 4th Court of Appeals in San Antonio, and David Galtney on Beaumont's 9th Court of Appeals.

• Rep. Robert "Robby" Cook III, D-Eagle Lake, dodged a bullet when the mayor of La Grange decided not to challenge him. Someone reloaded: Phil Stephenson, a CPA who is Wharton County's GOP chairman, officially announced his candidacy at a fundraiser headlined by U.S. Rep. Ron Paul, R-Clute. Interesting tidbit: He's a former college player who scouts for the Kansas City Royals.

• Towel-snapping in SD 3 could become a regular feature before the primary is over. This week: Rep. Todd Staples, R-Palestine, sends a Texas Almanac to homebuilder Les Tarrance of The Woodlands. That's his way of pointing out that Tarrance misspelled the names of several counties in the district in a cookbook he sent out to voters. He also, according to Staples, got his own name wrong in one spot on his own campaign website.

The Third Rail of Public Policy

The issue remains far from being settled, but Dallas Mayor Ron Kirk has emerged as the biggest proponent in the country of extending current sales taxes to the Internet. And large retailers, who slept through the first act, have finally begun to weigh in, saying they shouldn't be asked to compete with online retailers who don't charge sales taxes. Kirk, arguing for city and state governments that are dependent on sales tax revenues, contends that online sales should be treated just like sales at the malls. He's on the federal panel that's considering the issue of e-commerce and taxes; that panel appears to be split between people who agree with him and people who think the Internet should be a tax-free zone. The unanswered question is whether either side will have the votes to make the report persuasive to Congress. U.S. Sens. Phil Gramm and Kay Bailey Hutchison of Texas aren't going so far as to support the taxes. But both are now saying publicly that they think online sales will eventually be taxed. They told a technology group in Dallas that to do otherwise would hurt Main Street retailers.

David Long Almost Lived Another Month

Here's more detail on the state's execution of David Long. You'll remember that the final decision on that hatchet murderer went to Lt. Gov. Rick Perry, since Gov. George W. Bush was out of the state campaigning for president. And that there was a delay in processing that final paperwork due to the fact that Long tried to kill himself a few days before the state was supposed to kill him. They basically had to get a doctor to say he was well enough to transport and that he wasn't so delirious that he didn't know what was happening. Those facts, scribbled here previously, are pretty much agreed upon by everyone who was involved in the execution. But there's been a persistent rumor coming from various other points in the criminal justice loop that the Lite Guv wanted to give the convicted killer a 30-day reprieve so Long would have time to recover and could pursue appeals in less of a rush. Nobody's suggesting that Perry wanted to let him off for good, just that the governor's backup was going to let the matter rest for a month. Perry's folks deny it and say he waited for the doctors and the transportation, but didn't waver on the final decision.

Boomtowns Everywhere You Look

Three of the decade's ten fastest-growing metropolitan areas in the U.S. were in Texas, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. And of the ten largest metropolitan areas in the country, the two growing the fastest were Dallas-Fort Worth and Houston.

The latest numbers show that, from 1990 to 1998, Laredo grew by 41.2 percent (its population increased by 54,927, to 188,166) and ranked second only to Las Vegas, Nevada, in percentage growth. The McAllen-Edinburg-Mission metro was third on the list, growing 36.2 percent by adding 138,659 people and bringing its total population to 522,204. In the number six position was Austin-San Marcos, which added a net total 259,682 people and grew 30.7 percent, ending with a population of 1,105,909.

The percentage growth numbers are tamer in the big cities, but the numbers are numbing. Dallas-Fort Worth added 765,181 to its population during the 1990-1998 period for an increase of 19 percent. They ended 1998, according to the census folks, with a population of 4.8 million. Houston-Galveston-Brazoria added 676,500 for a gain of 18.1 percent and an ending population of 4.4 million. Even with that growth, the two Texas metros are on the bottom end of the size rankings, holding the ninth and tenth positions, respectively, among the nation's largest metropolitan areas.

Leave This Off Your Holiday Schedule; Tidbits

The comptroller's much-publicized e-Texas group, chaired by Wendy Gramm, had its first meeting, but didn't post it for the public. Aides to Comptroller Carole Keeton Rylander say the commission is advisory and doesn't make any rules or laws, and thus doesn't have to post its meetings. They have no plans to post meetings unless those meetings are set up specifically to hear from the public. The first of those will be next month. The meeting held earlier this month was mainly to get the task force and its several sub-forces organized. Rylander wants the task force to come up with suggestions for government reform and, when possible, privatization of government services.

• Before we get back from the holidays, the state is due to receive two settlement payments from the tobacco companies. The first, due on the last day of the month, is supposed to total $326.3 million, all of which would go to the state. The second, which will go to counties and hospital districts on January 3, is supposed to total $605.1 million. The actual mileage could vary, depending on sales of cigarettes and the like.

Chuck Hopson, a Jacksonville pharmacist, is definitely in the race for the House seat left open by Rep. Todd Staples' run for state Senate, and would like for us to stop spelling his name wrong. He'll be in the Democratic primary against JoAl Cannon-Sheridan.

• You'd hate it, too, if we got your birthday wrong. We sent out calendars with the wrong date noted for George Washington's birthday. Incredibly, someone noticed. Our contractor 'fessed up and made good, and we're sending out the new calendars now. Happy Birthday, Mr. President.

Political People and Their Moves

The Lower Colorado River Authority moved quickly to replace Mark Rose, tapping Joe Beal as its new general manager. Rose is off to run a public affairs firm after 13 years at LCRA. Beal currently heads the authority's water and wastewater operations... With typical aplomb, Fort Worth Star-Telegram columnist Molly Ivins announced, in print, that she's fighting breast cancer. She's started chemotherapy and is optimistic she'll fully recover... CD 14 candidate Loy Sneary signed Kyle Garrison to run his rematch against U.S. Rep. Ron Paul, R-Clute. Garrison has been at the Texas Senate Democratic Caucus; last year, he managed a successful campaign to knock off Sen. Michael Galloway, R-The Woodlands, helping Beaumont Democrat David Bernsen into the Senate. Paul beat Sneary handily a year ago, winning 55 percent of the vote... The House won the annual staff football game against the Senate, 15-0, and apparently won the fight as well. Jim Hamilton on the Senate side got seven stitches out of this year's show of bicameral fraternity... As he promised, former Houston Mayor Fred Hofheinz officially told a federal court he is not guilty of bribery charges in Louisiana. There's a gag order, so he's saying only that he'll fight.

Quotes of the Week

U.S. Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Massachusetts, on running for president as a member of a well-known political tribe: "The one thing that bothers me about George W. is a young man getting along on the basis of a famous family name. I've got news for him: it's not going to work. I had to get out there – I had to get right out there and start at the bottom."

Lobbyist Reggie Bashur, a former aide to Govs. Bill Clements and George W. Bush, on presidential debates: "From the perspective of a candidate, it's just an exercise you try to get through without hurting yourself. The candidate that tries to win is the candidate who is willing to take a risk. And the candidate willing to take a risk is about to make a mistake."

Texas GOP executive committee member Teresa Raia, on her efforts to force Sen. J.E. "Buster" Brown, R-Lake Jackson, to resign after he apologized publicly for advances on a female employee: "In the real world or the corporate world, he would be fired. There would be no doubt about it."

Dallas Mayor Ron Kirk, on why he thinks Internet sales should be taxed like other sales: "None of us wants to pay taxes. But you certainly don't want the phone to go unanswered when you have a fire or when you have a need for police."

Chris Wysocki, president of a group of small businesses on the opposite side: "Allowing the taxation of e-commerce would jeopardize the growth of the new digital economy and hamper the ability of entrepreneurs across America. The burdens that would be imposed are simply unacceptable."

Municipal Judge Joe Cardenas of Weslaco, repeating what he tells some of the Spanish-speaking defendants in his courtroom: "Even here in the Valley, you're much better off if you speak the language of the country. It might determine if you get a job or don't get a job."

Public defender Kevin Doyle of New York, who handles death penalty cases, on his state's debate over soaring costs of lawyers, incarceration, and appeals for residents of death row: "You certainly can have a cheap death penalty. But then, New York State's system of capital justice will look like that of Texas, and it will be a laughingstock."

San Francisco GOP chairman Don Casper, on why Republicans were supporting Willie Brown, a liberal Democrat who won reelection as the city's mayor: "For me, it's a no-brainer going with Willie. If Tom Ammiano is elected mayor, the State Department should consider establishing diplomatic relations with the People's Republic of San Francisco."

U.S. District Judge Lucius Bunton, telling the Dallas Morning News what he thinks of the apparent recovery of Dallas S&L legend Danny Faulkner, who was released from federal prison because his health was so bad: "I think it's pretty tacky of someone to complain because someone hasn't died."

It's not a Y2k problem: This is our last issue of 1999. Texas Weekly will be back after a two-week break, assuming the power grid is still in place after January 1. Happy Holidays!

Texas Weekly, Volume 16, Issue 25, 20 December 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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