The Law of Unintended Consequences

A reform aimed at John McCain's conversion of campaign money from his Senate account to his presidential account could affect the future plans of Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison of Texas and others who have entertained the notion of someday running for state offices. In the days leading up to the South Carolina primaries, Gov. George W. Bush proposed ending the conversion of funds from one federal political account to another. As the Bush forces like to say, the biggest contribution in McCain's presidential campaign is from McCain's Senate account. The argument is a long-winded way to tie his shoelaces together on campaign finance reform.

A reform aimed at John McCain's conversion of campaign money from his Senate account to his presidential account could affect the future plans of Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison of Texas and others who have entertained the notion of someday running for state offices. In the days leading up to the South Carolina primaries, Gov. George W. Bush proposed ending the conversion of funds from one federal political account to another. As the Bush forces like to say, the biggest contribution in McCain's presidential campaign is from McCain's Senate account. The argument is a long-winded way to tie his shoelaces together on campaign finance reform.

The logical progression starts with that funds transfer, then moves to the idea that McCain is chairman of the Senate's far-reaching Commerce Committee. Next is the idea that the chairmanship brings in money for the senator from people who might never have wanted to support him for president, then to Bush's proposal for a ban on such transfers. Bush's policy papers on the issue say clearly that the governor is talking about transfers from federal office accounts to federal office accounts, making no mention of transfers from federal campaign accounts to state accounts. But the papers do go into some detail about the reasons Bush wants the ban, and it would take a political Houdini to accept the logic for federal offices and then to escape its application to a state races.

Only four federal candidates had more money in the bank at the end of 1999 than Hutchison. Three -- Bush, Gore and Bradley -- are running for president. The fourth, Rudy Giuliani, has a little race underway in New York against Hillary Clinton (Clinton was in 7th place on the list; John McCain was 41st). The junior senator from Texas started the year with $6.1 million in her treasury, no primary opponents and only pest-level competition from the Democrats in the general election later this year. She'll spend some, but could easily end the year with a fat bank account.

Hutchison has said she is not currently pondering a race for governor. She's not ruling it out, however. She says she is not interested in running against an incumbent governor. If Bush wins and Lt. Gov. Rick Perry moves up, she probably wouldn't jump into a primary against a Perry bid for a full term of his own. But she leaves open the possibility of a run for an open seat. In any future race, the balance of her federal account could be "spent" on the state race, since that's an allowable expenditure and since there are few, if any, restrictions on such contributions in Texas politics.

A possible way around all this comes from Hutchison's own history. When the former state treasurer (yes, kids, there used to be such an office) wanted to convert her state account for use in the federal race, she gave it back to her contributors and asked them if they would then contribute to her federal efforts. That had a two-fold effect. First and most importantly, it made the money legal for use. Second, it had the politically useful effect of reinvigorating Hutchison's financial supporters.

Weighing Some Other Federal Piggy Banks

However the final score comes out, there will be money involved in CD-05, where U.S. Rep. Pete Sessions, R-Dallas, has $472,000 in the bank and his challenger, Democrat Regina Montoya Coggins, has $440,000. Other notables on the Texas ballot: CD-07 hopeful Peter Wareing spent $706,905 during the last half of 1999; John Culberson, who according to most polls will also make that runoff, spent $164,991. As a collective, the candidates in that GOP primary have raised $2.6 million and spent $1.7 million. U.S. Reps. Joe Barton, R-Ennis, and Lloyd Doggett, D-Austin, have been hoarding: Barton ended the year with $1 million in the bank; Doggett had $1.4 million. Neither has serious opposition.

Shake Hands and Come Out Fighting

Rep. Todd Staples, R-Palestine, is pressing questions about why homebuilder Les Tarrance was overdue on business and school property taxes until just before he officially became a candidate for office at the end of last year.

That's the newest line of attack in what will almost certainly be the most hotly contested state race of the year. The two are running in SD-3 with Van Brookshire, each hoping for the Republican nomination to succeed Sen. Drew Nixon, R-Carthage. The survivor of the GOP primary will face Democrat David Fisher in the general election. The party affiliation of the winner of that contest will likely determine the partisan balance of the Texas Senate as we head into a decennial redistricting session. (An indication of what's at stake: Without actually threatening anyone, Lt. Gov. Rick Perry is pointedly telling lobbyists and insiders that he'll keep score on who's with the Republicans and who's with the Democrats during the general election.)

Tarrance admits that, yes, he was behind on both his state franchise taxes and on local school district taxes and says he's now current. He explains that his business, like many others, went through a terribly rough patch from the mid-1980s through the early 1990s, and that it took some time to repair all of the financial damage. His aides say he never declared bankruptcy on any of his businesses, never forced another business into bankruptcy, and eventually made good on his obligations. Tarrance even points out in a mailer to voters in the district that his company is one of only 150 out of 1,000 homebuilding outfits in the Houston area that survived the bust. That same mailer set up Staples' attack, by noting that Tarrance "chose to work through that troubled period and, in time, settled his debts and paid his taxes." It goes on to point out that many of the companies that worked with him in the hard times are still working with him now.

Staples contends that it was only when he knew he was going to run for office that Tarrance came clean on his taxes. Tarrance's folks confess that he paid $5,000 to $6,000 in overdue property taxes to the Spring ISD last year, along with $3,000 to $4,000 in overdue franchise taxes to the State of Texas. And they say that came about as a direct result of the research he did to ready himself for the slings and arrows of a campaign. "As you start to run for a campaign, you have to do your own sort of study on your background, and these things hadn't been taken care of," said Jim Arnold, who's consulting on the Tarrance campaign. "So he went back and took care of them."

Politics on the Internet

Former and would-be Rep. Nancy Moffat, R-Southlake, in a rematch with the woman who beat her, Rep. Vicki Truitt, R-Keller, pulled the plug on the "voter discussion" section of her Internet site (www.moffat2000.com ) after someone started posting messages unbecoming to a campaign. What's now posted is the webmaster's long and tortured explanation of why the area was undone. Brian Clinkenbeard writes that "recent false and slanderous postings" and "pornographic and lewd comments," as well as outside attempts to pull the site down, led him to disable that part of the site.

• Details, details: Bush's web site lists Republican elected officials from each state who have endorsed the governor, and there are some glitches. He's got both Land Commissioner David Dewhurst and Texas Railroad Commissioner Charles Matthews listed as land commissioner. And he's got Harris County Judge Robert Eckels listed as the mayor of Houston.

• The Texas Civil Justice League jumps onto the web with what it calls a voter-awareness campaign for people trying to figure out the judicial races. It's at www.texasjudges.org. It includes a list of people running for the various spots on state courts. And as candidates fill out the group's questionnaire, the results are posted on the site. The group's leanings in the races aren't evident; they are simply posting the results as they come back from the TCJL questionnaire.

More Interesting Than Anyone Expected

You might have heard the ancient curse: May you live in interesting times. And you might have assumed that it pertained especially to politics. But who knew it was a localized bug that could descend on a nice place like San Antonio, Texas in 2000?

Sen. Leticia Van de Putte is getting an unusually strong challenge from a lawyer who didn't even live in the district until a short time ago. Her backers supported a freshly retired municipal judge to replace her, and he lost to a baby-faced 20-something kid who's new to politics. And some of the incumbent House members in the Senate district are in tough races with just a few weeks to go before the primary elections. The handicappers on the ground, and we talked to some on both sides, think she'll survive the challenges and the turbulence. But they say there's a risk where none was expected.

When Sen. Gregory Luna resigned last year, it set up a special election for his seat in a strongly Democratic area of San Antonio. In jumped Reps. Van de Putte and Leo Alvarado Jr. David McQuade Leibowitz, a trial lawyer who grew up on the border and who speaks fluent Spanish, was denied entry because he didn't meet the residency requirements. The other candidates, aware that he could bring his own thick wallet to the table, were relieved. Alvarado finished second, studied voting results that showed he was beaten in every way you can be beaten, and dropped out of the runoff so Van de Putte could have the seat without another fight.

But Alvarado's results attracted attention of the wrong kind and he is now in a three-way race for his own seat. Most observers say he's in better shape for that reelection bid than they expected after the special election last year, but it's still a contest. Strongest of the challengers is probably Trey Martinez Fischer, but Andrew Ramon has Jo Ann Ramon (a distant relative) working for him and she's an accomplished political street fighter. The best evidence for that last claim is fresh: Jo Ann Ramon was the chief consultant to Mike Villareal, who pulled off an upset after his opponent ignored a wake-up call. Roberto "Robbie" Vazquez quit his job as a municipal judge to make the race to succeed Van de Putte. He had organization, supposedly, a long list of endorsements from local politicos, and was considered the man to beat. But the special election last month was so close that a little more than a dozen write-in votes forced a runoff. That was the wake-up call, but it was apparently not loud enough. Villareal, who was one vote behind in the first contest, was elected to the state Legislature in the runoff by more than 300 votes out of 4,300 that were cast.

The two are on the ballot again in March for the full two-year term. Vazquez called the first elections "scrimmages" and swears he'll win this time.

But some of the people who had been helping him will be busy for the next month. Rep. Juan Solis III, who's related to Vazquez and has been one of his biggest promoters, is facing a strong challenge from Jose Menendez, who left the City Council to make the race.

Each of those races is taking place inside Senate District 26. While most of the folks backing Van de Putte think she'll win a full term in the Senate, they're concerned. Leibowitz has been hyperactive about public appearances and yard signs and door-knocking, and has started gobbling up huge chunks of television time to promote his campaign.

Not As Popular As They Wanna Be

We're still watching that "Vanishing Voter" project at Harvard, which does a weekly poll on the presidential race to track voter involvement in all of the hoohah. They're asking their questions differently. Where most candidate polls ask whether a voter is supporting Mr. X or Mr. Y, or how a person would vote if the vote were held immediately, the pollsters at Harvard's Shorenstein Center also ask voters if they are undecided or uncommitted. The resulting answer is quite different, with 68 percent of the voters saying they don't yet have a favorite. A week earlier -- right after the New Hampshire primary -- only 54 percent of the voters answered that way. This is a weird poll: It goes on to say that Gov. George W. Bush has 11 percent support, followed by Vice President Al Gore with 9 percent, Sen. John McCain with 5 percent and former Sen. Bill Bradley with just 2 percent.

A Different Kind of Learning Experience

Until now, Dan Montgomery's main connection to politics in Austin was that he was the assistant coach at Jesse Jones High School in Houston in 1965, the year that team won the state championship. The center on that squad was a kid named David Sibley, who is now the Republican state senator from Waco (former Sen. Jerry Patterson was on the Fighting Falcons' swim team that year).

Montgomery's connection is now more direct. He's running for the State Board of Education, challenging Dr. Bob Offutt of San Antonio, a conservative and sometimes controversial member of the board since his election in 1992. Offutt was already the poster child for the conservative/moderate split on the board and had already incurred the wrath of people like Senate Finance Chairman Bill Ratliff, R-Mount Pleasant, but he might have been able to run a quiet and relatively unnoticed race.

That's no longer possible. The San Antonio dentist, along with a couple of other Texans who are on the outs with the state's Republican royalty, decided to show his support for presidential candidate Steve Forbes by going to Iowa and New Hampshire and telling voters there what all he didn't like about Gov. George W. Bush's education record.

Offutt has publicly disagreed with the governor for years. But his personal appearances on the presidential stump angered Bush loyalists who now aim to exact their revenge: "No one crosses the line on [Bush advisor] Karl Rove and suffers no repercussions," he says. Offutt says people who have supported him for years -- county chairs, activists and others -- are turning their backs on him now. "It has not set well with the Republican establishment," he adds.

Montgomery says he's gotten calls from lots of people suddenly willing to jump in and help. His original filing with the Texas Ethics Commission was for candidates who planned to raise and spend less than $500 during their campaigns. The former coach and teacher is changing that filing status because of unexpected interest in his challenge to Offutt. Instead of running the show by himself for less than $500, expect to see a budget of over $50,000 and some professional consulting, including Bill Tryon of Austin as general consultant.

The district in question covers all or part of 25 counties and goes from San Antonio to Waco, cutting a crescent around the Democratic stronghold of Austin. The two candidates appear to have genuine disagreements about how the state should run its education system. Both say they want local control but describe it differently. Offutt doesn't think the state should rely so heavily on the TAAS test, for instance, while Montgomery's views are more in line with the governor's.

They're both attending forums and talking to people in what will likely be -- even with the outside interest -- a low-key race. For what it's worth, Sibley says he didn't realize Montgomery was running until his old coach called him to say so. And since he lives in the district, he'll endorse the man from Fredericksburg over the incumbent from San Antonio. Sibley, who is close to Bush, says he would have done that with or without Offutt's appearance on behalf of Bush's opponent.

Miscellany

The Gore campaign cranks up a Texas operation headed by former Land Commissioner Garry Mauro and spoken for by Mauro and by former Attorney General Dan Morales. Former comptroller John Sharp heads the Bill Bradley gang in Texas. Bradley is saying elsewhere that his focus is on the March 7 primaries; Texas is a week later... The yack-yack around the Bush campaign -- pure rumor -- puts his campaign bank balance at $16 million or so, but the official spin is that the campaign has bought ahead in several states, so spending looks deeper than it is. In other words, they say they've already bought ads that will run during the first two weeks in March, so it's not fair, the argument goes, to say the money won't be useful in primaries to come in the near future... Bush's campaign has another $5.2 million socked away in a "1999 State Victory Fund Committee" to which various folks have contributed as much as $25,000 each. Some of that can go directly to Bush's campaign from the state parties involved, but not until the general election. You can look at the fund and the donors to it at www.fecinfo.com.

Late for Some Very Important Dates

Attorney General John Cornyn hit a bumpy spot on the road with a blown deadline that could free a prisoner, a state audit that claims another missed deadline could cost millions and, as we mentioned last week, a plan to hold an Austin conference with other Republican attorneys general that allows financial contributors more or less access to those state lawyers on the basis of how much money is contributed. The AG group's financing is legal, if curious: Donors contribute to the Republican Party, which then funds the group. That means that those who contribute to the lawyers don't have their names and contribution amounts reported as direct contacts with the group.

The blown deadlines are, in one case, more serious, and in the other case, possibly less. First, the AG's office missed a federal judge's deadline for briefs in a case involving an inmate on Death Row. That error could, at one extreme, end up freeing Calvin Jerold Burdine, whose original conviction was thrown out after an appeal based on the fact that his court-appointed lawyer slept through part of his original trial. U.S. District Judge David Hittner of Houston overturned that verdict and gave the state four months to retry Burdine or free him. The state missed the 120-day deadline. At the least, it's an embarrassing mistake and it forced the AG to send aides to the files to see if any other deadlines were about to expire. Hittner is looking at a new set of arguments from both sides and hasn't yet ruled.

The AG's folks say the second deadline problem, detailed in a recent report from the State Auditor, isn't really a problem. The auditor said, correctly, that the state won't have a child support disbursement system in place by April 1, the date required in federal law. That could cause the federal government to hold back between $1.2 and $14.5 million in payments to the state. All of that is true, but the AG has been working with the feds and doesn't expect to get slapped as the deadline passes. They're negotiating with contractors to handle the disbursements system and should have a contract in place in a few weeks, with a system online 90 days after that.

Popularity Polls, Waterproof Buildings and Other Tidbits

Tidbits from a poll done in HD-66, the seat held by Rep. Brian McCall, R-Plano. These are positive and negative percentages for various politicos: Gov. Bush, 86/13; Sen. Florence Shapiro, R-Plano, 78/8; U.S. Rep. Sam Johnson, R-Dallas, 75/12; U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, 87/10; Lt. Gov. Rick Perry, 58/17; and, just for kicks, Pat Robertson, 23/43. Perry's the only one of the bunch who has recently been through a hot political contest. With the possibility of an open governor's seat in two years, it would be fair to say that he and Hutchison are interested in each other's numbers.

• The Robert Johnson State Office Building is ready to open for business, finally. It was supposed to be ready for occupancy before the beginning of the legislative session that began in January 1999, but the new building leaked. The leaks are now in the hands of various lawyers, architects, engineers and contractors, but the building itself is good to go. Agencies are starting their moves and the building should be fully occupied by summertime.

• You may have heard of Global Positioning Systems that can be installed in cars, so that you always have a map of exactly where you are (and so you can always be found if you need help or if you need catching). The Texas Department of Criminal Justice is taking that technology to ankle bracelets that will be worn by inmates who can then be tracked all the time using a 24-satellite network already put in place by the U.S. Department of Defense. The state is paying a Florida company $13 per day per transmitter for the service.

• We awakened some ghosts with a miscue on last week's story on Confederate symbols. We should have said that George Washington and his horse adorn the Confederate seat, not the flag.

• Mark the calendars: The Republican Party of Texas will assemble at the George R. Brown convention center in Houston for their state convention on June 15-17, in a gathering that will include more than 17,000 delegates. They claim that's the biggest such convention in the country; their national convention (in Philadelphia in July) has only 4,100 delegates. The Democrats will meet June 9-10 in Fort Worth, convening about 6,500 delegates.

Political People and Their Moves

That didn't take long, now, did it? James Gaston is signing on as the new executive director of the Texas Democratic Party. He'll start in about a week, working for a while in parallel with outgoing director Sherry Boyles, who started last summer and announced a week ago that she wants to move on. Gaston, an attorney, worked in the Pink Building before moving to Washington, D.C., where he worked for U.S. Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee, D-Houston... Appointments: Gov. Bush named Angela Blanchard of Houston to the Texas Council on Workforce and Economic Development. Blanchard, who heads Neighborhood Centers, a non-profit social service agency, will serve an unexpired term left open by the resignation of David Daniel of Midland... Endorsements: The Texas Association of Business and Chambers of Commerce jumps into the SD-03 race on the side of Rep. Todd Staples, R-Palestine, saying they stuck with him because his votes were with them and they have no experience with Les Tarrance as a legislator. U.S. Rep. Kevin Brady, R-Conroe, endorsed Tarrance in that race. TABCC also goes with Rep. Charles Jones, R-Bryan, for reelection, though his opponent, Lois Kolkhorst, has been a chamber exec in Brenham. In the overpopulated CD-07 GOP primary to replace U.S. Rep. Bill Archer, R-Houston, the group taps Rep. John Culberson, also R, also Houston. Culberson also picked up endorsements from the Texas Farm Bureau's AGFUND and the Young Conservatives of Texas. The business group likes Dennis Bonnen of Angleton for reelection, but YCT endorsed his opponent, Dianne Hensley. Justice for All, a victims' rights group, stayed out of most races, but they endorsed Culberson, and in CD-25, where two Republicans are challenging U.S. Rep. Ken Bentsen, D-Houston, the group endorsed both Republicans: Phil Sudan and Tom Reiser. That group also likes Michael Sullivan, a Republican challenging Rep. Joe Crabb, R-Humble. But Crabb strikes back with an endorsement from TABCC.

Quotes of the Week

The governor's national finance chairman, Don Evans, on how the campaign got from a fundraising total of $70 million to a cash balance of under $20 million in so short a time: "You've got Plan A and you've got Plan B. Guess what? We're on Plan B."

Democratic political consultant George Shipley, on the mother's milk of politics: "Ultimately, a campaign is nothing but a machine that creates messages. Money is the conveyance of those messages, and the assembly of it is an essential portion of the game."

Marvin Bush, younger sibling of Gov. George W. Bush, talking to reporters: "That great sucking sound you hear is the sound of the media's lips coming off of John McCain's..." Then, after he was cut off by the presidential candidate: "Now you see why I don't get out much."

U.S. District Judge Joe Kendall of Dallas, in a letter to the local chapter of the NAACP on what he'll consider when he sentences former Dallas City Councilman Al Lipscomb, who was found guilty of trading votes for money: "Congress... has specifically removed from consideration the concept of 'mercy.' In short, a federal judge can no longer simply give a defendant probation just because he or she thinks it is the right thing to do."

State retirement system director Sheila Beckett, on a plan to raise employee co-pays in health plans, a move state employees say could wipe out the small raises they got from the Legislature last year: "Either the cost of the program has to go down or contributions have to go up. I don't think we're an aberration. This is something that is happening across the state and the nation."

Debbie Moore, a "performing nudist" from Berkeley, California, on a judge's ruling that she and others in her business will be fined each time they strip publicly: "There are things that can be said with nudity and performance techniques that really cannot be said in any other way."

Physicist Steven Weinberg, a Nobel Prize winner at the University of Texas, on, well, everything: "The more the universe seems comprehensible, the more it also seems pointless."

Don Rea, a Dallas businessman who was outbid for the Champion Steer at the Fort Worth Fat Stock Show when the price hit $104,000: "It pushed my underwear to a new high."


Texas Weekly: Volume 16, Issue 32, 21 February 2000. Copyright 2000 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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