This One's His Own Best Friend

If you haven't heard of David McQuade Leibowitz, you haven't been in front of a television set in Bexar County, Texas. The San Antonio trial lawyer is mounting a Democratic primary challenge against Sen. Leticia Van de Putte, who won office in a special election in November. And if money is the mother's milk of politics, Leibowitz is one big, big baby: He's loaned himself $429,000 and a boatload of that money is going into television advertising.

If you haven't heard of David McQuade Leibowitz, you haven't been in front of a television set in Bexar County, Texas. The San Antonio trial lawyer is mounting a Democratic primary challenge against Sen. Leticia Van de Putte, who won office in a special election in November. And if money is the mother's milk of politics, Leibowitz is one big, big baby: He's loaned himself $429,000 and a boatload of that money is going into television advertising.

Leibowitz wanted to run in the special election last year after Sen. Gregory Luna resigned, but he didn't meet the residency requirements. Now he's got a small place in the district (his big house is in the Dominion area) and he's rockin' and rollin'. His February report was relatively modest, showing he had raised nothing, had loaned himself $89,510 and had spent $74,812, with a good chunk of that going for billboards. But the eight-day report (so called because it's due a week and a day before an election) shows spending of $330,108, including about $147,000 on television. Look at the loan amount above and the spending so far and he has about $110,000 on hand for the last week of the ride, assuming Leibowitz doesn't borrow any more money from himself. Van de Putte spent more about $400,000 to get this far, including the special election. But she's hollering for the cavalry because of the strong sneak attack. The betting line is in her favor, but you can officially dub this whole thing a wake-up call. A cynical friend of ours says Leibowitz either spends all this money and gets into the Senate, or spends all this money, loses the Senate race, and comes out with higher name identification than any other trial lawyer in San Antonio.

More Fight Per Square Inch Than Any Other City

San Antonio Democrats have more than their share of close primary fights this year, forming the shaky foundation under the SD-26 race between Van de Putte and Leibowitz. The oddest duck in the bunch is the race for Van de Putte's seat, currently held by Mike Villareal, but only tenuously: He won a runoff for the seat just last month and is up against the same opponent, former municipal judge Robbie Vasquez, for the third time in as many months on Election Day. As they say on the stock market ads, "past results do not necessarily indicate future performance," but Villareal lost the first race by a vote or two, then won the second by about 300 votes. By most accounts, he had a better door-to-door program in the runoff than did his opponent. Vasquez has more support from Austin; Villareal's money includes a $10,000 loan from former San Antonio Mayor Henry Cisneros.

Next on the circuit are Rep. Juan Solis III and Jose Menendez, who quit the city council to challenge Solis. Solis and Vasquez are relatives and hoped for some synergy. Then came Villareal's surprise, and Menendez is a better candidate than indicated by the early talk in the race (he's outspent the incumbent so far). Solis donated $5,000 to Vasquez at the end of December (recording a loan on his finance report while Vasquez recorded a contribution), and might be wishing he had that money back.

Another related race has another Democratic incumbent wringing his hands. Rep. Leo Alvarado Jr. ran for Senate against Van de Putte. He earned a runoff, but lost so thoroughly--including in his home precinct--that he conceded the race to her. But his flank was open and is under vigorous attack from Steve Avery, Trey Martinez Fischer, and Andrew Ramon. Fischer and Ramon in particular have run threatening campaigns, and Alvarado is on his supporters' prayer lists. The first two reports of the year have Alvarado's spending at more than $100,000. Avery and Ramon were at about $14,000 in spending and Fischer was at about $12,000.

House Watch: Some for Risk, Some for Fun

Only five incumbents left voluntarily. A lot of candidates didn't draw challengers and a number who did got contests in November but not March. Of the rest, some lucky candidates have their deals bagged up, at least until the general elections in November. But there are a bunch of races that'll be fought or discussed all the way to Election Day. Here are some of the high points.

• The most overpopulated race in the state is in Austin, where Rep. Sherri Greenberg, a Democrat, is retiring from HD-48. Two Democrats are borrowing heavily from themselves, with Mandy Dealey hitting her own accounts for $155,000 and Ann Kitchen borrowing $97,600 from herself. Dealey spent $186,885 in the most recent period to Kitchen's $113,001. On the Republican side, there are more candidates spending less money. Joe Anderson spent $22,000 in the last report (he's borrowed $50,000 from himself). Scott Loras hit himself up for $25k in loans and spent about $12,000 in the latest report. Jill Warren, the Austin lobby favorite, borrowed $35,000 and spent $22,000 in the last period.

• The hot race in Senate District 3 creates an opening in HD-11, and there are primaries on both sides. This is a relatively well-mannered race; one theory is that that's because three of the four candidates (two in each party) go to the same church, live in the same small town, and don't want to offend all of their neighbors. The big spender in the Republican primary is Kenneth Durrett, who's borrowed about $50,000 from family members and his own account. The betting, however, is on Paul Woodard Jr. The Democrats are a tougher call, if only because the people we've talked with can't get a good feel for the contest. JoAl Cannon Sheridan, a lawyer, is running against Chuck Hopson, a pharmacist. This seat could go to either party in November, so things will heat up later in the year.

Dianne Hensley has put on a more spirited GOP primary race than Rep. Dennis Bonnen of Angleton would have liked. She's the Free Enterprise PAC's candidate in this race, and they gave her $9,200, more than half of the contributions in her latest report. That's one of races apparently being targeted by that conservative group (the other targets are Reps. Kim Brimer of Arlington, Bill Carter of Fort Worth, and Brian McCall of Plano. The challengers, respectively, are Bill Zedler, Monte Mitchell and Kenny Johnson). Bet on Bonnen, but this one's generated more talk than a completely safe race should generate, and he was nervous enough to make a late run to Austin for financial help.

• Rep. Bill Siebert, R-San Antonio, is defending himself against a strong primary challenge from Elizabeth Ames Jones. She's shooting at him for lobbying city hall. He's shooting at her for not voting in Republican primaries in recent years. They're shooting at each other on healthcare: She's with the doctors and he's with the health plans.

• Rep. Charles Jones, R-Bryan, is trying to hold off a strong challenge from Lois Kolkhorst of Brenham. So far this year, he's spent about $25,000 to her $60,000, and the challenger has out-raised the one-term incumbent as well. She's also gone to the personal well, loaning her campaign $25,000.

• Elsewhere, Rep. Vicki Truitt of Keller is trying to fend off the woman she beat, Nancy Moffat of Southlake, and is beating her in the money contest. The incumbent appears to be safe... Democrat Harryette Ehrhardt of Dallas drew a challenger, but the challenger, Elsa Tovar, got a check from the local Tejano Democrats to cover her filing fee and hasn't shown a penny more on her reports... The HD-130 race to replace Houston Republican John Culberson is too weird to call. That's underneath a very busily contested congressional race, and the smart people who are supposed to know this stuff come to different conclusions over who will win that three-way between Corbin Van Arsdale, Bill Callegari and Aubrey Thoede. Wait until Tuesday... Diana Flores, who's running against Rep. Domingo Garcia, D-Dallas, got no money outside of labor unions and trial lawyers... Can't eat just one: Richard Harvey, a Republican making his fifth run at the Senate, has borrowed $19,825 for this race, which he'll add to me $81,165 in debts left from the previous runs.

Waiting for the Dust to Clear in East Texas

What's that? You want more proof that the political stakes in the 3rd Senate district of this fair state are high? Have a look: Republicans are waiting to see who survives their smash-mouth primary and are working on a united group to put behind the winner in mid-April. Lt. Gov. Rick Perry, Attorney General John Cornyn, Comptroller Carole Keeton Rylander, and Railroad Commissioner Tony Garza have all talked about doing a fund-raiser/endorsement/pep rally for the GOP candidate right after the runoffs, assuming this race lasts into next month. There could be adds and drops from that list, but the fundamentals will remain: This is this cycle's top priority race for both parties.

Assume Gov. George W. Bush is a shoe-in for president, at least in Texas. Assume Kay Bailey Hutchison, lugging a purse with $6 million in it, is a shoe-in for reelection to the U.S. Senate. The only race likely to have the full attention of every state politician of both parties is the race to replace Sen. Drew Nixon, R-Carthage. On the surface, what's at stake is the majority in the Texas Senate. Barely underneath, what's at stake is the partisan balance of the upper chamber in a redistricting year. Perhaps, if everything falls well for Texans at the top of the ballot, what's at stake is the partisan label of the next lieutenant governor, since the Senate would elect one of its own to replace Perry if Perry replaces Bush. Come April, expect to see every state senator from either party working on behalf of a candidate in the district. Among other things, they'll be gathering support--or trying to--for various bids to become presiding officer of the Senate. Put simply, Democrat David Fisher of Silsbee and whoever wins the GOP primary are going to have a lot of new best friends for the next eight months.

An Ending Like a Tom and Jerry Cartoon

Les Tarrance took a lot of shots before he really landed a punch on Todd Staples in the GOP primary, but they're at it now. Tarrance sent a pro forma complaint letter to the Texas Ethics Commission complaining that Staples broke the Play Nice agreement between the two. The next day, he put out a 25-page press release claiming Staples was "involved" in an illegal pyramid scheme; a charge that came up in a previous race for Staples and which he answers by saying he was dismissed from the lawsuit that resulted from the scheme.

The Tarrance attack employed the same stunt Staples had used earlier on Tarrance: Tricky Questions. The object of the game is to ask a question that's awkward to answer, no matter what the answer is. Tarrance, for instance, wonders whether Staples managed to "evade paying federal income tax (sic) on these illegal earnings?" (Staples wondered last month whether Tarrance reported his unpaid taxes to his banker when he took out a campaign loan.) That press release was followed with a mailer comparing "Honest Businessman" Tarrance to "Illegal Ponzi Schemer" Staples.

Staples had earlier popped Tarrance with a long list of lawsuits against the homebuilder; Tarrance has said repeatedly that those were the result of business problems he and the rest of his industry suffered in the 1980s and 1990s. The Tarrance bunch has also spent some time explaining why it took until the eve of filing for office for the candidate to settle all of his delinquent taxes, including franchise taxes owed to the state and property taxes owed to the Spring school district. Those debts came to light as the campaign did research in preparation for this race. Staples contended Tarrance had problems in his businesses for 20 years in a row; Tarrance said all his trouble lasted only ten years.

And then the last round: Staples puts out a statement from a mess of Republican officials in the district denouncing "push-polling" that is supposedly coming from the Tarrance campaign (Voters are asked whether they'd vote for Staples if they knew he'd been arrested in that pyramid deal). The Tarrance response is that they didn't use the word "arrested".

Loose ends: Tarrance sent Staples a Texas Almanac after Staples runs an ad in Henderson County listing his Anderson County supporters... Staples supporters, meanwhile, sent us some pictures of Tarrance yard signs that have a banner attached that says "Lives in Montgomery County" to try to pick up the hometown vote from neighbors who haven't been neighbors all that long (Tarrance is a relatively recent migrant to the district).

It's Quieter at the Top

Even when there's a toughly fought judicial race, most Texans go to the polls without ever having heard the names of any contestants. This ballot is no different. And a study of the newspaper endorsements and even some of the bar polls around the state would not necessarily direct a voter to a consensus candidate. A case in point: We've seen newspapers come down solidly on the sides of three of the four candidates running for chief justice of the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals, and three of the five candidates running for the Place 1 spot on that court, and four of the five candidates running for the Place 2 spot. The bar polls have been similarly confusing.

• The "stealth Democrats" running for the Texas Supreme Court are financially swamped, but that hasn't made it any easier for the incumbents to sleep. Valorie Davenport hasn't gone out fundraising, she says, because she doesn't want to take money from lawyers who appear in court. She's getting money somewhere, but doesn't list loans outstanding or other sources on her finance forms. Nathan Hecht, the incumbent, spent $374,837 in February and early March and had $85,600 still on hand.

And Al Gonzales, an appointee who hasn't been on the statewide ballot before, has television ads running that are essentially narrated by Gov. George W. Bush, who appointed him. The text is from the laudatory remarks Bush made when he named Gonzales to the court. His opponent, Rod Gorman, had only $350 on hand in his eight-day report, while Gonzales showed spending of $495,000 and still had $61,000 and change in the bank.

• Railroad Commissioner Michael Williams has raised a ton of money to fend off challenger Andy Draughn, and has TV ads that Draughn can't afford. Some Republicans worried that Williams, who has virtually all of the establishment support, would have problems in the contest because he's African-American. Those fears seem to have subsided, and he's breaking a barrier that's scared both partiesin Texas, appearing in his own television ads as a black statewide candidate.

Bad Timing, Insurance Records and Lotto

You have to wonder about his sense of timing, if nothing else. Rep. Lon Burnam, D-Fort Worth, lashed out at Vice President Al Gore in a mailing just before Super Tuesday voters made Gore the presumptive party nominee for president. Burnam endorsed Bill Bradley in a newsletter, saying Gore has been "a willing accomplice" in policies that have led, in his words, to the "rape, torture and mutilation of children across the world." Everybody who got the chance, including the Bradley campaign, the Gore campaign, and the Tarrant County Democratic Party, blasted the remarks.

• The insurance industry lost the latest round of a long and bitter fight when the Texas Supreme Court said sales records kept by state regulators can't be kept secret under open records laws. Industry critics contend some insurers are redlining, or offering better policies and prices in areas in Anglo-dominated areas than in areas dominated by minorities. The insurers say that's bunk. The sales data hold the proof, but the industry--saying the data contain competitive information that shouldn't be public--has tried to keep that information under wraps. The Supremes say the open records laws don't protect the information, but the industry still has room to argue that the sales records contain trade secrets that should not be opened to the public and to competitors within the industry.

• Texas Lottery officials apparently won't ask for permission to join a multi-state game as they look for ways to reverse the drop in sales for the state's biggest game. One option to generate public interest and sales was to join up with other states to offer a lottery with a gigantic, headline-grabbing jackpot. But there are too many sharp edges on that idea, so it's being shelved for the moment. Among the problems: State lawmakers limited the lottery's advertising budget. A multi-state game would require advertising dollars, and that might ruffle legislative feathers. If it hasn't already happened by the time you read this, expect the lottery to come out with a new "prize matrix" that raises the odds of winning enough to push the jackpots in Texas to interesting levels. They're meeting on Election Day to start working on a new formula.

The Glow-in-the-Dark Texas Economy

From the state's standpoint, the great economic cautionary tale of modern times was the oil bust in the mid-1980s. The memory of it still makes budgeteers a little edgy, and some of them remember well the euphoria that preceded the crash. That's why some of the folks cranking numbers for Comptroller Carole Keeton Rylander flinch if you ask them about their "rosy economic predictions."

But they also take pains to explain why it's not the mid-1980s, noting that no single sector of the economy has the linkage or the importance that oil did back then. For example, oil and gas still accounts for more of the Gross State Product than, say, high technology, but it provides only half as many jobs. And whereas oil accounted for 25 percent of GSP in the early 1980s, it's below 10 percent today. The one thing that could mess up the state's ride, the economists say, is the national economy. Texas is more closely linked to national affairs now, and a national dip would echo here.

Rylander and her prognosticators said the state created 2.35 million new jobs over the last ten years, and predicted the state will match that over the next ten. And before you get all wigged out about high technology, consider this: It will only produce 5 percent of the state's job growth over the next ten years in Texas, according to the Rylander Gang.

Overall, they think the Texas economy will grow at an average pace of about 3.6 percent per year for the next decade, down from an average of 4.6 percent over the last ten years. If you want to look at their detailed report on the last decade and their predictions for the next one, there's a 44-page Texas Economic Update on the Internet.

They generally ducked questions on Internet taxation, saying they're studying the issue of whether and how Internet sales should be taxed, and saying they'll be ready to help the Legislature when lawmakers take up that question. And while acknowledging online sales took a $50 million bite out of the state's sales tax revenues, they characterized that as a number that's too small to inspire a rush judgement on the bigger tax issues. One key issue, they said, will be the "equity" of sales taxes applied to online retailers and brick-and-mortar retailers.

Sidebar: The comptroller's estimators say their revenue estimates for the current budget biennium are still on track, but acknowledge some movement inside the overall numbers. For instance, they say they're bringing in more money because of higher-than-expected oil and gas prices. But that boost is offset almost one-to-one by the drop in lottery revenues noted here last week.

Enough Numbers to Gag a Census-Taker

Not too long from now, there will be a new set of numbers from the Census Bureau, based either on the actual count or on a count plus statistical sampling, and we'll find out how good the current estimates really are. But that's a year away, and the Census is putting out its last sets of estimates that are based on some combination of the 1990 national head-count and sampling since then.

In no particular order, here are some high points of the last big report: 331,752 people were added to the Texas population in the 12 months that ended in July of 1999... Net domestic in-migration (that translates to "new folks in town") was about 570,000 over the last ten years, with seven counties leading the pack as destinations: Collin, Fort Bend, Denton, Montgomery, Williamson, Travis, and Tarrant (Dallas, Harris, El Paso and Lubbock Counties led in Net Domestic out-migration)... Look at international in-migration, which totaled 715,000, and these counties leap to the front: Harris, Dallas, El Paso, Hidalgo and Tarrant... Take the 1990 population of 16.9 million. Add about 3 million babies. Subtract about 1.25 million deaths. Add the migration, and you get the current estimated population of 20 million... In the last year, four Texas counties added more than 20,000 humans to their populations: Harris, Tarrant, Collin, and Denton. Ector and Midland counties lost the most residents (about 1,670 between the two)... A dozen counties added more than 100,000 residents during the decade, led by Harris, Tarrant, Dallas, Collin, and Bexar. Harris added 432,000, more than twice the number added in second-place Tarrant County... 71 Texas counties lost population, led by Hutchinson County (in the Panhandle), which lost 1,978. There's more detail at www.census.gov.

Political People and Their Moves

Former Texas Education Commissioner Mike Moses caught some flak for not revealing to local reporters how much moonlighting he's doing while he's a top administrator at Texas Tech University. The school agreed to let him do some consulting and sit on corporate boards and the like. Moses also got into the Lubbock Avalanche-Journal when he got full tenure after only six months at Tech. Officials told the paper that's unusual, but not unprecedented. Another uh-oh: The school revealed it is spending $10,000 to move the furnishings in Chancellor (and former state Sen.) John Montford's old house to his new one, which is owned by the school. The distance? 2.4 miles... Rep. Arlene Wohlgemuth, R-Burleson, is the new president of the House's Texas Conservative Coalition. That's a two-year term... Rep. Brian McCall, R-Plano, is the Biotechnology Industry Organization's legislator of the year, largely because he pushed an R&D tax credit for that industry that became law last session... Rep. Ronny Crownover, R-Denton, found out right after his election in 1998 that he had leukemia. He's now in need of a bone marrow transplant, and none of the 4 million donors in a national database provides an exact match. He and his legion of friends are looking for help... Appointments: Gov. Bush appointed John Cuellar of Dallas and Terry Wilkinson of Midland to the Texas Department of Human Services. Cuellar is a lawyer and business executive; Wilkinson is a bank director and registered nurse... The Guv named three to the Texas Judicial Council, which sets policy for the judiciary: Delia Martinez Carian, an assistant district attorney in San Antonio; Jose Luis Lopez, an ordained minister and former court administrator from Crystal City; and Ann Manning, a Lubbock attorney... We accidentally nuked two names and one title last week. Arrrggghh! We shoulda said: Kelsi Reeves is moving from Time Warner Telecom in Austin to the Washington, D.C., operation. And Winn Atkins, general counsel to Sen. David Sibley, is off to be a legislative poobah for the Texas Credit Union League. Officially, he'll be vice president and associate general counsel... Deaths: Former House Speaker and Railroad Commissioner Byron Tunnell died after a long bout with cancer at the age of 74. He gave up the speaker's seat in 1963 to take a spot on the Texas Railroad Commission, clearing the way for the political rise of Ben Barnes. Tunnell, who hailed from Smith County, was the last of a quartet of close friends who served together in the House, including former Lt. Gov. Bob Bullock, former parliamentarian and lobbyist Robert Johnson Sr. and former legislator Jim Slider... Milton Tobias of Dallas, who founded Common Cause of Texas after scandals in Austin (Sharpstown) and Washington (Watergate), succumbed to Parkinson's disease. He was 77.

Quotes of the Week

Bexar County Clerk Gerry Rickhoff, telling the San Antonio Express-News how long it will take to get a final vote count from the county's antiquated paper ballot system: "I'd say about 4 a.m."

Jake Tapper, political writer for Salon, an Internet publication, on the Bush campaign's view of the national press corps: "We're not even a necessary evil to them. We're just an evil."

U.S. Sen. John McCain, on whether he'd be willing to take the co-pilot seat on a national Republican ticket: "No way. The vice president has two duties. One is to inquire daily as to the health of the president, and the other is to attend the funerals of third-world dictators."

Rep. Rick Green, a 28-year-old Republican from Dripping Springs, in an interview with The Wall Street Journal: "I consider myself the leadership of the next generation."

Former federal prosecutor Bill Johnston of Waco, who blew the whistle on Justice Department secrecy in the Branch Davidian case: "When governmental agencies stonewall and deceive the public, they create fertile ground to feed conspiracy theories and let negative perceptions grow."

Former Assistant Attorney General Mary Keller, writing in Texas Lawyer about the difference between working for the government and in a law firm: "The main difference is that... I wasn't forced to keep track of every six minutes of my time. At my age, nothing happens in a tenth of an hour."

Baseball star and gambler Pete Rose, on what ballplayers get paid: "If I played today, I wouldn't count my money. I'd be weighing it."


Texas Weekly: Volume 16, Issue 35, 13 March 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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