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What the Hell Happened Over There?

You know it's an upset when the winner, the loser and the allegedly dispassionate observers are all surprised on Election Day. Nobody even came close to predicting the result of the GOP primary in the 3rd Senate district. In fact, operatives in both campaigns were expecting a runoff and hoping, respectively, for a narrow win that would avoid an April contest.

You know it's an upset when the winner, the loser and the allegedly dispassionate observers are all surprised on Election Day. Nobody even came close to predicting the result of the GOP primary in the 3rd Senate district. In fact, operatives in both campaigns were expecting a runoff and hoping, respectively, for a narrow win that would avoid an April contest.

Instead, as you know by now, Todd Staples beat Les Tarrance like a circus monkey, taking 70.1 percent of the vote to Tarrance's 18 percent. How did he beat him? Let us count the ways.

Staples won in each of the 17 counties in SD-03. He won the early vote in each county and he won the late vote. He beat Tarrance by a 3-2 margin on Tarrance's home turf in Montgomery County. That county's turnout was lower than expected, but there's no evidence that the stay-homes were Tarrance voters. The worst part of the drubbing came in Nacogdoches County. Staples got 6,081 votes in the district's second-biggest county. Tarrance got 446. Van Brookshire, whose name recognition in the district is based entirely on the scattering of grocery stores that share his last name, got 645 votes. Brookshire finished third overall with 11.8 percent, but even so, he beat Tarrance in 10 counties.

We couldn't find a consistent explanation for the result. Neither campaign could offer up a simple construction, either, although we admired the theory that Staples found a magic lantern, rubbed it, and asked the genie for a 52-percentage-point margin of victory. Seriously, though: Staples ran a better race and, for reasons that aren't completely clear, voters didn't like Tarrance.

For one thing, Staples ran a much better ground war. Republicans in Nacogdoches County had a number of local races on the ballot, including a couple of grudge matches at the county courthouse, and Staples exploited that, making sure those already motivated Republicans voted for him as they slogged through the sheriff's race and all that. Two counties in Staples' House district -- Anderson and Cherokee -- had busy primaries to replace him, and he piled up more votes on Tarrance there.

The race was marked by a series of late attacks, but those don't explain the results, since the die was cast in the early voting, before the two candidates began mud-wrestling.

And What Does it Mean for November?

There are several ways to paint the result, but Staples' win probably puts the Republicans in better shape for the general election than a Tarrance win would have done. That's more about geography and culture than anything else. Montgomery County counts for a lot more votes in the Republican primary than it does in a general election. Tarrance was banking on that; one reason he lost is that he wrongly assumed he'd have a local base and then didn't build a campaign outside of his home county.

Staples made the same assumption about Montgomery County. To counter what he thought would be a Tarrance advantage, he worked the entire district. Combine that with effective attacks on Tarrance's tax delinquencies, and you have some other elements of the blowout election.

Had they been right about geography in the GOP primary, Tarrance would be the nominee. But he'd be at a disadvantage against Fisher unless he could build a base in the other 16 counties of the district. That's where the cultural problem comes up. "The Woods vs. The Woodlands" is a phrase that describes the antipathy for suburban Houston that shows up in what is otherwise a pure East Texas Senate district. Voters there are less than crazy about the suburbs, and Fisher had planned to exploit their geographic repugnance against Tarrance. With Staples' victory, both general election candidates are from the Woods -- not from The Woodlands.

President-Schmesident: Watch East Texas

There was good news in the numbers for David Fisher, too. While Republicans outvoted Democrats statewide, it was the other way around in SD-03. Democratic turnout in the district was 49,090, while 41,314 Republicans showed up at their polling places. The turnouts in the respective parties point up the geographic shift from the primaries to the general election. There were more Democratic voters than Republican voters in 13 of the 17 counties. Though Montgomery and Nacogdoches counties remain hugely important in the general election, their relative strength in the Republican primary will be dramatically diluted in November.

Now that the primary's over, the help from outside has begun in earnest.

For several weeks, Lt. Gov. Rick Perry has been telling lobbyists and others in private meetings that he'll be a player in the race. But in case anyone missed it or couldn't figure out that the Republican officeholder will be supporting the GOP nominee, Perry committed it to paper. A week before the election, he sent out letters saying "this contest is personally important" to him and telling the recipients, basically, that he wants them to line up on his side. Perry says in the letter that he's happy to work with members of both parties while the Legislature is in session, but adds, "elections are about differences in philosophy."

After Staples won the primary, Comptroller Carole Keeton Rylander added her thoughts, sending out a letter in support of Staples now that this is a race between a Democrat and a Republican. The language apes the Perry letter that preceded it, but since it came after the primary instead of before, it endorses Staples instead of generically talking about the Republican nominee.

The letters put everyone in Austin on notice, but also potentially gave Fisher a free commercial. To the extent the lobby jumps into the race as Perry and Rylander urge, the Democrats will try to label Staples as a special interest candidate whose supporters get their marching orders in Austin instead of in the district. By the time this race is over, that will look like a playful jab.

Near Misses and Direct Hits on San Antonio Incumbents

Though it was lower than normal in some places, overall turnout in the primaries hit 1.16 million on the side of the Republicans and 793,825 on the side of the Democrats. It rained in Bexar County, but weather didn't stop the door-knockers in San Antonio. The races there illustrate the continuing emergence of a new political order, at the same time showing off the persistence of established players like the city's newest senator, Leticia Van de Putte, who held off a surprisingly strong challenger.

It makes you wonder what would have happened if David McQuade Leibowitz had been eligible to run in the special election for the Texas Senate last year. He started his race against Van de Putte, aides say, with polls that gave her 61 percent support to his 6 percent. Six weeks and hundreds of thousands of dollars later, Van de Putte won the race by almost nine percentage points. That's a healthy margin, but it followed a good scare. Leibowitz ended up spending about $300,000 on television and radio and another $150,000 on direct mail. Van de Putte didn't match his spending, but is more established with voters and just came off a special election where she spent $400,000. Crumbling support in underlying House races didn't help Van de Putte. Rep. Juan Solis lost to challenger Jose Menendez. Rep. Mike Villareal, who upset Robbie Vazquez last month, prevailed again. Rep. Leo Alvarado Jr. survived the first round of the San Antonio massacre, but he's got a runoff ahead of him. Trey Martinez Fischer, attracted to the race in part by Alvarado's poor showing in last year's special election for the Senate, gets another crack at the incumbent in April.

Unrelated, but in the same city, Rep. Bill Siebert lost his GOP primary by a 2-to-1 margin to challenger Elizabeth Ames Jones. His lobbying at city hall gave her attack on him some leverage with both the local media, particularly the San Antonio Express-News,and with Republican voters.

Legislative Runoffs: More Fun Next Month

Conventional wisdom was that Dr. Bob Deuell was the chosen candidate, that Keith Wheeler showed early promise but completely folded his tent, and that Richard Harvey, a four-term non-incumbent who has become famous for losing races in the 2nd Senate district, was cooked. The surprise in that GOP primary was that Wheeler pulled in 25.3 percent of the vote, leaving the other two in a runoff. The party's gurus in Austin would certainly prefer Deuell over Harvey, but their man trailed in the primary and still has to overcome the name ID built up by Harvey over the years. The winner gets a chance at Sen. David Cain, D-Dallas, in the general election.

• Some of the same people who picked Travis County's locks a few years ago on behalf of a Republican county commission candidate are working for Scott Loras, and he snuck into the second spot in a six-way race for the Texas House. Loras, running in the GOP primary for the HD-48 seat opened by Rep. Sherri Greenberg, D-Austin, will be in a runoff with the establishment favorite, attorney Jill Warren. That district overlaps the territory claimed in 1998 by Todd Baxter, a Travis County commissioner who overcame traditional Democratic hegemony to win his seat on the court. The winner of the GOP runoff will face Democrat Ann Kitchen, who easily won what was supposed to be a close race in the other primary. Loras, at our deadline, was working out the final details of endorsements from each of the four losers in the GOP primary.

• It's hard to say whether one particular thing did it, but the email flap in Harris County's HD-130 didn't help one-time front-runner Corbin Van Arsdale. He was accused of anonymously emailing a list of knocks on one of his opponents, Aubrey Thoede. But the anonymous emails to supporters and reporters and others contained a machine signature that traced back to a machine at Van Arsdale's law firm. He finished 869 votes behind Thoede, but that wasn't enough to make the runoff: Bill Callegari was only 166 votes back and will face Thoede in April.

Kenneth Durrett lost his primary by 58 votes to Paul Woodard Jr. and at our deadline was deciding whether to ask for a recount in that race. The two are after the HD-11 seat left open by Rep. Todd Staples, R-Palestine. The district covers four counties, and Durrett won convincingly in three of them. But Woodard whomped him in Anderson County, which happened to turn in the most votes. One theory floating around: Durrett was, along with the two candidates on the Democratic ballot, one of three candidates from Jacksonville. The three go to the same church and split that local vote. Maybe, maybe not. Woodard, who's from Palestine, got 71.5 percent of the vote at home, enough to offset his losses in the other three counties. The Austin favorite, JoAl Cannon Sheridan, came up short in the Democratic race, losing to Chuck Hopson, a pharmacist who gently compared his experience as a city councilman and school board member with that of Sheridan, who's never held office. She won the early voting by about two percentage points; he won the overall vote by about three.

Springtime on the Bench

The sibling rivalry on the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals will continue for another month: Judge Tom Price of Richardson and Sharon Keller of Austin will be in a runoff for the presiding judge chair on that court. If Keller wins the runoff and then the general election (she finished second in the primary race), the two will continue to serve on the court together until at least 2002, when Price's current term ends. The winner of the runoff will face Democrat Bill Vance of Waco in November.

Nobody cleared the first round of the race for that court without a partner. In the race for the Place 1 chair, you get a runoff between Charles Holcomb of Jacksonville and Guy Williams of Corpus Christi. That's a winner-take-all, since there's no Democrat in the race in November.

In the Place 2 box, you've got Jim Wallace of Houston and Barbara Parker Hervey of San Antonio still in the hunt for a spot on the court. The winner will see William Barr of Dallas, a Democrat, in the general election race in November. The presiding judge seat is now held by Michael McCormick, who's retiring. One of the others belongs to Keller; the last one to Judge Steve Mansfield, who decided (after several public changes of heart) not to run for reelection.

April Runoffs: Congress

The Republican primary race to replace U.S. Rep. Bill Archer, R-Houston, proves that money ain't everything. State Rep. John Culberson was outspent by at least three candidates but finished first. He didn't get quite over the wall, however, and will face Peter Wareing in April.

Money could still be a big factor, especially in a low turnout runoff election. The final spending and fundraising reports won't be out for several weeks, but Wareing and Ron Kapsche were both in the $1 million club. Kapsche, with only 3,105 votes, had one of the lowest price-to-vote ratios in years. Wareing got 16,814 votes and Culberson got 23,872. Voters weren't particularly interested in late hits in that congressional race: The Election Day percentages for each candidate tracked the numbers for early voting fairly closely. That's one of the most Republican districts in the nation, but there's a Democrat, Jeff Sell, waiting for a general election bout with the winner of the runoff.

• The GOP primary in CD-11, on the other hand, exemplifies the old saw that money can help a late starter. Rodney Geer, who didn't want to take on U.S. Rep. Chet Edwards, D-Waco, as late as Thanksgiving, decided at the deadline to get in. He finished first by 330 votes over Ramsey Farley and the two head for an April rematch without third-place finisher Rob Curnock of Waco.

• So you've heard everything in the way of political pitches? Not yet. Take a look at this one, found on a campaign web site: "Tired of young men going to Congress for the GOP and deciding they like Washington too much to stick by their principles? Then join the movement to more mature representation. Bill Payne is 62 years old and cares nothing for going to Washington. He's too happy on his farm. Payne has had heart bypass surgery, smokes a few cigarettes, uses snuff, drinks bourbon, and used to chase women. He is 'term limits' personified. However, the tragic collapse of the Republican Party since 1994 requires older guys, happy with their lives, to get off the couch and run."

Payne, from Corsicana, is one of two Republicans in the runoff for the CD-24 seat now held by U.S. Rep. Martin Frost, D-Dallas. The other is James "Bryndan" Wright, a former aide to U.S. Rep. Dick Armey, R-Irving. Payne's website, where we lifted that pitch, can be found at

• It's probably safe to say U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison isn't particularly worried about who her opponent will be. But she would probably prefer Gene Kelly, a perennial candidate who's main claim to fame is that his name is the same as the dancer's, to former Rep. Charles Gandy, who'll be in the April runoff with Kelly. Gandy, like the other Democrats in the race, would probably be under-funded, but his success in April would kill a joke line about Kelly in Hutchison's standard speech. He could also draw some interest. Kelly has spent his novelty, at least in terms of news coverage, in previous races. Gandy, who once hired a stripper to perform outside the House chamber, will probably get at least one round of stories if he's the nominee. Gandy just escaped the primary election, finishing 468 votes ahead of the third-place finisher in a contest that drew 624,632 votes. Footnote: Bobby Wightman-Cervantes, who was vying for the Democratic nomination, spent Election Day in jail, where he's serving a sentence for contempt of court. He got 84,335 votes, finishing fourth in a field of five.

What Did He Expect?

The Bush faction in the Republican Party refers to the religious right as the "Wing Nuts" and infighting between the groups is nothing new. The Bush group, as you might have noticed, is bigger. And now Dan Montgomery is on his way to a seat on the State Board of Education in place of Bob Offutt, the incumbent, who campaigned for Steve Forbes, blasted Bush, and then found himself running against some of the party's best operatives in search of revenge. Paybacks are, um, hell.

There will be a runoff for the SBOE seat opened by Will Davis' decision against another term. Bob Schoolfield, who is expected to join the conservative faction on the school board if he's elected, survived the March cut, as did Cynthia Thornton. The winner of that runoff goes against Democrat Donna Howard of Austin in November. Austin lobbyist Brad Shields finished a close-but-no-cigar third place in the GOP primary, and maybe he saw it coming: Before the primary, he filed for reelection to the Eanes ISD board. That election will come later this spring.

Late Apologies

The Free Enterprise folks were four-for-four on Election Day, losing each of the races where they targeted and/or assisted a challenger to an incumbent Republican. And in the last days before the primaries, when it was becoming apparent that only an unexpected result would knock off the incumbents, the apologies and explanations began. One of the major funding sources for the Free Enterprise PAC is David Dewhurst, a longtime financial player in the Republican Party who became the state's land commissioner a year ago.

Suddenly, a January 25 letter from Free PAC chairman Richard Ford to Dewhurst has appeared, assuring the land commissioner that his money is appreciated and that none of it will be used during the primary election cycle. Ford's letter says, "we have other friends who will be funding this [primary] effort." Several of the targeted candidates wrote official letters of complaint to the Texas Ethics Commission. TEC keeps those secret, but the senders and other recipients don't have to. The letter from Rep. Brian McCall, R-Plano, says the group "slandered and libeled" him. Similar letters came in from other Republicans on the target list: Reps. Dennis Bonnen of Angleton, Kim Brimer of Arlington, and Bill Carter of Fort Worth. All of them won their races.

Other Election Notes

Rep. Charles Jones, R-Bryan, won't get a second term. Lois Kolkhorst, R-Brenham, knocked him out... Regina Montoya Coggins took out her primary opponent, Gary Harrison, winning 68.1 percent of the vote. She's challenging U.S. Rep. Pete Sessions, R-Dallas, in November, in a race notable at this point for their level financial matchup... The Dallas grudge match between Democratic Rep. Domingo Garcia and Diana Flores settled safely in his favor, but they're still involved in back-and-forth lawsuits... Harryette Ehrhardt, a Dallas Democrat targeted by some Hispanics (including Garcia), handily defeats their recruit, Elsa Tovar, winning 79.6 percent of the vote... Former Rep. Nancy Moffat lost the rematch; Vicki Truitt, R-Keller, goes on to the general elections... Charles Moritz won the GOP primary in CD-10 and will face U.S. Rep. Lloyd Doggett later this year. That removes a great ballot name: Ronnie "Reeferseed" Gjemre... Phil Sudan spent a reported $1.3 million against Tom Reiser, who's been on the Federal Elections Commission's big-money list for some time now. Sudan won by 602 votes and now faces U.S. Rep. Ken Bentsen of Houston in November.

Death Row, Substance Abuse

Deadlines set by federal judges can be tricky things -- we write that without any ironic intent -- but two blown deadlines in different Death Row cases in two months has to make your eyebrows rise. Last September in Corpus Christi, U.S. District Judge Janis Graham Jack gave the state 90 days to decide whether to argue for a new sentencing hearing for a man convicted of killing a police officer. The alternative was to commute the sentence of Alberto Valdez, giving him a life sentence in place of his death sentence. A spokeswoman for Attorney General John Cornyn says the lawyer working the case didn't interpret the September instructions as a deadline. The judge did, however, and at our deadline, she was deciding what to do. The state's appeal of the original order is still tied up at the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals. That same court is the next stop in a separate Death Row case that advanced because of a mistake at the AG's office. Calvin Burdine appealed because his court-appointed attorney slept through his trial. During the appeal, the AG missed a deadline set by a federal judge. As a result, the judge ordered the state to free Burdine; that's on hold while the 5th Circuit has the case.

Follow-up: The Texas Commission on Alcohol and Drug Abuse fired 39 employees and will replace 20 of them as the fall-out from the agency's budget woes continues. TCADA already told its private vendors that the grants for treatment around the state will shrink. The problems began last summer, when agency officials realized they were spending money faster than planned. They didn't tell legislators for several months after that, however, and the problems blossomed into a large shortfall. The layoffs will save about $1.2 million. The shortfall amounts to more than $25 million.

Political People and Their Moves

Remember Yvonne Dewey? She's the Brazoria County Republican chairman who called for the ouster of Sen. J.E. "Buster" Brown, R-Lake Jackson, after he apologized to a former employee who said the senator had groped her. Brown made a painful public apology. The incident effectively took him out of the running for the lieutenant governor's job. But that wasn't enough for Dewey and others in the local GOP -- they wanted Brown to resign. He didn't, and he won't have Dewey to kick around much longer. She lost her job -- by 129 votes out of more than 16,000 cast -- to Mike Golden, a local banker and party activist... Now that the new guy has taken over as executive director of the Texas Democratic Party, outgoing director Sherry Boyles is free to take another job. She's the new executive director of the Texas Association Against Sexual Abuse, a non-profit coalition of rape crisis centers around the state... Lara Wendler moves from the staff of Sen. Gonzalo Barrientos, D-Austin, to the Senate's redistricting committee. Some Democrats have groused privately that the committee staff is loaded with Republicans... Amy Spiro is leaving the Senate's Economic Development Committee for the private world to be a consultant with MGT of America... Joel Romo, aide to Rep. Vilma Luna, D-Corpus Christi, jumps to the other side at the end of the month. He'll be the new legislative director at the Association of Texas Professional Educators... Candie Phipps is the new "director of advocacy and health policy" at the Texas Pediatric Society. Up to now, she was working for Shipley & Associates and lobbyist Hugo Berlanga... Troubling Signs: Peter Wareing's son William Wareing had a brush with the law after he was discovered tearing down a John Culberson yard sign late the Sunday night before the election. He got to apologize to Culberson and pay for the sign... Carter Tarrance, brother to Les Tarrance, filed a police complaint about one of Les' signs being taken down. The property owner apparently allowed the sign, but another member of the same family, who happens to be married to the Henderson County GOP chair, pulled it down. Nancy Perryman told police she wasn't involved. Kris Perryman, her husband, says he was pulling down all the signs, not just that one... The Speckle-ay-shun Department spotted a teaser on the cover of the current issue of Hispanic Magazine which says "Tony Garza: Is W's Pal Headed for Washington?"

Quotes of the Week

National Rifle Association honcho Wayne LaPierre, on President Bill Clinton's gun control policies: "I've come to believe that he needs a certain level of violence in this country. He's willing to accept a certain level of killing to further his political agenda and the vice president, too. "

Gov. George W. Bush, in an email response to Vice President Al Gore, who started the exchange with his own missive: "Thank you for your email. This Internet of yours is a wonderful invention."

Spokesbot Karen Hughes, on whether her presidential candidate plans to sit down with U.S. Sen. John McCain to arrange a truce: "Negotiations? Gov. Bush won."

Newly elected State Board of Education member Dan Montgomery, who beat Bob Offutt, a San Antonio dentist targeted by Bush loyalists for his outspoken support of former presidential candidate Steve Forbes: "I don't want to be a rubber stamp to the governor's office and the Legislature, and I think they know that, but he [Offutt] just opposed everything."

Ed Christensen of the Harris County Deputies' Organization, displaying that group's feelings for Jim Barr of Houston, who was removed two years ago as a district judge and whose comeback effort now has him in a runoff for an appeals court position: "I wish he would apply for a job with the sheriff's department. I know a lot of guys who would like to partner with him on baton training."

GOP challenger Dianne Hensley, who lost to Rep. Dennis Bonnen of Angleton: "Although Mrs. Hensley congratulates Mr. Bonnen on his victory in HD 25, she cautions him that 6,295 people demonstrated great displeasure with is voting record. If Mr. Bonnen continues to vote with the liberal faction of the House, he can be assured we will be watching and he will be held accountable."

Rep. Brian McCall, R-Plano, on the truthfulness and fairness of the direct mail pieces that preceded this year's primaries: "Legislative politics are so vicious because the stakes are so low."

Texas Weekly: Volume 16, Issue 36, 20 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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