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Tweaking Facts in the Presidential Race

You've heard that aphorism: "When elephants fight, the grass suffers." Well, the presidential race shows all signs of doing for the reputation of this fair state what previous contests did for the luster of Massachusetts, Arkansas, California and Georgia. The home states of governors who run for the presidency often come away looking like prospects for visits from the Peace Corps.

You've heard that aphorism: "When elephants fight, the grass suffers." Well, the presidential race shows all signs of doing for the reputation of this fair state what previous contests did for the luster of Massachusetts, Arkansas, California and Georgia. The home states of governors who run for the presidency often come away looking like prospects for visits from the Peace Corps.

Some of the "facts" you get out of this might make you want to move. Often (surprise, surprise), they are partly right and partly wrong, torqued by one candidate or another for tactical reasons.

Take, for example, this weird little fight. In their back and forth over who has the smarter plans for tax and spending, the presidential candidates have taken on, in a very minor way, the governor's role in the Texas budget. Al Gore says George W. Bush has never put together a budget. The Bushies respond by saying the governor is the state's chief budget officer and that he has, in fact, submitted budgets to the Legislature. Sheesh: They're both right and they're both wrong. Bush, like (some, but not all) governors before him, has submitted budgets to the Legislature. They could fairly be described as policy documents more than line-by-line budgets, but they do include broad spending outlines.

Why don't more people already know this? Because, like most Legislatures before them, the denizens of the Pink Building during the Bush years have more or less ignored the spending plans sent over by the governor's office. A governor's budget is good for one day of news coverage, and as a general indication of what might be acceptable or unacceptable in the middle offices of the Capitol, but that's about it. Some parts of what a governor submits get into the final product, but that's usually because those things were already included in what the House and Senate were working on.

Ranking Texas Teacher Pay for a National Audience

That tiff is but a flyspeck in the overall scheme of things, but some of the so-called information coming out of the campaigns is sticky enough to linger after the presidential race is over. For instance: There is an ongoing argument over whether teachers in Texas are fairly compensated and over where they rank in comparison with teachers elsewhere in the U.S. That drove the $3,000 pay raise through the last legislative session, and it remains a sensitive issue in a state that's chronically short of teachers.

In one of the daily skirmishes in the national race, Bush's folks pulled out a new number, saying Texas teachers are paid more than teachers in all but eight other states, once salaries are adjusted to account for experience, local costs of living, and what other states are expected to do with teacher pay.

This is complicated, but it's interesting to look at how they got to an answer that allows them to say teachers here ranked 35th before Bush arrived on the scene and in the top ten when he was done. How'd they cook up that high a number?

Start by saying Texas teachers rank 35th nationally in average pay. Add a $3,000 pay raise that began last September. Go to the American Federation of Teachers and borrow that union's state-by state adjustments for costs of living and level of experience. Either one, alone, would pull Texas ahead of seven to ten other states. But when you put them together, factoring in Texas' relatively lost costs and the fact that Texas teachers are, on average, younger and more inexperienced than their counterparts elsewhere, you pull the Texans all the way up to 18th in the rankings.

Now you have to get more creative. Figure out what other states have done with teacher pay over the last six years and assume they'll follow that pattern for the next year. At that point in the exercise, Texas educators float all the way up to ninth in the national rankings.

It's All in the Timing

Ouch! Just a couple of days before U.S. Rep. Tom DeLay, R-Sugar Land, was set to announce his $4 million fundraising plan for the Texas Victory 2000 campaign, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee sued him for the way he raises money.

They accuse him of extortion and money laundering, contending he threatened to hold back federal legislation of interest to political donors unless they gave money to Republicans and/or stopped giving it to Democrats. They say he conspired with associates in a handful of fundraising organizations to extend that program, cutting off more money from the DCCC. And they contend that, because those organizations were created outside of the realm of campaign finance law, the names of contributors are protected from disclosure and the Democrats are shut out of knowing who's on the other side and are thus at a disadvantage.

The Democrats claim that DeLay's efforts cut into their own contributions, and they're asking for triple damages under the federal civil RICO laws. RICO also provides some of the rhetoric for the suit: It stands for the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act.

Much of the detail in the lawsuit comes from news reports done over the last several years, and the lawyer-pundits are all over the boards on whether the suit is legally valid or bogus.

What is clear is that the timing is more significant than how the lawsuit will fare in the courts.

With only six months left before Election Day, the DCCC might be successful in putting a cloud over some of DeLay's efforts to raise money this year. If it makes Republican contributors nervous, that plays to the benefit of the Democrats. DeLay can counter that this is the price of success, telling supporters that the Democrats are just trying to slow things down and turn him into the kind of foil that former Speaker Newt Gingrich became at the end of his time in Congress.

The lawsuit came on the eve of an announcement of the Republican coordinated campaign in Texas, which DeLay will chair. He and most of the ranking Republican officeholders in Texas were scheduled, at our deadline, to finally unwrap the GOP's Victory 2000, an effort to raise money for services shared by all of the campaigns, like phone banks and Get Out the Vote efforts.

Republican consultant Kent Martin, who has done campaign work for George W. Bush, Phil Gramm, Kay Bailey Hutchison, and Rick Perry, will head that operation. They'll be after what the state's Republicans have been saying they want this year: Win the presidency, hold their majority in the Texas Senate and try to make some gains in both the U.S. and Texas Houses of Representatives. In the Texas House, the addition of four Republicans would create a majority. In the U.S. House, Republicans are trying to hold onto a narrow majority, and at least two Texas seats are in play.

Previous coordinated campaigns in Texas have raised well under $3 million. The question facing Republican fundraisers is whether Bush's own mammoth fundraising campaign left any money in donors' accounts and whether all of the various funding efforts on the Republican side will collide.

Distance Makes Voters Grow Undecided

Politics is easy, right? Explain this, then: Around the time of the March primaries, 49 percent of voters said they had not decided on a candidate for president. Now, almost two months later, that number has increased. According to the Vanishing Voter project at Harvard, which is polling voters every week through the general election, 59 percent of voters now say they are undecided on the presidential race. Among the decided, George W. Bush was leading Al Gore by 23 percent to 17 percent. Inside the numbers, women were more likely than men to be undecided, Democrats more likely than Republicans to be undecided and independents more likely than voters of the two major parties to be undecided. Younger people were more likely to be uncommitted than older voters were. Both interest in the race, and certainty about choices, tend to rise when the campaigns are in the news.

Stepping Out

One advantage for Democrats seeking statewide office in Texas is that there aren't a lot of people in the way. Aspirants can aim at any rung that excites them without fear of displacing a fellow Democrat. It's just like being a Republican after 1982, when Democrats swept the statewide offices and shut out contestants from the other party.

But ambitious Republicans are getting a taste that is familiar to Democratic officeholders who can remember back that far: The rungs are full and any promotion requires a family fight.

That's why there are some in the Republican Party who are hoping Texas Supreme Court Justice Greg Abbott and Rep. Kenn George, R-Dallas, will settle down a little bit.

George has hired Gary Bruner, the former executive director of the Texas GOP, to run his political affairs. He's quick to say that Bruner is on board to help him with his (unopposed) reelection bid and with some issues that George is interested in. He's not running for anything else right now, he says, adding "period, end of sentence, end of paragraph" to lend the denial some drama. But, he admits, there are certain conditions under which he might run for, say, comptroller. First among those conditions is that he would not challenge the incumbent, Carole Keeton Rylander.

For the time being, he's just working on some issues that require him to go around the state and talk to people and the only race he's interested in is his own. Besides, he says, he's got a pile of debt from his last campaign that he and Bruner need to whittle.

Abbott, meanwhile, is hearing some clucking from other judges and legal beagles for that political mailer we wrote about a couple of weeks ago. Some of his colleagues in the judiciary think he might have stepped on a crack by including summaries of a handful of lawsuits that have been decided by the Supreme Court. There's a well-established idea among jurists that judges should stay within the "four corners" of a written opinion by leaving alone what's already been scribbled and not offering summaries that might be read differently. The idea is that the opinion is the last, best and complete word on a given case and that other renditions muck things up.

There is also a contingent who say -- erroneously, as it turns out -- that Abbott's mailer strayed from a rule that judges limit their campaigning to the campaign season. Abbott is not up for election until 2004, but is rumored to lust for a non-judicial post should either Attorney General John Cornyn or Comptroller Rylander not seek reelection in 2002. The law limits when judges can raise money to a period that starts seven months before filing deadlines and four months past their election to office. But it doesn't limit when they spend their political money or when they can contact voters. Doing mailers out of season is unusual for a judge, or for anyone else in politics, for that matter. But it's not the breach some of the tut-tut crowd has suggested.

Moving Portions Around the Dish

State officials are tinkering with a $1.3 billion hospital program to make sure more money is getting to hospitals that provide care without getting paid for it, but those changes will cut into the budgets of some hospitals that have been semi-dependent on the money.

The program they're adjusting is called Disproportionate Share, or Dish, and it basically involves scooping up a bunch of money from nine large urban hospitals around the state then using that money and some state money to obtain federal matching funds. Those funds are then distributed to hospitals around the state, including the nine big ones that started the pennies rolling.

That was originally intended, at least in part, to cover costs of uncompensated care at hospitals that don't turn patients away. But Medicaid got more lucrative for hospitals, so some of institutions that initially stayed away began to be interested, draining money away from the original players.

To terrifically oversimplify the thing, the state is reworking the formulas. The large urban public hospitals will see more Dish money, other urban hospitals like Baylor will get less money, and rural hospitals will get about what they had been getting. A caveat for those folks: Rural hospitals overall will get what they've been getting. But some will gain, some will lose.

That Noise is Not from Your Rice Krispies

No, indeed, that's the snap, crackle, and pop of Senate District 3, which apparently is going to get louder and louder. Democrat David Fisher challenged Rep. Todd Staples, R-Palestine, to a series of debates. He said he'd meet him at the Anderson County Courthouse "so he won't have to come far" to hold a drawing to match dates with each of the 17 counties in the district. Staples didn't show. Fisher held a drawing attended, depending on your source, by somewhere between six and 20 people.

Staples came back with an announcement that he would do a 17-county "Walks and Handshakes for Tort Reform," a non-subtle reference to the fact that Fisher is a trial lawyer. Staples campaign manager, Jason Johnson, said in a written press release that they'll go to debates, but "not with a stacked audience for Fisher to do his Johnny Cochran trial lawyer strut and puff." The Republican questioned Fisher's representation of a couple of Marines killed in an out of state helicopter accident.

Fisher snapped back with a statement saying Staples was fooling around with tort reform stuff while "underpaid, understaffed correctional officers are being murdered and held hostage and prisoners riot in Texas prisons." He chided him for criticizing a lawsuit on behalf of the families of the Marines. Staples, the same day, put out a release repeating his call for an immediate pay raise for prison guards, and saying Gov. Bush should call a special session if the problem isn't solved by June.

Short Bits: Politics, News, Miscellany

The Texas Department of Economic Development and its legislative liaison, Randall Riley, are parting ways. In a peculiar twist, the agency's appointed chairman, Mark Langdale, tried to get others to convince Riley into a quiet departure. He met at some length with Riley, then with Lt. Gov. Rick Perry, who served in the Texas House with Riley years ago. Riley joined the agency just a few months ago to help work out a truce between TDED and the Legislature.

• The date on this issue is also the deadline for independent presidential candidates to give the Texas secretary of state their petitions to get on the ballot. Getting on the ballot requires 56,116 signatures, a hurdle made famous in 1992, when Ross Perot Sr. hauled his boxes of petitions to the Capitol in his bid for the presidency. Minor parties have a lower hurdle: They have until May 30 to get 37,380 signatures to Austin to get on the ballot. And independent candidates running for offices other than the presidency have until May 11. The secretary of state will certify ballots on Sept. 13 this year.

• It is not for the attorney general of the state of Texas to decide where a man's sideburns stop and his beard begins, but John Cornyn has rendered his official position: The Legislature gave that power of demarcation to the Board of Barber Examiners. Goofy as it sounds, it is a distinction of importance to the trades. Barbers are allowed to work on beards and mustaches and cosmetologists are not. A cosmetologist is allowed to cut or color hair on your head, but not on your face. A cosmetologist who starts fiddling with handlebar mustache designs can lose his or her state license.

That gives rise to this sentence -- now part of the official legal lore in Texas -- from the AG's Opinions Committee: "We think it likely that most observers would consider the sideburns worn by the late Elvis Presley at the time of his early success in 1956 as part of his hair. On the other hand, whether the muttonchops which adorned his face at the time of his death were hair which a cosmetologist might trim, or a partial beard which could be serviced only by a barber, is a question which in the absence of any articulated standard might well present difficulties to a cosmetologist who wished to remain within his or her licensed practice."

• We're late to print this, but we're not sore about it: Dr. Steven Hotze takes issue with our rendition of his endorsements in the primaries, saying, in a press release that we and the Houston Chronicle and the Houston Press "celebrated the downfall of Hotze by claiming his days of influencing local elections was over." That's not exactly what we said (we said his won-lost record in the primary was abysmal in a reference to some high profile races), but we'll give him the point: He did improve on things in the runoffs. Hotze points out that "it's not about picking winners and losers" and then says he was with the winners two-thirds of the time in the GOP primary and 70 percent in the runoff.

Statistical Soup

Prisoners in Texas are older than they used to be, according to the Texas Department of Criminal Justice. The average age of Texas inmates is 35.4 years, up from an average of 33 years old in 1994. They serve more of their sentences, too: In 1995, the average inmate did about a third of the time they were ordered to serve. Now that's up to 45 percent, even though the average sentences ordered by courts have stayed the same at an average of about 20 years. Part of the reason is that five years ago, 60 percent of inmates got out on parole; now, parole accounts for only 33 percent of all inmate releases. More inmates are doing time for violent crimes than before, but violent criminals still make up less than half of all inmates. The percentage of Anglos in prison has risen while the percentage of Blacks has dropped. Hispanics, as a percentage of the total population, stayed steady. The average Texas inmate has an IQ of 91.1 and scores at the seventh grade level on achievement tests.

• Texas workers are generally safer than their counterparts nationally, but the on-the-job death rate is higher here than elsewhere, according to a report from the AFL-CIO. That report, based on federal statistics, says 5.4 of every 100,000 workers died on the job in 1998; the national average was 4.5 workers per 100,000. But the illness/injury rate here was 5,200 per 100,000 employees, compared with a rate of 6,700 per 100,000 nationally. Texas workers were less likely to get sick or hurt on the job that year, but more likely to die at work. In 1998, 523 Texans died at work, two in five from "transportation incidents" and another 45 percent split almost evenly between three things: assaults and violence, "contact with objects and equipment," and exposure to harmful substances or environment.

• The Texas Tomorrow Fund is getting less and less popular, in spite of rising college costs and the state's guarantee that the prepaid tuition contracts will cover tuition and fees no matter how much they rise. In 1996, the first year of the program, the state comptroller's office rang up 39,748 contracts. The next year's number was 23,699. In 1998, it dropped to 13,794 and in 1999, it dropped again, to 9,726. That's a total, so far, of 86,967 contracts and they'll add some more next month, at the end of the current enrollment period. This is the first enrollment drive that doesn't include television advertising.

More Congressional Finance

We skipped a couple of races last week, in the interest of space, in that bit we did on finances in Texas congressional races, and we'll be back again to update this when new numbers are reported. Here is how finances stand at what we've arbitrarily declared as the general election starting gate:

Rep. Ralph Hall, D-Rockwall has $84,922 in the bank at last report; his Republican opponent, Jon Newton, has $25,984 on hand. Rep. Nick Lampson, D-Beaumont, has $279,200 on hand; his Republican opponent, Paul Williams, has $5,086 on hand. Rep. Kay Granger, R-Fort Worth, has $501,128 on hand to Democrat Mark Greene's $1,268. In CD-13, Rep. Mac Thornberry, R-Clarendon, has $328,453 on hand; Democrat Curtis Clinesmith has, as of his last report, $140,394 in the political piggy bank. Rep. Charles Stenholm, D-Abilene, has got $292,379 to Darrell Clements' $3,497. Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee, D-Houston, has $282,690 on hand; Bob Levy's report wasn't available. Rep. Lamar Smith had $512,645 on hand; Democrat Jim Green's report wasn't available. Rep. Tom DeLay, R-Sugar Land, had $354,054 on hand to Jo Ann Matranga's $5,290. Rep. Henry Bonilla, R-San Antonio, had $425,851 in the bank; Democrat Isidro Garza Jr. had $10,911. Rep. Dick Armey, R-Flower Mound, had $343,552 on hand; no report was available for his opponent, Steve Love. Rep. Solomon Ortiz, D-Corpus Christi, had $207,994 and an absent report from Republican Pat Ahumada, and Rep. Gene Green, D-Houston, had $343,414 on hand; his opponent, Joe Vu, had $1,744.

Unopposed incumbents and their cash on hand totals include: Jim Turner, D-Crockett, $449,074; Sam Johnson, R-Dallas, $409,019; Rep. Kevin Brady, R-The Woodlands, $93,963; Ruben Hinojosa, D-Mercedes, $341,737; Larry Combest, R-Lubbock, $540,849; Charles Gonzalez, D-San Antonio, $101,722; Ciro Rodriguez, D-San Antonio, $57,092; and Eddie Bernice Johnson, D-Dallas, $146,497. We typoed U.S. Rep. Ken Bentsen, D-Houston, into the wrong part of the state last week. He represents CD-25, and will face Republican Phil Sudan in November.

Political People and Their Moves

From our Bureau of Lobby Rumors Run Amok: Sen. Carlos Truan, D-Corpus Christi, didn't have a heart attack or a heart transplant or a food reaction or even a stroke. He had, according to his staff, a "mild" case of pneumonia that was causing him some chest pain and that prompted his family doctor to send him to Houston, and that prompted the Houston docs to put him in bed for a couple of days. He should be out by the time you read this... Ray Farabee, the former state senator, says he'll leave his post as general counsel to the University of Texas System. Farabee, who's been at UT since he left the Legislature in 1988, says he's following his own plans and wasn't prompted by the pending resignation of Chancellor William Cunningham, who gives up his title this summer... More moves from the Senate: Anne Ray is leaving the upper chamber's Committee on Human Services; she's moving to Chicago and has already been replaced by Karen Hilton, who worked on the Human Services staff in the House. And Sen. Mike Moncrief, D-Fort Worth, adds Katrina Daniel, who had been at the Sunset Commission, to his staff... On the political side, Moncrief says his reelection campaign will be run by Steve Montgomery, who did it in 1996, and Emily Amps, who was with the Tarrant County Democratic Party... The Associated Press named Kelley Shannon its Austin Bureau Chief. She had been in San Antonio... Appointments: Gov. George W. Bush named Leonard Davis of Tyler to the 12th District Court of Appeals. He'll replace Tom Ramey Jr., who is retiring. Bush put Dan Hallmark, a Beaumont banker, on the Texas State University System board of regents. Thomas Moeller, also of Beaumont, resigned. And Bush replaced Marshall Police Chief Chuck Williams, as chairman of the Texas Commission on Law Enforcement office Standards and Education with Benigno Reyna, Brownsville's police chief. Williams stepped down in a firestorm over racist comments he made in a legal deposition... Texas Tech University's law school named Sen. Jeff Wentworth, R-San Antonio, its "distinguished alumnus" for the year... The State Bar of Texas elected Austin lawyer Broadus Spivey its next president over Houston attorney Otway Denny. Spivey will be president-elect for a year, then president... Deaths: Marlin Brockette, a former Texas education commissioner. He was 87.

Quotes of the Week

Dallas Mayor Ron Kirk, blasting Gov. George W. Bush for not showing up at a conference of Black mayors in that city: "He's my friend, but he ain't here. He went to Bob Jones University, but he couldn't come to a collection of 400 African-American mayors."

U.S. Rep. Patrick Kennedy, D-Massachusetts, announcing a lawsuit filed against U.S. Rep. Tom DeLay, R-Sugar Land, by the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, in an effort to stop the Texan's fundraising tactics: "Mr. DeLay is unfortunately conducting these activities under the color of his office -- as he seeks through the use of systematic extortion -- to coerce the contribution of millions of dollars to Republicans and to intimidate those inclined to support Democrats."

DeLay, reacting to that lawsuit: "I am saddened and disappointed that my colleagues on the other side of the aisle have impugned the dignity of the House of Representatives today by resorting to ugly, unfounded, politically motivated charges for their own political gains."

From Veronica Callaghan, a member of the investigating panel formed to find out what caused the collapse of the Texas A&M bonfire last year: "The university has a culture that instills bias and tunnel vision in decision making. No credible source ever suspected or thought to inquire about structural safety. No one in the administration ever interpreted ongoing behavioral problems as indications that safe bonfire design and construction was beyond the capabilities of student leaders."

Beaumont lawyer James Morris, on whether Texas A&M's report on the bonfire accident is biased because it was paid for by the school and not by a third party: "I don't have any criticism of it. I think they did what looks to be an outstanding job and correctly identified that both the university and the students are to blame... I could take this report and litigate this case tomorrow."

Joe Diggs of Dallas, the first African-American to sell Cadillacs in Dallas, reflecting: "God has blessed me with everything I wanted in life -- to be a good person, to own my own home, to be a Christian man, and to own a Cadillac."

Texas Weekly: Volume 16, Issue 43, 8 May 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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