Skip to main content

Sweet Nothings Trump Nasty Somethings

Not that anyone expected unpleasantness or noise or a floor fight at the state GOP convention, but there sure were a lot of relieved Republicans on hand when the thing was over and no figurative blood had been spilled. There was no ugly fight amongst the factions. The statewide elected officials were not left off the list of national delegates, as some had feared they would be. The platform didn't take on any wacky, headline-grabbing new provisions.

Not that anyone expected unpleasantness or noise or a floor fight at the state GOP convention, but there sure were a lot of relieved Republicans on hand when the thing was over and no figurative blood had been spilled. There was no ugly fight amongst the factions. The statewide elected officials were not left off the list of national delegates, as some had feared they would be. The platform didn't take on any wacky, headline-grabbing new provisions.

The possibilities that worried some Republicans before the gathering didn't come true. Instead, they did as they had hoped, holding a pep rally that showed a party pulling together instead of one breaking into cabals. The official spin, and even a fair amount of the unofficial spin, credited GOP Chairwoman Susan Weddington and Lt. Gov. Rick Perry for the success. They kept the aggressively contentious folks in the party at bay, and ran over some of the leaders of the social conservatives while also letting that wing of the Party control the delegation that will go to Philadelphia later this summer.

Moderate Republicans had feared before the convention that conservative leaders like Tim Lambert of Lubbock, a national committee member, and Chuck Anderson, executive director of the Christian Coalition, would totally control the selection of national delegates. The moderates wanted to avoid hard-line fights over issues like abortion and shutting out statewide elected officials, either of which might have proven embarrassing later in the year to Gov. George W. Bush. Perry let state delegates take control of the nominating process, effectively removing leverage that could have been used by others to control national delegate lists. When it came time to name delegates to the national convention, the state delegates voted out a list full of conservatives but palatable to moderates.

God, Money, and Where's George?

The negative headlines the GOP generated inside the hall weren't particularly sticky. Outside the hall, death penalty protesters made some news, but also lost some of whatever sympathy they generated when they knocked down an elderly delegate. Anyway, the protests never really got attached to the GOP itself; they were folded into general coverage about crime and punishment.

The money slap was a two-parter. Weddington announced earlier this year that the GOP would take corporate money for the convention, partly just to pay for the thing and mainly because corporate money used for the convention would free non-corporate contributions that can be spent to promote candidates. That announcement made news for a day, then disappeared.

It reappeared at the opening of the convention, where signs promoting the sponsors were all over the building. It contrasted with the Democrats' convention in Fort Worth, where sponsorships were all but invisible. And the names of the sponsors, some of them companies that have generated their share of political news without the Party's help, stirred up more media interest: Phillip Morris, Dow Chemical, Pilgrim's Pride, Metabolife International, Humana, Microsoft, Voter.com and Koch Industries were all among the concerns with signs up at the convention.

Religion was present in the form of prayer breakfasts, rallies and appearances in speeches, but didn't turn up as part of a policy fight, at least not a new one. And the governor's absence from the convention didn't cause many ripples because the delegates, treated to Bush on video and Laura Bush live on stage, were nonplussed about what some complained was a snub.

The Republicans got a convention that rallied their faithful, boosted a couple of rising GOP leaders in Perry and Weddington, and avoided infamy. They were happy to have it.

Notes from the Republican Convention

The head Republican in the Convention City, Harris County Judge Robert Eckels, spent a fair amount of time at the gathering telling people he's happy where he is and hasn't decided what, if anything, he'll do next. But he points out that nearly a third of the state's voters are in his area of the state. He also admits he's thought about what's next. One consideration if he wants to move up: Harris County has a resign-to-run provision that could cost him his paying job at the county courthouse if he declares his intentions too early and too specifically.

• Land Commissioner David Dewhurst and Rep. Tommy Merritt, R-Longview, have settled at least some of their differences. Merritt has started the paperwork that will transfer ownership of several Internet domain names from him to Dewhurst. The names all start with David Dewhurst, followed by .com, .org and .net. Separately, a convention rumor had Dewhurst, a millionaire, telling people he'd be happy to fund an opponent to Merritt in 2002. Dewhurst, asked, says he didn't say that.

• In marketing, you tailor things to your audience. Texans for Lawsuit Reform had a booth at the GOP convention, as they did a week earlier at the Democratic Party confab in Fort Worth. In the booth in Houston, the group left out a blown-up picture of a newspaper opinion piece on tort reform savings. That column, extolling the virtues of a law that forced insurance companies to lower rates to reflect savings from tort reform, was written by former Rep. Mark Stiles, a Democrat.

• Gizmo kudos to Lt. Gov. Rick Perry, whose name and Internet address were printed on the red ribbon necklaces used to hold delegates' credentials. Land Commissioner Dewhurst sent, by one count, 20,000 invitations to his convention party. A mess of people, drawn by offers of free beer and wine and a live band, showed up at the hoedown. Each got a gold Dewhurst pin to wear around. Buttons and bumper stickers at the convention included the popular "Trust me, I'm a reporter" offered by an outfit called Accuracy in Media, or AIM. More anonymous offerings: "Thurman/Helms 2000. Don't throw away 200 years of experience," and "Nixon 2000: He's not as stiff as Gore."

• The convention's rules committee wanted to wipe out term limits on party officials and sent that idea along to the floor, where it was resoundingly beaten. That was widely read as a slap at National Committeeman Tim Lambert of Lubbock. Because of the rule, he is now serving his last term. Lambert also had a sharp challenge from Mike McDougal, also of Lubbock. A McDougal flyer laced Lambert with a parade of bad adjectives: "Alienates... Manipulates... Quarrelsome... Vindictive... Divisive... Compromised..." It went on to say Lambert "shunned and ostracized George W. Bush resulting in governor's absence from this convention." Delegates didn't bite -- Lambert won.

• Republicans elected Denise McNamara to an open position as national committeewoman. She is a court reporter whose claim to fame is that she recorded the deposition of President Bill Clinton in the Paula Jones case. McNamara won a four-candidate race with no runoff.

• Former state Sen. Jerry Patterson, who lost the GOP primary for land commissioner in 1998, wants another shot, as we've noted here before, and he's stepping up his efforts while trying not to step on the toes of the current occupant. He won't challenge Dewhurst, but wants to be at the front of the line if the incumbent does something else in 2002. Patterson claims to have lined up conditional support from several generous GOP donor types he says would contribute to him if he's running for an open seat, including Bob Perry, William McMinn, Virgil Waggoner and Fred Zeidman. He set up a web site (www.votepatterson.com) and plans a Houston fundraiser in September.

• Off to the races? Ads for U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison and Lt. Gov. Perry occupied the two front pages of the GOP convention program. Don't read the possible Lite Guv race into this or anything like that, but Sens. David Sibley and Jeff Wentworth bought full-page ads in the program. Sens. Florence Shapiro and Teel Bivins each bought half-pagers.

Trying to Maintain Tradition

Redistricting moves in mysterious ways, but cut one route off at the pass. Expect Lt. Gov. Rick Perry to squawk if anyone on his side of the partisan fence tries to get senators to mess with House redistricting plans or representatives to mess with Senate plans. Sen. Troy Fraser, R-Horseshoe Bay, and Rep. Mike Krusee, R-Round Rock, have made noise along those lines, according to other Republicans. Perry apparently doesn't want to deal with the level of crossfire that would generate.

For one thing, redistricting is contentious enough within each chamber, without letting the other half of the Legislature mess with it. If everything stays true to tradition, at least loose tradition, the House will write the House plan, the Senate the Senate plan, and each chamber will approve the other's map at roughly the same time (the joke is that they leave both doors open so the gavels will drop simultaneously, an idea that's not far from the mark). Both houses will feel perfectly free to hack at the congressional maps and at the plots for the State Board of Education.

Apparently, some of the folks on the GOP side got a little too rambunctious or aggressive about their plans in the eyes of legislative bosses. Krusee says members of each chamber have a duty to watch the whole plan and not just their own half. While he acknowledges there is a historical taboo on messing with the lines drawn by the other chamber, he says it would be irresponsible for a member to let the other chamber have carte blanche in drawing lines. Some House members have said, without pointing directly at a perpetrator, that they've been assured that if they're hammered in maps drawn in the House that they'll be repaired in the Senate, and vice-versa.

Rumors of interference, generally speaking, benefit the Democrats, who are arguably in a more defensive posture (Republicans control the Legislative Redistricting Board that would draw plans if lawmakers can't agree). They would benefit, according to that line of thinking, from displays of raw partisanship from Republicans. That would explain Perry wanting to shut down the talk. And, some point out, even if Perry or others wanted to make redistricting even more partisan than it already is, it's too early in the game to do anything to stir up the opposition.

And Trying to Overcome Tradition

When it came time for state legislators to have their 15 minutes of time on the GOP convention stage, they took the opportunity to talk about redistricting. No big surprise there.

Rep. Tom Craddick, R-Midland, told the delegates that the GOP missed control of the state House two years ago by a grand total of 2,200 votes, and told them that they need a majority to stave off ten years of control, in the form of legislative districts, by the Democrats.

Sen. Florence Shapiro, R-Plano, did about the same thing, saying control of the Senate is up for grabs in the race for Drew Nixon's seat in SD-3. Nixon is bowing out, and Rep. Todd Staples, R-Palestine, is trying to keep the seat in Republican hands in a race against Silsbee lawyer David Fisher. If everything else remains as is, the party that wins that seat will win the Senate. But Shapiro also told delegates that another seat -- the SD-2 post held by Sen. David Cain, D-Dallas -- is crucial for the Republicans to win. Staples and Dr. Bob Deuell of Greenville, who is challenging Cain, each got a chance to speak right after Shapiro was done. What's unusual there is that senators of both parties generally stay out of the way of incumbents seeking reelection. Shapiro's not the first to do that: Some Senate Democrats joined the opposition against Sen. Steve Ogden, R-Bryan, in 1998.

Same tradition, different chamber: A dozen-and-a-half Republicans signed on for a Ben Bius reception at the convention. He's the Republican candidate challenging Rep. Dan Ellis, D-Livingston. Bius' invitations listed two members of Congress (Dick Armey of Flower Mound and Joe Barton of Ennis), three state senators (Tom Haywood of Wichita Falls, Jon Lindsay of Houston and Bill Ratliff of Mount Pleasant) and 17 House members, including John Culberson, Talmadge Heflin and Kyle Janek of Houston, Ken Marchant of Carrollton and Arlene Wohlgemuth of Burleson. Bius lost to Ellis two years ago by 793 votes, and Republicans have that seat on their target list.

Familiar Gladiators in a New Arena

Since they opened their doors for business, the folks at Public Strategies Inc. have been repeating their mantra: "We do not lobby nor do we compete with people who do lobby."

That era is over. The public policy shop founded by Jack Martin and a small band of others with expertise in politics is hiring respected Austin freelancer Rusty Kelley and will add legislative representation to what it does for clients. Kelley, who has been a lobbyist for about 17 years, will bring along three or four people who work with him, including Joey Bennett, who lobbies, and some support staff. He says the hire/merger/move does not include his office mates Jack Roberts and Andrea McWilliams. He'll be managing director of the new division at PSI.

Kelley is in the process of figuring whether and where the change will create conflicts or problems for current clients, and he has begun making calls to calm others who might be interested in the move for competitive reasons. Running his own shop, Kelley said, already had him in almost day-to-day contact with PSI on matters affecting clients they had in common. PSI won't stop working with other lobbyists, he says, and won't poach on their contracts. Many of the company's clients already have lobsters, and the new office won't try to take that work away, even if Kelley is already part of a lobbying team that includes other freelancers and the company in question is a PSI client. At this point, they're bending over backwards to avoid even the appearance of a threat to other lobbyists.

They're also starting small. Kelley and his cohort will be the whole lobby operation for now. The company has a number of other employees who left lobbying or the Legislature, but they won't switch back to their old roles. For instance, the company says there are no plans for Jack Gullahorn, a top-tier lobster who left that world to go to PSI, to go back into the lobbying business.

PSI's founders started in the political world and started offering companies the kinds of tools that had been used mainly on behalf of candidates and causes. That has been their niche for years and it has continually taken them right to the edge of the legislative world. Until now, they've hooked up with their clients' lobbyists when they needed to, while staying out of the overpopulated lobby. But some of their clients want one-stop shopping, and the addition of Kelley makes that possible.

Before the year is out, expect to see other Austin shops broadening what they offer in an attempt to snag some of that business. A case in point: lobbyist Buddy Jones says his Hillco Partners will be getting into research and some other businesses this fall. He started on the lobbying end and is moving to add some of what PSI does to become a competing full-service shop.

One Week Away From Campaign Finance Online

What was presented to us as a major glitch in the state's new electronic campaign finance software was nothing of the sort, according to the Texas Ethic Commission, and they're ready to light this baby up and see if it'll fly. Copies of the software are available by mail and over the Internet (at www.ethics.state.tx.us), and most users who've poked at it say the filing software is easy to use.

We're about to find out: Reports from PACs, due in the first week of July, will be the first things filed electronically with the commission; the big test will come a couple of weeks later when campaigns file their mid-year reports. Most state campaigns will have to file electronically and the reports due on July 17 should be available online starting that same week. There are exceptions. A candidate's report can't be posted on the Internet until the opponent's report is ready (although all reports are available to the public as they are filed, if you go to the Ethics Commission in person). Small campaigns don't have to post electronically, so you'll still have to get the paper copies of their reports.

Addresses of contributors, as we've noted, can't be posted online. That law means list merchants will have to keep doing things the old-fashioned way, by getting paper copies of reports and having them typed into computers. More importantly, the absence of addresses in the Internet records will make it difficult to distinguish between different people who have the same names. The only way to tell whether there is a difference between this Jane Doe and that Jane Doe will be to look at the paper reports to see whether they have the same address or not.

Clinics for Cubicles

State budgeteers are poking around the Texas Department of Health to find out what the agency did with money it saved by not funding school-based health clinics this year. The flap over the clinics started a couple of weeks ago when Rep. Garnet Coleman, D-Houston, complained that the agency was ignoring a rider in the Appropriations bill requiring TDH to fund two facilities during the current fiscal year. TDH hasn't done that.

Agency officials said the rider is there, all right, but another bill passed by the Legislature requires the agency to develop some rules first. That's taken a long time, and since the rules aren't in place, the clinics haven't been funded. The amount of lapsed funds available as a result total about $600,000, according to an agency spokesman. That number is apparently what got the attention of someone in the agency who then passed the info along to someone at the Capitol. It would almost cover the estimated costs of renovations on two floors of the health department's building. Plans were drawn up, and the agency got estimates on the work: It would cost about $350,000 per floor, plus another $800,000 to $1 million to buy cubicles and furniture for the redone spaces.

Those plans got set aside a few weeks ago. A spokesman says the agency never planned to do the work with lapsed money from the clinics that didn't open. But he said TDH could have used money from the Maternal and Child Health funds. The money for the renovations, however, would not come from funds earmarked by lawmakers for the clinics, he said. In any case, the renovations haven't been done and rest in limbo. "It's a dead issue right now," the spokesman said.

Suds and Other Oddments

The last time Shane Phelps ran for Travis County District Attorney, Rep. Terry Keel, R-Austin, kept his distance. Keel, a former Travis County Sheriff, used to work for District Attorney Ronnie Earle and didn't want to take a slap at his former boss. Now he's decided to jump in. Keel is one of six Austin politicos to sign Phelps' fundraising letters, along with Ag Commissioner Susan Combs, who preceded Keel in the House. One of the knocks against Earle in the last race was his prosecution of Kay Bailey Hutchison as she was leaving her post as state treasurer and becoming a U.S. senator. Earle folded his case on the first day of trial after hounding Hutchison for months. Phelps came up short that time with 45 percent of the vote, but came close enough to inspire another attempt.

• Headline in a widely circulated email to would-be supporters of Regina Montoya Coggins, the Democrat challenging U.S. Rep. Pete Sessions, R-Dallas, in CD-5: "Cha-ching". Translation: Send money. Sessions, one of two Republicans targeted in Texas by the Democrats this year (the other is U.S. Rep. Ron Paul, R-Surfside), got some speaking time at the state GOP convention. Republicans are confident he can hold the seat, but Coggins has already raised more than $1 million. Both parties were watching before, but that fundraising has them watching closely now. That district also fits nicely into battle plans for both parties. It overlaps a big chunk of Texas SD-2, adjoins the hotly contested SD-3 and overlaps a couple of hot or very warm Texas House races that both parties think they can win.

• The newly brewed Beer Alliance of Texas is bigger than we thought. True, there are only three wholesalers involved, and they're all in Harris County. But as it turns out, they sell 30 percent of the state's beer, and most of the beer in the state's largest city. Shut our mouths. The group will compete, more or less, with the Wholesale Beer Distributors of Texas. The groups have some differences over marketing practices, such as how much money distributors ought to be allowed to spend on customers and potential customers. Rick Donley, the Austin-based head of the group, said he expects more members to join up once word gets around. He ran a previous incarnation of the group that was confined to the Harris County beer dealers.

• The News of Texas, the statewide television network started by San Antonio businessman James Leininger, didn't get the advertising toehold it hoped for in setting up a news network. After 18 months, the network's owners decided to shut it down.

Political People and Their Moves

Right place, right time, right candidate: 18-year-old Gwendolyn Creacy, a student at King High School in Corpus Christi, will be the youngest delegate in the Texas Democratic Party's delegation in Los Angeles... His website makes it sound like he's still an officeholder, but former Sen. Jerry Patterson is actually moving from trade association executive to lobbyist. He currently heads the Texas Association of Health Plans, a trade group for HMOs. Patterson says the rumor that he's departing is wrong, but he won't be the head of that group for much longer. Instead, he'll handing lobbying and media duties for TAHP, and is looking for other lobby clients and causes "that are conservative and that I believe in"... Geoff Wurzel, formerly of TAHP, joins in the Austin office of the American Electronics Association, which is trying to enlarge its Texas presence... Allison Griffin moves to the mother ship at the Texas Medical Association from that group's political committee, TEXPAC. She'll be part of the communications staff at TMA... Appointments: Gov. Bush named Wayne Brittingham of Mansfield to the State Commission on Judicial Conduct, replacing Jean Birmingham of Marshall, whose term expired. That board keeps discipline in the ranks of Texas judges. Bush named Gerald Wilson of Houston to the board of Texas Southern University. Wilson, an accountant, runs a chain of funeral homes that operates in five states... Former state Rep. Gilbert Serna, D-El Paso, was sentenced to 90 days in jail, 10 years of probation, $3,000 in fines and 200 hours of community service after his conviction for demanding kickbacks from state aides after getting raises for them. He was accused of taking $14,000 from the state through the employees, and prosecutors said he repaid that amount... Recovering: Former U.S. Rep. Kika de la Garza, from bypass surgery. He is 72. Deaths: Frances Laney, mother of Texas House Speaker Pete Laney, after a long illness. She was 78... U.S. District Judge Joe Fisher of Beaumont died two weeks after being diagnosed with cancer. Fisher, appointed to the federal bench by President Dwight Eisenhower, was 90. His grandson, David, is running for the Texas Senate... Lucy Phelps Patterson, the first black woman elected to the Dallas City Council, died at age 68 after a fight with pneumonia. She was elected to the council in 1973.

Quotes of the Week

U.S. Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens' majority opinion that prayers at Santa Fe High School are unconstitutional: "Even if we regard every high school student's decision to attend a home football game as purely voluntary, we are nevertheless persuaded that the delivery of a pregame prayer has the improper effect of coercing those present to participate in an act of religious worship.

And from the dissent, written by Chief Justice William Rehnquist: "The Court distorts existing precedent to conclude that the school district's student-message program is invalid on its face under the Establishment Clause. But even more disturbing than its holding is the tone of the Court's opinion; it bristles with hostility to all things religious in public life."

Republican Party of Texas Chairwoman Susan Weddington, after noting that a referendum on school prayer at sporting events outperformed all of the statewide candidates on the March primary ballot: "If you want to run for office, run as a referendum."

Gov. George W. Bush, before making a decision in the Gary Graham capital murder case: "If it costs me politically, it costs me politically."

Former Gov. Ann Richards, assessing the presidential race: "I don't know if Gore is going to win. If I knew how to beat Dubya, I would have done it myself."

Lt. Gov. Rick Perry, on Democrat Al Gore's characterizations of Texas in the presidential race: "If you listen to Mr. Gore, this is a hotbed of Third World conditions... Come to think of it, if you listen to him long enough, you'll come to think you were living in one of the vice president's rental properties."

U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, on why the income tax marriage penalty should be repealed: "We shouldn't have to choose between love and money."

U.S. Sen. Phil Gramm, on the likelihood of a comeback by Texas Democrats: "I'm betting my money on Elvis."


Texas Weekly: Volume 17, Issue 2, 26 June 2000. Ross Ramsey, Editor. George Phenix, Publisher. Copyright 2000 by Printing Production Systems, Inc. All Rights Reserved. Reproduction in whole or in part without written permission from the publisher is prohibited. One-year online subscription: $250. For information about your subscription, call (800) 611-4980 or email biz@texasweekly.com. For news, email ramsey@texasweekly.com, or call (512) 288-6598.


Texas Tribune donors or members may be quoted or mentioned in our stories, or may be the subject of them. For a complete list of contributors, click here.

The Texas Tribune Member Drive Fall 2020 banner

This public-service journalism is made possible by readers like you.

Donate now