If Gov. George W. Bush becomes president in November, the next two weeks could well prove to be the low spot in his campaign. At our deadline, he was on top of the world, the presidential nominee of the Republican Party, the happy recipient of a four-day bouquet of a convention and the surfer of the wave that historically carries candidates out of their national conventions.
But his opponent, Vice President Al Gore, gets the camera now. Bush dominated the week preceding the GOP convention with speculation about, and then his selection of, Dick Cheney for the number two spot on the ticket. If it goes according to pattern, Bush will ride the GOP wave through the weekend, then disappear from view, mostly, for two weeks. During that time, you're supposed to see Gore riding a wave created by his Veep selection and the convention that follows.
All of that is a way of saying that this could be a horse race, like Bush's folks have said all along, and the apparent inevitability of success that follows candidates during their conventions is a mirage. If the Democrats do their job, Gore's chances will look as rosy two weeks from now as Bush's look at the moment. Wait until Labor Day or later before giving serious attention to the polls.
Watching the wave is seductive, though.
Bush was ahead of Gore a couple of weeks ago, but that margin doubled during the convention in the tracking polls done by PortraitofAmerica.com. That's the outfit we mentioned in a previous issue that's doing tracking polls of the presidential match and giving out the results for nothing on the Internet. They recently showed Bush with a 17-point lead, up from an 8-point lead two weeks earlier. Numbers for the minor party candidates, Ralph Nader and Pat Buchanan, were static, with Nader's support floating around 4 percent of the total and Buchanan's mired at the 2 percent mark.
To Get a Different Feel for This, Leave Texas
We'll put up shy of showing vacation pictures, but time outside of Texas can be interesting if you're watching the presidential race from a seat in Dallas or Houston. Bush has support out there, to be sure, but it's easy from the Texas vantage point to see all of this election stuff as little more than a complicated coronation. In places like California's Silicon Valley, where Bush is popular, there is some resistance to the Texas image. Up the road a bit, in San Francisco, he suffers three strikes: He's Republican, Texan, and he beat Ann Richards, who is something of a star in that city. One trip to California doesn't constitute an accurate survey of anything but food, but getting out of Texas for a minute serves as a reminder that Texans are more likely to see this election as a done deal.
One thing you can watch is the national press, since it's on the Internet and on the news stands here, and it has turned. At the beginning of the year, when U.S. Sen. John McCain was surging, the Bush campaign had to overcome tougher coverage than he and his aides have ever met.
But they got through and the Republican's treatment by the national press has started to take on the same glow that has infuriated Texas Democrats for so long. Bush is suffering remarkably few hits and even when something semi-ugly gets into print, it's usually next to something that softens the blow. One advantage of running a campaign decrying negative politics is that it can immunize the candidate from attacks. Instead of talking about the content of a new accusation, the campaign can talk about the accusation itself and cite it as yet more evidence of Washington, D.C., politics run amok. It worked for the candidate in statewide gubernatorial races 1994 and 1998, and it's working now on the national stage. Who'd have thunk it?
The Mother's Milk of Politics
We wrote something just like this the last time federal candidates filed their campaign finance reports, but it's still amazing. The list of candidates for federal office, ranked by the amount of money on hand at the end of June, goes like this: George W. Bush, $12.2 million; Al Gore, $10.7 million; Hillary Rodham Clinton, $6.9 million; Kay Bailey Hutchison, $6.4 million; and Rick Lazio, $6.2 million. Four of those people are in tough races, for the presidency and for New York State's open U.S. Senate seat. U.S. Sen. Hutchison of Dallas, on the other hand, faces only token opposition in her reelection bid. Before you get after us for fair play, look at the numbers. Democrat Gene Kelly of Universal City, her opponent, filed a report last month that showed cash-on-hand of $52. Green Party candidate Douglas Sandage's last report showed a cash balance of zero. The numbers were provided by FECInfo, a private firm that crunches data available at the Federal Election Commission.
Several other Texas politicos without races to speak of have tons of money on hand. U.S. Rep. Lloyd Doggett, D-Austin, hit the midyear point with $1.6 million in the bank and nobody to run against after Charles Moritz removed his name from the ballot. U.S. Sen. Phil Gramm, who's not on the ballot this year at all, has $1.4 million on hand. U.S. Rep. Joe Barton has $1 million on hand if you do some minor rounding in his favor. He's unopposed.
The most expensive race on the congressional ballot in Texas -- now that the record-setting GOP primary in Houston is over -- is likely to be in CD-5, a district that starts in Dallas and runs into East Texas. U.S. Rep. Pete Sessions, R-Dallas, reached mid-year with a balance of $1.1 million. The Democrat in the race, Regina Montoya Coggins, had $778,758 in the bank. Their total contributions to date are almost even at about $1.2 million, but her campaign has spent $442,043 while his was spending $239,376. The CD-14 race between U.S. Rep. Ron Paul, R-Clute, and Loy Sneary, is also swimming into rich waters. Paul got to midyear with $704,530 in the kitty; Sneary had $472,807. Paul has raised more than $1.5 million in this election cycle, but has already spent $928,292. Sneary, who loaned himself $120,000, still owes about $22,000 of that, according to FECInfo's reports.
U.S. Rep. Mac Thornberry, R-Clarendon, had $399,195 at midyear to Curtis Clinesmith's $201,562. That's a 2-to-1 advantage, but Clinesmith is doing better than many Democrats expected and might be able to get some outside help if he makes a race of it. U.S. Rep. Chet Edwards, D-Waco, is outrunning his opponent, Ramsey Farley, so far, but Edwards didn't have to spend money on a primary and Farley did. Edwards has $760,545 in the bank; Farley has $19,000. Farley has loaned his campaign $215,157 so far, according to FECInfo.
Republican Phil Sudan has out-raised and outspent U.S. Rep. Ken Bentsen, D-Houston, but that's partly because he pumped a ton of his own money in the race and partly because he had one of the most expensive primaries in the country in March. Sudan loaned his campaign $1.45 million, which ranks him eighth nationally in self-spending. The candidates got to June 30 this way: Bentsen had $521,632 in the till to Sudan's $276, 487. And in another race that has received some attention, U.S. Rep. Max Sandlin, D-Marshall, reached the mid-year point with $260,649 in the bank. Actor Noble Willingham, the Republican challenger, had $75,722 on hand.
If you count U.S. Senate and U.S. House candidates from Texas, the finances are staggering: During the current election cycle, the candidates have raised $35.6 million and spent $23.2 million. As a group, they got to the midyear point with $24.7 million on hand (the balances include money raised in previous election cycles). As for the references above about big spending in Houston? The candidates in the primary and runoff and general election races to succeed U.S. Rep. Bill Archer, R-Houston, have so far spent $7 million. In Bentsen's CD-25, spending so far has reached $2.5 million, with only $280,000 of that coming out of the incumbent's campaign accounts.
Averting Panic in School Board Rooms
Lawmakers are close to a deal that would give some relief to school districts in areas with rapidly rising property values. There is a provision in the law that says the state can -- if the money is available -- temporarily adjust the caps on the taxes used to pay that kind of debt. This sounds like a relatively easy problem, but since it's school finance, it's got twists and turns that confound the experts. A solution was hung up on the question of whether the money was available for the adjustment -- it is -- and whether the state action was optional or mandatory. The schools who needed the money were arguing that the provision is mandatory. Some of the state budgeteers who are loath to give up money were arguing that the adjustment was optional. The details are still being resolved, but the folks arguing for mandatory will get their money, and the state will be out about $60 million,
If You Shoot the Bear, Be Sure You Kill the Bear
Admitting he's a day late and a dollar short, Dr. Richard Neill sent an apology to Rep. Kim Brimer, R-Arlington, about three weeks ago saying his name was misused by Brimer's opponent in the March primaries. Neill, a member of the State Board of Education, was quoted in mailers for Bill Zedler that implied Brimer's integrity was lacking. Brimer went on to win the March primary with 55 percent of the vote. Roll the clock forward four months.
Neill, who's up for election to another term on the school board two years from now, wrote an apology letter telling Brimer he supported Zedler and gave him money because the two are old friends. He said was called "by someone in Bill's campaign" who asked if they could use his name "in a 'very positive' mail piece about Bill" that wouldn't mention Brimer. He said he was assured Brimer would not be mentioned, and said he found out only in July "that my name was used on a very negative mailer about [Brimer] and that there were quotes attributed to me. I never said anything of the kind." He also said he had heard a letter went out with his name in it, but said he hadn't seen it.
In fact, a letter from the Free Enterprise PAC Chairman Richard Ford addressed generically to "Dear Republican Primary Voter" noted Neill's endorsement of Zedler, called Brimer one of the least conservative Republicans in the Legislature and concluded that Zedler was the more conservative candidate. That's apparently the letter Neill was talking about in his apology to Brimer. He closed that apology by writing, "I don't expect this to do a whole lot of good since it is so long after the fact."
Identity Crises, Both False and True
Rep. Harold Dutton, D-Houston, says there is no truth to a lobby rumor about him, a prominent Texas lawmaker and a Chicago bartender. And on his word, we won't name the lawmaker, who might otherwise be the goat of this story. But we can provide the outline of the tale Dutton is denying. Texas legislators and their counterparts from all over the country went to Chicago for a national legislative conference. A Prominent Lawmaker was with other politicos in a bar there. The bartender was busy, so the P.L. reached over and started to get his own drink. The bartender stopped him. The P.L. said something warm. The bartender said something hot, and then Dutton led the Texan away, so as to escape before things got really interesting. Great story, and it's all over Austin, but Dutton says there's no truth to it and he adds that he "doesn't know how these things get spread around."
• The Center for Responsive Politics gives Gov. George W. Bush the best rating among the presidential candidates for revealing the occupations of his donors. The Bush campaign fully disclosed the occupations of 89 percent of its donors. Al Gore and Ralph Nader each fully identified 81 percent, and Pat Buchanan got 46 percent. Full disclosure, in this case, is when a person's occupation and employer are both identified. Someone described simply as a business person or an executive is considered only partly identified. On the congressional lists, a couple of Texans got 100 percent ratings. U.S. Rep. Henry Bonilla, R-San Antonio, was in there, as was Loy Sneary, the Democrat challenging U.S. Rep. Ron Paul, R-Clute, in CD-14. Paul's disclosure rating was 79.55. Finally, one Texan -- U.S. Rep. Dick Armey, R-Flower Mound, made CRP's "worst" list, with a rating of just 62.87 percent.
Endorsement season won't be in full flower until after Labor Day, but early blooms are opening. The National Federal of Independent Business, or NFIB, endorsed a dozen Texans running for Congress, including Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison and all but three of the incumbent Republican House members from Texas. They skipped Reps. Kevin Brady, R-The Woodlands, Pete Sessions, R-Dallas, Mac Thornberry, R-Clarendon, and Bill Archer, R-Houston. Archer isn't running for reelection, and NFIB endorsed Republican John Culberson, a state representative, in the race to replace him. Everybody on the list of Texas endorsees has voted with NFIB more than 70 percent of the time, the group said. Brady, Sessions and Thornberry each got a score in the 90s on the vote test, but still didn't make the endorsement. NFIB tapped one Texas Democrat -- Ralph Hall of Rockwall -- but no other incumbent Democrat scored anywhere near 70 on voting on issues important to the group.
Separately, Republican Paul Woodard picked up endorsements from his primary opponent, Jacksonville City Councilman Kenneth Durrett, and from Jacksonville Mayor Tommy Dement. Woodard is running against Democrat Chuck Hopson of Jacksonville for the open seat in HD-11. Both endorsers are Republicans. And Woodard's campaign consultant, Bryan Eppstein of Fort Worth, was Durrett's consultant during the primary. Woodard won that race by 60 votes, then hired Eppstein.
This one falls short of being an outright endorsement, but it will likely become one soon: Sen. Hutchison is the featured guest at a reception for Todd Staples on August 7. Staples is the GOP candidate for Senate in SD-3, easily the hottest race in the state this year. David Fisher of Silsbee is the Democrat in the race. And that'll be expensive. Fisher has raised $884,000 and says he has more than $500,000 in the bank. Staples likewise has about $500,000 in the bank, according to his campaign.
Same sort of deal, but with a different crowd. Austin Mayor Kirk Watson is hosting a fundraiser later this month for Democrat Ann Kitchen, who's running for an open statehouse seat in that city. Her Republican opponent is Jill Warren. Both candidates, and Watson for that matter, are lawyers.
More Voters, or Maybe Non-voters; Campaigns and the IRS
The U.S. Census folk say Texas will have 1 million more people of voting age at the time of the coming November elections than it did at the time of the presidential elections in 1996. That's enough to put the state in second place on the growth charts, behind California, with 2 million new voting age residents, and ahead of Florida, which gained 700,000. Nationally, there will be about 9 million additional people of voting age. If you slice the numbers by region, the entire Northeast will add fewer voting age residents than Texas alone. The South will gain the most people in the group, followed by the West and the Midwest. The estimates include everyone who's old enough to vote without taking a stab at how many will vote. But in November 1996, according to the Census Bureau, 66 percent of eligible voters were registered and 54 percent said they voted. Actual turnout -- checking the election numbers as opposed to quizzing people -- was 49 percent.
• In their attempts to control activities by so-called "527" organizations, Congress might have required Texas politicos to register with the IRS, according to the Texas Ethics Commission. The new law apparently requires most political action committees to register, and might also require candidates for state offices to do so. A definitive answer to that will come, if it comes, from the IRS. Other than posting notice of the new law, the folks at Ethics are ducking: This is a federal deal, they're not the experts on it, and they're not the agency that will enforce it. They're kicking inquiries to the tax folks.
In the meantime, some lawyers in Texas think it might be a good idea to file papers with the IRS just to be on the safe side. The notice from Ethics (on their web site at www.ethics.state.tx.us) produced a flurry of candidate calls over the last two weeks. The Washington lawmakers who created the reporting requirements are telling candidates here that the feds weren't after state candidates and don't intend for them to file with the IRS. But what they say they meant and what they actually voted into law appear to be different, at least to some lawyers, and the federales are trying to sort it all out. In the meantime, Texas candidates are being advised to check with their lawyers and/or the IRS itself.
Political People and Their Moves (First Dose)
People kept scooting around from job to job while we were on summer hiatus, and we've got some catching up to do. While we were out, Nancy Frank left the Senate Finance Committee to take a part-time job, organizing alumni at the University of Texas Ex-Students Association. That will give her more time with her family. Her job as education analyst at Finance went to Joe Dyer, who was until now a staffer for Sen. Mike Moncrief, D-Fort Worth. Sen. Bill Ratliff, R-Mount Pleasant, who chairs that committee, decided to split the director's job left open by the departure of Eric Wright earlier this summer. Pat Hicks, the committee clerk, won a promotion to legislative director and will handle all of the non-budget bills that get referred to the committee. Blaine Brunson, who had been on the House Appropriations Committee staff, comes over as budget director; he'll handle the budget and related bills... Erin Florence is leaving House Speaker Pete Laney's office for a job in the private center. She's signed on with Dallas-based Oz Systems, a Texas Health Department contractor working on screening the hearing of newborn babies in the state. Florence will try to keep the agency, doctors and hospitals all on the same page. Steve Montgomery, who had been in government relations with Union Pacific Resources, signs on with the same company to handle government relations in Texas and several other states. He'll remain in the Metroplex... Laney's losing another staffer, Julie McClure, to the private sector. She worked for Paul Hobby's unsuccessful campaign for comptroller in 1998, and is on her way back to Houston and Hobby. This time it's not politics: She'll work for a venture called Genesis Park, a group formed by Hobby and a handful of others to invest in and advise tech companies... The Texas Education Agency tapped Hugh Hayes to be deputy commissioner "for initiatives and administration." He's been superintendent of four Texas school districts (Ector, Katy, Lancaster and Texarkana) and one in Mississippi and most recently worked in the educational service center in Houston... Susan Dow has moved from the Texas Juvenile Probation Commission to the Texas Youth Commission. She'll handle some of the agency's legislative chores.
Political People and Their Moves (Second Dose)
Attorney General John Cornyn promoted Rebecca Payne to be his special assistant AG for open government. She had been head of the agency's open records section. Katherine Minter Cary will hold Payne's old position on an interim basis. And he named Susan Denmon Gusky to chair the agency's open records committee, which makes decisions on state agencies' incoming requests about open records. Gusky replaces Elizabeth Robinson, who is leaving for graduate school... Scott Sherman, the policy wonk in the offices of Railroad Commissioner Tony Garza, is moving over to the AG's office, where he'll be a special assistant attorney general... Former TV reporter Jim Moore, who's making a habit of appearing in this rag, has signed on with Burston-Marsteller to open an Austin office that will specialize in public relations and public affairs. He was most recently with TXN, a statewide cable television network that stayed in business for not quite one year. Moore was working on his own with proponents of a light rail system for Austin; he'll bring them to the new post as clients... Thomas Graham is moving the main office of his PR firm from Amarillo to Austin. He has the Texas House Republican Caucus on his client list, among others, but will keep the Panhandle office open... Hard to keep them on the farm: Pam Duncan is leaving the American Lung Association, where she was the Texas lobbyist, to take a job with Dell Computer Corp... Lobbyist Homero Lucero is leaving Adams & Zottarelli after eight years to become the legislative and PAC director for Valor Telecommunications. That's a new firm, and a new political action committee, so he'll have to collect some dough before he can start shoveling it out... Wade Long is leaving the Wholesale Beer Distributors Association after two years to hang out a shingle and do some real estate deals and some lobbying. He'll share offices with freelance lobbyist Joe Garcia, a fellow refugee from the ranks of Senate employees... Johnny Williams is being inducted into the Texas Coaches Hall of Fame. He's a retired track and football coach from Midland. Oh, yeah: His son and former student Michael Williams is the chairman of the Texas Railroad Commission.
(Still More) Political People and Their Moves
Texas Federation of Teachers PresidentJohn Cole is now even more of a national honcho than before. Cole, a vice president of the American Federation of Teachers, was appointed to the executive committee of AFT... Michael Lyttle, a former reporter who worked at the Texas Dental Association and at the Texas Restaurant Association, has gone into government work: He's the new spokesman and government relations chief at the Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs... Self-promotion department: Dean and Andrea McWilliams got a friend to put out press releases calling the husband-and-wife lobby team the youngest of Bush's Pioneers and offering opportunities to interview them. The friend? Heidi Kirkpatrick, a Democratic event planner, fundraiser and public affairs consultant from Houston... Brigid Shea, a former Austin city council member and founder of that city's "Save Our Springs" environmental group, is starting up a consulting firm to help companies figure out how to build without getting tangled up in environmental and "Smart Growth" fights... Honors: The Texas Railroad Commission gave its Pioneer Award to Midland oilman Tom Brown. The Freedom of Information Foundation of Texas is giving its James Madison Award to Dolph Tillotson, publisher of the Galveston County Daily News... Deaths: State District Judge Jon Barton of Keller, of liver cancer. Barton, brother of U.S. Rep. Joe Barton, R-Ennis, was 43.
Quotes of the Week
Republican presidential nominee George W. Bush, on what the next 90 days will bring: "I'm not going to get overconfident. You know why? I know what can happen. I have seen poll numbers crumble. I have seen defeat first hand."
Bush political advisor Karl Rove, citing the conventional wisdom that Al Gore is a formidable debater: "Our debate strategy can be summed up in one word: Survive."
Former U.S. Sen. Alan Simpson of Wyoming, on GOP Veep nominee Dick Cheney: "Cheney is a great listener, a great observer, a great sorter. He can take a cacophony of crap flying at him and sort it all out, with that sort of half smile he has.
Rev. Jerry Falwell, on keeping social conservatives in line when they disagree with Gov. Bush this year: "We need to be quiet. We need to pray for him. And we need to keep our mouths shut."
Former Republican National Committee Chairman Haley Barbour, who oversaw the convention four years ago, in The New York Times: "It's all propaganda. It's all a TV show. It's not news, but it's hugely important information for the American people."
CBS News President Andrew Heyward, who decided to cut that network's coverage (and later, to skip Laura Bush's speech), before the convention began: "The public is smart and sees the conventions for what they are. Our job is to cover news. Theirs is to energize troops and promote an agenda, and to the extent they overlap, we cover the convention. The parties should be thinking about why the American public seems actively disengaged."
Dallas County GOP Chairman Bob Driegert, in a Philadelphia Inquirer story on protesters at the convention: "Those people have personal problems and drug use. Ideally, we want to cut that number, and I think George W. Bush is the man to do it."
Comedian Jon Stewart, in an interview with the Dallas Morning News on his role covering the convention for Comedy Central: "We're a fake news organization and this is a fake news event. So I think we're the only ones that should be here. You people should go cover actual news."
William Miller, political director of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, defending a GOP program that tells political action committees in Washington, D.C., to donate $3 to Republicans for every $1 donated to Democrats or risk not having their calls returned by members: "It's a recognition issue, and to put people on notice more than anything else. They're selling access because that is all they can sell."
U.S. Rep. Bernard Sanders, I-Vermont, on corporate donations to the national Republican and Democratic conventions: "One has to be a moron and extremely naive to believe that the wealthy corporations are contributing hundreds of millions of dollars just for the fun of it."
Texas Weekly: Volume 17, Issue 6, 7 August 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 firstname.lastname@example.org. For news, email email@example.com, or call (512) 288-6598.