A reader points out that the Olympics start on September 15 and run through October 1, and the public will probably tune in to track stars and gymnasts and swimmers and equestrians at the expense of presidential candidates. The Olympics four years ago in Atlanta ended in the first week of August, so this is new territory. It might be nothing, but it might put a pothole in the political road.
Off the cuff, it would seem to be a great time for political debates, if you're working for George W. Bush and genuinely fear Al Gore's debating skills. It's either a great time or a terrible time to jump in front of voters. Great because there are a lot of them gathered at one media focal point. Terrible because advertising time is expensive during popular sporting events and a lot of the people watching could care less about politics, especially during a tense competition on the uneven bars.
Remember, though, a rule of television that has emerged as cable has grown: Repetition is what counts. News events can slip quietly beneath the surface if they don't get played over and over and over. Big news gets played constantly, every half-hour on every station until the market is saturated with it. News that appears briefly might as well never have happened.
Owners of Ford Explorers know about their chances for a free set of new tires because Firestone's problems were in the news loop for three or four days. And because that story was a constant for so long, everyone else knows about it, too, even if they drive convertibles with Pirellis.
Relatively few people watch political conventions and it's impossible to judge the effectiveness of a political message by watching a speech and assuming everyone saw it with you. To judge the penetration of a message, you've got to see which chunk of rhetoric (if any of it) gets into the news loop that rolls over and repeats every half-hour on the half-hour. Hitting the news for a couple of hours, or even for just one day, doesn't really cut it. Put General Colin Powell on the stage, let him speak, let his affirmative action message play through the newscasts, and the message gets out. But it's cut short by the news generated by the next day's speakers. Put Bush on Thursday, and his speech has the potential for a longer loop. There's nothing following it to cut short its run, and it remains the prime material in play for Sunday talk shows. It's geared for repetition.
But it can be wiped out by other events. The crash of a Concorde jet in France took attention away from Bush's announcement that Richard Cheney of Dallas would be his vice presidential choice. The previously mentioned tire story competed with Gore's decision to name U.S. Sen. Joseph Lieberman of Connecticut as his running mate.
Care to Pick Presidential Politics Over Women's Gymnastics?
During the Olympics, politics will have to share the news time with something much more interesting to most viewers: Sports. That makes the last two weeks of September a potential burial ground for a campaign trying to dump some bad news. And it shortens the usable time in the political season for candidates who need more attention if they're going to be successful in November.
Shortening that time will feel weird to the political hacks, but it might be a boon to the public. It could jam the political contest into a manageable portion, since voters will only have about five weeks of uninterrupted politics instead of the traditional (and partly fictional) in-depth dunking that starts on Labor Day. The bet here is that Bob Costas and the next Mary Lou Retton get more exposure and more attention from the public in the sixth and seventh weeks before Election Day than Bush, Cheney, Gore, Lieberman, or the army of pundits who rank talking heads over straining athletes.
All Things Considered, He'll Take Big Spring
Republican Tim Blackshear has dropped out of the race in House District 70, where he was challenging Rep. David Counts, D-Knox City. Blackshear says he's out for personal and business reasons, not because he would be unable to serve (we'll come back to that).
Blackshear, you might recall, was the mayor of Big Spring when he filed to run for the legislative race in January. If you hold a "lucrative" elected city job in Texas, you have to quit that post in order to be eligible to run for the Legislature. Another law made Blackshear's filing for the legislative office tantamount to quitting the mayor's job. There's still some argument about this, but a lot of people of different political persuasions think that Blackshear's filing both knocked him out of the city post and was done in a way that made him an ineligible legislative candidate.
Blackshear seemed to be getting pretty crummy legal advice when all this took place. He said then that he intended to keep the mayoral post, but wasn't told he'd forfeit that job by filing for state office. He wanted to serve in the Legislature, but wasn't told that he had to first quit the city job. As if that wasn't enough, he was getting helpful and not so helpful advice from other Republicans who variously thought he should run and thought he should leave Counts alone.
Officially, Democrats said they weren't sure they would raise a legal challenge. And officially, Republicans said any such challenge would be bogus.
This was going to be uphill even if Blackshear wanted to stay in, and perhaps even if he prevailed. Counts has survived close contests in recent years, and the dust raised by the way Blackshear filed might have given him an extra shot at the job if voters went for the Republican in November. If nothing else, questions over his filing changed the subject from a heads-up comparison of the incumbent and the challenger to a conversation of whether Blackshear was eligible to run for office.
Another question emerged a couple of weeks later. Blackshear's company is in the earth-moving business. Among other things, the company maintains highway shoulders and medians for the state -- work that accounts for about a third of their business, Blackshear says. He would have had to replace that revenue within two years at a time when he's sending a son off to college.
Now that he's no longer the mayor, Blackshear has taken a liking to not spending all of his time at City Hall and says he might be out of politics for good. "I think I'm done. I've enjoyed my freedom." He says he'll spend time building his business. The GOP could replace Blackshear if he was leaving the race because of some incapacity to serve. "Business and personal reasons" don't meet the definition, and it appears that the Republican Party couldn't replace him on the ballot if they wanted to. A check with GOP headquarters indicates they don't want to. Thus, Counts will run unopposed in November.
Footnote: The names of candidates who jump out of their races within the next month or so will come off the ballot. Those who drop off in the last 65 days before the November 7 elections won't be able to pull their names off, even though they'll be officially out of the running.
Follow the Bouncing Polls
Polls are more or less meaningless at this point in the presidential race, since most people simply aren't tuned to the political channel right now. With that caveat in place, here's how Gov. Bush's lead over Vice President Gore has bounced around in the last four weeks, according to Rasmussen Research. The margin went from about 8.8 percentage points to 10.7 to 16.2 to 8.2. Somewhere in there, according to the pollsters, Bush's convention bounce peaked at about 17 points. As we noted last week, he'll continue to drop -- if tradition isn't broken -- as the Democrats hold their convention in Los Angeles. Don't expect a number that's really indicative of what's going on until the races get started in the minds of people who don't spend all of their time and energy thinking about politics. Labor Day is the traditional starting point for that part of the campaigns.
Fingerprints on the Lite Guv Cookie Jar
Todd Staples and David Fisher, the two candidates for the open Senate seat in East Texas, had the only campaign finance reports that got any attention from reporters. But this didn't get any ink: Inside the Staples report was a little touch of wanna-be politics in the form of contributions from senators who would like to preside over their peers.
Quick catch-up for anyone who hasn't been paying attention: If voters are kind to the governor in November, Lt. Gov. Rick Perry will replace him here. The Senate would elect a two-year replacement for Perry. Staples, if he were elected, would keep the GOP's one-vote majority in the Senate alive, and people who help him out could be in line for his support in a presiding officer election.
That's the layout, and one explanation for a handful of senator contributions in Staples' midyear campaign finance report (another is that they're following Perry's lead after he gave $25,000, but that's not as much fun to talk about, so we'll leave it for last.).
In the money race, Staples got $25,000 from Sen. Florence Shapiro, R-Plano. She hasn't stuck her head out of the foxhole as a candidate. Neither has she disqualified herself. And supporters cranked out a bunch of votes for her on an Internet poll some months back. He got $10,000 each from Sens. Teel Bivins, R-Amarillo, Bill Ratliff, R-Mount Pleasant, David Sibley, R-Waco, and Jeff Wentworth, R-San Antonio. Each of those senators has openly expressed interest in Perry's job if the Lite Guv moves to the Governor's Mansion at the end of the year. They and others invested as a group, too: the Texas Senate Republican Campaign Committee gave $12,000 to Staples during the second quarter.
Or is it just their desire for good Republican government? Staples (and Fisher) show money from lots of people who usually don't piddle around with mere state Senate contests. U.S. Rep. Henry Bonilla, R-San Antonio, has his district lines at stake in the next legislative session. He's in for $5,000. Land Commissioner David Dewhurst is there, to the tune of $5,000. His sometimes nemesis, Rep. Tommy Merritt, R-Longview, matched that amount. Associated Republicans of Texas, which doesn't really have a dog in the Lite Guv hunt, has given Staples $88,899 in cash and in-kind contributions since March (and gave $30,000 to Dr. Bob Deuell of Greenville in another race that is potentially part of the redistricting fight that ART is really interested in).
Democrats gave to Fisher, but they're pikers compared to the Republicans, at least in dollar terms. Sen. Mario Gallegos, D-Houston, gave $2,000, and Sen. Mike Moncrief, D-Fort Worth, gave $2,263, including an in-kind contribution. Fisher also got $1,000 each from former Gov. Ann Richards and from U.S. Reps. Gene Green, D-Houston, and Nick Lampson, D-Beaumont.
He raised $150,000 from the Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee in Washington, D.C., and another $95,274 from his law firm's political action committee. The first of those is clearly driven by an interest in redistricting.
Anybody Else See a Pattern Here?
Look at the press releases and other stuff from the Staples campaign, then at the stuff from the campaign of Paul Woodard, a Palestine Republican seeking to win Staples' seat in the House while the current inhabitant pursues the Senate race. Both have the same consultant, the Fort Worth-based Eppstein Group, and since the districts overlap, there's surely some truth in the notion that what works in one race will work in the other.
But for sport, count the number of times each can refer to his opponent as a "liberal" with ties of various kinds to "trial lawyers" and "unions" and mentions of who aren't popular in that neck of the woods. It's nearly impressive, if repetitive. Try this one, from a Staples release: "East Texas is not for sale to a carpetbagger who is funded by Beaumont trial lawyers, liberal labor unions or Hillary Clinton's National Democratic Party." Or this, from Woodard's, which includes an accusation that his opponent's money comes from "the same liberal labor unions/trial lawyer special interests who are supporting Al Gore over Governor Bush for President." Fisher and Chuck Hopson, who's running for the House, also share a consultant in Rindy Miller Bates of Austin.
Hi Ho, Hi Ho, It's Off to Work They Go...
The Austin Club, where some of the lobby hangs out and where fundraising events often keep the lights on at night, is gonna look like the only saloon in a dry county for the rest of the year. Political funders are coming fully into season, and the season lasts until the first week of December. The legal ban against officeholders taking contributions during a legislative session starts 30 days before the opening gavel of the session. The season blooming now won't stop until that deadline.
Most of the money for this set of elections hasn't been raised yet. But the midyear reports that got only a quick sniff in the weeks of national conventions show where the early money is at work.
Here's a look at midyear money in some of the races on our radar screen.
• HD-4: Rep. Betty Brown, R-Terrell, raised $16,920 and spent $6,621. Her challenger, Charles Elliott of Commerce, raised $19,032 and spent $14,354. He's a first-timer, but not a political virgin: Elliott has been a member of the State Democratic Executive Committee and taught political science at East Texas State University, and has more connections than most tenderfeet.
• Pick up a piece of string from last Spring: Dan Montgomery's successful challenge to Dr. Bob Offutt in the Republican primaries for State Board of Education was instigated by Sen. Bill Ratliff, R-Mount Pleasant, with an assist from Sen. David Sibley, R-Waco. That was known. But in addition to the $10,000 Ratliff gave Montgomery was a check for $5,000 to Bill Tryon, the political op who ran Montgomery's campaign. Offutt's sin, you'll remember, was supporting Steve Forbes in the GOP primaries against George W. Bush.
• Sen. David Cain, D-Dallas, pulled in $217,958 and spend $185,404. Those totals include a $5,000 check from the Tigua Indians, who run a casino near El Paso, $10,000 from the Texas Medical Association's PAC, and a $25,000 check from the Texas Association of Realtors PAC. His opponent, Dr. Bob Deuell of Greenville, raised $103,359 and spent $61,210. His contributions include $30,000 from the Associated Republicans of Texas, $31,846 from Dr. James Leininger of San Antonio, and $10,000 from Bob Perry, a Houston businessman. The money doesn't approach the levels seen in SD-3, but this SD-2 race is the backup for both parties in case their plans to control the Senate via the other race stall.
• Republican Jill Warren, a high-tech lawyer running for the open seat in HD-48, got a $2,500 contribution from a family friend that has some Republicans squirming. The friend is Joe Jamail, the well-known Houston trial lawyer. Warren says he was a friend of her father (who was a judge) and that it really doesn't have anything to do with political philosophy. Her report also shows loans totaling $66,184, and a contribution from U.S. Rep. Henry Bonilla, R-San Antonio (he shows up on a number of reports as one of the most active money players in the Texas congressional delegation).
Warren's opponent, Ann Kitchen, raised $49,985, spent $68,397 and has outstanding loans of $97,600. She's running in a part of the state where Democrats are in bigger numbers and aren't jumpy about attorneys: The Texas Trial Lawyers Association gave her $5,000 and lawyers make up a fair number of her contributors.
• Nacogdoches Sheriff Joe Evans, who's challenging Rep. Wayne Christian, R-Center, raised $11,514 and spent $10,056. One of his contributors was the Tigua Indian tribe, which gave him $1,500. Christian raised $25,140 and spent $30,734. His contributions include $5,500 from Texans for Lawsuit Reform, and he lists outstanding debts of about $6,000.
• Former Rep. Bill Hollowell, a Republican, is challenging Rep. Bob Glaze, D-Gilmer. He's raised less money, but he's a man with a plan. Hollowell brought in $1,113 in the latest reporting period and spent $8,109, nearly all of which went to printing, signs, stakes and pens. This clearly won't be fought out on the TV screen. Glaze raised $34,120 and spent $17,378.
• Several Republican candidates list in-kind contributions of $2,500 on their reports from the Majority 2000 PAC. Those consist of research from Todd Smith, a Republican consultant. His report's not available at the Ethics Commission, either in paper or electronic form. He says he sent it electronically, though. "I wonder where it ended up?" he said. He's researching it.
More Scraps from the Finance Files
Mary Jane Avery, who was a Republican activist for years before deciding to run for the Texas House, is challenging Rep. Alan Ritter, D-Nederland. And the party activism paid off: During the latest round, she raised $81,525 and spent $53,868. That spending includes $30,478 for billboards and bus benches. Ritter raised $61,941 and spent $17,658. Among his contributors is an unlikely pair: Former Sen. Carl Parker, D-Beaumont, and former Rep. Mike Toomey, R-Houston.
• Rep. Zeb Zbranek, D-Winnie, raised $2,800 and spent $6,342. That spending includes $5,000 to a business called the Sports Shop, for t-shirts. His opponent, Eddie Shauberger, raised $15,065, spent $8,665 and listed $40,000 in loans outstanding.
• Victoria Frayser, a Republican, lost to Rep. Ken Yarbrough, D-Houston, in 1994. She sat out in 1996 and 1998 and is back to challenge the incumbent this year. First, however, she had to finish what she started in 1994, by clearing up a lawsuit from the state by paying $10,500 in fines. Frayser didn't file her "eight-day report" back in 1994. That's the campaign finance report that comes eight days before an election. The fine for being late is $100 per day, up to a cap of $10,000.
The Texas Ethics Commission notified her, sent a letter saying they were going to turn it over to the Texas Attorney General's office, then finally turned it over. When the AG got going, Frayser got going, and she wrote a personal check to the state for $10,500 -- an amount that includes some smaller fines for not filing quarterly reports.
That's a big fine, but not an unprecedented one. What is more unusual is the way we found out about it: Frayser sent a press release, apparently in the belief that it was better to let the news loose herself that to leave it available for later use by the Democrat.
Endorsements Amended, Other Miscellany
The National Federation of Independent Business will endorse U.S. Reps. Kevin Brady, R-The Woodlands, and Mac Thornberry, R-Clarendon, in the next few weeks. We had pointed out last week that the two were left off of the group's list of endorsees in the Texas congressional delegation in spite of the fact that they vote with NFIB on issues important to the group more than 90 percent of the time.
We also said they skipped U.S. Rep. Pete Sessions, R-Dallas, and we are even now scraping egg from our ugly mugs: NFIB endorsed Sessions earlier in the year. He's in a race targeted by both parties and likely to be one of the most expensive in the country this year. Regina Montoya Coggins, a Democrat, is trying to wrestle his job away and has raised about $1 million in that attempt. Sessions is in about the same place on contributions, but had $336,000 more than her in the bank at midyear.
NFIB's level of interest, according to a spokesman: "That's our top targeted race in Texas." The bottom line: All three of the congressmen will have the NFIB's stamp of approval.
• If nothing else, you have to admit that the Longview Partnership can really draw the political celebrities. If you're of a conspiratorial frame of mind, it's a nice little preview of faces that might appear on gubernatorial ballots in the future. On August 24, Lt. Gov. Rick Perry is talking to the group at a luncheon for $15 a head. Five days later, the group's $10 per person breakfast will feature U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison.
• This is truly inside baseball, but Hutchison is in line for secretary of the Republican Conference. It's a lame title, but an important gig: That would put her in the number four slot in the Senate GOP's leadership ranks. She's unopposed for the job, according to the Associated Press, but the election isn't until December and a couple of other senators are considering runs for that and other posts.
• New numbers from the Census Bureau show Los Angeles and Harris added more jobs than any other counties in the U.S. in 1998. The Californians added 104,706 jobs that year, while the folks in and around Houston added 80,374. When it came to biggest gains in total payroll, Harris County didn't make the national top five. But Dallas County came in fifth with a payroll of $53.2 billion. Rank the nation's counties in overall numbers of employees, and Harris and Dallas rank fourth and fifth (behind the counties where Los Angeles, New York, and Chicago are located).
Political People and Their Moves
Deputy Land Commissioner Tracy King Wurzel is leaving the General Land Office. She turned in her resignation and says she has a couple of interesting offers to mull over; she'll say relatively soon -- but after she's out the door -- what she's going to do. Wurzel is one of Commissioner David Dewhurst's top aides. He hasn't named a replacement... San Antonio City Manager Alex Briseño announced his retirement, at age 50, from the job he's held since 1990. He was assistant city manager for ten years before that, and says he'll quit City Hall in March... Jerry Patterson, former senator and probable future candidate for the Land Office job (only if Dewhurst decides against a reelection bid), is hanging out his lobbying shingle full-time. He had been executive director at the Texas Association of Health Plans, but downgraded his role there several weeks ago. Now he's cut his ties to that group altogether and is a freelance, hired-gun lobster. Among his clients: The Galveston/Texas City (River) Pilots Association and the Texas division of the American Red Cross... Linda Garza Battles is leaving Rep. Irma Rangel, D-Kingsville, to join the government relations staff at the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board... Aperian, a communications firm, names James Wilson to head communications and governmental affairs. He's a former staffer with U.S. Sen. Phil Gramm... Rep. Gene Seaman, R-Corpus Christi, got the lobby worked up by sending letters pitching his insurance and investments business. The outside of the envelope had his name followed by the acronyms that identify him as certified to sell those things. That's cool so far, but the next line is the one that got the lobsters in a fizz: It says "State Representative"... The UT Regents haven't given out their Santa Rita award since 1996, but they've voted to give it to Peter Flawn, the former president of the University of Texas campuses in San Antonio and Austin.
Quotes of the Week
Dallas NAACP President Lee Alcorn, in an interview on KHVN-AM in Dallas about putting Joseph Lieberman on the Democrats' national ticket in November: "If we get a Jew person, then what I'm wondering is, I mean, what is this movement for, you know? Does it have anything to do with the failed peace talks? I mean, what is actually behind this? So I think we need to be very suspicious of any kind of partnerships between Jews at that kind of level because we know that their interest primarily has to do with, you know, money and those kinds of things."
National NAACP President Kweisi Mfume, reacting: "We are proud of our long-standing relationship with the Jewish community, and I personally will not tolerate statements that run counter to the history and beliefs of the NAACP in that regard."
Alcorn again, in an interview with The Dallas Morning News after he either quit or was removed from his post and from membership in the NAACP itself: "Whether anyone wants to admit it, the relationship between African-Americans and American Jews has been tenuous at best for many years."
Gov. George W. Bush, accepting the Republican nomination for president: "This administration had its moment. They had their chance. They have not led. We will."
Philadelphia City Councilman W. Thatcher Longstreth, giving his two-cents worth at the Republican National Convention: "Your governor can win this election if those damn Texan Republicans will keep quiet. They're what lost the election for us eight years ago."
Former San Antonio Mayor Henry Cisneros, asked by the San Antonio Express-News whether his move back to that city means he is planning to run for governor: "No, no, no, no, no."
Austin political consultant Bill Miller, who argues that Cisneros could easily overcome scandals that started with an extramarital affair in the late 1980s: "This is becoming a conservative state. But as fast as it's becoming conservative, it's becoming Hispanic even faster."
Erica Henri, political director of the nonpartisan Women's Campaign Fund, on the absence of females at the top of the national ticket in the 16 years since Geraldine Ferraro was a vice presidential candidate: "More and more women are saying to themselves, 'When is next time going to come?'"
Texas Weekly: Volume 17, Issue 7, 14 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.