It is possible to draw a political map of Texas, according to some of the wise owls in the Legislature, that would preserve the legislative districts of just about every rural representative in the statehouse. Many of those folks are Democrats, but most rural Democrats are closer in philosophy to Republicans than are urban Democrats. And if Anglo Democrats are on the chopping block next year, as many Republicans and even some Democrats believe, the rural-urban difference could be grounds for a civil war inside the party that has dominated Texas politics for the last century.
That's the logic some Republicans have in mind, anyway, as they prepare for the decennial knickers-ripping exercise called redistricting, or what a friend refers to as the time when politicians chose their voters for the next ten years.
A good number of rural districts are short of voters. The state's population has grown and the number of lawmakers hasn't, so districts that have less than an estimated 136,360 people have to find more people. Those with more have to give up voters. Some rural areas have actually lost population, while others have simply not grown as quickly as other parts of the state. Either way, they're short and need to add some warm bodies to their territories.
Rep. Ken Marchant, R-Carrollton, says most of the West Texas lawmakers could get the people they need by dipping to the east and/or to the south. And he contends, for the sake of conversation, that by doing so it would be possible to protect virtually every rural incumbent in the area that's roughly defined as west of I-35 and north of I-10.
That's not necessarily what's going to happen, but it's an interesting thing to consider. If you buy the argument that the number of Republicans in the state has increased faster than the number of Democrats in the state, then you're in the camp that believes more seats in the Legislature will probably become Republican simply because of a fair redrawing of the maps next year.
The conventional take on rural lawmakers is that some of them will be out of work in a couple of years -- that redistricting is more likely to pit districts that are close together against each other. Rep. Delwin Jones, R-Lubbock, recently estimated that five or more rural lawmakers could be out of work when the final maps are drawn. And it's pretty normal to hear people speculating over which Panhandle lawmaker will be forced out when that region loses a seat, for instance.
But the rural-urban version kicked around by Marchant and others moves the squeeze plays to the cities. The Legislature can't destroy the chances of minorities to hold seats in the House and Senate, because that would make the maps illegal under the federal Voting Rights Act.
That makes this a simple formula, if you make the assumptions the GOP officeholders are making. First, preserve seats held by Blacks and Hispanics. Then figure out which Democrats -- this is using Republican preferences, remember -- which Democrats should be forced out. Conversely, which Democrats would you want to keep if you were keeping some?
They're not at all unanimous about it, but some of the Republicans with their hands on the redistricting crayons think they're more simpatico with conservative rural Democrats than with more liberal Anglo Democrats from, say, Dallas and Houston. And when they start making maps, they'll start with designs that minimize the number of "paired" incumbents in rural Texas and maximize the urban pairings that would be most harmful to Democrats there. If nothing else, those maps could become the foundation of a divide-and-conquer strategy for Republican lawmakers.
Motor Voting, but in Forward or Reverse?
Who you gonna believe in the spin fight over Polk County?
In one orbit, Democrats win because all those recreational vehicle owners who get mail in Texas but spend their time cruising Yosemite and Niagara Falls could vanish from voter rolls. The sudden absence of 9,000 conservative-leaning road warriors would benefit Democrats on Election Day.
Or, try this: Republicans are in for a big boost because the Democrats left fingerprints all over the effort to knock the Escapees (yeah, it's ironic, but it's the real name of the RV outfit) off the voter rolls. Those RV owners are organized enough to pull themselves together in time for the elections. They're peeved about the efforts to knock them out of the elections, and they'll turn out in record numbers to punish the sorry so-and-sos who did this to them.
The proof, ladies and gentlemen, won't be available for five weeks, but ain't this fun? There's a fair pile of evidence that Democrats, financed by trial lawyers, are behind the effort to knock the Escapees out of the 2000 elections. There's a stack on the other side that indicates that Republicans and Texans for Lawsuit Reform are behind the effort to keep them registered and interested. And for those who didn't believe this was really an authentic modern political flap, there are even calls for a federal investigation into the mess.
This began with a challenge to the residency of voters who get their mail at the RV park when they're in town and when they're on the road. Local officials began sending them notices saying their voter registrations would be suspended unless they were verified, which could be accomplished by returning a form to the county. The result will hinge on how many people respond to those notices, thus keeping their voting rights, and then how many of them actually vote.
The notices were stopped while state officials took the matter to court, mainly for guidance, to ask a judge whether local officials were doing what the law required. The judge said the notices could go out. Another question arose over whether the county had already approved the residency of the voters in an opinion letter a year ago. A judge will get to that on Monday, October 2.
A Battle in Court and a Bigger Battle at the Polls
However the courts rule, folks at the RV park are organizing a campaign to get everyone's registration restored in time for the elections, and candidates of all kinds are scrambling to stay on the right side of the fight. The area is often considered a backwater, but not this year: Polk County is part of the state's Senate District 3, and the winner there could be the tie-breaker in a Senate where the other 30 seats are evenly split between the Democrats and the Republicans.
Organization is the key: Five of six voters in the park voted absentee -- probably from the road -- in March. Four out of five voted in the GOP primary instead of with the Democrats. The deepest impact will be in House District 18. Rep. Dan Ellis, D-Livingston, lost by 531 votes in the affected boxes in 1998, when turnout was under 25 percent. In 1996, a presidential year, turnout jumped to 55 percent, and the results tilted by 10 to 20 percentage points in favor of Republicans.
In a close race, those margins of 500 to 700 votes mean a lot. Sen. Drew Nixon, R-Carthage, won by 637 votes in 1996 in his 17-county Senate district. Ellis overcame the losses in the RV park and won his race against Ben Bius by 1,095 votes in Polk County (he won by 793 overall, winning two other counties but losing to Bius in Walker County). Ellis' predecessor, Rep. Allen Hightower, D-Huntsville, won the district and Polk County in 1996. But, like most other Democrats, he lost in the RV park, coming in about 500 votes behind the Republican.
It's possible for Ellis to win without winning in the RV park, but it would be tough to Bius to put together a victory without those votes. That's one reason Bius sent all 9,000 residents of the RV park the forms they need to get absentee ballots. It says they can have the ballots sent to them wherever they are, or to an address in Shepherd, Texas, that's outside of Polk County. Ballots that go there, according to Bius' mailing, will be forwarded to the voters. But some Democrats fret that the ballots could be intercepted, filled out, and sent back without ever going to the people whose names are on the ballots. Expect that argument to come up if and when November's election results are challenged.
SD-3 Kibitzing Nets New Adman, New Ads
There's enough stuff starting to happen in SD-3 to reduce it to bullet items. To wit:
• Add Republican adman David Weeks to the list of consultants with a finger in the race. Democrat David Fisher has pretty commercials, shot on film, and Republican Todd Staples was running with a series of ads shot on videotape. None of that artwork got all the way to Austin, but the Republicans outside the campaign were nervous that the Fisher stuff looked better and that the original ads reflected badly on their guy. Bryan Eppstein, the general consultant in the race, said Weeks has always been part of the package. The bottom line is that they shot new spots and those will replace the old spots in the first week of October.
• Staples held a press conference at the Polk County courthouse to make noise about what he called Democratic attempts to knock those nice RV folks off the voter rolls. He blamed Fisher, and produced an affidavit from a fellow named Bob Willis who said he had been told by another guy that Fisher had said he and his law firm were involved in the effort. Fisher said there were too many "he saids" in there to make that story work, capped it by joining in U.S. Sen. Phil Gramm's call–and Staples', too–for a federal investigation of the entire hoo-haw. Gramm, for the record, has endorsed Staples.
• In the continuing ankle-biting over just what species of lawyer Fisher is, we turn to the website of Orgain, Bell & Tucker, where he's a partner. At this writing, that site's bio of Fisher says: "David Fisher is a trial lawyer. His cases are mainly in the personal injury area." He says he does defense work, which isn't necessarily ruled out by the bio.
Not a Campaign and Fun with Fundraising
Javier Guajardo Jr., an Austin attorney, has begun pulling together a group of policy wonks and others who can help in his lobbying and redistricting practice. But those folks could also help put together the position papers and research needed for a gubernatorial campaign for Tony Sanchez Jr. of Laredo, a law client who is related to Guajardo by marriage. Sanchez has told friends he's interested in running, but has avoided talking to reporters about the possibility until after the November elections. If he decides to run, Sanchez would run as a Democrat, although he's one of the biggest contributors to Gov. George W. Bush. Running the policy business through a lawyer protects everything behind the wall of attorney-client privilege. And because Sanchez hasn't declared himself a candidate, there are no campaign finance reports lying around to tell you what's up.
• Jerry Patterson's latest fundraising letters raise the prospect of -- Omigosh! -- competition in a statewide GOP primary as the impetus for contributors to give now. The pitch, signed by supporters, is that jumping into the race early, and with Patterson, will protect those donors from being "asked to choose between friends and colleagues running for the same office." Patterson, who lost the 1998 Republican primary for land commissioner to David Dewhurst, says in the letter that the incumbent "may be considering a run for a different statewide office." It promises he won't run against Dewhurst but says he's starting a campaign to succeed Dewhurst and finally puts a name on the whole enterprise: The Patterson Exploratory Committee.
• House Speaker Pete Laney, D-Hale Center, had his own fundraiser earlier this year, but now he'll headline a mid-October funder for the Texas Partnership PAC, which funnels money to Democratic House candidates. The PAC has been holding round-robin fundraisers all year, running contributors through three to five receptions a night at the Austin club and usually sending the proceeds straight to the candidates without running them through the Partnership accounts. This money is for the PAC, however, and will be in Houston rather than Austin... The GOP's fundraising efforts are set up differently, but the House Republican Caucus held funders -- a first for the group -- for Reps. Betty Brown, R-Terrell, and Wayne Christian, R-Center. Both incumbents are on Democratic hit lists... No Fear: U.S. Rep. Max Sandlin, D-Marshall, held a fundraiser in Houston at the home of trial lawyer John Eddie Williams and headlined by President Bill Clinton and supermodel Christie Brinkley.
Feeling Like a Red-Headed Stepchild
Dr. Bob Deuell wrote a letter to his state senator four years ago asking for guidance on the state's concealed weapons law. He started by saying the law was too restrictive about where guns were allowed, particularly "when it comes to public places such as city owned buildings, sporting events and schools." His question was whether carrying a gun while driving within 300 feet of a school violated the law's bans on guns within that perimeter. That provision would make it impossible to drop off the kids while the gun was in the car. He said that should be changed and then added: "In fact, I see no reason to ban handguns from any school premise, building or other property. Quite frankly, the children would be much safer with me on the property with a handgun than they are now where there is no one there to defend them when some lunatic decides to make a statement. I know that is a hard concept for some people to grasp, but none the less it is the truth." He then noted restrictions around city-owned buildings such as the Meyerson Center in downtown Dallas. "I do not feel that they should have the right to ban a licensed hand gun carrier from carrying at any public building."
When Deuell wrote that letter to Sen. David Cain, D-Dallas, he was a doctor in Greenville and not a candidate against the Democrat. Now that he's running, he says he "probably was not expressing myself well." Deuell didn't disavow the letter or recant, but did say that as a senator he "would not vote for any kind of policy that would put guns in schools." He says he didn't write the letter as a candidate for office, and doesn't want it misconstrued: "I'm not a gun nut or anything like that."
Deuell's letter asks Cain for an official opinion about whether he can carry a gun in his office, which is in leased space attached to a hospital. Since the concealed carry law at the time prevented carrying guns in hospitals, he wanted clarification about whether he could bring the gun to work with him. Cain's letter back said the Senate was looking at changes to the law and that he would keep his constituent informed about it. It didn't offer a direct answer to Deuell's question.
That leads to another letter Deuell wrote two years later, telling his landlords at the Presbyterian Hospital of Greenville, part of the county hospital district, about a security problem. In it, he cited an incident where "two large black men were found roaming our office" and that while they were waiting for security to come help "it was obvious... that these two men were in our office building for no reason other than to steal or cause harm." Security, as it turns out, never showed up, and the men left without incident. But Deuell said he and another doctor in his office were at a disadvantage because of "the hospital district's current policy of denying us a right to defend ourselves." He closed with a vague threat: "I can assure you and the board that if I am physically hurt due to this lack of security and safety the financial consequences to the district and to the board will be significant."
Deuell says the reference to the two men was made because it matched a description from an incident earlier in the day at another office in the building. He says the close of the letter was "probably a little strong" and says the building still has some security problems, with break-ins and confrontations in parking lots. The guy on the other end of the letter, he says, is a friend and patient.
What's with our headline? Well, not only does Deuell have red hair, that's his characterization of how his race is going, compared to the adjacent SD-3. He's seen promises of help to come, but it's not all there yet. The line forming around Deuell still has some gaps in it. The GOP victory fund doesn't have him on its list of favorites (those in targeted races got $40,000 checks in September). He did pick up an endorsement from the Young Conservatives of Texas. Associated Republicans of Texas has put a lot of money in and promises more. The Texans for Lawsuit Reform PAC is planning to jump in as well. But they're not firing on all cylinders: Comptroller Carole Keeton Rylander is making a fundraising visit to Greenville this week, but not for Deuell: It's for Rep. Betty Brown, R-Terrell.
Lawyers vs. Judges, Lawyers vs. Lawyers
The court fight over campaign finance isn't over yet. Public Citizen and others sued the state, saying judicial elections are tainted by the contributions given judges and candidates by lawyers who practice before them. U.S. District Judge James Nowlin tossed it, saying it's not clear that the contributions create undue bias. The folks who sued, however, will appeal.
That keeps alive a related issue that has probably gotten more attention than the original suit. Texans for Public Justice, a nonprofit outfit, has done several reports critical of the way campaign finance works in state court races. As part of the preparation for the Public Citizen suit, Attorney General John Cornyn asked for records and depositions from TPJ that the group says it shouldn't have to reveal. TPJ has criticized Cornyn on other matters, and the group contends his request for documents and interviews were retribution for that criticism. Cornyn's argument is that part of the Public Citizen suit is based on those reports and that the lawyers need to know everything about the reports to defend against them. TPJ says it should be able to keep the names of contributors secret and that showing the AG who is funding a nemesis could subject contributors to undue pressure.
That was about to come to a head, because TPJ's folks were a no-show at the first scheduled depositions. But before the AG could squawk, Nowlin issued his ruling. An appeal could reopen everything. There is one point of agreement in all this: Nowlin, Public Citizen and Cornyn say the Legislature should get to work on how judicial races in Texas are financed.
Miscellaneous News-like Items
Republican political guru Karl Rove might be working on more than just the Guv's attempt to become the president, but he really, really did sell his consulting company. The New York Daily News found Rove working on judicial races in Alabama, after Rove told everyone he was dropping everything to work on George W. Bush's presidential bid. He might be in Alabama, but he's not doing it through his old shop: Todd Olsen and Ted Delisi, who bought Rove's Austin-based consulting business, don't have any clients in Alabama this election cycle. If Rove is busy over there, it doesn't involve them. When they bought that outfit, you might remember that Rove took two assets along with him: The phone number he'd been using for years, and the name Karl Rove + Co. That phone number rings through to the Bush campaign right now.
• Austin has light rail on the ballot in November, a measure that might be expected to boost interest in the elections, what with traffic and all, but that hasn't seemed to catch fire so far. That campaign has support from several local and state environmental groups, but there are some splits in the business community. Add to the local combatants the Texas Public Policy Foundation, which contends that light rail is an expensive way to ease traffic woes in the Capital City. That group, which has opposed similar transit systems elsewhere, has posted a study on its website. Among other things, they take a shot at Dallas Area Rapid Transit, or DART, saying that the widely touted success of light rail in that system is more a public relations coup than a transportation victory. TPPF says DART's ridership is 90 percent of the goal outlined when the light rail idea was pitched to the public.
• The Silver-Haired Legislature doesn't have the power to actually get anything into law, but sometimes points up some issues that will catch the attention of the Texas Legislature. The group's number one priority for the next session is to continue the Texas Department of Aging as a separate agency. That's a perennial issue for the group. Other items of interest on their priority list: Opposition to school vouchers and to charter schools, repeal of the government pension offset, reasonable water prices, mandatory criminal background checks for nursing home employees, and increases in personal needs allowances for nursing home residents. They'll send a list of their resolutions to the Legislature for consideration next session.
Political People and Their Moves
The next chairman of the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce in San Antonio will be Henry Cisneros. That was a unanimous appointment by the board... Think Different: John Doner and Associates puts up a new website that doesn't do the normal up-down thing. It goes sideways. Go figure... The San Antonio-based Texas Public Policy Foundation is opening an office in Austin. The new communications and lobbying hand will be Lee Adams, who has been chief of staff for Rep. Elvira Reyna, R-Mesquite... Andrea Horton, who's been working in the press shop for Attorney General John Cornyn, is leaving that gig to work at Olsen & Delisi, the political consulting firm that used to belong to Karl Rove. One of the principals, Ted Delisi, was also at the Cornyn shop until he quit to run the business. Horton will be helping with the mail the firm is doing for the George W. Bush campaign... Fred Pratt is leaving Sen. David Sibley, R-Waco, to sign on with the Dallas office of Burson-Marsteller. Pratt has been roving Sibley's Senate district for years and worked before that for then state Treasurer (now U.S. Sen.) Kay Bailey Hutchison, then-Gov. Bill Clements and then Texas Secretary of State George Bayoud... Ramiro Canales, an attorney who used to work for Rep. Irma Rangel, D-Kingsville, turns to teaching at the University of Texas. He'll "coordinate" a class on Mexican Americans and the Texas Legislature, which means, apparently, that he's hosting a series of lectures by state officials and lobbyists and others. A special focus: Redistricting... Acquitted: Former Houston City Councilman Michael Yarbrough, on charges he accepted an illegal corporate contribution in a race for Texas agriculture commissioner... Spankings: State District Judge Annette Galik of Houston got a "Public Warning" from the State Commission on Judicial Conduct after she failed to file a series of legally campaign finance reports and then pleaded "no contest" to the resulting misdemeanor charges. The commission wasn't finished, though: They also issued a Public Reprimand against Galik for fumbling a family law case and taking "actions so clearly inconsistent with the law as to fall in the category of judicial misconduct." The commission reprimanded Tony Torres, a justice of the peace in Brownsville, for posing for photos to be used as political endorsements by Cameron County Sheriff Omar Lucio and County Tax Assessor-Collector Tony Yzaguirre.
Quotes of the Week
Broadcaster Larry King and Gov. George W. Bush, going back and forth on the substance of the presidential race, starting with King: "You are 19 points ahead. A week later, you are 10 points behind... But then, that happens because Gore, Al kisses Tipper. You, a week later, kiss Oprah and dress like Regis and you are up by 2 points." Bush: "Imagine if I had worn suspenders."
Texas Democratic political consultant Dean Rindy in an interview with Business Week on the Bush campaign's successful pre-debate positioning: "Expectations are now so low that the pundits will declare him the winner if he can talk and keep his pants on at the same time."
The last words in the obituary of James Fete Sr. of Canton, Ohio, in his local paper, the Canton Repository: "In lieu of flowers, vote Bush."
U.S. Rep. Dick Armey, R-Flower Mound, waxing Freudian at a news conference: "It is time now for all of us, even in this election year, to put politics aside and help our needy senators, uh, seniors."
Texas Monthly Publisher Michael Levy, quoted in a Dallas Morning News story on the truly astonishing amount of road construction messing up traffic in Austin: "Basically, this is a big town, and it's run in a bush-league manner. It's almost like this was a banana republic."
Billionaire investor Warren Buffett, grousing about rich friends who deplore welfare and food stamps: "These same people are leaving tons of money to their kids, whose main achievement in life had been to emerge from the right womb. And when they emerge from that womb, instead of a welfare officer, they have a trust fund officer. Instead of food stamps, they get dividends and interest."
J.W. Gary, an attorney with the Corpus Christi schools, on the school board's decision to not pay legal bills of former assistant superintendent Thomas Marlin, who was defending spending $5,300 in district money at strip joints: "We don't pay folks to go to topless clubs, basically."
Texas Weekly: Volume 17, Issue 14, 2 October 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 email@example.com. For news, email firstname.lastname@example.org, or call (512) 288-6598.
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