Somebody come up with a title and a pilot script so we can sell the voting saga of the Polk County Escapees to some fool in Hollywood and make a load of money. If the first episode is a hit, there is plenty of material here for sequels. Some of the lawyers and others involved now think they'll be involved in this through at least January. That's when election contests are decided.
This thing has flipped around more than a hooked mackerel, but at this writing, the folks who say they reside in an RV Park outside of Livingston will be able to vote in the November elections. Don't bet on that unless you've talked to a court clerk in the last 12 minutes: There have been three different court rulings since last week's scribbling on the topic and the matter is now pending in both the state and the federal courts. Chances are good that it will continue after Election Day.
A quick catch-up, in case you've been watching some other misadventure. There's a national group called the Escapees (website at www.escapees.com) headquartered at the RV park. The members are owners of recreational vehicles who generally spend some or all of their time cruising around the country. They remain connected through the Internet, mail-forwarding and a network of parks including the one in Polk County, where they list their address and claim residency.
They tend, on the whole, to vote Republican, and their numbers are growing with each election cycle. Polk County residents backed by poorly concealed Democrats challenged their voting status, and the response has come from other residents backed by poorly concealed Republicans.
At stake, if you want to be dramatic, is the partisan tilt of the state Senate: The other 30 seats in that body are evenly split between R's and D's. A big vote for either party in Polk County could decide it, and the Escapees are considered by some to be a key to a Republican victory. They're more likely to be decisive in the House race there, but that's important too, since the Republicans need only four seats to hold a majority in that chamber.
The original challenge to the Escapees' voting status prompted the county to start sending them verification forms, which could then be sent back to let the county know they were still alive and voting. About 1,000 of those forms went out before the courts started cranking out rulings; no more have gone out and the county has not retracted any of the 1,000 that did get out.
And we come now to a familiar point in this serial drama, only with more hype: At this issue's deadline, the case is proceeding not in one set of courts, but in two. The Texas Supreme Court has the state case. The 9th Court of Appeals in Beaumont overruled State District Judge Olen Underwood. Underwood had stopped the notices from going out, saying he didn't want to take anyone's vote away. The appeals panel said the county could send out the notices. Before the ink dried, Attorney General John Cornyn had appealed that decision to the Texas Supreme Court. And an Austin attorney representing a few of the voters in this drama filed suit in federal court in Lufkin. Larry York, an Austin attorney, said in that suit that the notices shouldn't go out unless the U.S. Department of Justice has preapproved them under the federal Voting Rights Act. The hearing for that was scheduled, at our deadline, for Friday morning, before U.S. District Judge Howell Cobb.
It's a mess, and as a practical matter, time is running out. Voters have to be registered in a couple of days and absentee voting is about to start. Watch the courts, but wager this way: The Escapees will get to vote this year. If it appears that the contested voters decided either the House or the Senate race, there will certainly be a challenge, and election contests are settled in the Legislature in January.
A Matter of Degree
Ann Kitchen, the Democrat running for an open Austin seat in the Texas House, claimed an undergraduate degree that does not exist when she applied for and got a job at the Texas Health and Human Services Commission in 1994, her opponent says. Republican Jill Warren points to the line on Kitchen's job application where she claimed a Bachelor of Arts degree in psychology and social work from the University of Texas at Austin. No such degree exists, Warren says.
On that application, under "Type diploma or degree", Kitchen wrote "B.A. Honors." Under "Major field of study", she wrote "psychology & social work." She also has a law degree from UT, which is also noted. And in other places where she's used a resume, such as on her campaign website, Kitchen has listed her undergrad degree as B.A. Honors, Psychology and Social Work.
But Warren contends that UT doesn't offer any such degree and never has. The school offers a Bachelor of Arts in psychology and a Bachelor of Science in social work, but those degree programs are separate and the programs are in different colleges. In Warren's view, the problem is not just that Kitchen is claiming a bogus degree, but that she has used that claim to get jobs, such as the one she got at HHSC. The posting for that job required a degree in "business or public administration, health care services, political science, social science, or a closely related field. Law degree is strongly preferred."
Warren remained silent for a couple of weeks while rumors about Kitchen's resume made the rounds at the Capitol and the campaigns. She ultimately decided to make an issue of it. "I think it's way over the line and I think the voters should decide."
Warren is the one who's out of line, Kitchen says. Her diploma itself says she's a Bachelor of Arts, with honors. It lists no field of study. Her transcript, she says, lists psychology as her major in college. The official papers from UT list her law degree and for the undergrad degree, show basically the same thing that's on the transcript, with no mention of social work or social welfare work.
Kitchen presents as proof of the social work designation a certificate which says she completed the "social welfare studies program" with 42 hours credit of social work courses and 480 contact hours of social work field instruction.
She says the separate social work degree program was started in 1975, after she was enrolled in the program she completed in 1977. The program she completed, she says, was the precursor of the program that exists now at UT. "I have listed my degree properly," Kitchen says. As for Warren's charge? "It's ridiculous, totally contrived and it shows how desperate she is."
A Bad Year for Pigs and Apples
Nobody seemed to notice, what with all that noise about Polk County and debates and all, but the Natural Law Party won't be on the ballot in Texas. They filed petitions to get on the ballot, but didn't survive a test of the signatures and other requirements, so the Secretary of State gave them the gong. They sued. U.S. District Judge James Nowlin of Austin gave them the gong, too.
To get on the ballot, the NLP had to submit 37,380 valid signatures. They turned in petitions with 73,244 signatures, but only 21, 882 of those could be verified.
In a footnote, Nowlin noted that the petitions "contained signatures from such notable characters as Johnny Appleseed and Mrs. Piggy. It also contained a Mr. Homer Sexual. Certainly, in these instances the names should have been removed..."
The NLP, which wanted to put 40 people on the ballot, including John Hagelin, who fought with Pat Buchanan earlier this year over the Reform Party nomination. And they argued that they had a right to be on the ballot. Nowlin said that right doesn't outweigh the right of citizens to vote in an election, and chided the NLP for what he called "their lack of diligence."
The Reform Party, by the way, didn't try to get on the Texas ballot. Buchanan filed as an independent, which requires more signatures, but got what he needed and will be listed. The Green Party did everything right, so they'll be there. And the Constitution Party, the only other group that filed, turned in just more than 1,000 signatures, not nearly enough to present candidates to voters.
Money Flowing in Hot Races
The drop probably came after the deadline for campaign finance reports, but we've heard semi-reliably that Texans for Lawsuit Reform is putting $100,000 into the campaign of Dr. Bob Deuell. The Greenville physician is the Republican challenging Sen. David Cain, D-Dallas, and the contribution will help him get on television in the expensive Dallas TV market. Cain will soon be up as well. His big annual fundraiser over the Texas-OU weekend won't show up in the latest reports, either, but he expects to have enough money to run a television campaign alongside mail and all the other stuff.
Guns, and Deuell's comments about them in a letter to Cain four years ago, are still rattling around as one of the issues in the race. Deuell's campaign materials say he'll work for "zero tolerance for gangs, guns and drugs in schools." (A goof somewhere between designers and printers took the "in schools" part of that message off about 10,000 push-cards.) In his letter, which we wrote about last week, Deuell chafed about restrictions that prevent people licensed to carry handguns from carrying them in public buildings including schools. He had been on the school board in Greenville for three years before he wrote the letter. He says now he wouldn't vote to allow guns in schools. Aides say the campaign sloganeering means he would strictly enforce current laws and that the zero tolerance line isn't meant to signal any desire to change the law. Expect Cain, who got an "A" rating and an endorsement from the National Rifle Association, to make use of all that.
On his last report, Deuell noted a $30,000 in-kind contribution from Dr. James Leininger of San Antonio. That, as it turns out, was a mailing to doctors who might be sympathetic in spite of the fact that the Texas Medical Association endorsed the incumbent. (TMA generally sticks with incumbents, but Deuell's folks point out that the endorsement was made before there was a doctor in the race.) Focus Direct, a Leininger company, handled the printing and mailing.
Finances You Won't See for Months
A fresh invitation provides further evidence that the relationship between Lt. Gov. Rick Perry and Sen. David Sibley, R-Waco, is much warmer than it was during the last legislative session. Perry's the headliner at Sibley's fundraiser in Austin this month. There was a fair amount of tension between the two during Perry's first session as Lite Guv. They both say things were never as bad as depicted. But in any case, they are now on a smooth patch.
The fundraising invitation leads to this tangent: Sibley is not up for reelection in this cycle and doesn't have to report contributions and expenditures until January 16. You don't have to file those reports unless you are both on the ballot and have opposition. That means these senators are among those who don't have to file finance reports this month: Ken Armbrister, D-Victoria, Teel Bivins, R-Amarillo, J.E. "Buster" Brown, R-Lake Jackson, Bill Ratliff, R-Mount Pleasant, and Florence Shapiro, R-Plano. Handicap their chances as you'd like, but each of those senators has been mentioned as a potential candidate for lieutenant governor if George W. Bush is elected president and Lt. Gov. Perry gets to move into the Governor's Mansion. A couple of them, notably Bivins and Sibley, have been actively seeking support for the job. One interested candidate, Sen. Jeff Wentworth, R-San Antonio, will have to file; he is on the ballot and faces Libertarian George Meeks in November.
But they don't have to show their cards to each other as they would if they were in a race for Speaker of the House. A speaker's race runs sort of like a normal race; candidates have to have a separate campaign account once they announce they're running for speaker. Observers can tell, as the reports come in, who's ahead in the money race, what they've been doing with that money and those sorts of things. Senators don't have to do any separate filing at all, and whatever money they raise to help in the race is mixed in with everything else they report. The folks listed above aren't required to file money reports until well after a race for the top job is (probably) decided. They've been jockeying for months and if the presidential thing goes Bush's way, they'll likely decide the succession game before the Legislature meets in January. In fact, by the time finance reports are filed, the winner might have already started raising late-train money as a presumptive Lite Guv.
An Alternate Take on GOP Political Maps
Several Republicans disagree with the idea of keeping rural legislators in place and knocking off some of the more liberal Anglo Democrats in urban areas. Nobody really wanted to jump in by name and disagree with Rep. Ken Marchant, R-Carrollton, but they made some points worth chewing. Where Marchant suggested rural lawmakers could be protected by pulling in populations to their south and east, others say county line rules would interfere. You can't break up a county except under specific conditions. That's the legal problem.
More to the point for some, however, is the political calculation. There is a difference of opinion among the Republicans over just what kinds of Democrats they should keep, if they have a choice.
One group contends it would be better to dump liberals when possible since conservatives are more philosophically harmonic with the GOP. Another group argues to keep the liberals, since that would make the Democrats less likely to wield power as a conservative bloc, and since conservative Democrats are better equipped to compete with Republicans in marginal districts. The thinking of the second group is to grab marginal seats for Republicans and leave the liberal seats alone.
There is a difference between what the groups think they could get in a redistricting battle, too. Draw a map the first way and you can come up with a Republican majority of 85 to 90 members in the Texas House. Draw it the other way, and you can create more than 105 Republican seats. Some Republican House members will meet in a week or so to look at maps that would do just that.
A Party House, Freudian Slips, and Who Helped?
The towel snap that caught Land Commissioner David Dewhurst and lobbyist and former legislator Buddy Jones illustrates why most lobbyists don't do political events at their own homes. Jones hosted one for Dewhurst, and it turned into a newspaper story.
Big wup, normally, but the land commissioner is withholding easement approvals for a gasoline pipeline that would stretch from Houston through the Hill Country to El Paso. He says he won't give the go-ahead to what's called the Longhorn Pipeline until and unless he is convinced it's safe, a position favored by many environmentalists and by suburbanites who didn't realize until this came up that they live atop a giant network of pipelines carrying all kinds of icky stuff.
The folks who are funding the fight against the pipeline have additional concerns: Navaho Refining, a subsidiary of Holly Corp., happens to sell a whole lot of gasoline in El Paso. The new pipeline would compete. Jones is their lobbyist. Ba-da-bing, ba-da-boom, it made the Austin paper. Dewhurst wasn't the first and isn't the last: Last December, Jones hosted a fundraiser for Comptroller Carole Keeton Rylander; another is slated soon for Agriculture Commissioner Susan Combs.
• Stutter? Gaffe? Joke? Artful presentation? We heard every possible explanation, but the official word is that Dewhurst did not, not, not intend to tell a dinner crowd he would be running for lieutenant governor in 2002. Nobody's denying that's what he wants to do, mind you, but Dewhurst's slip at the Associated Republicans of Texas funder was just that, a slip. He corrected it to land commissioner on the spot, but everybody noticed.
• Recast what was said here last week about the fundraiser/reception for Reps. Betty Brown, R-Terrell, and Wayne Christian, R-Center. It wasn't hosted by the House Republican Caucus, but by a group of lawmakers who happen to be in that group. The Caucus, see, doesn't play in these reindeer games. That was pitched to us as the caucus' first such effort; in the mild exculpatory reaction, we've been told it was the first time that group of lawmakers did something like this. Whew!
• Maybe she's liking her job: Molly Beth Malcolm, chair of the Texas Democratic Party, moves her own moniker from the bottom of the Party's letterhead to the top. A few days after we first noticed, it moved back down, but the new letterhead is the one with her right under the party logo.
Bush's Traveling Democrats
What's with the water in Laredo? Rep. Henry Cuellar, a Democrat, has joined the group of Texas Democrats traveling the country campaigning for Gov. George W. Bush. Their stated mission is to debunk all that nasty stuff people in other states are hearing about Texas. Cuellar's not the first Laredo pol to sign up with Bush. Tony Sanchez Jr., who's thinking about a gubernatorial run in 2002 -- as a Democrat -- is one of Bush's big financial backers and has been for years. Cuellar traveled with a group that included House Appropriations Chairman Rob Junell, D-San Angelo, and former Dallas County Democratic Party Chairman Sandy Kress, who is now an Austin attorney.
Part of that brigade went to Boston to watch the first of the three presidential debates and the Democrats in the bunch got the seats closest to the front. Sens. Teel Bivins, R-Amarillo, David Sibley, R-Waco, and Ken Armbrister, D-Victoria were there, as were Secretary of State Elton Bomer, former Attorney General and Texas Supreme Court Chief Justice John Hill and former Rep. Mark Stiles, D-Beaumont. Hill, Stiles and Armbrister are the three Bush referred to during the debate when he said "...tonight in the audience there's one elected state senator who's a Democrat, a former state rep who's a Democrat, couple of, one statewide officer's a Democrat. I mean, there's a lot of Democrats who are here in the debate too... because they want to show their support, that shows I know how to lead."
Interesting fly-on-the-wall opportunity: Sibley sat next to Rev. Jesse Jackson. Lobbyist Louis Bacarisse didn't get to sit next to supermodel Christie Brinkley, as we were first told, but he was close enough to see that she was the only one in the room allowed to bring in a sign touting one of the candidates. Her pick? Hint: She was with former Massachusetts Gov. Michael Dukakis.
Making Debates Less Boring; Dates to Watch
A random thought on how debates should be covered. Remember the program Mystery Science Theater 2000? It featured three guys sitting in front of a screen watching old movies and making wise cracks about what was going on. It would combine the blather that precedes and follows a debate by letting you get your fill of candidates and yahoo commentators at once. Plus, it might actually make a boring debate more entertaining.
The Internet offers some new ways to ingest these face-offs that might actually enhance the experience. The debates that are getting the attention on television might be the riskiest and most important forums for the candidates, but they're not the only debates. An Internet site called Web, White and Blue, is staging a running daily debate between the presidential candidates. In the first few days, everyone was playing except for Green Party candidate Ralph Nader. The candidates are a little sporadic about participating, but it's a good place to see a debate with a little breathing room; campaigns can think about what they're going to say before they say it. The George W. Bush campaign seems most interested. Their early contributions were done just for the site, with Gov. Bush talking straight into the camera. The Al Gore campaign submitted footage of part of one of the vice president's stump speeches.
Want to trim the media and pundit spin and counterspin? Watch what the candidates say, then go to the campaigns' own debate deconstructions. The Republicans set up a subset of the Bush campaign's website called www.debatefacts.com to spin the tale their way; the Democrats are doing their debunking and rebunking at www.algore.com. If you're dying for more email in your life, each site allows you to sign up for updates for the rest of the campaign.
• The election is four weeks away and the calendar is full of deadlines. Tuesday, October 10, is the last day to register. It's also the due date for campaign finance reports through September 28. Early voting begins in most places (it's local option) on October 21. October 30 is the campaign finance deadline for the month ending October 28. The last day counties can accept early voting applications is October 31, and November 3 is the last day of early voting. Election Day is November 7, and the official canvass is due a month later, on December 7. Two days later, the legislative curtain falls: State officeholders can't take contributions between December 10 and the last day of the legislative session, on May 29, 2001.
Political People and Their Moves
Still more moves in the Texas Senate. Yuniedth Midence Bennett, who's worked for Sen. John Whitmire, D-Houston, for 11 years, is leaving to be a lobster. Here's the odd bit: She'll be at Locke Liddell Sapp, where Whitmire works. There's a wall, however: He works in Houston and doesn't deal with the Austin lobby operation, and the firm doesn't lobby him... Brian Jammer is leaving the Senate Criminal Justice Committee to lobby for the Texas Credit Union League. He's been with Sen. Ken Armbrister, D-Victoria, for eight years and with the state for 17 years. J.P. Urrabazo is also leaving the committee, but staying close. He'll be a legislative aide to Sen. Mario Gallegos, D-Houston... Sen. Rodney Ellis, D-Houston, is adding Hanna Leibman, a former associate to famed defense lawyer Alan Dershowitz, as his general counsel. Ellis has said he will carry bills on the death penalty and defense for people accused of capital crimes next session... Texas prison spokesman Larry Fitzgerald, after a year of national media calls about the Texas death penalty and other criminal justice issues, is being honored by his peers in the state chapter of the National Association of Government Communicators. He's getting both the "communicator of the year" award and the more appropriately named "Up to Your Waders in Gators" prize... Robert Riggs, who covered the Capitol for WFAA-TV in Dallas for several years, is leaving that station to open a Dallas office of Hillco Partners, the Austin-based lobbying and communications firm. He'll handle mostly corporate clients... Bureau of Imitation and Sincere Flattery: Andrew Biar, a former legislative staffer who worked for the Texas Association of Business and Chambers of Commerce, starts up Strategic Public Affairs Inc., based in Houston, saying he hopes the firm will be another Public Strategies Inc., after a few years... Pamela Crawford is leaving the lobby team at the Texas Association of School Boards to be executive director of the Texas Council of Administrators of Special Education... Political Dynasty Department: House Speaker and spouse Pete and Nelda Laney are first-time grandparents, with the birth of an as-yet-unnamed 8-pound, 11-ounce boy to their daughter Jamey Phillips and her husband, Ronald Phillips. The parents are both attorneys in Lubbock. Mother and child are fine... Moving on: Bob Terrell, Fort Worth's city manager since 1992, says he will retire from that post at the end of the year. Terrell, who started in the city budget office in 1974 and worked his way up, has no immediate plans outside of golfing and reading... U.S. Social Security Commissioner Kenneth Apfel will join the faculty at the LBJ School of Public Affairs at UT Austin when his term is up at the end of the year. He's a 1978 graduate of that school.
Quotes of the Week
Debate moderator Jim Lehrer, on the pre- and post-debate noise from election partisans: "If someone watching at home says 'Hey, I didn't like that answer from Sally Sue, then all the spin doctors and pundits can't change that impression. The larger the audience, the less power those people have."
Tipper Gore, before the debates began, on George W. Bush: "I think our opponent is a likeable, engaging fellow. There's no question about that. I hope it's not going to be based on likability."
Boston College psychology professor Joseph Tecce, telling the Chicago Tribune something very weird about presidential debates: "The faster blinker in the debates loses the election. This has been true for every debate I've studied -- in every election since 1980."
Judge John Cordray, a Panola County Democrat, in an interview with the Fort Worth Star-Telegram about East Texas Senate candidates Todd Staples and David Fisher: "They're both attractive young men. I think it's just going to get down to who people think can articulate better if they hear 'em speak, which one looks the most attractive, which one's got the best-lookin' wife and kids."
Taxi company owner Floyd Richards, who was sentenced to ten months of confinement in his 7,000-square-foot home on six acres for paying bribes to a Dallas City Councilman: "It's still a cage. There are better and there are worse, but it's still a cage. It's a gilded cage."
Ted Wheelis, who's in charge of the electronic ankle bracelets used in the home confinement program, on that subject: "You definitely can't sit in the hot tub. It cuts the signal off."
Texas Weekly: Volume 17, Issue 15, 9 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 firstname.lastname@example.org. For news, email email@example.com, or call (512) 288-6598.