The quiet race for lieutenant governor got a little louder with a letter from Sen. Jeff Wentworth, R-San Antonio, knocking a proposal from Sen. David Sibley, R-Waco. The two are probably the most active candidates for the job. Sibley has proposed stripping away some of the powers of the office and putting them in the hands of the senators. Wentworth, in a letter to his fellow senators and to Lt. Gov. Rick Perry, says that's a rotten idea that would increase partisan rivalries in the upper chamber.
Watch how the shadow race for lieutenant governor perks up every time the governor is doing well in the polls and goes underground when the vice president is doing well. If the governor doesn't win the presidential race, there is no succession game. The lead in the presidential race has changed five or six times in the last two months, and the Lite Guv race has gone visible to invisible and back with the changes.
Bush is up at the moment, and the race is more active. Wentworth's letter landed at roughly the same time Sibley was holding a reception in Austin, with Perry as the draw. In it, Wentworth goes after the central idea of Sibley's candidacy: The Waco senator started more than a year ago by proposing the Senate take away some of the powers of the Lite Gov, including control over who serves on what committees and control over the Senate calendar that determines which bills come up for consideration and when. Sibley has called that a starting point for discussion, and has said he wouldn't attempt a rule change the Senate opposes if he is elected.
Wentworth says the changes would wreck "the best state Senate of any state in the country" by pushing power into the hands of partisans on the Senate floor. Sibley's plan, according to Wentworth, would strengthen the relatively powerless party caucuses that now exist. And it would politicize policy discussions that currently have a fair chance of remaining nonpartisan, he says.
The letter is confined to the rules and Wentworth doesn't ask senators for support for his own bid for the job of presiding officer. He says there was no need, since they know he's in the hunt, and says the letter advances his cause by drawing a clear distinction between his position and Sibley's.
In conversation, Wentworth also disputes rumors that Sibley has the votes he needs to win the contest among the 31 senators. He was one of just three senators to attend the Sibley reception -- the others were Sens. Teel Bivins, R-Amarillo, and Eddie Lucio, D-Brownsville -- and contends no consensus has formed up behind any candidate. Bivins is also in the race. Part of his pitch is that he is the only candidate in a position to win a statewide election to the post in 2002. That's when Perry's term ends, and several statewide officeholders, including Comptroller Carole Keeton Rylander and Land Commissioner David Dewhurst, have hinted broadly that they might be interested in running. One line of conventional wisdom is that nobody in the Senate could win such a race because they don't start with statewide financial and voter support. Bivins, who is personally wealthy, found an opening. The contrapuntal line is that anyone who holds the job will be able to raise money by virtue of the position. That might prove true, but having to choose would make contributors uncomfortable.
Wentworth hedges a bit on the reelection question. He says anyone who held the job would want to do it, but says he would have to wait until after the coming legislative session to make a decision about it. If he thought he was doing a good job as presiding officer, he would definitely run. Sibley, who initially wavered on that question, says he would definitely run for a full term in 2002 if the Senate picks him to preside.
Money at the Final Turn in the Political Track
Getting a quick and comprehensive look at what the political campaigns are doing with their money is about as much fun as home dentistry: It's a combination of a new reporting system for candidates, a large number of reports because of the season and some new computer equipment at the Texas Ethics Commission, all topped with the usual political, er, B.S. from various candidates. In short, the commission is choking on the reports and it will be a few days before all of them are available.
Believe the people telling you that money is pouring into the East Dallas/Northeast Texas Senate District 2 race. Dr. Bob Deuell, a Greenville physician, has had television up and running for a few days and the stations have been told to expect the volume to pick up in the last two weeks of that campaign. Sen. David Cain, D-Dallas, lost the race to get on the air, but will have a substantial buy and didn't need to build name ID as Deuell, a new candidate, did. Neither candidate's report was available at press time, and in any case, much of their money came in after the reporting period. Cain had his annual fundraiser on Texas-OU weekend. Contributions to the Republican from Texans for Lawsuit Reform and others came in after September 28 as well.
In the Senate race just to the south Todd Staples out-raised David Fisher, but didn't outspend him. Fisher pulled in $594,507 and spent $858,994, including $387,373 on his media firm. He had no loans. Staples pulled in $847,689, spent $602,026 and had $20,000 in loans outstanding. Staples apparently spent about $60,000 less on media, but he also started his television and radio commercials later than the Democrat. Fisher's big contributors included trial lawyer Walter Reaud, $50,000; the Williams Bailey Law Firm in Houston, $25,000; the Texas Trial Lawyers Association PAC, $50,000; Nix, Patterson and Roach, $25,000; the Texas State Teachers Association PAC, $25,000; and the Texas Democratic Party, which gave him $70,000. Big money for Staples came from the National Republican Congressional Committee, $50,000; and Associated Republicans of Texas, $85,000.
Lt. Gov. Rick Perry asked Republican senators earlier this year to give $25,000 each to Staples and several are on their way: Sen. Robert Duncan, R-Lubbock, gave $25,000; Sen. Bill Ratliff, R-Mount Pleasant, $10,000; Teel Bivins, R-Amarillo, $10,000, David Sibley, R-Waco, $10,000. Several senators contributed during the previous reporting period.
The Associated Republicans of Texas raised $580,817 -- a lot of it from officeholders -- spent $670,868 and had loans outstanding of $142,891. The big givers were Bill McMinn of Houston, at $115,000, Mike Boylan of Houston, at $100,000, Gordon Cain of Houston and Dr. James Leininger of San Antonio, both at $50,000, and Rep. Kent Grusendorf, R-Arlington, at $35,000. Spending is where the report gets interesting. Here's what that PAC gave to some Republican candidates between July 1 and the end of September: Deuell, SD-2, $70,000; Paul Woodard, HD-11, $26,000; Ben Bius, HD-18, $37,500; Mary Jane Avery, HD-21, $26,000; Phil Stephenson, HD-28, $21,500; Darrell Brownlow, HD-44, $22,000; Jill Warren, HD-48, $35,500; Sid Miller, HD-59, $42,500; and Steve Fryar, HD-73, $37,000.
On the other side, Texas 2000, a political action committee with a heavy concentration of trial lawyer money, raised $189,550 this time while spending $550,112, virtually all of it on the Texas Democratic Party. That party raised a total of $2.0 million, spent $1.28 million, and reported outstanding loans of $405,849. The sources were concentrated: The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee sent in $1.03 million. The national Democratic Party sent $110,000. The Texas Partnership, set up to raise money for Democratic House incumbents and Democrats in open seats, mailed in $168,600. And the Texas Trial Lawyers Association PAC gave $64,000.
Look where that money went: $563,627 to six firms that do polling, direct mail and voter turnout for the party, and $50,000 to the Tarrant County Democratic Party. Then come selected candidates, most of them incumbents: Cain, SD-2, $40,000; Bob Glaze, HD-5, $10,000; Chuck Hopson, HD-11, $5,000; Dan Ellis, HD-18, $5,000; Zeb Zbranek, HD-20, $10,000; Allan Ritter, HD-21, $5,000; Ann Kitchen, HD-48, $5,000; David Lengefeld, HD-59, $20,000; and Bob Turner, HD-73, $10,000. A number of other candidates collected $1,000 checks from the party.
Checking the Congressional Radar
Denton lawyer Curtis Clinesmith has elbowed his way onto Congressional Quarterly's list of races to watch, after months of screaming at other Democrats to pay attention and help him out. The state's Democratic mucky-mucks originally had him on their "fat chance" list, but upgraded him slowly over the summer because of the amount of work he's put in. The CQ Daily Monitor lists races where it can "detect any possibility of a partisan turnover." They list 51 seats currently held by Republicans, and list the CD-13 race as one where the Republican is favored to win. That would be U.S. Rep. Mac Thornberry, R-Clarendon.
On that same list is U.S. Rep. Ron Paul, R-Clute, whose second match against Loy Sneary recently has the attention of national Democrats. The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee might even put some money in the two races. Both Thornberry and Paul hit the television beaches before their challengers. Thornberry's troops say he's in his fourth flight of television ads and will be on the screen for the rest of the race. He's also running radio spots. Clinesmith says he has ads running now in Wichita Falls. Those are apparently running only on cable television. Thornberry's folks say he has their attention, but their version is that Clinesmith is getting no traction. His version is that he's working harder than the incumbent and is gaining ground.
Higher on that same list: U.S. Rep. Pete Sessions, R-Dallas, is listed under the next higher level of danger. He's being challenged by Democrat Regina Montoya Coggins.
Two Democratic incumbents -- U.S. Reps. Max Sandlin of Marshall and Ken Bentsen of Houston -- are both listed as potential turnovers, though both are on the list of Democrats who should win. Sandlin faces Noble Willingham, a television actor known for his days on Walker, Texas Ranger. Bentsen faces Phil Sudan, a businessman who won one of the country's most expensive primaries. Sudan's general election campaign is just like the earlier battle: He's bought loads and loads of TV ads.
(Gently) Dueling Sack-Draggers
The state GOP seeded the fundraising fields a bit with a mid-September letter to Republican officeholders that asked for direct contributions to four House candidates. Included in the mailing were four envelopes, already stamped and addressed to the campaigns of Paul Woodard and Reps. Betty Brown, Wayne Christian and Rick Hardcastle. GOP Chairman Susan Weddington said in the letter that the quartet was "under attack by the personal injury trial lawyers, union bosses and Democrats. Woodard is running for an open seat in East Texas.
Weddington didn't put other open seat Republican candidates, like Jill Warren of Austin and Elizabeth Ames Jones, on the list. Both are opposed, and Warren in particular is in a tough race. Also missing from the list are Republicans who are challenging Democratic incumbents. Nothing unusual there: Texas legislators don't usually contribute money to people challenging their colleagues, even when the colleagues are in the other political party.
Weddington's letter cited the Texas Partnership PAC, set up by House Democrats to defend their fellow Democrats. She said Republicans have no such PAC. That's not right: The Alamo PAC, set up in 1998, does the same thing on the GOP side. That group asks GOP incumbents to give $800 each and to volunteer to help in targeted races. They'll do fly-arounds and such in the last weeks of the campaign.
• Nolan Ryan, the prodigious starting pitcher for the New York Mets, the California Angels, the Houston Astros and the Texas Rangers, is now a political reliever. He's doing radio commercials for Todd Staples in the East Texas Senate race. Staples also put out mock baseball cards with his own face on them touting his Republican credentials. The response from the other side? David Fisher, accused of carpet-bagging by Staples throughout the campaign (Fisher used to live in Beaumont) points out that Ryan lives in a different Senate district... Comptroller Carole Keeton Rylander's December fundraiser will be at the Barton Creek Country Club and the hosts will be former UT Coach Darrell Royal and his wife Edith.
Excess Stomach Acid? Skip This One.
If mom were a political hack, she'd have said that watching polls too closely would lead to rotted teeth, crossed eyes and cowlicks. But like a lot of other things she fretted over, reading polls is fun. Now that you're cautioned against cautions, here's a warning: Reading polls is like reading newspapers. Relying on just one is a crummy idea; you have to read two or three to get a reasonable version of what's up with the world.
Any given poll will drive you nuts, especially in a national race like the one between Gov. George W. Bush and Vice President Al Gore. If you insist on looking at these things, this is the first political cycle that offers free checks on the horse races to people who aren't paying for that information. Keep in mind as you read these that, with three weeks left to go before Election Day, several pollsters say as many as one in four voters have not made a final decision about the race. A few lies by that guy, a few mangled sentences by this one, and the whole outlook could change. What follows is a list of national polls available at no charge on the Internet:
• The Battleground Poll is being done for Voter.com by a Republican pollster, Ed Goeas of the Tarrance Group, and a Democratic pollster, Celinda Lake of Lake Snell Perry & Associates. They're interviewing 250 new people each night and mixing the results with 750 responses from previous nights. The margin of error is 3.1 percent.
• Zogby International has free daily tracking numbers online, and for subscribers, offers more than just the horserace results from those polls. Several news organizations and campaigns use Zogby's numbers, and the numbers, right or wrong, haven't swung as wildly as some of the other polls. This and the Battleground poll seem to change more slowly than others do.
• Rasmussen Research does a survey called Portrait of America and uses an automated calling system that dials phone numbers, reads questions, and records the results people punch into their phone dialers in response. The pollsters offer results about the presidential race, other races, business and other issues. They also are keeping a running tally of how Electoral College results would look, based on recent polls in various states.
• Gallup is one of the respected old-line pollsters in America, but their presidential tracking polls have recently been among the most volatile. From the first Friday in October to the following Monday, the Gallup poll moved from an 11-point advantage for Gore to an 8-point advantage for Bush. They explained that, in part, by saying that it's normal at this point in an election for nearly one in four voters to be wavering in their decisions. Everything seems volatile, they say, because it is.
Texas Numbers: No Surprises at the Top of the Ballot
The Rasmussen gang did a poll of Texas on October 11 that has Gov. Bush comfortably ahead of Vice President Gore, with 59 percent of the vote to the Democrat's 30 percent. The numbers might have been moving all over the place, but there's no way to tell from this one: Their last Texas survey was in July, and the results then were 59-27 in Bush's favor.
They also took a look at the other statewide federal race, finding that U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison's numbers parallel the governor's. She leads her opponent, Democrat Gene Kelly of Universal City, 61 percent to 29 percent. The two minor party candidates on the ballot -- Libertarian Mary Ruwart and Green Party candidate Doug Sandage -- each had the support of 2 percent.
That same survey asked Texas respondents to identify their political leanings: 59 percent called themselves somewhat or very conservative, 25 percent considered themselves moderate, 14 percent said they are somewhat or very liberal and two percent said they're not sure.
News, from Capital Crimes to Flat Tires
Attorney General John Cornyn has a gaggle of lawyers looking at how the state handles capital crime cases and could end up on the same side of at least some of the argument with Sen. Rodney Ellis, D-Houston. Ellis has long advocated getting a better defense for accused criminals, the better to remove doubts that come up, for example, when their court-appointed lawyers are less than top-notch. Cornyn's not reexamining the death penalty itself -- just the process that puts people on Death Row. One set of critics contends the current system results in innocent people being convicted and sentenced to death. Another group supports the death penalty, but contends the trials and convictions that lead to it put the whole system in question. Ellis has already said he'll have a handful of bills on the subject when the Legislature convenes in January.
• Not advertising the Texas Tomorrow Fund put a crimp on sales last year. Comptroller Carole Keeton Rylander had to scratch her schedule and go on a two-week triage tour to boost sales of the prepaid college tuition plan so she wouldn't be blamed for a drop in the program's popularity. The TTF's advertising firm had recommended skipping television ads for the first time in the program's history, saying that the $1.2 million or so that had been put aside for marketing wasn't enough to fund a worthwhile TV plan. The comptroller and the TTF board doubled the ad budget and has awarded the contract to Cathy Bonner, a Democratic activist who headed the old Texas Department of Commerce under Gov. Ann Richards. Bonner's bid said $2.2 million of the $2.5 million budget will go on TV; other bidders proposed less TV and more of other kinds of marketing.
• Remember the protesters who got arrested in front of the Governor's Mansion last year? They sued and the state will pay $99,000 to their attorneys and restore the right to protest there. The activists were making noise about Gov. Bush's stands on air pollution when state police asked them to go across the street instead of protesting on the sidewalks outside the fences of the Mansion. Six refused and were arrested. The state dropped charges. The protesters, from a group called Texans United, sued, and the result is a settlement.
• Last week, we had an item on a neuro-psychologist at Boston College who says the fastest blinkers in presidential debates have lost every time since 1980. He hadn't done his tabulations at that point, but he's done them now, with mixed results. In the first debate between Bush and Gore, the governor had the higher blink rate. The rate of blinks is tied, according to Joseph Tecce, to the stress level the blinker is experiencing. When did they max out? Bush hit his top speed on the question of the federal government's role in crisis resolution. Gore topped out when he was saying Russia failed to recognize the winners of the Balkan elections. Tecce said Gore's stress showed in other ways that make a blink-to-blink comparison difficult. He looked down a lot. He had jerky head movements. Because of that, Tecce hedged his bets a little bit. If he comes back after the other debates with new info, we'll pass it along. This might foreshadow an entire new field of political consulting.
• The Legislature regularly passes a late bill that lists all of the dedicated funds in the state budget, noting that none of the funds listed can be swept for unspent balances and put into general revenue, or GR. The trick is in what's not listed, since otherwise dedicated funds not included in the measure can be swept at the end of a budget year. It's not ordinarily that big a deal, but it arose for one heated moment recently when money for Smart Jobs and Unemployment Insurance came into play. There was some talk, some frowning, and finally a decision: The money, collected through a tax on employers, won't go to GR.
• Warm Spuds Department: Austin-based Public Strategies Inc. has joined the team working on public relations and all that for Firestone/Bridgestone. They themselves won't be lobbying, but they'll help coordinate the lobbyists and what they're saying. That's mostly a Washington, D.C., deal, but could involve state government here and elsewhere.
Political People and Their Moves
Former Texas Education Commissioner Mike Moses, a respected educator who apparently likes hopping between frying pans and fires, has signed on to be the new superintendent for the snakebitten Dallas Independent School District. (Technically, he's the lone finalist for the job, and won't have a contract for several weeks.) Moses, a former superintendent in Lubbock, was most recently a vice chancellor at Texas Tech University. He'll start officially at the end of this year or the beginning of next year, and will be the fifth superintendent in just over four years... The regents at the University of Texas System named Francisco Joaquin Gonzalez Cigarroa as the next president of the UT Health Science Center in San Antonio. Dr. Cigarroa will follow Dr. John Howe III, who is retiring in December. And they picked Cullen "Mike" Godfrey as the system's new vice chancellor and general counsel. He was general counsel at Fina Inc., and will replace Ray Farabee, who announced his retirement earlier this year... Gov. Bush appointed Robert Nickell, an Irving investor, to the board of regents at the University of North Texas... Lt. Gov. Rick Perry's political guy, J. McCartt, says he'll leave after the elections and before the session to jump into the lobbying racket. He hasn't lined up clients and won't until he's out, to avoid conflicts... Speaker Pete Laney's grandson has a name: Austin James Phillips... Kathryn Frost's promotion went through: She's a two-star general in the U.S. Army. Frost, the adjutant General of the Army, is married to U.S. Rep. Martin Frost, D-Dallas... Lobbyist Sabrina Foster has moved to Dynegy Inc., a Houston-based power company, and will be working in Texas, Georgia and Florida, among other places... Jennifer Patterson, who signed on with Comptroller Carole Keeton Rylander earlier this year, is returning to the job she left. Patterson, who was the comptroller's chief of tax policy, will return to the Austin offices of Baker Botts, the Houston-based law firm... This is more of a boomerang than a career move: Kirsten Voinis, aide to Sen. David Sibley, R-Waco, joined the Senate campaign of Rep. Todd Staples and has taken up residence in Palestine, Texas, for the last weeks of the election cycle. Voinis, a former reporter, is Sibley's communications aide, and she'll return to his offices when it's all over... Amy Fitzgerald left the House to work for Entergy Inc., and is coming back to the Pink Building. This time, she'll be general counsel to Sen. David Bernsen, D-Beaumont... Deaths: Oscar Mauzy, a Supreme Court justice for six years and a state senator from Dallas for 20. Among the high points of the long career of the unapologetic and indefatigable liberal: Mauzy engineered the impossible in a unanimous high court opinion that upended the state's system of financing public education. He was 73, and died after a fight with lung cancer.
Quotes of the Week
Pennsylvania businessman and self-professed Republican Ron Searfoss, quoted in the Washington Post, on the presidential candidates: "I don't think either of them understands what a middle-income person is. Look at 'em, born with silver spoons in their mouths. I'd like to ask them, 'How do you relate to the middle class, given your background? Where can one parent stay home with kids?' We've lost a lot. The kids in the next generation will feel it."
Rocker Marilyn Manson, whose act was singled out for scorn by vice presidential candidate Joe Lieberman, on his preference in the national race: "If I had to pick, I'd pick Bush and not necessarily by default. I know I don't support what the other team is about."
High school government teacher Rose Harp of Richardson, telling the Dallas Morning News that students aren't as interested in politics as they used to be: "Free food is usually a big draw for kids. You see how far it's dropped if you can't get teenagers excited about free pizza."
U.S. Rep. Charles Stenholm, D-Abilene, on the power of conservative "Blue Dog" Democrats in a Congress without a strong partisan majority: "The philosophy of the Blue Dogs is going to be the governing philosophy, and [Minority Leader Dick] Gephardt realizes that. Everyone should. There will be no liberal legislation passing. And there will be no far-right legislation passing.
Economist Bernard Weinstein of the University of North Texas, on the state's economy: "For a long time, Texas was different. Well, it ain't another country anymore."
Texas Weekly: Volume 17, Issue 16, 16 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.