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Fighting Over the Steering Wheel

Rep. Todd Staples got a Sunday visit at home last week from Lt. Gov. Rick Perry, pollster Mike Baselice and former Rep. Mike Toomey, now a lobbyist for Texans for Lawsuit Reform. They wanted to talk about his campaign for state Senate, and apparently wanted to have that conversation outside the presence of his main political consultant, Bryan Eppstein of Fort Worth.

Rep. Todd Staples got a Sunday visit at home last week from Lt. Gov. Rick Perry, pollster Mike Baselice and former Rep. Mike Toomey, now a lobbyist for Texans for Lawsuit Reform. They wanted to talk about his campaign for state Senate, and apparently wanted to have that conversation outside the presence of his main political consultant, Bryan Eppstein of Fort Worth.

TLR has a bunch of money in the game, so they're entitled to at least ask what's going on. Perry's interest is natural, since the party that wins in SD-3 could gain partisan control of the Senate. And Baselice polls for both TLR and Perry, and has been doing surveys for TLR on how the race is going.

But this is showing some signs of turning into a contest over who is steering the Republican's campaign. A few weeks ago, at TLR's behest, Perry confederate David Weeks was called in to do new television ads to replace ads that Eppstein had done. Eppstein's were put together in haste -- Democrat David Fisher jumped on TV before the Republicans had expected -- and several folks watching the race thought the first Staples ads looked rinky-dink next to what Fisher was doing. Now Weeks and Eppstein are collaborating. Eppstein was doing the polling in the race. Now he and Baselice are both polling, in alternating weeks. Finally, TLR has camped Matt Welch, its PAC director, in an apartment in the district. He can move home when the race is over.

Ask them about it, and everybody says everything is going all right, that no big changes are being made, and that people with pesky questions ought to mind their own beeswax. It's a big happy family. But file this away for use if there's a political autopsy to be done on November 8.

At Least the Airwaves are Clear for Traffic

Part of the art or science of buying political advertising is figuring out what to do with the clutter of ads running for other candidates. In a normal election year, TV viewers witness several different races at once, and it's up to the ad-buyers to figure out how much advertising it will take to cut through. In most of Senate District 3 in East Texas, that's not a problem.

The presidential candidates have hardly noticed the state, since Bush is a lock here. U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison will do some advertising, but wasn't yet on the air at our deadline, and none of the other statewide races are buying television time. That has left a clear shot for Staples and for David Fisher for several weeks running, and both candidates have become minor-league celebrities just by being the only guys on TV.

The television has gone from the warm and fuzzy biographical phase to the muddier comparative phase. Staples is running a short, quick and funny ad that features a bunch of "toddlers for Todd" horsing around with bumper stickers while the announcer says the four-year-old kids have all lived in the district "longer than trial lawyer David Fisher." That's apparently an Eppstein ad.

Another spot, done by Weeks, slaps at Fisher for going to a Houston fundraiser instead of debating Staples about East Texas water. There's a duck in the ad, and it accuses Fisher of "ducking" the debate. Fisher did do a fundraiser in Houston with Mayor Lee Brown and others as special guests, but the part about skipping the debate is a put-up job. Staples called for a debate on the shores of Lake Livingston after hearing about the fundraiser. Both candidates say they would oppose letting Houston and other cities tapping into water supplies in the district.

Fisher, meanwhile, is running ads that say Staples allowed utility companies to pollute after taking their contributions, then "voted to allow waste dumps near our homes and schools."

Polls: Staples Ahead, or Fisher Abreast

There are two kinds of polls out there in East Texas: Democratic and Republican.

Anonymous Democrats say their polls show the race about even, and certainly competitive. Republicans, less anonymously, say Staples is ahead. Staples' consultant Eppstein says tracking polls show the Republican leading Fisher 46-34 among likely voters. (It also shows George W. Bush leading Al Gore by 64-24 in that district.) That poll has a margin of error of 4.9 percent. Eppstein says the numbers crunched that way in spite of the fact that only 17 percent of the respondents voted in the Republican primary; 34 percent voted in the Democrat primary. He says that Bush is showing potential for some coattail effect on down-ballot candidates this year.

Eppstein says his polling indicates the flap over voter eligibility in Polk County is having an effect on the Senate race, to the benefit of his candidate. That leads us to a bit of back-of-the-envelope math. There are 9,200 people who live in that Polk County RV park whose right to vote has been challenged. If their turnout on Election Day was 53 percent -- about the historical level -- and if they voted about 2-1 in favor of Republicans, then all this legal wrangling is over roughly 1,600 votes.

Both the House and Senate races in the area were decided by fewer votes last time around. If those votes are the entire basis for the fight, then it's logical to assume that the polls are dead even and that the combatants think it's worth the money they're spending to fight this fight to the last Winnebago. But there's another factor working: Watch for a pitch from the affected Republican campaigns -- Staples and Ben Bius, who's running for the House against Rep. Dan Ellis, D-Livingston -- to persuade their voters that Democrats were trying to take away their votes. That's the only way the Polk County food fight matters anywhere but in Polk County. And if it plays well for Republicans outside, it might not matter how the people in the RVs vote, or even whether they vote.

Taxing Mail, Washington Help, and Opposition Research

There's a tax hit on the way against Ann Kitchen in HD-48, detailing tax bills from the 1980s that her husband, Mark Yznaga, left unpaid until after she had won the primary earlier this year. The Jill Warren campaign's mitts are clean; the Associated Republicans of Texas are paying for the mailer. Kitchen worked 20 years ago for the IRS, and the mailer blasts her for enforcing taxes then and ignoring them more recently. As we've written, Yznaga's tax problems predated his marriage to Kitchen. She said earlier this year that they were unaware they still owed money until this year, in spite of court judgments and liens entered against them by the state.

• This will show up later in the reports, but reliable folks tell us that Denton lawyer Curtis Clinesmith is getting some national help in his challenge of U.S. Rep. Mac Thornberry, R-Clarendon. That'll show up as "large" in-kind contributions for direct mail from the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. Thornberry, meanwhile, has done some polling and contends not only that he's beating Clinesmith, but that Clinesmith is pulling fewer votes than Gene Kelly, the Universal City lawyer who's running against U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison. Kelly hasn't spent a dime campaigning and the Democratic Party wrote him off even before the primary, begging voters to choose a different candidate. According to Thornberry's campaign, he's leading with 71 percent of the vote to Clinesmith's 18 percent of the vote. That same survey, done by Baselice & Associates of Austin, had Gov. Bush beating Gore 66-27 and gave Hutchison a 71-20 lead over Kelly.

• The Republican Party of Texas has started researching the next gubernatorial race, paying a consultant to collect fodder on Antonio "Tony" Sanchez Jr. Sanchez is sniffing at a bid for governor should George W. Bush move to the East Coast in three weeks. Sanchez has contributed heavily to Bush -- he's one of the fundraising "Pioneers" in the presidential race -- and now serves on the University of Texas Board of Regents and the Governor's Business Council, both of which are filled by appointment. The governor's office got an open records request from the GOP's consultants, asking for any and all files connected to the Laredo businessman's appointments by Bush and by former Gov. Mark White, a Democrat who put Sanchez on the Texas Parks and Wildlife Commission in 1985.

The Other Texas Senate Race

The contest between Sen. David Cain, D-Dallas, and Republican Bob Deuell of Greenville is closer than some might have expected. Political hacks on both sides of this have been squawking for attention to this one for weeks, and now it's heating up.

Expect Deuell to come out talking about personal income taxes in the next few days. The IRS filed a number of liens against Cain for back taxes in Dallas and Travis Counties starting in 1987. The amounts ranged from a low of $18,357.17 to a high of $32,396.54. He settled the first of those in 1991 and the last of them in March of 1997 and now says he owes no overdue taxes. A spokesman says Cain and the IRS disagreed on what he owed and says he paid up as soon as the differences were settled. Deuell's camp points out that Cain bought a house during the same time period that his taxes were overdue. Voters will probably see this one either as a mail piece or a television commercial. Oddly, the tax issue never came up in Cain's earlier races, when the taxes were actually unpaid.

Those same voters are now getting mail hitting Deuell for a five-year-old letter in which he says some people ought to be allowed to carry guns in schools and other public places. The mail piece, headlined "Not in Our Schools," quotes him: "I see no reason to ban handguns from any school premise, building or other property." Another touts Cain's endorsement by the National Rifle Association and says he worked with that group and Gov. Bush on gun-free school zones.

At the end of September, Cain reported contributions of $327,134 and expenditures of $297,021. Deuell, for that same three-month period, reported inflows of $288,890 and outflows of $177,858. That's a piffling amount next to what's going on in Senate District 3 to the immediate south, but the money rained heavily on both sides after the reporting deadline. Both candidates are on television and have mail pieces in the air, too. (Deuell's first buys in the expensive market were initially concentrated on the Fort Worth-based NBC affiliate, but that's been corrected. Later buys are weighted to Dallas, which is more likely to have viewers in the East Texas counties Deuell would needs to win.)

Deuell was one of several candidates who got a September gift from the National Republican Congressional Committee. The NRCC put $40,000 in his account. The Texas Republican Party put in $16,000 in cash and $22,638 in in-kind "voter contact" contributions. Also on his list, noted here last week, were the Associated Republicans of Texas, which gave $70,000. The Texans for Lawsuit Reform PAC was quiet until after the report, but dropped in big bucks that will show up on the next filing and that are funding a moderate television campaign right now.

Deuell got big contributions from some of the larger regulars among conservative givers: Bob Perry of Houston gave him $15,000, James Leininger of San Antonio gave $10,000, as did J. Ralph Ellis of Irving, and David Hartman of Austin gave $7,500. Several individuals gave $5,000 each, including Louis Beecherl and Peter O'Donnell of Dallas, and John McGovern and William McMinn of Houston. The biggest recipient of those funds was Hendrix Elder and Associates, Deuell's campaign consultants, who pulled in a total of more than $77,000 during the three months.

Cain's accounts include big contributions from several union and trade association PACs, and the Texas Democratic Party, which gave him $41,000 in cash and another $3,300 in in-kind contributions. Contributions from a handful of union and employee committees, including AFSCME, the Texas AFL-CIO, and the Texas State Teachers Association PAC totaled $53,000. TSTA alone gave $25,000. Cain got $5,000 from Charles Joekel of Houston and from Morgan & Wisebrod of Dallas, $10,000 each from the New Democrat Network in Washington and from the PACs of the Texas Aggregates and Concrete Association, the Texas Medical Association and the Texas Automobile Dealers Association.

Cain also got $20,000 from the Lone Star Fund, a Washington-based PAC that's pouring money into Texas races, particularly those that are important to Democrats in the coming battle over redistricting. Cain's biggest expense -- a total of more than $73,000 during the period -- was for consulting by Winning Directions, a California-based outfit that does mail and voter contact work. Another $64,619 went to four consultants for a combination of polling, voter contact and advertising.

Purgatory for Archer, Respite for Bush

Texas Health Commissioner William "Reyn" Archer III will take a leave of absence from that job "pending further review of his management and leadership practices," according to Don Gilbert, the state's Health and Human Services Commissioner. The leave follows a newspaper report about a discrimination complaint filed against Archer and the agency by Dr. Demetria Montgomery, a former associate health commissioner. Montgomery taped Archer during a painfully awkward conversation in which he talked about her "spiritual problems," her race, and lynching.

That capped nearly a week of front-page stories in the Houston Chronicle, including two on that subject and three that started with news that Archer assistant Gerald "Jerry" Campbell had hired a one-time street person to conduct interviews of juvenile offenders for a special project at the health department without first posting the job, considering other candidates, or even requiring a resume from Andre Eleazer before the hiring. Campbell resigned shortly after that news became public.

Gilbert said he's in the process of doing annual evaluations of Archer and other agency heads under his purview and said he needs to do more investigation "in light of recent events and inappropriate comments attributed to Dr. Archer." In the meantime, Dr. Charles Bell will run the agency. Bell is the agency's executive deputy commissioner.

Legislators have been calling for Archer's head for months, particularly after comments he made about women and minorities. Until now, both the appointed board that hired him and Gov. George W. Bush, who signed off on his hiring, have backed him up. But with just days to go before the elections, Bush reacted quickly to news of the Montgomery tapes, saying the remarks were out of line. Gilbert, after talking with J.C. Chambers, the health board chairman, acted less than 24 hours later. A spokeswoman from the governor's state office said the governor supports the decision.

• Archer's predicament is but one of the Texas thorns that could prick a presidential aspirant's finger. But the thorn-removing operations proceed apace: The 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans said the state doesn't have to do anything right away about a federal judge's order to spend more money reaching out to kids who are supposed to be getting government health care and prevention in Texas. U.S. District Judge William Wayne Justice ordered the state to comply with a settlement agreement signed during Bush's time in office. Attorney General John Cornyn appealed, saying the court didn't properly credit the state for what it has done to comply with that agreement.

Outside of the courtroom, Republicans called Justice's ruling -- which made national news in the presidential context -- blatantly political. Whatever: The 5th Circuit decided to put the matter on hold until more hearings are held. From Bush's standpoint, that'll be safely after the elections.

Democrats the Republicans Hate to Love

The controversies over Democrats supporting Gov. Bush have been going since they started signing up, but the alliances formed during the governor's bid for the White House are uncomfortable for some of the folks in his own party. A fresh example: During the third presidential debate, Bush noted that he had Hugo Berlanga in his corner when he was trying to devise a way to start the Children's Health Insurance Program in Texas. Berlanga, who's now a lobbyist in Austin, was the Democratic chairman of the House Public Health Committee. (Democrats contend Bush tried to limit the program, but whatever he was doing, he says Berlanga helped.) Now the discomfort part: Berlanga was also one of the three founding directors of the Texas Partnership PAC, which was set up to protect Democratic incumbents in the Texas House and which is a regular foil of the Republican Party of Texas, which has been trying to knock off those incumbents for years. The two other founding directors of that Democratic organization are Rep. Rob Junell, D-San Angelo, and former Rep. Mark Stiles, D-Beaumont. They were already on the trail supporting Bush.

The Business Page: Political Finance Notes

A rundown of finances -- not all of the reports are available yet, but they're tricking in -- in some of the hot races for seats in the Texas House:

• HD-4 Rep. Betty Brown, R-Terrell, raised $36,180 and spent $22,828. Democrat Charles Elliott Jr. raised $2,503 and spent $12,802.

• HD-5 Rep. Bob Glaze, D-Gilmer, raised $53,278 and spent $36,889. Former Rep. Bill Hollowell, the Republican challenger, raised no money and spent $18,087. Hollowell has refused outside help from the GOP, which would like to assist in what they think is a winnable race. He even paid $2,240 for mailing lists from the state party, which he probably could have had for the asking. The Democrats are contributing on the other side, giving Glaze $17,500 in cash and in-kind contributions. Hollowell has spent money on signs and pens and the like, and is running an old-style door-to-door campaign. Glaze's spending includes $25,000 to the Thompson Group for mailers, advertising and phone banks.

• HD-9 Rep. Wayne Christian, R-Center, was supposed to be out of the woods, but the money isn't going his way, at least on the surface. Christian raised $59,077, spent $68,492, and had $4,359 in outstanding loans. Democrat Joe Evans raised $83,239 and spent $26,777. But scratch a bit, and you'll see that Evans' is getting the kind of help nobody else is getting this cycle, at least not in the same volume. The state Democratic Party is paying directly for some of his staff, his office rent and his direct mail costs. In all, the party has given Evans $47,875 in in-kind contributions.

• In HD-11, an open seat in East Texas, Republican Paul Woodard Jr. raised $126,427, spent $35,198 and had loans outstanding of $10,000. Woodard's incoming total includes a $45,000 check from the National Republican Congressional Committee. The NRCC gave to several Texas races during the period; initial reports had the money coming from the state GOP, since the folks there handed out the checks, but it wasn't Victory 2000 money as some -- including us -- thought at the time. Democrat Chuck Hopson raised $76,544 and spent $47,768.

• HD-18 Rep. Dan Ellis, D-Livingston, raised $68,467 and spent $17,902. Ben Bius, the Republican in that race, raised $133,460, spent $108,896 and had outstanding loans of $58,534. Bius got a $45,000 check from the NRCC.

• HD-20 Rep. Zeb Zbranek, D-Winnie, raised $59,726 and spent $27,861. He got significant help from Austin, in the form of about $25,000 in cash and in-kind money from the Texas Democratic Party. Republican Eddie Shauberger raised $22,528, spent $18,763, and had loans outstanding of $35,000.

• HD-21 Rep. Alan Ritter, D-Nederland, raised $151,976 and spent $58,041, in what is becoming one of the more expensive races around. Republican Mary Jane Avery raised $141,150, spent $53,523, and owed $7,000 in loans. Avery was one of the recipients of a $45,000 NRCC check.

• HD-28 Rep. Robby Cook, D-Eagle Lake, raised $78,807 and spent $28,569. Republican Phil Stephenson raised $65,530, spent 43,708 and had $30,500 in outstanding loans.

• In HD-48, an open seat in Austin, Republican Jill Warren raised $176,261, spent $101,582 and had loans outstanding of $61,184. She got one of those $45,000 NRCC checks. Democrat Ann Kitchen raised $133,496, spent $55,747 and had outstanding loans of $97,600.

• HD-68, Rep. Rick Hardcastle, R-Vernon, raised $28,547, spent $53,753 and had loans outstanding of $10,535. Democrat Betty Furr Richie raised $11,460, spent $23,915, and had borrowed $60,937.

• HD-73 Rep. Bob Turner, D-Voss, raised $66,510 and spent $73,182. Republican Steve Fryar raised $124,882 and spent $37,751. That incoming number for Fryar includes $37,000 from Associated Republicans of Texas, and $45,000 from the NRCC.

Round it all off with a couple of fundraising notes: Senate candidate David Fisher sent out a late fundraising plea that implies he's not getting money he expected and thus needs help... Citizens Against Lawsuit Abuse estimates two PACs with heavy concentrations of plaintiff lawyer money -- the Constitutional Defense Fund and Texas 2000 -- had almost $2 million on hand at the end of September. CALA's East Texas chapter hosts a debate in the Fisher-Staples race on October 24.

Political People and Their Moves

Secretary of the Senate Betty King, the heart and soul of the Legislature's upper chamber, says she will retire before the regular session begins in January. King started working at the Capitol in 1947 and was elected to her current posting in 1977. She can keep a secret better than anybody else, and has a knack for improving the situation simply by walking into a room. Her retirement isn't completely unexpected, but it left everyone in the Pink Building in teary-eyed shock at the idea of a Texas Senate without Mrs. King. The Senate will meet after the elections to pick a successor... Land Commissioner David Dewhurst stayed in house when filling an empty post, naming John Sneed the deputy commissioner in charge of intergovernmental relations and policy... After 15 years as spokesman for the Texas Department of Public Safety, Mike Cox is retiring from that job and moving over to the Texas Press Association, where he'll be the director of membership services... Marc Palazzo, who had been the figurative javelin catcher for GTECH, the state's controversial lottery contractor, now moves to the same job -- handling Texas press inquiries -- for Koch Industries. Palazzo did a short stint with American Management Systems before moving to Koch, where his first crisis was dealing with reporters about federal indictments alleging the company covered up illegal chemical releases... Rep. Irma Rangel, D-Kingsville, has been fighting an aggressive form of cancer but says her doctors have now labeled her a survivor: Her cancer is in remission... Deaths: Janey Briscoe, former Texas First Lady and equal partner with former Gov. Dolph Briscoe, to whom she was married for 58 years. Among many accomplishments: She was a University of Texas Regent, got the Texas Governor's Mansion on the National Historic Register, and pulled together the money to build a children's wing at University Hospital in San Antonio. She was 76... Frank Junell, a San Angelo powerhouse, chairman of the first board of regents at Texas Tech, and the father of three kids, including the chairman of the House Appropriations Committee. He was 85.

Quotes of the Week

Kirsten Voinis, spokeswoman for Republican state Senate candidate Todd Staples, after Democrat David Fisher pooh-poohed a former pitcher's endorsement of Staples: "If Mr. Fisher wants to pick a fight with Nolan Ryan, I’d suggest he consult first with Robin Ventura."

Texas Secretary of State Elton Bomer, after someone noted that Gov. George W. Bush has never been to a colonia: You don't have to go to Alaska to know it's cold, and I don't think you have to go to a colonia to know what it's like."

From the beginning of a automated telephone come-on for Green Party presidential candidate Ralph Nader: "This is Jim Hightower, author and radio commentator..." Hightower is also a former Texas Agriculture Commissioner who won his two terms there as a Democrat.

U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, R-Dallas, telling the Austin American-Statesman what she might be talking about if she decides to run for governor in two years: "We should look at our state budget and our priorities, from the bottom up. I just think that nobody has taken the time to really determine if we are giving the best and most efficient government."

Public Broadcasting's Jim Lehrer, on criticism of how he ran the presidential debates: "If somebody wants to be entertained, they ought to go to the circus. They ought to go to the movies or they ought to go to a ballgame. I didn't sign on to entertain people for 90 minutes three times. These have been tremendous exercises for democracy."

Internet consultant John Aravosis of Wired Strategies, on the pitfalls of using voter databases to target voters most likely to favor a particular candidate: "It scares the hell out of me. Political information is per se more sensitive. People have no clue about what these companies do."

Texas Discovery Garden director Michael Cheever, explaining why that Dallas institution turned away a particular piece of art: "It really wouldn't be appropriate to our mission, and I have no place to put it in our incredibly tight space. It didn't have anything to do with me having a problem with a 7-foot-tall gold-plated naked woman."

Texas Weekly: Volume 17, Issue 17, 23 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 For news, email, or call (512) 288-6598.

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