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Fighting Over Steering Wheels, Part II

Turns out the Republicans aren't the only folks fighting at the dinner table in Senate District 3. The Democrats are at it, too. The general consultants and media folks for David Fisher, the Silsbee attorney trying to wrest that seat from the Republicans, bailed with just a few weeks to go, and Fisher had to come back and hire someone to take over media buys for the rest of the race.

Turns out the Republicans aren't the only folks fighting at the dinner table in Senate District 3. The Democrats are at it, too. The general consultants and media folks for David Fisher, the Silsbee attorney trying to wrest that seat from the Republicans, bailed with just a few weeks to go, and Fisher had to come back and hire someone to take over media buys for the rest of the race.

The firm of Rindy/Miller/Bates had been the general consultant and media outfit from the beginning. But they apparently disagreed with how things were being done, and they resigned with less than a month to go. The business of buying ads for the campaign will fall to The Davis Group, based in Austin. General consulting is a little trickier: Nobody is officially taking that post, but the campaign is consulting regularly with George Shipley, the Austin-based political guru who most recently has been working with the five attorneys who won the tobacco lawsuit on behalf of the state.

All of the campaign's ads were apparently produced before Rindy/Miller/Bates were gone. If they need a spot that's not in the can before the elections in a week or so, Shipley and Herb Holland, who's been doing some of the radio writing for the campaign (and who often works with Shipley), could pull something together. A lot of ad time had been purchased through them as well: The campaign paid the firm a total of $531,585 for July, August and September, a good deal of which went straight through for television time. The consultants had also reserved time for the end of the campaign.

Here's a trend: None of the folks involved would comment on the record; all of them said that, despite the turbulence, everything is fine. They sound just like the Republicans.

Speaking of the Republicans: Matt Welch is back in Houston. He had been moved, by the folks at Texans for Lawsuit Reform, to Palestine to help with the Staples campaign. That was supposed to last through Election Day, but he went home after a couple of days in East Texas. Bryan Eppstein, the general consultant to Todd Staples, the GOP's candidate in the race, took issue with those who said his television ads were less than great. He has poll numbers that show the ads were doing their job and overtaking Fisher's ads.

A Quick Swing through East Texas

Staples once again hired a bus to take people from the Rainbow's End RV Park to the federal courthouse in Beaumont, saying the "Freedom Riders" wanted to be at the latest hearings over whether all of them are eligible to vote. The point was to pin Fisher with blame for the challenge. He ices the cake with a letter from his mom and dad to voters in the district, blaming Fisher for the voter episode in Polk County and urging people to vote.

Staples also has a radio ad running, featuring actor Chuck Norris contending that the Texas State Troopers Association is supporting Staples for Senate, and noting they voted Staples their legislator of the year. They quote the executive director of that association as thanking him for his work in the Legislature. That support is also noted in the letter from Staples' parents to voters in the district. But hang on: That ain't an endorsement, according to Fisher and to group's founder and president. Lee Johnson says the group never has endorsed political candidates. Hang on again: Former Rep. Buzz Robnett, the group's lobbyist, says they do support Staples, but didn't endorse him.

A last snap of the towel: A debate between the two was a draw by most accounts, but the voters on the Internet favored Staples. Fisher got wind of an email that might say why: The Staples campaign sent out a missive asking people to vote in that poll "even if you don't live in Texas!"

Quietly, Delicately Planning a Transition

Suppose you're Lt. Gov. Rick Perry. You'll find out in a little more than a week whether you're still the Lite Guv or whether Gov. George W. Bush won the presidency and now you're the governor.

If, in the first case, Bush loses, you keep rocking along and serve out the remaining two years of your term, perhaps with your eye on a run for higher office -- or reelection -- in 2002. Your staff mostly remains in place and the biggest item on your plate is how to settle a grouchy group of senators who have been clawing at each other over which of them should get your job in a succession gambit. Redistricting is coming up. The budget is tighter than anyone wants to talk about. And there are some angry Republicans wondering what went wrong with the presidential campaign.

Door Number Two: Bush is on his way to 1600 Pennsylvania Ave., and you have about 60 days to jump into the governor's job. You get to serve out the rest of his term and get ready for a race for reelection to the state's top elected post in 2002. You have to hire additional staff (at a time when the new president is also scooping up talent), get up to speed on appointments in progress and not in progress, and help the most successful of the clawing senators take over your old office and hire a staff of her or his own. Redistricting is coming up. The budget is tighter than anyone wants to talk about. And there are some angry Democrats wondering what went wrong with the presidential campaign.

It's not like he has his house on the market or anything, but Perry confidants have been working quietly for months to plan a transition, if there is to be one, from the lieutenant governor's office to the governor's office. They're sensitive to the idea that they're measuring the drapes for a move that might not take place. They're quick to say that this is more an act of caution than of overconfidence. But there it is: If Bush wins, Perry wants a takeover plan in place.

There's not a formal transition team and won't be until and unless Bush is elected president. But there is a group of people informally helping Perry figure out a startup plan. That includes Barry McBee, his chief of staff, lobbyists and consultants like Mike Toomey, Cliff Johnson, Ric Williamson, and Rossanna Salazar. Toomey, Johnson and Williamson all served in the House with Perry; Salazar was his first press secretary when he was elected agriculture commissioner. Perry is also talking with people who used to work in the governor's office, like James Huffines and Jim Oberwetter, both of whom worked for Gov. Bill Clements before returning to the private sector. That's not a definitive list, but it's a good start. If Bush wins, they'll do something more formal, and a formal group would probably not include hired-gun lobbyists who have several clients, such as Toomey and Johnson.

It might be unseemly to talk about transition plans right now, and it's déclassé to start thinking about where to hang that painting of former Gov. Lawrence Sullivan Ross. Perry is less shy about his future in his current fundraising appeals. There's a letter from U.S. Sen. Phil Gramm of Texas saying Perry's position on the ladder has made him "the chief target for every personal injury trial lawyer, liberal special interest and Democrat operative in the state." He says those groups are working to recruit candidates to run against Perry and makes a pitch for contributions of up to $1,000.

Lite Guv Gossip and Rumores de Endorsamiento

They all sounded like unusually nice comments to the rest of the crowd at Sen. J.E. "Buster" Brown's fundraiser in Austin, but the introduction -- in Spanish -- from Sen. Gonzalo Barrientos, D-Austin, was not an endorsement for a Brown bid for lieutenant governor. Barrientos went to the mike, said some nice things about the Republican from Lake Jackson, followed with "I love this guy," and handed the mike back. Sen. John Whitmire, D-Houston, followed, said "Me, too," and half the crowd walked out saying Buster had picked up two votes for a Lite Guv bid if Gov. Bush is elected. Barrientos is staying with his "keep the powder dry" program, and says he's not endorsing anyone.

A Competitive Statewide Democrat?

The only officially sanctioned Democrat running for statewide office in Texas is quietly making headway in his race for presiding judge of the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals. Bill Vance, a Waco judge, is running against Sharon Keller, a controversial judge who's been on the Austin appeals court since 1994. That little-watched criminal panel is half of the state's high court: The Texas Supreme Court is the civil side. Vance was the only guy hanging around Democratic Party headquarters on filing day last January who a) was welcomed by the party, and b) survived the primaries.

Some observers expected him to make hay of a real estate investment, since Keller owns a building on Dallas' Lemmon Avenue that houses a strip club. But what has caught fire is a case that came before the court: Keller wrote the majority opinion that said Roy Criner didn't deserve a new trial on rape and murder charges in spite of new evidence that his DNA didn't match up with evidence from the crime scene. Though he lost the appeal -- it was a majority opinion, after all -- Criner later won a pardon in the wake of reports on the case and on other DNA evidence and was freed this summer.

Judges don't generally talk about cases when they're campaigning because legal canons limit what can be said. Vance says cases should get more careful review than they do now, and lets the editorial writers fill in the details. That, they have done: He's been endorsed, for whatever that's worth, by most of the state's mid- and large-sized newspapers.

She raised $3,825 and spent $33 during the period that started June 30 and ended October 8. Her report says she had no money in the bank at the end of that period. The dates she put on her report are a little odd: The reporting period described in the campaign finance laws ended September 28. Vance has been more active on the campaign finance front, raising $66,322, spending $18,212 and reporting a $115,348 balance on hand at the end of September. His report is 96 pages long; Keller's is 6 pages long and doesn't itemize her meager expenditures.

Repeat: Don't Repeat the Charges

Mamas of political hacks told them early to never, ever, ever, repeat an opponent's negative charges. But it happens every year. Republican Jill Warren put out a mailer whacking Democrat Ann Kitchen for back taxes that were owed by Kitchen's husband, Mark Yznaga, until last March. Begin with some clarity: She never owed the taxes, and he has paid them and is now in good standing.

Not everybody saw that attack, but Kitchen made up for that, sending out a single-sheet 5-by-7-inch "Voter Alert" that repeats the charges in different light that is more favorable to her. In the mailer, Kitchen points out that Yznaga's tax debts were his alone, that they resulted from a business bust that predated both their acquaintance and their marriage, and that Kitchen's job at the IRS was 20 years ago and "long before any of this occurred."

She rightly claims the tax debts weren't hers. But the Warren mailer makes that same distinction, never saying Kitchen herself owed anything. The Kitchen mailer closes with a word from Rep. Sherri Greenberg, D-Austin, whose legislative seat is the one at stake here. Greenberg, who supports Kitchen, calls the issues "last-minute desperate attacks" by the Republican. Some voters will never see the Warren mailer, though: Their only word of the attacks came in the Kitchen mailer.

Separately, Kitchen has another, slicker, mailer in the post that calls her a "nationally recognized health care expert" and says she wants to make health care more affordable by cutting into prescription drug costs. Health care is also the subject of Warren's newest mailer, but where Kitchen is touting herself on one hand and defending on the other, Warren's mail combines an attack on the Democrat with a tout for herself.

Warren's latest slap is that Kitchen consults HMOs on how to run their businesses. It then plays off the public's disregard for those organizations. The net effect, if you don't give the thing your full attention, is to make Warren look like the Democrat in the race or at least on that issue. In fact, Warren's mailers, signs and television commercials make no mention of her Republican affiliation in the traditionally Democratic district. The word "Republican" never appears in her stuff.

Keep Your Eyes on the Road

Sure, it's election season, but it's also the time of year when you start seeing everyone getting positioned for the legislative session, and, if they're farsighted enough, for the elections two years from now. That's why Lt. Gov. Rick Perry is staking out a position on transportation issues, and it's also why Comptroller Carole Keeton Rylander sent two of her top aides -- Special Assistants Tracy Wurzel and Mark Sanders -- to take notes at Perry's press conference on the subject.

Rylander's shop is working on a legislatively mandated review of the Texas Department of Transportation. Folks at TXDOT, an insular bunch, are expecting something less than high praise from the comptroller's review when that comes out before the legislative session in January. Legislative attempts to get a peek at the comptroller's working papers have apparently been futile. The comptroller's office is notoriously stingy with details about performance reviews, and the competitive tension on this subject between Rylander and Perry has made the secrets that much more dear.

Perry, on the other hand, joined with Transportation Commission Chairman Johnny Johnson of Houston to talk about getting more money for highways. The political interest is tied to traffic jams: Those are unhappy voters in those cars on the highways.

Perry wants to look at so-called GARVEE bonds, which are repaid out of future federal highway dollars and have caused some excess stomach acid from TXDOT and highway contractors, at general obligation bonds that could be paid with relatively small amounts of "new" highway money, and at "Pavement Warranties," which require contractors to come back after a few years to fix problems with the roads and bridges they built. Those aren't popular with contractors, either.

The GARVEE bonds were backed by the comptroller two years ago and passed the Senate. The House, which was listening to the highway folks, didn't even hold hearings on the bonds. A work-around might be possible, however: The opposition from the TXDOT/contractor axis is based on the fear that money is being taken out of the road pot to pay for debt. If lawmakers can come up with a GARVEE or other bonding system that doesn't reduce the amount of money going into pavement, the opposition dissipates.

One of TXDOT's rallying points is that the state is taking care of only about 36 percent of its transportation needs with current spending of about $5 billion. But ask them what it would cost to take care of all of the problems on their list, and the agency's top officials get shy. They say it wouldn't be accurate to do a straight-line estimate and say that $13.8 billion would cover the problem. And neither they nor Perry, given the opportunity, jumped in to say how much of the unmet needs they think the state can cover. Part of the problem is that they don't know how much money will be available.

The pitch from Republicans -- Johnson was wearing his Bush-Cheney 2000 button at the state press conference -- is that a Texas president might be more likely to cut the state a better deal on discretionary federal highway dollars. Such money could be used for debt service on highway bonds or for direct spending on highways.

Voters: Motor and Latino Divisions

David Fisher and Rep. Dan Ellis, D-Livingston, have tried to stay out of the fight over the Escapees in Polk County. They say they weren't involved, although consultants and allies of both the Democratic candidates pushed the challenges. Their opponents are trying to pin them with it, however, as much for the benefit of other voters in the district as for the folks in the RV park. The Republicans' hope is that the flap in Polk County will rile other voters and rally them to the GOP. The courts have already said folks who list the RV park as their residence will get to vote, but there's a chance their votes could get thrown out later.

If nothing else can be said about the situation, this can be said: It has stirred voter interest in Polk County. As of noon on October 25, less than a week into the early voting period, the county clerk's office had mailed out 5,630 absentee ballots to folks who requested them and had received 2,158 back. Total early voting -- two weeks worth -- came to 4,191 two years ago. This is a presidential year and voters are more likely to show up, but early voting this year was already 3,209 at that date. How they're voting will remain unknown until November 7, but they're active. That's probably good news for Republicans, who've been using radio, newspapers, and mail to make sure people in that area have heard the claim that Democrats are trying to take away their right to vote.

• The Latino vote in Texas hasn't gotten much ink since the presidential race hasn't visited and because it's not really a factor in the few statewide races on the ballot. But the numbers are worth a note. The William C. Velasquez Institute in San Antonio says that 1.9 million Latinos are registered to vote in Texas, or about 20.2 percent of the total. For comparison, there were 368,717 more Latino voters here in August than four years ago, during the last presidential elections. The organization predicts 55 percent of those folks will vote. Nationally, they estimate up to 7.7 million Latinos are registered to vote.

Big Jobs for Big Friends, Miscellany

It's not unusual, but it is worth noting that there's a tally of how much money Bush's appointees to various boards and commissions donated to his two campaigns for governor. Texans for Public Justice added it all up and concluded that 122 people appointed by the governor to serve on 50 state boards and commissions gave a total of $1.4 million to his campaigns. In a report called "Well-Appointed Officials," the nonprofit group says that a pile of that loot -- $432,606 -- came from ten appointees to the board of regents at the University of Texas (A&M regents appointed by Bush gave him $85,000, the group said). Add in other college boards for a total of 76 trustees, and the total dollar amount ascends to $679,106. The authors looked at 416 appointees in all. The 291 who didn't make that first group made more modest donations to the governor's state races -- an average of less than $1,000 each. The group also points out that Bush was only doing what other governors have done. The Texas Parks and Wildlife Commission was the second most popular spot for big donors to Bush; his ten appointees there gave $201,877. List his appointees by the amount given, and the first five on the list include three UT Regents and two Parks and Wildlife Commissioners. Those five Texans alone contributed $501,449 to Bush's gubernatorial campaigns.

MISCELLANY: Lt. Gov. Rick Perry held an impromptu press conference too close to the polling place where he had just finished casting his vote. None of the election judges or other county employees at the scene raised a question at the time. But the county clerk -- Democrat Dana Debeauvoir -- wrote a letter asking Travis County Attorney Ken Oden whether Perry had campaigned too close to the booths, which evolved into a towel snap in the papers. Oden says it didn't look like Perry meant to violate the polling space. He won't prosecute... The Alamo PAC, set up by Rep. Tommy Merritt, R-Longview, and others to defend Republican incumbents in the Texas House, is helping in two races, Merritt says: Rep. Rick Hardcastle, R-Vernon, and Elvira Reyna, R-Mesquite... Burson-Marsteller opened an Austin office a while back, and now they have work: They landed a four-year, $36 million deal with the Public Utility Commission to explain electric deregulation to Texans.

Political People and Their Moves

Press corps moves: Long-time Houston Chronicle reporter Kathy Walt is jumping out of that frying pan and into the press operation for Lt. Gov. Rick Perry. Walt, a journalist for 30 years, was with the Chronk for 13 years, reporting first from Huntsville before moving to Austin in 1994. She'll start with Perry on November 6, and will find out a day later, when George W. Bush either wins or loses the presidential race, whether she's working for a Lite Guv or a Guv... Gardner Selby is coming back to the journalism fold after five years in the relative wilderness. Selby will work in the Austin Bureau of the San Antonio Express-News. He was with the Houston Post when that paper folded in 1995 and worked for the Comptroller of Public Accounts after that... Christopher Lee is leaving the Austin Bureau of the Dallas Morning News for that paper's Washington, D.C., office. He'll start covering the Texas congressional delegation at the end of the year.

Hector Romero is punching the time clock at Humana and moving over to DuPont, where he will run state governmental affairs. Bill Stanhouse had been handling DuPont's Austin business; he's off to work on their federal affairs now and has already relocated to Washington, D.C. Humana has not named a replacement for Romero...

Mark Loeffler's dangerous experiment -- writing about elected officials while on the staff of Sen. Mike Jackson, R-LaPorte -- ended several weeks ago when he left the Senate. Now Loeffler says he'll continue to scribble, posting election news on his Internet site, TexasCampaigns.Net. (He started with a broadside at Texas Land Commissioner David Dewhurst, who he blames for getting him pushed out of his state job. His main gig will be Quantum Graphics, a company he started to do Internet and other design work, including direct mail...

Dr. William Reynolds "Reyn" Archer III resigned a few days after he was put on leave for comments made to a high-level employee. Archer, son of U.S. Rep. Bill Archer Jr., R-Houston, headed the state agency for three years. Dr. Charles Bell will be acting commissioner until a replacement is hired... Dr. Steve Hotze, the well-known conservative activist from Houston, was arrested for drunk driving after 1 a.m. in Memorial Park... Appointments: Gov. Bush reappointed Jerome Johnson of Amarillo to the Texas Ethics Commission, and named Mickey Jo Lawrence, a Houston attorney, to an empty spot on that panel...

Quotes of the Week

Gov. George W. Bush, cutting up at the annual Al Smith dinner in New York: "This is an impressive crowd: The Haves and the Have Mores. Some people call you the elite. I call you my base."

Former Land Commissioner Garry Mauro, now head of Al Gore's Texas campaign, telling the San Antonio Express-News what he thinks of Democrats, like Rep. Henry Cuellar of Laredo, who support Bush, a Republican, for president: "There is such a thing as having core values, a moral core. And political expediency is the opposite of having a moral core. It's nice to know which one of the members of our parties are political whores."

National political consultant Joseph Napolitan, in an interview with The New York Times on campaign finance: "I don't understand why someone would spend $2 million to get elected to a $125,000 a year job. But they do it all the time."

Assistant U.S. Attorney Dale Kelberman of Maryland, on what happened the last time that he convicted a lobbyist there: "His income went up to $400,000 a year after the conviction. It was very disheartening..."

Austin businessman Doug Johnson, on why he drives a truck and his wife drives a sports utility vehicle: "Driving a small car now would be like taking a knife to a gun fight."

Porn impresario Larry Flynt, owner of Hustler, commenting on big companies with subsidiaries that sell sex videos and movies on cable television: "We're in the small leagues compared to some of those companies like General Motors or AT&T. It doesn't surprise me that they got into it. I've always said that other than the desire for survival, the strongest desire we have is for sex."

Texas Weekly: Volume 17, Issue 18, 30 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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