The rural areas are in worse shape than they were expecting. The suburbs are in better shape than they were expecting. The urban areas are in both better and worse shape—maybe it's just disturbingly different than they expected. There is not a GOP primary for governor on the horizon.
In short: The numbers are out, the lawsuits are flying, the political landscape is in flux, and the Legislature isn't even quite to the halfway point.
Broadly, the 2000 Census numbers that are still trickling out have the trends that most watchers were expecting, only more so. The strength of West and East Texas is lower than expected. Harris and Dallas counties should hang onto their full delegations, and the suburbs are gaining faster than anywhere else, even including South Texas.
Look at some of the anecdotes.
The three most over-populated seats in the Texas Senate belong to Jane Nelson of Flower Mound, Florence Shapiro of Plano and Jeff Wentworth of San Antonio. Most of Wentworth's district is in the Central Texas suburbs; all three are suburban or largely so, and all three are Republicans. Between the three of them, they have more than half a million extra people. Each has a nearly 100 percent chance of reelection in a new district, if they want it and play everything right.
The three most under-populated seats belong to Eliot Shapleigh of El Paso, Mario Gallegos of Houston and Frank Madla of San Antonio. All are urban Democrats. Oddly, each has a great chance of reelection, too. Shapleigh will have to spread to the east to gain population, but he's out there on the tip of the state where he can't be surrounded. Madla and Gallegos are protected because of legal restrictions against wiping out minority districts.
One trend that seemed more solid before the final numbers came out was the plight of urban Anglo Democrats in the Senate and in Congress (They're still in trouble in the Texas House.) Their districts aren't as mashed as they might have been, but they could still be battlegrounds. Republicans will tend to argue that the shortages of people in minority areas should come from adjacent Democratic districts, thus preserving the minority districts. The Democrats have pointed out areas, in Houston, for instance, where minority growth in districts held by Republicans has been strong. They'll send the mapmakers in that direction.
Texas House districts, because they're smaller, show off some of the trends, too. San Antonio lost power in this Census and will almost certain lose one of its House seats. El Paso, likewise, didn't grow as quickly as the rest of the state and there will be some serious redrawing there. West and East Texas lost juice, probably two seats each. And the growth in the Dallas-Fort Worth and Central Texas areas was strongest of all. Republicans will argue that the state's two new congressional seats should go there; Democrats will concede Dallas-Fort Worth and argue that the other seat belongs in the other heavy growth area on the map: South Texas.
This next bit is pretty soft, but in conversations with various contestants in this reapportionment, it looks like there are a total of maybe 30 seats in play in the three chambers. In the Texas House, the real fighting will be over about 15 to 20 seats. Put another way, the high end for Democrats—if they had a great time and won every single fight—would be 80 seats. The high end for Republicans—same conditions—would be around 95 seats. That's a 25-vote swing for either party from Best to Worst. In the Congress, it's about a six-vote swing, and in the Texas Senate, it's four or five votes from top to bottom. It's soft, we'll concede, but that's how the partisans are talking.
It All Depends on What You Mean by "Fair"
The Democrats working on redistricting would like to vociferously dispute a standing GOP claim that 58 percent of the voters pull Republican levers and that the legislative makeup should reflect that.
Their end of the argument—advanced by IMPAC 2000, the redistricting effort for congressional Democrats—is that Texans voted Republicans into all of the statewide offices and then turned around and voted 17 Democrats into the 30-member congressional delegation, 78 into the 150-member House and 15 into the 31-member Senate.
The Republicans, they say, are ignoring the ticket-splitters. George W. Bush won in 28 congressional districts in his 1998 gubernatorial reelection campaign, in 127 of 150 House districts, and in 22 of 31 Senate districts. Voters, meanwhile, gave Democrats majorities in the first two chambers, and gave Republicans only a one-vote margin in the third.
If you read the House district stats all the way down the 1998 statewide ballot, you can see voters flitting all over the place. Rick Perry, running for lieutenant governor, won in 71 of 150 House districts. Attorney General John Cornyn won in 79 districts. Comptroller Carole Keeton Rylander won in 70 House districts and Land Commissioner David Dewhurst won in 94. Everyone on that list won their statewide election—even those who lost in most of the Senate districts.
The next line of disagreement, and there's a congressional seat going to the winner of the fight, is over whether Republican growth in the suburbs outstripped growth of traditionally Democratic Hispanic and African-American population gains. The Republicans want that last congressional seat to go in Central Texas; Democrats want it in South Texas.
The Republicans, as we mentioned a few weeks back, believe that under any "fair" plan, they should have solid majorities in the Legislature and in the Texas congressional delegation.
In response, the Democrats say a "fair" plan would leave things in flux, with the partisan majorities determined in a relatively small number of districts that could, on a given day, be won by either a Democrat or a Republican.
More Mapmakers Than Rand McNally
Five state senators have banded together to hire Mark Seale away from MCI Worldcom to work on their redistricting maps. They are explicitly not together to draw plans for anyone outside the group; Seale, who'll be on the state payroll, will be working on the specific plans for each senator without trying to come up with a statewide strategy for the whole Senate, or even just for all the Republicans in the Senate. That said, he says he will be looking at both Senate and congressional plans.
The flipside is that he won't look at, touch, smell, or think about House maps. In the territorial realm of the Pink Building, that's a no-no. (An example: House Redistricting Chairman Delwin Jones, R-Lubbock, handed out maps showing how the new Census numbers look in current districts, but he only handed out maps for Congress, the House and the State Board of Education. He didn't want to interfere, even in the slightest way, with the Senate. Seale is following the same unwritten rules.)
Seale, a former Senate employee who worked for then state Rep. and now U.S. Rep. Sam Johnson in the 1991 redistricting, should show up on the Senate payroll by the time you read this. His salary will come from five Republican senators: John Carona of Dallas, Troy Fraser of Horseshoe Bay, Mike Jackson of La Porte, Steve Ogden of Bryan, and Todd Staples of Palestine.
• As this rolls along, there's a one-stop source of info. Look at the rapidly growing pile of files at the Texas Legislative Council website, all of it pertaining to redistricting. Keep it; it'll be a continuing source of pleasure and pain if you're following or involved in the political mapping exercises of the next 70 days.
Um, Never Mind
If you start talking about a political campaign against an incumbent governor, chances are that people will blame you—and the speculation about your bid—for everything that goes wrong for that governor. Just ask U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, who apparently was being tagged by folks in the GOP for every ill suffered by the party in Austin.
Her response? She won't run for governor against Rick Perry. After a month and a half of public flirtation with the idea of a gubernatorial bid, she made her first and only official pronouncement on the matter: She's out, and does not "foresee any plans for public office except to continue" on as a U.S. senator from Texas.
Hutchison left a very narrow window for a future state bid, but you have to squint to see it and even then it might be a mirage: She said she won't be "a candidate for governor in the Republican primary of 2002 with Rick Perry." Should he stumble or decide to grab at something else in the political realm, however, she could get back in. She and her advisors are keeping close watch over what happens during the legislative session with redistricting, state finances, and with school funding formulas that have some districts in the state upset about so-called "Robin Hood" schemes that require wealthier districts to send money to poorer ones.
The announcement brought bipartisan sighs of relief. Republicans—even some who would rather have a different governor—don't want a bloody primary. Many Democrats think Hutchison would be a tougher foe in next year's general election than Perry. She does have higher name recognition and can pull some crossover votes, on the one hand. But it's hard to knock down an incumbent governor in his own primaries unless something disastrous strikes. So far, there are no disasters and so Hutchison has no rationale for a candidacy.
Another Fresh Face and Other Political Wonderments
Add another name to the list of Democrats who want to be governor. You'll need to read this twice. The name is John Worldpeace. That's the actual, legal name of a Houston lawyer. It's on the website announcing his candidacy—www.johnworldpeace.org—and it's in the legal directories showing him as a current member of the bar and all that.
Mr. Worldpeace calls himself a Blue Dog Democrat, says that means he's about 55 percent Democrat and 45 percent Republican. He broadly spells out some of his positions (pro-environment, pro-law and order, strongly in favor of rights of non-custodial parents), and makes a mention of Marty Akins, who has said he'll run for governor as a Democrat, but no mention of Tony Sanchez Jr.
• Austin consultant and former Public Utility Commissioner Al Erwin says that he is, in fact, an old friend of Land Commissioner David Dewhurst. But rumors that have him signing on to run Dewhurst's campaign for lieutenant governor are not correct. Erwin says he will be doing some work for Falcon Seaboard, Dewhurst's company, but that's the extent of it.
• The Travis County Democratic Party is holding a fundraiser later this month with an unusual draw. The money-attracting name on such an event ordinarily belongs to a politico or an entertainer or someone who can make giraffes stand on golf balls while playing the clarinet. And it's generally someone who has declared allegiance, or implied it, to the Party. This time, however, it'll be TV anchor Dan Rather headlining for the Democrats. His daughter, Robin Rather, who is being touted in Austin as a future mayoral prospect, is listed as one of the hosts. Tickets start at $150 and Democrats who give $500 or more get to go to a private reception with the anchorman. The invites say Rather will talk about "Power Shifts and Aftershocks: an insider view on politics and power."
• If you give a large animal a brain the size of a walnut, you get mistakes like the one we made right here a couple of weeks ago. To wit: The Mayor of Amarillo is Kel Seliger, and not whatever we said his name was back in the February haze. Also, Trent Sisemore, who would like to succeed the mayor, has been a city commissioner in Amarillo for three terms, not three years.
No Cost, at Least at First
What is now called the "Texas Economic Development Act" used to be called The Intel bill because that chip-making company wanted to build a plant near Fort Worth and would have been the most obvious beneficiary. But the sponsors have fiddled with it and expanded their argument and now say Texas has fallen off the map for other new capital-intensive projects. Some of those were lost to other states like, gasp!, Oklahoma, where tax incentives are more plentiful. It's not just Intel anymore.
That's why, according to two Arlington Republicans—Rep. Kim Brimer and Sen. Chris Harris—the state needs to allow school property tax abatements. The latest version of the idea would allow local school districts to offer abatements in specified amounts under specific conditions for up to eight years. The state wouldn't penalize the districts financially, as it does now, for giving up part of the local tax base that helps determine state aid.
The taxpayer building a big plant—this is aimed solely at very large projects—would pay taxes at the regular rate for two years, then at a capped lower rate for five years, then would go back to the market value of the property for figuring taxes. The state's number-crunchers and the promoters of the legislation managed to push the costs of the program out into the years that aren't in the next budget. If it passes as written, the $96 million annual cost to public education funds won't hit budgets until 2006. By then, they argue, the benefits will have added at least that much to the tax base.
Those bennies include higher personal incomes and ancillary businesses and the like. The comptroller's office contends that the plants built because of the tax breaks would generate $480 million in payments to the school fund by 2011. And economist Ray Perryman, who's been working on the idea with various businesses for a long time, says the costs to the state should remain lower than the benefits throughout the program.
When Republican Myra Crownover replaced her late husband, Ronny Crownover, in the Texas House, it cost Denton County $12,000 to hold the election. That's no big deal, except that she was the lone candidate on a ballot that was also devoid of other issues. She got 1,753 voters to show up even with no choice on the ballot. Write-in candidates pulled in a whopping 49 votes.
Some folks think that sort of thing is a waste of money, and the Texas House apparently agrees. They green-lighted a bill that would allow the Secretary of State to declare an unopposed candidate the winner in an election to fill a vacancy in the Legislature. (That fits special elections—not regularly scheduled primary or general elections). Write-in candidates could still get on the ballot and could still force an election by signing up. Those who didn't sign up wouldn't get their votes counted.
Similar subject: A coalition joined, oddly enough, by the Real Estate Council of Austin, is pushing the "turnout burnout" bill that reduces the number of uniform election dates to four. That's moving to the House now that Sen. Florence Shapiro, R-Plano, won Senate approval. We have mentioned some opposition from school boards that don't like holding bond elections on uniform dates; they got an exception, if it holds. The Senate would allow them an exemption once every two years.
This has been out there for more than a month, but it took a while to reach our grubby little hands: The DFW Airport, like a lot of other airports and public facilities, gives free parking to state and local officeholders. We've heard several rationales for this over the years. Some folks will say that it's all taxpayer money anyway, so why get all worked up about it? But DFW came close to asking for a return favor this year. In the airport's letter to officeholders, CEO Jeffrey Fegan was direct: "As a participant, you will not be charged for parking at DFW Airport. However, in return for this privilege, we ask for your assistance in positioning DFW Airport to meet the needs of the traveling public and to foster the growth of the Airport's owner cities and North Texas." No word at our deadline on how many lawmakers took the free parking deal.
Shrinking the Political Collection Plates
Let's whip back around on that officeholder-regulating bill proffered by Rep. Rob Junell, D-San Angelo. We wrote last week that it hits the state's three Railroad commissioners, and it does.
But it is broader than that, putting restrictions on members of agency governing boards and staffs, restricting their ability to raise money from or go to work for the people and companies they regulate. Junell says the bill is more of a general revolving-door restriction and says he didn't have the RRC members in his gunsights when he filed it. He says the idea originally came from former Lottery Commission Chair Harriet Miers, who now works in the White House.
The bill would require board members and employees to wait until they've been gone for at least two years before accepting employment or political contributions from companies they regulate.
While the bill would regulate the boards and the employees, it would leave out one group: Elected executives who aren't on boards. That's a category that includes the attorney general, the comptroller, the land commissioner and the agriculture commissioner. It's a category that apparently does not include the 15 members of the State Board of Education.
Career Ladder for Guards, Toll Roads & Creative Bribery
Make a note: You can't use tax money on a toll road without paying it back. There's a provision in the state constitution that led some officials at the Texas Department of Transportation to wonder about that. They asked Attorney General John Cornyn if the law and the constitution would allow the agency to use road money from taxes for costs at a toll road. The question was as convoluted as a dedicated group of lawyers and engineers could make it, but the answer is simple. They can't use the money, whether from state or federal taxpayers, on a toll road. We mention this, in part, because a couple of bills in the legislative hopper would make "blended" projects legal. Those are projects that use a combination of tolls and tax money to pay for construction.
• It doesn't include the money for a pay raise, but there's a bill from Rep. Bob Turner, D-Voss, that would put everything in place for the next time prison guards need to make a case to the Legislature. Turner's HB 3155 would set up a career ladder for corrections officers, require training and testing before someone could be promoted to supervisor, make it easier for rank-and-file guards to get training, poll departing CO's on why they're leaving, require reports to lawmakers on retention and recruitment of officers and set up a grievance process for the guards.
The correction officers want a pay raise, at the moment, but they also want to be treated like professionals, so that their careers follow a track analogous to everyone else in law enforcement. In a semi-related development, the Department of Public Safety changed the requirements for incoming troopers to allow CO's and jailers with two more years of experience.
• If the Legislature will pass a bill requiring students to take CPR courses, the American Heart Association's Texas office will put up $1.5 million to help pay for the training. That might help pass the bill by Rep. Helen Giddings, D-Dallas, but it won't save the state money. The state's number-crunchers have already said the program wouldn't hit state or local taxpayers in any measurable way.
From the Bureau of Extremely Cheap Thrills
It has come to our attention that the chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, Rep. Rob Junell, D-San Angelo, has been scribbling big stars on pieces of paper and handing them to elected statewide officials when they've done something he likes. This makes statewide officeholders very happy. Their associates jump up and down and tell reporters about it. The flaw? They're each convinced they're the only recipients. For the record: Attorney General John Cornyn got a star from Junell for the improvements he's made in the agency's child support division. And Land Commissioner David Dewhurst got one for cutting spending and employment at his agency.
Political People and Their Moves
The first African-American on the Texas Supreme Court will be Wallace Jefferson, a San Antonio appellate lawyer appointed by Gov. Rick Perry. Jefferson, whose ancestors include the slave of a state judge, is a civil defense lawyer. If he's confirmed by the state Senate, he'll serve out the term left open when Al Gonzales resigned to work in the White House. Jefferson will be on the ballot in 2002 trying to win the last four years of Gonzales' six-year term... Regent appointments at the state's big colleges are among the most prestigious (behind, say, the Texas Supreme Court) that a governor can make, and Perry had three openings to fill at his alma mater (UT will come later). Phillip David Adams of Houston, an insurance company owner and a board member of the Texas Public Policy Foundation (a San Antonio-based conservative think tank) will replace Robert Allen of Houston. L. Lowry Mays of San Antonio, who made a fortune in radio broadcasting through his Clear Channel Communications, will replace Fred McClure of Dallas. And Wendy Lee Gramm, an economist, the only non-A&M alum in the bunch, will replace Donald Powell of Amarillo. Oh, yeah: Gramm's husband is a U.S. senator... Perry named, and renamed, respectively, Walter Criner of Houston and Betsy Whitaker of Dallas to the Texas Lottery Commission. Criner heads a computer services company and will replace Anthony Sadberry, who had been on the commission since 1993, when it was formed. Whitaker, an attorney and former prosecutor, had been serving out a stub term and now will get her own six-year run. Criner's term will last into 2003... You remember Florita Bell Griffin, the Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs commissioner convicted of bribery? Her term expired and in her place, Perry appointed Vidal Gonzalez of Del Rio. He also appointed Shadrick Bogany of Missouri City to the same panel... President George W. Bush has tapped Alphonso Jackson, a utility company executive who headed the Dallas Housing Authority for eight years, to be deputy secretary of the Housing and Urban Development. That's Jackson's third appointment by Bush. He was on the Texas Southern University Board of Regents and served as chairman of the state's General Services Commission. Jackson had been president of American Electric Power-Texas... On the burner, or maybe in the burner: Pat Wood III, the chairman of the state's Public Utility Commission, is apparently Bush's pick to head the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. That's got a problem attached, since Wood would be replacing Curt Hebert Jr., the recently appointed chairman of FERC, who is a close friend of U.S. Sen. Trent Lott, R-Mississippi. Lott, by most reports, is not amused... Sen. David Bernsen, D-Beaumont, hired Fred Coogan—who used to work in Bernsen's law firm—as general counsel. Coogan replaces Amy Fitzgerald, who left the senator for a job at Bracewell & Patterson. She worked in the House, then for a utility company, then for Bernsen before joining the Austin office of that law firm.
Quotes of the Week
Gov. Rick Perry, assessing the state's U.S. senators after Kay Bailey Hutchison called him to say she won't run against him in the gubernatorial primary: "I love Kay and Phil."
Land Commissioner David Dewhurst, in an interview with the Longview News-Journal, on Bill Ratliff, the current occupant of the Lite Guv. chair Dewhurst covets: "I like Bill. I've known him 12 or 13 years and I've got great respect for him. I don't know that he represents the totality of the Republican Party as well as some of the others who may run, such as myself."
Sen. Ken Armbrister, D-Victoria, on what will happen when detailed numbers are available for redistricting: "That's when a lot of the holding hands and Kumbaya of this session will come to an end."
Sen. Robert Duncan, R-Lubbock, arguing for a bill banning young passengers from the beds of moving trucks: "We're trying to address the significant problem of kids flying out of the backs of pickup trucks or getting knocked around."
Florida prison system spokeswoman Debbie Buchanan, chuckling in an interview with the Fort Worth Star-Telegram in which she found out that Texas allows trusted prison inmates to work on the locks on cell doors: "Locksmith would not be a job we would allow."
Texas Weekly: Volume 17, Issue 36, 19 March 2001. Ross Ramsey, Editor. George Phenix, Publisher. Copyright 2001 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.