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A False Start and a Race to the Stage

After an arduous and grueling ten-day campaign (we're joking, but only a little), Lt. Gov. Bill Ratliff dropped out of the 2002 race for the job he already holds. Ratliff jumped into the race on the last Saturday of the session, surrounded by family and bolstered by the presence of nearly a dozen senators. Less than two weeks later, he was standing in front of a bank of cameras and reporters to say that he wasn't willing to make the compromises necessary in a successful statewide campaign.

After an arduous and grueling ten-day campaign (we're joking, but only a little), Lt. Gov. Bill Ratliff dropped out of the 2002 race for the job he already holds. Ratliff jumped into the race on the last Saturday of the session, surrounded by family and bolstered by the presence of nearly a dozen senators. Less than two weeks later, he was standing in front of a bank of cameras and reporters to say that he wasn't willing to make the compromises necessary in a successful statewide campaign.

What new piece of information presented itself during those ten days in the spotlight? Ratliff wouldn't point to anything specific, but made some comments that lead to what bugged him. He said he has enjoyed being "fiercely independent" and said the voters in his Senate district spoiled him by sending him to Austin and letting him vote his conscience. He said he wants to do his job free of the demands and compromises of a statewide campaign.

And what he didn't say is that some of the Republicans who finance statewide races wanted him to toe the line on GOP issues, specifically, redistricting. The Republicans couldn't get the maps they wanted out of the Legislature (neither could the Democrats, but this isn't their story). The actions of the Legislative Redistricting Board are critical to both parties. GOP stalwarts wanted Ratliff to be more partisan than he was willing to be, and weren't willing to fund his campaign if he wasn't going to be a reliable, hard-line vote on the LRB.

Put it another way: Ratliff is on the liberal end of the Texas Republican Party, and the GOP's regulars wanted him to move in their direction if they were to support his bid for Lite Guv. There isn't any mystery to this; they've been after Ratliff for some time. It didn't help when he was elected to preside over the Senate by a bipartisan group that had more Democrats in it than Republicans. It didn't help when he rewarded some of those supporters with committee chairmanships (the elephants were particularly enraged when he named Sen. Rodney Ellis, a liberal Black Democrat from Houston, to head the Senate Finance Committee). They got crankier when he voted for hate crimes legislation and for a bill outlawing racial profiling, and they didn't give him the points he probably deserved for not calling a vote on a moderate redistricting plan that could have been a serious setback to the GOP.

The short form is that Ratliff is something of a maverick within the party and never won the confidence and support of the rich folks who finance statewide campaigns in Texas. And when he got a taste of what it would take to win that support, he spat it out.

Ratliff could be more interesting as a non-candidate than as a candidate. He made it clear that he wants to remain, as he said several times, fiercely independent. This, from a guy who will serve as Lite Guv for another 18 months and who has several sharp objects on the table to play with. First, there is the LRB, where he could make things interesting whether he votes or not (more on that in a moment). Then there is the school finance study he and House Speaker Pete Laney have been promising since early in the session. Ratliff has already said a look at school finance could logically lead to a look at the state's tax system. The recent announcement from the comptroller–who said the state could be $5 billion in the hole in two years–adds more fuel to that. Hide and watch.

One more thing. Ratliff didn't say whether he would run for reelection as a senator. That could prove to be a problem for the GOP; lots of analysts say his Senate District 1 leans to the Democrats. Unless there is some surgical cartography between now and Election Day, a Ratliff retirement could mean a Democratic gain in the Senate where Republicans currently hold a one-seat majority.

A Democrat, 3 Republicans and a Free Agent

Many months ago, we put an asterisk on the lieutenant governor label in front of Ratliff's name, pointed out the fact that he wasn't actually the lieutenant governor, and said we'd thus dispense with the label. Well, he put it back on there his own self by asking Attorney General John Cornyn for an opinion as to whether Ratliff should perform one of the Lite Guv's constitutional duties. Should he serve on the Legislative Redistricting Board or not?

The question started in the lobby, was discounted at the beginning of the session, and then got picked up by David Dewhurst sympathizers. Some folks, including some in the Ratliff camp, expected a challenge from the land commissioner at the beginning of the first LRB meeting. And there was some question as to how Cornyn might rule. So, as he dropped out of the Lite Guv race, Ratliff put the mess in the AG's lap. He let the other members of the LRB know that he would resign his post on that panel. That got him a call from Cornyn, who asked him to stay on board.

Ratliff responded with what is now his public position: He asked Cornyn for an official ruling on the legal issues and won't vote until the AG blesses him. Dewhurst, who no longer will face Ratliff in a primary, probably has lost interest in raising questions about his legal right to be on the redistricting board. And Republicans who fear Ratliff might not be a reliable partisan vote will now have Cornyn to blame if Ratliff is allowed to vote and doesn't stick to the company line.

The LRB listened to a couple of primers on the computer system and on open records and meetings laws. They installed Cornyn as chairman, Comptroller Carole Keeton Rylander as vice chair and Senate Parliamentarian Walter Fisher as the main staff guy. And they set a schedule for their meetings (in a discussion that should become the basis for a comedy routine).

The open meeting rigmarole looks superficial. The first meeting of the panel was predigested–the chairman's election was reported here and elsewhere before the official meeting, for instance. Cornyn, asked whether meetings between staffers of LRB members would be open, said only that they'll follow the law. The law allows staff of members to meet privately even when their bosses can't do so. Three of the LRB's five meetings are public hearings. The other two are for proposing maps and voting on them. The rest of the back-and-forth can apparently occur in private.

The Redistricting Map Nobody Cares About

Sen. Jeff Wentworth, R-San Antonio, admits that getting senators to agree on new congressional district outlines could be very, very difficult. But he thinks it might be easier to get approval of districts for the 15 State Board of Education districts, which is the most-ignored piece of the redistricting puzzle. And he says he would advise Gov. Rick Perry to call a special session to draw those SBOE districts even if the Senate is deadlocked on the congressional maps. It's one of their four duties, he says, and they already failed on plans for the House and Senate. If they have a chance to bag the education districts, he says, they should do so.

The senators told the SBOE to try to draw a map that has the support of everybody on the education panel. A House plan that would use House district lines to draw SBOE lines is also on the table. Each SBOE district would exactly include ten House districts. And the senators talked about expanding the number of members on the education board to 31 or 32, then matching their district lines with state senators or members of Congress.

His committee meeting got swamped, in the news sense, by two candidate announcements for lieutenant governor and by the first meeting of the Legislative Redistricting Board that is drawing lines that might be used in the 2002 elections (that qualifier is there because the final outcome depends not on the LRB, but on the U.S. Department of Justice and the state and federal courts). But it produced a couple of nuggets. First, Wentworth wants the committee to decide by the end of the month whether a deal is possible–thus making a special session possible–or whether it would be an expensive waste of time. Second, he said the Senate committee can't possibly go along with a congressional map approved by the House Redistricting Committee (but not by the full House).

GOP Bachelor Number One

David Sibley was confident six months ago that he would be a candidate for lieutenant governor in 2002. Then Bill Ratliff got one more vote from senators choosing a presiding officer. Ratliff was running for a full term, and Sibley thus had no idea, as of last Monday morning, that he was going to be a candidate for lieutenant governor within 24 hours. The next morning, he was on a stage with his parents and his wife, standing before a line of TV cameras behind a brand new sign with his name on it. He had the outline of a platform (education, safer communities, cleaner environment, the Border, jobs) and a roomful of supporters to egg him on, just as he planned late last year. In the primary, he'll pitch his experience in the Senate and as a mayor. He touted four legislative achievements: tort reform, patient protection act, electric deregulation and economic development.

The landscape isn't what he'd hoped for six months back. The choice between Ratliff and Dewhurst inspired some Republicans to recruit Greg Abbott. That means Sibley has to start from behind two candidates: Land Commissioner David Dewhurst is wealthy enough to finance his own campaign and has been concentrating on locking up grassroots Republicans, and Abbott has been making inquiries about money in preparation for a run. As a justice on the Supreme Court, he couldn't actually ask for money or support, but could at least find out whether it would be there should he resign. Now he has resigned, apparently confident the money will appear, and Sibley has to catch up. On the other hand, the senator has a nice start, with $800,000-plus in the bank and Houston Astros owner Drayton McClane of Temple agreeing to be his finance director.

GOP Bachelor Number Two

Abbott was noticeably vague about what he would do if elected, but hit on what appear to be the must-have campaign themes of the 2002 election cycle: education, transportation, and economic development. He also was the most rousing speaker of the bunch, and probably has the best story to tell to voters who don't know him. That sounds insignificant unless you remember that Victor Morales, an unknown teacher who criss-crossed the state in a small pickup truck, put a serious dent in the state's senior U.S. senator a few years ago. It helps to have a tale to tell, and Abbott has one.

Abbott was partially crippled while jogging in Houston's Memorial Park in 1994 when an oak tree dropped a limb on him. He's wheelchair-bound, but without referring directly to his handicap, says the state needs a candidate who has overcome adversity. He did four years as a district judge before Gov. Bush appointed him to the Supreme Court in 1995; he's the only guy on the Republican end of the ballot who has won two statewide elections.

Abbott has to start from scratch on the finance end, since you can't transfer money raised for a Supreme Court race to your campaign for another non-judicial office. That's a six-year-old law; money raised before June 1995 could be used, if he had it. But Abbott says the money in his judicial coffers–around $300,000–will stay there. He's starting from zero. He hastens to add that he's not worried about it, because the fundraising prospects are good.

GOP Bachelor Number Three

Dewhurst plans to announce his candidacy for lieutenant governor on Wednesday (June 13). He let one bullet go a week early, though, stepping on his opponents' announcements by saying he has been publicly endorsed by 46 county GOP chairs. Those include some important Republican counties, including the four big ones in the Metroplex: Dallas, Tarrant, Denton and Collin. While we're talking about the metroblob, Dewhurst also has a fundraising letter on the street that lists as supporters well-known Republicans like Fran Chiles, Harlan Crow, Jim Francis Jr., George Bayoud, Bill Ceverha and Dallas energy executive Earl Nye, among others. That was mailed before Ratliff pulled out, before Abbott was officially in, and before Sibley was on the radar screen as a candidate. Another letter includes some other big names: former congressman Tom Loeffler, ambassador-to-be Nancy Brinker, oilman Boone Pickens and Houston energy executive Steve Ledbetter among them.

And the Lone (So Far) Democrat

Had he waited six more days, former Comptroller John Sharp could have announced his candidacy for lieutenant governor on the fourth anniversary of his first announcement for the job. There's a point to the reference: Then, like now, state politicos were looking at a rare open seat for lieutenant governor. Then, like now, people were complaining about the early date of the announcements by those politicos. And then, perhaps like now, not everyone who appeared to be in the race ended up actually filing the necessary papers when January rolled around. Democrat Paul Hobby, who initially wanted to run for lieutenant governor, ended up running for comptroller and narrowly losing. And David Dewhurst, who tried to use his overstuffed wallet to scare Rick Perry out of the race, ended up running for and winning the land commissioner job. Sharp narrowly lost to Perry, Perry became governor and they all lived happily ever after, or at least until now.

Sharp's announcement speech was a mix of new stuff and some things from his last campaign; parts were tailored for use in different geographic areas of the state. He talked about the Border–something common to every candidate so far–and talked about East Texas water. He, like the others, emphasized education, but was less vague: He proposed state-funded bonds to pay for new schools, and suggested raising pay or benefits to entice former teachers to return to the profession.

He knocked economic development programs that "steal money intended for our school children and use it to bribe out-of-state companies to relocate here" and said better education would prove more attractive to those companies. And he jumped on the announcement from the current comptrollers that the state might face a $5 billion budget shortfall in two years, blaming the "new leadership" for, as he put it, starting with a $6 billion surplus and ending with a $5 billion hole. His pitch is that, without Ratliff in the race, he's the only candidate with state budget experience. That's not the first time this has been the subject of a Sharp campaign. He took office in 1991 when the state had a shortfall that eventually forced a $3 billion tax bill and marked the start of the Texas Performance Review that is featured so prominently on Sharp's political resume.

Successors Begin to Swarm

Wallace Jefferson, the newest member of the Texas Supreme Court, won't be the tenderfoot for long. Priscilla Owen has been appointed to the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals and, if confirmed, will leave an open spot on the high court. Greg Abbott had to quit in order to run for lieutenant governor, leaving a spot for a third newbie. And James Baker of Dallas–then-Gov. Bush's first appointment to the court–says he won't run for reelection in 2002.

Two jurists are already running for the Baker seat. Very shortly after the justice's announcement arrived, Mike Schneider sent out notices that he will run. Schneider, a Republican, is chief justice of the First Court of Appeals in Houston: He was appointed to that post by then-Gov. George W. Bush, then won elections to return in 1996 and 1998. A day later, Houston District Judge Elizabeth Ray said she will be a candidate. If the U.S. Senate confirms Owen, six of the nine current Texas Supreme Court seats will be on the ballot in 2002. Deborah Hankinson and Chief Justice Tom Phillips are both up for reelection, though neither has said whether reelection bids are in order.

• Now that Sibley has decided not to seek reelection to his Senate seat, Rep. Kip Averitt, a Waco Republican who used to be Sibley's chief of staff, will make a run to replace his former boss. Averitt said he's already hired the Fort Worth-based Eppstein Group to run his race, and says he's not sure who all he might be running against. It's possible that Rep. Jim Dunnam will get in, but the political gurus are betting that the Republican and the Democrat from Waco probably won't run against each other. The district now overlaps several House districts that might not be included when the new maps come out. And several other politicos in Waco and elsewhere are at least considering the race.

Flotsam & Jetsam

The chairmanship of the Dallas County Republican Party is getting more attention than normal, partly because of the underwhelming support the county gave to President George W. Bush in November. He won only 52.5 percent of his home county's vote in that race (while winning 59.3 percent statewide). A lot of that difference is attributable to the county's demographics: Dallas County, which has been a Republican stronghold (especially at the county courthouse level) since the mid-1980s, is shifting back to the Democrats, even as its suburbs are increasingly Republican.

But some of the difference is being blamed on the current GOP chairman, Bob Driegert, and party regulars are promoting a challenger, Nate Crain. The election isn't until next year, but the list of folks backing Crain includes a lot of people–from officeholders to political sugar-daddies and sugar-mommies–who ought to make the incumbent nervous. A brief sampling of names includes Louis Beecherl, Tom Luce, Boone Pickens, Dallas Bush co-chairs Mary Ceverha and Dan Branch, Charles and Sam Wyly and Fred Meyer, a former chairman of the Dallas County GOP and later, of the Republican Party of Texas.

• Harris County, the biggest of the 14 Texas counties that still uses punch card ballots, will spend $25 million on a new electronic voting system that doesn't use enough paper to hang a chad from. The system, made by Austin-based Hart InterCivic, will be used in early voting in the November elections, but won't be fully up and running on Election Day. A more complete system will be in place for the March primaries, and the county expects to be out of the punch-card business in time for the November 2002 general elections.

• Democrat Marty Akins is hiring up consultants for his gubernatorial bid and renting office space in downtown Austin. The local crew includes Billy Horton, who'll manage the campaign, John Hatch, and Bob Mann, to handle press chores. They've hired a media firm, Trippi McMahon & Squire, pollster Penn & Schoen of New York, Graggert Research of Chicago, fundraisers Cunningham-Harris of Virginia and Dwayne Baughman of San Francisco for direct mail. Horton says those deals are signed, but says the campaign isn't spending money on all that stuff yet. That'll come later. Akins will officially announce his candidacy next month.

• Final numbers are in for the Texas Tomorrow Fund, and Comptroller Carole Keeton Rylander says the sales rose for the second year in a row, to 16,100 contracts. The first year of that prepaid college tuition program set the record, and then sales dropped each year. But Rylander turned the corner and increased the numbers last year, to 12,400, and then again this year.

• It was painful enough for the Texas Association of Business and Chambers of Commerce to endorse Lt. Gov. Bill Ratliff even before he said he would run, only to watch in amazement when he pulled out of the race ten days later. But in the insult-to-injury department, add this: The group was trying to put together a press conference on the federal patient bill of rights legislation. But whenever they listed a time and date, they got knocked out of the box. Finally, they sent a note to reporters: "We now know how the show Friends felt when Survivor moved into its time slot... Due to the fact that someone is announcing every day for the next week that they are or are not running for Lt. Governor, we are postponing our Employer Liability Press Conference until sometime next week when the campaign frenzy is over. Stay tuned though, as the Patient Bill of Rights in Congress will be in full gear soon! Thanks for your patience."

• Land Commissioner David Dewhurst has been telling every Republican who will listen that he is prepared to spend up to $10 million of his own money on the race. That prompted both of his GOP primary opponents–Greg Abbott and David Sibley–to say in their announcements that the office should not be for sale. To which Dewhurst replied with a fax that said you would have to raise $36,363.64 every day from now until the primaries to raise $10 million, and $18,181.81 every day to raise $5 million. The fax didn't mention candidates or Dewhurst's bankroll, but did mention that the March primary is 275 days away.

Political People and Their Moves

Ray Bowen is giving up the presidency at Texas A&M University and will return to teaching a year from now. No replacement has been named, and that's why this is a famous resignation. U.S. Sen. Phil Gramm, who has spent months saying he will run for reelection next year, is among the rumorees for the A&M gig. His folks are sticking to their story. The school (whose Board of Regents includes Senate spouse Wendy Gramm) will search for a replacement... McAllen Mayor Leo Montalvo survived a comeback bid from the mayor he unseated: Othal Brand came in second in their runoff... Alex Gonzales moves from Hughes & Luce to Winstead Secrest & Minick, where he'll do insurance regulatory work and some lobbying. His resume includes a stint at the Texas Department of Insurance... In the interest of closure: Andy Taylor, until recently the state's first assistant attorney general, will return to the Locke Liddell Sapp law firm. As noted previously, he'll continue to work on some issues with the AG's office, including redistricting... Speaking of redistricting, the clerk of the House Redistricting Committee, Glen Hunt, retired at the end of the session. But have no fear: He told Rep. Delwin Jones, the chairman of that panel, that he'll be available to help if he's needed... And then there was one: Texas Public Utility Commission Chairman Pat Wood III has been sworn in (by Gov. Rick Perry) to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. That leaves only Brett Perlman at what is supposed to be a three-member PUC. Judy Walsh left early this year, and Perry hasn't appointed replacements... Move Laurie Rich from the Texas State-Federal Relations office in Washington, D.C., to the Department of Education. She'll do the same sort of liaison work (what's called lobbying in the private sector), but for the federal instead of the state government... The death of U.S. Rep. Joe Moakley, D-Massachusetts, makes U.S. Rep. Martin Frost, D-Dallas, the ranking member of the House Rules Committee. He's been on that panel for 23 years... We got our State Bar of Texas chairs and presidents mixed up last week, so here's another go. The incoming president is Broadus Spivey of Austin, and the outgoing chairman is Dick Miller of San Saba. Spivey will replace Lynne Liberato and Vidal Martinez will replace Miller... Deaths: Former Rep. A.R. "Augie" Ovard, a Dallas Republican who won a seat in the legislature after retiring from his business. He was 79.

Quotes of the Week

Lt. Gov. Bill Ratliff, announcing that he will notrun for a full four-year term in the post he now holds: "The fact is, I do love policy making, but I do not love politics."

Ratliff, paraphrasing Sir Winston Churchill in response to a wisecrack a couple of days later about the smile on the Lite Guv's face: "There is nothing so exhilarating as to be shot at and missed."

From an automated call made to a nearby answering machine last week: "Hello, this is John WorldPeace, attorney at law and the next governor of Texas. I know that it is early, but I am asking you to support WorldPeace for governor in 2002. Please visit my web page at johnworldpeace.org. All I am saying is give WorldPeace a chance. Vote for WorldPeace for governor. Thank you."

Comptroller Carole Keeton Rylander, certifying the $113.8 billion state budget and telling the world that the budget could force the next Legislature to swim out of a pool of red ink: "While this does not necessarily mean that there will be a $5 billion shortfall next biennium, it does imply that the seeds have been sown for significant challenges for budget writers next session."

Legislative aide Mark Borskey, quoted in the Austin American-Statesman on the crowded GOP primary for lieutenant governor: "I think that pretty much sucks up all the money in the state."

Texas A&M President Ray Bowen, on whether the Bonfire collapse forced his resignation: "The Bonfire tragedy was ample reason to resign. But in fact, it was also ample reason to stay on and make sure the next Bonfire would be safe. The right way to lean is the Bonfire caused me to stay longer than I might have otherwise."

Democrat John Sharp, announcing his bid for lieutenant governor: "Let me close with something I read once in the Book of Joshua, and for the Capitol press corps, the Book of Joshua is part of something called the Bible..."


Texas Weekly: Volume 17, Issue 48, 11 June 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 biz@texasweekly.com. For news, email ramsey@texasweekly.com, or call (512) 288-6598.


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