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On Pins and Needles

Some major legislation was still on the Maybe-Maybe Not list as the governor's June 17 veto deadline approached. The list included the so-called Penry Bill, which would insert an evaluation of mental retardation into the state's death penalty process and make it more difficult for the state to execute mentally retarded murderers. Gov. Rick Perry originally said the issue should be left to the courts, since the case involving Johnny Paul Penry was, at the time, pending before the U.S. Supreme Court. That court has since ruled (on a related, but somewhat different point about the judge's instructions to the jury) and Perry no longer has that excuse. He's getting advice both ways, both internally and externally, but hadn't made a decision as of late Thursday.

Some major legislation was still on the Maybe-Maybe Not list as the governor's June 17 veto deadline approached. The list included the so-called Penry Bill, which would insert an evaluation of mental retardation into the state's death penalty process and make it more difficult for the state to execute mentally retarded murderers. Gov. Rick Perry originally said the issue should be left to the courts, since the case involving Johnny Paul Penry was, at the time, pending before the U.S. Supreme Court. That court has since ruled (on a related, but somewhat different point about the judge's instructions to the jury) and Perry no longer has that excuse. He's getting advice both ways, both internally and externally, but hadn't made a decision as of late Thursday.

He did sign other criminal justice bills. One would set standards for court-appointed lawyers for poor people accused of capital murder, a measure Perry promoted at the beginning of the session. He also signed a racial profiling bill that requires police agencies in Texas to have written policies against targeting suspects based on race, and requiring them to collect information about traffic stops.

Gubernatorial aides were calling lobbyists and advocates about several other bills on the watch list, including a "prompt pay" bill touted by the Texas Medical Association and others, but blasted by the Texas Association of Business and Chambers of Commerce. The docs' version: It would force insurance companies to expedite payments to doctors instead of holding them and benefiting from financial float on the several hundred million dollars in question. The TABCC version: It would force insurance companies to process payments so quickly that they would be unable to reliably detect fraud, and insurance premiums to business would climb as a result. The legislation didn't have much problem in either the House or the Senate, but Perry's office got a lot of last-minute calls on the issue.

Two bills sponsored by Rep. Kim Brimer, R-Arlington, and others were driving under caution flags. One is a revision of the state's workers' compensation laws that made too many concessions to labor groups and others to suit some conservatives. The other is the legislation variously named for Intel and Boeing and for Brimer himself. It would allow school districts to give property tax breaks to very large projects without jeopardizing the districts' state funding. Put another way, the state would cover the cost of tax breaks given for certain kinds of projects by local school boards. The governor touted that for a time while the state was trying to lure Boeing. But criticism that the state was giving away too much started to sink in, and Brimer's bill was getting another look.

The Sunset bill for the General Services Commission, mentioned here previously, remained on the watch list. The stated problem: The legislation would move power over that agency's board from the full control of the governor, giving legislative leaders power to name the board majority.

Oh, yeah, and there was that budget. The $113.8 billion spending plan stuck in the throats of a lot of Republicans, but most of them seem to be blaming Lt. Gov. Bill Ratliff and Senate Finance Committee Chairman Rodney Ellis, D-Houston (there's even an email piece floating around GOP circles that refers to "the out-going Ratliff-Ellis Administration"). And there isn't much the governor can do. He a line-item veto power, which legislators limit by assembling the budget in a way that makes it hard to kill "bad" stuff without killing "good" stuff. One thing the governor can do, if he's so inclined, is to veto some of the contingent spending in the budget that would take place only if the money is available. That could potentially include up to $800 million in spending, but again, some of it is in programs the governor probably doesn't want to chop.

Another Map to Argue Over

Texas Republicans have been frustrated in the last four election cycles. While they've made slow progress toward parity in the Texas House, they don't have the majority they believe they deserve.

In particular, they haven't won in a handful of West Texas House districts held by Democrats but that by most measures look Republican. Those districts have been key to the continued dominion of House Speaker Pete Laney, and so it should be no surprise that when Republicans talk about redistricting, they often linger on what should happen in West Texas.

That pain finds its purest form of relief in the redistricting maps that will be presented to the Legislative Redistricting Board by the Texas GOP this week; that map pairs and groups West Texans into competitive contests that would shrink the area's representation (that's dictated by the latest Census numbers) and would take out a core group of Laney supporters (that's dictated by practical Republican politics). It would then attack in East Texas, largely with the same set of imperatives, and then would focus on urban Democrats, regardless, curiously, of race.

The maps were drawn up by Milton Rister, a Republican consultant who worked for Rep. Tom Craddick, R-Midland, and for the House GOP caucus during the unsuccessful 1990s efforts to take a majority of seats in the House. He says his aim was to see how many Republican seats could be drawn if he could ignore the kinds of compromises that have to be made to get a plan through the Legislature. The result? His map would raise the number of Republican House districts to at least 89 and to as many as 109. The first figure represents the number of districts that were carried in the 1998 races by Rick Perry and Carole Keeton Rylander, who has the narrowest victories in that year's GOP sweep of statewide offices. The second figure is based on the number of districts carried by George W. Bush in his 1998 reelection race. Using the same bases, the plan approved by the House but never voted on in the Senate put the Republicans in the 76 to 88 district range. And the so-called "Marchant" plan that was defeated narrowly in the House would create 88 to 98 districts.

Rister said he didn't run the maps past any lawyers. He also tried to draw Republican Hispanic seats: "We'd like to bust the Democratic monopoly on Hispanics." The idea was to draw seats that were both Hispanic and Republican instead of assuming that those voters are automatic Democrats.

Democratic Demolition Derby

Among other things, the GOP map would take out four West Texas incumbents. It pairs Reps. Rob Junell, D-San Angelo, and Bob Turner, D-Voss. In another race, it pairs Reps. Pete Gallego, D-Alpine, with Tracy King, D-Uvalde, and in a third, it pairs Laney, D-Hale Center, with Gary Walker, R-Plains and David Counts, D-Knox City.

That's just for starters. Four East Texas incumbents would meet their maker, in a political sense anyway, in a similar set of groupings also aimed at the current leadership. One matchup–between Reps. Betty Brown, R-Terrell, and Clyde Alexander, D-Athens–is an exception that has appeared in every map we've seen. It's an unavoidable pairing dictated by the numbers and the pile of court decisions and laws that govern redistricting. But three others are clearly aimed at putting someone new behind the tall desk in Austin. Reps. Wayne Christian, R-Center, Paul Sadler, D-Henderson, and Chuck Hopson, D-Jacksonville, would be grouped. Democrats Mark Homer of Paris and Tom Ramsay of Mount Vernon would be paired. And Democrats Ron Lewis of Mauriceville and Jim McReynolds of San Augustine would have to shoot it out.

There's one more three-way in the proposal. It would pit Houston Democrats Debra Danburg, Scott Hochberg and Ken Yarbrough against each other. Elsewhere, the Republicans would like to pair Houston Democrats Fred Bosse and Joe Moreno; Patty Gray, D-Galveston, with Zeb Zbranek, D-Winnie; Irma Rangel, D-Kingsville, with Ignacio Salinas Jr., D-San Diego; Corpus Christi Democrats Jaime Capelo and Vilma Luna; San Antonio Democrats Robert Puente and Mike Villareal; and Dallas Democrats Steve Wolens with Harryette Ehrhardt and Yvonne Davis with Jesse Jones.

Redistricting Notes

The Texas House map Rister drew for the GOP could have been even bloodier. He said he drew his first set of maps without worrying about the locations of anyone's homes. That initial effort would have put 45 Democratic incumbents and 10 Republican incumbents into competition with their colleagues. His first map had one Dallas district with six House members in it. That was a little strong even for Rister and he pared his effort down to what he'll present to the LRB this week.

• The Senate map unveiled by the GOP would create 22 Republican districts, but wouldn't pair any incumbents against each other. Instead, the plan would flip the partisan tilts of districts held by Democratic Sens. Ken Armbrister of Victoria, David Bernsen of Beaumont, David Cain of Dallas, Frank Madla of San Antonio, Mike Moncrief of Fort Worth and John Whitmire of Houston. Rister says the GOP wouldn't necessarily win all of those, but the numbers would be better for them. Cain and Moncrief would have particularly hairy races if the GOP plan were enacted.

• Surprise, surprise, the attorney general thinks the lieutenant governor should go ahead and vote on the Legislative Redistricting Board. That had been a point of attack against Lt. Gov. Bill Ratliff, particularly before he decided not to seek reelection. As he did that, he asked Attorney General John Cornyn whether he was eligible to vote. The issue arose because Ratliff was elected to preside over the Senate by his fellow senators, and not by voters. The question was whether that kept him out of the LRB role. Cornyn, in his official opinion, said Ratliff is required to serve on that board. It's one of the duties of the Lite Guv, and he's supposed to be handling all of those chores.

The Beginning of the Land Rush, Miscellany

Republican Jerry Patterson is officially in the race he's been talking about for the better part of the year. The former state senator from Pasadena is running for land commissioner. He lost the Republican primary for that job in 1998 after being swamped by David Dewhurst's money. This time, he'll probably face Kenn George, a Republican Dallas state representative who, like Dewhurst, has some money of his own. George will announce before the end of the month. Several Democrats are eyeing the race, but nobody has announced their candidacy.

Patterson wanted to emphasize the fact that he's not running for this office to build his resume for the next campaign. At the press conference announcing his bid to head the General Land Office, he handed out an advisory announcing another press conference, to be held in June 2005. That, he says, is when he'll announce his reelection campaign for a second term as land commissioner. Among the things he'll do if he's elected, he said, is to expand a program at GLO that uses state-owned natural gas to provide electricity to public schools.

• Here's one to make politicos nervous: Texas Monthly magazine's list of the ten best and worst lawmakers is coming out in a week. And instead of announcing the losers and winners by simply handing out the magazine, they'll do it with a press conference. Why? Well, presumably for the reason everyone else does it: That's how you get your mug–and your magazine's mug–on television. As we went to press, the announcement was set for Thursday, June 21.

• Don't let this get you too excited, because it's a rumor we didn't have time to vet. With that caveat, it's worth a mention: We're told that former Democratic Rep. Mark Stiles, a fervent Bush supporter who is now a Dallas businessman, is considering running for U.S. Senate against Phil Gramm in next year's elections.

Most everybody else talking about that race, including those we've talked to and those we've only heard about, are interested in being senators if Gramm wants to kindly step down and get out of the way. That category of "Interested, But Only If It's Open" includes (depending on where you drink coffee or whisky or beer or bottled water) Attorney General John Cornyn, Dallas Mayor Ron Kirk, Railroad Commissioner Tony Garza, former Comptroller John Sharp, Houston businessman Paul Hobby, Land Commissioner David Dewhurst, and U.S. Rep. Henry Bonilla.

Lite Guvs: Full Tilt Boogie

The lieutenant governor's race is fully underway. With three Republicans running to outmaneuver each other, and a second Democrat poised to join the contest, it threatens to overshadow the governor's race, at least for a while.

Land Commissioner David Dewhurst is officially in the hunt for the Lite Guv's gavel and started it off with a boast of grassroots support. He says 62 of the state's Republican county chairmen have endorsed him, two-thirds of the State Republican Executive Committee and a slew of board members of the Texas Federation of Republican Women.

Dewhurst announced that he's running, that he's a conservative, that he has grassroots support, and that he's run the General Land Office efficiently. But he was vague about what he would do if he's elected. Like almost everyone else in the race, he focussed part of his talk on recent remarks by Comptroller Carole Keeton Rylander. She said state lawmakers could face a $5 billion hole when they return in two years; Dewhurst said he had a record of cutting budgets and reducing staff that would be needed if the money is tight.

He hit several cities around the state after his announcement in Austin, and announced plans for a large television ad campaign starting right away. The first of those ads tout his budget-cutting in office, better earnings for schools from state-owned lands and lower rates for veterans mortgages. His second ad talks about budget deficits and state income taxes and touts his budget-cutting as the alternative. Aides wouldn't say how much he was spending or exactly where the ads would run, but did contend that they would reach "90 percent of Republican primary voters."

Dewhurst's Austin announcement had Republican operatives buzzing about problems. The event was held in a small and overheated room. The result was a candidate sweating like a boxer under hot lights in front of a bank of television cameras. He actually had sweat dripping from his chin during most of the announcement speech. Not a great picture. The microphone kept popping, because the cable was under the candidate's left heel. Not great audio. The podium was normal height, which is to say that it was too low for a candidate who described himself as 5 feet 17 inches tall. And worst of all, the day began with headlines in two major newspapers about a lawsuit that goes to trial this week; a former agency employee is suing Dewhurst and contending that the employee cuts at the beginning of Dewhurst's tenure actually resulted in lost revenue for the state.

Location, Location, Location

Greg Abbott and his family live on Wooldridge Drive in Austin's high-dollar Pemberton Heights neighborhood in a house valued on the Travis County tax rolls at $964,416. John Sharp and his family live right across the street, in a house valued at $950,495. A few doors down from Sharp and Abbott is a vacant house. The homeowner has moved out, for now, so that extensive renovations and repairs can be done to his house, which is valued at $1,464,392. That neighbor's name is David Dewhurst.

• Odds are pretty good that former football players have run against each other for office in Texas, but two of the Lite Guv candidates might be setting a new sports-to-politics precedent. Sen. David Sibley played college basketball at Baylor University, and Land Commissioner David Dewhurst played college basketball at the University of Arizona. Sibley is 6'6". Dewhurst is 6'5".

Gil Coronado may or may not run for lieutenant governor in the Democratic primary, but while he's busy deciding, former Comptroller John Sharp is using the potential of a primary fight to raise money. He's got fundraising letters on the streets now that try to keep him out of the busy Republican fight, telling potential donors that he's not raising money for the general election. He contends he'll have "one possibly two opponents in the primary." Coronado, who's from San Antonio, is on the verge of announcing his candidacy; he's never run for office, but was a Clinton appointee to run the U.S. Selective Service.

Back in the Appointments Business

Things got quiet at the end of the session–they always do–but Gov. Rick Perry's appointment office is back at full speed. The folks they're appointing now won't have to face the Senate for confirmation until January 2003, unless there's a special session between now and then. And they started off with an appointment that could have turned into a hot topic if the Senate was still in town.

The governor filled one of the two empty spots on the three-member Public Utility Commission with a South Texan who recently left Enron Corp., a fact that caused consternation from consumer groups, some of the regulated utilities and from legislators.

Perry named Mario Max Yzaguirre, a Brownsville native who was until recently president of Enron Corp's. Mexico operations. Though he's not well-known in Austin regulatory circles, there are generic worries about naming someone from a related business to regulate the electric industry. If he was working for Enron Corp. in the U.S., he might not have been eligible for the job. But working for the Mexican affiliate of the company within the last two years apparently doesn't disqualify him, and some lawyers argue that since he wasn't with a regulated utility in Texas, he's okay. There's one more opening on the PUC and Perry is waiting on the home senator: the name of Becky Armendariz, who worked on utility policy for former Gov. George W. Bush, was sent to Sen. Gonzalo Barrientos, D-Austin, before the end of the session. Without his okay, she can't get the appointment.

The appointments will provide relief to lawyers who were wondering whether it was legal to brief Brett Perlman on upcoming meetings. Since he was the only member, such briefings might have to be done in open meetings, and, and, well, it's something for lawyers to worry over.

As long as we're in the utility arena, the biggest phone company in the state has a new regulatory and lobby honcho: Shawn McKenzie will replace Dave Lopez, who's retiring, as president of Southwestern Bell-Texas. McKenzie previously had the same job in the company's Kansas division...

Perry named Katharine Armstrong Idsal of San Antonio to chair the Texas Parks and Wildlife Commission. Idsal, who replaces Lee Bass of Fort Worth in that job, has been on the board since 1999... The governor reappointed Gerald Garrett of Austin as chairman of the state's Board of Pardons and Paroles, a job he's held since 1999... Perry named Kent Waldrep Jr. of Plano to the Texas Rehabilitation Commission Waldrep suffered a paralyzing injury during a college football game in 1974 and has been an advocate on disability policy for years... And he reappointed Diane Rath to chairmanship of the Texas Workforce Commission, where she has served since 1996.

Jay Kimbrough is leaving the Texas Commission on Alcohol and Drug Abuse to run Gov. Rick Perry's criminal justice division. Vernon "Max" Arrell, who had been head of the Texas Rehabilitation Commission, will take over as interim head at TCADA. Kimbrough will replace Richard Nedelkoff, who ran that division during the Bush (Texas) Administration and who now is working in the Bush (U.S.) Administration. Health and Human Services Commissioner Don Gilbert said he hopes to be able to name a permanent TCADA director in August.

Staffing the Lite Guv Race

Greg Abbott signed Mona Palmer Taylor as his campaign manager. She had agreed to be the new director of the Governor's Business Council, a job that is now open again. Abbott also hired Lisa Pollard of Austin to head up the fundraising end of the campaign and signed Alison McIntosh of Dallas and Sue Walden of Houston to raise money. He's still working on other hires, but the money machine is up and running. Allyn & Co. has filled the job Taylor left behind: Allison Griffin, who has been working at the Texas Medical Association, and Robert Black, who has been spokesman for the Republican Party of Texas, will join her. Both have Washington, D.C., and media experience. The two will make up the Austin office the Dallas-based consulting firm.

Jeff Norwood and Scott Howell signed with David Sibley's campaign. He hadn't hired a fundraiser by our deadline, but might have by the time you read this. And Bruce Scott will take a leave from Sibley's Senate office to be his campaign manager.

Political People and Their Moves

Former Gov. Ann Richards is leaving the lobbying law firm where she's worked since handing over the keys to the Mansion. She's joining Austin-based Public Strategies Inc. Richards will open a New York City office for the firm, but will make Washington, D.C., and Austin junkets on a regular basis. Jane Hickie, a frequent co-conspirator, will also make the move to PSI from Verner, Liipfert Bernhard, McPherson and Hand. PSI founder Jack Martin was one of Richards' political advisors as was Mark McKinnon, who recently returned to PSI after doing ads and advising President Bush's campaign... Jeff Eubank, who was the number two to Texas Secretary of State Elton Bomer, is moving to Washington, D.C., at the end of the week to become Mr. Manners. He'll be the U.S. Deputy Chief of Protocol... The Houston school district is sticking with Kaye Stripling, who has been the interim superintendent since Rod Paige left the city to join the Bush Administration as Secretary of Education. Stripling, who started as a teacher for HISD 37 years ago, was named as the sole finalist for the top job after a six-month search... Jennifer Lustina moves from Attorney General John Cornyn's state office to his political campaign office. He has no opponent yet, but the fundraising season is fully underway... Don Kiser, one of the cornerstones of Comptroller Carole Keeton Rylander's vaunted research department, is leaving that state agency after 13 years. He'll work in the electric transmission division at the Lower Colorado River Authority... If you thought the capital needed another law firm, your prayers are answered: Larry York, Mary Keller and Scott Field peeled off the Baker Botts firm to start their own shop. York and Keller were both first assistant attorneys general; he's been one of the main lawyers working on the tort reform movement, while she did a stint at the Texas Department of Insurance... Linda Edwards, who could be referred to as Gov. George W. Bush's last press secretary, is going to work for Houston-based Shelton & Caudle, where she'll train people in the dark arts of dealing with reporters. Edwards left the television reporting business to work for government, eventually working as deputy press secretary and then as press secretary for Bush... U.S. District Judge John Hannah Jr.–a former Texas Secretary of State–is becoming the Chief District Judge for the region. That makes him the administrative judge for federal courts in East Texas and puts him in charge of the probation and clerks offices there.

Quotes of the Week

Lt. Gov. Bill Ratliff, quoted in The New York Times on an aide's suggested rationale for getting out of the reelection race: "Why don't you say you are dropping out because you have a fatal disease? The fatal disease is independence and moderation."

Land Commissioner David Dewhurst, after telling reporters that the Republican primary for lieutenant governor isn't just about candidate finance in general or about his own personal wealth in particular: "We're going to aggressively fund raise all over the state of Texas. But at the end of the day I won't be outspent. I want to make sure that our message gets out."

Democrat activist Jesse Martin, telling the Fort Worth Star-Telegram why he'll support Marble Falls lawyer Marty Akins over Laredo businessman Tony Sanchez in the Democratic gubernatorial primary: "I'm real uncomfortable about an individual coming up and saying 'I've been a Democrat all of my life'... when 84 percent of his political contributions were given to Republicans."

Rep. Sylvester Turner, a Black Democrat from Houston, on whether he's interested in running for attorney general or other statewide office, as quoted by the San Antonio Express-News: "I'm not interested in making a statement. I'm not interested in being out there trying to rev up minority voters for other people. If I were to make that decision, it would be because I felt I could do a very credible job and I felt I could actually win it."

State Rep. Rob Junell, D-San Angelo, after being asked by the San Antonio Express-News if he'd like to be appointed to a federal judgeship by President George W. Bush, on what else he'd consider: I think working for Steven Spielberg as a special assistant would be one thing I would look at. Let me see if I can think of anything else–Oh, being Sarah Jessica Parker's driver on "Sex and the City."

Texas Weekly, Volume 18, Issue 1, 18 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 For news, email, or call (512) 288-6598.

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