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Weighing In, Finally

Nobody predicted Gov. Rick Perry would set a record by vetoing 82 bills at the end of the session, but neither should anyone be completely surprised. The tension between the governor and the Legislature has been unrelenting since the November elections. If nothing else, they leave the governor's mark on a session where he had previously had little impact.

Nobody predicted Gov. Rick Perry would set a record by vetoing 82 bills at the end of the session, but neither should anyone be completely surprised. The tension between the governor and the Legislature has been unrelenting since the November elections. If nothing else, they leave the governor's mark on a session where he had previously had little impact.

Look, legislators have the power to make laws regulating and controlling things they think need regulating and controlling, and governors have the right to veto legislation they don't like. The only way to overcome the incompatibility in those two roles is to work together, and nobody has accused Perry or this edition of the Texas Legislature of being particularly good at getting along.

Perry chose from two paths: He could sit back and wait for bills to get to his desk or get out in front and try to influence bills before lawmakers vote. Each has its advantages and perils. When a Guv is out in front of an issue–either pro or con–the Legislature has the option of following or attacking. They either appreciate it (quietly, to avoid giving credit), or gripe loudly about meddling from the middle offices in the Pink Building. The advantage to keeping low is that a governor doesn't get sucked into offering an opinion on everything that comes up, ala former Gov. Ann Richards. The downside is that lawmakers complain about the lack of attention (a complaint made about Perry since March by lawmakers from both parties), and later, about getting sandbagged by the veto machine.

Lawmakers have been grumbling for months that Perry wasn't engaged enough in the legislative session. Perry's herd similarly complained that lawmakers–especially House Speaker Pete Laney and Lt. Gov. Bill Ratliff–wouldn't include the governor and his staff in the process.

This is about relationships. Perry, unlike his predecessor, doesn't enjoy the close friendship and protection of the leaders of the House and the Senate. It showed during the session, and in the vetoes.

The deep-seated animosity between Perry and Laney goes back more than a decade. It was renewed last year, when the two clashed over Perry's support of Republicans running for the Legislature. Perry wants a GOP majority. Laney doesn't. The Texas tradition is for the big shots (and most lobsters) to avoid races involving incumbents. That so-called Incumbent Protection Rule favors Democrats, at the moment, and so they are most offended at infractions, at the moment. Short form: The elections helped Perry and Laney renew their vows of mutual suspicion.

When the elections were over, Perry moved to the Governor's Mansion to replace George W. Bush. The Texas Senate replaced him with Ratliff. It would be incorrect to say Ratliff and Perry have a terrible relationship, but it would also be incorrect to call them political buddies. Several of Perry's closest allies in the Senate, for instance, backed Ratliff's opponent in that Lite Guv's race.

We heard a faint refrain from (some) Republicans during the session, particularly in the House, that the acrimony is a function of a party (the Democrats) on the way out of power. This session, the song goes, was the last ride for the Democratic majority in the Legislature and a lot of stuff that passed could be undone later. There was a trace of that line in the comments from aides to the governor after the session, who were telling reporters and others that "there sure seemed to be a lot of bad bills this session." There was an echo of that in the vetoes. It's certainly audible in the talk about redistricting. Right now, this is an inside game. There was little public reaction to the vetoes; few of them directly affect voters in a way that's immediately apparent to those voters. The question is whether anyone who's mad about the vetoes will actually do anything about it in the next elections.

Aspirin Won't Do It

While it's true that most voters won't miss anything dear to them in the governor's vetoes, it's not true of the state's doctors. They're not just mad–they are truly angry over the governor's veto of their top legislative priority. We heard one Republican joke that the governor, with one stroke of his pen, had converted 100,000 doctors to the Democratic Party.

The bill in question was the so-called prompt pay bill, which would have ordered insurers and HMOs to pay doctors and hospitals within a certain amount of time or face the music. Business groups raised up on their hind legs, first saying the bill put too much speed into the game and risked increasing insurance fraud. But Texans for Lawsuit Reform, the Houston-based tort reform group, raised last minute questions about a clause in the bill and asked Gov. Rick Perry to veto it. He did what they asked, angering the bill sponsors, the doctors and some hospital administrators and operators. Most of those angry folks point out that TLR never showed up with an amendment to take out the language they didn't like and said the governor's office never mentioned any problems with the bill until well after lawmakers had packed up and gone home.

The anger of the docs is a concern to Perry and his herd because the medicos have a lot of money, a well-organized and connected trade group, and they vote. John Coppedge, a prominent Republican Longview doctor, was so mad about the veto he dropped his membership in Texans for Lawsuit Reform, ordering them to take his name off the letterhead and to stop sending him mail. He is a longtime Perry supporter and political aides to the governor are trying to patch things up with him. Another doctor–Robert Gunby of Dallas–withdrew his name from consideration on the eve of his appointment to the Texas Board of Health.

The governor is working on two outs. First, he is promising doctors that he'll do everything he can do on the prompt pay issue through rules and enforcement at the Texas Department of Insurance. That's a gambit used successfully by George W. Bush, after he vetoed the first patient protection law the doctors were pushing (two years later, it became law). Its success depends on how aggressive TDI is with slow-paying HMOs. Second, some watchers expect Perry to do a "direct contact" program, sending mail and other materials to doctors without sending it through the TMA mother ship in Austin. Most doctors are Republicans, the theory goes, and the governor's political aides think they'll get their message across more convincingly if TMA's lobbyists and consultants are out of the loop.

Counting Backwards

Look at the funky numbers: The governor line-vetoed what his office counted as $556 million from the $113.8 billion state budget for the next two years. But the actual cuts don't amount to nearly that much. Most were cuts to contingent items, meaning he knocked out lines that said, "If the money's available, spend it here." Those don't cut actual spending, just the spending that might happen if money rolls in unexpectedly. Overall, it didn't do much to the cost of the bill.

There were a couple of oddities, however, and one could have a political twang to it. Perry struck a line that would have forced the state to pay off a lingering Medicaid debt if the money becomes available. The state balanced the budget two years ago by making 23 monthly Medicaid payments instead of 24, delaying the last payment of the budget period into the next period. The budgeteers this year attempted to make good on that, but only if the money becomes available. Perry nixed that plan. His folks say the debt could still be paid if the money is there, but say his action allows money to be used for other emergencies if they're more pressing.

The second oddball is one that only a budget-nut could love. Perry struck a spending item that would have used money from the Crime Victims Compensation Fund as well as money from general revenue. But he only hit the half from the crime fund; now, the state has to use general revenue to make up the difference. It's a small item, but it actually increases spending from tax dollars. The spending is for the survivors of public safety officers killed in the line of duty.

Start the Race for Speaker

A group of Plano Republicans is getting together in September to hear all the reasons why Rep. Tom Craddick, R-Midland, wants to be Speaker of the Texas House. They're convening at the home of Texas Eagle Forum President Cathie Adams, who says Craddick would be her first choice for that job if the Republicans take control of the House and unseat the current speaker, Democrat Pete Laney.

When we caught up with Craddick to ask about it, he said he'd been asked to speak there and in Houston but wasn't talking about a race for speaker or why he'd want to be in one.

The tricky part of this is a tight set of rules for anyone running for the top job in the lower chamber. If you so much as talk to someone about wanting to be speaker in a serious way, you have to register. You have to have campaign accounts for that race set up. It's like the old joke about a breakfast of ham and eggs: The chicken is involved and the pig is, well, committed. To run for speaker, you have to commit. Craddick hasn't done that, and as an official non-candidate, he can't go around the state campaigning for the job. So here's the line on Adams, straight from Craddick: "If she's saying that, that's on her own deal, really... I'm not aware of it, if that's what's happening."

Adams says the group is "asking him to be here to tell us why he wants to be speaker." She's apparently thought about it a lot, and her rationale is that Craddick has been in the House a long time and had more to lose than most by bucking Laney. See that bit above about incumbent protection; Craddick coordinated the campaigns to try to win the House for the GOP in the last several election cycles. Laney stripped him of his political plumage, taking away the chairmanship of the House Ways & Means Committee and taking Craddick off of the Calendars Committee.

And Mix In Some Strategery

Adams also is sounding the drums on a strategic play in the House, saying Republicans (once in the majority) should decide among themselves who the speaker should be, then should vote as a bloc to make sure that happens. That would shut Democrats out of the decision on the next speaker.

To understand that play, you have to know there are two ways to run an election in the House. You can run a Party-line election, as Adams describes. Or you can run a House-wide deal, which is how these things have been run in the past. The traditional method evolved during a period when Democrats had a supermajority in the House, but what it means now is that nobody can get elected speaker without votes from members of the other political party. If the party with a majority keeps the election to itself, on the other hand, the speaker doesn't come in owing anything to the opposition. Some Republicans–Adams among them–are incensed about the concessions Bill Ratliff made to Democrats after winning the lieutenant governor's job by one vote. A Republican speaker elected by the caucus and then on the floor would have to make fewer, if any, such concessions.

Traditionalists contend it's easier to govern the House from the middle, where a coalition would form, than from either the right or left side of the aisle. It's simple, at least on paper, to elect a speaker in the GOP Caucus. Do a quick count on the back of an envelope: Say a party has the narrowest majority of 76 members. It would only take 38 people to elect a speaker. That's the majority of the caucus, and the caucus in this example has agreed to stick together. Later, if a speaker elected that way wants to push hard on a vote, he or she only has 38 hard-core supporters in a room with 150 politicians in it. It's safe to say the Party method would change the culture in the House.

Conventional wisdom in the lower chamber is that Craddick, because he's been a Republican partisan during elections, would have a harder time getting votes from Democratic House members than GOP colleagues like Kim Brimer of Arlington, Brian McCall of Plano or Ed Kuempel of Seguin. Craddick's best shot, by that logic, would be to win in a Republican caucus vote. But he's not the only potential candidate there. Adams says her second choice would be Rep. David Swinford, R-Dumas, a conservative Republican who, by geography, has been a Laney confederate. But Swinford voted against management on redistricting and other issues and worked his way back into favor with social conservatives. Another is Ken Marchant, R-Coppell, chairman of the House GOP Caucus.

Land Rush, Part Two

Rep. Kenn George, R-Dallas, sounded like he's wanted to be land commissioner all along when he officially jumped in that race. George had looked seriously at the comptroller's job, but that was back when the current occupant, Carole Keeton Rylander, was pining for the Lite Guv post. Rylander decided not to, so George decided not to, and here we are: He'll face former Sen. Jerry Patterson in a GOP primary, and a player to be named later in the general election. Several Democrats have looked at the race or have been encouraged to; none that we're aware of has jumped in.

George touted his experience in real estate, oil and gas, health care and the military as the reasons why he oughta run the General Land Office. The agency watches over veterans loan programs in Texas and manages real estate and petroleum assets for the public school trust fund.

Expect Patterson to come in guns blazing on a lawsuit that stems from George's sale of his health care company in Dallas several years ago. George isn't personally liable for the damages, but pending litigation during election season always makes candidates and consultants jumpy.

George said he expects the race to cost between $2 million and $2.5 million. He and Patterson both claim to be doing well on the finance front, and we'll know in July when the reports are filed how things are going. George has endorsements from more than half of his GOP colleagues in the House.

Thanks, Your Honor, And What a Nice Event

Speaking of court cases and election cycles, consider the case of Land Commissioner David Dewhurst. He's not the first statewide official dragged into court on a personnel deal after jumping into the election business, but he's the defendant of the hour. A former employee of the General Land Office, David Scott, contends he was fired after telling Dewhurst the agency was under-collecting royalties for the Permanent School Fund. Dewhurst says the allegations have no merit.

Something like this happened to then-Comptroller John Sharp four years ago, and Dewhurst can probably take some solace in the fact that it didn't have any apparent effect on the election race that followed. Most voters were never even aware of it. Sharp was sued, along with former Treasurer Martha Whitehead, by a man who was fired from the Treasury a year after writing a letter critical of Sharp and of a plan to merge the agency into the comptroller's office. A federal jury dismissed that claim. Dewhurst's case was still being heard in court at our deadline.

Gil Coronado, a Vietnam War hero who served as head of the U.S. Selective Service in the Clinton Administration, is officially in the race for lieutenant governor. That marks the fifth entry in the race and an interesting problem for the veteran Democratic politico on the ballot.

Let's assume for the sake of conversation that the ticket was designed, in part, to get Sharp elected to the Lite Guv. job, a post he sought four years ago and still covets. Sharp helped recruit Tony Sanchez Jr. and has needled any number of other folks, from Kirk Watson to Sylvester Turner to Ann Utley, to look at other posts on the ballot, partly to fill it out, and partly to make sure it's not a ballot made up mostly of middle-aged Anglo men like the last Democratic statewide ballot. And let's say the Democrats are right in thinking that a Sanchez candidacy could bring out record numbers of Hispanic voters. But Coronado, and not Sharp, would be the obvious beneficiary of a big Hispanic turnout.

In his announcement, Coronado swung at Sharp, calling him the choice of the party establishment in Austin. He might catch on, but it didn't show in the announcement: Most newspapers left the Saturday press conference in San Antonio to the wires, not even sending their own political reporters. If he can raise money, he won't need the press. Without the money, he has to find the reporters.

• Sen. David Sibley, R-Waco, picked up the endorsement of the Texas Association of Realtors for his bid for lieutenant governor. TAR said Sibley is the only Republican in the race with legislative experience and noted the fact that he's already in that group's Hall of Fame.

Flotsam & Jetsam

• Perry's veto of the Medicaid overhaul bill apparently won't stop the merger of Medicaid into the Health and Human Services Commission. But the sponsors–Rep. Garnet Coleman, D-Houston, and Sen. Judith Zaffirini, D-Laredo–say the veto will wipe out about $99 million in savings that the bill was supposed to create. That was designed to offset increased costs from another Medicaid bill that Perry approved. The second bill makes it easier for people who are eligible for Medicaid to actually sign up for and receive benefits. One object of the Medicaid overhaul package was to cover some of those increased costs. As he did with the prompt pay bill, Perry said much of what he vetoed can be done by the various health and human service agencies without any new laws in place to help. That moves the pressure to the HHSC folks, who'll get the job of making changes. The sponsors said Perry never let them know of his concerns. Perry's aides said the authors didn't let them into the discussions after a few conversations early in the legislative session.

• If a Texas governor doesn't sign a bill, it goes into law. If a governor doesn't sign a concurrent resolution, it fails. Gov. Perry didn't sign four concurrent resolutions. One honored former Rep. Rick Crawford, who now heads the Texas State Preservation Board and who oversaw construction of the Bob Bullock Texas State History Museum. Another would have encouraged Congress to open trade with Cuba (that would help Southeast Texas rice sales, apparently). A third urged Congress to fix funding imbalances on the Texas Border created by NAFTA.

And the fourth would fix technical corrections in a piece of legislation that went into law without Perry's signature. The charter school bill that puts tighter limits on those privately owned taxpayer-funded schools apparently had some flaws in it. The resolution would have patched things up, but apparently, the damage isn't critical enough to endanger the new law.

• The Texas Hospital Association gave its endorsement to Perry, who's running for reelection. A few days later, he vetoed one of THA's priority bills, the prompt pay legislation that has the doctors so hot. So THA put out a statement saying the governor should add the issue to a special session on congressional redistricting, if there ever is such a thing, and saying they'll accept the legislation without the arbitration language that alarmed business folks and eventually led to a veto. Related: THA named Richard Bettis as its new president/CEO, replacing Terry Townsend, who is retiring. That's a promotion; Bettis has worked for that trade group since 1970.

• The tort reformers in Texas are split in the lieutenant governor's race, but they're sticking mostly with Republicans. Most of the big-bucks folks in Texans for Lawsuit Reform seem to be moving to Greg Abbott and David Dewhurst; the group itself is staying out. But come this time next year, expect them to be with GOP. Their reasoning? Democrat Gil Coronado doesn't have a proven record like the Republicans in the race. And Democrat John Sharp took scads of money from trial lawyers in his campaign for the job four years ago. He had plenty of business support at the time, but the lawyer money is the money the tort types remember.

• Mike Lawshe, an investment banker from Rockwall who ran in 1998 against Rep. Mary Denny, R-Denton, is planning another run. But this time, he'll be after an open seat that includes, hypothetically, all of Rockwall County and part of Collin County. That's more or less what has appeared on most of the redistricting maps he's seen, and if things go as he expects, he's in.

• Last week, Austin-based Public Strategies was hiring former governors. This week's installment has the public affairs company bringing in advisors including Burl Osborne, who recently retired as publisher of The Dallas Morning News (and who remains on the board of Belo Corp.), and James Johnson, the former head of Fannie Mae (and a board member of another news conglomerate, the Gannett Corp.) They, along with Ann Richards, will act as "advisors" to the firm.

• Stanford Research has hired Eleanor "Ellie" Stanford as its deputy chief of operations. It wouldn't be here but for the disclaimer from owner Jason Stanford, who says this ain't a brother-in-law deal: "She is only related to me insofar as she is the daughter of my father's brother"...

Political People and Their Moves

Dallas ISD Superintendent Mike Moses snatched one of the best in state government, convincing Jack Elrod to leave the Senate Education Committee and move to Dallas as an attorney. Elrod has been keeping Senate Education out of policy trouble since Moses was at the Texas Education Agency... Laura Silagy, chief of staff to Sen. David Bernsen, D-Beaumont, is leaving that job and moving to Houston, which makes it darned difficult to run a district office in Beaumont. Kathy Golson, who's been with Bernsen for two legislative sessions, is also leaving and plans to use a mighty stack of compensatory time while she decides on her next move.... Emmett Coleman, most recently part of the in-house lobbying team for Dell Computer, is leaving his cubicle at the end of the month. He'll continue to do some contract work for the company and is working on some other freelance high-tech/public affairs projects... Amy Fitzgerald, who has been a lobster at the Bracewell & Patterson law firm, is on her way to the Texas Electric Cooperatives as staff attorney. Fitzgerald worked in the Texas House (for Rep. Ron Lewis, D-Mauriceville) and did a stint at Entergy Gulf States. She'll focus on regulatory issues for the co-ops... The Independent Cattlemen's Association of Texas has snagged Shane Sklar as its new executive director. He had been running the Texas office for U.S. Rep. Chet Edwards, D-Waco, and raising cattle on the side... Press Corps: Steve Taylor moves from News 8 Austin back to what he says is his native territory: Print. He'll report from Austin for the Valley Newspapers, an assignment that makes his British accent even more interesting... Antoinette Andrews is leaving the Texas Hospital Association to rear a new baby and work in a family business. That leaves THA looking for someone to run HOSPAC, its political action committee... Recovering from what was described to us as a heart attack and a just-in-time angioplasty: Former Court of Criminal Appeals Judge Charlie Baird, who lives, still, in Austin.

Quotes of the Week

Gov. Rick Perry, vetoing the so-called "Penry bill": "This legislation is not about whether to execute mentally retarded murderers. We do not execute mentally retarded murderers today. It's about who determines whether a defendant is mentally retarded in the Texas justice system."

Sen. Rodney Ellis, D-Houston, who sponsored the bill: "Gov. Perry had a historic opportunity to show the world that we are not only tough on crime but fair and compassionate, as well. He missed that opportunity."

Sen. Judith Zaffirini, D-Laredo, complaining loudly about Gov. Perry's vetoes of nearly seven dozen bills, including a Medicaid overhaul she co-sponsored: "Some people are asking, 'What was he thinking?' Others are asking, 'Was he thinking?'"

From a Fort Worth Star-Telegram interview with Democratic gubernatorial hopeful Tony Sanchez Jr., first on his generous support of George W. Bush over the years: "I will never support the Republican ticket again, ever." And then on his assessment of the last Democrat in the White House: "I think that Bill Clinton is going to go down as one of the best presidents this country has ever had."

Sen. Phil Gramm, R-Texas, trying to convince the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, and everyone else in Texas, that his multiple fundraisers and other activities mean the rumor of his political retirement should be put aside: "I'm running... What else do I have to do?"

Dr. Donald Gordon, San Antonio's emergency medical services director, in an interview with the Express-News about drivers and cell phones: "It's in a league with reading a book or trying to put on your makeup while trying to drive. Some people try to be multitask, but not everyone can do that."

Texas Commissioner of Education Jim Nelson, introducing a new name–the Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills–and acronym–TAKS–which will replace the dreaded TAAS test for public school students, and explaining all of the begets and begats along the way: "The Texas Assessment of Basic Skills or TABS gave way to the Texas Education Assessment of Minimum Skills or TEAMS, which faded away when the Texas Assessment of Academic Skills emerged."

Texas Weekly: Volume 18, Issue 2, 25 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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